Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 46

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the Bird King, 1300 chapbooks, the air full of silk, a Tasmanian double, the absence of sex in lit mags, and much, much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 42

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: autumn, bombs, books, cancer, bombs, the bees in Liechtenstein, theology school, and bombs. Enjoy.


A mouth becomes a stone.
A child cannot stop shaking.
Bombs fall on hospitals, schools,
Churches, mosques, homes.
Numbed, frozen, bulldozed.
The images haunt my sleep.
Over and again, what
should I do? What could
I do?

Bells ring in, what exactly?
Ring for, what exactly?

Bob Mee, WE HAVE NO IDEA, NONE AT ALL

i’m not coming out
of this poem
i am staying here
forever
and
ever

once i did
once upon a time
never
again

there were wars
and babies crying
and dying

ok
in here it is raining
but it is cosy warm rain

Jim Young, sunny boy

Trees are shedding their summer hair.
What a tiny comb was used for grooming –
tufts pile on the sidewalk, bright and seething.

Where were we when we lost our crickets?
Softly, softly they left us without a sound,
darkness falls hard on hard ground, the cushion

they made gone, no love or jangle to soften
obsession, cool nights, bombs, part of the ear’s fabric. 
You can never put the shriek back in the throat of the cricket. 

Jill Pearlman, Back to Hard Ground

who taught our darkest river to drink from the sea

who put silence inside shadow inside seed

how many who are dreamed want only to sleep

Grant Hackett [no title]

Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

For me, the hammering and chiseling of revision is writing—the source of the initial gesture is from somewhere beyond regular consciousness. I often experience poetry, both reading and writing it, as something very embodied—it begins with a tingling at the base of my skull and ends with a sometimes pleasurable, sometimes sheer feeling of exhaustion when the poem is finished with me. One of my friends joked that I have “poetry ASMR,” which I love, but I’m hesitant to give the place where poetry comes from a name. I don’t really think in terms of books or projects because of feels like each poem is its own animal. If shaping a poem is one of seeing what each line might have to say to each other, shaping a book has been one of seeing what different poems might have to say to one another. […]

What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I’ve made a nightly ritual of reading one poem by Dickinson and one by Rilke. Dickinson surpasses Shakespeare in possessing the greatest wit in the history of the English language, and something about her synapse-snapping speed of thought and formal mastery juxtaposed with the occasionally ostentatious, more often profound mysticism of Rilke in his castle keeps me in touch with the simultaneous wide specturm and discrete nature(s) of poetry. I likewise seem to return to Ashbery, Merrill, Schuyler, The Tang Dynasty poets (Li Bai, Du Fu, and co.), Blake, Terrance Hayes, Don Paterson, Richard Siken, Anthony Madrid, Hafez, CAConrad, Ariana Reines, Sylvia Plath, Eduardo C. Corral, The Odyssey, and the poems of my friends and mentors back home in the orbit of Canada, which I can’t bring myself to list out of fear of missing someone whose work I love. I like to think my desire to feel the world and the word in these various ways informs both my poems and thinking. 

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nathan Mader

I hear the sweet voice of a young woman
making love. “Oh!” she says, “Oh!”

The birch trees tremble with sparrows. Yellow
leaves and seed husks flicker to the ground.

Sharon Brogan, Neighborhood Mid-October

In this poem, I am accepting how it is as I say ‘let it have me’ and acknowledge I want to ‘keep it here.’ It sounds unusual, but actually I am aware of what is happening and know that at the moment there is no cure. I now turn the dark into a real person, quite sinister and let it feed on my body: ‘my body is a table so now it can feed.’ I want to keep the curtains closed to literally keep the dark in the room and get rid of colour: ‘I don’t need the glare’ and again, am perfectly happy about this.

Drop-in by Julie Stevens (Nigel Kent)

The iceberg is back.
It looms out of its coat.
It shivers its keys onto the
silver tray, and drifts toward
the table for what seems like
a thousand years.

Jon Stone, Untitled iceberg poem

Each night,
darkness settles more deeply into itself and fans

open its card deck of prophecies. My hand used
to move quickly, almost involuntarily, toward choice.

Now I understand that toward the end, it is good
to take time, to tend the slow simmer of soup.

Luisa A. Igloria, Fall

Yes, I paused in the hunt for ripe raspberries this morning to listen to what must have been a catbird running through its repertoire, yes, I note a neighbor’s lilacs confusedly in bloom, noted the neighbor apparently reconciled with the wife and dog walking together. But what have I missed?

Whatever it is must be what x is equal to. And I must keep looking. It may be the next thing I need to make the poems or essays sharper, more exact, or at least, a clearer equation through which to regard x. The unknown, possibly unanswerable: life and its puzzling questions.

Marilyn McCabe, How do you solve a problem; or, More on Paying Attention

Yesterday my daughter stepped outside to play with the four-year-old boy who lives next door. As she was leaving, I heard the boy ask my daughter what her mother’s name is.

My daughter replied, “My mom’s name is Becky. But sometimes people call her Rebecca…Because she’s a writer.”

I laughed, of course. Yes, that is I! Rebecca of the Pen!

Becky Tuch, Do editors pay attention to a writer’s name?

October is my month, my favourite month. Autumn in full swing, brazen colours and spice. Wet and slowing down. I bake, I cook, I begin to build a nest to hibernate in. It’s also our autumn school holiday, so I’ve actually been able to do all those things which is more difficult when I’m working.

October is also #scotstober month. Scotstober is a challenge to learn and use a new Scots word every day. Here’s the Twitter post for this year.  I love it, some are familiar to me, and some are new. I have done various takes on the challenge, sometimes finding poems that use the word, other times writing my own few lines. This year I’m doing the latter and creating a poem using some of the words. I can’t keep up with all 31 words, but it’s Day 22 and I have most of a poem written. 

As with most of my Scots poems, I prefer to use words I’ve heard in context or am comfortable with. Some words in the Scotstober challenge are older and not used much, so they don’t feel right in my poems. So as I’m bringing this together as a poem, I’m changing some words to suit me. I’m grateful for the inspiration Scotstober brings. […]

Day 6 ettle – to try, to strive

ahm ettlin tae no sing thi same thrain,
but thi rain an its pebbly sklyter
drouns oot mah will

Gerry Stewart, Autumn’s Brewing – Scotstober 2023 and When the Readers Don’t Get A Poem

A lively and intriguing title for a poem sequence by our guest poet Lydia Harris. Her work has featured here before (March 2019). This sequence is from her new collection Objects for Private Devotion, beautifully produced by Pindrop Press, published last year. Lydia lives in the Orkney island of Westray. Many of the poem sequences in her new book focus on local culture, people, nature, objects – such as the prayer nut which provides the cover image.

The sequence about the fieldfare is inspired by the great Serbian poet Vasco Popa. The Blackbird’s Field is also a sequence, from Popa’s Collected Poems, close on 400 pages – drawing on folk tale, surrealist fable, personal anecdote, and tribal myth. […]

Lament

I’ve lost my folk,
my night ships,
my dear blood,
thick then thin,
night bird, stray bird.

Tongue

A whip of liver-coloured flesh
sheathed in the coffin of his beak.

Fokkina McDonnell, Fieldfare, blown off course, early spring

I have mentioned before that there is a kind of pressure to – not only survive cancer – but to somehow turn it into something people call a “blessing”: a catalyst for a better life. This isn’t new to me. CSA and a bipolar diagnosis carry with them the same kind of pressure to excel: to reach a point where you say that your adversities were a “blessing” that made you who you are. That is a lot of pressure. You can’t say that and be average. Not only is the bad luck yours to deal with, it is yours to justify by way of being “better than” in some way.

Health – mental or physical – shouldn’t a competitive sport. Resilience so admired as to give us secular saints for a capitalist economy. I have to remind myself of that. It doesn’t have to be a means to an end: just a means to enjoy each day on its own terms. Have we always been such a performative species? Is it just me that sees it this way? It very well could be just me.

But there are a surprising number of cancer survivor gurus/coaches/teachers who will guide you through the process to find your better story. It is an entire industry. And it is so very seductive.

But I am not going to see this time of my life as a blessing. I do hope that I am learning things, but I have always hoped that I was continually learning to be a better person.

You know, if anything, maybe I am learning that all this effort at “improvement” is unnecessary: that maybe the clearest view is from a point of average.

Mundane even.

Invisible.

Ren Powell, I Failed at Chemo

The weekly ritual of bathing, of cleansing before church on Sunday which the son duly follows. However, he self-harms using his father’s razor. The reasoning is given in religious terms, the release of blood a sacrifice to atone for undefined and unspecified sins. Whatever those sins or perceived sins were, they seem to have triggered depression. A later poem in the same section, “The Stone In My Shoe” describes the stone as, “suicide never lets me go./I walk with its stone in my shoe”. The drugs listed in the poem are anti-depressants. It’s also a “language of this limbo.” Later, “The Idiot’s Guide to Suicide” lists unsolicited and unhelpful advice, such as “It’s just a bad mood.” “get a grip”, “keep a happy diary”, “You need to try Yoga” or “Be kind to yourself.” All things that never should be said to someone in the grip of depression.

Next section, “the universe”, a poem called “The Crab” is about avoiding saying aloud the word whose astrology sign the crab represents. The word cancer was treated as taboo as if saying it could make it contagious. Treatment leaves the sufferer,

“I’m now scared, scarred, and unable to pee.
They cut away cells, cells, and dignity
and, still, I cannot say its name.”

Emma Lee, “Red Rite Hand” Adrian Harte (in case of emergency press) – book review

The drag I was feeling when it came to writing appears to have abated and maybe it’s all because I have been consuming more than creating for a couple weeks..horror films and the Poe series and Frankenstein through dance. If these things have enduring value centuries later, maybe not all is lost in a sea of feeling unseen and unheard in the moment, a struggle all artists and writers feel at some point. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/21/2023

Ten poems, read by 14 young poets, dazzled the packed Perspektiven Raum with brilliance and bravery. 14-year-old Grela Rabi’s as yet untitled poem that begins, “am boden kleben sie fest,“ was selected by our panel of three judges to win the 500 CHF gift certificate to Wenaweser Fahrradcentrum in Schaan. Congratulations Grela! The 500 CHF donation to the climate-themed charity of their choice, was split between the classes from ISR and Liechtenstein Gymnasium. The ISR classes chose to donate to “the bees in Liechtenstein.”  All participants received a book of poetry (from previous Word to Action participants) and a potted plant to take home. Class teachers received books on composing poetry. […]

My reflection is this: the poems were moving in different ways. It was interesting to see that the poems were different based on age group. The youngest were sad but optimistic about the future and used fantastical imagery to get the point across. Some were totally realistic about the trouble the planet is in. And the rest were a bit alarmed and made a call to action. This last category seemed to move the judges the most. At Word to Action we know that poetry physically changes those who hear it; it can move us to take action.

Cathy Wittmeyer, WTA Blog 15 Oct 23 Contest Results

Poetry can be so healing precisely because it springs from that deepest place of reckoning with what it means to be human — the place we seek with the intellect but touch with the intuition. And down there in the depths, we don’t much differ from one another, sharing the same basic longings, the same basic fears. Clifton reflects:

Poetry can heal. Because it comes from a heart, it can speak to another heart.

[…]

Somebody asked me why is it that I want to heal the world. I want to heal Lucille Clifton! And fortunately, I am very human just like all the other ones, all the other humans.

With an eye to what it means to be a poet, she adds a sentiment equally true of any creative endeavor:

I didn’t graduate from college, which isn’t necessary to be a poet. It is only necessary to be interested in humans and to be in touch with yourself as a human.

Complement with Clifton’s classic “won’t you celebrate with me” — a living testament to this poetry of personhood turned art — and her spare, stunning ode to the common ground of being, then revisit Wendell Berry on how to be a poet and a complete human being and Anne Gilchrist — Whitman’s most beloved friend — on inner wholeness and the key to a flourishing soul.

Maria Popova, How to Be a Living Poem: Lucille Clifton on the Balance of Intellect and Intuition in Creative Work and the Healing Power of Connection

Sometimes I feel like all religion is a search for order in the world. Maryann Corbett’s recent collection of poetryThe O in the Air, offers order to a disorderly world; or rather points out the order within the seemingly meaningless details of life.

I started reading Corbett’s poetry with her collection Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter and made my way through all of her work last summer. Less familiar with formal poetry, I was mesmerized by the meters of her work– the surprising yet inevitable conclusions of her poems. A free verse poet myself, I felt like someone who only sings folk songs listening to someone singing opera and totally nailing it. […]

A Tennessee girl raised in the Bible belt, I kept drawing together the marriage of her Catholicism and formal sensibilities; liturgy, rhythm, and tradition are deeply connected to the spiritual in her book. Whereas in the country churches I was shuffled to growing up, we were more likely to have an impromptu testimony or sing verse four just ONE more time—and here I am, a free verse poet. Church traditions and poetry traditions can learn from each other, I believe, and I found myself learning much from yet another inspiring collection of poems by Maryann Corbett.

Renee Emerson, a review of The O in the Air by Maryann Corbett

On October 12th, I announced a $200 donation to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) who will provide aid to displaced and fleeing families in Gaza. Today, and retroactively for purchases from 10/12 to date, I am going to forgo all income for the press and donate that money to Medical Aid for Palestinians. What this means is that the $3 I would normally keep from each sale will instead be donated. In addition, I am going to match that amount with a personal donation to the same org. In other words, each book purchased gives $6 to Gaza. […]

Additionally, I call on all of you who are able to donate money to one of the following organizations:

As an added incentive, if you email me (deadmallpress@gmail.com) a receipt for a donation of $20 or more to one of these orgs, I will send you all four of my own chapbooks for free (including shipping). Just be sure to include a mailing address as well. I know it’s not much, but it’s what I have to give.

R. M. Haines, New Fund-Raising for Palestine

Human animals are still animals. We have evolved over thousands of years to be incredibly sensitive to our environment. We have evolved to survive at all costs. Our beautiful big human brains can’t tell the difference between anxiety caused by something far away, and anxiety caused by something in the room. They are one and the same with the same flight or fight response. If we are feeding ourselves a constant diet of news, which is, invariably bad, terrible, frightening news, we are constantly keeping ourselves in a place in which we feel we have to be hyper aware of everything that is happening because at any moment we may need to act.

It is good to be informed. But there is a limit to what you can actually do to help, understand, prepare, protect. I feel like even saying this is a kind of failure, a sort of cowardly way of looking at any situation. But it is a realistic way of looking at the situation of the world being on fire. […]

I don’t know any single person that isn’t in pain from watching the world burn. But pain is a counterbalance to love and I don’t know any one person that isn’t feeling immense love and a fierce desire to protect and help their fellow people, fellow world citizens. To be alive and aware is an act of resistance. Help where you can, be kind where you can, but that includes yourself.

Wendy Pratt, Know this: Your life is Precious Too

When I run away to theology school,
I will turn off the news. I will submerge
myself in books from an earlier age.
I will abandon the controversies
of our current time to lose myself
in arcane arguments of past heresies.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Teaching Observations and Theology School

So there I was. Sunday morning, in a suitably poet-like dress ( I restrained myself from the Byron sleeves this time) the comfort of chunky boots and my jade pendant that goes with me to every scary situation. This was going to be the first time reading in real life. I shook ( just the one leg bizarrely) but my voice stayed steady, I managed to look up at my audience, pause where I wanted to pause and even breathe occasionally. In hindsight perhaps choosing to read a poem about one of my last conversations with my Dad added a layer of difficulty I didn’t need, but I’ve never been one to take the easy route. Unless I’m hill climbing. Then I’m scouting for it before I set foot on the path.

I felt lovely. Energised, and pleased to have spoken my poem as it needed to be spoken, with the added boost of praise from a poet I really admire. I’ve put off reading in public for a very long time and realise that it is something I desperately want to do – to hear the sounds of the language I have chosen, and to test out the impact or effect on those who are listening.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Taking a step forward

I am overcome & rejuvenated by imbalance – complexity
it blocks out the constant nitter-natter, and is oddly calming

or watch a chipmunk pack its cheeks

Pearl Pirie, New chapbook: cento

4. Then there are poems about love and lust and coming of age, perhaps. As if all life is visceral even at its most tender. “O minute hand, teach me / how to hold a man the way thirst/ holds water…” – A little closer to the edge.
5. And then of course is the end that is possibly the beginning of the narrative, the whole narrative. The look within: “Ocean, don’t be afraid. / The end of the road is so far ahead/ it is already behind us.” – Someday I’ll love Ocean Vuong and “& so what— if my feathers / are burning. I / never asked for flight” – Devotion. These are the last two poems. As if the book is waiting for its sequel. Not to tell the reader more. But to tell the poet just a little bit more.
6. This is not a quick read because you will keep going back to read some poems. You can fill your senses with lines like “The way a field turns / its secrets / into peonies.” – Into the breach or “How / does anyone stop / regret / without cutting / off his hands?” – Seventh Circle of Earth or “I enter / my life / the way words / entered me— / by falling / through / the silence / of this wide / open mouth”. – Logophobia. You always leave the page wondering if it is about the past or the future, about beauty or violence, about a person or a people, and if the one is actually possible without the other.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading list update -17

Numbers. Begin with
one thousand four hundred

news-worthy names shared
world-wide. Not Beit Lahia’s.

There, leaflets, like birds,
still fall from the sky,

where the cries of dogs
become lullabies;

pots and pans, rockets.

Maureen E. Doallas, A Poet’s View (Poem)

Three or four years ago, I knew I wanted to write about the footballing heroes of my childhood, those lower-league footballers who triumphed and failed before my eyes, who evoked a sense of masculinity that was hugely different to today’s view of men, whose team generated a sense of belonging among the local fans. In short, I knew I wanted to write directly about Aldershot F.C. footballers of the 1980s, but indirectly about far more. However, I didn’t know how to go about putting such a group of poems together. And that was when I read Stanley Cook’s excellent poetry for the first time.

Cook wrote two separate pamphlets on the back of his time working as a schoolteacher, Form Photograph (Phoenix/Peterloo, 1971) and Staff Photograph (Peterloo Poets, 1972). In each case, he created a set of vignettes. The first batch, of course, were pupils, while the second were teachers. He generated these portraits of individuals within a specific context, building a wider picture of society through the implicit dialogues that were generated among the poems, accumulating his effects via verbal collage.

On reading Cook’s poems, I admired them immensely and suddenly realised I could adapt his technique to my footballers. And rather than using a photo, I was drawn to the team sheet that appeared on the back of every programme, and thus ‘Starting Eleven’, the second section in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t, started to take shape. Thank you, Stanley! I’d like to think you’d enjoy my poems too…

Matthew Stewart, From ‘Form Photograph’ to ‘Starting Eleven’

One of the things I’m working on now is an essay, ironically, on lyric essays, so I’ve been doing some research, reading some books of lyric essays. It’s weird for me, since I’ve been a journalist, a technical writer, an ad copywriter, a book reviewer, and a poet, but until the pandemic I didn’t write personal essays or lyric essays. Even though I’ve had some essays published I certainly don’t consider myself any kind of expert.

But on Facebook I put up a query and got some really interesting answers, from people who definitely are more qualified than me. And as a poet I’m attracted to the idea of an essay that isn’t necessarily: theme, point, point, conclusion. That allows for leaps, long parentheticals and ellipses – in short, essays that mimic poetry in a lot of ways.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Review of Flare in New Pages, Pumpkins and Typewriters, Halloween Mystery Parties and Thoughts on the Lyric Essay

I sometimes send stuff to US paper journals. I don’t know my way around very well, and depend on online ranking lists etc. As in the UK, US paper magazines are disappearing (e.g. Tin House and Glimmer Train – 2 of the top 5 in one list), and the online replacements don’t have the same impact. I think more of their journals are university based. And there’s the pay-to-submit issue.

I have trouble understanding currently fashionable US poetry, so it’s the short story market I focus on. There’s a wide range of journals. The most recent one that I was in paid me $20 for a piece of Flash and sent me (expensively, unexpectedly) a contributor’s copy, cover price $18. But it’s only 290th in one list I found, and in another list it’s categorised as Tier 4, Respected: usually small circulation, one or more “notable” prize mentions, sometimes payment.

Tim Love, Breaking into the US market

I first started thinking about this post not long after writing the last one…probably sometime around the Tuesday when I started reading the book from which the poem below is drawn from. The poem below reminded me of sitting in my garden a few days before…just sitting on the edge of my patio and staring into space. It had been a rough day at work—there have been a few of those of late, but the future is hopefully looking brighter—and while I was contemplating my naval opportunities (basically setting off to sea and not coming back, a wasp came sidling up to me like some sort of stripey spiv. A fucking wasp, in October!! I ask you…

The sight of the wasp had me at this time of year had me worried about global warming, but also had me harking back the summer when another one of the apocrita critters had stung me on the back of the neck. I was also nervous having also been bitten on the back of my leg by an ant while sitting in the same spot a couple of weeks ago. What have I done to upset the insects of my garden?

Mat Riches, Stripey Spivs

The concept of ambition in poetry, and how one defines that word in relation to poetry, is something I first encountered in Donald Hall’s 1988 book Poetry and Ambition–still in print from University of Michigan. I read this book of essays in 1991, in between changing diapers and coordinating naptimes for two children under the age of four. It was difficult to feel ambition about career at that time, and a career in poetry was ever a pipe dream; but the notion that a writer could feel ambitious about the work she might be doing in learning about and endeavoring to craft really good poems, even should she fail most of the time, felt encouraging to me. I recommend this book, as there’s also a good deal one can find to disagree with in it, and debate is useful for thinking.

Fast-forward to today (time does seem to move in fast-forward), and I find myself retired from a career on the fringes of academia, where I taught composition to students less-prepared for college and ran the writing center at a university. But I did not teach poetry or creative writing and was staff, not professorial/tenured; so the need to be career-ambitious through poetry was null. That suited my personality well. Maybe too well. Yet somehow I managed to get a reasonable amount of my work published (see the sidebar of this page) and to get several chapbooks and books into print (see the My Books tab here). I had my own form of ambition.

What now, I wonder? I have so much work to revise! Recently, I submitted an experimental, historically-based chapbook to a publisher, and I’m working on getting a new book of older work, though not as old as The Red Queen Hypothesis‘ poems, into print. Will I spend the next few years just catching up? Possibly. Is that “ambitious”? Nah, just means I wasn’t ambitious enough to get to it earlier!

Ann E. Michael, Once again, ambition

An AK-47 claiming he’s the delivery boy and a knock-kneed tuba tuned to the key of gloom.

Bad weather, lousy music, and World War III bearing a bouquet of bombs.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a clogged toilet doing a crappy Bob Dylan impression.

A half-dressed serial killer wanting to slip into something less comfortable.

Banging on my front door: droughts, diseases, and all the bad poems I’ve ever written coming back to haunt me.

Rich Ferguson, Banging On My Front Door

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 41

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: horror in and out of the news, an outpouring of appreciation for Louise Glück, the future of academia, menopause, and more. Enjoy.


I spent parts of the weekend digesting the whole of Netflix’s Fall of the House of Usher, something I have been waiting for for over a year, being a huge Mike Flanagan fan and lover of Poe in general. It was everything I expected and more–a modern day gothic chilling tale of corporate greed and evil, of extreme moral ambiguousness, set within the frames of Poe stories and poems. And so many poems, enough to make this writer and one-time English major, quiver with delight. I found myself thinking about Poe and how well it all holds together, even nearly 170 years later. How influential his work still is on the literary consciousness of writers, despite his entire life and career riddled with depression and addiction. How Flanagan takes the work and bends it into something new, yet immensely true to the original. […]

I often think about the Greeks and how pervasively their stories remain in Western thought, but Poe is up there on the list as well. For all of Poe’s wraith-like rants against other writers and his worry that he was an utmost failure (all too often related), he manages to stick. Beautifully horrific things still bear his fingerprints. While if you asked me who I liked more, I would say Nathaniel Hawthorne (who examined similar ideas with a little more subtleness), I still love Poe for all his darkness and bluster, which make the series an especially delightful experience that also got me thinking about my recent waffling in regard to writing poems. How I often feel like no one is listening and maybe no one is. But then Poe thought this as well. So maybe I just need to leave my worries to time and allow the chips to fall where they may. 

Kristy Bowen, darkness and bluster: thoughts on Poe

The drive took a meandering trajectory dodging abandoned belongings and storm-broken dreams. They coasted gingerly along the city streets under the huddling live oaks, still recovering from the trauma of a demon breath, reflection reaching its barren bones to snatch away any good sense. Outside dried mud cracked under the tires leaving crumbly hints and gaping possibilities, inside half-formed intentions simmered between them hazy and tingly like heat lightning. 

Years Later

Long forgotten ghosts are unexpectedly uncovered, teasing her memory, challenging her self-respect. She puts on Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Begins cutting.

Charlotte Hamrick, Snatched: the Means and the End

Writing, at least for me, and at its heart, is necessarily inchoate. Words come out. You work out what to do with them later. Or not: one way of thinking about literary modernism is as a kind of cult of the first draft (see, for instance, Virginia Woolf’s diary). Poetry, in particular, seems to grow in the gaps. Small poems, lyrics, appear like changelings in and among other things I thought I was writing. I might work them up in the ‘poetry’ book later, but they rarely start there.

This doesn’t mean they always come out looking like prose. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they are trying very hard (possibly too hard) to get away from the prose around them. I’ve come to think of poems like the mushrooms put up by fungi: sometimes they disguise themselves as the detritus they are feeding on, sometimes they look very different indeed. But it’s all one forest.

Without wanting to labour the metaphor, they are also, quite literally, feeding on wood.

Jeremy Wikeley, Why poems are like mushrooms

Dear special you,
This is not yet
a cat. This is
a bird hiding
from cats. It is
a butterfly
masquerading
as bird feathers,
a flock of dead
butterflies whose
still wings have been
repurposed as
art, frozen in
time.

PF Anderson, Dear You

I’ve been reading and thinking about the power of place lately. I’m reading for possibly the third time Rebecca Solnit’s book from the late ’70s called Migrations. It is about her ambling around Ireland thinking about ambling, about immigration and exile, about power and poetry and the land, about belonging, about what ties someone to a landscape.

She is so freaking brilliant, which is why I’m on my third read. It is so rich with ideas and beautiful prose that I can barely read it, so often do I have to set it aside to think about what she’s said. I’ve never been to Ireland and although I’m of Irish heritage, I don’t feel particularly connected in the way that so many Americans seem to feel. But the sense she talks about of a land and people integrated, stony and lush, windblown and scented — I get this. I walked out today into a damp autumn day redolent of leaves and dirt and pine, hear the strong song of the stream, high from recent rains, and I felt this land settle around me. To quote an old poem of mine, “I wear this world, a wedding gown, a shroud.” I often feel like I can’t get enough of this land, can’t ingest it enough into my cells. I stand helpless and smitten. [….]

When people are willing to kill over, to die over, land, its “possession,” am I to understand that inherently, as someone to whom landscape means so much? Territorial wars, I know, are about much more than enjoying the view from a ridge. “Land” is access to resources, control, power, as well as history, culture. In this way my own connection to land seems innocent, shallow.

War seems the corruption of that kind of innocent connection to land, borders a persistent, baffling machination of land and idea, of land and love. Call me naive. A word derived from words meaning natural, as well as native, born. Maybe our ideas of place are much too small.

Marilyn McCabe, In my dreams I’m always walkin’; or, On Writing, on Place

I am rebuked for silence: hear then my words, O Israel!
I love you beyond reason and beyond sense,
and the wheeling track of the stars knows
the darkest thoughts we’ve shared. I will not

repudiate my love. And this also is a silence, for which
I also will be blamed. So be it. If the shoe were on the other foot
would a Jew be left alive, between the river and the sea?
I’ve heard their words. I listen. silence is good for that.

Dale Favier, I Am Rebuked For Silence

Because I still have an oven, I can bake bread and knock on the crust: 
a hostage might answer.
Because yeast is alive for a short time,
embroider my name in your handmade world.

Oh long reams of sheets on the ironing board, 
I give you my full attention.   
I give you Simone Weil and Malebranche: 
attentiveness the soul’s natural prayer 
Is prayer.  Pray, pray. With feet.  With flowers, stones.
With undone lips, with murmuring surf.

Jill Pearlman, Half-Baked Prayer (So far, so near)

I am happy to announce that you can now pre-order the press’s two latest chapbooks: Corey Qureshi’s What You Want and Jonathan Todd’s Shift Drinks. Both poets are from Philadelphia and both collections address themes of work and struggle, and I’m very excited to have them join the press’s growing catalogue. […]

Also, with each sale, we are proud to be raising money for the Community Action Relief Project (CARP) in Philadelphia. According to their website, “CARP is a mutual aid and harm reduction project committed to sharing resources and redistributing wealth throughout the Kensington community of Philadelphia. . . . [They] provide essential supplies needed for survival, including hot meals, snacks, clothing, hygiene kits, on site wound care, and safer drug use kits.” In addition, they offer community education and a library of radical literature. As before, writers will receive half of all income from sales, and the remaining half will be split equally between the press and CARP.

Lastly, I am aware that this release comes at a moment of acute suffering and horror in the world. As we speak, Palestinians are enduring a genocidal siege at the hands of the Israeli military, all with the direct support and encouragement of the United States government. In solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have lived for decades under brutal apartheid, I will be making an immediate $200 donation in the press’s name to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), an organization providing emergency aid to the people of Gaza. Half of the Gazan population consists of people under the age of eighteen, and MECA is providing vital support to families there. In effect, this amount will match what we anticipate raising for CARP, but with the benefit of being given immediately. Receipts for this will be provided soon.

R. M. Haines, New Chapbooks Available!

on the days i can touch what is lost, what is said?

death of depth
we dare call heaven

milk makes a prison
of skin

tears of grace
original face

Grant Hackett [no title]

Years ago I started using a little patter before the prayer that I borrowed from Rabbi David Markus. It was originally ad libbed to be singable to the Rizhyner’s melody for the prayer, but it’s basically become liturgy in my community. My son sings it to me sometimes. Other members of the community quote it. The opening has become part of the prayer now. And this past Friday night, as soon as I played the opening chord, everyone knew what was coming.

“Maybe you’ve had a little bit of a week,” I sang.

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve had –“

That’s when I noticed the tears pouring down my face.

*

…For the people torn from their homes and shot. For the concert-goers at the all-night dance party whose dancing ended in a massacre. For children, killed and kidnapped. For lifelong peace activists, killed and kidnapped. For over a thousand Jews slaughtered last Shabbat. For my friend whose partner grew up on one of the now-massacred kibbutzim. For the first responders whose job it was to locate and cover every dead body. For the people who were traumatized seeing Torah scrolls draped in tallitot at Simchat Torah because they evoked Jewish dead bodies draped in tallitot. For everyone struggling now with generational trauma. For the hostages in Gaza. For the families of the hostages, frantic and afraid. For the mother I know whose child couldn’t fall asleep in the bomb shelter. For the children and adults who have no bomb shelters and nowhere safe to go. For Awad Darawshe z”l, killed by Hamas while doing his EMT work. For the recognition that someone out there is wailing and mourning every single death this week, including those who weren’t EMTs or peace activists, just “regular” Palestinians and Israelis. For every life snuffed out. For every child now without parents, and every parent now grieving their child. For the inhabitants of Gaza, with electricity and water cut off, whose buildings are now rubble. For the hopelessness and the anguish. For the fact that grief becomes politicized, and strangers on the internet critique for whom and how we grieve. For the fact that I had to firmly instruct my teenager not to watch videos of hostage executions that Hamas has threatened to broadcast. For the fact that not everyone has the luxury of looking away from the death and loss and horror. For every heart now shattered. For the near-certainty that it’s going to get worse before it gets better…

*

“– a little bit of a week,” I managed, somehow.

By now people were singing along with me, quietly.

“And if you’ve had a little bit of a week — ai yai yai yai yai yai yai yai!”

The words of the prayer don’t really matter, I’ve said more times than I can count. I’ll sing some Hebrew. Maybe you’ll sing some English. Then I’ll sing some Hebrew, and you’ll sing some English. But what really makes this prayer work, what gives us the spiritual capacity to let go of our baggage and be fully present to welcome Shabbat, is the krechtz. The cry from the heart, from the gut, from the core. The ai yai yai. We have to let it all out before we can let Shabbat in.

Rachel Barenblat, A little bit of a week

Should we be grateful for banality?
Just the ordinary day when nothing much
happens. A day of choices: act or not, understand

or not, feel or not, live or not, be on the right
side of history or not. This is the blessing. The
ordinary day. The luxury of choice. The safety

of power. The power of safety. The sky too,
just blue, clouds unbothered, drifting. This
day when nothing happens. Thank you, we

can whisper to the unremarkable night […]

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A day of choices

It’s a hard week to write about wonder, but I began the day thinking that it’s moments like these that ask us to recommit to what is best about humanity, in the face of so much evidence of what is worst.

It was always my hope to study wonder not merely through an aesthetic or critical lens, but as a fundamental aptitude and resonance in our human experience. Today, I want to revisit the writings of thinkers who, to my mind, summed up the stakes of wonder as a vehicle for empathy.

Rachel Carson said that “the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race,”[1] and I stand by her thinking that wonder and humility are incompatible with a lust for exploitation. If we can wonder at the unlikeliness and singularity of a human life, then we safeguard against the impulse for violence. St. Thomas Aquinas also connected wonder with pleasure and desire “that culminates not so much in knowledge as in encounter with majesty,”[2] waking us to what is most essentially human in us, and what is most capable of feeling.

Reflecting on this quality in Wordsworth’s writings, Kate Rigby argued that the reader is “restored to a sense of wonderment before that which we cannot grasp,” which in turn allows us to “be better placed to live respectfully amongst a diversity of more-than-human-others, without seeking always to subsume them to our own ends and understanding.”

Maya C. Popa, Why Wonder

Today we celebrate Columbus Day: October 12 was the actual day of the first sighting of land after almost 2 months at sea. I’m always amazed at what those early explorers accomplished. At Charlestowne Landing (near Charleston, SC), I saw a boat that was a replica of the boat that some of the first English settlers used to get here. It was teeny-tiny. I can’t imagine sailing up the coast to the next harbor in it, much less across the Atlantic. Maybe it would have been easier, back before everyone knew how big the Atlantic was. […]

I keep thinking of the ship’s logs and the captain’s journals, which Columbus kept obsessively. Perhaps we need to do a bit more journalling/blogging/notetaking/observing. Maybe it’s more calibrating or more focused daydreaming. These tools can be important in our creative lives.

Maybe we need a benefactor. Who might be Queen Isabella for us, as artists and as communities of artists?

The most important lesson we can learn from Columbus is we probably need to know that while we think we’re sailing off for India, we might come across a continent that we didn’t know existed. Columbus was disappointed with his discovery: no gold, no spices, land that didn’t live up to his expectations. Yet, he started all sorts of revolutions with his discovery. Imagine a life without corn, sweet peppers, tomatoes. Imagine life without chocolate. Of course, if I was looking through the Native American lens, I might say, “Imagine life without smallpox.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thinking about Columbus and Our Own Creative Lives

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Louise Glück. She is, perhaps, best known for her poetry collection The Wild Iris, which was published in 1992 and for which she received the Pulitzer Prize. The title poem opens the book: At the end of my suffering / there was a door.

Her 2014 collection Faithful and Virtuous Night, also from Carcanet, gave me both comfort and confidence as I was struggling to complete the manuscript of Remembering / Disease. ‘You enter the world of this spellbinding book through one of its many dreamlike portals, and each time you enter it’s the same place but it has been arranged differently.’ Each time I entered this world, I felt closer to home.

Fokkina McDonnell, Austere beauty

It’s overwhelming to spend time with her poetry; you end up steeped in her mythologies, baffled by a personal story both tantalizingly near the surface and never quite within reach. (Consider a poem such as “The Dream,” a poem with two voices, beginning: “I had the weirdest dream. I dreamed we were married again,” and ending with the prosaic explanation, “Because it was a dream.”) […]

I’m trying to share enough so you see the range—this is a poet who published in The New Yorker for fifty years, after all—and the power present in even her early work. I’ve been noticing, as I flip through the pages, how often the color red occurs, as if Persephone’s pomegranate seeds keep replicating into other forms, and reminding us that, whatever is here, in our troubled and besieged turbulent world, it is our world.

Bethany Reid, Louise Glück, 1943-2023

In 2008, I was lucky enough to be one of Louise Gluck’s poetry students at Boston University’s MFA program.

I remember taking the T to her Cambridge apartment, the breakable vases of dried flowers from her garden everywhere, all of us crowded on the couch and floor hoping not to be the one dumb enough to bump something over.

We were all (I think–or at least I was) a little afraid of her, this tiny steel-gray haired woman, so cutting and dry with her poetry and her remarks (but always a bit of sly humor there).

She had pink Himalayan sea-salt on the table–I hailed from Tennessee backwoods and I’d never seen that before. She used a typewriter in a windowed room. I thought she was the most elegant person I’d ever met.

I remember her telling me the end of one of my poems was “Flaccid”–I knew it was bad from my classmates’ giggles (yes, giggles), but had to look up what it meant when I got back to the dilapidated broken-window Victorian apartment my husband and I (21 years old, newlyweds) were renting. Flaccid, added to the vocabulary. And I sure as hell fixed that ending.

Renee Emerson, Tribute to Louise Gluck

My local public library’s poetry section is on the sparse side. However, after renewing my card today, I felt determined to borrow a poetry book. I considered taking out one of Louise Glück’s collections, but I already own copies of the two on the library’s shelves (Wild Iris and Meadowlands). I chose Maxine Kumin’s 1992 book Looking for Luck instead. When I returned home, I learned that Glück has died (age 80). There will be time to return to her books and to seek out her most recent collection, which I have not read; but hers is a voice readers of poetry will miss.

One thing that her poems do is to face, without shying away from, sorrow or grief. They seldom offer sociably-conventional consolations. The consolation is in the spare beauty of her observation, her control of language. That is difficult to do. When I write from despair or deep grief, I find I want to bring some kind of–call it hope?–into the last few lines. I wonder whether I’ve a tendency to want to comfort; maybe my readers, maybe myself.

Ann E. Michael, Poets, horses

Neither the calls of zebra doves nor the down-

sliding notes of the golden crowned sparrow
can quiet my restlessness, this sense of how,

even in the middle of paradise, grief’s mottled
eye continues to offer itself as a gift of welcome—

strands of black tiger eye kukui nut and ti
leaves, a ceremony wreathed around my neck.

Luisa A. Igloria, E komo mai means “welcome”

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I am someone that gets really paralyzed if I think too much about theoretical concerns. So I try to engage with them but limit them. When I was in grad school, I wrote a poem about a character from Arabic literature. One of the critiques of the poem, in workshop, was whether or not I had a right to take on that voice. Several of my classmates spent the majority of the workshop discussing this question, not even really getting to the craft of the poem itself. They were concerned that the answer was no, I didn’t really seem to have the right. It was a troubling experience for me because 1) The assumption that I was not Arab myself was incorrect 2) It brought up a whole lot of existential tailspinning (am I Arab enough since I don’t look as Arab as some of my family, for example, since I’m not totally fluent in the language, etc.) and 3) It scared me that there was this possibility we couldn’t engage with certain things that elicit our curiosity as writers, and that this list of things we can’t engage with are constantly shifting and hard to predict. Isn’t that an obstacle to empathy? At the same time, yes—it’s hugely important to me that writing is genuine and that writers are aware of their own positionality AND do not obstruct or co-opt the voice or tradition of another. In that way, I suppose I’m always asking: where is my work in relation to empathy, honesty, originality? And do I have a reason why I’ve written this? Those are the questions that feel most important to me.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with A.D. Lauren-Abunassar (rob mclennan)

Over the last decade, Emma Simon has quietly but impressively built up a reputation as a gifted exponent of quirky, well-honed poetry, good enough to grace many well-known journals and to win or be placed in several prestigious competitions. Her two pamphlets – Dragonish (The Emma Press, 2017) and The Odds (SmithǀDoorstop, 2020; a winner, chosen by Neil Astley no less, in The Poetry Business’s annual pamphlet competition) – showcased her poems’ qualities. Notably, as well as containing first-class content, a number (but not too many) of the poems have ostentatious titles, e.g. ‘A Pindaric Ode to Robert Smith of The Cure’. Emma has completed both the Poetry Business School Writing School programme and the Poetry School / Newcastle University MA programme and thereby been fortunate to receive the tutelage of some of the UK’s finest poet–teachers.

When Emma announced that Salt would be publishing Shapeshifting for Beginners, available here, I was very glad, and keen to see how she would work across the broader canvas of a whole collection. For me, Emma’s poems, though distinctively her own, remind me of Vicki Feaver in how she draws, often playfully, upon memories, reveries, a wide range of cultural references and a generally wry viewpoint, to consider the place of women and girls in, and the occasional accepting befuddlement at the weirdness of, our contemporary world. Her tone throughout is commanding: the reader follows her train of thought without question. Glyn Maxwell’s blurb says that the ‘poems are shaped by lockdown’, but they are largely far from being about the pandemic, even, it seems, at a subconscious level. It’s a very witty, clever and enjoyable collection.

Matthew Paul, On Emma Simon’s ‘White Blancmange Rabbit’

Hélène Demetriades’ debut collection, the plumb line (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2023) , is a superbly crafted, touching exploration of parenthood and of family relationships. The poems are grouped into three sections: Beginnings, Gravity and Departures, each focusing on a distinct stage in the evolution of those relationships, particularly between the daughter and the father. […]

I’ve got to say I thoroughly enjoyed this collection. It is so human, so touching, so authentic, so relatable. It gets right to the heart of family relationships, revealing both the challenges and the rewards.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘the plumb line’ by Hélène Demetriades

“Ophelia” has a content warning for non-specific sexual and domestic assault. These poems explore allegories for the complexity of feelings that such assaults trigger. Interspersed are fragmentary erasure poems titled “Ophelia”, using Shakespeare’s character. Ophelia is cast as, “torrent, tempest/ whirlwind her body/ the theater of others”. Later, “she will choose cold/ the poison of deep grief” and is described as “o’fire that drowns”. […]

The collection successfully weaves historical and contemporary reactions and trauma from domestic and sexual violence, using allegory and symbolism to explore and illustrate how such violence impacts its victims. “Ophelia” is sensitively and compassionately drawn.

Emma Lee, “Ophelia” V C McCabe (Femmé Salve Books) – Book review

John Guillory writes in Professing Criticism, a 2022 book, that literary criticism “originated millennia ago, achieved a maximal state of organization in the twentieth-century university, and now faces an uncertain future” (xv). He begins with a well-known story: nineteenth-century literary critics were self-trained journalists publishing in periodicals, while universities concentrated on philology–language instead of literature. “Literary scholarship” came into being as a profession after World War I, when it began to serve universities to offer electives and majors to its “clientele,” future members of a professional-managerial class (50-51). From a critic’s point of view, why not jump into the breach with your close-reading skills in pocket, since “professionals” receive higher status and compensation? The new English specialists stressed the exercise of scholarship (knowledge) rather than criticism (opinion). And here we are.

I’m reading Guillory’s tome while preparing to speak on a roundtable called “Avenues of Creative Scholarship,” and I’m only partway in, but what made my jaw drop when he speculated that since literary criticism wasn’t always a university discipline, it’s reasonable to imagine that the whole English Department enterprise was a blip, now ending. Arts and humanities curricula are being destroyed at places like West Virginia University–and declining in power and attractiveness at my own college–so why should this speculation surprise me? But somehow I’d always imagined that the eclipse would pass, perhaps once we got smart and recentered the discipline on what draws students in: reading personally, making their own literary art, asking high-stakes questions about what literature is and does. I mean, that could be true. Even now, there’s a bright ring around the shadow. But Guillory is right. To count on my discipline’s survival–to count on universities surviving in some shape comparable to their twentieth-century versions–is irrationally optimistic.

Witness the shuttering of The Gettysburg Review this week by the administration of Gettysburg College, apparently from a mixture of ignorance and indifference. The Chronicle of Higher Education published a deeply interesting (and paywalled) interview with GR editors Mark Drew and Lauren Hohle in which they discuss how consultants, framing themselves as efficiency experts, draw paychecks from many institutions by targeting the arts and humanities; Drew also reminds us that Kenyon College closed the Kenyon Review for a decade before thinking better of that decision. His own speculation: “The ideal fix, to my mind, is for the magazine to be endowed, either wholly or in part, so that we’re protected from the vicissitudes of changing administrations.”

Lesley Wheeler, Arts and humanities in annular eclipse

When Lesley talks about the closing and narrowing of academia’s support of poetry, literature, liberal arts in general, I am reminded of all my reading on Cold War Culture than indicated the American government was secretly propping up—and using for propaganda—many of the big journals we have come to think of as “permanent” features. Between the fifties and the eighties, the intelligence community thought it was important to show that America had its own artists that could compete with Russia’s—and, of course, they wanted to follow any potential communists into artistic enclaves. So, they gave money to Kenyon Review, Poetry, Paris Review, they helped publish books like Dr. Zhivago. Now, anti-intellectualism is king in politics—the government’s no longer interested in being a patron of the arts. Lesley mentions the patronage that most artists need to live as disappearing—but maybe it was always a sort of mirage. How many people in my generation could even procure a tenure track job in English Literature or Creative Writing? And the chances for the people younger than me, even less. Last week I talked about money and the awards system—a sort of insider trading post about how being wealthy enables you to get more money from grants, awards, and fellowships because you know some sort of secret password—whether it’s a certain college degree, championship by a wealthy mentor, or other. These things feel forbidden to talk about in the poetry world—but I feel it’s also important to point out that the poetry world is as corrupt and given to influence as any field, but also has its havens from that corruption if you look for them.

As a writer, I’ve always felt like an outsider—first, being a woman who did not come (or marry into) money, now, being a disabled and chronically ill woman who still has not won the lottery—and part of me feels like I’ve been beating a fist on the big blank walls of poetry institutions for more than twenty years. I’ve written hundreds of reviews, too, a world that is apparently disappearing, the idea of literary criticism itself being valuable enough to be paid for—was that a waste of time?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Solar Eclipse, Loss and Sadness, a Tribute to Louise Glück, and Some Thoughts on Poetry, Academia, Ambition and the Establishment

And yet, here I am, able to recognise in my own body that things are changing, that my body, once again, is unpredictable, uneasy, causing me more anguish. I wrote a poetry collection, When I Think of My Body as a Horse a few years ago. It was about finding a way to be friends with a body that had let me down so badly; a body that had lost us all our children. The collection was about grief, but was also about recognising that my body was precious, my body had done its best.

But somehow, as menopause approaches, I find myself back to feeling my body is an enemy to me. What is there to say? The door is closing, the door is slamming, there is no going back. It is the finality that is daunting. I don’t want to go back. And yet, the well of sadness that is a part of carrying the death of your baby around with you is open again. I look down into it and I see the person I was, in the body that I was in, looking back up at me hopefully. There is no real difference, it is the same body, it is still doing its best, I am still doing my best.

What am I trying to say? That the loss never goes away, but that you fold around it, like scar tissue forming around a foreign object, until it is a part of you, a part of your body and your story. I have stopped trying to fix myself, I have stopped punishing myself, and am embracing myself.

Wendy Pratt, A Childless Woman Approaches the Menopause

Reflecting on my own time in the [Australian Poetry Slam] scene, I’m proud of the performances and the poems, but also wondering what was it that drove me to compete in slams. I was first introduced to them in Adelaide 2016 when I was asked to be a ‘sacrificial’ poet at the SA State Slam Final. I loved  being the ‘warm-up’ poet but it was safe. It took me a couple more years to find the courage (was it courage?) to perform as a competitor. Ironically, I was working on a novel at the time and was writing in residence at Writers SA where I saw the poster advertising the national poetry slam every. single. day. Was it desire to win that made me compete, or something else?

It was 2016. I was 48 years old and peri-menopausal. It might seem strange to say that at 48 I was only just finding my voice; but that’s how it felt. I think there is an alchemy that occurs in the body and mind in the years leading up to and during menopause. However, in our youth obsessed culture, it’s the negative effects of aging & menopause that are emphasised; so much so that older women can feel, at best, devalued & invisible and, at worst, whinging hypochondriacs. Pre-40 me found the idea of women being invisible incomprehensible. To my shame, I remember thinking: what the fuck are these women complaining about, what do they mean … invisible? I’m starting to get it. But it’s a bullshit story. And I’m working hard to let go of these bullshit stories. (More on this to come in future posts, I’m sure …)

So perhaps there were a number of competing reasons that I stepped up to the microphone and performed in a poetry slam. A desire to write something short (writing the novel was a torture and it’s still unfinished), a desire to be seen (fuck invisibility), and a desire to be heard, which became stronger than self doubt or fear. The more I performed, the more confident I became. It’s no coincidence that my first collection of poetry & prose is titled SIARAD, a Welsh word that means to speak.

Caroline Reid, POETRY SLAM PERFORMANCE: Stars

I think I just want to find a life that isn’t centered on how sick I feel, how cancer-ridden my boob is, how ashamed I am of my swollen, painful, unhealthy body.

I need a new hobby that doesn’t function like a mirror – or a selfie.

This morning as I think about running to the lake, fear builds up. I am afraid that the weird sand-feeling will cause me to stumble. The last thing I want now is a broken wrist.

But the squirrels are really active now for some reason. Seasonal? I want to see them. It is one way to stay in the moment – to be with them in those seconds before they scamper out of sight.

Negative capability is just about being in the moment, after all, right? Not judging, not needing to surround anything with meaning or purpose?

Just put the map down for a minute – eh?

Ren Powell, Oh, the Negative Capability

This week had brought renewed creativity. I’ve joined the peaceful space that is Dawn Chorus. It’s a simple concept of bringing writers together to work for an hour before the nitty gritty of life begins. There is a prompt to use if other inspiration if scant, but more than anything this is a place of calm focus, a place to enjoy the simple act of making time to write.

This act has been fruitful. I’ve written two new poems, and a piece of creative non-fiction. They will need to be polished before they go on their adventures, but it feels good to write something new, and to simply give myself space to think. Being a writer is a solitary pursuit, and being a writer with a chronic illness brings an extra edge of invisibility.

Whilst working alone is one of the positives of the surprise redesign diagnosis with M.E. wrought in my life, there is something about working in community with others that brings a different dimension. Accountability feels like too strong a word – no one is relying on me to turn up each morning. Perhaps it’s simple community – the sense that we’re all working to reach a similar goal. A quiet synergy, even if just for an hour. This space to think is hard to pin down amongst the constant chatter and pull of needing to be visible, needing to be part of the world regardless of whether it is a space that feels welcoming. I often wonder how it must have felt to live with so little sound, without the constant hum of traffic or radios, odd clanking of another redevelopment, whirrs of gardens being tidied and the simple presence of so many people. This level of external distraction makes it difficult to simply be part of the world without shouting.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Being part of the world without shouting

The blockage has finally cleared! Poems that had been gathering dust in numerous in-trays have finally come back to me, all with a polite ‘no thanks’ attached. Oh well. Although having said that, I’ve two poems forthcoming in South magazine and another two in the Hastings Stanza Anthology ‘Bird in a Wilderness’ which we’re launching on Friday October 20 at The White Rock Hotel, Hastings at 7 pm – if you’re anywhere near, do come! The book is partly in aid of The Refugee Buddy Project that does wonderful work in welcoming refugees in the Hastings area.

Robin Houghton, All kinds of poetry news and shenanigans

It was a huge pleasure to be interviewed by acclaimed poet David Adès for Poets’ Corner hosted by Westwords. Each month a poet is invited to read and talk about their poetry on a theme of the poet’s choice.

For this episode, we talked on the theme of Limits of language, limits of experience. in the context of my poetry videos. We covered a lot of ground but the conversation falls naturally into more or less bite-sized chunks. We start with an extended discussion on the nature of video poetry, how they are made, how they can work, and more. Then we go on to talk about some of my specific pieces.

The Youtube clip includes excerpts of these videos, in order: after-image; Palingenetics; and furthermore (indexed); A Captain’s; The Ferrovores; FUTURE PERFECT; and An Introduction to the Theory of Eclipses.

Ian Gibbins, Limits of language, limits of experience – extended interview with David Adès for Poets’ Corner

I’m very pleased to announce that Mark McGuinness’ excellent poetry podcast, A Mouthful of Air, which has recently featured poets such as Mona Arshi, Judy Brown, Rishi Dastidar, Ian Duhig, Mimi Khalvati, Clare Pollard, Tom Sastry, and Denise Saul, has recorded a discussion about my new Salt collection, Between a Drowning Man.

Mark’s method is to focus on one particular poem and between us we chose the poem ‘you are not in search of’, on page 57 of the new book, from the latter end of the ‘Works and Days’ sequence. You can listen to the podcast here. It’s about 40 minutes in length and includes a reading of the poem at the beginning and end. There is also a helpful transcription of our discussion.

Martyn Crucefix, New podcast discussion on Between a Drowning Man

I lost my mind.
I put it here somewhere,
I know I did.

The rain sweeps against the window.
Tonight’s autumn rain.
Waves of it, light, then heavy.
It’s 2 in the morning.
I pace the room,
listening to rain.

Bob Mee, Untitled

the soldiers return
but no one believes them
for they are mute

if you don’t like this war
there’s another one
on the next channel

the adverts are sweeter
a new car in the bright sunshine
turns into a hearse

Jim Young, rumours

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 38

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the equinox, telepathy, stream-writing, list poems, and much more. Enjoy.


It is peak bramble time, jam-making, pickling, apple cake and plum crumble time. The first geese are here, and the last housemartins are lining up to leave. The bird population in the garden has changed – the sparrows are mostly in the fields just now, so the blue tits have a chance at the feeders. The magpies are mostly bothering something else in the woods, there are starlings along all the roof tops, and the robin is noisily staking out his winter territory in the hawthorns over the burn. The temperature has dropped ten degrees over the last week, and I’m about to pick the last tomatoes and move the lemon verbenas and the scented leaf geraniums into the greenhouse before the frost. I’ll be stripping out the spent annuals, and sowing the seeds I’ve saved to jump start next summer’s flowers, and I’ll be making pot pourri and some dried flower arrangements to give us scent and colour through the dark days.

Because next week is the equinox, one of the tipping points of the year, and we’re heading for winter. I’m having a tipping point of some other kinds too. I seem to have shifted from ‘learning about’ this new territory, to ‘getting to know’ it. I am aware, not only of new facts as they come to my attention, but how they impact things I already know. I understand more about why some plants are thriving and some aren’t, how taking out all the stones from the front garden changes not only the drainage, but the feel of the soil, and I can hear when there’s a new bird in the garden. It feels like a more mutual phase, as the garden responds to what I’ve done – and not always in the way I expect. I had no idea the marshmallows would grow so tall, or how much shade the lilac tree casts.

And in writing, too. I’ll be in the house more than the garden, in my head more than the world. I’m out of the note-making, researching, puzzling, planning stage and into the real words on the page. Unwilding is still very short – less than five per cent of the total, but there are actual words! And more importantly, as it turns out, the next poetry collection has begun to happen. It is tentatively called The Midsummer Foxes but it is also going to have bees, weather, music, herbs and the moon. I have always wanted to do a ‘four elements’ collection, and this may well be it. I am embarrassingly excited about it!

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Tipping Point

straw bales
a lonely tractor giving birth
to autumn

Jim Young [no title]

On Eurostar from the Netherlands I wrote two poems about returning home and a poem about forgetting. I haven’t knowingly written a poem for a while. I had hoped I could, after bike rides, visits to museums, spending time with Giya. I felt refreshed by being away. I saw new things, including Snow White and the Broken Arm by Marlene Dumas, a South African by birth who lives in Amsterdam. And Snow White is holding a camera. When I went to visit mum and showed it to her she laughed. That was the response of a writer, I realised. It was subversive. 

There is lots to do now. It’s a question of pacing, breathing and breaks, I’m told. 

I want to think more. I’ve been in plant mind all spring and summer. Autumn’s provoking a change. 

Jackie Wills, Coming home and thinking more

In Latin, the word equinox means equal night—
there are two times each year when day

and night are the same length in all parts
of the world. On one side, she was dying.

On the other, she was already dead,
her breaths having slowed until

they could not mist the mirror anymore.
The three women who cared for her until

the end folded the sheets and prepared
her body for its last ceremony of fire,

for sifting into an urn bearing her name.

Luisa A. Igloria, Death in a Different Time Zone

A CBe event at the Barbican scheduled for Wednesday this week, the 27th, has been postponed (to 31 January next year) because of poor ticket sales. How many tickets were sold? As many as a tree-surgeon friend could count on his right hand, after having lost two fingers on that hand to one of those chopping machines into which fallen branches are fed.

Ouch. It’s dose of realism. Event organisers who schedule Ian McEwan or Zadie Smith or Marie Kondo or Michael Palin can stroll into the box office, quids in; event organisers who schedule small-press writers have to run ten times faster for often, as here, zero result.

The Barbican event was ticketed. They pay the writers. Many book events don’t. This is tricky: earlier this month I heard a librarian speak about her unease at having to charge £3 for an author event when for many of the people she wanted to come that was a barrier. The regular charge for book events in London is £10, which equals 2.5 Costa coffees and the food budget for a week for many. We want open access; we want writers to be valued; and it’s depressing how often money gets in the way rather than helping.

Once, a friend and I were the only people to turn up to a stage adaptation of Kafka in a pub theatre and they put on the show just for us.

On the plus side: for publishers whose authors cannot fill stadia, every reader matters.

Charles Boyle, Postponed

21st June 2017, a sweltering day in London, was a significant date for me in two respects. The number one reason was that it was the launch of my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, at the LRB bookshop. But the second reason is that at the same event I met my mate Mat Riches for the first time.

On that back of that reading (and a fair few pints after the event itself!), we exchanged a couple of poems by email, gave each other feedback, found the feedback useful, realised we also had a fair bit in common apart from poetry, and began a WhatsApp chat that must now have thousands of messages in its archive. It soon stretched well beyond poetry to the key issues of dodgy craft beer, dodgy football teams, dodgy knees and dodgy tastes in shirts.

In fact, I’d argue that every poet needs a mate like Mat, and I feel hugely fortunate to have found him. He’s seen all the poems in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course. His development as a poet has been massive over these six years, and his forthcoming pamphlet, Collecting the Data, will be a terrific calling card.

Mat and I are very different poets, but I’d suggest the key to our successful mutual support is that we never attempt to get the other to write in our aesthetic or voice. Instead, we strive to understand, respect and sometimes push each other gently towards a stretching of our self-imposed limits.

Perhaps the only bad thing is that we now can’t ethically bring ourselves to review our respective books.

Matthew Stewart, My mate Mat

Rex Jung is a neuroscientist who studies creativity. He defines creativity as what is “novel and useful” [emphasis mine]. By choosing to live a creative life, by choosing to seek out the poetic in the humdrum details of our daily lives, we can use writing to gain the perspective we need to become the person each of us wants to be: we can live deliberately.

We can cultivate attention and gratitude. We can create stronger connections with the physical realities of Earth, and with each other. If we look inward, but aim toward art—and if we are fortunate—we can transcend ourselves.

Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.
Oscar Wilde

We construct our narratives. Which story are you choosing? Because this choice is who you are.

Ren Powell, Metaphor as a Present Tense Manifesto

Kierkegaard suggests that we’re depressed, in modern times, precisely because we’re trying to live in the present moment: we have emptied the past and the future of all meaning. “Everything is cut away but the present; no wonder, then, that one loses it in the constant anxiety about losing it.” In these conditions McMindfulness is more likely to exacerbate depression than to relieve it. Relying on the present moment to supply all our meaning was already overloading it: piling more on is not likely to help.

I still think most people will need mindfulness practices (very broadly construed) to have a life worth living. But I’ve joined the rebellion against locating the present moment as the place where reality lives. There’s a lot of reality. Some ways of reaching out to touch it are historical, and some are soteriological. The fact that “we look before and after” is a feature, not a bug. Sure, it can get us in trouble. What can’t? Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.

A quiet Fall day. I have failed in everything. And still no rain.

Dale Favier, “Everything is cut away but the Present”

One of the gifts of lyric poetry is the way that it can hold space for a full range of truths as well as ways to access understandings of truth. I often tell writers that what we are after is awkward human utterance. This can be interpreted both as craft as well as content. Figuring out what needs to be said as well as how it needs to be said–this is the gift and animation of engaging with poetry and its truths.

These thoughts are on my mind after spending time with the digital album Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 (Hello America Stereo Cassette) by Mugabi Byenkya. This album’s narrative arc centers the experiences of a disabled body navigating an able-bodied world as well as the themes of intimacy and love and their role in survival. What charges through the listening experience is Byenkya’s lyric sensibility.

The opening to “Tina,” for example, sets a scene deftly then quickly makes clear what the stakes are:

Housekeeping keeps knocking on the door telling me to open up. I sit and listen. I’m the reason that the towel rack lies mangled askew on the chalky linoleum floor, wondering how much this is going to rack up in charges, wracking my mind for a convincing enough excuse, because I had a seizure while getting out of the shower is a little too much truth, a little too much awkward silence, a little too much shifty eyes, a little too much tiptoeing past the room but barging in when the fork clatters to the ground, a little too much.

The scene here depicts the liminal space of having to negotiate around vulnerability. The physical vulnerability of the moment runs parallel with the emotional vulnerability behind the speaker’s voice. Reading the words alone makes clear the mind at work; the wordplay of “open up” can be appreciated and lingered over in text, such a poignant note to hit before moving forward. Listening to Byenkya’s voice behind words, however, adds a further dimension, makes clear exactly the “opening up” to come.

The idea present in the phrasing “a little too much truth” lives at the core of this album. Byenkya’s awareness and ability to evoke for listeners moments of “a little too much truth” is a gift to watch in action.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 by Mugabi Byenkya

Geoff Bouvier’s first book, Living Room, was selected by Heather McHugh as the winner of the 2005 APR/Honickman First Book Prize. His second book, Glass Harmonica, was published in 2011 by Quale Press. He received an MFA from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts in 1997 and a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University in 2016. In 2009, he was the Roberta C. Holloway visiting poet at the University of California – Berkeley. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his partner, the novelist SJ Sindu, and teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I don’t remember the first book I ever read, but it fundamentally changed me. The mere fact of words – lines of little scribbles that were somehow signs of meaning – shifted my basic understanding of everything.

The first book I wrote – “The Cake Who Lost Its Crumbs,” when I was three – taught me that I could sculpt those little significant meaningful scribbles. My audience was my mother and father, who were quite encouraging.

The first book I published, thirty-three years later, relined my confidence. Though Living Room found only a modest audience, it did earn me some inroads into academia, where I’ve been able to cultivate a life of the mind.

With my new book, Us From Nothing, I wanted words to again shift my basic understanding of everything. I had to try to understand who I am, why I’m here, where I came from, and where I might be headed. It took me 7 years to research and revise what became a serial epic prose poem about the most important milestones in human history.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Psychologically, from the moment I learned to read, it was the words that got me, first and foremost. The mere fact of words. I didn’t care about stories or characters. Those words were drawing attention to themselves as words. That’s the poetry. That hooked me.

Factually, I grew up in a house full of books – my parents were both teachers and readers – but the shelf with the poetry books was the only one with cobwebs on it. I think I gravitated toward it because no one else ever touched it; the poetry books could be mine, all mine.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Geoff Bouvier

My latest poetry book has an unusual backstory: the pandemic and my telepathic parents.

My parents communicated telepathically — mostly when my father was at work. She was a stay-at-home Mom; he was a shipman in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and had no access to a telephone.  When I was too young for school, she’d ask me to play quietly and then converse with him. Naturally, I thought all married couples could transmit thought messages.

I inherited this useful ability, which granted me access to communications “across the miles,” so to speak.  For example, I could reach my father while he was driving and insist that he turn around and come home. I kept this channel open so the dead could reach out, too; My Dungeon Ghost is a memoir poem about an elementary school classmate who became a paid assassin, died behind bars, and telepathically requested “a boon.”
 
With outsiders, this was never discussed, even though my family considers telepathy to be a normal thing even children are expected to do. Though I’ve had my share of uncanny conversations and experiences, I deliberately excluded these from my writing. Then the pandemic arrived with a panicked lockdown — and the silken privacy of isolation granted permission to open a locked door. I decided this collection would be different: a conjuring of the literary and speculative, the familiar and the alien, with judicious sampling from other poets.

Drop-in by LindaAnn LoSchiavo (Nigel Kent)

This was the first in-person reading I’ve done in a long time. I’d forgotten how bad the nerves are when I read out. Getting the collections off the bookshelf and going through them, choosing what to read was like going backwards in time, like looking through photos and seeing images of previous selves. I literally had to knock the dust off them, especially the early ones. I have five collections in all: three full and two pamphlets and I have another full collection coming out next year. You’d think by now I’d feel reasonably confident in my abilities as a poet but for some reason, poetry is probably my main area of intense feelings of imposter syndrome. Often I get so nervous before a reading that I’ll spend the whole day beforehand stuck in ‘waiting mode’ feeling sick with nerves. But I think something might have changed this year, the nerves are definitely not as bad. I think it’s since I signed the book deal contract on my nature-landscape-memoir. I have spent a year writing about belonging and what it is to belong, to feel you have a place in the world. I feel like I have spent a year validating my right to exist in the arts sphere, and other places, my own landscape, my own skin. The difference between having a poetry collection published and a main stream trad published non poetry book is immense – I’m going to write a post about it in the future – and it helps that there’s a team working with me, all of us working towards getting the edits finished, getting the book landed and absolutely shining. I don’t know what it is I’m trying to say – something about being taken seriously as a writer, but also, that self recognition, the finding of inner value in your own work…you have got to have that to grow.

Anyway, I think because the nerves were less debilitating this time, and because I didn’t have books to flog or a course to sell, I think because I was simply taking part (not organising for a change – the relief!) I was able to enjoy the evening more fully, I was fully present. I chatted to poetry friends, I got the gossip on other sectors of the arts world, I enjoyed, oh fully enjoyed, the readings by the other poets and when I came to read I felt a genuine connection with the audience. As I sat watching the night draw in on Northway, listening to the musicians between sets and watching the good folk of Scarborough going out into the town, or coming in and out of the SJT theatre opposite, the shop lights and the street lights glittering, the sound of traffic moving through the town, I thought – this could be anywhere. We could be in London, we could be in Manchester, but here we are in Scarborough.’ It pleases me to see cultural events like this springing up in the town, and I’m pleased to just be a tiny part of that.

Wendy Pratt, Knocking the Dust Off – Reading Out

I have a live reading as part of an Acumen evening coming up this week […]. Do pop in if you find yourself in Dulwich on Thursday. I liked what Wendy [Pratt] had to say about not having to organise the reading so she could step back and enjoy just reading. I liked her note about not having books to sell as well— this will be my last reading before I do have to start thinking about that.

However, what I really liked was the poem that Wendy included at the end of the post. It’s her lovely ‘Love Letter to Scarborough on a Saturday Night‘ from her most recent collection, ‘ When I Think of My Body as a Horse‘ (reviewed by some knobhead here). Maybe it’s the fact that I have family in Scarbados—NB, I don’t think it is, but I love this poem.  The whole collection is a moving feast, a marvel and  just moving, so if you’ve not read it please do.

Now, I could just cheat and tell you to read the Scarborough poem and call that it, but oh no, dear reader…I want you to have more…

Mat Riches, Nationalising Breaking Glass and Rood-Screens

On Thursday evening I did a reading with Catherine Kyle Broadwall (she read from her fun new book, Fulgurite—full of fairy tale poems!) and read from Field Guide to the End of the World and Flare, Corona, which I think went pretty well. Had a good crowd, it was a super cute store—great eclectic magazine sections, great fiction and poetry sections, and a stuffed narwhal hanging from the ceiling, and we sold a lot of books, which was fun. It had been a minute since I’d done a reading, so I was glad it went pretty well. […]

I got a total of four rejections and two acceptances this week – and one was from a place I’ve been trying to get into for years, JAMA, or the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not a doctor, but I do have a pre-med biology degree, and I write medically themed poetry all the time, so it seemed like a natural fit—but the first poem they took wasn’t at all medically related, ironically. Ha ha!

Fall always means new pens and notebooks, catching up on paperwork, starting the academic year—so even those of us who don’t work in academia will be affected by the increased work at literary magazines or invitations to come read at classes, all that sort of thing.

Although I am still recovering from my antibody infusion from almost two weeks ago, I’m starting to feel a little more productive as the days get colder and shorter.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s Fall Witches! Autumn Equinox with Glass Pumpkins, a Reading Report from Edmonds Bookshop and an Upcoming Zoom Reading, Exciting Acceptances

Such a joy last weekend to attend one of a few readings organized by Editor Cassandra Arnold to celebrate her release of Alchemy and Miracles (Gilbert & Hall Press, 2023). Everyone read so beautifully! This collection is filled with nature poems written by 83 poets from all over the world, including three writers from right here in Southeast Alaska. Yes, I’m over the moon to have work in this compilation with fellow Blue Canoe writers Mandy Ramsey from Haines and Bonnie Demerjian from Wrangell. If you get the chance, give Cassandra Arnold a follow on Instagram (@cassandra_art_and_stories) where you’ll surely be inspired about all things poetry. And yes, she designed this lovely cover, too! Alchemy and Miracles may be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Happy Autumn, all! In true, Southeast Alaskan form, termination dust on the high peaks yesterday morning.

Kersten Christianson, Autumnal Alchemy

You can’t see in the photograph that the speaker is sitting on her hands, nor can you see her feet, described later as “thick toes, accustomed to field” that are squeezed painfully into borrowed shoes. And the face gives no evidence of physical pain, but that makes the speaker even more believable. She has prepared for this moment, this unveiling, and nervous as she is, she will not allow something as minor as discomfort to ruin it.

Smith turns the poem in the second stanza by changing the verb tense, moving into second person, though it feels more like the speaker is talking to the picture or into a mirror rather than talking directly to the reader. It’s a fantastic use of the second person, because usually the effect of the move is to grab the reader by the shirt, so to speak, and demand their attention, but here it’s more introspective.

Tell me that I have earned at least this much woman. Tell me

that this day is worth all the nights I wished the muscle

of myself away.

The “tell me” is a request for validation or acceptance, but again, the speaker isn’t asking for it from us. She’s asking it from herself, which is important because she isn’t sure that she’ll receive it from anyone else. The end of the poem leaves this uncertain:

Here I am, Mama, vexing your savior,

barely alive beneath face powder and wild prayer. Here I am,

both your daughter and your son, stinking of violet water.

The “vexing your savior” combined with “wild prayer” really hits hard for me because of my own experiences of estrangement from family over matters of faith. I feel what’s at stake and why she still needs to be this person no matter the cost. There’s an ache here that stays unresolved, and I think that’s why it sticks with me.

Brian Spears, Sitting for a picture

Wow, I felt a lot of love for RS Thomas after my last blog post.

I wonder if we need more spirituality today, generally I mean. I speak as a moderate atheist. I think I used to call myself an ‘agnostic’ – wanting to leave the door open I suppose – but we all grow older, and so our thoughts and beliefs mature one way or another. I now love a lot of things about the church of my upbringing (although I hated it as a child!), but it stops well short of faith. The only church service I enjoy is Evensong, but I love the architecture of churches and can’t resist going inside any I come across. I’ve often sung the services in cathedrals with my choir the Lewes Singers: I will sing anything, but I never say the creed. It’s always a moving experience, but perhaps that’s the feeling of being in the presence of faith: people who truly believe. I don’t just mean those participating in the service, but also the thousands of souls who have worshipped there for centuries, right back to the stonemasons and labourers who built the massive edifices. I respect all that, and feel privileged to be a part of it.

But spirituality feels much wider, more inclusive than religion as such. My impression is that RS continually questioned his faith. Isn’t that what many of us do, even the atheists? What do we believe in? Surely it can’t just be Gaia, politics, football or reality TV?

Robin Houghton, On spirituality, a submission and the wonder of lists

The Days of Awe open on Rosh Hashanah and close on Yom Kippur. When my birthday falls on Rosh Hashanah, it gets lost in the birthday of the world; when it falls on Yom Kippur, celebrations turn sober and thin. Gallows humor when fasting, enacting symbolic death? Fat chance! 

This year, the birthday fell smack in the middle of the Days of Awe – and I got a day or two of awe. When your walls come tumbling down (Rabbi Alan Lew’s image), as they did unbidden during this season of introspection, you get some light in the gaps of the rebuilding. That happened mid-week – all in betweens! – in a New England-y place familiar and known (Maine) but charged. I cleared the slate and came with heightened sensibility; came to the sapphire sky with such a mind. Something came to meet me. 

Everything got renewed by the sea, standing on the deck of a fishery
in the presence of a rope coiled, braided, stiff with the sting of fish iodine
and rusted wires woven together with gates, doors, traps
and floats bulbed in mottled white and bright fuchsia 
hanging like a bunch of radishes. 

Yes to Paul Eluard: “Is there another world? Yes, in this one.”

Jill Pearlman, All the Days of Awe

Do I read Emily Dickinson because she speaks to me directly and clearly? In truth, no. I’m very often mystified. And I think this is a point worth making: we don’t always read the writers we love out of a profound sense of familiarity or comprehension. But where I don’t understand her, a different kind of understanding steps in, a knowledge layers deep that I would not otherwise have activated that day. Dickinson makes me experience what she herself described here:

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Dickinson’s social quickness and wit is often overlooked in favor of her reclusive tendencies. If you don’t believe me, read her letters. I have just flipped to a passage at random and found a letter to her brother Austin that I had marked years ago. It reads:

Your welcome letter found me all engrossed in the history of Sulphuric Acid!!!!!

Yes, she included five exclamation points. Later in the letter, she tells her brother she’s eager for a Valentine—all the other girls have received them—so, where is hers? She insists that Austin tell Thomas she’s pining for one.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

Since learning that yoga is not, in fact, a sinister cult but a really useful way of caring for my back, I regularly breathe out deeply. This is something I’ve done both in classes, and in front of ‘Yoga with Adrienne’ and her free YouTube videos. 

When younger, I did breathing exercises for wellbeing by default when playing the flute. A lot of my lessons were spent with my teacher encouraging me to develop breath and diaphragm control. I had no idea how useful a life skill this was as I channelled a column of air into a top C. 

More recently, I exhaled deeply on opening a box of copies of Festival in a Book – A Celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival. I had been holding my breath for two weeks: between the moment of pressing send on the final proofs and lifting out the first book. I breathed even more freely when Anna Dreda, Festival Founder, said she loves the anthology created in honour of her Festival and its legacy. 

It has struck me since that the publication of a book of poetry is, in some ways, an exhalation, a letting go. A breathing out of thought and word and music into the world. Breath and word. The word made paper. It can’t be taken back now. And it will become part of other people’s breathing, internal and external, when read. 

Liz Lefroy, I Exhale Deeply

I know sometimes a poem can simmer away for years before the poet feels it’s done, or at least in a state competent enough to be abandoned. I know some people feel writing slowly and meticulously, working on the placing of words in relation to each other, how each fits or alters the metre, a rhyming scheme, or the demands and rigours of the particular form that is at the heart of the attempt, is the proper way to pay respect to poetry as a craft to be learned. Sometimes this process allows time for an exploration into what the poet actually wants to say – because it’s not always obvious to the poet at the outset. I appreciate this, and have written this way.

And of course there is the question of feedback. A poem might be sent to a trusted poetry friend for appraisal, even for thorough workshopping. Bits might be lopped off, the tense altered, adjectives questioned, the lines rejigged to the point of a new opening or closing line. And if the poem ever becomes a part of a collection, then the publisher’s editor, who might or might not be the same person, might well want to suggest even more alterations. This is normal enough stuff. Some thinner-skinned poets seem to struggle with it but after many years of working for newspapers, I understand the role of the sub-editor and the value of a good one. Far from it being bothersome, I appreciate the effort and generosity of those who take the time to offer their thoughts.

However, not all poetry is written as methodically and meticulously as this. An obvious point, perhaps, but in poetry’s case ‘rules are not always rules’.

More recently, or at least recently more frequently, I have felt more confident in the technique of stream-writing, not simply as a warm-up exercise, but as a valid form of delving into what the mind contains and wants to share. When I begin I have no idea what will come out of it. I might have one line, one image, and I usually feel calm enough to shut everything else out and let the words, images, phrases, chunks of conversation maybe, emerge and work out their own order. It’s an exploration, without prior warning, of the recesses of the mind. Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, the result is completely disconnected rubbish because I’m unable to think or connect thought and so it is deleted. Other times, it feels as if I may have hit on something, that the words have a relationship to one another, a rhythm that might alter and swing around, but that forms a whole that contains some kind of meaning, in the strict sense of the word, as in an emotional connection not simply a logical process. The validity of this way of doing things is a matter of opinion and it’s certainly not something I would do every time I sat down to write, but I’m finding that with more practice comes more consistency, as I suppose is the way with any technique.

That is not to say the ‘end result’ cannot stand editing. There are poets who employ stream-writing as an inviolable technique, valid only if left well alone as the produce of the mind at that particular moment in life or time. I see the point in this as a principle but the obvious danger is that it may end up as a stream of self-indulgent drivel, a celebration of egotism in a string of boring sentences.

Bob Mee, Untitled

There can be beauty in a list: its specificity, also the rhythm and sound–which order does the poet choose for each word? That matters. Chronology perhaps; category, like the scientist; or else sound, such as alliteration; or possibly by the thread of some concatenation that gradually creates associations. The logic of a list poem differs from other forms of lists.

I always think of Whitman as an early and consummate “list poet,” though a great many of his poems do not rely on the strategy. There are list poems that employ anaphora and those that build through phrases. Others rely on modifiers that escalate or change tone to surprise the reader. In my own process it has been useful to begin drafting poems through listing, though often I abandon the list when I revise.

Also, I teach myself about the world and its people, environs, and ideas through lists.

For example, having strayed temporarily from my home region, I’m getting acquainted with a “new” place by making lists of birds, trees, flowers–yeah, the naming-things approach so basic to human beings, like when my children were just learning to talk and conversation with them consisted largely of naming objects or actions.

This is not a poem:

Pygmy nuthatch, juniper titmouse, pinyon jay. Gambel oak, Abert’s squirrel, pinacate stink beetle, skink. Quaking aspen, limber pine. Common raven, Woodhouse’s scrub-jay, fireweed, globemallow, bear corn, oak gall, crow. Pinyon, cholla, Ponderosa pine, alligator juniper, Apache plume, sandwort, groundsel. Gneiss, granite, gray oak, spotted towhee, rabbitbrush, bajada, arroyo, muttongrass, mesa, schist.

Ann E. Michael, Lists

Somewhere a chair is waiting for us. Maybe at home. Maybe at the doctor’s office. Maybe in an empty lot beside a busy street where a sparrow sings in the thicket.

Carey Taylor, Off Killingsworth


When his partner suddenly died, life changed utterly for Paul Stephenson. In Hard Drive a prologue and epilogue hold six parts of almost equal length. These poems take the reader through the journey of grief: Signature, Officialdom, Clearing Shelves, Covered Reservoir, Intentions, Attachment.

‘A noted formalist, with a flair for experiment, pattern and the use of constraints’, Paul also has a talent for intriguing titles: Other people who died at 38; Better Verbs for Scattering; We weren’t married. He was my civil partner.

There is a great variety of form: erasure poems, use of indents and columns, haibun, prose poems, alongside the narrative poems which range in length from three lines to the five-page poem Your Brain.

Fokkina McDonnell, Hard Drive

A little while ago, I read a pamphlet by Nikki Dudley. It was about her Nan, Greenie, and about how Greenie´s dementia had a huge impact not only on her, but also on Nikki and the whole family. At the time I was reading this, my father had died after living with Parkinson´s-related dementia for the last years of his life. And my mother, who was (and still is) alive, was living with dementia as well. The book meant a lot to me and I came back to it again and again. It is a mixture of poetry, CNF and visual poetry, the latter illustrating perfectly that dementia is not a linear thing, but something scattered, murky, out of reach for those who live with it and those who are their witnesses in this process. When I wrote my own book, St. Eisenberg and the Sunshine Bus, Nikki’s book helped me to think outside the box in describing my father’s dementia.

So when Beir Bua Press closed down and it wasn’t clear what would happen with all the books, I approached Nikki and asked her what she thought about Sídhe Press re-publishing her book. We agreed on working together and on September 15, Just One More I Go, was re-published by Sídhe Press. It is, of course, the same book it was, but I hope we have added and improved to it in a way that honours Greenie. As well as an additional poem, we now have photos of Greenie not only on the cover, but also tucked inside the book- one more thing to illustrate who she was and is to Nikki, and once we read it, to us. And it slots in seamlessly with Our Own Coordinates- Poems About Dementia, which was the first book I published with Sídhe Press.

Annick Yerem, Just One More Before I Go by Nikki Dudley

母と娘(こ)に生れあはせし花野かな 正木ゆう子

haha to ko ni umareawaseshi hanano kana

            our fate of being

            a mother and a daughter

            flowering field …

                                                            Yuko Masaki

from Haiku Dai-Saijiki (Comprehensive Haiku Saijiki), Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo, 2006

Fay’s Note:  “hanano” (flowering field) is an autumn kigo.

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (September 25, 2023)

Two of Trish Kerrison’s sons have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which triggers progressive muscle failure and usually limits life to eighteen years or below, although they are now in their late-twenties. The poems are an honest, and occasionally humorous, look at life as a mother and carer. The short introductory poem takes the image of four lines drawn in sand to make a box, “to put people in// to live,/contained,// until the sands shift.” Children are life-changing events but also a tickbox on a life’s milestones: job, marry, children, etc. A disabled child can leave parents feeling as if their life’s foundations have slipped away. No one pictures themselves with a disabled child. There’s not only the extra care work involved but battles to get the support parents are entitled to, the juggling of carers and work, and the feeling of constantly fighting the same battles over and over. But parents keep going, as “The Ground Beneath Our Feet” concludes as parents

“laugh, even as the sands are shifting.
We walk on unsteady feet, unsteady ground.
We don’t look down.”

Emma Lee, “Beyond Caring” Trish Kerrison (Five Leaves) – book review

Today, riding back to the city, and drinking my first PSL of the year, I noticed some trees were somehow bright yellow amid still plentiful green and remembered we had crossed that official threshold into autumn–the equinox. That early dark creeps in slowly, but starts racing toward December about now, helped along by the time change that will come in early November.  I have not started my fall decorating or swapped out my summer clothes for cooler weather but possibly this week I will do both. 

This week is less thick with writing than last week with lots of deadlines and the first draft of the poetry study guide trial assignment. In addition to the usual lifestyle and design stuff, it was really nice to spend some time, deep diving on a single poem (Sharon Olds’ “Rite of Passage)” and putting all that literary analysis education I paid so much for to good use. There were chapbook orders and layouts on new books that will be coming. There was one new poem in the cryptozoology series, but it feels halting and stiff like I haven’t written enough in the past couple of months, poetry-wise, sort of like clearing your throat after a long silence. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/25/2023

I sometimes laugh when I think back to my NY post and declaring 2023 to be the year of my ALL. This year, and it’s only September, has already exceeded expectations. I’m looking forward honestly to January when I can write down the plot of this past year, and call forth the next. (Carefully, very carefully….)

But also, don’t worry, it seems with every amazing thing that’s happened, there’s been a balance check. But I still believe in the unsaid, (a post I wrote in 2017), I still believe in the words of Nicole Brossard who says, “You have to be insane to confide the essential to anyone anywhere except in a poem.” 

Still, life is wonderful, still life is wonderful……My book on that subject and the art life will be coming out in January, and I remain very proud of it. More on that soon…..

In the meantime, our garden season is coming to a close, the poetry of fall is upon us.

Shawna Lemay, Another Season of Seeing

I often sort of felt like I was the only stranger at a party where everyone else were lifelong friends. Much hugging and exclaiming around me while I stand awkwardly smiling and clutching my wine glass. One of the many great things about online learning though is that I don’t have to be there in the room with the awkward smile and the wine glass. I can be HOME with the video turned off, my brow furrowed, thinking wait…what? […]

And no, I’m not going to tell you which poet, because I’m sure you love love love their work and might be a tad judge-y of me for noooot really being tuned into it. I’m hoping, though, that sense of not-getting-it -even-though-you-want-to resonates. I’m happy to be reminded that I don’t need to love it all, that I can just keep reading on. And that maybe there will come a time when this poet’s work is exactly what I’ll need.

The poetry mansion has many rooms, so it’s okay that I slide out of this one and wander into some other room, or lurk in the hallway for a while. I’m sure there’s another party I’ll feel more comfortable in. Have wine glass, will travel.

Marilyn McCabe, You don’t know what love is; or, On Learning and Appreciation

Famished for good fortune, well fed on the hungers of the needy, we can name all the saints but cannot bend their mercies so one size fits all.

To sing, to seek, to rosary old stones.

To regal and re-gold tired sunrises.

Scatter worries for the birds feasting on hard times.

For the ones flying south in winter, scatter hopes so joy may expand.

Rich Ferguson, Blessed Light For the Dying

For the Earth,
both hands in an arc.
A fist for the moon.
Gravity a rope,
unseen in the dark.

Palms up for the tides,
both high and low,
the hands raise and lower
as they ebb and flow.

The planet spins,
the pull taunts,
the moon is what
the water wants.

Jason Crane, POEM: Describing A Satellite

island: the moon
that swallowed the moon
a mouth that gathered clouds

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 32

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, summer was winding down for many, but the Sealey Challenge remains in full effect through the end of the month, so the blogs are full of enthusiasm for books mingled with wistfulness and/or relief. I found posts on challenging ourselves as writers, learning from children, learning from film, and much more. Enjoy.


This week I’ve been running the Dawn Chorus early morning writing group and have been struck by the silence, the on-the-cusp-of-autumn peace of the early mornings. Yesterday morning I watched a stretched sunrise the colour of rose-quartz, with a few lonely herring gulls drifting past quietly, their white bellies reflecting the pink of it. It reminded me that there is a place in the morning in which there is no business, no planning or prepping or rushing or fighting, or working. It made me want to engage with that peace, and peace of mind, more. After the weeks of constant cool rain the heat of summer has returned in dribs and drabs, some days warm, some days hot. But it doesn’t feel like the blaze of summer is returning. There are now straggled Vs of geese over the house. There is now the scent of smoke in the air and it feels like the season tipping forward. It feels like August is a month that exists on a balancing point between summer and autumn, but now the weight of the season has fallen towards the mulch, earthy change of autumn now.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience – The Taste of Summer

To quiet the mind, to plant carrots,
to wash the sheets more often.
To banish judgment and meet
each morning with a corpulent heart.
The joy is never in the execution
but in the crossing off, the banishment
of each righteous act, the sweet relief of
two hard lines, muffling the burden.

Kristen McHenry, List Poem

The new titles: poetry, literary essays, and a couple that booksellers may shelve under fiction (Bebe) and non-fiction: memoir (Take Two), but like a number of CBe titles they are not as clear-cut as that. I know that when I sit down at the table I do want the menu arranged in a way that helps me to choose – starters, mains, desserts; fish, meat, vegetarian – but sometimes it works to just say that one, because I want to be surprised. I may like it, I may not. If the latter, I really haven’t lost much. Maybe think of this table as one big sharing platter.

Charles Boyle, Table for 6

If you’re new to reading this Substack, you may not know that I often review new books of poetry for journals. I have the great pleasure of reviewing Sam Sax’s new book, Pig, which will be out from Scribner Poetry next month. Since the book is NOT yet released, I cannot share poems here, but I can say with confidence that this collection is well worth your time as a poetry reader and as a human animal trying to navigate the world. (This is the first type of re-reading. When I review a book of poems, I read it a minimum of five times, so this was my third pass at Sam’s, the reading where I start pulling quotes to support the thematic strands I want to talk about in a review.)

Today’s re-read was of a collection I first encountered twelve years ago when I took a manuscript course with Daniel Khalastchi (a class that clarified the final version on my first book, A House of Many Windows, which was picked up the following year by Sundress). Daniel’s work in Manoleria (Tupelo Press, 2011) is another example of a writer’s work that is so different from my own that I want to learn from it. It is also not an easy book to read in terms of content. Its depictions of oppression physical suffering (with surreal vignettes full of body horror) are difficult and unnerving. But beneath the startling images lies a heart of hope, where “somewhere inside I hear calling a shepherd.”

Donna Vorreyer, Days 8 and 9: Two Kinds of Re-Reading

I might be absurdly late to the party, but my discovery of Dennis O’Driscoll’s poetry has been a joy over the past few months. 

On the back of that process, I sought out examples of his prose online, and stumbled on an excellent article by him from Poetry Ireland Review. It’s well worth a read in full (see link here) if you’ve got a few minutes free over the summer, but here’s a thought-provoking snippet as an initial taster…

“…Many of the techniques of poetry can be acquired and improved through practice and emulation. What cannot be taught, what must already be in place, is an individual perspective on the world. We want the poet’s own version of life, not a rehash of Dylan Thomas’s or Sylvia Plath’s world. The personal rhythms, obsessions, linguistic quirks which readers and reviewers may initially deprecate are the best foundations on which to build a poetic talent. The poems which the editor rejects may become your cornerstone…”

Matthew Stewart, Dennis O’Driscoll in Poetry Ireland Review

You are a prolific writer yourself, across several forms – including poetry, short stories, and novels – in both English and Shona. Does the fact that you are bilingual influence your writing, perhaps in subtle ways – for example imagery, sound effects, point of view?

Samantha [Rumbidzai Vazhure]Absolutely. I am a Karanga from Masvingo and most Shona-speakers will tell you how poetic, charming and dramatic the Karanga language is – full of humour, idioms and ideophones, metaphor, rhyme, etc. Karanga people are detail-oriented and when we tell a story, we call it kurondedzera, which loosely translated means “discourse at length”. As children, we wrote rondedzero (composition) in Shona class and my teachers expected to find the minutest detail in my work, because they too were Karanga. When accounting for any misdemeanours to anyone in authority, they expected the most granular details of what had taken place, including any pollen that may have been floating in the air when the incident happened. This background hugely influences my writing, particularly the concreteness of language in both my poetry and prose (this of course causes problems with editors sometimes, when they say some of my descriptions are superfluous, and I struggle to understand why they’d refuse the detail my teachers would have given me a merit badge for!).

Another important point is that musicianship and spirituality are cornerstones of the Karanga culture – you will find these elements peppered around my writing as well. I read Shona and English through to A-level. I think and dream in Karanga – a dialect of the Shona language, so even when I’m writing in English, that inherent Karanga flair will always show up in my work. That said, the reverse is also true, and I use some English words and concepts when I write in Shona, especially when I’m exploring themes that are foreign to the Shona culture, yet they have become a part of our lives due to migration and colonisation. 

The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe holds an annual awards ceremony to recognise outstanding achievements in the arts: the National Arts Merits Awards (NAMA). Last year several Carnelian Heart publications featured in the awards. Rudo Manyere’s collection ‘3:15 am and other stories’ made the shortlist, and two books won in their respective categories: David Chasumba’s  ‘The Madman on First Street and Other Short Stories’, and your poetry collection, ‘Starfish Blossoms’. This is an impressive achievement for a relatively unknown independent press! What does this recognition mean, both for Carnelian Heart and for you personally?

Samantha: As a publisher, the recognition was a huge honour and an affirmation that what I am doing at Carnelian Heart is bigger than myself. Some friends in the Zimbabwean literary circles had suggested the submissions as a way of increasing visibility for the press. I submitted all eight books by Zimbabwean authors published in 2022, and three of them were shortlisted for the awards. Interestingly, the visibility has attracted more writers wanting their works published, than readers who want to buy the books.   

For me personally, I had never been bothered by validation until my name was announced as a nominee for the award. I am usually happy to just write without being judged or compared to others. However, it felt great to know that my work had been read by a panel of respectable judges, some of whom are artists, and they thought it was outstanding. It was a truly humbling experience to receive the NAMA award, something I hope will aid the visibility of my past and future works. 

Marian Christie, Democratising literature – an interview with Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

Apart from a Welsh poem I memorised, while at Sandfields Comprehensive School for a recitation competition at the local Urdd (Mae Abertawe yn yr haul/ Yn cysgu’n dawel ger y lli./ Traeth o aur o gylch ei thread/ A Browyr wrth ei hystlys hi… – I came second), the only other poem I’ve memorised, successfully in its entirety, is Douglas Dunn’s, ‘The Kaleidsoscope’.

It was several years ago when I was running a couple of performance workshops at Simon Langton Grammar School, Canterbury with some of the 5th and 6th formers who were entering Poetry by Heart, an annual national poetry speaking competition. And there was no way I could stand in front of a group of young people offering advice on memorising and recitation if I couldn’t do it myself! Dunn’s poem is a sonnet, so only fourteen lines long and with a regular rhyme scheme and memorable imagery, which was a doddle to imprint onto my memory in comparison to some of the poems to choose from on the PBH list.

When I picked up the book again today, I couldn’t quite get through it without glancing at the page in a couple of places. But the overall shape of it was still there, hanging like a comfortable, old winter coat in the attic of my mind.

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge

The idea of the Sealey Challenge is to read one poetry collection a day in the month of August. I love the ambition of this challenge but it’s too much of a stretch for a slow reader like me to be able to read so prolifically. However, I like more poems popping up through my social media timeline in August, as Sealey Challenge people share what they’re reading. I’ve needed to choose shortish poems from each book so that they can be easily read on Instagram which is where I’ve been sharing them. […]

One thing that has been very good about the Sealey Challenge (for me) is that it’s encouraged me to dip inside many poetry books and magazines and this has been helpful for my upcoming poetry workshops in Bradford on Avon at The Make Space. I’m so pleased that bookings are coming in – and there are still places available, if you’d like to join us on 5 and 12 September for writing exercises, prompts and feedback.

Josephine Corcoran, Three poems from books in my TBR pile

The Best Canadian Poetry 2023, edited by John Barton (Biblioasis, 2022) [Sealey #8]. As I mentioned on IG before, the opening essay’s depth and lucidity is worth the price of admission. It’s 25% essay, 40% end notes of bios and about the poems chosen in the poet’s own words, and afterbits so the poems themselves are an excruciatingly small reduction from the thousands of poems read. Standouts are Karl Jirgens’ poem on dementia and the multilingual exploration of Moni Brar. Looking forward to a book from her, and to Laurie D. Graham’s whose book I just got. A Wayman poem and a Bertrand Bickersteth poem into the mix demonstrates how his choices are to reflect range, not a uniform aesthetic.

Pearl Pirie, Sealey Challenge, Week 2

If you’ve been following any of my social media this month, you know that I’m thrilled to be in the company of Lenard D. Moore as part of the Cuttlefish Books 2023 Summer Book Launch. Lenard is a military veteran, executive chair of the North Carolina Haiku Society, founder and executive chair of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, and the author of several books.

Although Lenard and I only had the chance to meet briefly at HNA, I have long admired the depth, breadth, and skill of his haiku. His attention not just to the details of the present, but also to the stories of the past, reflects a sense of artistic discipline that’s worth emulating. In celebration of his forthcoming chapbook, A Million Shadows at Noon, I wanted to feature him here to learn more about his process with this new collection. […]

AW: What is the thematic focus of A Million Shadows at Noon? What compelled you to create this chapbook?

The thematic focus of A Million Shadows at Noon is brotherhood, family, love and unity. I was compelled to create this project, because I drew inspiration from such a significant historical event. It was so powerful to see so many Black men come together and march for important issues. By now, I hope you know that I am referring to the Million Man March, which will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary in 2025. I wanted to do something innovative with the haiku form or a haiku sequence, an extensive of my poetic risks with my book, Desert Storm. Perhaps, I need to write one more book-length poem, employing the haiku form. To that end, maybe there is a trilogy in the making. Let’s see what happens with my future work.

Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: Lenard D. Moore

8 – Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Essential! Painful to the ego maybe, but essential. A good editor can see what you’re trying to accomplish and help you get there more efficiently. They can also call out your weaknesses that are hard to spot when you’ve looked at your manuscript a thousand times. One of my absolute favorite things about Four Way Books is the way they graciously and meticulously provide edits for our books. Two editors went through my manuscript to offer detailed feedback that I was free to accept or reject. The first note I got for Bianca was that I used the word “rage” way too many times throughout the manuscript. It deadened the effect and sometimes didn’t leave room for actual rage to simply exist without having to announce itself. I took out a bunch of rages and left a select few where necessary, but I absolutely loved that they caught this. Like I said earlier, I don’t trust my own writing, so I’m generally eager for feedback from editors I trust.

9 – What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Marie Howe told a graduate workshop I took to “write as if everyone you love is dead.” Don’t think about other people’s reactions to your work. Just get it all down. Kimiko Hahn said the same to me years later at a Kundiman retreat. Don’t bring your fears to the table when you write. Write everything that comes to you. Then later, once it’s written, you can evaluate each piece and ask whether you’re comfortable with publishing it. Writing and publishing are two separate beasts. Don’t let the idea of publishing limit your writing.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Eugenia Leigh

Another thing I recognize: All this talk about seeking comfort in a different kind of wardrobe or sense of self is likely a sign that something new is making its way through me. I’ve learned over the years that these feelings of agitation precede a big change. Not metamorphosis, exactly, not in the caterpillar –> butterfly sense but a kind of walking through fire. There’s something of importance on the other side.

And so I’m trying to remind myself of instances when I’m already on the other side. […] In 2009, when I was still a baby poet, I took a leap (and an Amtrak) to attend a generative workshop [Denise] Duhamel led through Louder Arts in New York City. It was one of the first times I’d invested in myself as a poet, one of the first times I dared to believe I could be a poet and do the things poets do. Looking back, it’s a clear building block to everything that came after.

The training we do at the gym reminds us that challenging ourselves consistently is the key to all kinds of gains. This is, of course, also true in writing and submitting/publishing. We can age (and do). We can change our hair and clothes. We can be in our feelings. But what matters is that we show up. And dare to test our limits.

Carolee Bennett, don’t mind me. i’m just poking around.

“Sky” is from a series of poems in Good Bones that I call “nonnets,” as in not-quite-sonnets. They’re all fourteen lines long and, to my mind, have a turn in the last third of the poem, but they aren’t traditional sonnets. Each of these poems has as its epigraph a question my daughter asked me in the car when she was three or four years old: “What is the past?” “What is the future?” Or, in the case of this poem, “Why is the sky so tall and over everything?” (I have a theory that preschoolers hear the automatic car door locks click and know they have a captive audience. Time for existential questions on the way to CVS or the bank!)

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: Two Related Poems

It’s ridiculous that we need science to confirm the value of enthusiasm. This is the energy each child brings fresh to the world. What they’re able to explore and experience with the whole of themselves, magnified by the capacity for awe, remains with them. 

Dr. Hüther gives an example,

“Children living in the Amazon forests learn 120 different shades of green and can name them all, using 120 different terms. Potential of that kind is either used in practice or is little used. Children here can at best distinguish light green, green, and dark green. How far a potential is actually used depends on how important it is .. in a given culture…The result is that what was once a possibility, this potential, …if not used, will just wither away.”       

Enthusiasm goes a long way toward explaining why children and nature go together so well. Children are themselves magic — able to shape shift into a toad or hawk, to feel what it’s like to hop nearly hidden under leaves or to glide on the air’s invisible currents. While imagination is alive everywhere, it can’t help but flourish when surrounded by aliveness. The more natural an area, the more kids have a chance to have meaningful encounters with the life around them. In fact, kids play differently in a park with play structures compared to more natural areas like an overgrown field, a row of trees, or a small creek.

As Richard Louv details in Last Child in the Woods, kids confined to structured play areas have poorer balance and agility than those who play in unpaved areas. The social dynamic changes too. Older and physically larger kids dominate on playgrounds but in more natural areas, it’s the creative kids who act as leaders.

Laura Grace Weldon, Outdoor Play is Sensory Play

The carcass resembles nothing
the audience usually sees
whose meat arrives in cellophane
processed—slices, nuggets.
The children, especially,
have never watched the studious
and useful taking-apart
of a body, never witnessed
anything dead
but the flattened,
nearly unrecognizable bodies
of road-killed opossums.

No comparison, this 600-pound hog,
hooked and dangling, its interior
opened with jigsaw precision.
The man with the knife
is a revelation.
They stare fascinated
at the butcher’s truth
carving an exact history of
their breakfast bacon.

Ann E. Michael, How it’s done

This morning I fed and watered the hens and pigs, and for a while
sat on a chair in the pig pen as they ate and drank, rooted about.
Then they lay down in the shade and I went on sitting in the sun.
What was important? The hens, the pigs, me sitting, the chair itself.
(It was green, if you need to know. A gift a neighbour was throwing out.
It’s a good chair. Comfortable enough to sit in and watch pigs or just
to think in for a thousand years, two thousand, ignoring the phone.)
Meanwhile, you were busy blackberrying in your jeans and purple shirt.
And the straw hat you’ve had since before I knew you. Sometimes
you broke off from blackberrying to photograph a butterfly or moth.
Eventually, for lunch, we ate tomatoes with cucumber and a little bread,
over which we talked and I read a poem by Frank O’Hara that shocked me.

Bob Mee, WITH EVERY STEP WE ARRIVE SOMEWHERE

the road from angst to
poetry is a sharp backslash, the
pause at its end thickening to a
dot, a drowning exclamation, a
tired i, a failed connector: pain
takes time to disintegrate, regret
breaks up into molecules that
pollinate other minds, the last
of anger evaporates with a
hiss, cutting open the chest of
the sky, there, there at last,
finding the one missing poem.

Ann E. Michael, Part 59

Sometimes the past is pressed against the present, or another present is present. While traveling in Europe you feel it like a veil of wind on your skin.  You scratch the surface, the past rises up through the transparency of summer.  Sometimes you get at origins — Blue sky of Greece with a handmade white church.  Gray slate and zinc rooftops of Paris which started a dream you dip into and which will continue after you.  Previous city dwellers were seduced – are you there, Emma Bovary? –by a profusion of pinks and reds, silks and taffetas that inhabit the ground floor of a department store like Bon Marché.  Romantics swooned over a bunch of flowers pinned to a dress, a hat, to the swirl of a hem that swirls at recreated 19th century dance ball, where mesdames et messieurs dance in period costumes in the Luxembourg Gardens.  But simplicity: a bowl of eggs.  Wild cats.  The umber stones that came from the earth, were gathered by anonymous hands to make fences, return to the hillsides leaving sign that humans, and some gods were there. 

Jill Pearlman, The Past, Fellow Traveler

Caterpillar Suit” was inspired by the sculpture artist, Walter Oltmann. His sculpture is featured in the video alongside public-domain stills created by Latvian artist, Elina Krima.

This was my first video poem of 2020, and, in relation to the 2023 Phonotheque Poetry Film theme of Structures & Organisms, it explores what it means to shed a natural suit, as a caterpillar sheds itself to become larva then butterfly.

It relates to how we, as humans, are part of broader, natural ecosystem, all wearing the suits of natural instinct, moving through separations—especially in light of the global plight of children being cruelly separated from parents across international borders.

The poem also perhaps visually expresses the fear that we collectively gathered and recycled from history—a new-old fear for a new decade. It was also created just prior the pandemic, so it was an eerie foreboding of what was to come.

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Finalist! 2023 Poetic Phonotheque (Denmark)

I was making up some poetry postcard graphics for Instagram this morning and a path out of the current quagmire of poems appeared. Maybe not so much of a path, but an untangling of branches, a clearing through the trees.  I had been stuck, with about a dozen poems in the hopper that were loosely thematically related, but I was unsure of where to go with them. Or maybe more where they were trying to take me.  Not one to blindly follow along (the Taurus in me), I froze up and refused to work on them or even really think about them. Instead, I devoted time to making more collages.

The irony of course, is that those collages, at least some of them, may have offered up my solution, though I scarcely knew it when I was making them, coming off the heels of the Persephone collages and fiddling with extra images I had saved in a folder. The wild things series, which felt really random and just for kicks when I made them, may be something I can use to guide the focus of this particular text series and help propel me toward actually finishing them.

Kristy Bowen, of poems and pictures

It has honestly been a while since I have been “charmed” by a film. Someone (knowing I have been spending far too much time parked in front of the television screen these past months) recommended I watch The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018). The trailer was disappointing, I have to admit. I reluctantly started the film anyway. Besides providing me with a little romantic (comfortably predictable) escape, it also nudged me as a writer.

Beginning something new, something no one is waiting for, is difficult. So many formulas out there for how to get started – not a few of them asking: who are you writing for? And they almost always come with the caveat, “don’t wait for inspiration”. (Spoiler here:) In the film, the writer puts her romantic and professional life on hold to write the story that she needs to tell, knowing it won’t be published. I love that the film doesn’t give this part of the story a happy ending, wherein her intentions and her integrity are rewarded with permission to publish her book after all.

She’ll write something new.

I remember then I have an unpublishable novel somewhere on an external hard drive. It was worth writing. It was even worth paying an excellent consultant for feedback. It is not worth revisiting with an eye towards publication. It was never my story to tell. But that’s not to say I didn’t grow as a writer, or grow in terms of my ability to foster new, compassionate perspectives while working on it. It was a valuable practice.

I’ll write something new.

Ren Powell, Beginning Something New

The poets are writing about August:
a loam-like smell lining the air, and salt-
musk from every encircling body of water.
Friends come to pick the not-yet-last harvest
of figs from our tree, and as we reach up to twist
the deep purple orbs off the stems, I think
again of how each one is an inflorescence,
a walled garden with a narrow passage
through the ostiole small as a needle’s eye.

Luisa A. Igloria, To Flowering

Can I pull it off or will it just seem trite?  We shall see.  Even if I can’t pull it off, I’m happy that poems seem to be coming more quickly now.  For much of the past year, I’ve had a line here or there, and some days, I was able to create a poem, line by line, strand by strand.  In some ways, it was exciting to work that way, not knowing where the poem was headed, and being intrigued as I went along.  The work offered genuine surprises and discoveries, if I stuck with it long enough.

Yesterday felt like a process that is more familiar, when the poem comes to me more fully formed in terms of the idea and direction.  That process, too, can offer discoveries, but it’s different.  The discoveries and directions don’t feel quite as surprising, although they are delightful.

Should I should finish the Cassandra volunteering at summer camp before starting on this one?  Have I ever had 2 Cassandra poems in process at the same time?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra Colors Her Hair

This is my 300th blog post. Many thanks to all the blog’s followers, also for your likes and lovely comments. They are much appreciated. I’m taking a break from weekly blogging: I need to ‘fill the well’ – take myself out to find poems and art on the streets of The Hague, get inspired and fired up again. I’m celebrating the 300th post in the company of Cecile Bol – our August guest poet.

Cecile is also the organiser of the Poetry Society’s Groningen Stanza. When I moved back to The Netherlands , I was fortunate that their meetings were on Zoom due to the lockdown. It was great to meet Cecile and other members of the Stanza in person earlier this year. The hotel where I stayed is just a few houses down from the literary café De Graanrepubliek where they meet.

Fokkina McDonnell, paper crown

One of the pleasures of writing regular blog reviews is that you discover the output of new writers, whom you might otherwise have missed. That is the case with The Vessel of the Now by Ink. This refreshingly original pamphlet of brief poems published by Back Room Poetry (2023) is one that is sure to engage the reader and leave him or her reflecting long after (s)he has put it down.

I believe it is no coincidence that these poems first appeared as tweets, for this small collection has much to say about the use of Twitter (recently rebranded as ‘X’). The reference to it as a ‘vessel’ recalls the idiom, ‘Empty vessels make the most noise’, implying that this social media vehicle draws attention to the inane, the pointless and the worthless. It made me think of tweeted photographs of meals cooked, shoes just purchased, flowers bought etc. Who cares? As the poet writes, the Vessel of the Now ‘provides shelter/ and stage’. It provides an uncritical platform for self- promotion: ‘The Vessel of the Now/ is a date book page with one line,/ all of which is devoted to you.’ In one sense this makes Twitter ‘a great equalizer’ a democratizer, and yet underpinning the collection is the implication that all this is insignificant, inconsequential: it doesn’t really matter. Ink writes: ‘However large, you are/ only one fraction of the Now.’ Whatever is posted, no matter how frequently the output of Twitter is so large it will fail to make a lasting impact: ‘The Vessel of the Now never remembers/ what you’ve said.’

This collection then acts as a reflection on the nature of social media, but I believe it is more than that. In his ‘Drop-In’ Ink concludes by saying the collection can be as ‘shallow or as deep as you want it to be.’ When reading the poems, I constantly returned to them as I felt there were bigger ideas underpinning them.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘The Vessel of the Now’ by Ink

Is it the curse of a proofreader? Book of poems I’ve been hearing about. Author with some buzz, good publisher. Nice looking volume, tidy, interesting cover, nice typeface. First poem I encounter: Regular comma use then suddenly phoosh no commas, then regular comma use again. In one poem.

Okay, so I have to figure out whether there was method to this madness. Yes, okay, I can see that maybe this segment, which is sort of a list or litany, could be read breathlessly, could be a mash-up of sorts. Or was it an error? No, I think it was intentional. Right?

And now I’m on alert. Now with every poem some proofreaderly third eye is scanning for trouble. Nope, next one, regular comma use. Next one, fine. Next one, no punctuation at all, which is fine. But do you see how my whole reading experience has now been altered? And oops, here we go, another poem with a list-y section that has no commas but then the commas come back.

This makes me stop and think, all right, but for all the wrong reasons. It shouldn’t be the poem’s punctuation that makes me sit up and take notice, it should be a million other things about the poem. Unfortunately, now that I’ve finished this collection, the only thing that has stayed with me is the comma thing. Damn that third eye.

Marilyn McCabe, The nature of my game; or, On the Curse of the Proofreader’s Eye

But back to Greg[ory Leadbetter]’s poem. The notes to this poem stress that the interval of the title refers to musical sense of interval and “the difference in pitch between two tones.” I love that it seems to start with a sense of striving— the attempt at silence has failed, and for all its notes (no pun intended) about silence it is noise that interjects the most, from the “roaring world” going unmuzzled by a voice, a “singing nerve” throbbing in our ears, a buzzing gnat. I also love that it ends with a sense that we have to keep striving, to keep working at something lonely. It’s almost a Sisyphean task as “The closer you come to silence, the further it recedes.”, but we’ll get there. Dear god, I’m veering into self-help speech. Sorry.

However, what leaps out at me in this is the centre of the poem..

I found a place where cars and planes
were silent too, the air stilled
to standing water clear enough
to drink, and all my body drank.

The idea here of a calm and quiet place that feeds the whole body. As with restorative silence of home last week, I want to go to the place Greg identifies here and drink deeply, even if it is only possible in my own head. Even if such a place only really exists in our heads.

Mat Riches, Mind the gaps…

This has been the path of my summer: many paths, branching in obscure ways, as I pivot among projects and allow myself to take restorative breaks from work, too. I’m reading a lot for work and pleasure (and will post mini-reviews of some of my #sealeychallenge readings soon-ish). I’m also hanging with my son a lot; he’s home for just 9 days more before moving to NYC to start his math PhD program. We’ve been playing Wingspan, and he’s got the best head for games I’ve ever seen: if it’s a solvable game, he solves it swiftly, and if there’s a lot of chance involved, he makes the most strategic possible use of his luck. He’s won every game so far, but I intend to beat him once before he leaves. A poet should have SOME kind of an advantage where birds are concerned, right?!

All is quiet in my publishing life, although I never mentioned here that Verse Daily featured a poem of mine in July. Appropriately enough, it’s about trying to tilt the odds in your favor (and very much a channeling of the frustration we all feel sometimes when passed over for the prom queen tiara). The egregiously long title is “It Is Advantageous to Place on the Table a [Hollow Figurine] of Apollo, with Bibliomancy.”

Lesley Wheeler, Stars in my eyes, birds in my belfry

No matter what kind of summer you have, it feels an impossible prompt to write well to. I can remember summers that slipped by like dreams, days upon days of the same old wonderful same old, and others full of flat tedium; how to pluck any kind of narrative out of a span of days with no conflict, no rising action, no turning point?

Of course there have been a few summers with big, memorable events (big travel, big purchases, big life changes)–but those, too, are hard to write about. How to capture what a big event really was, what it really meant?

Early on in our Louisiana adventure this summer, I realized I could not write about it while living it. There were practical problems–no easy internet or time–but it was more about knowing I needed time to process the experience. From the very beginning, my summer was an “all of the above” kind of thing: big travel, big purchases, long days that quickly became a new same old, same old comprised of tedium, joy, pain, boredom, and wonder. I have not worked so many full, hard hours in such a long time, while also living through so many hours in which I felt like I was just killing time.

I was having big, tangly thoughts and feelings about all kinds of profound things–aging, mortality, the meaning of life, family, our country and the ramifications of its history, existential crises of various kinds–and I knew I wasn’t ready to share any of them in any public kind of way.

I didn’t trust my impressions to be lasting truth, and I didn’t trust my conclusions to hold water. Not when I was so exhausted and disoriented and mind-meltingly hot. (Good God, but the heat was relentless.) Not when I knew there were things I just couldn’t know in such a short time (and might never be able to know).

Rita Ott Ramstad, What I did on my summer vacation

I wish this week (and the last) could have been about gardening and writing, but instead it was about fighting to stay alive, with infusions of nausea meds and antibiotics and saline—not ideal. At 50 I find I have more fight in me to stick around than I did even a few years ago, when I was (incorrectly) diagnosed with terminal liver cancer (tumors still around but not dead yet.) Back then I thought, I’ve had a good life, I’ve accomplished enough—this time around I thought, I’ve still got so much to do! Maybe that has to do with the new book manuscript I’ve been working on, the new friends I’ve been making, the chances I’ve been taking, the steps I’ve been making to embrace life even as the pandemic has a minisurge and I fight to stave off even fairly normal germs. I am not ready to go yet. Writing seems like one way of making a survival stance, doesn’t it, a way to holding on, of marking down your name, of saying you were here. I’ve written eight books – six poetry, two non-fiction, and I’m not done yet. Will any of them survive a hundred years, or even outlive me? I’m not sure yet. Sorry for the more morbid bit of thought here—I tried to keep the tone light during my PR for Poets talk earlier today, but these kinds of thoughts kept slipping into my mind. Why, after all, do we promote our books? Yes, to honor the work, to honor the publisher’s work, but also, because we hope to leave something that lasts.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, More Hospital Visits (and Bobcat Visits), a PR for Poets Talk with Kelli Agodon, Glenn Graduates, and More

Rain taps on the roof like quiet hands.
So much softer than clods thudding
on a plain pine box.

Once everyone is gone
they take away the green tent
open on all sides, the worst chuppah.

The words wash away, but
I’ll never forget
who rolled up his sleeves to finish shoveling.

Rachel Barenblat, After the funeral

A few days ago, I headed out to a local park where my brilliant poet friend, Lorenz Mazon Dumuk, was hosting Glowing with the Moon, a summer open mic series that invites poets, musicians, performers, and other creative souls to come out and share their work. It’s one of my favorite open mics, mostly because Lorenz creates such a warm, welcoming, and fun space.

When I arrived, however, it was just Lorenz and me, so we sat on the park bench and spent two hours chatting about what was going on in our lives, what kind of creative work we were doing, and our current trajectory. We talked about how we approach our poetry and other kinds of writing. We talked about poetry that bullies, forcing the reader or listener down a path and leaving no space for anything outside the focus of the words themselves. We laughed about poop in poetry, both as a subject and as an analogy for writing, how a writer might find themselves blocked up and need some fiber-full reading to help loosen things up. We talked about poetry with spirit and poetry grounded in the flesh and bone reality of grass and stone and wind and bone. And we celebrated the fact that we both have new poetry books coming out sometime within the next year.

Then we read poems to each other, each giving something that we’d written recently, and we found ourselves delightedly jealous of each other’s unique way of approaching words. And as the Earth cartwheeled backwards, hiding the Sun behind trees and horizon, with the peach light splashing upon the dappled clouds, I was so grateful for this small moment of creative community — two poets sharing a joy of words and the world.

Andrea Blythe, Returning to Creative Communities

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 31

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, summer’s tide appears to be going out, but there’s still time for road-tripping, polishing manuscripts, doing the #SealeyChallenge and more. Enjoy.


At the beach earlier this week, we found a much-broken up rock jetty that teemed with creatures. As I sat back on my heels and peered into the mixture of sand-water-rock-mullosk-kelp, I found myself thinking about Aristotle’s immanent realism (epistemology/natural philosophy), ideas he likely nurtured while examining the tide pools of Lesbos. Or I imagine that he may have done so. We humans observe, and then classify or categorize based upon these observations: similarities, differences, various adaptations–in environment, habit, behavior, construction of the being or entity itself.

I think if I had known as a child and young woman that there was a career path called “a naturalist,” I would have pursued it.

Ann E. Michael, Classification

This year I am part of a group exhibition titled ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ along with artists Donna Gordge and Bernadette Woods. Why happiness? After Covid and some recent rough personal times, all three of us felt we needed to make work that lifted us, made us feel a little lighter. 

We met once to discuss how we might approach exploring ‘happiness’ visually, and came up with lists of things that made us happy including stone fruit, lime-green linen, poached eggs and birds. We talked about the materials & methods we might use – family photographs, paint, posca pens, wallpaper & collage – and then we just got on and made stuff. We checked in with each other a few times online. Then, before we knew it, we were in the West Torrens Gallery hanging the works. We open on Thursday 3rd August, and the exhibition will be on display for the month of August. […]

I’ve made 25 collages, each one containing a photograph from a Danish family album dated 1936-1946 that I found in a flea market. All the photographs  are small, approx 10x7cm.

I have loved hanging out with these tiny black and whites that are about 80 years old. They made me think of my own family holidays in Esperance when I was a kid, a time of of tents and caravans under a bright West Australian sky; of new discoveries in a new land; of a naive happiness but also the yearning that comes with migration; of land, grass, white sand and sparkling sea water; and of being a body experiencing the wonder in this world (also remembering the discomfort of sand in my knickers).

I love that these holiday snaps are now hanging in a gallery in Adelaide, miles & miles from where they were taken, and that we get to enjoy them. If you’re in the neighbourhood, feel free to drop in to spend time with the artworks made by Donna, Bernadette, and myself (there’s some poetry in the exhibition too, of course). And who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself reflecting on what it is that make you happy.

Caroline Reid, SALA Exhibition: The Pursuit of Happiness

I cannot believe this blog is 20 years old. I started it in 2003 in a fit of pique when my website kept going down or having glitches while I was trying to promote my debut poetry collection, Better To Travel.

Blogs were still fairly nascent back then (Google had just acquired Blogger in 2003!)  and I thought this site would be a temporary thing until I got my real website sorted out. It didn’t take long to realize that blogging was becoming “a thing.” I was getting views, so I thought why not make Blogger my “home” on the web? Two decades later, it still is. 

The name “modern confessional” came from a question posed in an interview when the reporter asked what kind of poetry I wrote. Off the top of my head – and in a nod to Sexton, Plath, and Olds – I spouted out modern confessional. What is modern confessional poetry? Your guess is as good as anyone else’s. But the name stuck and I still identify with being an unabashed confessional poet. 

Collin Kelley, Modern Confessional blog turns 20

When I started this blog in 2013, I wasn’t sure what to write about. I flailed around, sharing posts about this and that, wondering if anyone cared what I wrote. From my early stats, not very many people did. After three years, I gave up. Between January 2016 and October 2017, I didn’t post anything. 

What got me posting again? An idea I had while driving between California and Oregon in 2017. I decided to start a newsletter, which I named Sticks & Stones, focused on poetry book reviews. I’d written several reviews in the past, and enjoyed the process enough to want to write more. I wrote about this epiphany in the blog post “Reviews, Reviews, Reviews!” (11/17/17). With a review of Jenene Ravesloot’s Sliders, I launched Sticks & Stones in January, 2018. The newsletter has been quite successful. Every month more readers sign up, which makes me very happy.

Back to the blog: readership has grown, albeit slowly. After almost ten years, I have some useful statistics. My readers are much more interested in “how-to” blogs than some random thought I had about being a writer (unless that thought was helpful to them).

Erica Goss, New Direction for the Blog and a Request

When Amy told me there was a job opening up, I applied and mentioned my experience pulling cases and driving a forklift in a grocery warehouse a decade earlier, mostly to show that even though my recent work experience involved being in front of a classroom, I knew my way around a factory floor. And during the interview, the people I’d be working with and directly under were interested in that. But not Fritz. He’d heard that I was a Stegner Fellow in poetry and wanted to ask me about that. He asked me what journals I read and said he had a subscription to The New Criterion (conservative in his literary tastes too) and mentioned that he’d studied literature at Stanford as well. He asked what I wrote about—roads mostly just then, having spent a lot of time on them criss-crossing the country and exploring the west—and who my influences were—Seamus Heaney at the moment—and then it was over.

I think I started the following week, though my memory is a little foggy on that. I do remember that I mostly worked in the racking room at first, rolling full kegs onto pallets, putting empties into the other end. It was physical work, and fairly solitary because the noise levels required we wear ear plugs and because Darek, who ran the line, was a friendly but quiet giant of a man. I lined up kegs on pallets and Darek stacked them with a forklift and drove them to the cooler. I loaded empties into the racket and Darek repaired kegs with busted valves. And at the end of the day, I swept up and scrubbed the floor and hosed it off and after clocking out, went up to the tap room for a beer.

It was a great job for an artist because it was work you could do without thinking about it. The bottling line was similar, though we rotated stations every thirty minutes because one of the jobs—watching for messed up labels—really was so boring that you’d fall asleep doing it. I carried a small notebook and pen in my jumpsuit pocket to scribble down lines that popped into my head while I was waiting for full cases of beer bottles to line up so I could palletize them.

Brian Spears, Anchors Away

The first 20 copies of my latest collaboration with San Francisco poet and activist Beau Beausoleil have set out on their long journey across the more than five thousand miles – an eight-hour difference – between here and there. I handed the package over to our lovely local postwoman this morning, so I did not even have to go out in today’s downpours to the Post Office.

Beau has written almost daily poems for Ukraine since the sudden, shocking escalation of the war on 24 February 2022. This is a remarkable achievement, but it did make the selection of twenty-five of them for this chapbook a daunting task. These are poems of resistance and rage, tenderness and sorrow. They may focus on human cruelty but they do not fail to notice mundane moments that can overwhelm us with their unexpected beauty.

Who are these men, asks the poet, who always want revenge for their own sins (False Flag)
And on being distracted on his way to market by a red leaf: I am incapable of denying this close beauty that is indifferent to the cruelty we inflict upon each other (War News)

Many of the poems first appeared on Felicia Rice’s website. The centre-spread of the chapbook features a drawing by Felicia. The images on the front cover, title page and flysheets are from my one-off book, 24 Feb 2022. I made the originals by dipping handmade papers into home-brewed botanical inks.

The text is printed on almost-white 120gsm recycled paper with excellent opacity, and the cover is 170gsm ‘Flat White’ card made from used disposable coffee cups! I am pleased by how well both took the coloured images. The 5-hole pamphlet-sewn book measures 30x11cm (12×4.5 inches) and has 36 pages. Each book comes with a band sealed with a stitched kiss (see top photo), and is numbered in the colophon and on the back cover.

Ama Bolton, New Book: Poems for Ukraine

A prose poem of mine was published in # 185 of orbis magazine. The inspiration may, in part, have come from reading the long prose poem 12 O’Clock News by Elizabeth Bishop.

It refers to eight items in her room, with a gooseneck lamp standing in for the moon. The first section ends ‘Visibility is poor. Nevertheless, we shall try to give you some idea of the lay of the land and the present situation.’

I love the humour in it. Here is the description of a pile of mss: ‘A slight landslide occurred in the northwest about an hour ago. The exposed soil appears to be of poor quality: almost white, calcareous and shaly. There are believed to have been no casualties.’

Bishop’s prose poem changes tone as it continues. With the final object, ashtray, we’re suddenly in a warzone; there are dead bodies, corrupt leaders are mentioned. It’s even more devastating because of the ordinariness of the object.

Fokkina McDonnell, Favourite objects

Turning
into 49th from the boulevard,
you can see ships make
their crossing. One of the art
history teachers in the college says,
if you speed up you get a little
lesson in perspective: the Lego bricks
they seem to be carrying are containers
marked Maersk or Hapag-Lloyd.
There’s active commerce in the world
again, though not far from here, a street
named Quarantine reminds us
of other deadly periods of pandemic.
People are eating again in restaurants,
coming back from Iceland or
Greece. Once, we dreamed of walking
that road of pilgrimage going through
cities like San Sebastian and Bilbao.
The world is so close sometimes.
But we’ve come to understand
the quiet in the yard, even on the hottest
days of summer. The stones shimmer,
each giving off their own mirage.

Luisa A. Igloria, Vanishing Points

Today’s full moon is the Sturgeon Moon (thanks, The Old Farmer’s Almanac!) so named as the giant sturgeon of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were more easily caught at this time of year. (If you missed my post on the Strawberry Moon, you can read about it here).

The etymology of “sturgeon,” circa 1300, is mysterious, possibly from a lost pre-Indo-European language of northern Europe, or from the root of stir (v.). “Stir” would make sense as sturgeons spend their lives at the bottom of lakes, stirring mud as they search for food. But in August, around the time of the Sturgeon Moon, they rise to the surface.

Sturgeons were also “a much-esteemed fish in ancient Greece, a costly luxury in Rome.” They can live to be 100 years old. Seriously, how awesome is this fish? (So awesome, it has a full moon named after it.)

As usual, here’s a selection of poems I admire, this time about moons, fish, and bodies of water.

Maya C. Popa, Sturgeon Moon: Poems

As we waited in the theater for the sky show to start, a huge image of the moon was on the wall, rendered amid rainbow colors that shifted and receded along the domed edges of the room. I couldn’t help but think of how the moon is basically just this rocky satlleite that orbits the earth and yet we’ve written countless lovesongs and poems and prayers to the moon since the beginning. Dare I say more than the sun, which is the thing that keeps this whole solar system spinning. And yet the moon is what we fall in love with the most, even though it offers neither light nor warmth.

Sylvia’s moon and its “bald and wild” presence. This month’s double full moons. The Sturgeon moon that means fish are more easily caught and snared in this month more than others. I once write a whole series of epistolary poems to the moon and tucked them into tiny vellum envelopes. Boxed them with old paper moon images and maps and transparency overlays of the moon. Despite this tribute, I’ve still managed to never get a really good and true shot of the moon with a camera–at last not the image I see with my eye–huge and looming over the lake sometimes as it rises. 

I’ve been reading about moon gardens after working on a decor piece about gardens in Savanannah. About planting things that will be equally beautiful and luminescent in the moonlight. About moon doors, which seem to be a cross between a garden gate and a fairy ring. But then again, all night owls must love the moon. Poets too. While I’ve never been a beach day kind of person (pale, pale skin and a tendency to get really drained by heat and sun) I am an avid fan of beach nights, especially when the moon is over the water and its clear enough to see a few brighter stars out over the lake. 

Kristy Bowen, cold and planetary

This week started with the first of two August Supermoons, two things that bode ill for me—August and Supermoons. On the nights of supermoons, I have passed out, been diagnosed with MS, been in the hospital…and August is my worst month for MS symptoms. I looked at my Facebook memories over the past ten years for the first week of August, and in seven out of ten I’ve been in the ER for something. And I’m afraid this week was no different. […]

The good news for this week was a new kind of thing for me—Instagram book fame, LOL! The Instagram account Taylor Swift as Books—which pairs book covers with Taylor Swift looks and funny hashtags—put my book, Flare, Corona, up on Thursday!

But before I had time to celebrate, something was going very wrong with me, and I ended up in the hospital with a pretty bad infection. I’m back at home now, on heavy antibiotics, but several days were just a blur. I did have two doctors get ahold of me on the weekend (!!) to make sure I didn’t die, which was nice.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Supermoons and August Flowers, Hospital Trips, Taylor Swift and Flare Corona on Instagram Together, and A Topsy Turvy Week

There is a pause and celebration to be had here, in August. The first of the month is known as ‘Lammas’, from the early medieval ‘loaf mass’ a celebration and blessing of the first harvest by baking into a loaf the first flour. Here’s an interesting blog which explores the connections between the Christian harvest festival and earlier Anglo Saxon and possible earlier pagan rituals: 

Lammas History

It brings to my mind also this king of witch-hare poems, which I have always loved. The imagery sings of darkness and an earthy magic that feels possible now in this transitional stage of the season. The Lammas Hireling is by Ian Duhig.

I hunted down her torn voice to his pale form.
Stock-still in the light from the dark lantern,
stark-naked but for one bloody boot of fox-trap,
I knew him a warlock, a cow with leather horns.

You can read the full, glorious poem on the Poetry Society website, here:

The Lammas Hireling

I have not had time to make a loaf myself (note to self: make time for the slow joy of baking) but if you wanted to make a loaf and bless it too, there are recipes about. This one, perhaps, if you are feeling witchy:

Lammas Bread and Protection Spell

This deep state of summer then, a grey area merging into the darker months has a feeling of having somehow ‘made it through’ the summer months, of preparing for the next season, of having now the time to reap, to gather and not just food, but thoughts, reflections, before the bridge is crossed into autumn and the time of change. The is what I want the next five posts to be about, this is what I want from The Sensory Summer – a pause, a time to reflect and capture the summer and bring it down to the page.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience – The Sounds of Summer Post One

It’s August. *sigh* Summer is just about over here—three weeks until my kids are back in school—and I’m both ready and not ready. I have a lot of writing to do, and a quiet house will help with that, but it’s been such a fun and relaxing few months. Beauty emergencies daily!

Here are some things that have made the summer extra dear.

Favorite recent reads: Silas House on Jason Isbell in TIME, Hanif Abdurraqib on Sinéad O’Connor—may she rest in peace—in The New Yorker, and Monsters by Claire Dederer. I muttered to myself—yes! this exactly! so fucking smart!—and dogeared, underlined, and starred passages through this whole brilliant book.

Congrats to my friends Andy J. Pizza and Sophie Miller on their beautiful new picture book, Invisible Things, a New York Times bestseller.

On my excited-to-read-next list: Ruth Madievsky’s All-Night Pharmacy, Sarah Rose Etter’s Ripe, and Camille Dungy’s Soil. (If you have book recs for me, I’m all ears!)

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

I was ready to go at 3:00 p.m.  I had the manuscript updated and the document that has my bio open.  I clicked on the webpage at 3:00 p.m. and didn’t see a way to submit.  I opened the page in a new tab and there was the form.  I filled it in as quickly as possible and hit submit.  And voila!  I got the above message.

I was under no illusions; I knew the window would close shortly after 3:00, that 300 submissions would come in quickly.  It was still surprised to go back and to see that it had closed in just minutes.

I only heard about this submission possibility a few days ago from a random Twitter tweet from a Twitter user I don’t follow.  For once, the unfathomable algorithm worked for me!  I had wondered if I should submit at all, since my career isn’t dependent on publications.  But just because I didn’t submit doesn’t mean that slot would go to someone who desperately needed the chance.

I have a deep belief in my manuscript, and it’s not just me; it’s been a semifinalist, and I’ve gotten good feedback from publishers that I respect.  I thought about spending part of yesterday before 3:00 p.m. reworking the manuscript and adding some of my most recent poems, but I decided against it.  My most recent poems are going in a different direction in terms of form and content, so I’ll save those for a different manuscript.

I’m familiar with the work of two other poets who got their manuscripts in, and I see them as peers.  I’m not competing against well known poets; in fact, the call was specifically for poets who don’t have an agent.  My first reaction was “Poets have agents?”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Scribner Submission

My most recently published collection [https://marilynonaroll.wordpress.com/my-books-and-stuff/] is dusty on the shelf, having come out as Covid locked us down. So I’ve been trying to build an inventory of published poems toward a new collection. Well. Now, I’m all pissy and broody again over the rejections rolling in like tumbleweeds.

I mean, even places I thought I had an “in” with, in one way or another, just plumped a no through the mail slot, no regrets or gee maybe next times or it’s not you it’s us-es.

At times like these I riddle my spreadsheet with fuckyouguys and thanksalotforfuckalls, which in cooler moments I go back and delete. (I like to act out on my spreadsheet. And then I like to primly go back and clean it up. It’s the pursed-lip New England protestant in me, plus the unruly Irish catholic. Or perhaps vice versa. You can’t trust stereotypes.)

I have all this new work I’m excited about but a bunch of old work I used to be excited about but all the rejections have cast a pall over it all. Okay, yes, I did have that wonderful visual poem up at About Place. I’m still excited by that. And that older poem that came out in Mud Season earlier this spring. And some translations coming out at some point, which, again, I’m so thrilled about.

So (you roll your eyes), what’s with the gnashing of teeth and foul mouth?

Marilyn McCabe, Drifting along with the tumbling; or, On the Biz Work

Memories of mosh pits, Southern grits, and cross-country road trips. Counting off four with the beat of my drums. Wannabe Bruce Lee kicks and a busted thumb. Driving wasted through all the wasted days and nights. Being held up at gunpoint and protesting to make a point. Crossdressing and second-guessing. Cruising late-night Mulholland and cooling my heels in county jail. Love haloed by dashboard light and mid-summer moonlight. House plants and a nearby Jersey nuclear power plant. Being read to as a child and words blooming wild.

Rich Ferguson, You Can Get Here From There

Bringing history alive in poems is no easy task, particularly so when the times being addressed are so far from today. So I have the utmost admiration for poets who can weave historical research into readable, listenable poetry without letting facts overpower the poetic magic.

I was recently invited to join an online poetry-book reading group and I’ve very much enjoyed the meetings I’ve attended. For the last one, the book which one member of the group had proposed was The Lost Book of Barkynge by Ruth Wiggins (available from the publisher, Shearsman, here). It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. It brings into the light a succession of nuns and other women associated with Barking Abbey from the Seventh Century to the Dissolution. Each poem is headed by a scene-setting ‘hic’ and has extensive end-notes; yet what could be an arid reading experience is surmounted by a refreshing variety of forms and personae. It is a truly extraordinary book. To read it, one would’ve thought it had taken decades to write, but, amazingly, Wiggins says, in an interview, here, that it started as a lockdown project. In how it reclaims otherwise lost, suppressed or hidden voices, it’s uniquely beautiful.

Matthew Paul, On poetry as living history and vice versa

He hefts the scythe, his
father’s before he died
beneath a thrashing horse.
He has a canvas bag,
an old hole sewn tight
and a new strap secured
made from his grandda’s
belt. Inside a loaf’s end
and cheese in a damp rag
and cider in a stoneware
jar. And a book with words
and pictures and a space
under each to write in.
He’ll join the men and boys
down on the lane by
the meadow gate. He has
a joke ready in his head,
one to cap Old Japhy’s,
ruder, bolder, a tale that
only a man that’s tumbled
a girl in the straw would
dare to tell at noon break.
He blushes in contemplation.
But how much sooner he
would rather curl up under
the hay wain with his book
for to read like a scholar
is a glory just close enough
to wish for in the night.

Dick Jones, WHITE FIELD IN BARLEY

There is much to admire in this poem, the repetitive a sounds of the first six lines give it an East Anglian feel to my ears, the phrase “the river / of this town in his throat” is a sound I recognise in the way some folks almost gargle as they speak. It’s also obvious (to me at least) that the last line was always going to be a knockout punch for someone that misses the countryside, although an alternative reading of that last line is potentially much darker..What kept her away for so long, especially when taken in conjunction with the use of the word “stench” earlier in the last stanza?

However, the winner for me is to be found the second stanza…where she describes the old boy (or bor, if we’re going colloquial, and why wouldn’t we?) as having lived in a “radius of four roads”, and having performed “Feats”. I think this phrase contains multitudes…Has he had a quiet but full life? He has achieved “Feats” in that small space. What are those “Feats”? I want to know more, but I know they don’t need to be things that are shouted about.

It makes me think of all the people out there that get on with life and often go entirely unnoticed but have had full lives. It makes me think of many people I know that have barely left the borders of their town or village, hamlet or county. It seems odd in this interconnected world of ours, but it also sounds incredibly appealing at present as the sounds of this London suburb are doing what they do behind my head as I type.

And man, the silence when I was back in Worstead was glorious. There was a moment when I was sitting with my friend in another friend’s garden. It was utterly silent apart from the occasional garbled noise coming from the festival announcers (and there were some wonderful Norfolk accents on display there too).

That mention of silence is probably my cue to stop gibbering, but please do go and buy Rebecca [Goss]’s work, watch the videos and listen to the podcasts.

Mat Riches, You’re an accent waiting to happen…

I will be in your photograph
the one you are taking now
of the grand facade of this building
as I am sat in the coffee shop
sipping green tea
looking out of the window
my face a collection of coloured pixels
caught on the screen of your phone
as you record every moment of your life

Paul Tobin, A COLLECTION OF COLOURED PIXELS

Two summers ago in London, we spent some time in a used bookstore, having a few spare hours before our next activity or meal. One of the books I found was a small 1959 copy of Selected Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, which was filled with not only detailed marginalia but also papers filled with red-pen notes for what look like essay responses to some of the poems. This is one of the reasons I love buying used books – these little glimpses into other lives and minds who owned them.

I hadn’t read much Hopkins except for what was anthologized in my college Norton’s, so it was a delight to discover the utter decadence of his language, the musicality, the alliteration, the word-play. In the 53 poems in this collection, Hopkins uses at least 50 different hyphenated constructions to create new adjectives and nouns.

Some of my favorite phrases that come from this hyphenate play are:

the moth-soft Milky Way

a wind-beat whitebeam

sheep-flock clouds

the plumed purple-of-thunder

snow-pinioned leaf-light.

His alliterative skill, though at times over the top, completely charmed me as well:

from “The Windhover” – daylight’s dauphin, dapple-down-drawn Falcon

from “Blinsey Poplars” – wind-wandering weed-winding bank

from “No Worst, There is None” – My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief woe, world-sorrow.

And amid all the technical pyrotechnics, some beautiful lines that stuck with me:

from “Spring” – thrush’s eggs look little low heavens

from “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe” – we are wound with mercy round and round as if with air

and my favorite Hopkins line from “The Habit of Perfection” – Shape nothing, lips – be lovely-dumb

Spending time with this makes me glad that I have decided to read old books as well as contemporary ones for this challenge…I can always learn. And, to borrow some language from “God’s Grandeur,” I can be delighted and surprised, lifted by “Ah! bright wings!”

Donna Vorreyer, Music-Play, Word-Glow

This August I am once again not doing the #SealeyChallenge. I gave some thought to it—reading a poetry book a day for the month of August, then simply posting a picture to Instagram—but…I get so much out of my April poetry-book marathon that I can’t imagine not sharing a longer reflection. The April project always ends up trashing any other plans for the month, and it always ends up being worth it.

I think what I’m trying to say here is that if you feel led to read a poetry book a day, and reflect on what you find, I HIGHLY encourage you to do so.

Today, because it was left over from my April book stack, I decided to read Rena Priest’s Sublime, Subliminal, which was a finalist for the 2018 Floating Bridge Chapbook competition.

I always love Rena’s poems. She was our Washington Poet Laureate for two years, 2021-2023, and, among so much else as part of her heart-filled service to the poetry community, edited the brilliant I Sing the Salmon Home.

The fifteen poems in Sublime, Subliminal are not straight-forward, easily understood poems. They challenged me. When I let myself drop fully into the project, they also delighted me. Opening lines such as, “Your kiss is backlit pixilation” (“Canadian Tuxedo”); “The bookshelf is a psychic vortex” (“The Final Word”); or this sentence, “In the darkness of the cupboard, / the inner life of the water glass / is not empty” (“Inner Life of the Water Glass”) pushed me to see and think differently.

When I reached the acknowledgments page I was tickled—and not altogether surprised—to discover that the poems were inspired by Jim Simmerman’s “20 Little Poetry Projects.” Years ago, when my children were young and I was a new not-yet-tenured college teacher, I came across this exercise in The Practice of Poetry (edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell), and it worked so well for me that I stopped using it after a few poems. It felt like cheating! Rena Priest, so much smarter, put together a whole book.

Bethany Reid, Rena Priest, “Sublime, Subliminal”

You ever read the notes at the back of a poetry collection, and go, wait a flipping-doodle minute, this, epigraphs and thanks, it’s all guys.

Or if the collection is by a woman, hey, these are all women. Or if it’s by someone queer, all queer. Or someone old, all oldies. And so on, split down the demographics.

Does one’s sub-community of writers have all the gender spectrum or just people that look like you?

At the Chelsea author’s market day, at the next table was Sean Silcoff. He had a stream of well-wishers. His book is being made into a movie. He and I witnessed buyer after buyer explain that they were buying his tech story book about the Blueberry for {her husband, her son, her husband, her uncle}. At one point he mused to himself, why don’t women read it themselves?

That there is a salient question. Dang me, I’m guilty as the aggregate. I had already texted Brian to ask if he wanted to read it. We might read it together but. *shudder* Did I just do a “womanly thing”?

Pearl Pirie, Gender and Writing

This poem is a tipping point.
This poem is a woman running.
This poem is a spreading disquiet.

This poem is an orange domino
trembling at the edge of time.
Don’t touch! Even your breath,
even your most gentle thought,
even a memory, can begin
an end. Stay where you are.
This poem is a tipping point.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, This poem is a tipping point

Laila Malik is a desisporic settler and writer living in Adobigok, traditional land of Indigenous communities including the Anishinaabe, Seneca, Mohawk Haudenosaunee, and Wendat. Her debut poetry collection, archipelago (Book*Hug Press, 2023) has been described as haunting, tender and exquisite (Salma Hussain, Temz Review) and was named one of the CBC’s Canadian poetry collections to watch for in 2023. Her essays have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthology, longlisted for five different creative nonfiction and poetry contests, and widely published in Canadian and international literary journals. Malik has been awarded grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Council for the Arts, and was a fellow at the Banff Centre for Creative Arts for her novel-in-progress.

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book was a very slow, jigsaw process of building courage and coming to acceptance. I come from a people who are intensely private, and the prospect of publishing has always posed carried great risk to me and to us. I had to slowly come to terms with the idea of becoming more public, and think through ways to navigate a landscape that was foreign and riddled with real and perceived threat. But one of the most wonderful results has been the opportunity to connect with individuals who were just as starved as I had been for more complex diaspora stories, and specifically voices from our hitherto unspoken experience as South Asians coming of age in the Arabian Gulf.

I still write poetry after archipelago, but I have been trying the new challenge of novel-writing, which so far feels comparatively slow and clumsy. I did a residency at Banff where a mentor mentioned that it takes on average between four and six years to complete a novel, and that sounds about right. Add to that the daily needs of paying the bills and feeding the children, and who knows how much longer it might take?

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I was a high school misfit in a place of impossible airlessness, skulking the dusty aisles of my library to alleviate desperate boredom when I came upon two forms that changed my life: poetry and plays. There was ee cummings and Eugene Ionesco, and the strange speed and immediacy of poetry, alongside the radical but upside-down, inside-out approach of the theatre of the absurd in particular, split open my universe of possibility. I was stunned that this work was sitting casually and untouched in the middle of an otherwise strictly guarded world. I began a correspondence with another poetic rebel friend, and we compared notes on form and content, pushing one another to try new things with words on paper to speak to all things unspeakably sublime and grotesquely unbearable.

But it wasn’t until I got to university and encountered the work of feminist, and especially Black feminist poets like Audre Lorde and June Jordan that I began to understand poetry as innate and experiential to the lives of women and those who are repeatedly kept out of institutions of power, a form that is fundamentally revolutionary and accessible. I could and did write poetry in hospital hallways, in the mosque, at 3am while feeding a child, after a racist or sexist encounter at a supermarket, with a boss, with a government official. Poetry gleams from within the blood and visceral filth of the every day and so I seized it quickly and greedily and eternally as mine, before anyone could tell me any different.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Laila Malik

I’m thrilled to announce the forthcoming publication of my third poetry chapbook, Postcards from Texas, now available for preorder from Cuttlefish Books. This chapbook is my first that is devoted exclusively to haiku, and represents the shift in my creative focus since 2020. You can find the preorder link here: https://cuttlefishbooks.wixsite.com/home/2023-summer-book-launch.

The haiku in Postcards from Texas were mostly written in the second half of 2021 and the first half of 2022, the last 12 months I spent living in Austin. A few are older, going as far back as 2018. They were composed on hikes and camping trips, as well as dog walks around the city and picnics in local parks. My haiku address the changing political and physical landscape of a place I lived in, and deeply loved, for 15 years.

I’ve now lived in Missouri for just over a year. I adore the city of St. Louis, I finally found a job I could enjoy, and there are gorgeous landscapes throughout the state. The past year has also been one of grief for a place I still adore with all my heart, a place I thought I’d live until I died. Putting this chapbook together this past spring was a way to find some resolution of those emotions surrounding my move.

Postcards from Texas contains another form of grief as well. In 2015, I reconnected with my maternal grandfather for the first time in 20 years. (The reasons for that separation are complicated, and I have become wary of making family history public.) John and I are avid hikers, and I began sending my grandfather postcards from our hikes and camping trips all over Texas. He loved seeing the places we went. Four and a half years after my grandfather came back into my life, the universe took him from me again. He didn’t die of COVID, but I believe that he was a secondary casualty of the havoc the virus created around the world. There is no way to know fore sure, but I believe that if COVID hadn’t cause so many other problems, he’d still be here. I still feel sad that we didn’t get more time, and heartbroken that COVID protocols kept me from seeing him or even attending his funeral.

Postcards from Texas is dedicated to my maternal grandfather, as well as all the other people I lost my last few years in Texas (all but one of them died before COVID). Putting this book together was a way to continue writing postcards could no longer go to their intended recipient. It’s not just a farewell to a place I loved; it’s a reckoning of the loss that I feel should never have happened when it did.

Allyson Whipple, Now in Preorder: Postcards from Texas

On the good news front, I finally sent out another collection submission to a publisher. Well, it might be bad news of course, but good that I sent it at least.

Also, Beth Miller critiqued my book submission letter and synopsis and asked some very difficult questions, which has led to me doing some serious re-writes. But I’m still aiming to start submitting it to agents in September. Meanwhile I’ve started plotting the next book.

Peter and I had our Planet Poetry AGM today, and we’ve lots of ideas for our fourth season which begins in October, plus, while we’re in the close season we’re going to showcase a few of our favourite archive episodes.

Other than that, I’m looking forward to a wee trip to London to see & hear Voces8 in a prom, not to mention a whole week away next month in Wales, plus a family get-together. And although it hasn’t been the best year for gardening, we have a bumper crop of tomatoes and even a few beans. Happy days!

Robin Houghton, In the summertime when the weather is fine…

CB1, Cambridge’s live poetry gathering, has returned at a new venue – the Town and Gown in the city centre (where the Arts Cinema used to be). Over 30 people were there, and there’s room for more. No guest poet this time – it was all open mic, with no shortage of people willing to perform.

Perhaps this is what people really want – a place where once a month they can perform for free, free of criticism, with a chance to have a drink and a chat afterwards with like-minded people.

Maybe guest poets put people off – why pay to listen to someone you don’t much like and who uses up valuable open mic time? Open mic evenings are easier to organise too, I should think.

The room is goth/cellar style with a glitter-ball, which is becoming rather standard for poetry venues. I like it. My only worry is that there aren’t enough chances to chat (i.e. exchange poetry information) with people. Open mic evenings are all very well, but they don’t have the edge (or quality control) that Slam Competitions do.

Tim Love, CB1 is back!

These offerings are like fractals, or a kaleidoscope, or a collective word cloud, or a many-faceted gem. The same tiny piece of prayer inspires different things for each of us. Sometimes we root our offerings in the etymology of a particular Hebrew word or phrase. Sometimes the same word takes each of us in a different direction. (Hebrew is rich like that.) We take a prayer and we talk through it. We turn it over and over, and we refract the light of our creativity and our understanding through it. Or we refract ourselves through the lens of the prayer. Or the prayer through the lens of each of us. (Or all of the above.) We share our work, we critique and comment, we make suggestions. We turn things around, change stanzas, turn one poem into two or vice versa. Artists riff off of words. Writers riff off of images. And when all is said and done, we’ve created something that’s more than the sum of its parts. 

I often feel these days that my own creativity is lying fallow. I’m not working on a big poetry project, and that’s been true for a while. My last two books were Texts to the Holy (which came out from Ben Yehuda in 2018) and Crossing the Sea (from Phoenicia, 2020). It’s going on four years since Crossing the Sea came out, and I don’t know what’s next. Maybe the pandemic and the loss of my second parent and my heart attack are percolating in me. Maybe the pastoral needs of this moment are so great that I just don’t have space for holding a book in mind. Anyway: even in a time of limited personal creativity, this collaborative work at Bayit nourishes me, and it keeps me writing, a little bit. I’m grateful for that.

Rachel Barenblat, Gevurot: Be There

Yesterday I charged my dead reMarkable. I am ready to write poetry again, despite the chemo-induced fog I’m still experiencing.

A person can find meaning in fog. It can be very soothing actually, fog filling the little depressions in the landscape. Depression is the actual scientific name for places where the fog gathers here on the Jæren bogs . No metaphor intended. All truths converge at some point – maybe language with the landscape especially.

*

I delivered the final draft of the Lear adaptation on time. I don’t think I could be prouder of myself, or more appreciative of the opportunity. I am excited to see what the director does with it. How the actors bring breath to the artifact that is the text.

But what to do now? I’m still mourning the loss of my upstairs studio, and I learned it will probably be another two years before I have the space again. I also know full-well that I am using this as an excuse to shove the physical (vispo) poetry work to the side right now. I’m craving order, and paper-making and the like is disorder and there’s no corner of the house that I am willing to let go of right now. Maybe I really do need to go back to the basics.

Haibun, tanka, still pulling at me. American sentences. Maybe I need to explore my own forms – constrained poetry – outside of the vispo context.

Maybe. Definitely. And it shouldn’t be surprising that I want to work with form right now. Control. Order.

Ren Powell, Embracing the Fog

In an essay on the poetic and emotional/spiritual value of waiting, Arundhathi Subramaniam writes:

Poems are about waiting because while a shift in perception can happen in a flash, it is often preceded by a slow, unseen process of unlearning. It takes unlearning to defamiliarise the world, to reinvigorate one’s gaze.

If unlearning is part of the work of crafting poetry, it’s also, I think, part of poetry’s power. The potential to unsettle and unseat. [Kate] Fox’s are poems of reclamation, celebrating authenticity and kinship in neurodiversity – and, indeed, in life. Poems of resistance, pouring light on the shadowy recesses of power, ushering unseen perspectives and identities into view. And in so doing, they invite us as readers to resist, too. Resist stereotypes and cliché, those well-trodden mental paths. Resist the easy mental slide towards the familiar. To resist, even, the dictates of language, remember “the gaps between words and things” and to enter into them, ready to be surprised.

Jonathan Totman, On What Could be Called Communication

ice cream truck!
they abandon their castle
to the tide

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: August ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 30

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: mindlessness, writing routines, poetry and psychology, fierce women, and more. Enjoy.


That was a different kind of
love. That was a love of something beautiful
simply because it was. It was violet,
supple, thick, luscious, soft. It was everything
I ever wanted in a bathrobe. It hangs,
right now, on a hook in my bathroom, stretching
and fading in the morning sun, years after
the man himself has gone to ashes, decades
and decades after he gifted it to me.
It was the first gift he gave me, and the last.

PF Anderson, Bathrobe

I had to nudge myself into another poetry submission and discovered it was a full two months since the last. Sigh… Busy, stressful times continue, but with beauty, joy, and moments of sweet downtime, plus, alas, dangerous heat. But the heat has lifted, and I am soon to volunteer at two tables for our annual downtown Pridefest, itself delayed by a full month but now fully supported by the city. I’ve got my Pride hat, my Pride flags, and two shirts–one for each organization, plus a water bottle, travel tissue, a cell phone for a ride home, and a Walt Whitman tote bag. I feel strangely well prepared! I hope I am coherent, as I had a little anesthesia yesterday. Nasturtiums I planted from seed, and the above marigold, are blooming! There was welcome rain and, sadly, some unwelcome damage from recent storms. Let’s hope we all repair.

Kathleen Kirk, Nudge

She sits by my neighbour’s front window, sometimes tries to wander into the house and she has a face I want to look into all day, to absorb that moment’s contentment. She’s about the same size as a young fox that wanders across mum’s terrace and when the back door’s open nips in to take out the red slippers I keep there. I side with the myths of fox as messenger of the gods. I don’t like the anthropomorphic characteristic of cunning. A fox walking down mum’s road the other evening with a rabbit hanging out of its mouth was a reminder of truth.  It went up to the Tye and waited near one of the many warrens. I could not disparage a fox for that. Humans, on the other hand, put words on the walls of art galleries and ignite fields, forests, mountains and valleys.

Jackie Wills, The vixen’s stare

The French existentialists — I barely read them, but what a baneful influence they had on me! — thought of life as a thing to be invented; made up, out of some primal creative fire, and then committed to, in an act of bold self-assertion. I don’t think this conception stands up well under examination. Who, after all, does the creating? Where did *that* self come from, the one who makes the choices? Why, the self before the choices, of course, and you get a regress that’s either infinite, or ends up in Mama and Papa and your kindergarten peers. This is noble independence? I don’t think so. The thing  doesn’t make any sense: and anyway it doesn’t correspond to anything I know or remember about myself. I didn’t invent myself. I’ve gradually and painfully discovered myself.

Dale Favier, Flowering

The wildfires are spreading like wars. We need to get out.
Airports have closed.
People walk the roads with suitcases.
We get into the car and drive into history,
using a map of Europe from before the meteor.
We give the kids an I-Spy Book of Dinosaurs
to keep them quiet for an hour or so.
They look hopefully out of the windows.

You’re wearing that light yellow shirt,
the top two buttons undone because of the heat.
Your silver crucifix shines as the sun diffuses
through the windscreen dirty with bugs.

Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING AFTER PAINTING A GHOST THAT RETURNED FROM THE END OF THE MIND

There’s a difference between the mindless and the tedious. I don’t care for tedium; but a task I can mindlessly manage–something physical, but not too demanding, without a lot of surprises I need to problem-solve–those projects can be almost relaxing. When weeding, my thoughts can wander. The job is so familiar and repetitive that there is no need to devote much brainpower to it. Ideas, reflections, observations, images can float aimlessly in my mind. I can think about poems while weeding. Taking a walk in a woods or quiet countryside offers me the same sort of internal/external environment.

Proofreading was like that for me, back when I was a proofreader (when there were such things as proofreaders in every newspaper, type or print shop, publishing house, ad agency, and legal department). Editing takes some thought; but the less engaged a proofreader is with the text, the better. I was employed as a proofreader when I first recognized that I was truly serious about writing poetry, and I found value in the ’empty mind’ that my workaday job fostered. There was a bonus in that sometimes I did glean new information from the materials I read.

~

Composing this post, it strikes me that “mindless” is the wrong word, or not an accurate word to convey what it’s like to feel internally occupied while the physical body’s doing something else. “Reflection” implies more stillness. Something more akin to walking meditation?

At any rate, I can hope that the weeding and staple-removing might eventually get my poetry mojo re-booted. I have to work on my next manuscript and continue to promote my latest book, too. In the meantime at least I’m accomplishing something.

Ann E. Michael, Mindlessly

I finished this 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a Van Gogh painting, and it only took 2 1/2 years! Seriously, my family started it on Thanksgiving 2020, stalled out, rolled it up on one of those felt contraptions, bagged it, and threw it in a corner of the living room. This week was quiet with Chris away, so on a whim I pulled it out. I quickly became obsessed, for reasons I didn’t understand. I don’t want to tell you how many hours I spent sorting and fitting the little streaky pastel pieces. (P.S.: I eventually found the final missing shape, after I broke the puzzle up and reboxed it, of course.)

As soon as I did, I was able to return to some difficult work that was stalled: making a near-last revision to my next poetry book, Mycocosmic, and working on the elaborate author questionnaire I mentioned last week. These tasks have similarities to finishing a jigsaw puzzle: for instance, both involve sifting through patterns, although a puzzle has one solution and a book many possible good shapes. But working on one cleared my head for the other, I think, oddly enough in the way Ann E. Michael describes low-cognition chores in her recent blog post. Maybe there are a lot of poets out there taking breaks from mental work in this extreme July heat.

Lesley Wheeler, Jigsawing together a poetry ms

Some days are bad writing days. Some weeks are bad writing weeks. It’s possible to meet a word count and have no clue what the words were. It’s possible to feel like a robot, mechanically working, without feeling or connection. It’s possible to hate every minute of it.

It’s possible to go on like this for a very long time.

But if you keep working, eventually something will click.

What is it that clicks? A door? A master lock? A vault in the Sistine Chapel? The snap of the lid of a pickle jar?

Who knows. But something opens up.

Those bad writing days are all part of the work, it turns out. We can accept them. Tolerate them. Maybe even appreciate them.

They are like the abrasive relative at holiday dinners. Difficult to love, but still part of the family. […]

Sometimes the click happens when you least expect it.

In the supermarket, at a playground playdate, on your way to class, in the middle of an argument with your best friend.

Suddenly, you realize, you’ve been working this entire time. You’ve kept going, even without fully knowing it.

It’s like trying to stand still in the ocean—impossible. Just being in the water, the current pushes you along.

Becky Tuch, Monday Motivation! With Thoughts on Craft!

I’m a great believer in the satisfaction that comes from making and doing things yourself, and find this an antidote to so much of what feels wrong about our disposable, ever-faster, highly commercial, media-driven culture. It’s a great feeling to create something from scratch that is uniquely yours, to use it and enjoy it, and to learn from the project so that you are inspired for the next one. The biggest key to success is to start simply, and find some helpful friends or resource people who can advise you about your choices and your process when you’re having difficulties. Nobody is born knowing how to do these things! Just as in cooking, we all have to learn, we all get better at it gradually, and there is always something cool and exciting to aspire to in the future.

Beth Adams, A Report on my Summer Sewing Binge – Part 2

It’s my own fault, I hadn’t planned properly. The things that I thought would take minimal work, didn’t. I’d broken my own cardinal rule and planned for time (off) that I wanted, rather than time (off) that I had. Although I’d taken no new work on, work that was rolling on still existed. I am the founder and editor of a literary magazine, Spelt, a magazine that seeks to validate and celebrate the rural experience through creative non fiction and poetry. We feature interviews with authors and have four creative non fiction columnists and the magazine is a print magazine, which means a lot of work needs to go into it. I work with two other editors, but really, this is my project, my baby and so I tend to take on the lion’s share of the work. No one gets paid, we all do it for the love of being a part of a system that creates platforms for writers who we feel need more recognition and a place to show how nature writing can be something other than a practice of romanticised observation. We recently suffered a set back financially and we’ve been limping on with the magazine while we try to raise some funds through the annual competition. Because I was writing the book, issue nine was behind, is behind. Because I was writing the book the competition wasn’t getting the promotion it needed to be successful. I realised I needed to catch up on those commitments before I could really take time off. My compromise was three hours work between 6 and 9 am, in the hope that after that I’d be able to take time off, but what happened was that the lovely, elderly dog needed his daily care – the glacial pace slow walks that keep him happy and healthy, the attention to his coat (he’s long haired, and I can’t get him to the groomer anymore as he gets too upset and stressed) in the heat of summer, his occasional incontinence and his need to be with me, the reassurance that he needs. If you’ve ever lived with an elderly dog, you’ll know that at this stage of their lives, they need a lot of care giving. I don’t imagine we have a long time left with him, and I want to make sure that every one of those days is of gentle happiness and companionship. By the time I’d be done and got him settled it would be lunch time, and I’d be exhausted because I was up early every day to work, and I just wanted to sleep. And then, because of the monster anxiety – because I knew that I would need to jump back onto work and be prepared to, like a Flintstone car, run as soon as my feet touched the ground, after my ‘time off’; making space to work on the edits of the book when it’s returned, setting up work around it to enable me to continue to pay my mortgage and bills while I do, meant some planning and prep work. And then the day was over and the elderly dog needed his glacial evening walk and then it was bed time. Reader, there was no walks on the beach, and the weather has been very rainy anyway, so that put paid to even simply sitting in the garden. I even lost most of my usual sacred morning space to write and reflect because I was filling that space with work to allow me some time off. […]

Yesterday I did the thing that I said I was going to do and, after I had dealt with the old dog, my husband and I left the house and went to be tourists at Burton Agness Hall.

As soon as we were out of the village and crossing the Wolds I felt better. As soon as we were pouring ourselves through the fields of wheat and barley, the golden summer landscape, I felt better. We saw a stoat cross the road like a small fire burning and my heart expanded, loosening all the tense muscles around it. We spent hours walking the grounds of the hall, being moved by the stories of people long since dead, soaking up the extraordinary art on display, walking thorough the gardens lulled by the hum of bees, the scent of flowers, then dinner at the pub, then home. When I walked the dog that evening I felt grounded. I wasn’t thinking about what was next on the list. I was communing with the place that I live, connecting to the ground beneath my feet, the breeze, the prickle of rain. Two roe deer were in th top field as I passed. We stopped to watch each other, then carried on with our lives. I felt like I had come home, not just physically, but mentally. This morning, i am up and at my desk to write. The world will not end if I don’t answer my emails. Today I am giving myself over to writing time. I don’t know what I shall write, it doesn’t matter. Maybe an essay, maybe a poem or a flash fiction or the start of something bigger. It doesn’t matter. It starts here, with this essay, with these words. Thankyou for bearing witness to it.

Wendy Pratt, Allowing the Creative Well to Refill

After book club on Wednesday where we discussed the poetry book Our Dark Academia (in case you’re following along with the book club) among other things, I remember feeling a moment thinking about taking joy in talking about books and just writing for fun, not worrying about publishing or marketing or any of that stuff.

I think I got exhausted from the first few months of my sixth book coming out, plus AWP and all that accompanies that, and it was nice to remember that appreciating poetry is kind of its own reward, and that there are simple things that give us joy: visiting with family and friends, walking through a field of lavender, watching butterflies, and writing poetry among them.  I’m not particularly good at slowing down and having moments of peace and joy, I actually had a book as a teen called When I Relax I Feel Guilty, so this week was a bit of a revelation. Then I wrote two poems (I hadn’t written in a little while) and didn’t worry about updating any spreadsheets or submitting or rejection—I just enjoyed writing them.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Back Into Routines, Finding Joy in Writing and Talking Books, and Looking Forward to Fall (Readings?)

Rob Taylor: The back jacket copy of If It Gets Quiet Later On, I Will Make a Display bills it as “a volume of essays, stories and poems… on a life of reading, writing and bookselling.” And yet, smack in the middle we find “Collected Trout,” a 24-page essay on Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop. Like in a wide-ranging display at a bookstore, your reader is left to make the connections between this disparate part and the others. A few other pieces, too, seem only loosely tethered to the book’s central concerns. 

“I love making the themed / (albeit only broadly associative) tabletop / displays,” you write in an early poem in the book. Later, you refer to this type of curation as “a form of poetry.” Could you talk about your approach to the curation of this book, which ranges so widely in both form and content? 

Nick Thran: I find I am focused, energized, and un-self-conscious when I’m gathering books together for display. One afternoon, immersed in this activity, I paused, looked out the window, and thought to myself, this feels so good. Then I began to think about display-making in the context of the writing I’d been doing over the last few years. 

After Mayor Snow, I wanted to write a book that didn’t rely too heavily on well-paved neural pathways towards anxiety and fear. Those things could be there in the new work, would be there, because that’s a part of my makeup. But the central mode of the new book, whatever it looked like, would be that E.M. Forster quote from Howards End “Only connect!” I also wanted to stay with things longer than I was in a lot of my poems. I liked the challenge of extending looks, in prose, while also accommodating diversions, digressions, associative thought. 

But I’d hit a wall in a book of essays I was working on. The essays I’d already written were interesting to me. A lot of them, “Collected Trout” included, are in this book. But I’d developed an impossible set of constraints for myself. I was also running into that difficulty most every non-fiction writer, writing about the work of others, runs into: am I really the person to be speaking on behalf of some of the artists I’m writing about? Especially if I’m trying to make these essays, in some way, personal? Fiction gave me some freedom from those constraints, to remove the names, to veer off in wildly imaginative or speculative directions, but keep the essence.

Rob Taylor, On Display in my Mind: An Interview with Nick Thran

Jonathan Totman has recently started a new poetry blog and it looks like becoming an top-notch addition to the scene. Using his expertise in clinical psychology as a point of departure, his posts provide a focus on poetry and mental health, offering selected poems by the likes of Ramona Herdman alongside reflections that are informed by his counselling work.

There are already five excellent posts awaiting you, though I’d especially recommend the latest one on loss and fearing joy, which also features an excellent poem by Sue Rose. You can read it here.

Matthew Stewart, Jonathan Totman’s new poetry blog

Dunn and colleagues are looking into ways in which therapists can help people with persistent depression tone up their capacity for joy. Often, a lot of our focus in therapy is on dealing with the difficult stuff. Rightly so, of course, but it seems there is increasing attention in the research literature (and the therapy room) being given to the idea that some people might benefit from more help in moving towards positive emotions and overcoming blocks and fears that might be getting in the way. (I’m conscious as I write that I’m sort of skirting round the question of what “joy” and “happiness” actually mean. I don’t think I want to open that particular can of worms right now(!) but will just acknowledge my own perspective here, and the fact that what happiness means and how we relate to it is of course personal, variable and influenced by social, cultural and religious factors; Joshaloo et al., 2014).

I’m speaking only from personal experience here but, for me, poetry can be one avenue through which to enrich and amplify joyfulness. Poems can often surprise us, lift us out of auto-pilot, shine a light on the textures of sensory and emotional experience. This idea of “seeing things afresh”, which is part of mindfulness-based approaches, very much chimes with the poetical ambition to describe experiences in new ways. And if this brings with it sadness, and fear, then perhaps poetry can, in a small way, help us to feel less alone with these feelings. For me, a poem offers a kind of container for complex feelings, much like a therapy hour. I’m sure it’s partly why I write. Of course I also hope that at least some poems will also reach out, speak to others. But it would be wrong to pretend there isn’t a personal and emotional investment, and part of that – I think inevitably – stems from a need to feel my way towards and into loss. I’m not fond of the word “processing” – loss and grief, in particular, are deeply personal and often far from linear journeys – but it’s something approaching that. Perhaps part of it is simply listening – to the rumble in the dark, the ache and the fear. But it’s something more active too, something closer to reconnection or assimilation – a making room for those most awkward of companions, pain and joy.

Jonathan Totman, “Taking Flight”: On Loss and Fearing Joy

“Phantom Pain Wings” is a journey through grief, an attempt to render the complex emotions tied up with bereavement on a page. The bird-like language, imagery and motifs allow the poet to investigate the unfamiliar, the physical and psychosocial struggles that grief brings. It widens beyond the personal to a universal journal of the disassociative states, the birds offering a freedom to probe things usually left undisturbed. Choi’s translation encompasses Kim’s word play and visual puns, brings the poems alive, enabling English readers to share in rich, multi-layers of Kim’s imagination.

The collection also includes a translation diary from Choi, detailing some of the discussion between translator and poet and choices made.

Emma Lee, “Phantom Pain Wings” Kim Hyesoon translated by Don Mee Choi (New Directions) – book review

When I saw a post by ‘Albert’ on Twitter with this quote by L S Lowry: Had I not been lonely I would not have seen what I did, it reminded me of this poem by Matthew Sweeney. A fine ekphrastic poem that moves beyond description, as it enters into dialogue with the artist about their work.

I have a few ekphrastic poems that need expanding in some way, so I’m going to do some research and explore how I could incorporate the artist’s own words into those poem. Is this something you might do with your own writing? If you’re a painter, photographer, sculptor, do poems inspire you? [Click through to read “Dialogue With an Artist”]

Fokkina McDonnell, Had I not been lonely …

SALA, the South Australian Living Arts Festival, is a statewide festival of visual art, spanning the entire month of August, and involving over 700 venues across the state with nearly 11,000 participating artists. SALA is Australia’s largest and most inclusive visual arts festival, and takes place in galleries and non-traditional arts spaces across South Australia, featuring visual artists working at every level, in any medium, from all backgrounds and all parts of the state. Indeed, there are few if any festivals of this nature anywhere in the world.

I have enjoyed participating in SALA in different ways over the years. For SALA this year, I am excited to present Beyond the Floodtide… a sequence of mostly new video works with environmental themes, at The Joinery in the Adelaide CBD, in collaboration with the Conservation Council of South Australia and coordinated by Sally Francis.

Faced with accelerating anthropogenic climate change, how will life on earth cope with global warming and rising sea levels? Plants, animals, humans, forms yet to evolve: all will need to adapt to challenging new environments. This video sequence imagines how we and the biosphere around us might deal with the consequences of our effects on the planet.

In addition to screening the videos at The Joinery on each Friday afternoon in August, I will be giving an artist talk, explaining some of the processes that went into making the videos. Together with acclaimed local poets Matthew Pankhurst and Shaine Melrose, I will present a reading of original poetry addressing environmental themes.

Ian Gibbins, Beyond the Floodtide… SALA 2023 at The Joinery

Peter Riley’s sequence of 27 short poems opens with words “Proof that the world exists.” What is this proof? The irreducible figure of the refugee, that human in motion who surrounds us every day, invisible but insistent:

Proving

that the world is, but unstable: the Refugee’s story.

The second poem introduces a counterpoint; birdsong. The birds are also migrants, and their song tells “the tale of the Refugee’s journey across Europe,/a sonorous black hole day after day”.
The birds and the figure of the Refugee are intimately interwoven in the poems that follow. We are reminded gently that the figure in the steel container is a dweller on the earth whose existence requires proof:

did he remember before he left to visit
the old holm oak up in the fields , to hold
its spiked leaf in his hands and listen
to what it said?

It’s not without significance, I think, that while the native oak is a symbol of Britain, the holm is viewed as an invasive species. A little later, birds, tree and the Refugee are drawn against a background of ongoing ecological catastrophe framed by the central concern of proof:

There may well be a world
but there is probably no future. Earth’s
moisture sucked into the blue sky,
lost rhymes fallen into dry ditches.

The last line in this extract draws us towards another central question; what is the role of poetry in the face of loss of hope? The answer, tentative as it is, is to hold on, to persist:

Thursday, market-day and again a bird sang.
across the canal, not a wren.
By Sunday there were three or four. Is this a turn
of the tide, is there a hope of something more
than a stray pheromone riding the breeze?

And we are reminded in other sections that we are all refugees in a world that, despite all its provisional flux, fully is. And that we must, against all the odds, sing:

Robin, fill your little lungs,
and blow your meaning over the fields
fortissimo for the new year.

Peter Riley is one of our great singers, and here he is, full fortissimo. We’re lucky to have him.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading: July 2023

How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I’m kind of a slow learner and my process tends to reflect that. It feels like I’ve been working on Age of Forgiveness for the last ten years or so. Probably I have been, in some ways. A few of the poems in the book are from early on in my writing life, but I didn’t start working on it as a book until 2019, and it won’t become one until September 2023.

So, between 4 and ten years. […]

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Probably not? I think I’m mostly interested in all the first-year-poetry-student stuff still. I think a lot about form and voice, repetition, order, metaphor. Other stuff, too, but those are the main ones. My main question always seems to be, how am I supposed to write this poem that my brain is trying to make me write? […]

When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I play pickup basketball and then stretch for six hours afterwards. That usually gets me to where I need to be. Sometimes pickle ball helps. […]

I’m inspired by visual art. I seek it out, hang it on my walls, think about it, and write about it, too. A few years back I became a little bit obsessed with this visual essay called First Adventures in Beauty by Lia Purpura. Technically a book, I guess. Books that are art interest me a lot. I’m thinking of Book of No Ledge by Nance Van Winckel, Mary Reufle’s erasure books, both of Karen Green’s books and a handful of other Siglio titles.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Caleb Curtiss

the sad spectacle of sun glasses in an airport lounge
life in lateral inversion
a mind full of sunshine
rises
up through the clouds
down with a bumpy landing
reality in the arrival lounge
my name written on a card
i remember who i am

Jim Young, vacant vacation

Cycladic villages – how is it that they never get dirty?  In Athens, age drips rustily down the walls; on a Cycladic island, the white of village houses is brighter than white, beyond pigment, beyond age. They are like sugar cubes divided by a wet knife. Some islands are ringed by fire but not on fire; they are both dazzling and cooling. White doves tiptoe on the ledge of a white houses.  Villages wind mazelike with steep stairs and plastered passages, bursts of bougainvillea and jasmine.  

Then there is the blue.  If Homer were to describe it now, he might still say that wine-dark sea is agitated, full of shifting, intertwined patterns. Underwater you can see the chain of sailors’ shaped phrases, one hooked to the next.   Blue that dissolves as if in a dream and blue as solid as heaven.  If Homer were writing now, he might be sending postcards or texts about Ulysses’ long travels. Saw the blue – unfenced.  Full of monsters and simmering grudges.  Blue – to die for. 

Jill Pearlman, Homer texting from the islands

But then,

many afternoons later, what I remember is
the song of invisible cicadas on the trail up
to the Parthenon, the pink glow of sunsets

painting lesser hilltops, the silence of Sounion,
even the sea only a whisper, and all those
pillars standing in the ruins like broken arms

reaching for the blue stillness. Because memory
resides in the ordinary. Little things. That were.
Little things. That weren’t. What I never saw.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 57

He was always there. Entering the darkening theater as the lights went down. He was too tall to miss. Then steel drums and a stage of gorgeous men would bring the Caribbean sea to the shores of Harvard Square. How could I not fall for the color and spectacle, the wildness? The Trinidad Theater Workshop was founded with Walcott’s twin brother in 1959, in the 1990’s plays would travel up to Massachusetts for US premieres such as Dream on Monkey Mountain, the one that I loved most.

It amazed me that a poet could also be a playwright. But Walcott was also a watercolor painter, he was a genius who defied category.

That doesn’t mean that Walcott was well-liked or even deeply respected in the 1990’s before all the awards. I don’t know that Cambridge doyennes knew what to do with him. He was most infamous for the rumors that surrounded his movement across the river—and enough rumors become taken as fact. Story was that Walcott had been asked to leave Harvard due to an affair with a student. The student was of age but had second thoughts when the affair ended. And of course it was more complicated than that—but again—rumor. These were the waters surrounding him when I first met him on the page.

What stays true is his work.

Love after Love
Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread, Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

This poem is not typical of his work, but it is one that I return to again and again—as do so many others in the aftermath of love. The sparse language, the sense of a self lost and then the step-by-step struggle to find it again. Can’t you relate?

But the book that convinced me that he was our 20th century Shakespeare (and more) is The Star-Apple Kingdom. I’ve read and re-read it—-first being introduced to the lyrical patterns and cadences in grad school when Garrett Hongo read much of it aloud to our class. “I had no nation now but the imagination,” Shabine states as he leaves home. I had been rootless for years: Scotland, Niger, South Africa, Bosnia, all in quick succession. Here was a poet who claimed his rootlessness—did more than claim it; Walcott elevated rootlessness to epic poetry.

Susan Rich, In the Theater with Derek Walcott

My dear friend and colleague, the poet, teacher and academic Sue Dymoke has died.

Though she had been ill for some time, the news came to me (comes to me) as a great shock. I cannot get used to talking about her in the past tense.

We first met, at the turn of the millennium, at the Royal Festival Hall. Jean Sprackland had gathered a group of poet-educators to put some teaching materials together for the nascent Poetry Archive. I knew immediately that I had found someone on my wavelength, whose poetic, pedagogic and academic identities were fully blurred. I went home knowing I had finally met another unicorn.

Sue and I worked on several projects together: the ESRC-funded Poetry Matter series and subsequent books, both with Andrew Lambirth and Myra Barrs; a poetry pedagogy symposium in Porto, also with Andrew, as well as Janine Certo and Laura Apol; a poetry anthology with Unbound, the not-quite-funded (but still amazing) No One You Know, featuring poets talking about their ‘secret- weapon-poems’; and latterly Young Poets’ Stories, funded by the Foyle Foundation, on the writing lives of prizewinning young poets.

It was Sue’s energy and attention to detail that got these projects going and over the line.

Young Poets’ Stories coincided, almost to the day, with the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, which meant that we conducted nearly the entire project online. Coming from different corners of the country, we had previously met up at the British Library, queuing in its chilly courtyard before bagging one of the cafe tables where we took it upon ourselves to compare stationery and cake products, accompanied by more than the legally safe limit of flat whites.

Anthony Wilson, In memory of Sue Dymoke

This month has seen the deaths of fierce women.  In some ways, that’s true of every month; fierce women often meet fiery ends, and much too soon.  This morning, I was sad to hear of the death of Sinead O’Connor, and earlier this month, sad to hear of the death of Minnie Bruce Pratt.  Both women faced life circumstances, particularly around motherhood, that I will never have to face; I can make this claim as a post-menopausal woman.  Both highlighted the hazards that come from living life on one’s own terms.

O’Connor’s battles were much more public than Pratt’s, who was one of the first to write about the sacrifices that she made when she decided to pay attention to her desires for other women; she lost custody of her sons because of that choice.

I only bought one of O’Connor’s albums, or maybe two.  I loved I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, but by the time later work came out, I wasn’t as interested for reasons I no longer remember.  I always cheered for her as she took on various causes, even as I wondered if less confrontational tactics might win more believers for those causes.  It’s a question I often have–what means justify what ends?

I had some of Pratt’s books, back in the days when I was buying any feminist work I could find, back when more of it was published, back when there were more small presses.  I have likely let a lot of that work go, and I do wonder if I’ll regret it, in later days, when books may be harder to find and the power that fuels online collections dwindles/becomes ghastly expensive.  I wonder the same thing about all the music that has come through my hands.

If that end time comes, and I’ve read all my books, I’ll just read them again.  If I can’t play the music of others, I’ll finally have time to teach myself all the instruments that has been waiting for me.  I will be a fierce woman, trying to avoid a fiery end.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Fierce Women, Fiery Ends

Until a couple of years ago I knew little about the singer-songwriter Tori Amos. She’s now responsible for more of my earworms than any other performer. I watch her often on YouTube, comparing performances.

People used to tell me she was like Kate Bush. My favourite Kate Bush song is “Under the Ivy”, which is one of her more Amosish pieces. I think that she has the artistic aspirations of Amos. Bush is less confessional though, and sexuality isn’t her topic or vehicle. Janis Ian in “Watercolors” has some of Amos’ anger, self-criticism, and social awareness. Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album (perhaps still my favourite record) has the reflection and self-questioning that Amos displays. Amos has more control over her voice than all of them. […]

All of the pieces I like are over 25 years old. More recent songs like “Speaking with Trees” sound like re-hashes. I’d rather have a new rendering of “Precious things”. Writers who use their early life as source material can run out of inspiration. Some other writers, even if they’re not always autobiographical, get their best ideas early and spend the rest of their lives raiding their early notebooks – I think Dylan Thomas did that. Such artists in their later years sometimes produce themed, committed work (concept albums, etc) to compensate for their lack of inspiration, it seems to me.

Tim Love, Tori Amos

“Enough is so vast a sweetness, I suppose it never occurs, only pathetic counterfeits,” Emily Dickinson lamented in a love letter. In his splendid short poem about the secret of happiness, Kurt Vonnegut exposed the taproot of our modern suffering as the gnawing sense that what we have is not enough, that what we are is not enough.

This is our modern curse: A century of conspicuous consumption has trained us to be dutiful citizens of the Republic of Not Enough, swearing allegiance to the marketable myth of scarcity, hoarding toilet paper for the apocalypse. Along the way, we have unlearned how to live wide-eyed with wonder at what Hermann Hesse called “the little joys” — those unpurchasable, unstorable emblems of aliveness that abound the moment we look up from our ledger of lack.

The poet and etymologist John Ciardi (June 24, 1916–March 30, 1986) offers an uncommonly wonderful wakeup call for this civilizational trance in the out-of-print 1963 gem John J. Plenty and Fiddler Dan (public library) — part fable, part poem, part prayer for happiness.

Written as a long lyric and illustrated with gentle charcoal sketches by the artist and experimental filmmaker Madeliene Gekiere, the story is a soulful — spiritual, even — modern take on Aesop’s famed tale of the grasshopper and the ant, radiating a countercultural invitation to rediscover life’s true priorities amid our confused maelstrom of materialism and compulsive productivity.

Maria Popova, The Ant, the Grasshopper, and the Antidote to the Cult of More: A Lovely Vintage Illustrated Poem About the Meaning and Measure of Enough

My recent poetry residency was at a seminary, so the symbols of Christianity were all around me, the Christs and the crosses, the benevolent and grieving Marys, as was nature — trees and flowering bushes and moss. And poison ivy. But I got thinking a lot about this quote I passed every day on my way to the dining hall. It’s from the book of Micah, a book I had never heard of.

Micah (or Mi-ca-yahoo — “who is like Yahweh”) was a prophet from 8thC BCE. The quote on the stone says: “What is required of us? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

As a poet, of course, I want to ask: which translation? And as a poet too, I’ve been given to contemplating those words, individually. […]

And finally this “humbly” thing. I’ve spoken of this word before. It is from words meaning lowly, or, literally on the ground or from the Earth. Which we are, I guess, we beings: a bit of earth, a bit of star, some spit, and these minds, so cunning, so easily scarred with memory and pain, and joy. And setting aside the comic image that arises when I think of “walk” and “on the ground” together, although I guess, in the human body, the act of walking is a constant falling and catching-of-a-fall, this idea is nice: of walking humbly alongside the divine, just listening rather than prattling along trying to impress or curry favor. Being companionable with the divine on an amble through the trees. Just listening.

Marilyn McCabe, Hash browns over easy; or, On Chewing Over Words

I am very little.

My arm is upraised
because we are holding hands,
as if I’m asking to be noticed.

When we arrive at the ice cream shop,
the glass brick fills my field of vision.
It is both mundane and magical,
like the wall of a ruined castle.

This memory contains no ice cream.

Jason Crane, POEM: No Ice Cream

I recently spoke to a group of MA students at Oxford University. The event was called “The Writer’s Life.” Presumably, I was there to provide insight into the arc of my career 10 years after my own graduation from Oxford. I had given a similar talk for Poets & Writers’ “Mapping the Maze” in the spring, and in both cases, recognized that this wasn’t the moment for my usual glib extempore or self-deprecating humor. Or, rather—since there was still plenty of that—I knew I needed to write out my remarks, because the truth is that what has made the greatest difference in my own journey, and the reason I’ve sustained my practice at all, has nothing to do with the occasional signposts of career success and everything to do with having a strong why.

Readers, you may already recognize the truth in this. That for all the grit, stamina, and sheer effort you exert, nothing is as sustaining as a strong why. That why is a safeguard against everything from existential despair to bitterness to paralyzing self-doubt when faced with the blank page. It is the energetic vein binding the essential you—not the ego you—to the task at hand. It is what makes the process—not just the product—rewarding, which ensures continuity and true purpose.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I am still caught in a strange place with the new poems, unsure of what direction, if any, they want to go. There are about a dozen, but I haven’t decided what sort of animal they will eventually be. Without daily writing exploits most of July, I have been directing more efforts toward the visual side of things most days, including just making random collage animations for IG in addition to more series-based projects (see above.). I will be working this month on recording and making video poems for the VILLAINS series, so keep an eye out for that in September, as well as an impending zine for that batch of HOME IMPROVEMENTS collages and poems, probably coming toward the end of this month. I have more diversions planned for fall, including another haunted dollhouse advent project, the Henry James-inspired governess zine, and more in the works over the next two months. 

As we enter back-to-school season, once again the month of August feels disorienting, disconnected as I am to an academic calendar after decades of being firmly entrenched. My own nearly 20 years of schooling, then the library job at the elementary school, then over two decades at Columbia and an MFA program nested inside it. It’s hard not to see September as a new beginning and August as an ending of sorts. It is perhaps why most of my autumn endeavors seem more serious than the writing I do in the spring or summer. How it feels like a time that calls for weightier projects.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 7/31/2023

I wish we had
a story of abundance as point of origin, but without
anyone having to steal fire or be muted into a statue
or a bird. We remember to skim pearls from the froth
of rice wine, decanting a sacrament for wonder.
Before lowering our heads to drink, we hang
cuts of meat in the branches for the ravenous birds
of death or uncertain fortune— You hear them stab
the water, beings that can swallow a thing whole.

Luisa A. Igloria, Abundance

I want to return to innocence & from innocence to shadow. I want to return to shadow & from shadow to river. I want to return to river & from river to the crossroads. I want to return to the crossroads & from the crossroads to song. I want to return to song & from song to your heart. I want to return to your heart & from your heart to a home.

Rich Ferguson, What the river-voiced hallelujah sings

is it true that earth has never uttered a word

            that silence and stone make soul

in the clear mind of rain

                                                aren’t we random

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 28

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: apocalyptic weather, gardening, mentors, making time to write, giving “cancelled” writers a path to redemption and reconciliation, and much more. Enjoy.


We were so lucky to have some rain yesterday, first a scattering in the early afternoon, which returned with increased seriousness around 530 pm, while I was getting a hair cut. I could see the rain in the long mirror reflecting the street behind me. It was falling on the cobblestones and between the rails of the tram tracks and my annoyance at the hair cutter who kept me waiting 45 minutes dissolved there.

Before midnight it rained again, and into the small hours. This morning is fresh and in the 70s — absolutely lovely. It is a relief to forget about the apocalypse for an hour or two.

Which puts me in mind of a poem! Many poems, actually. But also a visual poem of mine that recently came out in Ballast, “My Darling,” which I mean with all my heart: [Click through to view]

the best of wives
is fresh air

Sarah J Sloat, the best of wives is fresh air

We’re in the middle of summer and shattering records for heat, both in the water and on land.  I am so glad I have a house in the mountains.  I thought about Cassandra, who made predictions that no one believed.  How does Cassandra feel when predictions come true?

It’s not a new subject for me, but this morning, I returned to it, as I created some lines that are building into a coherent poem.  Here’s a taste:
I cannot save you from the sea,
but I understand how it has bewitched
you, leading you on with false
hopes, thinking maybe you will be spared,
one of the lucky ones to emerge
with your habitat sustained
while others bleach and burn.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra in the Mountains

The collection begins with poems that convey the transience of life and the inevitability of death. A Scene Outside the Window of a Country Church is typical. The preciousness of existence is conveyed through the beauty of the natural images: ‘Shocks of green/ flutter/ and shimmer-’, ‘dewy butterfly wings’, ‘emerald and jade’. The vibrancy of the scene outside penetrates the sanctity of the church, yet so does the presence of something ominous: the sky is described as a ‘mourning’ sky and the horizon is ‘grey’.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Blind Turns in the Kitchen Sink’ by David Estringel

The raw, unblemished
landscape claws the back of your eyes. Even
the air is like parchment, brittle, crumbles in
your hands, turning white. This place asks you
if you can be honest in the presence of so much
beauty. It asks about your truth. The perimeter
of your conviction. What is the difference
between life and cloud? What is the distance
between death and rain?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 55

I liked last year’s conference so much that I went again this year, seeing many people I’ve met before. When I set off at 5.30 on Saturday morning for Bristol, I saw a snail on the car roof – an omen of weather to come. After a useful day of workshops I slept in my tent while a storm raged, waking in a puddle, finding enough dry space to battle on. On Sunday I went to more workshops that showed me how much I need to improve my close reading. I read at the launch of “51 and a half games and ideas for writers with example responses”.

Tim Love, Flash Fiction Festival, 2023

When I pick the beetroot, I think of my Dad.
When I pick the green beans, I think of my Dad.

I will think of my Mam when I cook them,
the conversation we could have had about

how long I sautéed the chopped stems
of the beet leaves, before adding the leaves,

how much garlic I added, and how the beans
didn’t need any salt. So tender. So fresh.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Harvest

And it takes friends who’ve heard your self-doubt, excuses, attempts to change the subject. If writing is like gardening, if the garden is a place for working it all out, for being in a place without words, or naming things, a place you’ve made, planting tomatoes outside and hoping there won’t be blight, risking seedlings to slugs, wondering why this year there are so many opium poppies, friends offer a view of hills, all the different greys and a dawn sky, reminding you that after midnight in the dark woods you heard a nightingale three nights running, and then the wind shook everything up. 

Jackie Wills, Friends and a view of hills

People suffer and throw themselves 
into the Seine. The buildings have scars 
which grow lighter like our skins. 
Shop women roll their cat eyes jealously,
hearing we’re American.  

But what provocateurs they’d be, 
their loving presentation of breast
set like cake batter inside a bodice,
the body as curse or chalice.  
So frank, so chalice the flesh in Paris. 

Jill Pearlman, How to Break the Ice in Paris

My weird summer virus coincides, weirdly, with a huge heat wave—temps of 90 (and humidity levels at 30) meant an almost desert-like feeling to Seattle in the last couple of days. We were watering the hummingbirds, two bird baths and fountains, our poor flowers and baby trees – and ourselves. We have air conditioning, but it struggles to catch up with temps over 80. A common Seattleite’s summer retreat to a cooler area, Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast, had to close today because a mountain lion went to the beach to cool down!

On my sick days, I had a chance to catch up on movies—and I watched Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret (which was cute, and very true to the book, except for I remember the mother worked in the book?) and Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, which felt like a mashup of many of my own poetic obsessions—apocalypse, the Cold War era’s paranoia, mistrust of the government, aliens, nuclear testing anxiety, quarantine and its reverberations, and of course, death, Shakespeare, and witches. Some of my friends really did not like this movie, which highlights artificiality in a sort of odd black and white narrated Rod Serling juxtaposed with a tableau of the American West in color and admittedly does not have a linear plot. But I loved it—and more than that, it was the first movie I’ve seen that made me want to make a movie. (I have a friend with a fancy Ivy League degree in film and I suddenly had the urge to ask to borrow all her books from the program.) This film almost felt like a visual poem—a pastiche of Wasteland-like fragments. The other thing I noticed was influences from my generation—from Futurama episodes (I recommend watching “The Series Has Landed” and “Roswell That Ends Well” for shot-to-shot comparisons) and MST3K fifties apocalypse anxiety films. Wes is four years older than me, so we probably watched and read a lot of the same things growing up. I loved Moonlight Kingdom, but I strongly identified with this film—it’s practically set in my childhood home of Oak Ridge with its massive government buildings and kooky genius children in nearby schools, called “Atomic City.”

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Anniversaries, Birthdays, Heatwaves, and Thoughts on Asteroid City and the Poetry World

These are the ghosts of cities we loved
                    and lived in: perfect, scaled-down houses,

rooms now vined with glossy overgrowth.
                   Landmarks loosened from the horizon bond

closer to their ruined shadows. Which bird, which god, 
                  delivers these triumphs of otherworldly scale? 

The universe: nothing but a battered suitcase, its insides 
                 carpeted with remembered skies and glowing 

mycelia. Maps of the world,  speckled with fruiting spores.

Luisa A. Igloria, Terminal

My second full-length poetry collection is finally available. Whew! It took a good bit of patience, some frustration, and considerable persistence to get here, but I believed that this was a manuscript worth plugging away on. And thank you to Highland Park Poetry and to judge Cynthia Gallaher for choosing RQH as a prizewinner.

Persistence doesn’t always pay off, but when it does, we tend to focus on how important it is to keep on keeping on. However, I’m not sure I wholly believe in the process of sticking-to-it no matter what; there are times when you do need to let go of an unattainable goal or the pursuit of a not-terrific idea, and just–well, fail. I have let go of quite a few goals, plans, and previous manuscripts when I honestly evaluated my feelings about them and their possibilities for becoming realized. It’s okay to fail. You learn more from failure than from success. I have gained quite an education that way myself.

But I wanted this book to get into print. I like the poems in it. I like the things I learned as I played with meter and form and (mostly slant) rhyme. It was fun to find a range of topics that managed, one way or another, to work together. Mostly, I wanted an audience, to find out whether readers find it thought-provoking or entertaining or interesting. Also, I was starting to sense that it was getting in the way of my next manuscript. Yes, of course I have the next manuscript…

Ann E. Michael, Aloft at last

Once a week I would knock on the door of Madeline’s office with a copy of my typed-out poem. Madeline would invite me in, her red ballpoint in hand. Each week I fervently hoped that she wouldn’t find a word to circle or a phrase to underline. I prayed for a mistake-free poem. One day she explained to me that “the poem was only as good as the weakest link in the chain.” Once the weak chink was excised from the work, a new issue would take its place. In other words, my wish was impossible.

But it didn’t matter! Through Madeline’s teaching I was first introduced to the poetry of Carolyn Forche, Sharon Olds, and Richard Hugo. Through Madeline I learned the art of revision—whether I wanted to learn it or not. Without that tough and (at the time) tedious lesson, I never could have become a published poet.

And as tough as Madeline was with me, she was also kind. For our last class together she invited me to her home for lunch; the first and only time this happened to me as an undergraduate. After the meal, we took my poems and laid them out underneath the dining room table. Here was my teacher on her hands and knees peering at my mess of a manuscript.

I think this was the first time I ever saw anyone care about my work, anyone take it seriously. Underneath her table! Thank you, Madeline.

This would have been enough but she also came to my small graduation party at my group house. She modeled for me what a professor, a mentor, could be. When I moved to Seattle, several decades after graduation, Madeline had moved here, too. And at each of my book launches, Madeline was there, sitting in the front row.

For Madeline’s 90th birthday, I worked with her literary executrix, Anne McDuffie to try and make the event memorable. We had a broadside done of one of her poems by local poet and printmaker, Joe Green, and there was lots of cake. Anne had asked me to speak to Madeline’s time in Massachusetts and I was both honored and terrified. And once again, there was Madeline in the front row, watching.

Susan Rich, Madeline DeFrees: a poet you really should know; I’m very thankful that I did…

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

I tend to write in many different styles, depending on the needs of the work, and my mood. One day, as a student, I went to Sharon Olds’s office, and she had my poems spread across her desk in a grid. She showed me how different styles I was practicing worked (or didn’t work) in relationship to one another. She told me where she thought my strengths were. I cherish that advice. It helps me remember the ways of writing that feel natural for me, so I can challenge myself by writing in other ways too. […]

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Visual art has always been an inspiration. When I was in grad school in NY, I would take the subway to the Met and spend all day walking and observing, or sitting in front of a sculpture and free writing.

However, in the past decade, I’ve swung the other direction. My book banana [ ] was very research-based, and I loved coming home from work and reading history books, writing down any fact about the fruit that struck me. Right now, I’m writing poems that begin with cardiac studies that I perform at the hospital where I work. I’m very interested in what happens when we combine language that is supposedly “poetic” or “beautiful” with scientific or academic language that intends to serve a different purpose.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Paul Hlava Ceballos (rob mclennan)

This morning I saw a piece by one of those pedants who declare that writers must write every day. Or what? I thought, and of course the answer came immediately – if you don’t write at least something every day, you can’t call yourself a writer. […]

[I]t occurred to me that for the last couple of weeks I haven’t written a thing. A new, confusing, incredibly annoying laptop hasn’t helped. Why are the people who make these things seemingly so intent on ‘upgrading’ them? I suppose they get paid to think of new stuff a laptop can do but I suspect they forget that most of us just want something that’s simple to operate and quick to fathom out. In my case I’m far too thick to adapt to a new and complex system of icons and symbols. I even had to be showed where the on-off button was hiding… Mostly this has driven me away from technology to the point where I’ve hardly even used my phone, let alone the internet. Please don’t get me started on the vile idea of closing physical ticket offices at train stations. I have no interest whatsoever in buying a ticket online and downloading some App or other.

I’ve taken to transcribing old poems stored forgotten in some ethereal hole (like this site) back into longhand. I’ve been busy looking after hens, arranging for new middle white pigs to come at the beginning of August, watching Test cricket, working on bits and pieces on our smallholding. I’ve also read a fine book about the West Bromwich Albion championship-winning season of 1919-20, part of a novel that bored me so much I tried reading it from last chapter to first. (No improvement.) I also read about a protest march by London’s wig-makers in 1764 when, it seemed, wigs were going out of fashion and ‘wearing your own hair, if you have any’ was becoming so popular they faced ruin.

Writing poetry? Nah. Though I did dig a book from 20 years ago off the shelf, Rain On The River, by a Californian poet, Jim Dodge, which reminded me why I kept it. Take his poem The Banker, which begins: His smile is like a cold toilet seat. [Mind you, that’s sometimes preferable to a very warm toilet seat – Ed.] He shakes my hand as if he’s found it floating two weeks dead in a slough. These are poems of madness, fun and impulse but also of domesticity, of a family and working life full of ordinary, extraordinary, passionately respected events, of a life shaped by memories passed and recorded through generations where you strive to live what you’re given as well as you can. It’s one of those books where the writing feels relaxed almost to the point of diffidence but is anything but. I think from what I read about him, Dodge has concentrated on novels since Rain On The River was published, which would seem the novel’s gain and poetry’s loss. If you can pick up a copy somewhere, I’d heartily recommend it.

Bob Mee, TOO BUSY TO WRITE? DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.

Recently I realized I’ve begun marking the passing of time through words and growing things. When I wake up in the morning, that day of the week begins with my thinking about what I will be reading, writing, or editing. I have a schedule I follow because I like order (or routine) in my life and I have other people depending on me. And yet, the “order” the hours take are not strict and unbending. Sometimes, I’ll wait to edit an essay 3 or 4 days before it’s due to publish, thereby spending several hours doing that one thing, or I’ll begin writing down a story a week before the submission deadline. Sometimes, often actually, the urgency lights a fire under my ass, makes me accountable.

I keep a journal, of sorts, that includes gardening notes – when I planted seeds or bought a plant, what seeds took and what didn’t, dates of first blooms, dates I fed or cut something back, all sorts of notes. I can look back for several years and see what grew well and what bombed. Although I keep great notes, the garden itself is wild and somewhat overgrown. Plants that shouldn’t be together end up in the same pots or seeds get planted past the “plant by” dates because I don’t always follow traditional gardening advice. Freedom. I want to see what will happen and, more often than not, everything gets along just fine as long as I tend to watering and feeding. Accountability.

There is order, accountability, and freedom in my approach to writing. Order doesn’t have to be limiting at all when you mold it into what works for you. Something I’ve realized recently is that I’ve been fighting against the “write every day” blueprint because I thought that meant you sit down at a desk every day at a certain time and write at least 1000 words, no matter what. Google “write every day” and you’ll get a plethora of advice, workshops, and classes and yet, I believe you will be happier and more prolific when you design a practice that works for you as an individual.

Charlotte Hamrick, Order, Accountability, Freedom

I exercised my way into a knee injury, and turned my writing life upside-down. That’s because I do a lot of dictating into my phone while walking. And now I’m not walking much. I also use stair-climbing as part of my thinking process. Doing chores in our house means stairs, and that’s some of my best thinking time. Though now I have more stair-thinking time, as I take it one step — good foot, bad foot — at a time.

I’m doing more of my thinking seated. Poetry and editing, however, seem to benefit from my staying seated. Fiction, not as much, because thinking of those plot twists requires me to be in motion.

Many of my poems were composed while walking and dictating, but yesterday I started a new practice of sitting poems. Even better if I’m sitting in an unusual places, such as a hot car while waiting for my husband to come out of the store, or on my deck while watering plants while sitting down. Instead of walking through it, sitting in a lovely field. Under a giant oak that tells me it loves me by dropping twigs on my head.

Rachel Dacus, The Benefits of a Writing with a Knee Injury

Perhaps we should talk more about formulas and genres. A romance novel has a formula, as do most chart-topping songs. The content creators are usually adhering to some sort of formula based on what they are drawn to themselves or the styles of other creators. But then so does literature sometimes–even poetry.  Insta poets are an obvious example. New Yorker poems are another. I would also say certain avant-schools of poetry also have a style you see again and again. 

And ultimately, unless you are one of those rare exotic birds who doesn’t want to share your work, your work eventually becomes content, whether you read it at a reading, post it on FB, or submit it to a literary magazine. At the point where it meets a consumer, no matter how lofty its aims. So this at least makes me feel less weird about calling my art content. 

But I will confess that doing so, at least in the past year or so, has made things like promotion and social media little more fun. I used to see them as separate, the art-making and the content creation, one the meat and potatoes, the other the flavorless broccoli, or the necessary evil of getting your work out there and enticing readers/viewers to look at the art. But much of what I do now I see holistically as part of the same process. I used to focus so much on the end product of book sales and gaining attention, but now I try to focus more on sharing things–whether it’s poems or images or video. The sharing is the point (though if it leads to book sales or website visits all the better.) But I’ve used the analogy before of the museum gift shop. Nice if you stop in, but absolutely not necessary. You can still enjoy the museum. This shift in thinking has taken a lot of pressure off me to see myself as failing if I don’t get enough likes or hits or sales in the shop. The content and the sharing/consuming is the point, not these other markers. 

Kristy Bowen, art and content | the dirty c-word

This week has been a wild, adrenalin and caffeine driven power march through my own edits on The Ghost Lake, galloping towards the deadline and swinging between elation and something like dread. But I am loving it. I am living a life that I began working towards ten years ago. Most days I’m up by 6.00am. I brew my coffee, I sit in the office space I created for myself, I listen to the jackdaws and the wood pigeons outside my office window and feel the sun creeping up behind the blinds to greet me. I can hear people getting in their cars and heading out to work and I feel utterly lucky to be able to do the thing that I do – writing, workshops, facilitating, mentoring. Because I’m an early riser I generally have a couple of hours of some sort of writing related activity (more on that later) in the bag before the day really begins. […]

Last week someone I know from the poetry community commented on one of my many morning pics (the taking of the morning pics is an act of accountability that gets me to my desk) and asked if I had any blogs about managing time as a freelancer and writer. I do…somewhere in the mists of time on my website… but I realised my process has changed so much over the years that it probably wouldn’t be relevant now.

Not everyone has money to sit on while they write. It’s one of the biggest blocks to people from non traditional backgrounds, from non affluent backgrounds, to getting into the arts. I’ve literally just been writing about this in my book so I’m a bit riled up about it. If you’re like me and from a working class background, without the nest egg, you will need to first accept this, accept that the aesthetic of the writer doing nothing but writing, of being an (unpaid) intern for a year building contacts and learning publishing skills or media skills while you plan your novel, fresh out of university…that’s not for you. That wasn’t for me. Though I hold onto the dream that at some point I will be successful enough to make writing my priority all the time, I am realistic enough to know that that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. But if you want it, and ‘it’ is different to all writers – you will find a way of working for it, kicking down the doors and making it happen.

Wendy Pratt, Manage Your Freelance Time, Protect Your Writing Time

Fake Math by ryan fitzpatrick (Snare, 2007/ Model, 2022) in the copy I have, is reissued, with some of the 2007 edition culled, and the whole somewhat expanded with a section “Fake Math (20xx)” which written in the same spirit in the intervening 15 years. 

It is extremely dense. The poems examine inside the urban over-stimulus of capitalism. It is not narrative but changing sentence to sentence like Lisa Robertson’s Boat (Coach House, 2022). Boat uses repetition of the idea of imaginary doors as portals to create touchstones between non-sequitur lists. fitzpatrick’s has no such device acting as a connector except a hyperglossia speed. In Robertson’s

Every angel is fucking the seven arts.

Each leaf had achieved its vastness.

A young woman is seated on a kitchen chair, black wings spread out as if drying.

It was August and the night was hot.

What we were proposing already exists. 

Lisa Robertson’s Boat

Whereas in Fake Math, fitzpatrick’s non sequitur leaps cluster physically tighter with “less breathing room” as they say, even stand alone phrases rather than “full sentences”. 

Just because we screw doesn’t mean.
Just because we assume swoosh pants. 
Tradition and the tattooed cerebellum. 
Sweat and swoon of commodity fetishism. 
Totemic icon of commodity, and test drive. 
Art is a dirty word.
A heart of purina.
In the sun on the beach.
Loving the V-8’s hum.
Bud of calm, blossom of hysteria.
Why gold confronts the linen as money. 

ryan fitzpatrick’s Fake Math

The stress against capitalism and “jinglistic” noise (“ a heart of purina”) is rolled out frenetically as it was rolled into the head but with a twist. Academia and intellectual spin is in both poets, and a critical posture rather than self-reveal.

Yet, there’s beauty that stops you in your tack to fill your sails in each work, whether a leaf achieving its vastness or bud of calm, blossom of hysteria. 

Pearl Pirie, Fake Math

If you turn the stereo down low enough, you can hear the downtrodden aching for an antidote to oppression.

You can understand how hard it is to change horses mid-breath when the final breath is being choked from your body.

On the streets, I hear rumblings that the gun has taken a shot at writing poetry.

Perhaps it can teach bullets how to sing Ave Maria.

Rich Ferguson, Season of Goodbyes

Sarah Bakewell writes books on people who have ideas, which does not on its face sound interesting, but they are. The books are less about the ideas per se than about the people, their influences, their time period, who they were, and who they influenced, and she tells it all in a wonderfully breezy way, making links and telling sidebar tales. I just love her work.

What I’m reading now is called Humanly Possible: Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Inquiry, and Hope. It’s not what you might call riveting, but it’s been a good read. Humanism, in broad brush, is the idea that humans are capable of great moral acts, great artistic and technical achievements right here in this life on this Earth, and our lives should be dedicated to joy and radical understanding of all things. The idea that maybe was best captured in Rodney King’s plaintive, “Can’t we all get along?” and in the nonjudgmental “don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t want done unto you, cuz hey, if you’re into that other stuff, whatever.”

They might believe in a god or gods, these humanists, but they think worrying about the afterlife is not the best way to make living in this life the best it can be. Some were perhaps overly humanocentric, but many had made the connection between humans and, well, everything else. Humanists over time may have disagreed on some stuff, but essentially they all believe that human beings have the power to not be dickheads, and we should use that power.

All kinds of interesting people have thought this but their voices have been drowned out by louder voices of intolerance, greed, war, stupidity. She mentions, for example, J. M. Dent, who in 1916 in England founded the Everyman’s Library. Which put me in mind of those encyclopedias peddled door to door. It was with enormous sadness I chucked our family’s World Book…but only because I couldn’t see my friend Helen’s family’s slightly newer edition get chucked, and I still have it hoarding valuable shelf space. How many out of date encyclopedias does one household need? One, certainly.

Marilyn McCabe, It’s gonna take a miracle; or, On Reading Bakewell’s Humanly Possible

I’ve been a fan of Gaia Holmes’s poetry since the publication of her third (and most recent) collection, Where the Road Runs Out, available from Comma Press here, which is among my very favourites of the last five years, if not all time. I’m pretty sure that it I bought on the recommendation of a typically warm-hearted review by John Foggin on his blog, here. I subsequently bought Gaia’s two earlier collections, which are both very good too. To paraphrase Orwell, all poets’ voices are unique, but some, like Gaia’s, are more unique than others’.

So I was really pleased to see today from Gaia’s blog that she’s uploaded a recording of her short story, ‘Below the Thunders of the Upper Deep’, to her Soundcloud page, here. It’s a terrific listen.

Even better is the fact that there are also loads of other atmospheric recordings, interspersed by music, which she made two/three years ago, of her (and other poets’) poems. I particularly like how, each time, Gaia paired one of her own lovely poems with somebody else’s to provide intriguing comparisons and contrasts.

Matthew Paul, On Gaia Holmes

Peter Kenny and I have just wrapped up the last episode of Season 3 of Planet Poetry. Our guest was Richard Skinner, a fitting ‘finale’ as he led us through a fascinating poetry landscape in which OuLiPo, curtal sonnets, Caedmon and cutups all made an appearance. Then Peter and I had a chat and a beer in the potting shed. It’s been an exciting but exhausting season and we can hardly believe the poddy is still going strong! […]

Yep, last week I got some new photos done (in readiness for all that Booker Prize publicity – tee hee!) Nothing makes you feel more confident (in my humble opinion) than a professional photoshoot. I’ve rubbed along with selfies and ancient headshots for a number of years, but as Nick needed photos too we asked photographer Sarah Weal for help. I can only describe her as an absolute magician, making us look like we mean business, but still very much us. I couldn’t help myself but use one of the shots she took as a featured image to this post. Forgive me! Anyway, even if the book deals never happen, I will love looking at these photos in ten or twenty years’ time (fingers crossed) and say  “look how amazing and young we were!”

Robin Houghton, Round up: poems, podcast, garden, new photos…

David King is an award-winning experimental filmmaker, video and photo artist whose works have screened at the Australian National Museum, the Museum of Experimental Art in Mexico City, the BFI Theatre in London, the Nova Cinema in Melbourne, Affero Gallery in USA, and many international film and video festivals. He also curates screenings of experimental films and videos, with works collected from around the world. I’ve been delighted to have some of my videos in his curations.

Earlier this year, David contacted me asking if I’d like to write a poem for a new experimental video he was working on. David’s visual style is very different from mine, so I thought it would be really interesting to collaborate with him on this project. The subject of the video is loosely about the ocean, which is close to the hearts of both of us.

So I wrote a poem called King Tide to fit the video. David liked the text and we decided that I should record it, and make a matching sound design. I wanted to have the audio closely linked to the video, so I used a program, Photosounder, that converts images to audio to generate a base set of audio samples. This program encodes parameters in the image, such as intensity, colour and location, into pitch and duration of the audio, which can then be altered by a wide range of filtering, re-sampling and play-back options. I selected a single frame from each scene in the video and from each of them made a sample set of audio files. These were then taken into Logic Pro for further processing, such as re-timing, re-pitching, filtering, and looping. There are over 85 of these samples in the final mix. Each set of samples is introduced when the corresponding source scene begins in the video, although most of them re-appear, or continue on later in the video.

The voice is mine, but it has been re-pitched, re-timed and had various filters applied in five layers. The little melody that appears under and around the vocal is also my voice, feeding a sample of the text into two separate vocoders.

Ian Gibbins, Topography of an Imaginary Ocean – video poetry collaboration with David King

Greg Thomas’s Border Blurs is a long overdue study of the impact and role of concrete poetry on the turn away from the Movement and towards the modernist legacy that stimulated an explosion of interesting British poetry 1950s, 60s and 70s. Thomas takes four of the most interesting of the poets involved as the spine of his narrative, two of them Scottish, two English: Ian Hamilton Finlay, Edwin Morgan, Dom Sylvester Houédard and Bob Cobbing. From this grouping it is clear that one of the blurred borders is the English/Scottish one, but the title refers just at much to the blurring of boundaries across genres that typifies the work of the four.

Thomas opens with an introduction and background chapter on the early development of concrete poetry, focusing on the Brazilian Noigandres group and the German Constructivists including Eugen Gomringer. These early concrete poets were, he argues, rejecting Dadaist chaos and looking to create work that was both experimental and supportive of the new post-WWII ideals of social order. This is an important counterpoint to the narrative arc of the British adoption of the genre, which can be traced as a move back towards Dadaist disruption. They were also influenced by developments in the area of information theory, which seemed to point towards a potential universal language; for the early exponents of concrete, this reinforced the idea that they could produce work that evaded the communicative limitations of language as it is and create work that could be understood by anyone, anywhere.

Billy Mills, Border Blurs by Greg Thomas: A review

More advice, although tongue-in-cheek this time, is offered in “How to be a Proper Poet”, where amateurs have to sit at a reading

“far away from the proper poet pack, to hang over the side of the pew to give you any kind of view because’s there’s another proper poet in front of you with big hair that’s soooo debonair, extraordinaire, laissez-faire, spectaculaire, yeah big, big hair that blocks your field of vision, resulting in a gale-force, full-frontal eye flicking big-hair collision – barn – move on, move on – oh dea, leaving you to strain to see and hear and wonder at the thunder rumbling in your head that says just smile and clap and nod, poor sod, even though the punchlines drowned by those with seats saved at the front you can’t expect any different, you’re only a pretend poet after all, small, insignificant, slightly deaf, lacking the intellectual heft to rarefy your silly rhymes but next time, next time… so if you want to be a proper poet and show it at another gig, bring wine, wear scarves, wear heels, oh just wear a wig.”

Advice that finds the right balance between letting the rhymes run on yet the poem is still readable. The breathy rhythm catching the sense of a ideas floating out from the annoyance at having your view blocked, sitting further than back you’d planned so hearing is a strain, yet it retains its focus and never feels as if it’s drifted out of control or let the sounds drive the poem at the expense of sense.

Emma Lee, “Devon Maid Walking” Clare Morris (Jawbone) – book review

A few years ago, a young poet was caught plagiarizing another poet’s work. They were not just called out and asked to be accountable, they were brutally made fun of, and to this day the occasional cruel reminder will be posted online about them as if they are not even a real person. You could tell it was never really about accountability to many of the people who went after them as, when this person accepted full responsibility for their transgression, and apologized personally to the poet whose work they had plagiarized from, no one cared. It wasn’t what they had really wanted. They wanted someone to make fun of. They wanted someone to take their anger out on. A person who is trying to be accountable is just spoiling the fun.

I reached out to this person, as had been done for me, and found that they were actually handling it much better than I had. I admired the tenacity, perseverance, grace and maturity with which someone so young was handling such a hard life event. We both had recently lost grandparents we were close with, and this person shared with me a poem that they had written for their grandparent, a beautiful poem, in their own beautiful and unique words, and I couldn’t help but feel so sad for this immensely talented young person who had made, and genuinely sought to atone for a mistake, and who told me “I will always keep writing, but just for me. I will probably never publish again.” It sounded like both a deeply personal choice and an inevitability of the current culture we live in, where redemption is not as desirable as cruelty.

I hope this person does one day publish again, but oh the hard difficult work we’d have to do to make such a thing a possibility. It was cruel enough to have gone through what they went through, but to have to go through it when they lost both of their grandparents, and to have to see the online vitriol, must have been even more painful. I know as I too lost a grandparent that I cared for on hospice during my “cancellation.” In my case, people used it as an opportunity to make fun of my “dead Grandma.” I want to think that these deeper stories would matter to those who often refuse to see the hurting and human face of the other, but for whatever reason we live in a time in which we just do not take the time to really see and hear each other in these deeper, more thoughtful ways.

Two other poets I know were “canceled” for personal conflicts with their ex-partners. They both permanently deleted their social media and quit publishing in addition to having much of their work removed from magazines. While I didn’t know them as well as I did the poet described earlier, I can only imagine their solitary journeys of exile were very similar and just as painful. The events surrounding their cancellations were very confusing, as personal conflicts tend to be, and it wasn’t obvious to me why it was a community concern.

Many of the same people were involved in their cancellation (if it isn’t obvious by now when I use the term “cancellation” it is used as a placeholder for what is more accurately bullying, scapegoating and dogpiling group behavior, which often leads to removal of a writer’s published work and/or a writer’s own decision to quit.) Once again it seemed obvious that accountability was not the goal, whatever that even would have been in such a personal situation, an apology and making amends to one’s ex I would imagine. Why that should translate into never being allowed to publish again eludes me. How sad that we have made a world for these young people in which redemption is derided and held in contempt, that they should feel they have to abandon their creative passions publicly rather than find pathways towards repair and reconciliation.

James Diaz, It’s Time to Confront Conflict in the Poetry Community

The facebook algorithm is interesting. Since I began cross posting from this “cancer blog”, my feed suddenly started showing posts from people whose posts never show up – and all of them working through cancer or other serious illnesses. One the one hand, this is good because I feel less alone – and it is humbling in a healthy way (as in “yeah, so, you and everyone else…”) – but on the other hand, I think: wow – I am putting a lot of “ick” out there that may be showing up in people’s feeds who don’t need to see it.

But then, isn’t that true of everything we put out there. Sometimes I am astonished by the amount of social regulating that we do online: Don’t whine/winge, Don’t flaunt, Don’t crow, Don’t overshare, Don’t be needy, Don’t be prescriptive.

“It’s not a good look” is my least favorite comment now. The irony of people using this to censure and censor other people: appearance being the gateway to authentic… anything? I don’t know if the phrase is “not a good look”, but I think it is a window into the authentic concerns of person who typed those words. I have even seen this phrase used by journalists on major news outlets. (Do we even call them that now? “Media outlets”.)

I am thinking that life is too short to spend so much of it sneering. And yep, I see that I am sneering when I write about the sneering. Vicious circle of social interactions?

I saw something this morning that (really) made me smile. In a video clip about the light beer controversy in Nashville, a woman with a sequined American flag cowboy hat said something to the effect of who cares what other people do. I have to admit, I saw that hat and expected something completely different from that woman’s mouth. There is one of my prejudices laid bare for me to look at and work to let go of.

Ren Powell, No More Number 2 Pencils

These plants springing from cracked pavement remind me of nature’s beautiful impulse for life. It restores my hope everywhere I find it. A handful of dry lentils taken from my cupboard, after a few days of soaking and draining, grow into cheery little sprouts I can use in salads, or feed to the chickens, or plant to grow into another generation of lentils. Seeds brought from Cyprus decades ago, shared by a friend, grow each year into giant hardy winter squash that keeps well until late winter –providing nourishing meals along with more seeds to save and share. Organic potatoes in my pantry wrinkle around tiny rosettes and from them, pale tendrils fragile with new life reach out in search of sunlight. I plant these eyes two or three times each season, from late March to late August, for fresh harvests of tender heirloom potatoes.

Life’s impulse can’t always survive what we humans are doing to this planet. As a direct result of human activity, the rate of species extinction is up to 10,000 times higher than the natural, historical rate. Research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows ocean heating is equivalent to between three and six 1.5 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs per second. The UN says “climate change is out of control” and experts in Earth’s climate history are convinced this current decade of warming is more extreme than any time since the last ice age, about 125,000 years ago. It’s exhausting to think about, let alone act on, this spiraling disaster.

We need new stories that reawaken us to the lived wisdom of this planet’s First Peoples and lead us to the most ethical, scientifically grounded regenerative lifeways going forward. It helps when we recognize nature isn’t just what sprouts from cracked pavement. It isn’t confined to wild places we long to visit. We are nature, right down to the life processes of every cell. It helps when our new stories speak to our descendants. It helps when they answer our ancestors.

Laura Grace Weldon, Honoring The Impulse To Thrive

“You are dreaming for humanity,” is what Jean Valentine once said to Hafizah Geter in a Paris Review interview on poetry.

If you’re a poet interested in line breaks, Valentine is the place to learn. Geter says of Valentine’s:

“It makes you trust yourself to the gap. Using everything you’ve ever known and forgotten, your mind and your imagination construct a bridge beneath you in real time. Suddenly, instead of “minding the gap,” you cross it. Studying her poems, I learned I could build a bridge between anything I loved—a poet, a song.”

And so when people are asking why they should read poetry, there, that. THAT.

Because we need to know how to bridge gaps. We need to get one thing talking to another through a gaping space, over a vastness, a chasm. Poetry can do this. We can.

Shawna Lemay, Reading Jean Valentine with C.D. Wright

The poem describes walks I’d take with Violet every day, strapping her into the baby carrier and walking her around the historic German Village neighborhood where we lived the first year of her life. We’d walk through Schiller Park—yes, there is a bronze statue of the German poet Friedrich von Schiller there—and I’d point out things to her as we passed, as if I were a tour guide. That’s sort of what early parenthood felt like: being the tour guide for someone new to the world.

I wanted my daughter to love this place I brought her to, and I wanted the world to deserve her. This theme comes up in other poems of mine. “Porthole” from Goldenrod opens like this:

I was hoping the world would earn you,
but it rains and rains, too busy raining
to win you over.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “First Fall”

I said in my last blog that I had started writing some different, fresher material. This has coincided with me going through all my poems and retiring poems that I didn’t feel were strong or good enough. Most of these poems were not in one of the two or three collections I have in progress, so it was easy to just pack them away in a Retired Poems folder. I might go back in the future and have a look at them to try and refresh or reuse some of the material and I know they’re still there if I want to use one or two, but it feels good to shift them out of sight. 

I write a lot, see note about having three collections going, but many of the poems I write are good enough on their own, but don’t work well with others or my style has changed and I just don’t find them as appealing anymore. I then went through the collections and had a cull as well. I didn’t take out as many poems, but I changed the direction of one book, so I did need to take about a third away. It feels liberating to pare things down, to turn towards this new direction. 

I have one of those collections with a publisher, but it’s been stalled for four years. In the meantime, I’ve rearranged and edited it over and over. It’s better, certainly, but it doesn’t make the wait feel any better. It’s just so frustrating, not knowing when or if it will happen. I don’t know if I’d be happier to have the collection the way it is, basically better, or to have it earlier, so I can move on. I sometimes feel like I’m still stuck in that place where the collection inhabits until it’s published as I keep revisiting the poems as I edit. It will be nice to be free of them, in a sense. Until then it’s a waiting game. A wading game as I move through the poems, just up to my ankles, occasionally plashing about.

My writing group is having its third annual retreat in two weeks. I’m looking forward to it. I have to drive, but besides that it will be just hanging out with people I like, writing, talking writing, eating and drinking, jumping in the hottub. It’s a blast and I always manage to write a poem or two while I’m there. The day after we come back, I’m off to work. So that will be the end of summer, a proper send off. 

Gerry Stewart, Rewriting Memories and Poetry Collections

The day before my birthday storm Poly (Beaufort 11) raged at speeds of 140 kms an hour: overhead lines and trees came down. The day after my birthday the Dutch government fell.

On my birthday I treated family to lunch. It was a joyous occasion. My uncle (born 17 years after my mother) turned 85 in June. He has only recently given up playing volleyball: too much for his shoulders. He’s taken up Jeu de Boules instead.

Here are two verses from an extended sequence titled Briefly a small brown eye.

Primary school demolished,
protestant church a community centre.
Our old house extended.
Forty years on no reason to visit
this town other than the old uncle.

Lunchtime, my aunt brings out
the special table cloth.
She has embroidered signatures,
some in Arabic, some in Cyrillic.
I’m looking for mine.

Fokkina McDonnell, The special table cloth

Those mornings when you realise there is no plan for the day; no thing. Yet knowing it will unwind like a clock’s chime. A pal to call upon; a decision of direction to be made. An adventure to be had that has not thought itself through yet. It’s early. A deep breath turns to the window lightening slowly; everything is slowly today. The mind curtains the breeze, the light as still as a deep breath turning a stretch into a swing of legs. The length of a smile about nothing, the thought of nothing to do. Out of the window a gaze is held in perpetuity, in deliberate incomprehension turning. Slowly. Breakfast spoons time in the milk of childhood. A determined plan to do nothing with determination. To reduce adventure to the unraveling of a day’s indecision.

Jim Young, So much about nothing to do

After some time, the light

extends a long leg, a dark root,
bending toward me, a giant
curious about small things.

Lopsided butterfly
slowly opens and closes
torn white wings.

PF Anderson, Fixed & Floating

on which side of my skin is sky

have all suns held inside a dawn that never arrives

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 26

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: rain, heat, rotten swans, a baby elephant, the rose-veiled fairy wrasse, Japanese death poems, and more. Enjoy.


I am borrowing rotten swan to put at the top of my rotation list of favorite images.  It’s the British poet Alice Oswald’s concoction: In her book Falling Awake, “Swan” observes her own wondrously devolving construction as she hovers above herself.  In a 2016 interview in The Guardian, Oswald said, “just as a tree can be a nymph, a poet can be a rotten swan.”

Imagine 70-some rotten swans gathering and living wing to wing in the Sierra Nevada mountains for a week!  Imagine a conference – Community of Writers at Olympic Valley – where poets had 24-hours to write a poem, for six days, and deliver it by 7:30am to be discussed and critiqued by fellow poet-swans!

Misery!?  Communal perversity, self-flagellation, dissolution?  A few went the way of the poet maudit, despairing, scorned like Baudelaire’s Albatross.  Others observed their own emotions and processes hovering outside self, as Oswald’s swan observes her “own black feet lying poised in their slippers” and “china serving-dish of a breast bone” as she flies from her body.   Others dealt in the magic of metaphor – this is that – rapt and suspended by the flash in the blank space between clarities.  That’s where I like to be if I can, between place and place, spellbound as something is happening.  And hopefully convey the discovery as this becomes that.  Some laughed – the joke’s on us! – a took a long, deep, beautiful breath.  

Jill Pearlman, 70 Rotten Swans

I’ve cultivated a taste for logical arguments but I love a good ramble in the rain.

A human being is mostly just water with a sense of purpose.

Thomas Wharton in The Book of Rain (Random House, 2023)

the girl gathers what she does not know into noise

Selina Boan in Undoing Hours (Nightwood Editions, 2021)

Singleminded is efficient but the irrelevant is where new growth comes from. I am drawn to what I do not understand. Curiosity feeds life force. Which comes first, safety or curiosity? […]

Poetry makes do and splendidly. It is not elegant as a millipede but then what is? We make abstract metalwork with words. We obliquely aim. We affirm. We assert. We admit. We reassure. We resume the struggle.

Pearl Pirie, What do you get out of poetry?

As to this post’s featured photograph of a Scops owl: H.D. broke her hip and was recovering in Küsnacht, Switzerland when she was struck by this image printed in The Listener (May 9, 1957). Her poem “Sagesse” describes him as “a fool, a clown” making faces in the London Zoo, but also addresses His Comic Highness with a sort of prayer:

May those who file before you feel
something of what you are–that God is kept within

the narrow confines of a cage, a pen… (Hermetic Definition, 59)

As I smiled at the photograph, I realized I’d come to the point that archival work feels physically taxing. My own injuries were much easier to cope with than H.D.’s, and it’s a privilege to work in an archive (subsidized by a small grant from my college, no less), yet traveling was hard, and bending over files for hours at a time hurt. It felt healthy, though, to spend time conjuring a writer who did her best work as she aged, writing Trilogy in her fifties as well as novels, memoirs, and other great poems in the decades after. Her owl is a Fool, Tarot-wise, and a figure for beginnings rather than denouements.

Lesley Wheeler, H.D. and my owlish, Fool-ish life

As mentioned in a post earlier in June, I spent a few days around that time trying to choose just 3 poems that I might take with me to a speculative desert island. I was asked to do this by The Friday Poem website and they have now posted the results of my labours. [link]

In the end I chose work by Coleridge, Edward Thomas and Rainer Maria Rilke. Of course, the latter has been on my mind a great deal in the last 12 months or so, as I have been working on a new selection and translation of his work (spanning his career from 1899 to his death in 1926). It so happens that I have just signed off the final draft of this book – all 200 pages of it – and it is scheduled for publication by Pushkin Press in the Spring of 2024.

Martyn Crucefix, My Three Desert Island Poems

there is nothing quite like meeting a baby elephant in the woods even if from the back he turns out to be

a shattered tree stump – what matters is the moment you first see him when something like magic happens in you

the transformation of ordinary into extraordinary, the sudden lifting of your heart, and the rest of your run

is filled with gifts: poppies, barley, oh, look, the promise of blackberries and paths yet to be taken

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ from my ongoing run/write series

It’s July, suddenly! Summer moves so quickly, while simultaneously feeling eternal and leisurely. And we’ve been having drought and wildfire smoke, so it’s been looking like August out there for a while, with chicory fully in bloom and Queen Anne’s Lace ready to pop. Now, thunderstorms bring needed rain. The purple cone flower is open, the orange day lily, the sort of lavendar-mauve Prairie Blue Eye, nothing “blue” about it. I’ve been swimming, except for 2 days this week, when weather & circumstances prevented it, and enjoying the ducks at the pool and some neighborhood ducks on my walks to work.

I have a poem in Image, a beautiful journal. The print copies arrived this week, and the online version comes out July 6. I am thrilled and enjoying the issue, full of variety, plus Art, Faith, Mystery.

Kathleen Kirk, Who Gnu?

It’s been just over a month since the publication of my pamphlet Love and Stones, my first publication in five years, and it’s been exciting to do readings again. With my fellow Live Canon pamphleteers, Isabella Mead and Matt Bryden, we had a great launch at The Bedford in Balham, on one of the very last days this year when it still felt cold enough to wear tights!

When I say “it’s been exciting” I feel that I should share a small snippet from my diary in April when Live Canon’s Director, Helen Eastman, confirmed the date for our launch. As you will observe by reading my diary extract, as well as worrying about my hair (I did manage a trim before the big night, by the way), I was also feeling extremely nervous. This has always been something I’ve had to deal with before a reading, to the point of wanting to throw up, and all those wobbles returned once the reality of launch night had been set in ink.

In 2019, I did a three day Linklater Method Voice Coaching course, funded and organised by Ledbury Poetry Festival, which was extremely beneficial to a nervous performer like me. When I was preparing for the Live Canon launch, I kept trying to remember everything that Francoise Walot from Linklater had taught me – but 2019 felt like a lifetime ago. However, some of the methodology did return and after much practising, and with some helpful and encouraging coaching from my son and husband, I *did* launch my pamphlet without any major disasters. In fact it was a wonderful evening with a friendly and appreciative audience. Since then, there’s been a reading in Trowbridge for our Stanza group, a reading in Exeter to help launch Anthony Wilson’s great new book The Wind and the Rain, and, last Sunday, I took part in the Poetry Showcase at Penarth Literary Festival and again thoroughly enjoyed reading to another full house.

Josephine Corcoran, One month of ‘Love and Stones’

I like giving readings. I like the strategizing: what to read, in what order, what to convey with my choices; the preparation: what to say in between, how to pause, how long, what cadence. I don’t like the scramble to find opportunities to read. I don’t like schlepping to places I don’t know in the hopes of find a receptive audience. I don’t mind reading blindly into a screen, even though that’s so otherworldly and disembodied. Or more un-worldly and un-bodied. I don’t like that awful feeling when I’ve launched a poem into a room and I can hear the soft thud of it on the floor because, for whatever reason, impossible to determine in the moment, it just didn’t “work.”

Early meanings of “read” imply interpretation. As reading a palm or tea leaves. I like this idea: reading you my poems is an interpretation. It’s a translation of sorts, turning my own words into something that lives off the page and flutters around a space, landing in your ears, a whisper, a breeze, a thump, a game of telephone. There’s something risky about a reading. Hold onto your hat, listener, a word wind is coming.

Marilyn McCabe, You got to feel it deep down; or, On Reading(s)

How to decide what categorizes memoir-ish poetry collections? On the one hand, maybe everything ever written by any poet, since connecting the personal with the so-called universal has long been considered the job of poetry. Even narrative and heroic epics, when they are lasting and successful in their aims, contain some aspects we might call personal (motives and emotional responses to a situation, for example), though the writer’s life and its events may be obscured by centuries.

But memoir is not autobiography; readers should keep that in mind. Maybe it’s Vivian Gornick who said that autobiography is what happened and memoir is how it felt–I’m sure I am misremembering, so don’t quote me on that. In a past interview in the New York Times, Sharon Olds derided her own poems as narratives–even personal narratives–but sidestepped the term autobiography; she still refers to the first-person in her own work as “the speaker.” […]

Where does that leave us as readers? I don’t know–and I think it’s okay not to know. That said, I have recently read a number of poetry collections that fall decidedly on the memoir side of the continuum and found them interesting, informative, well-written, at times beautiful and also at times hard to read (i.e., profoundly sad). If you, my reader, are intrigued by the challenge of what is or is not memoir in poetic form and are open to experiencing the circumstances and knowledge of other lives and perspectives that such work offers, here are a few books you might investigate. There are many, many more–this list is just from my more recent perusals. Not one of them is anything like the others.

Edward Hirsch, Gabriel, a poem; Jeannine Hall Gailey, Flare, Corona; Emily Rose Cole, Thunderhead; Daisy Fried, The Year the City Emptied; Sean Hanrahan, Ghost Signs; Lisa DeVuono, This Time Roots, Next Time Wings.

Ann E. Michael, Autobiographical?

Me before writing my seminary research paper:  It’s useless; I thought I had good ideas but now I don’t remember what they were.

Me after writing the first paragraph and figuring out my overarching point, my long awaited thesis statement:  Maybe I should try to get this published.

Me, watching others achieve poetry publication success:  I thought I might have a first book.  But I haven’t yet.  Clearly my poetry has no worth.

Me, reading this poem that was published in 2009, which I rediscovered yesterday from reading this post as I wrote about watching Missing again:  This poem is brilliant!  I should compile a new manuscript to submit as my first book and start sending it out again.

Insert a moment of gratitude for literary journals that still exist online, and a moment of sadness for that moment in 2009, when I thought we were creating a brave, new literary community. 

Me, parking the car in a place at camp where it won’t be in the way:  I’m tired of always moving cars, all summer long, and why is it so damp all the time?

Me, seeing one of the berries in the bramble bushes in the vacant lot along the side of the road, as I walk back from parking the car:  It’s a sign from the universe that I belong here.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thoughts in the Bramble Bushes

I wish I was named after the beaver, or the giraffe,
an animal strong enough to shatter a lion’s skull
with a single blow of its hooves.

In Dutch my name means people, folk or even
battle folk. My grandmother died at 55.
I’m beyond that age. I am an animal after all.

Fokkina McDonnell, Birthday

I’m a member of a local special school’s governing body, which met yesterday. The school’s headteacher, in presenting her admirably clear and thorough report, raised the concept of ‘the restless school’: one which is never content to rest on its laurels, but instead constantly seeks to improve, for the benefit of the children and young people, the staff and the school community as a whole. On my walk home, as my thoughts shifted elsewhere, I took the concept and applied it to my own ‘improvement journey’ as a poet.

I like to think that I’ve never been complacent about my poetry, that I couldn’t be found guilty of coasting, to use another well-worn school-context term. What’s my evidence for that? Well, my reading, and writing about, other poets for a start, all of which feeds, whether consciously or otherwise, into the choices I make when I write my poems. Most of all, though, is the business of drafting poems, pausing for however long is needed (days, weeks, months . . .), redrafting, and so on, until I feel it’s in a steady state of sorts and ready for sharing.

Matthew Paul, The restless poet

1. Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the verge of death -compiled by Yoel Hoffmann gets a 4.4 on 5 for being such a fantastic compilation that tells you everything you need to know about the form and its history.
2. The book includes an explanation of haiku and tanka tradition and has poems written by Zen monks, by famous and not-so-famous poets just before their death and by Samurai warriors before committing seppuku/harakiri.
3. The death poems generally use one or more accepted symbols of transience: cuckoos, dewdrops, plum petals, seasons, clouds from the western sky (where the next world is believed to be), fireflies etc. Like this one:
Today, then, is the day
The melting snowman
Is a real man
– Fusen
4. There is irony as much as nature aesthetic – all accomplished in admirable brevity. The book, wherever possible, gives the background of the poet and poem, the backstory and the little bits that otherwise would have been lost in translation.
Had I not known
That I was dead
Already
I would have mourned
My loss of life
– Ota Dokan
5. This one by Tomoda Kimpei, a little-known poet, stands out for its craft and wisdom, echoing the mental state and calm acceptance of death that the poets display.
In life I never was
Among the well-known flowers
And yet, in withering
I am most certainly
– Tomoda Kimpei
6. Poem after poem speaks to the skill and life of the poets and so many resonate across centuries and cultures:
I cast the brush aside—
From here on I’ll speak to the moon
Face to face
– Koha

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading List Update – 12

Now, the rose-veiled fairy wrasse lives in the ocean’s twilight zone, 131 to 229 feet below the surface. It is not widely admired or interacted with there (the recommended maximum depth for scuba diving is 131 feet), and yet, they are, and are, and are as they are—ecstatically colored translucencies, one of the ocean’s many Tiffany lampshades.

“Nothing can permanently please, which does not contain in itself the reason why it is so, and not otherwise.” What could please more permanently; and, yet, I cannot explain how anything beautiful exists, let alone at depths, so apart from our paradigms of admiration. “Otherwise” makes more sense. We know there are blobfish, which look just about as exciting and appealing as they sound (no offense to them; I’m sure they’re amazing company). You might assume that everything beyond a certain distance from the sun looks like something Source began, then left to languish half-completed in the drafts folder…

That’s not at all the case, however. And listen, I get it: the sheer ingenuity of biodiversity, the chastening influence of randomness. Some things just are, and writers can exhaust themselves—or worse—risk a sort of mawkish self-aggrandizement trying to muscle the world into legibility. That is not what I am suggesting; I dearly need the unaccountable. I need Coleridge to be wrong—not in principle—but because “reason” and “otherwise” are limited by their human beholders, and we’d do well to believe in possibilities more sensitive and nuanced than we may even begin to understand. We can feel them.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday (on Thursday)

If Heaven, river. What greeny something. Shine, Kawartha Highlands. Lake, and early hum. Once, in the shadows. Glowing outwards, temperate. Ontario syntax. Reassuring this, and self. A revelation, you. I see the world. Claw, in architecture. Bipolar lift, a tongue. A peace the mind can breathe. Although the dark remains, small lights in favour. Celebration, soar.

rob mclennan, A manifesto on the poetics of Asphodel Twp.

The Books from the Margin book club choice for June was Helen Mort’s brilliant debut novel Black Car Burning. I’m always interested to see how writers who are known as poets come to the fiction genre. Black Car Burning is beautifully written, but it is also a gripping read. The plot is textured, with the landscape itself providing tone and character. Helen Mort doesn’t shy away from difficult themes, including the Hillsborough disaster and immigration. She tackles big subjects elegantly, with a careful eye for the nuances within polarised opinions. The book club met up to chat about the book, and books in general, last week. It was a lively and intelligent discussion group, as usual, in which we found ourselves exploring what it meant to write about trauma that was not directly our own, who owns the story of a town, how we write about immigration and the cultural difficulties, and joys, that a multi cultural societies deal with. Thank you Helen for your thoughtful and fascinating answers to our questions. [click through for an interview]

Wendy Pratt, “I see all the things we write and publish as markers in time.” Helen Mort on ‘Black Car Burning’

I must confess to being profoundly moved by this pamphlet. This isn’t a tale of heroism or of a self-congratulatory story of victory over adversity: this is much more subtle: it is humbler and more relatable. This is the story of an ordinary bloke, like you and me, faced with the worst illness imaginable, who  survives, but who reacts along the way, like any one of us might. Rebel Blood Cells is honest, authentic, impressively crafted poetry that makes the unimaginable imaginable.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Rebel Blood Cells’ by Jamie Woods

And did you know July is Disability Pride Month? I did not until CLMP posted a reading list for it, including wonderful books by friends like Ilya Kaminsky, my own new book and a poem of mine. I feel honored to be in good company, and ordered a couple of books off the list immediately. Here’s the list! Feel free to support disabled writers in July! […]

I’ve also been working on my next book in preparation for a weekend writing retreat with my friend Kelli Russell Agodon. We are going to exchange books, talk shop, bring some books to read and maybe take some outings for fancy tacos, ice cream, or a lavender farm or winery. I also attended a wonderful online talk by Orion on fairy tales and climate crisis, which was really interesting (and I re-subscribed to Orion,) and had our book club where we discussed Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, and our next book up, the poetry book Our Dark Academia by Adrienne Raphel, who I’d never heard of before I picked her book at Open Books, Seattle’s all-poetry bookstore (where I’m heading today as well, along with a stop at the Frye Museum to see this exhibit by Kelly Akashi.)

As you might be able to tell, after six months of doing promotion work for Flare, Corona, readings, radio interviews, social media, etc, I felt my inner writer and creativity needed a little bit of a boost, a refill, if you will.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Almost-4th with Birds on Display! Foreword Reviews Flare, Corona, Writing with Friends and Other Ways to Nurture Your Inner Writer, and Disability Pride Month

I want my poems to sound as if they were
written in a different alphabet,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (513)

Today, it was a blissful creative work day entirely, which began with coffee and muffins and formatting some postcards and placing a cover order for the press and for those–my five favorites from the sea monsters series.  As expected, the smoke has drifted out, but the humidity has replaced it, which means I don’t stray very far from the fans. Then the first couple sections of the book, making the changes in the file as I went, nudging margins and addressing any tenacious typos that have managed to survive this long (there were quite a few in the reformatted tabloid poems where I changed line breaks and sometimes was missing spaces and punctuation. )

Since I finished finalizing the GRANATA poems last week, I thought I would send them out and see if they would land anyone’s eye.  But I find that spotting cool new little journals is hard since abandoning Twitter. I finally just started working my way through new-to-me journals in the P&W list, though I know I’m probably still missing out on the rare uncatalogued gems or mags too new to be listed there. I did manage to batch them up in 5s and send them like little ducks out into the world.  Though, as a whole, that mss. will need a lot of rearranging when I get to it–the kind where you print it out and spread on the floor to make sense of it, but that is a project for fall perhaps.. I also made up some poetry postcards for instagram next week with the leftover pieces I didn’t submit so those are ready to just post whenever. 

Kristy Bowen, rare writing and art days

A sprinkler drops water on my thirsty ferns. Heat rolls over them like a big wave over newbie surfers. I huddle inside in the chill wind of the A/C, remembering a sultry summer sun pinking my hands full of blackberries in a time that is no more.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Heat

Texas broke me. Late on the 4th afternoon of nothing but driving, it was 104 degrees in Fort Worth. When I got out of the car at a gas station, it felt like stepping into a furnace. When I hit that wall of heat, my tenuous hold on OKness melted.

I felt overwhelmed by how foreign such huge swaths of my country feels to me. I felt overwhelmed by how much of the land is empty, or only very sparsely populated. I felt overwhelmed by our history. We passed so many towns that are shells of what they once were. Old buildings with empty or boarded-up store fronts. Dilapidated motels, falling-down gas stations, shuttered restaurants. I felt overwhelmed by the scope of ugly commercial sprawl. We passed so many towns with nothing but chain restaurants and gas stations. I felt overwhelmed by how many Americans are living such hard lives. It’s one thing to know it from images and stories, and another thing to drive through places and see it first-hand.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Broken

Every family has its hardship
foods, its illness foods—in ours,
I remember my mother’s
cracker soup: a pack of pulverized
Sky Flakes, water, milk, salt, and
pepper made richer by the heat
of the stove. An extravagance:
onions, celery, a chicken wing.
The uncles were always talking
about the war that still felt
as close as yesterday; what they
found in the ditches and ate—
snails, frogs, mushrooms foraged
in the woods. Fronds, rinds of fruit,
blackened peel; even the humid
rain that salted dusty towns. Look
at the wide and generous platter
made by the dark, night after night.

Luisa A. Igloria, Provision

We shall grow old together,
without words, in faith and grace.
Now will, as it must, become then.

Enough light to walk the cliffs for years yet.
Enough time for our ghosts to go on believing
even when this house is a rectangle of earth.
Enough shape for the guardians of memory
to inherit the fragments of our lives.

We are always more than what happens to us.

Bob Mee, OF NUNS, GOLIATH AND WAXWORKS

向日葵の眼の無数なる夜の道 片山由美子

himawari no me no musû naru yoru no michi

            countless eyes

            of sunflowers

            a night road

                                                Yumiko Katayama

from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, December 2021 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (June 27, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 25

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

This past week, I was saddened to learn of the death of John Foggin, a one-of-a-kind poet from Yorkshire who I sense will be very, very missed in that part of the world. I loved his down-to-earth but always thoroughly researched and insightful blog, full of generosity and humility toward other poets, and I thought the poetry in his final collection, Pressed for Time—the only one of his I’ve read so far—was absolutely stunning, one of my favorite reads of 2022.

For those able to attend the celebration of his life on July 14, family members have blogged the details. For the rest of us, here’s a celebration of life, poetry, and embodied wisdom from poets around the world. Rest in peace, John, and thanks for all the light you brought into the world.


I remember a young woman dressed in velvet burgundy that I only saw from behind. The dress came off her shoulders in a deep V; she was bent close to hear what the not- yet-anointed Nobel prize-winning poet was saying. I still remember her exquisite skin: airbrushed before airbrushing existed. I watched as if through bulletproof glass.

Whomever I was with that night, told me Heaney was the most famous living Irish poet and that he came to Cambridge every spring. It was 1989, Seeing Things was not yet published; The Spirit Level, still a few years off.

After that party, I would see Heaney in his oversized tweeds hurrying along Plimpton Street quite regularly. Usually, he’d be carrying his dry cleaning in a plastic cover, his arm straight out in front of him as if the suit were leading him down the sidewalk and not the other way around.

I learned he lived at Adams House on Bow Street directly across from my first apartment (an over-the-top economic divide existing from one side of the street to the other). I found it funny and rather embarrassing that across the street from this white-haired, world-famous poet, I was staying up into the early hours writing my first real poems.

Susan Rich, Seamus Heaney: Dry Cleaning and a Nearly Unknown Poem

I keep thinking about all the way we humans meet and how often we squander these meetings. Whether it’s inviting folks into a public space, at a dinner party, a coffee with friends, a presentation, a poetry reading. I mean, I have totally squandered these moments throughout my life. But how can I change that? If you have read the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker (mentioned on this blog before if you recall) you will have received many great tools to turn a gathering or a meeting into a beauty shock, really.

She talks about how we need to avoid having “housekeeping” details as our opening. She says instead, “your opening needs to be a kind of pleasant shock therapy.” She says, “It should grab people. And in grabbing them, it should both awe the guests and honour them. It must plant in them the paradoxical feeling of being totally welcomed and deeply grateful to be there.”

And then, and I love this, she talks about the giant vases of flowers at the Four Seasons. (In Edmonton, you might think about the Hotel MacDonald, or in Banff at the Banff Springs Hotel). She says these flowers are “honour-awing.” These flowers are “stunning and maybe taller than you, and that awes you, intimidates you, makes you remember that you don’t live like this back home. But of course the flowers are there for you, to honour you.”

I actually think having a giant painting of flowers in your home, or one by your door, can do the same thing. But you know that I am ENTIRELY BIASED WHEN I SAY THAT.

And you know what, I’m okay with that :)

What are other ways that we can honour and awe each other when we meet?

All I know is that I want to be part of that beauty shock therapy stuff. I want to honour-awe you. And then I want you to pass it on.

It’s something we can do.

Shawna Lemay, Flowers to Honour and Awe

Summer flashes its shiny switchblade of long light, pries spring from its hinges, and slips boldly into its celebrated season.

Summer sings a radio-friendly popsong of let’s get it on. It rocks the mic with sugar-sweet honeysuckle harmonies.

Waves its freak flag of feeling good. Bonfires and festivals, Indigenous sun dancers and pagan revelers decked out in flower wreaths.

Rich Ferguson, Summer 2023

School is finally done and the sun is shining. The weather has been amazing, so hot and clear. Not great for the garden or the forests to go so long without rain, but the long days of light and heat are a relief. Beach weather, park weather, proper summer weather while we off to enjoy it. […]

I’m enjoying what I’m writing now. My style has changed a bit over the past year. My poetic style is always changing, but I sometimes get caught in a loop of subjects or styles, writing very similar poems for a period and when something comes along to shake me up, I find it refreshing. 

I use prompts to push me out of my rut. Writing from different points of view, occasionally trying a structured form (I’m currently trying to write a palindrome) and looking into unusual events for inspiration. I’ve even managed to put a bit of humour, sometimes black humour in my poems, playing with ideas that often aren’t found together. 

Gerry Stewart, Slowing Down into the Summer, Summer, Summertime

We’ve reached the point of tilt, when the earth falls towards the dark. Happy solstice. Yesterday I rose at 4am to drive down to the beach at Filey. I took my place on a memorial bench and sat, bleary eyed at first, then slowly coming alive in the light and warmth of the rising sun. I felt a genuine, primal sense of awe, as if I was connected to all the summer solstice sunrises that have ever been. The sun rose over Carr Naze, laying itself across the sea. I’d made a promise to myself that I would witness the solstice sunrise, rather than watching footage of Stonehenge, this year. I had promised myself the experience of magic – the early start, the silent streets, of being awake when other people are fast asleep and of seeing something utterly beautiful. I wanted to place myself before the sun in a ritual of my own making.

There were a few of us down there, a scattering of people taking their places to see the sun arrive on the longest day of the year. Afterwards I came home to the miracle of coffee and a purring cat, my husband softly sleeping, and I set to work and wrote until seven, after which I read and listened to the radio. It was the perfect way to see the longest day in. I like the idea of creating my own rituals.

Summer is a time when I revert to my child self. How I value not overthinking clothes; throwing on shorts and T-shirt and sandals and feeling bare skin against grasses and plants, feeling the soft shush of moving through long grass, the squeal of swifts overhead. Early summer mornings, when the world is fresh and dewy, the air filled only with birdsong and rose scent, there is such joy in the variety of green.

Wendy Pratt, A Square Metre of Summer

I can hardly believe it’s summer. That’s a strange thing to say considering I’m a stalker when it comes to warm weather. I obsess over temps and hours of daylight on the weather apps all winter, a season I loosely define as “the months I need a heavy coat.” Living in Upstate NY, this means (to me personally) early November through late April or early May. So roughly half the year I’m dismayed by the cold and lack of light — and constantly monitoring for glimmers of hope.

And yet every year, when summer is finally here, I manage to be surprised. Not by the calendar. I understand how that works. What surprises me, always, is the extent of my relief. Well, relief and belonging, which I greet with both awe and gratitude, as when you’ve found something you thought you’d lost, something you knew may not be guaranteed.

Hello, sunshine.

*

The arrival of summer this year coincides with finishing my Gertie manuscript, which means I successfully immersed myself in (and stuck to!) the revision schedule I’d created for March, April and May. That type of discipline and focus was made possible, I believe, by a habit I’d established through work (January through April) with D. Colin on what she calls a 365 Journey. I ended up bowing out of that 365 accountability group because I was so deep in the revisions that I didn’t even want to talk about the process. However, I’m grateful for the experience and energy of that approach and will absolutely tap it again in the future.

For now, I’m reading, resting, keeping up with Morning Pages (now over 230 days) and doing some generative writing prompts to shift my brain back into the world in which I write new things.

Carolee Bennett, hello, sunshine

The skies bend
their hammocks of rain.

Summer is a flag that unfurls slow and fast,
just as uncertain as we are.

A parent wheels
a chair-bound child through the clinic doors.

Luisa A. Igloria, Oasis

In terms of cancer diary facts:
1. My eyelashes are falling out now. Entering turtle-territory.
2. Hemorrhoids. No one mentioned hemorrhoids. Please.
Who benefits from decorum when talking about chemotherapy?
3. The most recent biopsy came back.
The second lump in the left breast is also cancerous.
4. Still waiting on the BCRA results.
5. I wake with headaches every single morning.
Sometimes at 2 a.m., again at 5 a.m.

I take pain relievers around the clock – staggering the different prescriptions. I take a nap when I need to. I take a walk with the dog when he won’t stop laying his snout over the keyboard to get my attention.

And I give everything I have to metaphors.

But I am grateful to have the play to work on now. B. is whispering in my ear that it is just a matter of “getting it done”. No excuses. Meet the deadline.

*

It’s almost 9 am. I’ve walked Leonard and clipped his nails. On my third cup of coffee now, I can settle down with the adaptation. I am honestly happy that I don’t make my living writing, because it makes the work that much more joyful. It’s a little revelation to myself after all these years. My motives are clear – if I ever had any doubts.

I can hear the rain coming down outside the window. Leonard is breathing heavily in his sleep.

Lear says, “When the mind’s free,/The body’s delicate.” I think there may be something to the idea that it is also true that the delicate body can free the mind.

Ren Powell, Catching Up

In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices there is something, and this something is called windswept spirit for lack of a better name …‘ So said Basho in the opening to The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel, one of the travel sketches that preceded the more famous The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Basho acknowledges the odd fact that whatever we might pursue (in his case poetry) it’s never enough to truly satisfy the spirit.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a second hand bike – the mortal frame of my old one was beyond repair and I hadn’t used it in years. I’m now, very slowly, trying to get back into it. I took the above photo up at Dunford Bridge on the Trans Pennine Trail. I’ve been up there a few times now, seen a hare crouched in the grass, heard a cuckoo twice, watched endless curlews circling the moor, and come home tired but refreshed. I’m not intending going very far on my journey and won’t be kitting myself out in lycra, but I’m enjoying the weather, the peacefulness of the trail, and the sense of freedom that comes with getting out into open countryside under your own steam. To compliment that, here’s a lovely haiku from Penny Harter, whose book of haibun, ‘Keeping Time: haibun for the journey’ I’m reviewing at the moment. Apologies for taking the haiku out of context, but I liked the calm sense of purpose in it:

fog shrouds
the field’s edge
we keep walking

Julie Mellor, this mortal frame …

This is the first really long road trip I’ve taken since I was 14. It’s feeling a bit revelatory.

The most striking thing about the miles we’ve covered so far is how empty of humans and the detritus of our civilizations they are. Miles and miles of nothing but open land. The highlight for me was a small group of horses living their best life somewhere in western Wyoming, running free, eating grass, no fences in sight.

The low point was a small town that used to be the home of a state penitentiary, which was operational until 1981. The main drag of the town was pocked with shuttered motels and empty restaurants. There was a neighborhood of what might have been charming homes. We’d hoped to eat there, but we couldn’t find any place we wanted to enter, and, honestly, the whole town felt creepy AF (even before we stumbled upon the penitentiary, which is two blocks off the main street) and we got the hell out of Dodge right after filling up our tank. (Later, I googled the penitentiary, and it IS creepy AF. Operational until 1981, with a grisly history. Now it’s a tourist attraction? And apparently haunted?) It was clear that the town was once thriving, but whatever it had was probably built on the misery of that prison. The whole thing left me feeling sad and icky and unsettled.

Driving through miles and miles (and miles) of land so different from what I know, I had a lot of thoughts about our country and its divisions. I won’t share them, as I know I don’t really know anything about what life is like in the places we’ve driven past, and they are all just speculation. I can say that I found myself having an easier time understanding why so many of us have such different world views; we are living vastly different lives. I knew that before Friday, but in a more abstract way. Something about driving through all these places makes it more concrete.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the road

Last week seemed to be a week of farewells.

There was the sad death of John Foggin, I didn’t know John, but his work was excellent and his website, The Cobweb, was an absolute trove and gift to beginners and old lags alike. His last full post from 2022 is just such a trove. Go, go read it. I’ll wait.

This week saw the final OPOI reviews from Sphinx. We knew it was coming, and it’s very much case of don’t be sad it’s over, just be glad you were there at the time. It will live on as an archive and as a way of approaching things.

Mat Riches, For years I shrunk weekends

I want to believe
that heaven is down on Earth
—here—where the light shaft
shoots through a downpour,
the rainbow, the charcoal sketched
rain cloud, the snowbell piercing ice
to make way for the grape hyacinth,
the snowflake, the whiteout
that in the hours we spent on our bellies
in the sun on the front lawn
when we were six and seven
searching for four leaves
among the clover blooms, how
we weren’t looking for luck,
but the Heaven we always believed in.

Cathy Wittmeyer, A Poem for My Sister, Listening in Heaven

Yesterday, these two lines came to me.  Those of you not steeped in feast days or prophets or the early parts of New Testament Gospels may not recognize John the Baptist, whose feast day was on Saturday–shorthand for saying that I wasn’t surprised when these lines floated up through my brain late yesterday as I took a walk: I have eaten your locusts and wild honey / and I am not impressed.  

This morning, I got rid of the second line, and now the stanza looks like this:

I have eaten your locusts and wild honey

And created a new menu with the bones

Of all the deer killed by carelessness.

And then I wanted to write a bit more, but I wasn’t sure what.  I peered into my dirty coffee cup and the next stanza emerged:

I drink my wine out of a dirty

coffee mug and bathe in the creek

that comes from the cooling

ponds at the nuclear plant.

I have no idea where this poem is heading or if it is going anywhere.  I’ll keep the document open in case anything else bubbles up.   I’m composing on the computer instead of by hand, and for the past few months, I haven’t written by hand.  Hmmm–is this change permanent?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, John the Baptist Inspired Stanzas

submersible 
the tip of the iceberg 
of our anxiety

Jim Young [no title]

The solstice came this year gently – a little overcast, temperatures in the 70s, and the sunset lasted til almost past 9 PM. We celebrated more simply this year, a trip to 21 Acres, a local farmer’s market, where we bought local honey, cherries, peas, and carrots, and a sunset spent at the lavender farm down the street, where the blooms have just started on the oldest lavender plants. It was lovely to feel the grass, smell the lavender, feel the sun – not too hot or punishing – and welcome in this fraught season. (Fraught because of the wildfire risk and because MS patients tend to [fare] worse in the heat.) […]

I am grateful to WICN and Mark Lynch for interviewing me for their station about my new book, Flare, Corona. It was a pleasure – we talked about a shared love of 50’s sci-fi movies, health crises, and more. We actually went on talking after we were off the air, and it was so fun, It felt like talking to a friend, which means that guy is really good at his job!

Here’s the link to listen to the whole thing: Jeannine Hall Gailey – 90.5 WICN Public Radio

Anyway, I hope you enjoy and it gives you some insight into the book, writing during a pandemic, and killer shrews.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome Summer! Celebrating the Solstice and a New England Radio Interview about Flare, Corona

I’m drinking tea and watching the sunrise and I feel like writing a blog post and taking a moment to process and share some poetry and thoughts and photos here on my blog from the amazing Windrush 75 concert at The Royal Albert Hall before it fades into memory, and before I jump into the next shiny thing. You will find more clips on my insta and tiktok and twitter but I have always liked to treat this blog like a scrap book, keeping an archive of highlights and my adventures in making books and poetry and gigs over the decades. Thank you to anyone following this page, hello to any new people who find me here. Welcome. 

Firstly, thank you for all of your comments and messages about this one gig and poem. I was blown away by your messages, thank you. I was so honoured and so excited to be invited by Trevor Nelson to perform and write a piece for the Windrush 75 Concert. I was also nervous about it as I knew I wanted to write something new for it. I was not sure where to begin to try to capture this moment in history and experience, and my own feelings about Windrush and heritage and ancestry and migration and colonialism and empire in a poem to be broadcast on the BBC and perform to peers and elders on such a big stage. 

I left London and headed south to perform two lovely shows in Exeter and Totnes and stayed down there for a while with dear friends on the coast. I looked at the Devon skies and seas and sun rises and went deep into the themes of this poem and the process. I knew right away that I wanted to fill the Royal Albert Hall with the ocean, with timelessness and the weight of ocean water and our conversation with it. 

I wanted to share in that united feeling that we are not all in the same boat, and that so many of us came here by boat, and that many are still arriving by boat, and how we are all connected in blood and saltwater. I wanted to celebrate that we share the same time in history, that we share an ancient resilience and courage. As some of you know I am currently working on the second Mrs Death Misses Death novel and so this was setting the tone for me and leaking into my writing, I was visualising and dreaming of Mrs Death filling the Albert Hall with ocean, with ancestors and ghosts, with loss and grief, and with BIGlove, ONE Love. 

Salena Godden, Poem: My Heart Is A Boat | Windrush 75 | The Royal Albert Hall

“Genetic memory” was inspired by the theory that memories may be inherited, and that perhaps we “remember” our ancestors’ formative experiences. The details in the poem are pulled from my grandparents’ lives. For example, my father’s father, Raymond Edward Smith, was the first Columbus, Ohio, resident reported killed in action at Pearl Harbor. On Christmas Eve, his parents were informed that it was a mistake—their son was alive. My grandfather never spoke about Pearl Harbor, but reading about genetic memory, I wondered: Could I be carrying traces of experiences like this one? What if?

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Genetic memory”

This is a poem about me – the poetic I is also the actual I in this poem – listening to a particular song by one of my favourite bands. It’s my thoughts on the song itself, and what it meant to me in 2019 when I listened to it and had a moment of clarity. I wrote it for myself, not publication, but when I decided to share some of my work, this was included. There’s a lot more to it than that, obviously…

Firstly the song I was listening to. William’s Last Words is the final track on the Manic Street Preachers 2009 album Journal for Plague Lovers and is sung not by James Dean Bradfield – lead singer, huge rasping soul voice – but by Nicky Wire, the bass player with a softer, less confident delivery. The lyrics to the song, and all the songs on this album, were recovered from notebooks left by the band’s former guitarist and childhood friend, Richey James Edwards, who had gone missing fifteen years earlier.

The lyrics read like a goodbye message, a break-up letter, a suicide note: given the context of the album, it feels like a final note from Richey himself. But it’s actually a great example of editing, as the original typewritten notes for the song show something very different – lines and phrases have been taking from what seems to be a vignette with allusions to Launce Olivier’s film The Entertainer, about a music-hall star. And when you find that out, it does seem a little artificial, but the words that remain, the poignancy, the fact they got Nicky to sing it, it all makes for a song that is a beautiful as it is sad, as natural as it is manufactured.

Why was this important to me? Why did I write a poem about it, and not an essay?

In August 2019 I was hospitalized in Cardiff with Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia – an incredibly rare and easily fatal form of blood cancer. And the drugs weren’t working. My mental health was suppressed by Lorazepam, Diazepam, and Prozac. I refused to get angry. I couldn’t be happy, but I couldn’t cry. And my god I needed to cry so bad.

Drop-in by Jamie Woods [Nigel Kent]

I’ve got five visual poems from the ‘Classic Crimes’ series in the new Seneca Review. These were accepted last year and it’s great to see them out. I got to see them in the issue, my mother having forwarded one I had sent to her house. Generally when a print magazine sends me a copy in Germany I end up paying customs on it, so not to seem ungrateful but I ask that no one do it anymore.

I like the batch Seneca took! The poems are: Without Speaking, Side-Wisps(pictured), I Shook My Head, To Be Deplored and Spell. They’ll go up in color online. In the print issue they are in b/w, which I thought they might not come off well. But they look fine.

(I’ve always wondered, on that note, what Hotel Almighty looks like on Kindle. I realized well after publication that it’s all in b/w.)

I put them all up on Instagram over the past few days if you visit there. If you don’t mind the explosion of ads. If they are ads? It seems more like being force-fed cat and baby videos.

Sarah J Sloat, The Mustaches of Scoundrels

A funny thing did happen the other day, I suddenly wrote four poems – a sort of sequence I suppose – out of nowhere. But I haven’t really given poetry writing a lot of headspace lately. The ‘sudden burst’ actually came after listening to an online book launch by Pindrop Press. I was enjoying poems by Lydia Harris, and was inspired enough to buy her collection, Objects of Private Devotion. I haven’t started it yet though, mainly because I’ve been ploughing though historical novels to try to gauge where mine sits. But also, I have two poetry books to review for the Frogmore Papers, plus Jill Abram‘s debut collection Forgetting My Father (Broken Sleep) waiting to be read. Patience!

Another project I’m involved with at the moment is an anthology that the Hastings Stanza is putting together, to be published in October under the Telltale Press imprint. There are four of us on the editorial “committee” and at the moment I’m busy on the typesetting. I think the standard of poems is pretty high, though I say so myself, so it’s a pleasure to work on.

Robin Houghton, Midsummer update: poetry projects, novel stuff, podcast…

Catherine Truman and I have been working together on projects bridging art and science since 2006. Here is a glimpse of our current project, The Taken Path. This is a speculative, durational project that hangs of a poetic idea: what would we notice if we walked the same path, once a month over the course of a year and filmed the journey? […]

Together, the two videos attempt to illustrate the largely unsolvable problem of representing the uniqueness, the ephemerality and perceptual uncertainty of lived experience. We cannot attend to everything that happens around us and we cannot fully portray those elements of our experience that do take our attention, form memories, generate lasting significance.

Ian Gibbins, The Taken Path: a durational project with Catherine Truman

I’m intrigued by Quietly Between (Fort Collins CO: A Viewing Space, 2022), a quartet of solicited poem sequences and photography by American poets Megan Kaminski, Brad Vogler, Lori Anderson Moseman and Sarah Green that each respond to the same very particular prompt. As the original prompt, included at the back of the collection, opens:

15-25 images/cards (combination of text and image).

Begin with place and time.

Place(s): where you are/were. Both text and photos could be of your present place. Or one element is, and the other draws from something else.

Time: some element of time is incorporated into the project. In the film All the Days of the Year, Walter Ungerer returns to the same place in Mount Battie, Camden, Maine every day for one year. He sets up his camera, and takes thirteen, ten second shots while turning the camera clockwise. […]

Via the poetic sequence, each of these four poets offer their variation on the stretched-out lyric sketch, allowing this collection to emerge into a book about being present in temporal and physical space, each poet blending lyric and photographic attention from their own particular American corners, across a quartet of American states moving straight west from the Midwest to the Coast.

rob mclennan, Quietly Between: Megan Kaminski, Brad Vogler, Lori Anderson Moseman and Sarah Green

First up is a shout-out to Goran Gatalica who was kind enough to share his haiku collection, Night Jasmine (Stajer Graf) with me. This multilingual translation collection (the haiku are translated from the original Croatian into English, French, Italian, Czech, Hindi, and Japanese) is filled with vivid examples of contemporary haiku navigating traditional themes with a contemporary sensibility.

The book is framed within the cycle of seasons, starting with spring and ending in winter. Here is a selection of four haiku, one from each season:

empty commuter train –
listening to spring drizzle
through an open window

August flood –
a softened meadow
reflects the stars

mother’s death –
I fold the first autumn rain
in my handkerchief

family reunion –
the half-frozen pond
flickering

Across these four haiku, one can get a sense of the sensibility Gatalica works with throughout Night Jasmine. There’s the haiku that frames an immediate sensation, as in the first one here which lingers over a moment of rain.

One sees the theme of rain come up again in the “August flood” and “first autumn rain” of the second and third haiku above. Rain continues to change life, but not suppress it; even in the grief of the third haiku, there is the animation of the folding handkerchief.

No rain in the last one here, but water is present in the “half-frozen pond.” What I love in this last one is the way the animation and presence is implied in the reflections on the pond, of fire, of the reunion itself.

To read more haiku by Gatalica go here. To learn more about Night Jasmine as well as to check out a reading of the collection, go here and here, respectively. Lastly, if you’re interested in a copy [of] the book, reach out to me via my contact form and I’ll put you in touch with the poet.

José Angel Araguz, shout-outs: haiku, flight, & opportunity

Patricia Smith has collected over 200 cabinet cards, cartes de visite, ambrotypes, daguerreotypes and tintypes from garage and vintage sales, online markets and estate sales. However, only a few images had names, and often just a first name. A studio address might offer a location. “They are wraiths, their stories growing dim”. Smith’s mother moved from Alabama to Chicago. Ashamed of her impoverished roots, her mother severed her past, refusing to put names to the people in photos. Actions that also severed her daughter from history. These poems put imaginary voices to the photos, sometimes drawing on the location to incorporate a historical event such as a yellow fever outbreak in Memphis or lynching in Virginia. […]

Publishing the images alongside the poems gives readers the opportunity to see how they complement each other. Each poem gives voice to the silent images, left without name and without family connections. The collection is about more than the featured photographs. It’s a reminder of how families were cut from their roots and exploited. How, in an effort to fit in with a white community, people purposely lost their origins and sometimes their names. The difficulty of tracing family trees when names are lost or changed, means most give up. It can also cause friction between generations as younger generations research a past older generations deliberately discarded. Patricia Smith empathically gives the people in the photographs voices, succinctly conveying what might have been their stories.

Emma Lee, “Unshuttered” Patricia Smith (TriQuarterly Books, Northwestern University Press) – book review

The eponymous figure from Grünbein’s sequence’s 11th poem,‘Hans im Glück’, draws on one of the stories in The Children’s and Household Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1812). In the original, Hans has anything of value taken from him, bit by bit, yet he remains optimistic, refusing to acknowledge reality. Within the context of Porcelain, Grunbein treats this is as an additional image of the myth of the city of Dresden as undeserving victim. Interestingly, the same figure appears in Ulrike Almut Sandig’s collection, but her presentation of Hans is more poignant, less ironic, as even the boy’s language is stripped from him and he tries to write a letter to a loved one: “what are you up to? // + esp: where r u? / ru ru // ru”. In the context of I Am a Field Full of Rapeseed… , the boy might be thought of as a refugee, forcibly having his culture and language stripped from him, though one of the strengths of the poem is that it also works as an updated fairy tale, a little myth of loss and diminished presence with more universal application. Such re-purposing of several of Grimm’s tales is one of the most striking things about this collection. Sandig announces in another poem, “we find ourselves deep in the future of fairy tale” (‘the sweet porridge’) and she, like Angela Carter before her, redeploys the fairy tale’s surreal narratives, bold characterisation, its humour and violence, its symbolism and moral intensity for her own purposes.

Martyn Crucefix, Greedy alpha-creatures: the poetry of Ulrike Almut Sandig

Through her erstwhile directorship of Malika’s Kitchen, staging of the highly successful ‘Stablemates’ series of readings and ever-supportive presence at many poets’ launch events and other readings, Jill Abram, as much as anyone in the UK poetry community, has championed, and continues to champion, its happily increasing diversity of outstanding voices.

As an exceptional poet in her own right, Jill’s poems have been appearing with increasing frequency in high-quality journals in the last few years. It’s therefore excellent news that Jill’s debut publication, Forgetting my Father, has recently appeared from Broken Sleep Books. It’s available here, with an attractive cover designed by Broken Sleep’s owner and principal editor, Aaron Kent. It consists of 23 tremendous poems about family, Jewishness, bereavement, the passage of time and much besides; above all, how memories, and their jewel-like details, still colour the present.

Matthew Paul, On Jill Abram’s ‘Inheritance’

A year ago this month, Gina Wilson died. The two of us met just over a decade ago on the Writing School run by Ann and Peter Sansom of The Poetry Business. We were both psychotherapists, working in private practice.

Gina was published first as a children’s writer – novels (Faber), poetry (Cape), picture books (Walker Books). Her adult poems are ‘complex, though deceptively simple’ and ‘tough and compelling, no verbiage, no sentimentality’ (Kate Clanchy).

Gina’s poems ‘lure you into thinking you’re on safe, possibly domestic territory. Then they catch you unawares, taking off at an unexpected, often surreal tangent.’

I am grateful to her family for permission to share three poems from Gina’s poetry pamphlets (Scissors Paper Stone, HappenStance, 2010; It Was And It Wasn’t, Mariscat Press, 2017.) [Click through to read.]

Fokkina McDonnell, Photograph with a Very Small Moon

Like jokes, poems have finely tuned relationships to time. They are, like music, unfolding in a culture of time, of kinds of time and their corresponding effects. They are, like heartbeats, rhythmic or arrhythmic. In her research into medieval wonder, medievalist Carol Walker Bynum argued that the wonder reaction is a significance reaction—our experience of wonder is an instinctive recognition of meaning. Our experience of that meaning, as I’ve argued elsewhere, would be different were the eventual end of all feeling not guaranteed (more on mortality and wonder here).

But, we’re alive for now—so, the issue gets crafty. Since wonder is fundamentally a question of vision in its widest sense, we are left to ponder “the zodiac of [our] own wit” (Sir Philip Sidney). Whatever mental constellations we report, we must also be able to recognize a sky beyond them.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

So look, I’m not going to try to bullshit you into saying that either one of these poems is good. I don’t usually do the good-bad dichotomy with poems to begin with. The reason this newsletter is called “Another Poem to Love” instead of something like “Great Poems You Should Read” is that I figured out a long time ago that there are a lot of poems out there that just aren’t for me, and that doesn’t make them bad. It just makes them not for me. Like I said earlier, people are wired differently.

But when it comes to the question of which poem is more interesting, I think the one done by the Vogon Poetry Generator wins easily. I mean at least it’s weird, and the closing line, “Corrupt, corrupt brilliance? That’s what a slug’s life is about? Really.” is jarring and funny. And if you’re high, it’s probably hilarious. Somebody do that and report back, would you?

Whereas the ChatGPT one is predictable. The most fun line in there is “When Vogons come, plug up your holes” but only if you read it with a dirty mind. Which you should. That’s my definitive poetry statement here. If you can read lines of a poem with a dirty mind, you should. Discourse!

Brian Spears, So Long and Thanks For All the Fish

Back in 2014, a reply-all unsubscribe outbreak on the Malahat Review listserv brought such joy to my heart that I wrote a found poem compiled from the various replies. You can read that poem here.

One might have thought that in the intervening nine years, the Malahat Review would have addressed this flaw in their listserv system but, bless them, it appears they did not. We’re back at it, and the replies are even more confused, angry and conspiratorial this time around (this is Pierre Poilievre’s Canada we’re living in, after all).

Rhonda Ganz has stepped up to write a found poem for this year’s meltdown. I present it below. If you’d like to contribute your own Malahat Review listserv found poem, please email it to me at roblucastaylor(at)gmail(dot)com and I will post it here. And most importantly, enjoy the madness while it lasts. It will be another nine years before we get to do it again!

[Five more found poems have come in since this post. Visit Rob’s blog Roll of Nickles to read them all.]

Rob Taylor, this makes me nervous

For all my time with others, I still feel I move about in the world alone–this is true when it comes to writing, to social things, to work, to love. Even in love, I am resistant to giving up parts of myself–my peace and privacy that only usually exists when no one else is in the room. It’s never really loneliness, not in the moment, though I have been lonely. Acutely so after the death of my mother especially. Like a gaping hole of loneliness. Cosmologically lonely, if that makes sense. Absolutely lonely, though I was surrounded by family and friends and partners. It was like someone had torn a hole in the universe and all the air was bleeding out. Time closed it, but it still yawns and gapes every once in a while, though just as often in a group as alone. Sometimes more so in a group of people, especially ones where she should have been. My dad is different..a more acute and situation-specific kind of lonely, but still with sharp edges. 

I frighten myself sometimes, with my love of being alone, which feels enjoyable yet wrong somehow. Articles crop up in my feed occasionally about the importance of being social animals. How much I relish my days alone and uninterrupted with nothing but cats for company. I enjoy the company of people, some exquisitely, some more than others, but I am most myself when alone. It’s the baseline. The blank state to be returned to necessary for creativity and productivity. Which may be why introverts love midnights so much when it seems the entire world is sleeping but them.

Kristy Bowen, aloneness vs. lonely | the introvert heart

Haven’t I lived at
different distances from myself? Alone and

young and afraid, I didn’t let myself too close.
Who would want the mirage to unravel? When
I could bear to say it aloud, to myself, find
words for estrangement, abandonment, apathy,

find words to console those words, I began to
tolerate myself, in small doses. Before the sink
holes opened again. What is the antonym of
father? Of mother? What is the colour of

disaffection? The man is smiling at me, watching
my experiments. I wonder what he sees. How far
away he is. How far away I am. What is the perfect
distance for the surreal to sharpen into truth?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 52

夏空へ両手あげ脱皮する少女   酒井弘司

natsuzora e morote age dappi suru shôjo

            raising both arms

            to the summer sky

            a girl casts off her skin

                                                Hiroshi Sakai

from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, August 2022 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (June 24, 2023)