Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

This week was especially rich in thought-provoking essays. I also noticed a lot of fear and foreboding, but with plenty of bright notes, as well. As I write this, here in central Pennsylvania we’re getting our first big snow storm of the year. The woodstove is roaring in the next room, and behind me in the kitchen, I can hear what may be the last of his clan tugging at the peanut in the mousetrap. It doesn’t go off. For some reason I breathe a sigh of relief.


The devil’s daughter has been dreaming a long dream about a castle of arguing horses. People who stare at her from below her apartment don’t see a woman but just some slow moving dashes of the colour terracotta, black, and gold. The devil’s daughter is a beautiful sloth, who has been sleeping in the warm sunlight of the flamingo city for the past two years. No one knows, not even herself, when she might wake up. A Tamil fisherman on the coast of Trincomalee saw one of her fingers move in another dream two weeks ago. He woke up in silence, terrified. He knows that when the devil’s daughter wakes up, she will erase the tender writing from thousands of wasted pages and write, in her own hand, the enchanted fatal phrase.

Saudamini Deo, The enchanted phrase

It has been by inch and trickle that the continued isolation and stress of COVID has covered the person I want to be. The person who has friends and laughs a lot and has time to walk on the beach. The person who feels hopeful and creative and connected.

Now we’re heading into another year of rampant COVID and I live in a community where vaccination rates and mask-wearing are low. Another year when I wistfully look at pictures of travel, readings, conferences, and art openings, but feel like I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I was the person who passed on COVID to someone who got really sick. It happens. People infect their beloved grandmothers or friends undergoing chemotherapy. Since March 2020, 836,000 people in the United States have died due to COVID. […]

So, I’m back at this small corner of the web with some thoughts. A little life ring buoy thrown out into rough and dark seas. A lone candle in the window. A chance to talk about poetry a little, life a little. Perhaps to strategize on how to find my way back to a life when I truly felt like I was “being poetry.” I hope that I’m able to commit to being here with you.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Isolation and Poetry

It wasn’t exactly a New Year’s resolution–I do not bother with those–but I have promised myself to spend more time on poetry again following a fairly long interval, not exactly a hiatus, but…

Serendipity, then, to learn of Two Trees Writing Collaborative‘s poetry workshop that is taking place online in the early months of the year when motivation’s most welcome. As well as a chance to meet other writers where they are as the pandemic limps along. This online workshop is facilitated by Elena Georgiou, who was one of my advisor/mentors when I was in graduate school at Goddard. Feels like old times (not. because modality-virtuality-experience much altered). I have drafted four new poems, and the process is fun though the output has been mediocre so far; well, one must sometimes prime the engine.

I’m also reading Anthony BurgessNothing Like the Sun, wildly Shakespearean rollicking-with-language, a novel that reads like iambic pentameter. I’m thinking of poetic cadence, which is a craft aspect of poetry that has not been much on my mind until renewed by this novel. Not that rhythm is unimportant to my work, but thinking about it hasn’t been foremost. I have been thinking more about lyricism lately, it seems my default mode.

And I’m thinking about winter, and snow.

Ann E. Michael, Winterwords

To my surprise, ahead of my self-imposed schedule is the first poem from the Poem-a-Month series—a simple rhyming ode to mangoes, one of the few fruits I have found I like since embarking on my goal to add more fruit to my diet. I bought a mango for the first time in my life a few weeks ago, and I didn’t know how to slice it. I had to look it up on YouTube.

The hardest thing for me about diving into writing poetry again has been learning to embrace the crap. I wrote pages and pages of utter dreck this week and had to remind myself that the dreck is essential. It’s the fertilizer from which the good stuff grows. And who do I think I am anyway, that every word flowing from my pen shall be transcendent perfection?

Kristen McHenry, Learning How to Be Bad Again, The Illustrious Mango

In my desire to challenge my own anxiety and to research for the book/s I’m writing and to reconnect with myself and the landscape, I have been taking some solo walks. I’ve been listening to the trees.

I’ve been back up to the beacon and the bronze age cemetery and I’ve been out to Star Carr and I have been finding myself and my life in these places. This week, as part of Spelt’s ongoing workshop series, we had RM Francis running a workshop on ‘Topological Presence’. I didn’t attend the workshop as Saturdays are the day in which most of the Spelt work gets done, so I had to go to the post office. But I knew it would be good. I caught little bits and pieces of it as I was going about my work and picked up on one comment from Judi Sutherland, whose book Following the Teisa has just come out. She described feeling like writing poetry about landscape was a way to connect to the place she was in, having moved around so much. It struck a chord with me, for a different reason. I have always lived where I am, the landscape and the stories embedded in that landscape are embedded in me and are part of my personality. But I have never quite felt like I fitted in anywhere. It’s been a long journey to recognise my nerdy, quirky, not-pretty, not-slim self as entirely valid. In fact, it is this embracing of that nerdy quirky, sensitive person that allows me to write, so no wonder I write so much about the land I live in and how I fit into it. because i do feel like I fit in when I am out walking, or out in nature in general. I feel like I fit in when I am with animals or in nature, and also, mostly, when I am with creative people. They are my tribe because I think most creatives have that sense of not quite belonging in one way or another. This sort of thinking allows me to write, allows me to give permission to myself to writer, from my entirely valid point of view. I find that the new poetry collection is very much about that sense of roots and belonging that nature and landscape give. It’s not an easy collection to write, it s so different to the very personal stuff I’ve been writing with Horse, it’s difficult in another way, but I find I am enjoying that exploration, that challenge.

Wendy Pratt, A Sense of Belonging

So I’m having my bubblebath, this little self-care ritual that is really just a drop in the bucket of self-care that we all need, but at least it’s something, and I’d been wondering about how one even goes about collectively or as a group thinking-things-through these day when we’re all so separate. And then one is dropped into this profound conversation courtesy of podcast technology and bath bubbles. So that even if it wasn’t group think, at least one feels part of a conversation, somewhat. It’s something, right? It’s something.

And then [Jane Hirshfield] says: “I have been given this existence, these years on this Earth, to accept what has come into my lifetime: wars, loves, trucks, betrayals, kindness. I must take them. I must find a way to live in this world. You can’t refuse it. And along with the difficult is the radiant, the beautiful…” Which is a bit of an answer. How do we go about living in the fullness of the world when we’re all apart and gathering isn’t easy. You have to live everything, you can’t refuse it.

I suppose this is why I’m finding the act of blogging even more important than before. (And if you’re interested in doing same, please check out Kerry Clare’s Blog School). So back to the “trail detour” sign. Maybe we’re not gathering in rooms and having conversations in the old ways, but what are the new ways in which we can still engage? And maybe it’s just something to even start asking ourselves the question, what is our conversation? In a 2007 book, Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett quotes St. Augustine who said, we keep speaking in order not to remain altogether silent. And she says that in her conversations she’s been able to fill her head with “many voices, elegant, wise, strange, full of dignity and grief and hope and grace. Together we find illuminating and edifying words and send them out to embolden work of clarifying, of healing. We speak because we have questions, not just answers, and our questions cleanse our answers and enliven our world.”

Shawna Lemay, Thinking-Things-Through

Write Bloody has long been a dream press for me. I first learned of them back in 2013 – Megan Falley was on tour for her first book with the press, After the Witch Hunt, and she did a reading in DC. I went to that reading and fell in love with her words. A few years later, I took a one-on-one workshop with Megan and fell further in love, with both her writing and the press.

I bought other books from the press and fell in love with the poetry they published – Jeanann Verlee, Jon Sands, Seema Reza, Clint Smith, Arhm Choi Wild – and so many more.

I submitted to Write Bloody for the first time in 2016. I was rejected. I submitted again in 2017 and 2019. Rejected and rejected again.

I applied to, and completed, my MFA in poetry. I had two chapbooks published (both now out of print) and two full length collections published, Beautiful & Full of Monsters and Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart. I kept writing and submitting. I took workshops with Jeanann Verlee and Seema Reza and Jon Sands. I kept writing and writing.

And then in end of 2021, Write Bloody opened their submissions again. I sent in my poems. And then in early January, they announced their finalists and my name was on the list!

Courtney LeBlanc, Screaming

Very cool to see that our book was a finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.  Thanks to Tolsun Books for figuring out how to combine Jia Oak Baker’s photographs and my poems in convenient paperback form exactly how we envisioned but better.

Since all of my celebrations are virtual, here are a few more of those “Poetic Distancing Reading Series” video sessions that I did instead of whatever book tour I was planning before the pandemic.

I almost had to give up on this one in the canal because every take kept getting ruined by screeching jets from the nearby airbase. Another example of the Military Industrial Complex budget squashing local arts. I will edit together a bunch of these outtakes that feature me cursing at the sky as if those pilots might be able to hear me. 

Shawnte Orion, Metaverse Book Tours for a Southwestern Book Award Finalist

This Sunday is going to be me celebrating the publication of my poem Phantom Settlements over at The Friday Poem. I am overjoyed with the kind words that Hilary and Andy said about it.

We chose Mat Riches’ poem ‘Phantom Settlements’ as this week’s Friday Poem because we love its playfulness and humour, and his obvious love of language. Riches ranges far and wide to tantalise, amuse and intrigue us, leaving us a trail of clues starting with the title and sub-title. But he demonstrates a deeper intention too, as the poem brings up issues of authenticity and truth. Definitely one for our front page.

I especially like it as it has a neat symmetry with the poem I mentioned above in The Alchemy Spoon as that has a line in it about ranging far and wide. Well, the final version says “ranged”, but an earlier version said far and wide too. You’ll have to wait for the Complete Poems of Mat Riches to be published after my death to see that though. (Yes, I could just put it up here in a few weeks, but let me dream about a Complete Poems for a bit longer please.)

Mat Riches, A woman needs a man like a fish needs a four-door hatchback

Now, with those professional years behind me, it’s still the way I tend to organize my time, but I also get distracted because although I finally have more time to do my own creative work, there are also more people around me with needs and desires which are important to me. So I find it’s even more crucial, if I want to get anything done besides the daily tasks of ordinary life, to be intentional about certain areas: reading, music, language-learning, writing, making things, exercise. I don’t make task lists, I don’t have a daily schedule, and I don’t make resolutions. I just have certain things I try to do every day (exercise, language practice, some reading, ongoing correspondence and/or journaling); some I do more or less weekly (write a blog post, for instance) and others that I just try to move forward incrementally, not necessarily all at the same time (drawing, knitting or sewing, piano/music, larger writing and publishing projects). Hopefully, there is also some unstructured time to dream, relax, think and meditate, and to be social.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because of two things.

One: a friend asked me what I’m addicted to, and after thinking a bit, I answered “accomplishment.” By that I didn’t mean the sort of accomplishment that results in praise, but a sense of having done something with my time, having learned, having grown a little, and having contributed to others. If I don’t feel that way, I can get discouraged, angry, even depressed.

Two: the pandemic has insisted that I see myself as the age that I actually am, and that age is no longer young. Mortality has been in my face, and in the face of everyone over 60, whether we like it or not. Regardless of how young and energetic I feel or appear, I’ve been forced to face the fact that life is finite, and my own time is running shorter.

Beth Adams, Incremental

Tracing-paper pages show hairline cracks
in their creases. In-between, the arthritic limbs
of a Photoshopped tree glow like a bone x-ray.
Your desk is flecked with gold paint.

I think of the traces of gold in our bodies, how all the gold
on earth was forged by stars; how you read that its glitter
is caused by the speed of electrons in its orbit,
the relative slowing of their time;

and of the crazy idea you had
that the point of death was like falling into
a black hole’s event horizon, where you could cram
a lifetime of thought into a second.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 8 – Event Horizon

It’s been a cold, dreary January here in Seattle, and Omicron is peaking across the US. Our state’s National Guard has been called up to aid hospitals and testing sites. Schools in my neighborhoods are mostly going virtual. I have to say my anxiety is worse than it has been during most of the pandemic; it’s been hard to get out of the house to get fresh air or exercise, I’ve seen lots of vaccinated friends and some family get covid and even get hospitalized.  It’s not been fun.

So one day, when the rain and snow gave us a break, we went out in the fog to birdwatch, and got these shots of sunset with fog and cormorants, and a few Wood Ducks. It was good to get some exercise, even in the chilly gray day. Being immersed in nature is excellent for anxiety, even if I needed a lot of hot tea and a shower to get warm when I got home. I also taught an online speculative poetry class yesterday; it was a lot of fun – thanks to everyone who came out for that!

It’s been tough to keep my spirits up. I try to be optimistic; I try to be pro-active, I meditate and do breathing exercises, and I’m trying to distract myself with positive things (see my last section below) but I saw a quote: “You can’t self-care your way out of a pandemic.” You also can’t ignore the deaths of 850,000 in your own country. In February, it will be two years since the first US cases of covid appeared in Kirkland, a few miles from my house. So I’m submitting more, researching PR, reading, organizing. Waiting for spring…and hopefully more good news.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Dreary in Mid-January, Interview with Water~Stone Review, Distracting Myself with PR Research, Submissions, and Organizing Projects, Birdwatching w/Towhees and Wood Ducks

The stars are
already conspiring

to make the next
universe,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (107)

Last January, at this time, I was sleeping 18 hours a day and quarantining in my basement away from children and husband, battling a second round of COVID-19 (probably Delta?) and feeling like absolute garbage. When I finally emerged from my psuedo-coma on the futon, joints aching and fifteen pounds lighter than I’d been in 2020 — having subsisted on little other than broth and Gatorade for three straight weeks — I developed tremors. I shook so badly I couldn’t drive. My handwriting was barely handwriting — which didn’t matter much anyway, since my brain was still fogged.

The way every other member of my family struggled isn’t my story to tell, of course, so I’ll just say that it’s been eye-opening and humbling — what happens when two people struggle to keep themselves and their partnership intact, when parents are so beset with problems that it becomes difficult for them to parent, and to guide and help their children, who suddenly have developed their own serious problems, challenges I never would have imagined my children would face pre-pandemic.

We always imagined disaster and apocalypse to look very different than this, didn’t we? I mean, I’m not walking down I-95 toward Florida in a cold gray landscape, evading roaming packs of cannibals and scraping subsistence for my children from abandoned farms. There’s no hellfire falling from the sky or radiation pulsing through the air (that we *know* of), but survival is still a preoccupation.

When I write the words survival and apocalypse I’m not intending to be hyperbolic. Rather, I see a very particular world coming to an end. It’s not happening under a curtain of falling ash, and for the most part the sky is still a beneficent sky and the earth provides and nurtures — but something has been destroyed, and with finality.

And when we look at the old life, pre-pandemic, why are we so keen for *it* to survive? What fire from the old life are we carrying into the next life, and is that new life worth this trouble?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Something Has Been Destroyed (But Maybe That’s Okay)

It’s not that the well’s run dry.
The walk feels too far. It’s uphill
in the snow both ways, and
who has the strength to carry
those dangling buckets balanced
on their shoulders now? I’ll stay
on this secondhand chair, wrapped
in my mother’s holey shawl.
Make another cup of tea, stay quiet.
Grief sits with me by the fire.
Out the window, tiny birds track
hieroglyphics across the icy ground.

Rachel Barenblat, The well

2022 isn’t starting on the best foot. I’m in quarantine with my four kids, two have tested positive and we’re just waiting to see if any of the rest of us get it. Some of us will already miss one day of school/work when we go back next week, so I’m hoping we can hold out and not miss any more. 

I’ve gotten lots of little home projects done but missed the chance to catch up on things like buying new clothes for my constantly growing kids, picking up a few replacement items for the home. We’ve cleaned, played Uno, sledged, listened to music, read lots and spent too much time on screens. But we haven’t killed each other yet. Two years of social distancing has helped to prep us for proper quarantine, though I’m desperate to get back into the world.

But this post is to look back. 2021 was a good year for my writing. I’ve had more work accepted than ever before, some for magazines I’ve been trying to get into for ages or for projects that actually paid or offered wider exposure than previous I’ve been involved in. 

I’m not writing every day, but I have learned to focus the little time I have on writing. Saturday is currently my writing day, though that will happen less as my course starts up. I write, edit and submit to magazines on that day, totally immersing myself in writing. I will miss having that much time for just my writing, so I don’t expect to see such great numbers next year.

Gerry Stewart, 2021 Writing Review

The clean blue field protects me from
accidental eye contact or conversation
with the person across from me.
It enforces, with its institutional cerulean,
the subtle separation between me
and the student working on a paper;
the elderly woman filling out tax forms;
the stubbly man reading a mystery.
I sip from my covered beverage (allowed)
and find an excuse not to look down
at my laptop. Instead I let my gaze linger
a moment longer, lost in the artificial sky.

Jason Crane, POEM: The Clean Blue Field

To live in a world where birdhouses are built atop gravestones, where gardens are planted in the hearts of the lonely, where lightning bug halos are forged for one and all. To live in a world where we burn rage, burn tears, burn what we don’t need, anoint those ashes across sky’s forehead, create better weather for our lives.

Rich Ferguson, better weather / whether better

It turns out my jumbled mind has pulled itself together via the stars. I read two books recently with stars in the titles and on the covers: The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue, about the 1918 pandemic as it affects a maternity ward in Ireland, and Wiping Stars from Your Sleeves, poems by David James. Both provided quiet moments of focus on something other than work tasks, home tasks, caregiver tasks, and memorizing lines. My mind moved back into its jumble rather easily any time I slipped in a bookmark.

For example, I actually reviewed the poetry book for Escape Into Life, as David James is one of our EIL poets. I set up the post to publish automatically…on Wednesday…and then forgot about it till Friday.

Caregiver tasks included visiting my folks several times and accompanying my dad to a doctor’s appointment, where I was shocked to see a woman sitting in the waiting room completely unmasked. I reminded him to keep his mask over his nose, and I was double-masking (medical + cloth), but I couldn’t understand why the medical receptionists hadn’t reminded or cautioned the woman. Later, I saw her in her mask, so maybe it was just a memory lapse…something I understand. I had forgotten till I read it again in The Pull of the Stars that “influenza” actually refers to the influence of the stars, once thought to cause that illness.

Kathleen Kirk, All the Stars

Have you calculated
the ultimate question of life, the universe
and everything? Hell no. You’re the milk
you sniff after the sell-by date and decide
it should work fine for coffee; the wad
of paper towels you re-use for wiping
down a couple more counters. And you’re
always attuned to the twinge in the gut
which lets you know you’re not yet
a lesson beyond loss, a grief beyond
mourning. A speck of grit, a smart
in the eye; a mouth for rounding
a string of vowels at the moon.

Luisa A. Igloria, Short Bio, with Lines from a Sci-Fi Cult Classic

When I opened my laptop at the end of December, determined to post to this blog once more before the close of the year–well, that’s how I found out Betty White had died. I thought, Nope, see you in 2022. I closed the laptop’s cover. If you’ve struggled with social media for this past year, I get it. I’ve needed to go silent for long periods. That’s particularly painful when the pandemic hasn’t given us a chance to connect in other ways, because it can feel like damned-if-you-do, erased-if-you-don’t. But I’m grateful because when I look back at the second half of 2021, I spot bright glimmers of living, of pleasures taken, seized in a time that felt dark. 

Sandra Beasley, January Jump

For several weeks before Christmas I had these words from Ian McMillan’s peerless ‘Stone, I Presume’ rattling around my head. During my teaching, walking the dog, reading, even when I was watching the telly.

One day I heard myself saying them out loud: ‘It’s all a bit twist and reek, isn’t it?’ What was I talking about? I mean: what was I talking about? The 10 Downing Street party crisis? Keir Starmer’s suits? Chelsea’s injury list? The current edition of Really Great Poetry? All of these, and none of them. They are all twist and reek.

Twist and reek. Not twist and shout, twist and reek. What does it mean? a) I have no idea, and b) Whatever you want it to. I mutter it under my breath in meetings when the same person makes the same point for the third time without realising they are doing it. (Sometimes this person is me.) Climate change deniers can be twist and reek. The Conservative Party has been twist and reek for years. Poetry readings can be twist and reek. (That’s yours as well as mine.)

The poets who are never twist and reek are definitely Frank O’Hara and absolutely Ian McMillan. Martin Stannard is never twist and reek (unless he chooses to be, in which case it is always deliberate and therefore acceptable). There are others. (Check out Lifesaving Poems to find more!)

Anthony Wilson, Twist and reek

Both these podcasts tackle a poem or 2 per episode, but in different ways.

Frank Skinner is a well-known UK comedian with hidden depths. He does a good solo job with a range of poems old and new, some of them rather challenging. His target audience includes people who don’t usually read modern poetry – he’s aware of which aspects they may disapprove of. He’s enthusiastic, not pretentious, and doesn’t hesitate to reveal aspects of his personal life if it helps illuminate the piece. In his most recent episode he talks about 2 poems from Caroline Bird’s “The Air Year”, making me realise I’d missed some points – e.g in the title poem “the mime scene” alludes to “the crime scene”.

In “Poem Talk” an avant-garde poem is discussed by 3 or 4 American academics who help each other try to understand the piece. A recording by the poet is played. They often come to no firm conclusions. I learn much from their comments, which at times seem very generous. They’re fairly honest about their puzzlement though they never go as far as blaming the poet.

Tim Love, 2 poetry podcasts

These days, with a few exceptions, I prefer pigs to poets.

I bear no ill-will to those who see the poetry scene as one gigantic performance or who feel energised by the social whirl of it. I just prefer to spend time with my pigs. I talk to them. They talk to me. I feed them, clean out the muck, keep the straw dry. They grunt happily sometimes, grumble at others. We get along fine.

This week I saw the propaganda surrounding the T S Eliot Prize, the point of which is a little lost on me. Is it important? What does it do, exactly? If you went to the handing out of the prize or the apparently glitzy reading event, I hope you had a nice time and that the free wine flowed freely. I looked at YouTube and found a poem by the ‘winning’ poet. Seemed like a decent piece of writing to me, read clearly and cleanly. Yes, I liked it.

But was it worth the sycophantic outpouring that the awarding of the prize provoked on social media? Somebody even quoted slavishly the winner’s words in some book or other on, I guess, ‘How To Be A Poet’ or similar, when she said: “To write a poem is an act of resistance. To perform it is a revolution.” It’s a good sound-bite. It’s also white-noise nonsense. But don’t let me stop you becoming a disciple, please, if that’s your thing.

Frankly, though, I had a better time listening for half an hour to a band of Mongolian throat singers doing their ethereal stuff and another half-hour watching Uyghur people dancing and singing songs of love. I normally avoid the tales of ancient Greece but it did fascinate me also earlier today when I ‘discovered’ that Aeschylus, who specialised in writing tragedies, was killed when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head.

Bob Mee, PIGS OR PRIZE-WINNING POETS? THE CHOICE IS MINE

I had thought that the phenomenon of western poets adapting someone’s translation had vanished. I would argue that it did disappear for a few years from English, only to return at the hands of poets, not translators! Translation has become ‘cool’; in some way its popularity speaks of the failure of a liberal intellectual class wrestling with the rise of Western fascisms. It rejuvenates their monolingual diction and imagery, it fits in the tenure dossier, it rescues the Third-World poet who is always imagined as a singular voice against the savage masses; as if the Cold War has never ended, or God forbid, hasn’t been won by the United States. Translation today, as scholar Dima Ayoub argues, is seen not only as a necessity but also necessarily good. What makes translations a must? Where does this blind faith in translation come from? Doesn’t translation act also as unconditional access, as surveillance, as an expanding force of the global capitalist market of literature? 

Mona Kareem, Western Poets Kidnap Your Poems and Call Them Translations

Looking to pad my coffers a little before I set sail into the wind, I’ve been doubling down on some of the freelance work, and alternating between art and literature projects to keep my brain from getting overwhelmed. Still today, I began the day with the Hudson Valley school and, when something else came back for edits, swiveled to Artemisia Gentileschi. Thus today, I have had one foot in the Baroque and one foot in American Romanticism most of the afternoon.  (With a detour on Caravaggio a couple days ago, and my sights on Millais. ) Yesterday’s work on Gentileschi was followed by Dickinson–a more general piece than the beast on one on Guinevere as literary figure prior, but I couldn’t help but start thinking about her and Artemesia, how both are, in most internet articles, mentioned first for their biographical details, and only second  the ways their work was innovative.  

Artemesia’s rape trial defined her for many, not her painting.  Emily’s life of seclusion and white ensemble similarly leads in when people start talking about her.  Only if you are a a painter or a poet, do you progress beyond those things.  I keep thinking about Sylvia Plath, always, and how her death overshadowed her work. And yet, in my limited previous knowledge of Caravaggio, I did not know that he was not only a convicted murderer and hothead, but a multiple murderer. As in more than one person.  This seems to be, for him, a side note.  A tiny piece of trivia when you dig into biographical details. Kind of like how very few people talk about William Burroughs killing his wife. 

I guess, what gets remembered about us as artists, who knows?  How history defines us, completely beyond our control.  It made my head spin a little bit.  Why do women’s biographical detail lead the story, while men’s are footnotes to their supposed genius? 

Kristy Bowen, painters and poets, oh my!

3 – 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?

Because I am working in found/collage form, there is a slight urgency to getting something, once it has taken form, glued down. Otherwise, the tiny, precariously placed scraps of paper with each word (or letter) on it become subject to breeze through an open window or my cat jumping on the desk. That being said, it can take weeks before the scraps start to come together into a poem—though once they begin to, it happens rather quickly. The unique thing about the process is that, once the collage is glued and the poem is in it, there is no revision! No way benefits to workshopping a poem beside asking what I can do differently next time. There was one poem that I tried revised, which was actually very very cool. I had left a good deal of space between each line, so ended up adding 2-3 lines between each original piece, making sure each new line picked up where the previous left off and could also segue into the original predecessor. It grew from 8 lines to 15.

4 – 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?

The impetus of The Fever Poems was to make cards I card send to friends. I cut up a couple magazines then found something more interesting—a book that I was tired of holding onto for sentimental reasons that I could turn into something else. It had illustrations too! I made one card with a few words cut out and pasted onto it and then suddenly was writing full lyric poems in that way. Also suddenly, there were more than forty poems. I am working on a new project now that is very much a self-contained book project, replete with an extensive reading list for research and piles and piles of notes on what it aims to explore.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kylie Gellatly

Tell us about your new chapbook, Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota. How did the idea of using invasive species to explore the connection between ecology and human nature come to you?

When I started (and finished) writing this book I was living in a very small apartment in downtown Minneapolis with my husband and our two dogs. So it seemed really important to get out and to green spaces in my free time when I could. The Twin Cities area is really great for that, with a state park and a national wildlife refuge right on the train line, and of course all the lakes. And like a lot of writers I was of course writing about what I was seeing.

The first couple I wrote weren’t imagined as part of a bigger project, they were just some fun little story-poems. I liked writing about invasive species because they turned the purpose of a lot of standard field guides on its head — the ones that are about helping you spot desirable species. They don’t take into consideration many of the plants and animals you actually see, since typically the nature spaces we enjoy aren’t truly a wilderness, they’re all some degree of impacted. Choosing only invasives became a way to write about real climate change, real ecological concerns but also tell these very misfit, weird stories.

As you started to realize these little weird poems would be part of a larger project, what was your process for pulling it together into a cohesive whole? How did you decide what needed to stay and what needed to go?

After I had 4-5 finished, I decided I wanted to take this in a much bigger direction. I made a huge list of potential species candidates, trying to evenly include plants and animals. Some of them were really easy choices — ones I had experience with removing as a volunteer, some we covered when I tutored environmental science, like buckthorn, Ones I saw slowly destroying some of the biodiversity of the lake by my grandparents, like trapdoor snails. Earthworms, because I participated in spreading them without realizing the problems they caused. Anything I had a real visceral connection to was an easy one to write about, to include.

Some I dropped because no matter how hard I tried, no matter how beautiful a name “Tree of Heaven” is or how sensory stick bugs are, I just couldn’t find a good hook to attach a poem to. Others I dropped because they weren’t really relevant. Wild boar, for example, would have been really fun to brainstorm about, but sightings are rare and almost completely unconfirmed. They just aren’t actually a driver of habitat loss or a signal of climate change, or anything with a large effect on the land. And I wanted those topics, albeit in exaggerated and fantastical forms, to be the core of the poems.

I also clearly remember sitting on my floor with printed copies of every poem in front me, ready to tackle the incredibly nitpicky and difficult task of trying to figure out what the punchiest order would be. Before I really got into laying them out and sliding them around like terrible tetris blocks I asked myself “What if I just try to do it alphabetically?” and ended up very happy with the start, the ending, the pacing. It was a nice reminder that just because poetry is sometimes really hard, it doesn’t always have to be that way.

One of the things I love about your book is how each poem is paired with a botanical illustration. Was this a concept that you thought about early in your process of writing the book? Or did it come about later as you were working with your publisher?

Both, actually! I had printed a version for myself once because I wanted to practice making artsy little zines and learn different binding stitches, and just for fun I included several old public domain illustrations. I don’t think anyone but me ever saw that version.

But early in the editing process, Holly at IFP asked me if I was open to including illustrations with the poems, to make it more like an actual field guide. Of course I was! It was like she read my mind. And it was an early sign that I was working with someone with similar tastes and interests, especially in books as artifacts.

Andrea Blythe, Amelia Gorman on ecology, invasive species, and weird poetry

With closed eyes the world
disappears inside us,
time shrinks and hides
behind the soft skin of our eyelids.
Eleven years, twenty years ago,
forty, the day we were born;
we’ve learned the trick from the very start.
A membraned border, our fine veil
between seeing and looking,
or a wall out of stone
when pain is involved.
Just before we fall asleep,
just before we cry,
just before we give in to madness.

Magda Kapa, Timeout

The collection returns to the climate change theme towards the end. In “Passerine”,

“Meanwhile in another timeframe
the future, which is now,
we are not ready
toilet paper, sanitiser, neatly stacked
in a cupboard with a big sack of rice
which hopefully won’t be dumped
moth and weevil zigzagging
while fantails move happily
through the understory, a reminder
that nothing lasts.”

Passerines are perching birds, a hint at the precarity of their existence. It could also be a metaphor for the pandemic, where humans were reminded of their own precarity. As well as lack of preparedness – the toilet rolls and large sack of rice won’t keep a virus at bay and it looks as if the rice will go off before it gets used. The wildlife, however, gets freedom of movement. Although the wildlife doesn’t get chance to recover, it just reminds humanity that nothing lasts.

The poems in “The Density of Compact Bone” explore personal issues and the climate emergency. Magdalena Ball’s deftly constructed poems work as multi-layered explorations of her themes, underline how humanity has contributed to its own woes. There is a sense of helplessness as if there is no time to mitigate the damage or take action. They overlook the imbalances of power: one person diligently taking all possible steps to limit their impact will never have the same effect as a large corporation stopping air travel, holding solely online meetings and using recyclable materials. She is very conscious of her place as a daughter, as a mother, supporting and upholding both roles and the inheritances they bring. Her concerns are about what kind of world her child will grow up in, how there needs to be a world for children to grow in.

Emma Lee, “The Density of Compact Bone” Magdalena Ball (Ginninderra Press) – book review

I’ve always found titles quite hard to come up with. I’ve been through all kind of exercises to try to break the back of it. I look at other people’s titles to see which ones jump out at me (or not). And I remember Carol-Ann Duffy once reading the title of a poem and exclaiming ‘Now that’s a title that gives me confidence in the poet!’

I know there have been various trends over the years: the Very Long Intriguing And/or Witty Title is still popular, (especially when it comes to competition entries) although I wonder if it’s waning. I’ve done a few of those myself but can’t help wondering if the title can end up being more interesting than the poem.

The good old basic single-word title is surely a classic. But the first line had better be AMAZING if the title is ‘Daisies’ or ‘Evening’ or whatever.

How about the first-line-as-title? I confess I quite like this arrangement and have used it a fair bit – in the sense of the title being the actual first line, so that the poem runs on from the title (rather than repeating the first line, although this is also possible of course).  But it doesn’t suit every poem.

And what about collection titles? I know we’re commonly advised to use the title of one of the poems, or use a phrase or a line from one of the poems. Sometimes Very Long Intriguing And/or Witty Titles are more memorable. When it’s come to pamphlets, I’ve always gone with the title of one of the poems, with the exception of ‘Why?’ which I wanted to call ‘Was it the Diet Coke?’ but that didn’t work out, for fear of a certain mega-company based in Atlanta coming down on us like a pantechnicon of canned drinks.

Robin Houghton, Thinking about poem and book titles

I recently published reading notes on Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens by Corey Van Landingham. It’s a spectacular poetry collection, and I jumped at the chance to review it ahead of its release. I have great affection for Van Landingham’s work. Going back seven or eight years ago, I spent a December writing only sonnets. One of those sonnets started with a line from Van Landingham’s “The Louse”: “I name every injury like it was a comet.”

I remember vividly the energy that line gave my own writing and am grateful all over again. I’m also inspired to let myself be, well, more inspired in the coming year. I spent the bulk of last year attending workshops, but somehow got mired in the left-brain aspects of them: being a good student, gathering information, reading, offering critique, considering new approaches, etc. I didn’t use them for writing inspiration as much as I wish I had.

To be fair, it felt like a difficult year to loosen up and let things in. 2021 began with the insurrection and ended with amped up prioritization of capitalism and the economy over public health. And in between? Also a total shit show. I had my guard up (aggressively), and it impacted more than my mood. It also locked down my creativity. (To see what I accomplished — and where I missed the mark — click through to last week’s post about revisiting 2021 writing goals.)

2022 is unlikely to be any better as far as the state of the world is concerned, and so my task is to be more selective with what I consume: more comets and sonnets, less circling the news/social media drain. As such, my poetry goals for 2022 limit external impulses (readings and workshops, for example) and focus instead on the ritual of quiet time to generate new work and revise manuscripts.

Carolee Bennett, 2022 writing goals: more comets and sonnets

there’s something over there
this nearer that
something in the dimness
that which is this but further

this nearer that
this indicating the difference
that which is this but further
only twilight knows which

this indicating the difference
this where you find me
only twilight knows which
twilight where I write

this where you find me
that which is this but further
the twilight where I write
this nearer night

Gary Barwin, BROTHERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING PANTOUMS

Black being such a glorious color, it’s unfair to see it maligned in the season of light.  During those holiday weeks of celebrating “light,” all those little pinpricks stung me and made me think, in a Baudelairean way, about its other. I was thinking about how to decouple darkness and its sometime extension “blackness” from the metaphors of sin and ignorance of the age/soul.  I thought about how to decouple part of the daily cosmic cycle and a radically beautiful color from centuries and millennia of role play, poetry and language games.  How might race relations have been different if the color of sin had stayed in the red zones, stains of blood and sex as they were in the Hebrew Bible?  But new color games came along, Christianity codifying and equating Adam and Eve’s “original” sin to death and to the color of death.  In a much, much longer story spanning centuries, black came to mark dark ecstasies of sinners, devils, and sadly, Ethiopians.

I was listening to a magnificent sermon of Martin Luther King at Riverside Church, from 1964.  Was I surprised to hear him use the metaphors “terrible midnight of our age” and “it’s midnight, a darkness so deep that we can hardly see which way to turn”?  When he preached, I believed his midnight, his condemnation of moral relativity, hypocrisy, lack of compassion.  He doesn’t say blackness – he says darkness, and midnight.  Deep dark holes of moral/Christian failure, using the full weight of age-old cultural symbols.

The title of this speech, “A Knock at the Door,” is a midrash of a parable of Luke, which in itself is a midrash of “The Song of Songs.”  When a stranger, lover or needy person, which could be divine or part of ourselves, comes knocking at our door, we are unprepared, we hesitate, or play or hide.  The desire and demand of this other breaks in on our lassitude; it erupts, interrupts our borders.  There are so many “colorations” here, but there is a pattern.  Certain things cannot be explained, but we know to be true. Color breaks in, uninvited, irreducible, not standing for anything except itself.  

Jill Pearlman, The Values of Black

whose eye shall fill my light with sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

Chosen,

poured into, lips meet
my rim. I brim,
a hand around me,
through me, and I hold
what I am given.

Offering up my sweet
entirety. Until emptied again,

submerged, taken
to a dish towel’s
efficient caress.

Renee Emerson, “Mug” from Keeping Me Still (Winter Goose Publishing)

I prefer to rise before dawn, when the air
is cool and the light is thin, and the muscles
of night finally relax. Often my dreams
are still with me, and I wonder if I should whisper
them to you, but I never do. I put these dreams,
now slender things, into a box, and I place
the box on a shelf. This shelf holds many boxes,
each containing more dreams than the one
beside it, and so the dawn passes. You rise
later than me, and I say nothing except
for a slight greeting, no more than one
would say to a stranger passing in the street.

James Lee Jobe, I wonder if I should whisper

frost
on a station platform
tomorrow is late

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 52 + New Year’s 2022

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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

The last week of the year always has a kind of aimless, limbo-like feeling, as several bloggers observed, so I was impressed by how many still managed an end-of-the-year post. The selection below doesn’t quite reflect how many of those posts included favorite book lists as well, so really, quite a lot of riches for those with the time to click through.

Here’s hoping 2022 brings a bit of peace and sanity, but if not, there’s always poetry. Happy New Year.


Years ago, I worked for an organization that always closed down during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and as such I became habituated to taking those days off and have made it something of a tradition. Nothing is going to get accomplished in that time anyway. It’s an informal national “down week” as it should be, because these are frozen, dead, throw-away days in which humans are not meant to be functional. Hence no post last week. I’ve been off since December 23rd, doing nothing but loafing around and making a full-time job of trying to keep warm in the 15-degree weather in our under-insulated apartment, shivering in a turtleneck (thanks, Mom!), a hoodie, a knit hat, and double socks.

Kristen McHenry, Days of Loafing, Re-Discovering Dorothy, History Buff

It’s the break of day, New Year’s Eve. I’m writing from the warm, night-morning-darkness of my living room, the only light is that of decorative twinkle and the snow glow outside. My holiday boon is scattered on the nearby table, gifts that are already page-tabbed and folded open. I’ve finished Amy Butcher’s Mother Trucker, and working through Robert Hass’s Time and Materials by day and by night, Ken Gould’s mystery, Death’s Grip, along with Kerstin Ekman’s Scandia Noir read, Under the Snow. As is the case with readers, these are 4 named titles. Waiting in the background sit short stacks of 24 additional titles, patiently awaiting their own cracks in spine. There is a new blank book awaiting rough writings in chicken scratch scrawl, bright beaded earrings, magnetic haiku and coffee poetry sets, and real coffee from a friend to accompany all of these wild ways to spend winter time.

Kersten Christianson, New Year’s Eve: Closing the Book of 2021

at the end of every verse
leave a promise —
what shall we do with sleep
without a morning to wake up to
what shall we do with rain
when skin cannot endure the wet
what shall we do with all this
longing, without the grammar
of hope —

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Leave a promise

I have begun and started this post so many times in the last week. Usually I really look forward to writing the end of year blog, to look back at the good things that have happened. But this year it fels really different – every time I look at my 2021 diary at the months that have passed I feel sadness at all the things that didn’t happen, all the people I didn’t see, all the times when my daughter missed out, when I missed out.  And I also know that I’m lucky because I am healthy and I’ve been able to do some things.  I can’t stop thinking about friends who are still isolating, still unable to leave their houses.

It’s hard to look back on a year that has been threaded through with a low hum of anxiety, but I have had some lovely things happen this year. Probably the most obvious one of those is the publication of my second poetry collection All the Men I Never Married.  But perhaps more than any other year, it has felt like a year where I’ve been able to try out different ways of my work reaching a wider audience – so I’m going to list a few of them here, just in case there are other people out there with slightly more time on their hands than usual, in this strange gap between Christmas and New Year.  

Kim Moore, END OF YEAR BLOG

Today I undertook one of my favorite and also least favorite projects of the year–transferring all my random slips of paper and no-longer sticky post-its into a new sketchbook/planner for 2022.  Good because its bright white blank pages are sort of exciting, least because it just makes me remember all the things I never got a chance to get to.  I started the post-it system after years of lost to-do lists and actual planners and trying to understand bullet journaling and a million things that did not work to keep my mind organized.  The premise was simple..the front pages sort the days of the week, the coming weeks, the coming month, the coming year.  As things arise, I write them on the 1 inch post-its and stick them to the corresponding day.  Obviously stuff gets moved and transferred to coming weeks and I suppose gets done eventually if if ever does. 

I have spreads for dgp projects in the works, including columns–layout-cover designs–proofing–so that I can see at a glance what is happening with each book. I have a section for monthly goals, though as the year goes on, I usually lose track of filling these pages out, but occasionally they help me finish up things. The worst, though, is a section titled “PROJECTS’ where every idea I have –for poems, for art projects, for shop lovelies–usually just sort of go to die, only to be moved to the next planner every late December. I also have pages for the library and things happening there. Admittedly, I didn’t even change books between 2020 and 2021, since so much was just lingering from the previous year. There are ideas for art & design projects that I’ve been moving from book to book since 2013.  Also writing projects.  Occasionally, like unusual creatures, I finish them eventually, but more often not. I might seem productive on occasion, but not half as productive as I’d like.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new planner

The fae character in my novel Unbecoming was, I now understand, incredibly fun to write because in imagining her, I got to inhabit the person I might have been if I were thoroughly, deliciously selfish, unworried about anyone’s future. I rarely consciously knew what she would say or do next; instead, I would take a break from writing and hear her whisper her next lines. The last dictation I received is her last quotation in the book: “I don’t know what I want, but I want it very much.” Word.

Speaking of traces of the past: one last magazine issue with a poem of mine slid under the old year’s wire. “You Know Where the Smithy Stood by the Clinkers” just appeared in the new National Poetry Review. It’s based on a lecture given several years ago by W&L archaeologist Don Gaylord. It immediately helped me see the buildings I work in in a different way, but I had to revise the poem many times, mostly by paring it down, until its architectural bones became clear. The past is always present, even when you suppress difficult memories.

Lesley Wheeler, Sacrifices, gifts, and a year in reading

It’s become a tradition and a privilege to spend New Years Eve with L. and B.

L. is the one who invited me to eat 12 grapes at midnight. She and B lived in Spain for a few years. I believe that to make a wish with each grape is her own twist on the Spanish tradition. Today I reread the blog post from 2020 and realize that my 12 wishes last night were nearly identical to those two years ago: synonyms and shifted specifics. New perspectives. New approaches.

I’m not sure what to make of that in terms of my personal growth. Walt Whitman contradicted himself because he contained multitudes. I repeat myself. I think that is because I contain a multitude of threads as well, and am on a dialectical path. Where it ends doesn’t seem to be as important anymore. Only that I keep moving towards something.

The word “ease” had come up a lot over the past two years. Maybe the past three years. But this morning I read the word “gentle”.

I lingered on the word gentle.

I read Dylan Thomas’s poem again this morning with more empathy – and a different understanding – than I’ve had before. It’s wonderful, because for the first time I see the specific context of the speaker’s perspective. I see the words “old age” (would that Death allowed us all that experience), and the speaker’s projecting his own fears onto his father, and onto every other old man’s evaluation of their worth in the world. I think I’ve read this poem always making way for the poet/speaker’s greater wisdom, and I read the advice in the poem as a kind of sutra. I am thrilled no one deprived me of this discovery: that this (projected) perspective is not wrong, but is only one perspective. A true perspective, but not the true perspective. And that is not to say that no one has ever analysed the poem this way, explained it, described it to me. But if they did, I wasn’t able to take the lesson in.

Long live the hyper-realistic beauty of the unreliable narrator.

Ren Powell, What Falls Away Gently

As 2021 stumbles to a close, it might be obvious to anyone who was paying attention (and I don’t know if anyone was) that I was not writing in here much in recent months; to be precise, since September. In many ways, September and onwards was a big improvement over the rest of my life since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. I got a new job working with children’s literature – so far, on course to be my best job ever – and before starting, I had time to visit my family in Canada. I also spent September weekends as part of the Sea Reconnection exhibition, which as an art-and-poetry exhibition was a first for me and certainly a highlight of the year.

I haven’t felt much like writing, though. My pandemic experience has avoided the worst that many have experienced (severe illness, death of loved ones, prolonged unemployment, etc) but at times I feel like it’s sort of flattened me out. I hope to get back into more of a writing frame of mind in the months to come, even in small ways, which I think will help.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Ten years of The Stone and the Star

Pull out the drawers,
and balled-up socks
sigh of their own accord.

Throw open the windows
and huddled shapes
of air unfold

forgotten wings. Old
beds of ash retire
into the soil so flint

or a match could strike
a small yellow flame
to brilliance.

Luisa A. Igloria, Encadenada

Yesterday we went for a long walk at Parc Jean-Drapeau, site of Montreal’s Expo 67: this geodesic dome, designed by Buckminster Fuller, was the United States pavilion for Expo, and is now a museum dedicated to the environment. But yesterday we were pretty much the only people on the two islands in the middle of the river, and even though it was a grey day, it was just what I needed. Lots of wildlife tracks in the snow, many birds including a huge flock of robins (what are they thinking?), the St Lawrence roiling along in its winter mood, red rose hips against the snow, junipers loaded with blue berries, overgrown plantings, a greenhouse where large tropical plants were being overwintered, and many odd graphic images from the desolation of winter and the decay or remnants of structures built for Expo that have fallen into disuse. I hope you’ll enjoy taking this walk with me, and I wish you all the best for the year to come.

Beth Adams, A New Year’s Walk

I have got a great deal out of writing this blog this year. The feedback is as immediate as social media, and far more fulfilling. There is always a chance someone will read it, so it never feels pointless. I write about whatever I want, however I want: that anyone is listening at all is a luxury! Yet, having had a month or so away from blogging, I can see how my relationship with it might have some things in common with submitting poetry to magazines, or using social media: that feeling that I need to just keep publishing; that fear of rejection, which only feeds the desire to publish more.

Is there a solution? Jonathan Davidson suggests we broaden our understanding of what sharing poetry entails to include a greater focus on different kinds of reading (e.g., out loud, at special occasions), and on reaching more non-poets. I agree. Davidson’s focus is largely on collections, but I think the insight can be extended to individual poems. Why should the default ‘end point’ be publication in a magazine?

For most people I know, poetry is a marginal art, so it’s a fair assumption that by placing a poem in a magazine you will have a greater chance of finding an appreciative reader (i.e. another poet) than sharing it with someone you know. But the end result of this way of thinking isn’t just a self-fulfilling prophecy which keeps poetry on the margins: it effects our idea of what a poem even is.

There are ways of rethinking how we share poetry among regular writers, too. I suspect a lot of writers engage with poetry groups and workshops, at least in part, as steps towards publication. But there is no reason why they have to be. I attended a regular poetry evening when I was at university. I have never produced so much rubbish in my life, but I have rarely felt so much like I knew why I was writing.

My own solution over the last few years has been to try to publish less poetry, and more writing about poetry. I can see this wouldn’t appeal to everyone. It may end up with me not publishing any of my own poetry at all (which isn’t necessarily a disaster). But I’ve also found that I appreciate poetry – writing it and reading it – more, not less.

Jeremy Wikeley, A Year in (Not) Publishing

Imagine how it feels when the sky is dark and you’re the first star. That’s Frank’s trusty Tree Service. You’re the first tree. You’re reborn. You’re a tree and you’re reborn as a tree. And soon you’ll be surrounded by a forest of trees reborn in a forest reborn and filled with trees.

Gary Barwin, Rise Up, Trees: Frank’s Tree Service.

year’s end
bald pines hold
the sky in place

Julie Mellor, year’s end

I was sad to read that Kirsty Karkow had died, on Christmas Eve. She was a fine haiku and tanka poet. I had some correspondence with her twenty or so years ago and had been in online kukai groups with her in the late ’90s. She’d lived in Maine for many years but was born and educated in England. On Curtis Dunlap’s old ‘Blogging Along Tobacco Road’ blog, which was always a pleasurable read, you can still find Kirsty’s admirable contribution, here.

Matthew Paul, On Sylvia Kantaris and Kirsty Karkow

I cannot recall where I learned of Byung-chul Han, but I’ve had the pleasure of reading one of his books of philosophical essays (The Scent of Time) recently, and seldom has a philosophy text resonated so immediately with my circumstances. In this book, Han argues for contemplative time. He says it is essential for humans and human society and claims the “acceleration” of everyday life robs us of the value of reflective thought and “slow time.”

Raised and educated in Germany, where he now teaches, Han invokes the works of several German philosophers to provide a starting-point regarding the acceleration of time. He draws on Nietzsche, Arendt, Husserl and, to a larger extent, Heidegger…but Derrida, Aquinas, Aristotle, and others as well. He also quotes from quite a few poets, such as Celan, Hölderlin, Büchner, Handke, Ch’iao Chi, and spends two chapters on Proust (but of course…).

Han posits that the point-like, algorithmic availability of information runs counter to knowledge and wisdom, which require experience, which in turn requires duration and connection rather than arbitrary retrieval: “Promising, commitment and fidelity, for instance, are genuinely temporal practices. They bind the future by continuing the present into the future…creating a temporal continuity.” He criticizes the very technology that permits a person like me to learn about his work (I am certain I heard of him online somewhere). That criticism says the faster we go, the further we are from our earthiness–the airplane removes us from earth’s gravitational field as well as from the soil, “estranging the human being from it.” He adds, “The internet and electronic mail let geography, even the earth itself, disappear…Modern technology de-terrestrializes human life.”

Strong opinions, large claims. But oh, I thought at once of Whitman and his long expansive drawling poems when I read, “Instead of leisurely strolling around, one rushes from one event to another. This haste and restlessness characterize neither the flâneur nor the vagabond.” The whizzing about leads to anxiety and a lack of durable relationships. People hover instead of connect, swiping left or doomscrolling, feeling bored–which is a kind of empty-mindedness. I observe this trend of rushing and hovering in my students and among my colleagues. I have not found much Whitman-like lounging in current poetry publications, but a great deal of anxiety appears in contemporary poems. Writers reflect the times. Context shapes us.

Ann E. Michael, Slowing time

year’s end
waiting for candy
in the rain

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 December 2021

Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota by Amelia Gorman

This gorgeous chapbook explores the ecological dangers of Climate Change and the emotional impacts of human nature. These poems flirt with the speculative, presenting a near future that feels nurtured by the here and now, offering visions of what could be while feeling anchored in what has been. The pairing of botanical illustrations with these lush poems is the kind of book I love to have and hold in its physical form, so that I can flip through its beautiful pages.

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2021

The end of the year rolls near and I am just lifting my head towards my blog. It’s been forgotten in the shuffle of working life and as that end-of-year-in-review feeling rolls in I have to be honest with myself about several things. 

Where I am at geographically, career-wise, with a view to my family and my energy levels means I cannot place much focus on my writing. And 2022 will be even more difficult. I’m starting my teacher training course in January while working full-time at a school and raising my kids. I’m currently fitting writing in at the weekends, but soon that will be taken over by my course. I will continue to try and do a bit of writing, but compromises will be made. 

And it hurts to think I will have to put it aside or squeeze it into the cracks. I would love to be working as a writer even part-time, but I need to focus on a career that I know will give some financial security. I’m finishing off a commission for some poetry this week and coming to the end of an editing job. I hope other small opportunities present themselves, but I will have to protect what little time I have to study and spend with my kids as much as I can.

My book will obviously not be published in 2021. I knew this was the case from early summer as nothing seemed to be moving forward, including communication. Maybe something will happen next year, but I no longer hold out much hope. My book was accepted about the time my decades-long relationship fell apart, so it felt a positive part of my renewal, a reason to look forward and celebrate my hard work. Then Covid and Brexit and Time bulldozed on through and here I am, still waiting, trying to be patient. 

Gerry Stewart, The End of 2021 Draws Nigh

2021 was also the year I launched a book during a pandemic! What fun! Strangers came out in April, and was formally launched in May, with an online event featuring Sadiqa de Meijer and Sue Sinclair, and hosted by my editor Luke Hathaway. You can view that here. Unable to tour the book, this summer I took my tour local, with readings around Vancouver (even those were fraught – one was canceled by a record-shattering “heat dome,” another was rained our and had to be moved into the overhang area of an elementary school playground… normal stuff!). I loved getting to hear new poems from fellow pandemic-launching poets – eleven total guest readers over the course of the series. Readings at the Vancouver Writers Fest, Word Vancouver, and the Real Vancouver Writers Series kept me busy all fall, and helped me feel like it might really be reaching readers out there in the world! Reviews of the book and also interviews about the book kept me afloat despite the lack of in-person connections. Thank you to everyone who spent some time with Strangers in 2021 – it meant a great deal to me.

Rob Taylor, the 2021 roll of nickels year in review

I’ve been thinking as I look at my stats for the year that there’s some sort of link between my running this year and my writing. Correlation isn’t causation, etc and I don’t have the charts to hand (the wherewithal to tally up each month to make the chart),but I know that up to June this year I finished 10 poems and was roughly averaging 40-50k a week, and between July and now I’ve finished 5 poems and am averaging about 20K a week.

I’ve also run less overall. Last year it was 1600K, this year it’s just over 1500. I was aiming for 2000K, but

I think the reason behind these declines are that I was up a lot earlier in the first half of the year, and using the time after the runs to work on poems. I was training for Race To The King, and when folks mentioned I’d be struggling for motivation after that I didn’t believe them. How right they were. A combination of injury before the race, and exhaustion after has left me struggling to get back into the right frame of mind. It’s been the same with writing, the mad kick bollock scramble of the second half of 2021 has just left me with no interest in picking up a pen. I have no doubt it will come back. I can see a draft I started a coupe of weeks ago staring at me and I know I want to get to it, so I have faith.

Mat Riches, Run on lines…

When I look back at previous goals and roundups from around this time of year, I can see that pretty much every year I say I am going to cut back work, live a healthier lifestyle, live a ‘less chaotic life’ and have never quite managed it, until this year. My favourite mantra of this year, and one I’ll be taking with me into next year is ‘Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want different outcomes, make different choices.’ Changing habits, changing learned behaviour, thought habits, unhealthy coping strategies etc is not about will power. Will power plays its part, but rather than being a shield you use to protect you from cravings, will power is tool you can use to reinforce the positive habits, affirming to yourself that you are worth change, that you are worth nice things, good health, a happy work/life balance. This year I managed to over work myself to a point at which I triggered an underlying heart condition and very high blood pressure. In fact, what I’d thought was the menopause turned out to be my body struggling with what I was doing to it. The doctors I spoke to told me I needed to cut down caffeine, alcohol and stress to manage it. Reader, I did not know who I was without caffeine, alcohol and stress. I cut back caffeine consumption to just first thing in the morning and the occasional afternoon cup of tea. Knowing I could still get my Wendy strength coffee first thing meant I was happy to cut back for the rest of the day. The stress and the booze were much harder to cut down. I enlisted the help of a personal health trainer to help me change my terrible relationship with alcohol, which you can read about here and reader, it worked, it continues to work. I had my first hangover in four months this week. I’ve taken the brakes off a little over Christmas and drunk more than I have been doing and amazingly found that I don’t really want to drink much anymore. Which makes me a cheap date and a complete and utter lightweight. This is my biggest achievement of this year. I know there will be people who don’t really understand that cutting back booze is a big achievement, it’s not like I have gone Tee Total, but the change in my health, my happiness, my anxiety and my self confidence is noticeable. I’m not going back. I’ve done this before and never quite managed it because I gave booze up completely without changing my thought process around it. This time it really does feel different. I have altered my thinking, altered my motivations.

Wendy Pratt, 2021 – My Year in Review- Best Books, Best People, Best Moments, Best Foot Forward

even when I did not know your name, sparrow,
I knew your song, the particular way
you break the silence

Han VanderHart, Bird Song Sounds Out of Tune Only to the Human Ear

Do you remember at the beginning of the pandemic there were all the jokes about the line “I hope this email finds you well.” And let’s face it, for the last couple of years, we haven’t been well, or at least not all the time, and certainly not in all the ways one would wish to be well. What even is wellness now? I don’t want any easy and pat wellness advice myself because this stuff is hard and recurring and complicated and we can be more than one thing at once, anyway. One thing I do know, is that what we normally think of as wellness is not this steady stream. Sure we can be resilient but we also get to take breaks from being resilient. (Which is perhaps a form of resiliency). So what I hope for you in this coming year is that you find your way to a wellness, and in the times when things are more crumbly, you find ways to return and return to a space where you feel okay and sometimes even content and happy.

Shawna Lemay, Keeping Your Appointments in 2022

Let me be the photographer staring down into the lens
of a Box Brownie, let me really see my mother’s red hair,
my father’s best trousers, my brother’s barely lived in skin,

our white socks and Start-Rite sandals, or deeper still –
the cotton handkerchiefs in our dress pockets, Dad’s tattoos
hidden under his long sleeved shirt, the sand beneath

the soil and grass under our feet, the scent in the darkness
when we opened the coalbunker door, what we knew then,
what we didn’t know, what we were unable to even imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ 1963

Palpable: what else to call poems with lines such as “I RUB MESSAGES INTO THE WALL B/C I KNOW / SOMEDAY I WILL BE DELETED.” The urgency implied in the typographical choice to use all caps (here and consistently throughout the collection) brings with it the implication of presence. Words in all caps are emphasized, given more presence before the eye. Such emphasis and presence are more often associated with brand slogans, protest signs, even text messages–a set of seemingly incongruent examples that yet are totally in line with the world interrogated by Abi-Karam. Only that these are poems, and the poetic space is flexible enough to hold a human pulse despite these implications, and resilient enough push back, to voice and be a voice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Villainy by Andrea Abi-Karam

The first poems in Danger Days by Catherine Pierce (Saturnalia Press, 2020) lead one to expect that this book will be all about end times and apocalypse.  The fourth poem dispels this idea: “High Dangerous” is the name her young sons give to hydrangeas.  But there is danger there too: the bees in the flowers.

Pierce finds danger in many supposedly ordinary places.  In motherhood, for instance, in “How Becoming a Mother Is Like Space Travel.” (Both find themselves rearranged.) “Abecedarian for the Dangerous Animals” covers five kinds of animal: bees, bats, the cassowary, the golden dart frog, and humans. […]

One set of poems addresses the history of words, in a series she calls “From the Compendium of Romantic Words.” In each poem she explores, deconstructs and plays with a particular word.  My favorite is “delicatessen” which begins:

Noun.  Notable for a sibilant elegance heightened
by the suggestion of cured meats.  Not deli,
a vulgar nickname, a fly-den, a swing-by, but
a long sigh of syllables, a time machine.  Inside
its languid hiss: flannel suits, stenographer glamour.
When the word is uttered, a skyline materializes.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Danger Days by Catherine Pierce

Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens [by Corey Van Landingham] brought back to me memories from January 1991. I was visiting friends at the University of Maine in Orono (UMO) and trying to rekindle a romance with a boyfriend from high school. He refused to see me, so I met friends in the Bears Den where we ate and watched TV. It was the night coalition forces launched the attack on Iraq. A screen in the corner of the room in the student union broadcast the bombardment. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the moment: “The war marked the introduction of live news broadcasts from the front lines of the battle, principally by the US network CNN. The war has also earned the nickname Video Game War after the daily broadcast of images from cameras on board U.S. bombers during Operation Desert Storm.”

I can’t recall if we were horrified but know for sure we were mesmerized. And, even though I was just 18 at the time, I’m ashamed to admit that I was more pained by the romantic abandonment than by what I saw on TV. Even though the scenes from my UMO visit have stuck with me, I never bothered to include them in a poem. If I had, I’d probably have written about the boy and not the televised introduction to war in my lifetime. It’s a daunting task to consider even now.

I’m still not writing much about world events in my poems, but thankfully my interrogation of our complicity in them has evolved, and Van Landingham’s poems support this necessary and difficult line of questioning. In “{Pennsylvania Triptych},” she writes, “To participate in the demolition is to be a part of history. Is what I tell myself…” She goes on, “As if, ante- / bellum, white and wealthy, with your father’s / father’s sprawling fields, you wouldn’t have let the / house staff serve you pheasant.” We must come to terms with our participation in dehumanizing others if we are to understand how to stop it.

Carolee Bennett, “the body becomes a downloadable thing”

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
It was completely administrative! I decided to apply to MFA programs last minute and the deadlines were coming up. I had to put together a portfolio and figured it would take less time to write poetry than to write prose (ha!). I became a poet thanks to early deadlines. But I kept with poetry because I love its sparseness— it’s a form in which what you don’t say is as important as what you do say. Absence speaks, it’s mystical— a fairytale in itself. […]

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In writing: act as if everyone is enlightened but you (Sandra Alcosser).

In general: “Dlatego dwie uszy jeden język dano, iżby mniej mówiono a więcej słuchano.” It”s a common Polish saying, loosely translated: “you got two ears and one mouth to speak less and listen more”. In fact, come to think of it, this applies perfectly to writing too.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Anna van Valkenburg

An interesting poem shows consideration-in-process. To “consider” means “be with the stars,” doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want that from a poem?

Poems in which the poet knows too much at the outset can tend toward flatness, I have found. The movement, if there is movement, in such a poem is of a busy person through a room who gives you a brisk nod. “Oh, there goes old whatsisname. Hunh,” you think. And that’s that. A more interesting poem wanders in, sits down with you, says something unexpected, ponders, ask you something, maybe, tells a tale, perhaps, shows you something, and in some way you share the moment.

You still might think, Hunh. But it’s a lingering hunh, a “I want to think more about this” hunh, or a “I never looked at that way before” hunh. You might want to call that poem some late afternoon and see if it wants to go get a beer.

Marilyn McCabe, Don’t stand so close to me; or, On Poems That Know Too Much

I am feeling forlorn this New Year’s morning.  Forlorn weather –  53 degrees and pouring rain, and likely to do so all day.

Last night I went to a New Year’s Eve gathering with eight other old folks –  55+ on the menu at Perkins Pancake House.  Very subdued.  It was a long table and I was the last to arrive and I didn’t get to sit with the friends I enjoy conversing with.  Not even any wine.  We closed the place at 8PM.  Sigh.

I drove home, remembering the New Year’s Eves of my wild youth:  in Philadelphia several with Patrick and his friends, in Baltimore in the apartment at Wellington Gate, and on Barclay Street, even a few in the early years of life in the Daughters.  Sigh.

So it goes.  I keep teaching Slaughterhouse Five to my Modernity class, now on Zoom due to COVID.

Anne Higgins, The times are nightfall; look – their light grows less

But for today, let me not focus on all that is coming at me/us in January.  Let me enjoy one more day of tropical drinks by the pool.  Let me focus on reading fiction, since I won’t have a chance to do that much once my seminary classes get underway.  Let me enjoy meals with loved ones and views of a different coastline.

And perhaps I will write a poem.  A few days ago, I made this Facebook post:”It is oddly foggy on the west coast of Florida this morning. It looks like it snowed overnight–or that something dreadful has happened to a lot of mermaids.”

Since then, I’ve continued to think of mermaids and sea foam and the death of mermaid dreams–or is it the resurrection of the girlhood dreams of mermaids?   I came up with this line to begin a poem:  Some days it is better to be sea foam.

Yesterday, the morning fog that looks like sea foam was tinted in different colors, which made me think that maybe sea foam doesn’t represent one eternal idea, but many.  

A poem is percolating, and I want to remember.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Soft Ending to Vacation

I know it’s a little cheesy, and harder during a pandemic year, but I still went through the steps of doing my yearly inspiration board, and using my hands to cut and glue things makes me feel like a kid again, and there’s something innately…optimistic about putting up words and pictures that make you feel happy and hopeful. This year, words like “friends,” “inspiration,” “magic,” and “happiness” made appearances, along with images of foxes, pink typewriters, blooms and butterflies.

Anyway, I encourage you to try it yourself, even if it’s just a temporary one on a corkboard, or posting inspiring things on your fridge. What could we look forward to? What are the best possibilities? I’m far too good at looking at the dark side.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy New Year! Snowed-In Seattle, Inspiration Board for 2022, Variant Problems, and Late Celebrations

We are born into this life with all its bombs & birdsongs, diseases & deities, poverty & purity. Born into criminals & kissers, debtors & creditors, greed & generosity. Born into freedom & detention, flowers & fault lines, climate change & genocides. Dancing, singing, weeping, raging. Slaving, building, crushing, creating—the beauty & brawl of it all.

Rich Ferguson, Into This

The lines of this poem are a factory that employs
the dead. Ghosts of people that walk
on concrete floors, their eyes
like blank sheets of paper. Do you
have a pen? Me neither.

What is a day? Rows and lines
of broken things – dreams, hopes, love.
No, that’s too hard and I reject it.
A day is you with your shoes off.
You are running toward me
laughing. You are telling me
about some poet from The Gaza Strip
or Kentucky.

James Lee Jobe, Their eyes are like blank sheets of paper.

How lucky the kitchen was stocked with tiny marshmallows and French chocolate
waiting in dishes for guests that would never come…
a list of movies, a fireplace with stacks of crackling logs
six-point crumpled Kleenex fluttering as paper snowflakes in an infinity of patterns
tables littered with bottles —- cough syrup, elderberry, zinc —
and cake vying for room with white test kits

We laughed into delirium when time was a stream of barely noted
notches in the inevitable: 
and talked of dreams, Rebbe Nachman, how to organize notebooks
not optimists but expecting each day would get better

New Year’s Eve was a muted affair; 
even if historic and global, we could say we did it in our pyjamas
in our own creaturely language
although we were still stuck in the indeterminacy

Jill Pearlman, Merry Quarantine

In spite of this, I’m starting this year feeling more optimistic than last year. Perhaps misguidedly. It’s not as if there’s a safe pair of hands in charge in the UK. But there are signs that the covid virus might be becoming less dangerous, which is something to feel hopeful about, even though we are still far from being in the all clear. On top of this, I have my own creative projects ticking away, and time to work on them, and my husband, Andrew, and our two grown-up children are well, we’ve navigated our way through the past two years and we’re still talking to each other and supporting each other’s plans. I’m so glad we’ve all been here for each other, at the end of a phone, if not always in person.

Josephine Corcoran, Light Ahead (maybe)

So, there we are. A year of recycled poems, stocking fillers, stand-ups, long-delayed appreciations and reviews, and far too much about being unwell and sorry for myself. And let’s be fair. In the world ‘out there’ it was a truly horrible year, a sleep of reason beginning with a failed putsch by morons led by a moron in the USA, and ending with tsunamis of incompetence, criminality and sleaze in what passes for government. What keeps me sane? You do. You and the poets whose work makes the world a better place. Go well. Stay well.

John Foggin, 2021: That was the year that was

You find the edge
of the wind right

where it ripples,
the old monk says.

You can almost
taste the sand.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (93)

 the extravagance of sun after a swim

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, poets have been pondering questions of audience and language, questions of vocation and avocation, questions of travel, and more. Enjoy.


As the exhilaration of bringing forth a new book begins to settle, it presents the writer with another empty page. The writing has to being again and the poet, like a child, stares out at a freshly scrubbed world, learning anew, words and meanings, tasting phrases and metaphors, slowly, as if the morning is a foreign language, strange and tempting yet utterly incomprehensible.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What happens next?

This morning I was thinking about books and time and the way we change as authors–not only in the style of our writing, the subject matter, our obsessions, but also how we approach the art form–the commerce (or lack-of)–the bizness of this thing called po. The poet who wrote the fever almanac, who compiled various versions, combined and recombined manuscripts.  Who sent it dutifully off to first book contests and handed over those shiny paypal funds. She wanted to gain some sort of entry so badly. Wanted legitimacy, whatever that meant. And doors opened,  not at all where she expected.  

But once inside (I say this as someone who probably only made it into the foyer of the poetry establishment, not the house proper) things weren’t all that different. Most people in her life barely knew she wrote–let alone a book. She still went to work and cleaned the cat boxes and cried on buses  The poet who writes books now, wants something else, but something almost just as elusive–an audience.  Sometimes, those two things go hand in hand.  One leads to the other–and sometimes it flows both ways. Sometimes, you get stuck between. 

I like to write now, not with an eye to the editors, the gatekeepers, the people who will grant permission to various hallways and rooms, but my perfect reader.  I like to think she likes the same things I do.  The weird and spooky and heartbreakingly beautiful.   Maybe she’s a poet, or maybe just some other creative soul in another discipline.  Her age doesn’t really matter.  She’s something between an old soul and a child of wonder. She lives mostly in her head, though sometimes, through reading, inside the heads of others. She wants everything and nothing, but mostly a lot of sleep. A cat (or several). Some coffee. She probably has a job–something bookish. Or arty.  A librarian or an English teacher.  She’s seen a lot of bad relationships but also some good. She has a couple friends or many in a loose sort of way. Many would say she’s quiet, but can be quite loud when she wants. 

As I think about my books, the ones I’ve written but have yet to publish.  The books I’ve yet to write that are no more than an idea.  A scent in the air. A change of wind.  I picture her, probably not in a bookstore, but opening an envelope in the foyer of her apartment building and slipping out a book–my book. Grazing her finger along the spine. Because she probably reads a lot, she won’t read it straightaway, but stack it neatly with others. 

Kristy Bowen, the reader

So almost everyone I know in real life is not only not a writer, but has little to no interest in poetry at all (Writer friends: this post doesn’t apply to you).

However, when I come out with a book, they feel compelled to try to read it because they are nice to me. I actually feel really awkward when my day-to-day people read my book though–even my day-to-day people I’m very close to and know more about me than I would ever write in my books.

Why is this?

I think it is because I feel like an everyday-person reading my poetry might misunderstand it or misinterpret it but think the poetry is more my authentic self than the self I share with them (which is much more authentic than my poetry–minus my unpublished collection of poems about Kit which is practically my blood on a page and possibly too raw to ever find itself in a full-length published book form).

I guess that I also think that they just won’t like it–and I’m not sad/upset/bothered at all that they won’t like it, I just expect most people to not like or “get” poetry. I could probably find a poem in each of my books that I think most of my friends and family would like, but I know for sure they won’t like the whole collection (this is maybe a question of accessibility to the everyday reader and not the specific Poetry reader?).

Anyway. If you are my sister or my friend from church or co-op or my next door neighbor or anyone I see for playdates and coffee, I’m not saying you can’t read my book, but it won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t.

Renee Emerson, why I don’t want you to read my book

In one of the lectures given while he was Oxford Professor of Poetry, on ‘clarity and obscurity’, the now Poet Laureate Simon Armitage recalled attending a poetry reading with a non-poet friend (all the lectures are available to listen to here).

After the reading, the friend asks Armitage about the mini-introductions the readers had given to their poems: why, his friend wants to know, don’t they put them in the books? In reply, Armitage reels off various defences – a book is a privileged space, that any one explanation might preclude other readings.

“I still think they should put them in the books,” his friend says. “Or in the poem.”

While he doesn’t go as far as advocating for written intros, Armitage goes on to describe how poems can be more or less generous with the information they offer, and suggests that the modern tendency to hold something back – those references which have a personal, or particular, but unexplained resonance – is an attempt by poets to recreate the kind of enigma which form previously provided.

Free verse is sometimes defended as a more inclusive way of writing, so it is curious that it often goes hand in hand with obfuscation, deliberate or otherwise. What, Armitage asks, if obscurity is just another ‘club membership by which the ignorant and uninformed are kept outside the door’?

Several of the examples of the poems Armitage discusses are ekphrastic poetry: responses to works of art. He shows how some contemporary examples require the reader to be familiar with niche works of art (allowing for the fact nicheness is relative). Other poems do not even reference the work they are responding to: only someone ‘in the know’ would know the poem is a response at all.

What, Armitage asks, is the thought process behind deciding not to give the reader this kind of information? And what does that say about our responsibilities as readers?

Jeremy Wikeley, Are we being educated here? [h/t: Mat Riches]

Upon reflection, the reason I feel I haven’t been doing creative work is that I am not generating many new poems right now. Some, but not many. But let’s re-think the process of revision: it’s a process of deciding upon the order poems should appear in a book, and which of the poems ought to be there to speak to one another, to resonate with one another (and with the imagined future reader). Hey, I am using my imagination here, and I am doing creative work. If all I ever do is generate new poems, those poems won’t have a chance to go out into the world and endeavor to speak to other humans.

Figuring out how to make that happen is the creative work of revising, editing, rethinking. Imagining the reader. Striking the tone of each individual poem to see whether it adds harmony, or works with a fugue-like trope, or changes the mood to minor, or unleashes a surprise. The book of poems can have an arc or act as a chorale or zigzag about to keep the reader on her toes.

The collection of poetry, when it is not yet a book, presents problems the writer and editor must solve. Problem-solving requires creative thinking–I tell my students this almost every time I see them in class!

Will the manuscripts find homes? That’s a different “problem.” Meanwhile, more new poems, more revisions, maybe more manuscripts ahead…while I await the first frost, while the leaves turn and fall. All part of the cycle.

Ann E. Michael, Collecting & creativity

I am happy writing what I consider to be poems, short or long, sometimes very long, primarily because they take me on a trip. I can let my mind go where it will, trusting in the process enough to bring out something that, hopefully, challenges and therefore interests me. And hopefully, anybody who reads it.

A novel, though… not a chance, I thought.

And so why have I written only one poem in the last couple of months – and am 77,000 words into a story that has, so far, maintained my interest – and that I badly want to complete. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know what I’m doing. By that I mean I began it with no plan, no plot, no idea how long it would be, where it would end, if I might like it or not. I had an image of twin boys raised in a wet landscape by dour, religious parents who led lives that were separate from others around them. One boy spoke, the other did not.

I gave the boy who spoke the temporary/working name Josef and wrote the first sentences as follows:

Josef, they said, you have to take care of your brother, you have to take him with you.

In those days, my name was Josef.

What, all the time?

Wherever you go.

I had no idea at all what would come next. I made a deliberate effort to write slowly, to settle into the world I was somehow creating. Where was it? I didn’t know. When was it? I wasn’t sure. When I stopped at the end of the first session it was because I didn’t know what to write next. And somehow, eight weeks on, it’s at the point where it feels it might end soon. How I don’t know – and don’t want to know. When it’s done I will allow myself to go back and edit. Until then I’ll go where it leads.

Will it work as a piece of writing? I don’t know, which is the fun of it. If it does, then a couple of bottles of red may be consumed. If not, then maybe a couple of bottles of red may still be consumed.

Bob Mee, ON NOT KNOWING WHERE A PIECE OF WRITING IS GOING

Write it fast,
the first draft,

and make up
the rest of it

later on,
the old monk told

the novelist.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (38)

[L]anguage is a golem, a superhero, a doula, the moon. Language is a kid dressed with astounding style and agency, a kind of fatherhood of the world. And motherhood. Language is a map, a legend, a rocket, a secret plan, a beloved city, an entire cosmos, a marvellous escape and a transformation.

Gary Barwin, Some words on Michael Chabon

on exploring Charles Causeley’s house

we might be buyers with money to burn
this could be a viewing

house all shipshape
bristol fashion

I am in the footsteps of a poet I don’t know
a most modest master

so I search for clues
open drawers look in wardrobes

but you cannot wear another’s words
purloin their inspiration

it doesn’t work like that

*

I think tomb robber is about right for how I felt. I was conscious of the fact that I was looking for inspiration in the very place where most of his ideas coalesced. It was a unique experience and thanks to Annie for organising the weekend.

Paul Tobin, PURLOIN THEIR INSPIRATION

the eternal search
other words for other things
wish coin in the fountain
his mind turning inward
from down in that well
the bucket brought up silver
but when the sun went in
down the bucket went again
perhaps what darkness offers
is the eternal state

Jim Young, reading r s thomas

I’ve reached that time in this thinking aloud post when I wonder what quite it is I’m trying to say. I think I’m just writing in this blog when it’s drizzly and drab outside, after not properly blogging at all for a while, without a proper plan. I hope that’s allowed. Perhaps I’m thinking that writing is a solitary, strange, not always chirpy business, mostly a means of receiving mildly disappointing news. Sometimes, I wonder what it is all about at all. But so many of us just keep on with it, don’t we, in spite of everything.

Josephine Corcoran, End of month, rainy Sunday blog

TRANSBORDA III Q-TV: the response of video art to the quarantine times is part of the Festival of Books and Movies – Alcobaça in Portugal, 1-21 November, 2021. Curated by Alberto Guerreiro, the event features a diverse international line-up of video artists. Amongst so many good friends and colleagues, I’m delighted that two of my videos are on the program: ISOLATION PROCEDURES and future perfect. I also have a component in the international collaborative project, Chant for a Pandemic by Dee Hood.

ISOLATION PROCEDURES was recorded during the 2020, mostly on location at Sleep’s Hill, Blackwood, and Belair, South Australia, where I live, under partial lockdown conditions. The audio samples are made from birds, frogs and voices in the immediate neighbourhood. The text samples advice from various government, business and community organisations. “WE ARE CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE… MAINTAIN YOUR SOCIAL ISOLATION…” After the pandemic has passed, the lockdowns persist: this is the new normal…

In future perfect, we see and hear words stripped of their ornamentation, pared back to monosyllabic cores… Are these the roots of language? Or are they the skeletal remains of a lost form of communication? Who is trying to speak here? What exactly are we being told? Perhaps a coded message. More likely, a cry for help.

Ian Gibbins, TRANSBORDA III – Q-TV: the response of video art to the quarantine times

One year in Theater History, I stupidly stumbled into a discussion about the “facts” of theater history being theories. And that theories can change with new information – thus changing the “fact”. But I can’t get it out of my head that even though I know the hard sciences work this way as well, I want something to be a real – hard & true – fact. Not something made true by the loudest voice, or the most votes.

This fact today: from where I stand, the Hunting Moon is waning in the pale morning sky. The wind is blowing. Leonard is sleeping by my feet. I am yearning for all the vague atmosphere that the word village brings to mind. I want to live there.

And I want this person in my Facebook feed to be comforted somehow. By someone real. To be held – not in thoughts – but in body.

Ren Powell, Facebook is not a Village

It’s been a blustery week – the Pacific Northwest hit with “bomb cyclone” weather patterns – right now, I’m typing as my power is flickering on and off. We tried to make the best of the brief mornings and afternoons of slightly better weather whenever we could. […]

[W]e got a chance to visit with my poet friends (and Two Sylvias Press editors) Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy, who came and met me at the ferry arrival area. We shared carrot apple ginger cupcakes in a gazebo overlooking the water and got caught up on writing news in the brisk outdoors. I also picked up a pack of the Two Sylvias Poet Tarot set. It was great seeing friends IN PERSON again. I forgot how great it is socializing in real life, especially with other writers!

Then we traveled on to see my little brother Mike and sister-in-law Loree at the new house they’re renting on the Hood Canal, stopping along the way at a local park to unpack a thermos of hot cider and snap a pic – only to see a sea lion fighting with seagulls right behind us. We had a good visit, sat out on their beautiful deck overlooking the Hood Canal, had a little dinner, then made the long trek back to Woodinville. Once again, great to see actual family in human form, instead of just over the phone or over a screen.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Blustery Week, Ferry Foibles, Visiting Friends and Family Over the Water

I’m buried, overloaded, drowning in work, but how could I turn down an invitation by a fellow Singaporean to try some cheap and good Chinese food in a place that I knew nothing about? Spicy Village is an unassuming establishment on Forsyth Street, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, whose claim to fame is its da pan ji, or “spicy big tray chicken,” a dish from Xinjiang.

I did not do my research beforehand, so I did not know about the chef’s specialty. Instead, I had soup dumplings (delicious but small), spicy beef brisket hui mei, or handpulled wide noodle (chewy good), and fish balls stuffed with pork (yummy), as my friend and I chatted about the various business scandals that had broken out in Singapore, about FICA, about Singaporeans in NYC doing this and that, and about the trials of New York real estate.

As the evening went on, I was feeling strangely revived in that tiny, five-table restaurant, with eye-watering fluorescent lighting and a sullen waitress. It had something to do with the food, something to do with the company. When I peeked into the kitchen, and saw three cooks, two women and one man, pulling the dough in their hands into long strands of noodle and talking with great animation, the sight was mysteriously energizing.

Jee Leong Koh, Spicy Village

i’m earlobe to your earhart. i’m astroturf to your astrophysics.

jack o’ lantern to your geranium, chthonic to your tonic.

i’m bray to your brie. knurl to your nureyev. i’m squeegee to your tuileries, caw to your kalimba.

i’m dishcloth to your dish antenna. baywatch to your beethoven. i’m dog-tired to your catalyst.

i’m small time to your bigfoot.

Rich Ferguson, you say catechism, i say cataclysm

I still don’t know what I’m doing with my life, but at least I’m doing something. Which is a huge relief. I don’t think I knew just how much being dead in the water was distressing me, till I got a little way on the ship. Just to have a wake again, and the sea whispering under the planks. And maybe, after all it doesn’t matter so much what I’m doing: I’ll figure out what I’m doing partly by doing it.

At present, the most important thing would be either Python or the blog, I guess. The blog. I love writing and being read: but it may be that the blog is a dead end. Blog readership is falling off, for one thing; and for another, I am constrained by my past there, by the speaking voice and choice of topics my readers are used to. How many times can I run my stumbling toward enlightenment schtick? Okay, I’m overwhelmed by the intensity of beauty, and I can’t summon what it requires of me: what good does it do to say that over and over (and to exaggerate it)? My handful of readers loves it, but that doesn’t make it the right next thing to focus on. We have lingered in the chambers of the sea. Maybe the time has come to leave them.

Dale Favier, Getting Meta

Beady unblinking eyes, some red and some white, stare out from my phone charger, coffee maker, speakers, PC, printer, and elsewhere. The average U.S. home has about 40 electronic devices draining power, accounting for around 10 percent of one’s energy bill. Some call this leaking electricity or vampire energy.

Things I used to get done on a regular basis now seem to take forever. I never used to squeak right up against deadlines, beg out of regular obligations, fail to answer necessary texts, forget things like sympathy cards. Never, ever. But I have the last few years, excoriating myself all the while.

Adding up U.S. households, all this leaking energy totals the output of 26 power plants. This in a time when people in the U.S. use more electricity, per capita, than nearly anywhere else in the world. 

Sometimes I cancel a walk with a friend, a walk I’ve been looking forward to, because I just can’t muster up whatever it takes to get myself out of the house. Then I wonder what the heck is wrong with me when surely both my friend and I need the restorative pleasure of time in nature.

Laura Grace Weldon, Steadily Drained

The light on the window sums it up:
This is the year of drought in the city—

Days are endless as the land endures the heat.
Buildings bare sockets, hardly dent the glare
Of the sun harsh on stumps of shrubs, moving

Vehicles:
The river of lives dry and ache of thirst.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Maxim Drawn from Clearing-nut Tree

Word of the Day 18: ‘stour’. Stour has many meanings, but I’ve always heard it connected with dust and dirt. I was excited to learn that my mother-in-law called her vacuum a ‘stour sooker’ which was similar to the Norwegian I learned ‘støvsuger’. I think my MIL would have done well in Norway, with her Scots vocabulary, there’s so many words in common.

A short poem by William Soutar, who was best known for his bairn-rhymes. He was part of the Scottish Renaissance with Hugh MacDiarmid and had a short tragic life. His poems capture the fleeting beauty of life that passed his sick-bed’s window.

Nae Day Sae Dark

Nae day sae dark; nae wüd sae bare;
Nae grund sae stour wi’ stane;
But licht comes through; a sang is there;
A glint o’ grass is green.

Wha hasna thol’d his thorter’d hours
And kent, whan they were by,
The tenderness o’ life that fleurs
Rock-fast in misery?

Gerry Stewart, Scotstober: Days 17, 18, 19 and 20

Back in the 1990s, one of my first published poems appeared in Poetry Scotland. It was chosen by Sally Evans, a co-founder and editor of the magazine, who’s still a stalwart of the poetry scene in Scotland. In fact, I was delighted to meet her finally in person at StAnza 2019 and thank her for her encouragement all those years ago.

Since 2020, Poetry Scotland has been edited by Andy Jackson and Judy Taylor. They’ve kept its unusual format – an A4 broadsheet – while its aesthetic has also been maintained and tweaked to bring it bang up to date (see their website here). As a consequence, I’m delighted to have a new poem in their latest issue, nº102, which is out now. High-quality printed journals still have an important role to play in contemporary poetry, and I hope Poetry Scotland will be around for many years to come…!

Matthew Stewart, Poetry Scotland

[Rob Taylor]: Assuming the poems with place names as titles (like “Manitoba”) were written in those places, you traveled over half the planet in writing this book! At one point you mention that your browser has “thirty flight search tabs” and that you own “more bathing suits than underwear,” so I suspect travel has been central to your life and identity (you note at one point that travel “becomes my greatest escape”). 

[Cicely Belle Blain]: The ability to travel freely to so many places is definitely a huge privilege and something I understood to be a privilege from a very young age. My family made a concerted effort to provide us with the opportunity to travel, even at the sacrifice of other luxuries. I remember in ninth grade my teacher asked me why I didn’t choose geography as a subject to pursue and I replied that I felt like I already had front row seats to the best geographical education. I have always valued and appreciated my parents’ willingness to take risks—they’ve moved from the Netherlands to Italy to Kenya in the time I’ve lived in Canada.

RT: We’ve all had to live life differently since the onset of the pandemic, but I wonder if that isn’t particularly true for you, having lost your ability to travel. How has your time been during the pandemic? Has the requirement to stay in one place caused you to look at the world, or yourself, any differently?

CBB: Over the past year the value that travel holds has changed. It is no longer about exploration and fun and leisure, but about connecting or reconnecting with people, ancestors or culture. This has allowed me to view travel less from a Western perspective of ticking things off a bucket list and more as a sacred opportunity to find parts of me that are missing. I hope when the pandemic is over, I can dedicate my future travels to places like Gambia, Jamaica and other lands where my ancestry lies.

Rob Taylor, Achieving An Equilibrium: An Interview with Cicely Belle Blain

Why Palermo, a friend asked when I was making plans.  To gather the last strands of summer sun, like harvesters with a basket, I said, or something such.  Everything sings in the sun.  Instead, there has been some sun and much storm. The stone streets gleam slick and gray between the medieval buildings; the streets with arms extending out like a wet octopus. 

I might have said more interesting things: I love the mash-up of cultures, the never-finished project of culture building.  When I was 21 and dizzy with discovery, I said this was the first Arab country I’d been in.  Was it the pressure of colors — greens, pinks of fish, oranges, figs, the persimmon I ate everyday with fresh ricotta and semolina bread on a park bench?  Even locals here still talk of their Arab city — the gardens made urban market, sumptuous and overflowing in crowded alleys with fruits, fish, vegetables.  It’s a vision of possibility – a world of overflowing excess – that exists, and exists, no less, in the shadow of crumbling buildings!

The streams of cultivaters — Carthinigians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Arab, Normans, Italians, Cosa Nostra – are all still felt. Along with palm and orange trees, cats, graffiti, conversation, cars, garbage.  This fertile energy threatens to overflow at all moments, is always almost too much, pulls back with its own logic.  To know a thing, you put yourself in the middle. That’s the beauty of it. 

Jill Pearlman, Why Palermo

parked
beside a stream
of traffic

Jason Crane, haiku: 23 October 2021

And we came home with pockets packed with seeds
prickly chestnut hulls leaves and stones
a sliver of slate and the shell of a stripey snail
grains of Quantock soil under our nails
and the day was round and perfect as an egg
and contentment ran like a robin’s song in our veins

Ama Bolton, Desire Lines, continued

This pamphlet is subtitled “Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals reimagined” and was published to coincide with the 250th anniversary of her birth. The journals are packed with description of the natural world and her thoughts and feelings, written over the period 1798 – 1803. Sarah Doyle calls these collage poems rather than found poems because, although the words are Wordsworth’s, the poet has reshaped the prose into poetry and added punctuation where necessary for sense. The original spellings have been kept rather than modernised. The language is far from prosaic. The first poem, “One only leaf,” is short enough to be quoted whole,

“upon the top of
a tree – the sole remaining
leaf – danced round and round

like a rag blown by
the wind.”

Emma Lee, “Something so wild and new in this feeling” Sarah Doyle (V. Press) – book review

I was very saddened to hear of the death of Brendan Kennelly this week. He had been a long-standing presence in my poetic universe, and was part of the constellation of poets collected in that life-changing anthology Poetry With an Edge which I devoured in the early nineties having decided to put poetry at the centre of my life. (If you are new to this blog, I have written about his poem ‘May the Silence Break’ here, and, more recently, ‘The Gift’ here.)

That final phrase belongs to his compatriot Seamus Heaney, who has also been in my thoughts recently, namely the austere quatrains and ‘inner émigré’ monlogues of his fourth collection, North. The line that’s been nagging away at me is from the poem ‘Fosterage’, part 5 of the ‘Singing School’ sequence. The poem is one of three that Heaney wrote in celebration of his friend and teaching colleague the short-story writer and novelist Michael McLaverty.

The poem contains a model of Heaney’s ability to make poetry out of everyday speech:

‘Listen. Go your own way.
Do your own work. Remember
Katherine Mansfield—I will tell
How the laundry basket squeaked … that note of exile.’

I first read it having just finished a big Katherine Mansfield phase, and was sure that the universe was trying to tell me something. The lines ‘Go your own way./ Do your own work’ in particular have been copied into more commonplace notebooks and quotebooks than I can remember.

Anthony Wilson, Do your own work

When I come to write my memoirs

I shall hesitate over many things. Pens
for a start. Inks. Nibs. And paper. Lined or plain?
And a routine. A fixed time every day, like Trollope?
Stop after two hours, mid-sentence, regardless.
Or after two thousand words. Or as things dictate?
Middle of the night, esprit d’escalier. Perhaps
a dictaphone? Though transcription is a bore.
An amenuensis would be nice,
but who would you trust, and they’d want paying,
regular hours. Food and drink and board?
Who knows. Anyway, that’s out.
Notebooks, perhaps. But not Moleskines, in case
people notice, and ask if you’re a writer and then
tell you that they do a bit themselves
and wonder if you’d like to take a look,
and tell you how they’re fascinated
by Temperance, or the evolution of the urban bus.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [10]. Kinda blue

I’m very pleased to see the newly-released full-length debut by Bronwen Tate, an American poet recently transplanted into Vancouver for the sake of a teaching gig at the University of British Columbia. After the publication of a handful of chapbooks over the past few years, including titles published by above/ground press, Dusie Press and Cannibal Books, comes the full-length The Silk The Moths Ignore (Riverside CA: Inlandia Books, 2021), winner of the 2019 Hillary Gravendyk Prize. Through her book-length suite, Tate speaks of children, echoes, stories; writing from the inside of a curiously-paired bubble of text and pregnancy, each of her narrative threads swirling up and around the other. “Any creature with the head of a man will face you differently. Bind the book of autumn,” she writes, to end the poem “NEWS KNOWN / SOONER ABROAD,” “ember-leafed difficulty. Pea coat in the closed, embarrassed, left diffidently. // Can a heartbeat quicken? Mismeasured, I bargained, unmeasured, immeasurable. // Any foreign city can be a mellifluous note. // The true sky was grey.” There is such an interesting and intense interiority to these poems, writing through the blended swirl surrounding pregnancy and mothering a toddler, and reading and thinking. Through Tate, the considerations of writing, thinking and pregnancy are singular, shaping lyric sentences that are attuned to the shifts within her own body. “I could not say I had a daughter. I had a syndrome,” she writes, as part of “THE BEAUTY OF BEINGS UNLIKE / THAT OF OBJECTS,” “missing chromosomes nature mostly culls. A colleague tells me she studies what for me was a sentence. // I had that, I answer. Lost it. Her.” And yet, these poems were not prompted by such shifts, but through an entirely different kind of shifting perspective, as she offers as part of her “ACKNOWLEDGMENTS”:

Many of these poems began with reading Proust in French, which I read well but not perfectly, in search of words I did not know and could not make a confident guess at. I used these words, my guesses based on context, strange collisions, their etymology, French dictionary references (sometimes only to the Proustian sentence in which I’d encountered them), and the guts of my beloved OED for drafting material. While much of what this process generated has been trimmed away in revisions, I’ve gratefully retained some plants, some syntax, some atmosphere, and many titles.

I am fascinated through the way she shapes her poems, whether prose poems or her prose-attuned lyrics, attentive to the shape of the sentence and the accumulation of phrases, and the deep music of her flows and shifts and pauses, breaks. “Now bathysphere,” she writes, as part of “SWEET TEA,” “I house a slow advance. Brain and bone.” Or, as she writes to open the prose poem “AN EMPTY MEASURE IN MUSIC”: “That the dead could linger. Measure to the first knuckle of my littlest finger. Hand-worked guipure, light wool for a shawl. My body a shroud, lost all, lost all. Flicker, spark, and softest fall. // I count the beats in stillness.” Through Tate, we experience a lyric where language and the body intersect, and meet; a confluence of words and cells, each offering their own set of simultaneous possibility. She presents both an abstract and deeply physical and straightforward narrative space, one that articulates how perspective adapts, shifts, stretches and reshapes, from the immediate of the body to what that represents, moving through and against the language of Proust, and such a generous and affirming song of being.

rob mclennan, Bronwen Tate, The Silk The Moths Ignore

–This week brought us the latest adaptation of Dune.  At the same time I was watching Bosom Buddies, I was reading Dune.  Do I remember the plot?  No, but I do remember my dad telling me to give it 100 pages before giving up on it.  I did, and I was hooked, and for years, 100 pages before giving up became my rule for reading.  My other Dune memory is 10th grade art class, where we had a teacher who just left us to our own devices with all the art supplies, and I drew a picture based on my reading.  One of my classmates told me it was derivative of Star Wars, although he wouldn’t have used the word “derivative.”  I can still see the hooded figure (bonus:  no need to draw a face!) and the swirling desert colors and the burnt orange of the sky.  Will I go see the movie?  Doubtful, but it does sound intriguing.

–Another book I read in early adolescence was The Diary of Anne Frank.  On Wednesday, I went out for my early morning walk at 5:50.  Slumped against the concrete column of a downtown building was a man, sleeping in an upright sitting position.  On one side, he had a mostly empty bottle of vodka, on the other a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. I continue to think of him as a metaphor of the human condition, but I’m not quite sure what the metaphor is saying.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Echoes of Early Adolescence

Famine towns spring up,
the farther north one goes.

Flood towns cascade
farther south. The diorama

is a rediscovered art form.
Each boiled grain spared

from a meal affixes moss
to twigs. Once, we had

windows of scalloped shell.
Once, we had capes of bamboo

leaf. Every street corner had
a tiny bread-shrine whose lights

came on behind brown paper
curtains at the crack of dawn.

Luisa A. Igloria, What World

Friday means challah dough rising while I work. Today it also means red beans soaking for mashawa, a soup from Afghanistan. Later I’ll add quick-cooking yellow lentils, bright like the leaves carpeting the grass outside my kitchen window, and tiny moong beans in dull Army green. I wonder what color camouflage American troops wore in Afghanistan over the last twenty years. I know that trying a recipe from someplace doesn’t mean I understand anything about what it’s like to live there, or to flee from there, or to yearn for a there that maybe doesn’t exist anymore. No matter how many news stories I read, I can’t entirely bring the other side of the world into focus. At my work email address, I read and forward another email about resettling refugees. Outside my window the hills are dressed in autumnal tweed. Maple and oak and pine trees rustle. Central Asia couldn’t seem further away.

Rachel Barenblat, Soup

Moonlight, waxing toward full, sweet
Nightfall after an easy Indian Summer day.
My parakeet sings along to the jazz on the radio.
The darkness grows like a healthy child.

James Lee Jobe, the darkness grows

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Weeks 37-38

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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. I’ve spent all afternoon and evening catching up on two weeks’ worth of poetry blogs — an embarrassment of riches. I found posts about the changing seasons, poetry and music, diversity and the immigrant experience, and much more.


Last night I dreamt myself into a poetry reading
before an audience of hundreds – outdoors,
sunshine, cheers and applause before
I’d read a single word and a quickening
around my heart that carried both
anxiety and excitement as I leafed through
the books in my hands trying to find
the marked pages, the poems I’d already chosen
but knowing at the same time all that mattered
now would be the choices I’d make in that moment
and the next. And I looked up. I smiled. I spoke.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ All that matters

It’s an effect that’s easiest to see on a wet winter night, with a streetlight shining through a tangle of bare tree twigs: the surfaces that most directly reflect the streetlight to the observer form a circle around it, a halo of streaks. Each streak is itself more or less straight, but they’re arranged in a circle, a sort of crown of thorns. It moves as you do, tracking with the light.

You don’t usually see it with the sun, I think because the sun is just too bright: if you’re looking that directly towards it you’re too dazzled to see anything else.

The week of the fall equinox, though, the rising sun lines up with the east-west streets, and if you happen to be walking east on a tree-lined street at exactly sunrise, and the trees are wet from the recent rains, you can see the sun’s version of it: a brilliant circle of golden fire. A doorway into a world of unbearable light.

You can’t look at it for long, of course, and when you turn away and close your eyes, the negative image turns with you, in bruise purple and dark green. Within seconds, what you saw is replaced by what you wish you had seen; with fragments of Dante, with words for light. The golden apples of the sun. Mithraic altars built by homesick legionaries in godforsaken, rainswept Britain; Byzantine mosaics in candlelight. What did you really see? What door did you fail to open?

Dale Favier, Equinox

This week I gave my students an assignment to read the academic standards to which we will all be held accountable. “What is a ‘grade level band of text complexity’?” they asked, their tongues tripping over familiar stones arranged into an unfamiliar pattern. 

I laid the system of my classroom bare and invited them to choose how they will operate within it. “What does it mean to you, to do well in school?” I asked. They live in a viral world of devious licks and Likes, but also one in which a person might grow their own food. 

Later, after the sky lightens, I let the dog into the backyard and pick pears from our tree. Fruit fallen onto the sun-scorched grass is half-eaten, and I wonder what kind of animal we are feeding. When I wash my lunch dishes at the sink, warm water running over my hands, I think of a woman I once worked with who always washed her dishes with cold. “Hot water is too expensive,” she told me. I was in college, and it had never occurred to me that a person could wash with anything other than warm or that heat could cost too much. I remember her as happy, in love with her children.

What does it mean to live well? I type later, sitting in a chair at a table in front of a window, in the middle of a day in which I could choose to do anything, or nothing.  

The closer I get to the end, the more I find answers in memory, in poetry, in tomatoes.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Fall Equinox

Six months have passed in a frozen moment that was something like a swift slap to the side of an television set to stop the vertical roll. But the world is never frozen entirely. Things shift imperceptibly until they are perceptible. You step back and find yourself in the middle of a new program.

I know that is an archaic metaphor. I know that. And I wonder what all these technological changes in the world have done to people like me, who’ve straddled a revolution that seems like magic. That encourages magical thinking?

I think about those years of my slowly-twisting fingers on knobs. These still slowly-twisting fingers that make me self-conscious. Age-conscious, which is nothing more than death-conscious. I think about the last six months, and what has happened along the edges of the bones in my left shoulder. The build-up of minerals within my body. I try to make sense of competing metaphors. My turning to stone, my falling to dust.

Tomorrow I head back to the physiotherapist who will press a bit of metal against my bruised shoulder and send invisible shockwaves through the skin to shatter the build-up of calcium that is biting into my tendon every time I lift my arms into a sun salutation.

Ren Powell, Acknowledging Medusa

Another birthday. This is my first photo post surgery. Good lighting and a strategically placed hand do wonders to hide the scar and effects the cancer surgery has had on my face. I’m feeling stronger, but some days I still feel like absolute hell. 

Over on social media, my dear friends and fellow poets Julie E. Bloemeke and Steven Reigns started a Go Fund Me account to help pay off my astronomical medical bills. While I have good insurance, it never pays everything. Between the fundraiser and private donations, the $15,000 goal has almost been met.  I am – as the Brits say – gobsmacked by the generosity of friends and even folks I don’t even know. Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

I’ve started writing again. Five new poems in various stages. After more than six months,  I finally cracked open the file on the new & selected collection. Slowly but surely. 

Collin Kelley, Self-portrait at 52

I am sitting deep in a garden after the sun has moved on; surrounded by trees thick with leaves, I feel like I’m in a well of grass. The atmosphere is swimming with filtered light, blue green, yellow green. The trees are budded, bonded, arabesqued, with fir needles and cypress needles, massive oak and holly. I look up from the bottom of their shadow ocean, as ripples of light toy with things, as shadows fall from forms onto grass. They spend their time leaping and teasing, suggesting that if you try to catch them, it will be a dizzying game.

Jill Pearlman, Games of Shadow and Being

all morning
the shadow of a birdcage
moves across the wall

Jim Young [no title]

This is the story about a woman who has so far made it through the pandemic relatively unscathed but who has been changed by now in more ways than she will be able to set down in a simple blog post on the internet. Perhaps you are also this woman. This is a woman who was wont to say before the pandemic, I believe in stories and fundamental goodness and that understanding is worth working for, and that beauty might not be exactly the secret to the universe, but maybe it’s near it or beside it. This is the story of a woman who now regularly says, I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure that I believe in this or that any more. I want to but I’m not sure.

One of my favourite essays is by Leslie Jamison and it begins, “This is the story of a layover. Who tells the story? I’m telling it to you right now.” I love her writing because it’s big hearted, but it’s dogged and not sentimental and she never lets herself off the hook. I love the way her mind works, and the way she works to get to know her subject, and gets to know herself, and say something larger in doing so. About strangers, she says, “Sometimes I feel I owe a stranger nothing, and then I feel I owe him everything; because he fought and I didn’t, because I dismissed him or misunderstood him, because I forgot, for a moment, that his life — like everyone else’s — holds more than I could ever possibly see.”

From time to time during the pandemic, I’ve started to write a document that I always call, “Impact Statement.” And then I end up deleting it, because a lot of the things that have impacted me have impacted others with much more force. I delete it because it’s full of things that are confidential or because the story of my impact would reflect badly on someone else. I delete my impact statement because who really cares? I delete my impact statement because some of it is embarrassing. I delete it because at first I weathered the storm quite well, and then I did not for a while, but I pretended quite convincingly to some people (though not all) that everything was fine. I delete the Impact Statement because I really want to put it behind me. I deleted my Impact Statement Document because at the end of it I’m always alive and in reasonably good health, and right now that seems to be a huge blessing. I delete my ISD every time because I don’t want any of those people who participate in the fuckery of the world to think that they’ve got anything over me.

Shawna Lemay, This is the Story

I’m planning to recharge my batteries. That’s the priority. Chemo knocked me for six; I wasn’t prepared for that. But I’ve started going for walks again. The first one was a shock to the system inasmuch as I only managed a mile of easy walking; but in the last couple of weeks, egged on by my partner, it’s getting to be 4 or 5 Km, and the target is to be doing it every day until it’s no longer painful.

And this brings me to stocking fillers. I’ve been posting on Facebook about being introduced to the remarkable variety of field paths that start pretty well at my front door, and which I was almost totally unaware of until a couple of weeks ago.

There’s one that starts when the road I live on becomes a bridle path, and then a field path that eventually links to a path that leads you over the River Calder, under a railway line, and finally to the canal, beside which you can (if you want) walk for miles and miles. I’m no fan of towpath walks, mainly because no matter how far you walk you still seem to be in the same place. But I knew the path…and thought that it was the only one. It’s a popular path, part of the Kirklees Footpaths system, and for 30+ years I’ve been aware of groups of walkers passing our front window. To my shame I wrote a stocking-filler  about what I thought was their being kitted out as if for hard walking in the Cairngorms, as opposed to having just come a quarter of a mile from the town centre. I poked fun at their Goretex, the OS maps slung in pastic wallets dangling round their necks, their Brasher boots, their air of being on a risky expedition.

Today I went for a walk in the sun, and I had boots on. And I had two walking poles. I beg absolution.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [8] On prohibitions

I’ve just been editing an interview I did with the wonderful Kim Addonizio recently, for Planet Poetry. I’m a huge fan of Kim’s and in my keenness not to sound like a goofy fangirl I’m slightly worried I wasn’t complimentary enough or warm enough. Which is probably silly. But there was something very reassuring about hearing her say (when asked what are you working on now) ‘I’m just trying to write the next poem’.

The other day I queried a magazine about a submission I made in March, only to be told the poems had been rejected months ago but for some reason I never got the memo – they were extremely apologetic, which makes it worse in that I couldn’t feel annoyed with them! So that led me back to my submissions record, and the realisation that I’ve had 31 poems rejected by magazines this year so far and only two accepted. In my defence, I’m not sending as many poems out as I used to, because I’m writing more of what I think of as ‘collection’ poems, which don’t necessarily stand alone. I know that placing poems gets harder all the time as the sheer number of poets submitting to mags keeps increasing (and hey! I’ve done my bit to help that! I must be mad!) but I also know that good (enough) quality will out. It’s just hitting that good enough sweet spot is all. And all a poet can do is just try to write the next damn poem.

Anyway, all this takes me back to poets like Kim – both her poetry and her wise words on the craft. Her Ordinary Genius is never far from my desk. When I find snippets that really speak to me I collect them and stick them on the wall: ‘the language we reach for first is the language we know’ (not a good thing, in case that wasn’t clear!)…’if a poem goes nowhere it’s dead’ …. ‘write colder’… And then there are her witty, eye-opening, multi-layered, highly original poems with all their many, many ‘I wish I’d written that’ moments.

Do subscribe to Planet Poetry if you’re interested in hearing the interview (and interviews with tons of other great poets). Look for it wherever you get your podcasts.

Robin Houghton, Trying to write the next poem

Besides the changing temperatures and sudden deluge of rain, there’s change in the air metaphorically as well as physically. I am losing a lot of my mainstay doctors (another one quit – so much burnout in the industry, which I understand) and so I’m rethinking how I manage my health.  I’m also considering applying for more things – not just grants, but jobs and residencies that I might have thought before were too hard for me – energy and health-wise. Have I been setting myself too many boundaries, I wonder? Shutting down my own horizons? During the pandemic, I’ve had repeated dreams about traveling to Paris. I don’t know exactly what this symbolizes but I think I should pay attention since it keeps coming up. Paris could represent art, literature, a life of the mind, maybe?

Rita Dove just announced she was diagnosed in the late nineties with multiple sclerosis, which made me feel more hopeful about my own future – after all, she was the United States Poet Laureate and still does public readings. I just got ahold of her Playlist for the Apocalypse and am looking forward to reading it. Rita Dove has been one of my favorite poets since I first read “Parsley” in a Norton anthology when I was 19. She is an inspiration.

I’m also reading a fascinating book about women in an experimental program for middle-aged “gifted” women in the sixties called The Equivalents by Maggie Doherty. The book focuses on how friendship, camaraderie and institutional support made a huge difference in the lives of five midlife women: Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin, Barbara Swan, Marianna Pineda, and Tillie Olsen – in the 1960s. (They called themselves “The Equivalents” because the program required a PhD or “equivalent” artistic achievement.)

What do women need to succeed as artists now? Well, things haven’t changed all that much – we still struggle to get institutional support, to get paid and respected, to get our work reviewed and in the public eye – and to make friends with women who can inspire, support, and push us forward. I know a lot of men my age with fewer books/accomplishments than me who walked into tenure-track jobs without much effort. A lot of the people doing the hiring, the grant-giving, and the publishing are still men. How can we midlife women put change in the air in the literary and art worlds? Definitely something to think about.

Anyway, change isn’t always a bad thing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Fall Arrives Early: A Failed Surgery, Visiting with my Nephew, and Applying for a Big Grant

if you were a star
you’d resent it too. that bright
existence at a distance from loss.
so much freedom and nothing
to wish for. how you’d welcome
a comet as a sign of imminent death.
an asteroid the size of a bus as the child
you’ll never have. how you’d open
the pit of your stomach to swallow
the waste of the universe. how
you’d liquify it into light.

Romana Iorga, astronomy 101

I was an avid letter-writer once, a great correspondent, a reliable pen pal. In return, I received long, descriptive letters from far-flung friends and relished every trip to my mailbox to discover what had arrived that day. A letter from a friend? A poem rejection? A poem acceptance? A postcard from a family member off traveling? Critique and feedback from a poetry-colleague on a series of poems? Junk mail, bills…

These days, my mailbox mostly disgorges junk mail and bills. The few friends who write lengthy correspondence usually do so by email (which I do, truly do, appreciate). My keen interest in other people’s thinking, and my opportunity to acquire perspective into their lives, must now be satisfied by other means. That’s why I follow blogs and other “long-form social media.” (I thought I had coined that term, but apparently it has been in the lexicon awhile.)

Is a letter just a blog written for an audience of one? Is a blog a diary written for an imagined public, or is it a letter to the world? What purpose do private journals serve for those of us who keep them? And what’s behind the urge to keep old correspondence? The discovery of a cache of letters features in many novels and in a host of memoirs and histories, so there’s some kind of human-interest frisson resonating there. Perhaps the simple fact that such writings were intended to be private–that audience of one–piques curiosity.

For me the hardest aspect of letting go of past correspondence is that so many of the people to whom I wrote letters have died. In my attic, there are boxes of letters from these departed friends…suggesting a different meaning for the phrase “dead letter.” In a similar vein, there certainly exist blogs by now-dead writers that remain in the cloud, hanging stuck in the interwebs. Are these memorial pages, or are they digital ghosts, and to whom do they belong?

Ann E. Michael, Why don’t you write?

If you called would I go back? Of course. But that call is never coming, no matter how many state lines I cross. “I think I’m getting over it,” I told my sister. As if it ever goes away. We add each tragedy to our nervous system like an organ transplant. The body never rejects these phantoms. It’s only too happy to pump blood into the past. There’s a trail of red in my rearview mirror.

Jason Crane, phantoms

Are we there yet, asks the speaking donkey.
Evidently not, if animation extends only to a 3D screen.
Meaning after the statues have come down
there are still dark, haunted histories.
Meaning we are in the throat of a moment
that hasn’t completely spat us out yet.
We’re working as hard as we can.
We can be as rust-colored fishbones,
as calcium stones, a mouthful of marbles
refusing to translate their brilliance.

Luisa A. Igloria, Post-

Excited to say that our book is now available at Stinkweeds Record Store if you’re ever in Downtown Phoenix. This is especially cool because back in high school, I used to drive out to Kimber Lanning’s original shops in Mesa and Tempe to buy import bootleg CDs. I’ve also seen in-store performances by folks like Jello Biafra and Lou Barlow’s Folk Implosion over the years.

Since Jia’s photos and my poems were heavily influenced by some of our beloved Phoenix bands, we’re proud to have this book available in that same iconic record store for less than it would cost from Amaz*n (in keeping with Kimber’s local indie-first ethos localfirstaz.com).

Shawnte Orion, Stinkweeds Record Store and the Academy Of American Poets

In an average week, I guess I read two poetry collections (and/or journals), but I rarely get so engaged with any of them that I read them straight through again immediately after. That happened to me last week, though, when I read Country Music by Will Burns, published by Offord Road Books. It wasn’t that (m)any of the poems were so individually brilliant that they jumped out at me; rather it was their cumulative power, how they are beautifully crafted to cohere with one another and form a whole. At their best, they have that quality which Michael Donaghy’s poems had, of seeming both impeccably honed and effortlessly natural. Like Donaghy, Burns is a bit of a muso (the Chilton of the Chilterns perhaps?) as attested by the title of his collection, his collaborations with Hannah Peel, and his appearances on the eclectic bills of Caught By the River shows. His poems make reference to the late great Townes Van Zandt, Chet Baker, Warren Zevon, Merle Haggard (twice) and Elvis. I especially enjoyed a trio of sonnets – ‘Bastard Service’, ‘True Service’ and ‘Wild Service’ – which convey an unexpectedly edgy edgelands feel to (presumably) Buckinghamshire. Above all, there’s just a simpatico, warmly melancholic tone about his poems which makes me enjoy them so much.

Matthew Paul, Autumn almanac

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

Poetry got into my mouth. The simple physical pulsations and clicks of it. My mother says that as a small child whilst on the back seat of the car I’d natter to myself and chunner along. Just the feel of vowels flowing through the rub of consonants. I do love a good story, and I love film … and I do actually make fiction. But it’s the scraping of one word against another, or indeed the cracking open or snapping of words, without knowing how many sparks or what colours they will be or where or how far they will fly … that is what really makes me want to make. It is the picking up of sound and … handling it! But it is also the translations, and transformations of sound into marks & patterns ona page … and the materiality of the alphabet and how it can be manipulated withinthe frame of a page, or through the space (place) of a page … or of course, across a carefully placed series of pages … […]

Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I am a maker who speaks, as well as writes, in various ways. Making the sound of poetry is essential for me. And so is intercreativity – seeing others listening and then feeling them pick up those sounds and also make with them as I speak is … well, one of the most satisfying and thrilling things in my life.

Unfortunately (and indirectly related to Covid-19) my hearing in my right ear is now impaired, in that certain frequencies and levels of sound are unpleasant. It is improving, and I hope it improves enough for me to be able to speak out loud again to an audience, and also perhaps for me to begin again making field-recordings and sound-enhanced poems … something that has been a vital part of my practice.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Mark Goodwin

Yesterday, I recorded a new autumn poem with my writers group, Helsinki Writers this weekend as part of a Superwood Festival project a local university has organised. It’s one of a series of poems my group is providing as audio for a forest walk. I was nervous about professionally recording. It’s almost ok in my quiet house with no one watching, but reading in front of my friends and a handful of students was a bit nerve-wracking. But it’s a well-paid gig, so I jumped at the chance. It was a lot of fun to work with the other writers and come up with separate poems on a similar theme that worked with each other. I’m excited to hear the final project. 

Even though it was a bit strange to hear my voice played back to me, they made it sound pretty good, even in the raw form. And the experience wasn’t that scary. My poem was one of the longer ones, but I managed to get through it twice and had one small mistake early on for each of those versions, so it wasn’t too bad. They managed to take one line out of one version that was said with better emphasis and put it in the other take which was better overall. So I’m happy with my end.

It was interesting to write a poem that I knew would primarily exist in audio form, to think about what I could say easily and what could be understood from sound alone rather than the words on the page. I made a lot of changes once I started to practice reading it aloud, words and phrases that became tongue-twisters next to each other, images that would be lost unless given space to breathe. Hopefully, it will work, but it’s hard to know until hear the poems next to each other, cleaned up. 

Gerry Stewart, Take One: Recording Poetry

While walking in the park with my daughter yesterday, she wore a sweet voice-knitted melody on her lips.

It came to her naturally as breathing.

It wasn’t a song I’d ever heard before; she was making it up on the spot.

It poured softly from her being, the sonic manifestation of her at that moment.

As she grows older, I hope she builds an inner song garden that can withstand the darkest moments.

I hope she has anti-gravity running through her veins, so falling doesn’t hurt as much.

My daughter continues singing.

Inside the song, outside the song, she wears her melody perfectly.

Rich Ferguson, At the store of perpetual optimism

Then the silence
then the silence
then the silence
the old monk said,
pounding the beat.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (10)

Within the constraints of the format of a blog, it’s difficult to do justice to the complex simplicity of M.R. Peacocke’s poetry. As a consequence, rather than offering up a condensed review of her excellent new collection, The Long Habit of Living (HappenStancePress, 2021), today’s post attempts an in-depth analysis of an individual poem from the book in question. Peacocke’s work very much lends itself to such close attention, rewarding the peeling-off of her delicately applied layers of potential sense.

The poem in question, titled ‘The Path through the Wood’, feels especially significant because it comes to represent something of an Ars Poetica and, by extension, a vision of life itself. The opening lines of ‘The Path through the Wood’ immediately set out the co-existence of opposites. This is achieved via their juxtaposition:

Through the little gate. A breath in, a breath out
measured the interim between is and is not…

‘In’ and ‘out’, ‘is’ and ‘is not’: both these opposites are interconnected by inhabiting the ends of consecutive lines. And then there’s the use of the word interim instead of interval, which might at first glance seem more natural. Peacocke’s choice underlines the provisional rather than the inevitable, the relative rather than the absolute.

As the narrator of the poem progresses through the wood, so conventional vision has to be put to one side:

…One sense became another: sigh of an odour,
taste of the darkness, fragrance of touch. My eyes found rest…

In other words, the absence of sight means that other senses have to work overtime. The consequence is transcendence via unexpected perspectives and sensations. Is the poet referring to a fresh understanding of the world around us or to a creative process whereby experience and anecdote are turned into poetry? Or to both?

Matthew Stewart, A close reading of M.R. Peacocke’s The Path through the Wood

Rob Taylor: Early in eat salt | gaze at the ocean you wonder “how to write about zombies: / when you’re a generation / removed from the soil”. Your parents immigrated to Canada from Haiti, and you were born in Montreal. Did writing this book bring you closer to your Haitian culture? In writing and publishing this book, what insights have you learned about writing about a home you weren’t born in?

Junie Désil: I can’t say that writing this book brought me closer necessarily. I think the fact is I will always be removed from “home” and “culture.” There are ways of being and knowing that I can attribute to my culture and upbringing, but at the end of the day there is a sense of loss at the interruption, whether it’s my parents immigrating to these territories as a result of the political atmosphere in Haiti, or the larger interruption of the collective “Black” history. Certainly, that not-home/un-home feeling informs my writing and, in particular, this collection. I think it’s something you’ll note in many of the Caribbean diaspora writers.

Haiti is there whether I speak to it or not. I suppose it’s like loss, you don’t get over it, it’s always there, it imparts a gauze on your lens, and you either make peace or not. For myself, I found it organized my thoughts and feelings on the subject. It forced me to confront the things not talked about in my family. As a result of who I am, where I was born, the choices my parents made, the choices I’ve made and continue to make, there will always be unknowns and the unresolved. I suppose then that the insight is just that writing about “home” will always be an unfillable hole.

RT: Let’s move from “home” to the other half of that quote: zombies. “How to write about zombies” speaks not only to your distance from Haiti, but also the trickiness of writing about zombies within a Canadian/American cultural context (earlier in the same poem, you list zombie movies you’ve watched: I Am Legend, World War Z, Shaun of the Dead, etc.). Was it daunting to write about Haitian zombies through the fog of American media representations? Do you think the gap between Haitian traditions and pop culture is bridgeable, and if so, was it important for you to try to bridge it?

JD: It certainly was fascinating (appealing to the nerd part of me) and daunting for a number of reasons. The information and the directions I could go with zombies were so vast; I felt inclined to write a dissertation of sorts! I think what was overwhelming was realizing how much heavy lifting the zombie imagery does. For a moment it left me bereft. I know this sounds dramatic, but hear me out. The zombie is a metaphor for the condition of slavery, and here this very metaphor is still “working” across the screen, across various narratives, to be what we need it to be. It’s seeing how this symbol in Haitian culture has become American culture. That even in death/undeath Haitians can’t catch a break. 

Anyway, it was more important to share what zombies mean and that zombies aren’t what we’ve grown up knowing; that zombies have been misrepresented. There was also the thrill of understanding and re-discovering what zombies meant to Haitians, and more so the thrill of discovering that Zora Neal Hurston, a writer whose fiction, essay and anthropological work I long have admired, was also interested in Haitian folk tales, zombies, etc. She really put her whole self into the study of zombies and Haitian spiritual and cultural life.

Rob Taylor, I’m Not Supposed to Be Here: An Interview with Junie Désil

Moving away from such eminently valid individual attestations of the importance of poetry, two particular texts come to me that further articulate the power that poetry can have.  One is Audre Lorde’s essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” (1977), which I return to frequently.  While I realize that I am not Lorde’s primary audience in that essay, with my own position(ality) in mind I am nonetheless always struck when she writes,

Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives.  It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.
 …
The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am.  The Black mother within each of us — the poet — whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free.  Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom.
(38)

Here, not only does Lorde delineate the power of poetry as personal, political, and beyond, she also critiques those very same Enlightenment values that the Western chauvinists invoke in their quest to uphold white supremacy — the notion that “logical” debate is an inherently positive value (i.e. rather than one that historically tends to benefit white, male, privileged property-holders).  Actually, while Lorde skillfully exposes the tyranny of rationality (here expressed in the Cartesian mind/body split of “white father” thinking), she goes on to identify the fusion of thought and feeling as the best framework for approaching both poetry and political action, and her essay is one of the best I can think of that expresses why, as her title argues, poetry is not a luxury but a necessity in the lives of many.  (Even Auden, in his poem, went on to assert that poetry is “a way of happening, a mouth.”)

The other text is Gary Snyder’s The Real Work: Interviews & Talks, 1964-79 (1980).  In a 1977 interview, Snyder responds to the Auden line by pointing out that poets “are out at the very edge of the unraveling cause-and-effect network of a society in time” (71).  For Snyder, poets do have a social and political function (and what is “power” if not the function of politics?), though it might be out of the mainstream discourse and thus unrecognized as powerful.  Snyder goes on to elaborate that poets are also

tuned into other voices than simply the social or human voice.  So they are like an early warning system that hears the trees and the air and the clouds and the watersheds beginning to groan and complain a little bit. . . . They also can hear stresses and the fault block slippage creaking in the social batholith and also begin to give out warnings. . . . Poetry effects change by fiddling with the archetypes and getting at people’s dreams about a century before it actually effects historical change.  A poet would be, in terms of the ecology of symbols, noting the main structural connections and seeing which parts of the symbol system are no longer useful or applicable, though everyone is giving them credence. (71)

For Synder, poets are (or can be) a kind of advance platoon (even a century in advance) of cultural experimenters who critique existing certainties and in their work register the limitations of dominant narratives.  Both Snyder and Lorde see poetry as existing at least partly in the realm of the dream, and thus point to non-Cartesian, non-rational means of making meaning and even making arguments.

In a way, this is the true sense of the term “avant-garde” — to make that new meaning through new forms of art and modes of living (rather than avant-garde in the mere sense of now-recognized stylistic departures) — Lorde’s “dream and vision” and “skeleton architecture.”  What is becoming increasingly clear, wherever you stand in the recent Rose/Barren-related exchanges (and again, I don’t think it’s an either/or situation), is that political systems and social values, no matter how much “everyone [supposedly] is giving them credence” (per Snyder), which privilege a dominant class and thus inherently oppress others (whether classes of people or even non-human animals and nature), should no longer be given such credence — in poetry or elsewhere in the social discourse.

Michael S. Begnal, Poetry Controversy, “Free Speech” Debates, and the Power of Poetry

Obviously, if you go through the effort of doing the mostly unpaid labor of curating a literary project, you can publish whoever you damn want.  This may be why we do it.   Our own collection of poets like rare birds. Like stones in the hand.  And obviously I too have published people I know, mostly because in knowing them–the reason I know them usually–is BECAUSE I am interested in their work. However, do this too much and it seems a little circle-jerkish, no?    I’m not saying the task of the editor is to be impartial, or front that the quality of the work, or THEIR judgement of it, is objective.  I obviously publish things I like.  Things that excite me for some reason (and those reasons vary from project to project.) I make no claims otherwise, no gestures of superiority as a gatekeeper. Publishing is not The Hunger Games (though some people act like it is.)  

But I also think we have, as gatekeepers, and obligation to promote new voices.  More diverse voices–to seek the out. Voices that aren’t getting published everywhere at once. I’ve been thinking of this tonight as I dig further into the summer dgp submissions for next year.  What I am looking for.  What I am particularly excited by.  And while I spotted a half dozen past authors amongst the offerings (who I will always make room for if I like their project–because I like supporting the authors who support me), I was most excited by the people I had never seen work from before. Some of them writing for decades.  Some of them still in undergrad and just beginning to send out work.I want to see these manuscripts, even if they are not for dgp, because I want to know who to look out for next. If something doesn’t appeal to me but is promising, I will ask them to submit again next period. I would never want to be the press that just keeps publishing the same coterie of poets over and over again.   You will  of course, find some familiar faces next year, but I try to publish a much larger ratio of poets I know nothing about. Who have somehow found this little press and think their work might have a home and harbor here. Judging by what I have read and earmarked for second reading, next year will be amazing and contain quite a few surprises and new authors.  I can’t wait to share them.

Kristy Bowen, notes from the submission wilds

I know there are issues with the reviewing world, that the review tend to lean towards white men writing about white men (yes, yes, not all reviews, etc, but the balance is still far from being even close to right, despite the amazing work being done by the likes of the Ledbury Poetry Critics).

However, whoever they are written about or by, if reviews don’t help sell then it’s hard not to think Well, what is the fucking point of them then? I know they are helpful for the writer of the review—well, they are to me. They help me to engage more. I suspect there is a massive difference in impact (whatever that is) between reviews in the national press (as column inches dwindle there). I know there’s an argument that reviewers pull punches these days, every book gets a prize like it’s some sort of primary school sports day….this article by Dorian Lynskey was an interesting read (and I am a big fan of Ted Lasso). I’m guilty myself of writing some puff, but it’s done trying to find something positive in everything….

I wonder who the audience is for reviews these days, in most types of art I suspect it’s largely fans and the like, but I suspect most poetry reviews are read by poets…I have no idea, it would be nice to think it’s non-poets as well, and that they are all likely to buy the books they read reviews of.

I hope so, this came into stark reality this week when a review I wrote of Patrick Cotter‘s Sonic White Poise was published this week in The High Window (I think I mentioned this a few months ago). Obvs go and read the others too, and the excellent poems in this latest release. However, I emailed Patrick to tell him the review was up and he replied to say thank you—which is lovely to hear, but that it’s only the second review the book has had. That’s quite scary and I guess true of so many books. This reminds me of this article I saw linked to this week, where an author talks about his book getting lost in the pandemic..Again, this must be true of so many authors/writers/artists, etc (and not just during the pandemic).

It’s almost enough to make you wonder why we bother, any of us. Thankfully we all know why. I’d love to hear about the books (or anything else) you’ve bought off the back of a review.

Mat Riches, Review, review…electric blue

The words like warm blankets, “human rights” and “discrimination” should have been keys to open border locks and offer safe passage. Instead the locks resist and become gatekeepers. How do you produce evidence when you only have what you could carry? What can you do to guide or speed bureaucratic processes that will creak along at their own speed when you need shelter and food and trying to speak in a rapidly-learnt language that is still unfamiliar?

The legacy of what was left behind, doesn’t stay behind. After stories of her grandmother’s fear of never opening the door, the poem “Knock Knock” includes,

“here I stand,
one side of the locked door,
noticing how my heart
is racing to open the latch
while my head is pounding
leave me alone,”

“Here I stand” roots the speaker by the locked door. Even though she’s not lived her grandmother’s stories, she still shares that experience of the fear of the knock. She’s caught between the need to open and welcome whoever’s outside while knowing that the outsider could bring danger. It’s not a reaction that can be shaken off. […]

“An Embroidery of Old Maps and New” explores the liminal space between inherited culture, language and traditions and life in a new country where those inheritances are woven into the fabric of a new traditions and cultures. Angela Costi’s poems are a quiet celebration of small, but important steps taken, while not shying away from the reasons that prompted this new life. Readers get to see both the intricacy and delicacy of the top stitches as well as the thumb pricks and calloused hands that made them.

Emma Lee, “An Embroidery of Old Maps and New” Angela Costi (Spinifex Press) – book review

My review of My Mother’s Language/La langue de ma mère by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated and introduced by André Naffis-Sahely (Poetry Translation Centre, 2021), is online at MPT magazine.

This is a generous selection of poems (in a neat, pocket-sized French/English edition – perfect to carry with me on a recent train journey) from a poet widely acknowledged to be one of Morocco’s leading writers, published by the Poetry Translation Centre’s World Poet Series.

I wasn’t familiar with the poet’s work so I was glad of a succinct introduction by André Naffis-Sahely, and an afterword by Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, to provide contextual background. The poems are from across Laâbi’s fifty-year writing career, so a wonderful introduction. The English translation is directly opposite each page of poetry in French, line by line translation, so this is also an ideal book for anyone interested in poetry translating, or, indeed, in general translating from French to English. My French is reasonably good, having lived there for three years, although I am mostly self-taught with regard to grammar. It was often fascinating to read André Naffis-Sahely’s word choices, and made me appreciate the creative work of poetry translation. There is, of course, no need to have any understanding or familiarity with the French language in order to read and appreciate these poems.

In addition to poems that witness Laâbi’s incarceration and torture as a political prisoner in the 1970s, there is a long extract from Casablanca Spleen, published in the late nineties, a poem of fragments, diary entries, notes and observations made when Laâbi returned, as a visitor from exile in France, to the country of his birth.

Josephine Corcoran, My review of a new selection of poems by Abdellatif Laâbi

Two poems per month.

Like I like to say when I’m running, “That is just as fast as I go.”

Writing lately has been in what I like to think of as my “plodding along” pace.

It feels especially slow compared to the breakneck novel-writing marathon I did this summer, or when I’ve really hit a vein of inspiration (whether that is research I’m excited about, or heart-wrenching grief that makes me want to die).

I’ve also been journaling more, reading more, touching up my manuscript Church Ladies (forthcoming next spring!) and my middle grade novel (WSMMLTRAB for short. Maybe needs some title work…)(also forthcoming!).

The truth is life is really busy right now. I used to worry that I would give up on writing during times like this–that it would just drop off the to-do list and never claw it’s way back on. But I know now that it is too much of a part of me to drop away, even when I’ve thrown it to the ground and tried to shatter it.

So, two poems a month.

Better than none.

Renee Emerson, slow & steady

I’ve been thinking about external validation, that siren, that false friend, that bastard. I was in one of my usual and cyclical can’t-get-a-g’d-thing-published-why-do-I-suck writhings. I knew it and was just sort of standing around waiting for myself to be done with it. In the meantime, I finished a project I had developed with both myself in mind, but also some others, including and especially one audience member, for whom I created one specific aspect, thinking that person would love it. The response was tepid. That on top of my see-above-phase devastated me. Which gave me pause.

I refuse to be ashamed at seeking external validation, which popular psychology has given a bad name. As with all things: moderation. One of the things insidious about external validation and what has given it a bad name is that essentially it cedes control to someone other than yourself with regard to your perceived worth or the worth of your work. Whatever worth means. So the trick is to not allow anyone’s opinion to exert that much control over you. To seek external as the central strategy of life is a losing game. To seek it as part of the ongoing, layered, multifaceted, mutli-faced, multi-pie-in-the-faced, many-armed slapstick that is life, well, who can’t?

We all need a “good on yer” to come our way, early and often. And as much as I have a horror of feeling disappointed, have made elaborate mental games to avoid feeding the hopes that disappointment can smithereenize, I think maybe I’m old enough now to learn how to feel disappointment, give it too a little nod of validation, and move through.

Marilyn McCabe, Want you to want me; or, On Validation and Creative Work

This week I have done almost zero writing. Instead, I have been focussing on getting ready to run the courses I have planned for October – two with the York Centre for Lifelong Learning and one under my own ‘brand’. One of my York classes is accredited, and it will be the first time, except as a day retreat tutor, that I have taught an accredited course. I’m a bit nervous about it, but also very excited.

I did all of my degrees part time, two of them distance learning. I was a mature student when I studied for, and obtained, my degrees. I worked full time around my degrees. I come from a working class background and this isn’t an unusual thing. I found my way into poetry and literature through the fantastic Open University and I did my Masters distance learning at Manchester Met. I think it is important that high quality learning opportunities are available for people who work full time and/or are coming to literature, poetry in this case, later on in life. Part time learning shouldn’t be any less quality than full time education and I try to keep that in mind when I am putting course content together. It sometimes means working more hours for less money, because freelancers in teaching tend to be paid fairly crap wages. And that’s possibly why the literary arts and teaching are not areas with strong working class representation, but that’s a soap box for another day. Teaching and workshop facilitating take a lot of time and preparation, so this was a week I was happy to give over to that work, in the hope that when I start teaching again next week I’ll be prepared enough that I can carry on writing on a morning and working in the afternoons. Ha! Famous last words.

Wendy Pratt, A Teaching Prep Week

My first full week of teaching was exhausting, full of positive feelings about my students but inflected by pandemic fears, too. Cases are rising fast here. We’re in person, masked, but students are having tons of unmasked encounters–let’s call them encounters–in residence and dining halls and, I presume, at parties. Prepping for and teaching 6 90-minute classes is as hard as I remembered, even before the grading starts; things are high-powered here, with smart students chewing through material fast, something that’s both lucky and sometimes a major challenge to keep up with. And there are all the extras like advising, reference letters, department meetings and consultations, university-wide meetings and events, etc etc. I’m beat.

Yet I’m having fun, too. I’m prepping Sedgwick’s essay for a senior seminar called “Taking Literature Personally”; during that session we’ll try some paranoid and reparative reading of Frank O’Hara’s poetry (no spoilers, but my lesson plan involves crayons). For yesterday’s class, we read the poem “Philomela” and the essay “Nightingale” by Paisley Rekdal as well as the Ovid tale for background, which is infinitely darker material though just as powerful. Whatever the literature at hand, the flow experiences of rereading then planning discussions feels really good. I wish I had more time to linger in it, but I’m being strict with myself about stopping work when I’m tired. I’m an introvert who HAS to recharge and a grown-up person who HAS to rest and sleep. I’m doing okay at it for now.

Lesley Wheeler, Rereading Sedgwick, or, Oh Yeah, I Like Teaching

Friday night, my step-mom-in-law asked, “What do y’all do for fun on a Saturday?”

I tried to remember.  It’s been awhile since we felt like we had an empty Saturday that we could fill with fun.  We’ve been in the process of life changes, as we’ve been in a downsizing project, downsizing our housing expenses if not our space.  We’ve spent the summer season sorting and packing and moving to a condo we’ll be renting for the next 2 years.  We then pivoted to getting the house ready to go on the market, which it now is.  And now, we’ve been pivoting to the paperwork phase of the project.

But I have hopes that we’ll be in a position to have fun soon.  Will I remember what that looks like?  What is more likely is that about the time the house sale closes, my spouse’s additional classes will start, and we won’t have huge expanses of time to have fun.  

I am recognizing a pattern.  I am also remembering what many a creativity consultant has advised:  don’t wait until you have huge swathes of free time before you do your creative work.  You’ll be waiting forever.  Similarly, I should probably plan for fun in smaller units.  We are unlikely to have a fully free Saturday any time soon.

When I think of what would be fun, I think of pumpkin patches and apple orchards, which I can’t do easily down here.  I need to adjust my thinking to a smaller scale, both in terms of having fun and in terms of creativity.  I’ve been feeling like I’m not writing poems regularly enough.  I worry that in gaining seminary, I’m losing poetry.

Let me remember an idea I had for a poem:  Noah’s wife sells the house.  I’ve been using the Bible story of Noah to explore modern ideas of climate change.

And let me remember that I don’t need a huge chunk of time to write a poem.  Let me do that more often. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Free Time and Fun

I am still reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter an essay each week or so — and I just came across “The Beast in the Book.” She got me thinking about animals and how we share the world with them, not very politely, and how rich children’s literature is with animals. As Le Guin puts it:

The general purpose of a myth is to tell us who we are — who we are as a people. Mythic narrative affirms our community and our responsibilities, and is told in the form of teaching-stories both to children and adults.

Le Guin doesn’t find it at all curious that children learn to read by sounding out the words in “Peter Rabbit,” or that they weep over Black Beauty. She finds it a shame that as we grow older we lose our facility to identify with animals. I loved this paragraph, about T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone:

Merlyn undertakes Arthur’s education, which consists mostly of being turned into animals. Here we meet the great mythic theme of Transformation, which is a central act of shamanism, though Merlyn doesn’t make any fuss about it. The boy becomes a fish, a hawk, a snake, an owl, and a badger. He participates, at thirty years per minute, in the sentience of trees, and then, at two million years per second, in the sentience of stones. All these scenes of participation in nonhuman being are funny, vivid, startling, and wise.

I think it’s that “sentience of trees” that really made that paragraph stick for me, as I’ve also been reading Peter  Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees

Bethany Reid, The Autumn Equinox

Sitting in my sukkah this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what endures. That might seem counterintuitive: after all, a sukkah is the opposite of that. It’s temporary structure. Its roof is made from organic matter, casting some shade but also letting in the raindrops and the light of the full harvest moon. A sukkah begins falling apart almost as soon as it is built. And yet…

And yet the sukkah will be rebuilt, next year. And the year after. The practice is perennial. When I sit in my sukkah on my mirpesset, drinking coffee and lifting my etrog to my face to inhale its scent, I remember every year I have ever sat in a sukkah. I think of generations before me who built sukkot. I imagine the generations after me who will do the same. […]

One morning in the sukkah this year our conversation veered into American politics.  I used to believe that the structures of democracy would protect us from demagogues. I thought it was generally accepted that government’s function is to serve everyone, to protect the vulnerable, to ensure and uphold human rights and dignity. That structure feels fragile now.

The American experiment is only a few centuries old — an eyeblink in the span of human history. It may prove to be temporary. Some argue that it’s already over, that our constitutional crisis is already here and democracy as we have known it is already falling to gerrymandering, insurrection, cult of personality, and the terrible persistence of the Big Lie.

I think of the later stories in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Orsinian tales, where her fictional European country has become an Eastern Bloc nation. In those stories the government can’t be trusted. Privations are the norm. And yet people continue to live and love, even when multiple families share a single apartment, even under surveillance. Isn’t that what human beings do?

Rachel Barenblat, What endures

drinking coffee black and reading
the poems of osip mandelstam
the ground quivers and shakes
is it an earthquake
or just fine poetry?
now the coffee is finished
and the morning sky is blue
like my grandmother’s eyes

James Lee Jobe, just fine poetry?

Walking night woods, noticing: tired. This one spot smells so strongly of cedar it might be perfume this rotting tree casts into my face. My back hurts, from lack of daily water. I ate too much chicken and rice. Fatigue beyond poor sleep. Uncertainty beyond circumstances. I do not have to settle, I have to root. There must be fertile ground: there are many fertile grounds. Choices of paths.

In the powerline cut, a raptor cry.

In the dark trail, scatters of imminent fall. The awake time.

I plan another lake swim, before it is too cold. A life, too. I wait for enough information. An owl calls.

The compass needle slows, after years of spinning, but I cannot yet read north.

JJS, attendance

will the poem i am buried in :: be the weave of my last words

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 33

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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, the world is still broken; poets on a large island in the north Atlantic are obsessed with water; musings on compassion, light, Cassandra, and Calypso; some unusual accounting systems, and more. We end on an uncharacteristically upbeat note.


broken world –
monsoon clouds like Band-aid strips
on an ebbing sky

Alternating between banal work and the feverish dystopia of my newsfeed, it does feel, sometimes, like the world is coming apart in an insane hurry, everywhere. In the middle of war and hate and climate change and the pandemic, if there is a safe place, it seems like it is getting smaller and smaller or fading away in the fog. Meanwhile, there’s poetry, rare but still able to say that, once, there was a time, somewhere, safe enough so a poet could, for a while, put pen to paper. 

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Broken World

A whole evening,
just stars and crickets.

Tom Montag, A Whole Evening

If I were asked to name one signature theme or image for U.K. poetry over the past twenty years, it would be water. British English has so many words for different types of rain and for the movement of liquid, and numerous poets seem to reflect those riches in their work.

Am I right…? If so, why? Is such close attention to water a consequence of the U.K.’s climate? And does climate have a deeper connection not just to our everyday experiences but to our poetic lives…?

Matthew Stewart, Water, water everywhere…!

Mist crosses
the pale wetlands.

Beneath the mill
eels are trapped.

A plane overhead.
Too low, so loud.

In the distance,
gunfire, rapid.

Bob Mee, IRRELEVANCE

You, my regular reader, may remember that several of my blog posts have been inspired by those of Matthew Stewart. In this case, it’s slightly different: a welcome instance of synchronicity.

It must be difficult to be a poet in Yorkshire and not feel a need to write, at least once, about reservoirs. Near where I grew up, in south-west London, the reservoirs were more often not forbidding places with no or limited access, surrounded by high walls, which kept the water out of sight, and grassy banks grazed by strangely suburban sheep. When they were visible, the water was enclosed by undisguised concrete. Some are havens for urban birders – Stephen Moss undertook much of his formative birding at Staines Reservoir.

Those in Yorkshire tend to be tucked away, in moorland hills, and properly absorbed into their environments. Therein lies their beauty, perhaps: the knowledge that even though we, and the creatures who live in and around them, appreciate them as natural lakes (and who doesn’t love a nice lake?), they are artificial , existing only to be functional; to provide clean water to the great conurbations of the Ridings. Peter Sansom’s marvellous ‘Driving at Night’, the opening poem of his 2000 collection Point of Sale, begins:

The res through trees
is a lake or calm sea on whose far shore
a holiday is waiting, a fire laid in the grate,
the larder stocked with tins, milk in the fridge,
and on the hearth a vase of new tulips.

I know instinctively what he means. The contentment invoked in those lines is topped off by that ‘new’: these are pristine tulips, with no sign yet of their heads drooping.

I’ve mentioned previously Ted Hughes’s poem ‘Widdop’, about the reservoir of the same name, a few miles north-west of his house at Lumb Bank, which he subsequently gave to the Arvon Foundation. Its opening lines are as vividly memorable as Peter’s:

Where there was nothing
Somebody put a frightened lake.

Matthew Paul, The poetry of reservoirs

“A Thirst for Rain” is after Rosemary Tonks, and starts,

“I have lived them, and lived them.
Swollen afternoons of seared skin
when nothing mattered more
than the crow’s love of bone
or the damselflies’ tangled rise
above idle water.”

Rosemary Tonks (1928 – 2014) authored two poetry collections, six novels and was chiefly active on the literary scene in the 1960s. She renounced literature in the 1970s and seemed pretty much forgotten until a collected poems, “Bedouin of the London Evening” was published in 2014. Her poems focused on urban, cafe scenes or undermining pretentious potential lovers. Their tone is conversational and dryly humoured. Anderson’s poem matches that atmosphere, where a narrator looks on a full life where all that mattered was the next meal, the next love.

Emma Lee, “Sin is Due to Open in a Room Above Kitty’s” Morag Anderson (Fly on the Wall Press) – book review

I’m definitely not able to keep up with a book a day for The Sealey Challenge, but I’ve read more poetry this month already than I’ve read in the last year. So a successful attempt for me. I maybe need to do something similar with some of the poetry magazines I get as I can never keep up with all the reading for them either. 

It’s been storming here after such a dry summer, we’ve been flooded with so much rain. So it’s nice to curl up with poetry in the evenings after work as a way to wind down. […]

Day 21: Nobody by Alice Oswald. A heady mix of mythical and modern-day imagery, aeroplanes and styrofoam floats on purple seas, dawn waking rosy-fingered behind net curtains. I loved Greek myths when I was young and really enjoyed the the current retelling of Circe and Achilles by Madeline Miller, so this 2019 collection by the Oxford Professor of Poetry caught my eye. This book-length poem plays with the stories of the poet from ‘The Illiad’ who was to spy on Agamemnon’s wife, but then was abandoned on a stony island which allowed the wife to be seduced with the tale of Odysseus and his faithful wife from ‘The Odyssey’. The poem is punctuation free, line breaks shifting across the pages leaving large white spaces and images that seem scoured by tides.

The sea is the strongest character in the book, its moods set the tone, but the poem says ‘the sea itself has no character just this horrible thirst’ and that feeling is strong throughout the book. The speakers feel like a true nobody of wives and poets, gods and sailors, it’s never clear who you’re listening to. The poem feels at once ancient and new, jumbled, found in pieces on some beach. I’ve just discovered that the book was meant to go with a collection of watercolours by William Tillyer, but I don’t have that version. Shame really, as a quick internet search shows that they would really expand the poem. A captivating read.

Gerry Stewart, The Sealey Challenge: Days 15, 16, 18 and 21

trees falling
into the arms of the sea
that still makes rain

Jim Young [no title]

I have visited Eyam in Derbyshire where plague victims cut themselves off from surrounding villages in order to contain the disease. I have explored the remains of Scottish villages that were abandoned during the Clearances (my poem, ‘The Ceilidh House’ on p.16 alludes to this). Stones, graves and broken walls can tell a powerful tale, and sometimes these features are all we have to go on. 

But Pompeii and Herculaneum are different. We are, for example, confronted with the reality of normal aspects of life, including shopping (the Market of Macellum, a fast-food counter …), art in the form of wall paintings and mosaics, garden features and so much more. It is as if the inhabitants have just gone out for a short while, leaving their stone guard dogs at the ready. 

And yet it is not at all like that. I find I only have only to stare at the plaster casts made from the remains of the people (see here; and also top right on this blog page for a photo of a figure, head in hands) and their animals (dog, boar or pig, and horse) to begin to sense something of the horror. […]

Let’s turn more specifically to ‘Wildfire’. This poem was written during the pandemic; it was not intended to be a ‘happy’ poem. Poets use the currency of metaphor and sustained metaphor. How much of my poem was actually about the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79? This is a question I continue to ask myself. 

What I knew from the outset was that I wanted the reinforcement that repetition would afford. ‘Wildfire’ is a villanelle (think: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ by Dylan Thomas). The form, allowing for only two rhyme sounds throughout, and the ‘pared-back’ nature of my theme seemed complementary. 

Maria, you highlight my line, ‘I wonder who will live and who has died‘. Images of those 103 heart-wrenching plaster casts (the child, the man crawling along the ground …) were rarely far away, but I was also trying to understand what was behind the words written to Tacitus by Pliny the Younger, whose account of the eruption was discovered, or recovered, in the 16th century. Hence the epigraph at the top of my poem. 

I tried to absorb the text of the letter in translation and attempted to imagine what it might have been like not only for the Younger Pliny, but also for other survivors such as Cornelius Fuscus. Some of those who escaped asphyxiation from the pyroclastic flow at Herculaneum probably left by ship almost as soon as they became aware of the danger. 

At the time of writing (my records state I began to draft ‘Wildfire’ on 20 April 2020), I had been in lockdown for some weeks. My outlook was changing, and perhaps that was partly why the subject for this villanelle came to me at that particular moment of flux. People we knew were beginning to catch Covid. There was fear in the air and the virus seemed close at hand. 

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (2)

When the Buddhists ask what it costs to extend compassion to everyone without judgement, maybe the answer is that it costs me the awareness of my own vulnerabilities? Not only to the damage earthquakes and violence can do to my body, but to the damage fear can do to my (for lack of a better word) soul.

A decade ago I worked with people who were escaping situations like those in the news now. And it was so easy to look for – and find – excuses to withhold compassion. Because the alternative was too painful to bear gracefully, “sensibly”.

It is a stereotype that I have heard women often bandy about: that men can’t listen without trying to fix everything. But isn’t that all of us? What we can’t fix we sometimes justify as not deserving fixing? Because it is all so difficult.

Many times I’ve watched newspapers fall apart in a tub of water. Watched the previous day’s news dissolve like the darkness at 4:30 when the sun nears the horizon in the east.

A deep breath. A dog on a leash. A human body struggling with the cost and the value of compassion.

Ren Powell, Accepting Helplessness

I died in the village. It was morning.

I died in the village, everyone came. There was a buffet.

Scorpions crawled over my eyes, into my nostrils, into my ears. Scorpions. 

The wind had a sound like music from the other side of the world. People painted their faces and danced. Monkeys screamed from the distant trees. 

Women covered my corpse with a white cloth. It might have been a table cloth.

James Lee Jobe, I rose above my body and looked down.

To love the high sun before the hurricane when people with the best muscles are allowed to use them on the boulevard. To study the canvas of sweat on my burnt orange tent dress, a diagram of where the body folds.

To love the light and shadow chasing each other across the grass, the atmosphere the Impressionists would have painted with a tint of violet.  To feel shadows looking like a pair of hunting dogs tired from their day, lolled out under a pair of chaises longues.  

To wait up with the too-humid night sky, its swirling winds with nowhere to go,  like small-town hoods, lazy and looking for a fight.  To wake up to a hurricane, expressing itself.

To stay in the indelible truth of a face, even the eye of a hurricane. To stave off the heavy arms of the past and the cut-free kite of the future as the hurricane passes.

Jill Pearlman, The Volatile, Mutable Moods of Summer

I used to dream I was swimming in full dark, in ocean
unlit even by stars: no way to know if I was headed in, or out,
or parallel to shore until I sank from exhaustion. How awful
would that be, if it turned out I was swimming the shoreline
the whole time? I don’t dream that any more: now salt crusts
and burns my lips the same way, but I know there is no landing.

JJS, Oceans

Today was the last day of the two week journey of this year’s Virtual version of Breadloaf. There were at least twenty lectures from amazing writers of all genres, including non-fiction and screenwriting, several long workshop sessions, pitching sessions, hanging out in a virtual Barn, and even Breadloaf readings on Zoom. […]

I was nervous that Breadloaf was only for younger writers, but I met people of all ages and backgrounds, which was great. I thought my workshop was full of really talented writers, and I was impressed by the level of writing at the attendee readings as well. The atmosphere of one of the oldest and most prestigious writers conferences in the country was much less stuffy or pretentious than I imagined it would be – could the virtual aspect of it make it seem more accessible?

I got lots of advice on publishing and lots of encouragement as well. A lot of kindness from people. I think it will have been a worthwhile thing to have done looking back. Now I need to actually apply the advice from workshop and on publishing and get to revising and sending out my work. I hope I stay in touch with at least a few friends I made, and crossing fingers for the manuscript that was sent in from one of my pitch sessions. You never know!

In a year (and a half) characterized by so much lack of socialization, going to a virtual writers conference was a great way to feel like I wasn’t totally isolated and that I was part of a larger writing community. It was also fun getting advice from other people who had been to Breadloaf before me about how to get the most out of it.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Virtual Breadloaf, Some Writer Conference Takeaways, and End of Summer Musings

I’ve been working flat-out on honing the manuscript of an essay collection, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, due from Tinderbox Editions late this year or early next (I suspect the latter at this point). It’s a blend of memoir and criticism with a good dose of cognitive science and narrative theory, plus thirteen 21st century poems reprinted in full to anchor the short chapters. Recounting the close of my con-man father’s life, it’s also the story of reading poetry through personal crisis AND an analysis of how “literary transportation” works when you enter a poem’s pocket universe (that’s immersive reading or getting lost in a text, for the layperson). I’ve been drafting this book since 2012 so it’s really important to me. Closing in on a final version I’ll submit to an editor, though, always makes me nervous. You’re down in the weeds, seeing ways a sentence here and there could be made more elegant, checking the bibliography, and wondering whom you’ve inadvertently omitted from the acknowledgments. But it’s also the last time you can try for the 30,000 feet perspective, imagining how the book will be received by others and trying to catch those moments of obtuseness or under-explanation that inevitably linger. Hard work in multiple ways.

This book, though, works through challenging personal material. On the good side, there are stories of travel, particularly my 2011 Fulbright in New Zealand; reflections on growth and change; and positive representations of sustaining relationships. The dark stuff involves, of course, tales of my dishonest and narcissistic father but also workplace harassment; a long-ago sexual assault; Chris’ mother’s dementia; and my mother’s first round of lymphoma in 2015. It shook me to spend time with that material again. Worse, since my mother died of the lymphoma’s recurrence in April, I had to put my sentences about her into the past tense. No wonder I was resisting finalizing the ms.

I did the same thing to myself in July, at the Sewanee Writers Workshop. I had to finalize my workshop ms in May, and it was full of poems about my mother’s death and other tough material. Somehow, for the last couple of years, I’ve finally been writing about childhood abuse and mental health. My mother always read my poetry books, but I think at some level I knew she wasn’t likely to read this new stuff. I’m freer to be honest than before, and some of what hurt me long ago was my mother choosing not to protect us from my father. Again, no wonder Sewanee was emotionally intense.

Lesley Wheeler, When revisions are even harder

I’m growing back my mustache. It makes me look like one or both of my fathers. Not a look I’m going for, but you can’t help DNA or random chance. There are other things I can help, though, like that time I saw my father’s hands at the end of my own arms and decided right then and there to turn in a different direction. If I had the chance would I do it over again? Probably, yeah. Take a better shot at being the guy my kids might someday write poems about. The time machine only goes forward and we all move at the same speed.

Jason Crane, Mustache

I was thinking about unpaid work and the stresses even those things entail. Even creative work, especially something you put so much into that gives little material reward.  The hours devoted to perfecting a poem or manuscript.  Doing the work of submitting and editing and keeping track of things. Battling printers and assembling books. Designing covers and interiors. A couple months ago, I went around thinking I wanted anything but this. Grad school, new jobs, new directions.  Anything but poetry and libraries. Maybe film studies, or graphic design, or marketing. I eyed the tents pitched along lake shore drive and the food assistance lines on my commute and had sudden fears that I was one paycheck from the streets and always would be continuing to live the life I do. Not that there is shame in these things in any way. Shit happens. The world is fucked up and the rich get richer on the backs of everyone else.  But, without any safety nets,  my own fear is very real.   I pictured myself 20 years down the line…the retirement savings I only barely have–how it’s impossible to save when you live paycheck to paycheck. And does it even make you happy anymore?  Does anything? And even if it does most of the time,  should I be living some other sort of less rewarding or creative life to make sure I can sustain myself later? 

The winds shift back of course.  Much like my winter doldrums, the spring returns and I feel again, if not enthusiastic all the time, at least neutral. I spent a lot of time building this life, making sure I made the right choices, but why do I sometimes hate it?  If money was no object (had I married a rich man…lol… or been independently wealthy) I would choose this life. I did choose this life, all along, each decision a choice to get me to the present.  But sometimes I feel like my priorities were wrong somewhere along the way.  That in seizing some things, I gave up important ones–ones that would have made me more financially secure. Just more secure in general. The early days of the pandemic terrified me.  I though for sure I would lose that job that I sometimes complain about. That academia would tumble into rubble.  That society would crumble into rubble. (all of these things in addition to getting sick.)  On the flipside, my priorities are different somehow in terms of  my creative practice.  It also, however,  made me scared and therefore, apt to cling to it even tighter. I know I can’t work in a state of instability.  Of uncertainly.  Creatively or otherwise.

Which  is, of course, the worst of all puzzles.  To have the stability that allows writing and artmaking to happen, but also to not get swallowed so completely by that other work that there is nothing left for the poems or art. What do we give up in terms of stability and work we may even enjoy to do this work we somehow still need to do. And even the those things, how we keep them from feeling like cages of a different sort. 

Kristy Bowen, stability & uncertainty | the creative life

I grew up in a word-loving family and my own kids have taken that much farther than I might have imagined. When very young they developed an unnamed game of verbal jousting I call, in this post, Game of Slurs, although the post doesn’t go into just how amusingly over-the-top they could get with inventive word pairings. They also played, with only minor nudges from me, all sorts of dictionary-based games including my favorite, Blackbird. And all of us have unconsciously incorporated words into our everyday conversations that, apparently, seem strange to those around us. When they were younger, some of my kids consciously modified what words they used when, but these days they not only use whatever obscure words they like, they also, well, “experiment” on others to see if they can get them to start using such words too. […]

In many ways, the language(s) we speak shape the way we think. We will never know what ways of thinking about, seeing, and interacting with the world are lost to us when we speak only one language. This is even more troubling in relation to entire languages going extinct. The Linguistic Society of America reports there are more than 6,500 languages used worldwide. Eighty percent, by some estimates, may vanish within the next century.

My problem, as a writer, takes place in a much smaller arena — my head. Much as I love words, it often seems impossible to fit meaning more than partway into language. I might manage to get a pinch of the inexpressible in, but that’s it, and only if I’m lucky. It’s like trying to stuff a galaxy into a suitcase and still zip it closed.

I hope we all do what we can, in these troubling times, to use language clearly, kindly, and well. Even more, that we make every effort to listen.

Laura Grace Weldon, Definitions and Beyond

And on the prose front, oh, that annoying George Saunders is at it again, being all smart, and funny, and generous of spirit. I’m reading A Swim in the Pond in the Rain, which presents a handful of Russian short stories and then Saunders basically walks us through how each story is operating and challenges us to use some of that craft in our own work. In the process of all that he had this to say…  “a story responds alertly to itself.” Which is such a useful thought, I find, when considering the moving, or non-moving, parts of my poems, including the ticking of time itself.  

And later he takes a pause from talking about prose to include this little sidebar thought on what poetry is: “…poetry, i.e., truth forced out through a restricted opening. That’s all poetry is, really, something odd, coming out…The poet proves that language is inadequate by throwing herself at the fence of language and being bound by it. Poetry is the resultant bulging of the fence.” 

Damn that guy.

Marilyn McCabe, Human kindness overflowing; or, On What I’m Reading

“Lyric address is usually indirect.” (This, despite the frequent use of apostrophe in lyrical poetry, which Cullers argues is used indirectly most of the time.)

Lyrical apostrophe “posits a third realm, neither human nor natural, that can act and determine our world.”

~

“If one were to treat lyric as a domain to be mapped, one would need a multidimensional space.”
Jonathan Cullers

I especially like that last one. Lyric as Kosmos, as universe (and possibly universal). It jives with Whitman in some ways–resonates, at very least, with his idea of poetry as vast and of himself (as poet) containing multitudes.

Something to aspire to be, to write, to wrap my mind around.

Ann E. Michael, Lyrical

The third full-length collection by Somerville, Massachusetts poet Natalie Shapero, following No Object (Saturnalia, 2013) and the Griffin Poetry Prize (International) shortlistedHard Child (Copper Canyon Press, 2017) [see my review of such here], is Popular Longing (Port Townsend WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2021), a collection of narrative lyrics composed through wry observation, sharp commentary and consequence, and the occasional rush of breath. Her poems are pearls of logic, urgency and contemplation, composed of worn irritation and deadpan delivery. The poem “Have at It,” for example, opens: “When you work here for ten years, you get / a blanket. The blanket has their name on it, / not yours. I am conducting an anecdotal / survey of longtime employees, and I have yet / to find one person who uses the thing / to keep warm.” The mind moves quick, but the poems unpack slowly, as though not wishing to overlook a single thing.

As she writes to open the poem “Tea,” referencing, of course, contemporary reenactments of the 1773 American “Boston Tea Party” protest against the British: “I can’t get away from it. / Felted-up reenactors shoving a great fake crate of it / into the Harbor and jeering. / After the tour group leaves, they fish it / back out and towel it off, / unbutton their waistcoats to smoke.” I’m fascinated by the ways Shapero takes an idea or a subject and dismantles it, studying every small piece through her evolution of sentences. The poem “Tomatoes Ten Ways,” for example, extends thought across a great distance, yet turning every moment over to see what lay beneath, writing: “I just want to get // back now, back to my kitchen, back / to my peeler and ladle and electric / oven where decades of hands // have worn the temperature marks / clean off the dial—it’s always a guess. // Cooking is important. It prepares us // for how to sustain each other / in the emptiness ahead.” Through attempting to seek answers to impossible questions, Shapero manages to uncover separate but equally important truths, ones that might have otherwise lay fallow.

rob mclennan, Natalie Shapero, Popular Longing

Recently I dreamed I lived in a waterworld, and now this cover!–art by Jeremy Miranda, Searching–for Patient Zero by Tomás Q. Morín (Copper Canyon, 2017). And I kept intersecting with the book as I read along. The title poem, “Patient Zero,” which makes you think of AIDS, or Covid, or the movie Contagion, is really about love as “a worried, old heart / disease,” quoting Son House lyrics to lay out a theory about humans and animals stricken with “something…divine and endless.” Love. […]

There is a remarkable long poem called “Sing Sing” about a prisoner who keeps drafting a letter to her parole board. In it, I learn that “Sing Sing” must come from “the Sint Sinck / tribe who fished and camped // the shores…” Indeed, looking further, I find that Sint Sinck means “stone upon stone,” and are the white stones of the famous prison at Ossining, New York.

Kathleen Kirk, Patient Zero

I’ve been reading Ellen Bryant Voigt’s 1995 book Kyrie, a series of poems set in 1918—during the (yep) flu epidemic. One poem begins “How we survived…” that is a perfect prompt, but it has an image in it that so freaked me out I don’t want to share it. I cast around, reading poem after poem: “You wiped a fever-brow, you burned the cloth. / You scrubbed a sickroom floor, you burned the mop. / What wouldn’t burn you boiled like applesauce / out beside the shed in the copper pot.”

And there’s this poem, the first in the collection, which seems to predict the future of that survival:

Prologue

After the first year, weeds and scrub;
after five, juniper and birch,
alders filling in among the briars;
ten more years, maples rise and thicken;
forty years, the birches crowded out,
a new world swarms on the floor of the hardwood forest.
And who can tell us where there was an orchard,
where a swing, where the smokehouse stood?

—Ellen Bryant Voigt

Bethany Reid, Your Poetry Assignment for the Week

This morning, I reflected back on the month of August as a month where I came to realize–once again, and over and over again–how much of the world seems to be held together with tape and a patchwork of chewing gum and maybe a thin veneer of paint here and there.  But frankly, the whole summer has felt that way, and perhaps this whole pandemic time, and maybe it has always been this way, but many of us can go for months or years before we’re forced to reckon with this knowledge again.

Humans like to think that we’re in control, and many of us will go to great lengths to maintain that illusion.  For me, this summer has brought week after week of almost daily reminders that we’re not.  Those reminders have ranged from the small to the huge, from the personal to the global.

When I think of the early days of June, I remember a time when it seemed that we might be turning a corner with the COVID-19 crisis.  Vaccination rates continued to chug along, and we finished a K-12 school year with few student deaths and not as many outbreaks as I would have predicted.  The world at large seemed calm–or am I remembering it wrong?

Then the condo building in Surfside Beach, just south of here, collapsed, and suddenly, it seemed that more buildings than we’d have expected have serious structural issues.  And here we are, two months later, and it begins to feel like all of our foreign policy has collapsed and lies in ruins.  The domestic political situation has felt like rubble for over a decade now, so that’s not anything new.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Summer 2021: Things Fall Apart

For any of us who care about other parts of the world and the people who inhabit them, it’s been a difficult and emotional week. I’m not going to get into any of it here. Suffice it to say that this blog wouldn’t have been named what it was [the cassandra pages], back in 2003, if I hadn’t foreseen much of the tragedy that would unfold as a result of American foreign policies — though I fervently wish I’d been wrong.

Obviously we need to continue to do whatever we can to alleviate suffering and work for justice and for positive change, while caring for those closest to us as well. Our primary responsibility is to remember to take care of ourselves so that we have a chance of being able to help others. What does that mean for you? Have you ever thought about it in depth, and written it down?

Beth Adams, Drawing my way through a rough week

August: early rains in the south,
and fires in the west. River birds sketch
figures on water. Dearest ones,
whatever accounts were entered there
have yielded up their remaining
balances. I’m spending every
bright pebble I find. The shallows gleam
with all the currency fallen from the moon’s
poor-box—greens and blues, discs of scarred
copper. Meanwhile, every drawer of this house
hoards a collection of all we fed to our ghosts.
In the end, there will be nothing left to collect.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ledger

After sitting in paralysis from another form reject for too long, I decided to take things into my own hands. I wanted to give myself something back—a small token of appreciation for showing up for myself in the first place, something that would turn this salty moment into a celebration. I wrote rejection fund on a scrap of paper, slapped it on an old (extra large) mason jar, and have since filled it to the brim.

For each rejection I get, I put a dollar in the jar. And when I find something—a new treat I’ve been craving, an application fee I couldn’t quite swing, or a much-needed cocktail at the end of a particularly long week, my rejections—and, let’s be clear, my faith in myself and my own (mostly) tireless championing—refill my cup and tenderly guide me back into the work.

And you know what? What started as a kind of goofy self-help move has been astoundingly grounding through the submission process—especially as an emerging writer. I realized I now had something to do with all that stalled, stale, sometimes paralyzing energy left over from getting a “thanks, but no thanks” for the work I poured so many hours into. I even found myself looking forward to those emails so I could tip myself again. Something totally out of my control now felt a little more manageable, something I could now take the reins on and say, “no, thank you!”

Because what many of us (hopefully) come to realize, is that not only are the rejections not ours, but the acceptances aren’t ours, either. They have nothing to do with me, and while I can celebrate the successes and grow from the critiques, I don’t want to hang my own worth on someone else’s yes or no.

My rejection jar helps restore a little bit of that agency. These poems I write day in and day out are small new friends, landscapes to grow and warp and feel the world through, come to new selves and new understandings with. They are stamped and sealed only by my acceptance, my rejection. I get to say when they feel like “good” or “bad” poems to me, “ready” and “not ready,” scrap versus actual potential. And then we can see where they might fit—or not—in the external world. Beloved literary editors—sometimes brusque with over-work, but often kind, thoughtful, and generous, too—have their own tastes of what makes a poem a good fit or not, and nothing about these rejections is personal.

Today, I count $28, and I’ve already taken some of that cash for a spin (my first purchases: two new rejection lipsticks, Desert Rose and Voyager #50). That money doesn’t feel like a sadly accumulating pity-puddle. No—it’s just proof I’m still doing the damn thing.

The Rejection Jar – guest blog post by Zoë Fay-Stindt [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]

It has all felt a little magical. I tend to be skeptical of most things, and I have looked askance at the current fascination with manifesting, but… It feels like that is what has happened. Right before the pandemic hit us, Kari wrote something about wanting to stop blaming others for her unhappiness and it struck something deep within me. I was so tired of being unhappy and so tired of feeling powerless in my unhappiness. I hate toxic positivity and any solutions to personal problems that don’t consider systemic causes of them, but I sat myself down and made a mental list of all the things that weren’t working for me and asked myself what I could do to change them, by myself. I quickly realized I would have to do two things: Be open to what I started calling “radical lifestyle change” and tell myself and those close to me the truth of what I wanted (and didn’t), despite fear of my truths and of others’ responses to them. Sometimes it was scary and it was never easy, but when I remember my life two years ago and then look at what it is today, it feels like a damn miracle. (But to be clear: It’s not. I could not be where I am without systemic structures and advantages that have allowed me to make the choices I have, primarily the one that is allowing me to both draw retirement income and return to work.)

You guys: At the core of my life is a healthy, loving, committed relationship. We are creating a home that feels just right for how we live and want to live. I have time to nurture my health and relationships. I have time for creative work outside my for-pay work and to learn how to live in more congruence with my values. And now I get to go back to school, doing the kind of teaching I’ve missed for more than a decade, in the place I loved more than any other I’ve worked. I know it won’t be the place I left, and it’s going to be hard (Covid alone assures that), probably in many ways, but I am so excited to finally be tackling what feels like the right kinds of hard in this very hard time. To be starting a new chapter. To revise the ending of my story.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Maybe you can go home again?

To sound like an electric guitar of scars singing stories of old wounds that learned how to heal themselves.

To never possess a dead man’s curve in our highway smile.

To be the hangman’s rope that unravels itself until there’s never no more hanging to be done.

Rich Ferguson, Untitled #99

they do not understand
the beneficence of drink
how it grants distance

smooths out life’s wrinkles
they badger him
and he hides his habit

evenings spent
on park benches
slowly observing

the clouds change shape
a tin of the cheapest Pilsner
warm in his hand

Paul Tobin, HIS OWN CALYPSO

I had been thinking about Andy Warhol saying, “All the Coke is good,” which inadvertently prompted me to remember, all the light is good. I’d been limiting my photography excursions to evening or mornings, because that is when many interesting or surprising things happen in terms of light. But when you’re on vacation, for example, you haul your camera around all day, you wear it like a drastic necklace to the detriment of your spine and neck alignment, and you take photos in all sorts of light. Your time in a place is limited, and so you take photos in all the light. All this, really, to say, make your art when you can in whatever light is available. Write in early mornings, during your lunch break, don’t wait for a perfect time. The perfect time is now.

Shawna Lemay, All the Light is Good

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

This week brought some unusually thought-provoking posts considering we’re still (barely) in vacation season. I particularly liked what A.F. Moritz told rob mclennan about how he first perceived poetry as a child just learning to read, because this was so like my own experience: “The poem was to me the same thing as a beautiful spring day, by myself, unbothered, and yet still nurtured by people and nature, in transit between home and the woods and the fields, passing along under the walls of the factories, down on the stream bank…” Yep. And I still feel that way, all these decades later. Anyway, enjoy the digest.


Restoration of all that we lost
was never the point:
it is something entirely
other now.

Our job
was to bring
new. To make larger.

Scarcity was not the assignment.
Neither was grief.

JJS, insomnia dawn, end of summer

David (Gill), my archaeologist husband, was a Rome Scholar at the British School at Rome in the mid-1980s. We had recently married and were to spend that year living in the School, where I washed bones and sherds of pottery in my spare time. By then I had taught Classical Civilisation A Level in two different school settings in the UK and had gained a qualification in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language (RSA TEFL). I believe this qualification is now known as a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults or CELTA.  

I was fascinated by the Ostiense area around the Piramide Metro station in Rome. My eyes were immediately drawn to the imposing pyramid tomb of Caius Cestius. You can read more about the tomb here

The ‘Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, Rome‘ was nearby. It contains a memorial stone to Keats, who died from TB at the young age of 25. 

It has been documented that the poet wanted the words you see above as his epitaph: ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water‘.

There is also a memorial tablet to Shelley, who drowned in a shipwreck off the Italian coast at the age of 29. The tablet bears the famous ‘sea-change’ line from The Tempest.

It is a well-known fact that Shelley’s heart failed to burn when his body was washed ashore and ‘cremated’; Mary Shelley kept his heart, which was found among her possessions after her death. Edward John Trelawny, who also gets a mention in my poem, was an author friend of Shelley’s. Trelawny was able to identify the body of his friend on the beach.

There were often a lot of colourful cats in the area around Piramide Metro Station. It was some time before we realised that there was special provision for stray cats nearby. My reference to ‘bread and circuses’ was perhaps in part due to the free hand-outs the cats were receiving. It was, of course, also a nod to the satirist and poet Juvenal, who evoked Roman life so vividly (Juvenal, Satires, X. 70-81. Penguin translation here).

As a cat-lover, I have often observed how felines have a way of whiskering their way into unexpected places. A couple of the Testaccio ones sneaked into my poem.

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (1)

I’m home from Sewanee followed by a pretty decent week at the beach. It was wet in North Carolina, but we hot-tailed it to the beach whenever the rain stopped for a couple of hours. The surf was wild, the water hospitably warm. Our rental house on the sound had kayaks and bicycles we made the most of, plus an insane parrot and flamingo decoration scheme, which I’m inclined to put down in the “plus” column. If you see some metaphors in my beach report, so do I. This summer was packed with challenges–and sometimes opportunity–for me, my family, and friends. It’s not over, but my tan is fading. My tarot spreads, a pandemic hobby that hasn’t run out of gas, are full of aces and fools, signs of new beginnings, but also upside-down wheels and travelers. They hint that it’s time for change, although I’m resisting it. […]

Speaking of change: my poem “Convertible Moon,” a sapphics-ish elegy for my mother-in-law, appears in the new issue of One. I wrote it maybe five years ago, right after she died, and rewrote it many times, struggling to open a hyper-compressed poem to the air. Meanwhile, an etymological riff of a poem, “In Weird Waters Now,” appears in Smartish Pace 28. That one came fast. I drafted it, polished it, sent it off, and it was taken on the first try. I’d like more magic like that in my life, but in my experience, you earn the breakthroughs only by keeping your writing practice alive, and that’s time an overstuffed workday tries to edge out.

Lesley Wheeler, Convertible and weird

No angels have marked
any doors to announce
if someone has passed.

In the market, life
appears to go on
as it always has.

Mounds of ripe
fruit draw hordes
of bejeweled flies.

The hills go on, also—
keeping conversation
with themselves.

Luisa A. Igloria, Hill Station [11]

Thanks go once more to the Secret Poets who could see the shape of this poem so much more clearly than I could. You can read the previous draft here. I have though [all by myself] added a title. […]

There was some confusion over exactly what the narrator was doing with the photograph, why they needed to add a story, were they a journalist? I had not seen them as such. I was thinking they had been refining a story, a tale to tell others, as we all do.

The vision of others can help to improve our work beyond our imaginings. I suppose it’s a riff on the old saying “many hands make light work”. Something like many poets make for clarity.

Thank you Secrets.

Paul Tobin, OUT DISTANCE THE RAIN

I am thinking that the key to serenity is to divide the day into segments and focus on one thing at a time. One task, one worry, one hope. But most days it feels like I’m trying to herd angry little shrews. I suppose it is progress to be able to stand apart and watch them scrambling, though. Writing is both difficult and not. Morning journaling is difficult, but my mind is sliding effortlessly back towards poetry. At least towards the desire and the atmosphere. It’s like sitting down with an old love and finding – oh, yes, I remember this ease.

Holding two truths at once: not everything is characterised by ease now. I dream I wake often. It has been happening for over a year now. Most often I have symptoms of Covid 19, but lately I have an allergic reaction to an herb and lie waiting for my tongue to swell. I itch. I wonder where/when the line is: time to call an ambulance, or too late. I’m awake now and get up to check my torso for rashes. My lips for swelling.

Ren Powell, A False Awakening

You tell me you’ve heard the howl of wolves when the lush forest lifts its skirt.

I tell you I have a bottle of highway wine and a guitar that can outplay a death rattle.

You tell me life can sometimes seem as strange as a dandelion on a dog leash.

I tell you I dreamed you into my life with the long end of a wishbone, and with the short end I cleaned my fingernails.

You tell me if you pay close enough attention to the stars in the night sky, you can witness constellations offering instructions on how to escape a burning life.

I say sometimes tears and music sound like the same song to me.

You tell me to grab my guitar, see if we can strum our way to daylight.

Rich Ferguson, A Brief Conversation Along the River Midnight

[Y]esterday I did a painting of a branch of monkshood, Aconitum, from G.’s garden, and found myself struggling to find the patience to do that sort of detailed botanical painting after a long hiatus.

But I’d wanted to capture its fantastic shape – those dark blossoms that are so evocative of the monk’s hoods for which they’re named, and because it feels somewhat connected to G. himself, who lives an intentionally contemplative life. Monkshood has quite a history. The botanical genus name Aconitum (there are 250 species) is most likely from the Greek word for “dart,” because it was used in antiquity and throughout history as a poison on arrow-tips for hunts and in battle. A couple of grisly anecdotes: in 1524, Pope Clement VII decided to test an antidote for this plant — also known as the “Queen of Poisons” — by deliberately giving aconite-tainted marzipan to two prisoners; the one who received the antidote lived but the other died horribly. And in 2020, the president of Kyrgyzstan touted aconite root as a treatment for COVID; four people were hospitalized before his suggestion was debunked.

So in the middle of the summer harvest, it felt rather exotic to learn all of that about a common plant of northern gardens — in fact, there’s quite a bit of it in one of the city’s gardens in a park near my home.

I think the limitations of the pandemic have created greater pleasure in these small things; I find myself paying closer attention, and appreciating the first ear of corn, the succulent strawberries, the succession of bloom and the phases of the moon. I dreamt the other night that I had awakened at my father’s house at the lake, and looked up through the bedroom window to see the sky glittering more brilliantly than I’d ever seen it, with millions of stars.

Beth Adams, Gathering the Summer Fruits

The primary task I’ve been concentrating on this summer has been mundane but time-consuming — I’m slowly repairing and repainting and reorganizing our home after 14 years of five people and 2+ dogs living hard and really taking it out in the worst way on the walls and furnishings. It’s slow going, especially considering my swollen joints and also my special talent for distraction, yet it’s… going.

But when I haven’t been spackling or taping or painting I’ve been working on my manuscript collaboration with M.S. and it’s ALMOST FINISHED. I hope I’m not jinxing us by typing that out, but we have about two-three poems and cyanotype pairings to finalize, and then we’ll have something that’s “complete” if not finished (meaning it may need editing and some revisions on my end, and maybe some re-scanning of artwork on M.S.’s end). But we’ve MADE A THING and it’s very exciting considering that we never thought we’d make ANYTHING when the pandemic began.

In fact, we exhibited the poems and the cyanotypes at the 10th Annual New York City Poetry Festival on Governor’s Island at the end of July. We printed poems and art on laminated canvas (since we needed some protection against possible wind and rain).

Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Best Laid Plans are Just the Plans I Make and Then Flagrantly Ignore

why is sunlight inside the sparrow :: older than the sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

As I waited for the AT&T person to finish making my phone line communicate with the outside, I ended my day by reading Patricia Smith’s brilliant and terrifying Blood Dazzler, a good reminder of all the aspects of life that threaten us:  hurricanes and poverty and bad information and poverty and learned helplessness and poverty and forced helplessness.  I loved this cycle of poems that revolve around Hurricane Katrina, and each subsequent reading only increases my appreciation of the work.

I wondered about my own ruminations throughout the day and wondered if I could create some sort of poem cycle that connects Afghanistan and the health of a nation and the personal health choices that lead to ruin.  Or maybe I want a simpler poem, a poem about a woman hearing about the dire circumstances of Afghanistan’s women and children, a woman sobbing in the car as she goes to pick up her books on hold at the public library, a woman who has spent her day at work trying to make the educational path easier for college students.  Let my brain ruminate on that a bit before I attempt to catch it on paper.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Across Decades, A Woman Weeping for Afghanistan

Towards the end of February 2020, on a chilly evening in Cambridge and in what turned out to be my final attendance at a public event before lockdown forced all such pleasures to become online affairs, I sat at the back of the Latimer Room at Clare College to hear Maria Stepanova in conversation with Irina Sandomirskaia on the subject of ‘Memory’. Of the many interesting things they said that evening, one comment that passed between the two women has stayed with me more than any other – though I may be paraphrasing (my memory, ironically or appositely, not being my strongest faculty): “The present is a battlegound for the past”, Stepanova said, or some phrase very similar. This strikes me as true; but it is not its truth particularly that is the reason it stays me, or necessarily its originality, it was after all used in conversation not poetically and it is a phrase which may well have been used many times before, but it is in relation to Stepanova’s poetry that it takes on extra significance for me. And there is a sense in which the idea behind this phrase, although it may sound rather grandiose to say so, changes everything. Stepanova was speaking specifically about the Russian state manipulating the memorialisation of the siege of Leningrad, but the idea of battling over the past is a truth which we in the UK see played out over the treatment of public memorials to those with links to slavery, and in conflicting perspectives on how our history as an Empire-building nation should be treated. The battleground metaphor contains not only ideas of opposing sides and violence, but also loss, mourning, pain, genocide, devastation, confusion, fear, pity, humiliation, the obliteration of the individual to the group and to the earth, and many other associations which, when applied to memory, either individual or cultural (ultimately both), rightly conflates the past and the present into a single physical zone in which those who are living use whatever power is at their disposal to gain control over the dead. And the weapon used in this battle (although real war stripped of all metaphor is its ultimate expression) is language. Memory is an event in the present, it is an event of the mind that takes place through language, which in turn is a social activity that is subject to negotiation and power play. Our language moreover is a social activity in the vertical as well as the horizontal sense (to pilfer and distort Helen Vendler’s expression), i.e. we use it and morph it in dialogue with those in the present but it is bequeathed us by those in the past. Any language possible in the present (and to the extent that we cannot think in any precision without language, any thought possible in the present) owes its meaning to the past. This is what I mean when I say that Stepanova’s phrase changes everything. And while Stepanova writes specifically about Russia and what she sees as Russians’ “strange relationship with the past and its objects” (‘Intending to Live’, 2016, trans. Maria Vassileva) I think my point above about her work’s applicability to the present cultural moment in the UK holds, as I will try to expand in the final part of this essay. My reading of War of the Beasts and the Animals (Bloodaxe), the recent collection of Stepanova’s work translated by Sasha Dugdale, essentially a selection of poems from as early as 2005, is steeped not only in the idea of the present battling for the past, but also in the idea encapsulated in the quote that began this essay, specifically the notion that “a fictive poetics forms around the hole in reality” and perhaps something can be learned about this hole in the same way that we can learn about black holes by the way light bends around them.

Chris Edgoose, Like something about to be born

The Chinese lunisolar calendar puts us between 立秋 lìqiū, or start of autumn, and 處暑 chùshǔ, or limit of heat. Certainly the heat here lately has felt limiting, but the term more likely refers to the end of the hottest days of the year. My backyard world fills with haiku imagery for waning summer and impending autumn: katydid and annual cicada calls, birds starting to flock, morning glory and goldenrod, ripe pears, apples beginning to redden, hosts of butterflies. I watch as a hummingbird visits sunflowers, cannas, buddleia, corn tassels, and zinnias. Ripe tomatoes and zucchini weigh heavily on their vines.

Yesterday, a doe nibbled pears while her late-born twin fawns wove between her legs and the Queen Anne’s lace beneath the tree. The air hangs so humid, even the monarch butterfly’s wings seem to droop. A sense of waiting.

And I prepare for the fall semester. Cycles continue: that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

~

Therefore, to engage my intellect when my expressive ability with words seems sparse, I’m reading about theory. Specifically, the theory of the lyric in Western poetics, which turns out to be abstract and scholarly (no surprise, really–theory tends to be scholarly). My guide for this outing is Jonathan Culler’s book Theory of the Lyric. This text manages to be relatively readable despite its terminology; and as the terminology for the lyrical poem encompasses a long history of definitions, rhetoric, explanations, subgenres, and antiquated jargon, the going occasionally gets tough. I’m learning a great deal, however, about poetic experimentation over the centuries.

I now recognize that I have subsumed the idea of lyricism as it came down to American writers through Romanticism (see Hegel). It’s just that the concept of subjectivity in the lyric, and inward-turning emotion and the poet as speaker, has been so pervasive in Western poetics and pedagogy that it seemed a basic premise. Yet it was not always thus, and certainly other cultures employ lyricism differently and view it differently. It’s never an easy task to view from outside what is inherent in one’s own culture, but that’s where books like this one enlighten and challenge.

Ann E. Michael, Cycles & theories

the colors of my rain are silver and blue
and the sound of this rain is music
an etude for piano or cello
one note per raindrop
sixty-four years old
and still these poems command my life
a rainy night
a cup of tea
my notebook

James Lee Jobe, one note per raindrop

Recently I saw a call for “voice-driven writing.” What does that mean? Is there such a thing as voice-less writing? Even dry bureaucratese has voices. Even multi-authored works have a combined voice. What on earth could they possibly mean? 

I read hither and thither in this particular journal. I did not get the sense their choices were any “voicier” than any other current lit mag. Are they seeking poems that are speaking out of personae, real or imagined? Must the poems be I-driven somehow? I’ll have to go back and try to categorize what I’m reading there, how many I’s per poem, how many you’s or the absence thereof. 

What were the lit mag editors trying to rule out when they came up with that language for their submission instructions? Voice-driven as opposed to what, image-driven? Do they definitely not want anything resembling haiku? Voice-driven as opposed to sound-driven or rhythem-driven? Do they not want anything that could be rapped? What have they gained by specifying this mysterious category? 

Marilyn McCabe, I can here it; or, On “Voice-driven” Poetry; or, Hunh?

I’m learning that the trick is to let the story move off in some other direction. Don’t follow it down. Because the story wants you to follow it. It wants to sidle up next to you and look into your eyes with its own big, wet stare and say, “I get it, buddy.” It wants to lace its fingers into yours and feel the pulse of your wrist against its wrist. The story wants you to lean against its shoulder so it can take your weight. It wants you to come over and hang out. Don’t do it. Once you enter the story gravity increases until you find yourself couchlocked and groggy. It’s not too late at that point, but the door is so much farther away than it was when you came in. No, better to let the story continue on its way. Let its footsteps fade into the night. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

Jason Crane, The Story

Not knowing how to celebrate or mourn
weakens the scalp of thoughts:
assign patterns, draw maps,
break time into chants
as counter-narrative

disregarding
the morning light wash
mossy tree bark, the bird cries
in looping urgency
mistaking radiance for heat

The dimple of yellow enfolds
the false daisy in the backyard
when she asks:
at what point did you stop looking?

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling II

For me, self-publishing, though it took years to come round, was a kind of natural choice. The reasons were many: Less time struggling up the river and past the bottleneck of books that are just as good–many better– as mine. Less frustration as a midcareer author in a publishing world where so much focus is on the next new thing and first books even in the tiny sliver that cares about poetry at all. While I’ve had publishers who usually gave me input on design anyway, it was nice to have total control over timelines from the start. I found myself at the close of 2020, having just released a new book with my regular publisher that spring, with a build up of projects that I wanted to see in the world as full-lengths. I had sent a couple to my BLP for first dibs but they had passed. I did not then want to spend 100s of dollars playing the open reading periods/contest submissions. While I suppose I could have sought out traditional publishers for all three, I am not sure I was keen on waiting years and years for them all to be released. My takeaway from pandemic year is not [just] that any of us are vulnerable to death or disaster at any time–so seize the day–but also to try to live that life free [from] anyone’s permission or approval that these books are somehow less than my other traditionally published ones because I am putting them out there under my own imprint (I call this my FOOF era, ie “fresh out of fucks”). Sometimes you talk about self-publishing and seizing the means of production and people look at you like you just threw up on their shoes. Whatever. Since I had the means and the ability to make books happen after years of publishing chaps, something of a following of readers (small, but enthusiastic..lol..) why not do it?

I don’t know what road I’ll take after these books.  Maybe a little of both is nice.  I love the community aspect of publishing with an existing press and the design stuff is a heavy load, so it’s nice to have someone else in charge of it (formatting the book took many, many days and then still needs work once you’re in galleys.)  Things like review or promo copies are nice to not have to worry about. Sales figures were about 30 percent less with feed overall than sex & violence a year earlier (which was a bestseller at SPD after all) , but the earnings were significantly more since I get a larger portion of profits. I like being able to control the timeline, but it’s not the most important thing going forward since this weird clustering of projects isn’t always my reality. 

Ultimately, launching a collection is hard even with a publisher backing you up, but double that if you’re on your own. I feel like selling books now is hard anyway with a lack of readings and events, so I’ve no idea if one approach is better than another in the long term–so we shall see…I’m just making it up as I go along…

Kristy Bowen, the self-publishing diaries | pros & cons

I was very saddened to learn today that the leading Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski has died, aged 80, of motor neurone disease.

I have blogged about him several times over the years. You can find these posts here, here and here.

As I have said before, he is one of my go-to poets.

My love affair with his work began in the early nineties, when The Harvill Press began putting out his work in beautiful volumes: The Same Sea In Us All (1990), The Wandering Border (1992) and Through the Forest (1996).

Bloodaxe Books published a sumptuous Selected Poems in 2011, as well as a three-book compendium, Evening Brings Everything Back in 2004.

I re-read him most years, and am now doubly motivated to spend time in his wry, wise and riddling company.

Bloodaxe have published a summary of his life and work here, at the end of which is a video of Kaplinski reading his poems in English.

Anthony Wilson, RIP Jaan Kaplinski

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I guess this is a three part answer. I replicate the history of humankind with regard to poetry. I already loved it when I could not read, and so I knew poetry the way people did before the invention of the technology of writing. When it was illiterature, not literature. I didn’t learn to read and write until grade one, but when taught it, I learned it to an adult level within a few weeks. For grades one through three, I came “first”, in print culture, to “fiction”. Story-telling, or the tale, I think you might say. Mainly the tales of Troy and Arthur and related materials. Then toward the end of grade three, I went to library to find more Edgar Allan Poe stories and found a big  volume with Poe’s poems in the end. I came to them first because I’d started reading from the end. And I was immediately astonished and absorbed and from that moment I never wanted to be anything else but a poet. I recognized a new and “modern” form of what I’d heard with such absorption when I was a “primitive”: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalms, the Gospels, skipping songs, rhymed taunts, nursery rhymes–children’s poetic culture. Truly ancient and at the same time “folk” elements. All that. I recognized a special and specially wonderful form of the “music” I already loved, though not yet of course in a thematic way: folk songs, good popular songs, art songs to a certain extent (I was a music student). But beyond any such consciousness I was simply engulfed by the wonder of the poem. The poem was to me the same thing as a beautiful spring day, by myself, unbothered, and yet still nurtured by people and nature, in transit between home and the woods and the fields, passing along under the walls of the factories, down on the stream bank…

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with A.F. Moritz

I didn’t do any reading over the trip, but I’m back on the horse with #The Sealey Challenge: Day 9: Glimt av opphav – Glims o Origin by Christine De Luca, a Shetland poet. Christine’s poems are in the Shetland dialect of Scots and then translated to Norwegian by Odd Goksøyr. Christine gave me this collection when she visited Helsinki a few years back promoting a project because I speak some Norwegian and have studied the Scots language in university. I really enjoyed reading these poems out loud, in Norwegian and Shetlandic, seeing how the languages are so closely connected. Her poems examine the overlapping of the two cultures as in ‘Thule Revisted’/’Tilbake to Thule’ where Norwegian sailors arrive in Shetland to the delight of the locals as well as various characters, places and cultural highlights of the islands. The poems range from their geological beginnings to modern day, even beyond Shetland. 

I love that Christine doesn’t shy away from mixing science and its language with that of history and old myths, bringing Shetland into the modern age with a generous nod to its origins, hence the title. The poems are rich, linguistically, images and sounds evoking the place, the people and their stories. Beautifully crafted.

Gerry Stewart, The Sealey Challenge: Days 9, 10, 12 and 14

The first poem is about Tater Tots, and the second poem is about “buying weapons,” so I definitely encountered the unexpected in Made to Explode, by Sandra Beasley (W.W. Norton, 2021). And then it all came together in “Einstein, Midnight,” one of several prose poems in the book, in the sentence, “Anything, in the right hands, can be made to explode.” Many details of history here, including how the poet’s personal history intersects with American history. In “My Whitenesses,” I learned what the epithet cracker means and found these three pithy lines:

     My performative strip
     of self, still
     trashing up the place.

Jam-packed with meaning. And in “Monticello Peaches,” a poem about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and her brothers, I learned the difference between cling and freestone peaches. It’s hard to bear the poem “Black Death Spectacle,” about Emmett Till. “Kiss Me,” about Ruth Bader Ginsburg attending the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate, makes me never want to see it, alas, and to wish again she were still alive. Oh, how “Winter Garden Photograph” hit me in the heart, with the words “Carl died. Life is over” written on a calendar that survives grief. And “Lazarus” is a glorious poem in the grand tradition of cat poems that makes me miss my cat, all my cats. Ah, so it is a Blue Monday in the blog, and another Poetry Someday in pursuit of the Sealey Challenge.

Kathleen Kirk, Made To Explode

So, during the first week of Breadloaf, I mostly went to lectures, plus I had my editor/publisher “pitch” sessions, which are fifteen minute Zoom meetings with either lit mag editors or book publishing people. I got Graywolf and Four Way, which were both lovely, but I was so nervous about them! I can’t believe I was so nervous about pitching poetry! This was also my first time at any Breadloaf, because they offered a Virtual option. I wish all the big conferences offered this, because I got to meet writers from both coasts, but also France and Australia, which I think makes the whole conference more interesting. It also seemed that the conference faculty and attendees were more diverse than at least I was expecting. […]

One thing that surprised me about the lectures – the ones with the “superstars” were only okay, and the ones with writers that were new to me were the most thought-and-poem inspiring. I wonder if expectation factored into this – or as another Breadloaf attendee observed, prose writers are just better at prose presentations, or less well-known writers work harder on their talks? Two of the best lectures this week so far at (Virtual) Breadloaf were by Jess Row and Tania James, two writers I didn’t know about before the conference. My loss! Jess talked about writing the political and economic within scenarios of apocalypses and Tania about writing surprise (including example short stories about transforming into a deer or eating children.) Both were brilliant.

I thought I’d be writing way more (I’ve only written one poem this week) but I feel like thinking about ways to write after each lecture was good and the pitches were good, but everything online seems to take way more energy than in person and I ended up napping way more than I expected (this could also be related to the heat.) All this staring at screens did motivate me last week to go get an overdue eye exam which resulted in two new pairs of glasses, including readers – prescriptions plus some magnification for computer reading. Both pairs were pink – one sparkly, one neon. It seems metaphorical – looking at life through literally a new lens. I’m looking forward to next week, when I’ll be really immersed with hours of workshop AND lectures. And then it will almost be September!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Wildfire Smoke and the First Week of Breadloaf: Late Summer Edition, Plus, the Sealey Challenge Continues

Setting off back home in a sudden cold squally downpour that emptied the harbourside and streets in seconds, as Andy drove us up the main street, I saw the Bethel Chapel was for sale. Which was when I learned that my friend Patrick Scott had died. The stunningly converted chapel is /was his house. Last time I saw him there was at Staithes Art Week, a couple of years ago. […]

Patrick was a good friend, at one time the editor of a book I wrote about teaching writing, a fellow member of NATE, one of the generation that revolutionised English teaching in the 70’s. His last post was as Director of Children’s services for York, but earlier he was English Advisor for Cleveland/Teesside, a post that was previously held by another friend and mentor, Gordon Hodgeon . I’ve written at length about Gordon; if you don’t know about his story and his poetry you should. There’s a link at the end of the post. Another friend and inspiration, Andrew Stibbs, (NATE alumnus, former head of English in Cleveland, pioneer of mixed ability teaching, Leeds University lecturer in English in Education, painter, musician, cricketer and gifted poet) had been a member of Brotton Writers with Gordon, and equally a good friend of Patrick. All three have died and I miss them, terribly. All three are bound up with my memories of living and working on Teesside and in working as a teacher-trainer. All three are somehow present whenever I go back, say, to Staithes.

What do I make of it. Here am I, writing a poetry blog. What do I know. I say that poetry lets you say what you can say in no other medium, and that is true, when it’s working. But how does that fit with what I described as a week of writing which set itself to challenge us to explore our self-imposed taboos and preconceptions, to query what we think we mean by the ‘truth’ and to be more daring and take more risks.

I’m approaching what I’ll write next with great caution, because I fear to be misunderstood, and in any case I may be wrong. However. I rejoined my Zoom course the next day, head buzzing, not sure of anything in particular. A bit numb. What to be daring about, what risks to take, and why? Possibly I was feeling oversensitive, but it struck me that what I was being challenged to feel more open about, or to, were issues of gender politics, of sexual identity, of sexual violence. Could I write about a parent’s genitals, for instance. Could I challenge self-imposed taboos? Well, yes, I could, but my heart wasn’t in it, I couldn’t give myself up to the game. I sense I missed the cultural tide, recently. But it’s set me thinking about something I read a long time ago, that the Victorians (officially) couldn’t write about sex but wrote with amazing freedom about death, whereas, since the late 60s exactly the opposite has been the case.

John Foggin, A game of ghosts. i.m. Patrick Scott

More than a decade ago, not long into single-motherhood, I got to spend a week in residency at Soapstone, a retreat for women writers on the Oregon coast. For a week I got to live by myself in a beautiful cabin in the forest and do nothing but eat, sleep, walk, and write. And do dishes, of course. A significant part of the Soapstone mission was stewardship of the property on which the writers’ cabins were located; I remember a sign encouraging us to use the dishwasher. It said that it was better for the land than handwashing, which felt counter-intuitive. It said it was better to run a half-full load than to use the water required to wash by hand. Sometimes I washed by hand, anyway, when I wanted just one cup or a particular bowl. […]

Washing the dishes recently, I realized I’ve come to like washing the dishes by hand. Something about the soap and warm water, the ritual of it. While the chicken finished baking in the oven, I washed all the things I’d used to prepare it. I’m learning to do this, to wash as I go, in small batches. I like the small, neat stacks on the bamboo dish rack, the cups that fit perfectly on the bottom shelf. I’ve realized we don’t need as many dishes as I once thought. We wash so frequently that we don’t run out of them in the cupboard.

My Soapstone experience was transformative, but not in the way its founders and board hoped it would be. For an entire week, I did nothing but write. I had no children to feed or bathe or stimulate or soothe, no papers to grade, no partner to answer to or tend. I had only to feed myself and write, and by the end of the week I understood in new, deep ways why I was having such a hard time getting anything written. I concluded that writing was something I was going to put on a shelf. I could always come back to it later, I told myself.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Washing the dishes

I was in the middle of sorting out the launch for the new issue [of Spelt] at the time and I began to feel quite worried about it. What if he was there, this man, in the audience? What if he was quietly watching me? My friends and I went out on the town for a few drinks and weirdly, we saw someone who looked just like the guy we thought might have sent the message and we laughed because …no way…but then I began to think, what if it was?

All this from one email. All this from one person who wanted, at best, to be an edgy poet, at worst wanted me to be shocked so they could gain some satisfaction from it. All this upset.

I went through this laughing it off then feeling uneasy then feeling angry cycle for about a week. Then I put a call out on social media for a woman editor or poet who I could just talk to about it, to see if I was being silly. And another woman editor did. She was angry on my behalf, she justified by shock and uneasiness. We talked through what we might realistically do about me getting my confidence back and not letting this person spoil my enjoyment, how I might feel safe again. This blog is one of those things. I do not have to protect this person. He has violated my right to feel safe.

While I won’t name him, I have in fact flagged him up as a potential problem to other woman editors. I have trigger warned them. The other thing I am doing is to set up a group for women editors so that we have a safe place to talk about this sh*t, because any woman with a public profile deals with this stuff.

I feel empowered again. We had the launch for the new issue and whether he was there or not, I didn’t give a f*ck. It was a smashing hour of really top quality poetry and CNF from writers who want to be part of Spelt.

Wendy Pratt, Your Right to Express Yourself Versus My Right to Feel Safe

I want to get back to dreaming, you know? This morning I put on red lipstick and my black sunglasses and we, my daughter and I, went to the Italian Centre and bought pasta for our pantry and then sat in the cafe and drank a coffee on the patio. I’d put on all my jewelry, all my rings, earrings, even. We took no photos but I came home thinking maybe the world isn’t that that terrible. Maybe we’ll make it through. Maybe we can be gorgeous at Italian grocery stores at the end of the world. Maybe we can dream little dreams.

I came home and set up this still life (didn’t actually drink the wine though…yet). And then I went to my poetry shelf, to keep up the happy buzz and took a book outside and sat in the sun and read and jotted down a bunch of phrases that made me excited.

The book? I keep missing C.D. Wright who left us in 2016. Once in a while you’ll google an author you love to see if they have another volume coming out, but this won’t happen. I took her book with the gorgeously long title off the shelf instead: The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All.

And these are the phrases I copied out into a notebook, which almost seem to make a poem themselves, or maybe they’re a call to action, or maybe they’re just words with zest (just!), or maybe they’re a reminder to create sparks whenever you can, and to listen to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, (which she mentions at one point), and to write and share and enjoy the work of others, and fall in love with it and wax poetic about anyone whose work you happen to love, or anyone really — their gestures, their annoying beautiful tics that you will miss when they’re gone. [Click through to read them.]

Shawna Lemay, Seers and Dreamers

and ~ finally
the falling blossoms are turning
to flakes of ash

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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. This week: wildfires and harvest metaphors, Covid worries, learning to swim, reading books for the Sealey challenge, and much more.


Mountains of fire, the forest
Is a fantastic red blaze.
Lightning in the summer sky,
The earth is as dry as old bones.
And we burn, each of us is an ember.
This is the hour to hold on to hope,
The hour to keep faith and have courage.
May we not fail, and if we do fail
Let it be brazen. Let it be fierce.
Let the final light of being
Illuminate the entire earth.

James Lee Jobe, each of us is an ember

When I began this pastel a month ago, I was thinking with longing about the silvery olive trees in Greece, billowing in the wind off the sea and the mountain tops. That was before the wildfires began that are now raging across the mainland and the Peloponnese, bringing enormous destruction, suffering and loss. Today I look at this picture with different eyes, and have been thinking of the legend of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from the Olympian gods and gave it to humans — for that deed he was glorified by humans, but punished by Zeus, who chained him to a rock where an eagle continually preyed upon his liver, until Hercules freed him many centuries later. But it has taken three millennia for us to begin to understand the deeper meaning behind that myth, and why the gods might not have wanted man to have fire, and to start to recognize the results and the price of our selfish neglect of the earth and all its gifts.

This particular olive tree grows at the top of a hill in Epidaurus, site of perhaps the most perfect ancient Greek theater, and of the shrine of Asclepias: a sacred place of pilgrimage and healing for the ancient Greeks. I had climbed up all the steps of the theater to the very top, and then looked out over the back in the opposite direction, where there was a farmer’s road and a grove of olive trees, whose leaves made rustling music in the wind.

In the pastel, I tried to capture that sense of restless, continual movement against the stony ochre-tinged earth and the tall mountains in the distance: the time I spent contemplating that scene remains a memory just as vivid as that of the theater and the surrounding shrine.

Beth Adams, Olive Trees at Epidaurus

Since my last post here, my main creative accomplishment has been to keep the door open to both writing and visual art just for the pleasure… no expectation to make reading notes and no expectation to write anything more than notes or jot down bits of inspiration. I quietly kept my toe in the writing waters by finishing up a micro class with Sarah Freligh and Zoom workshops with both the Madwomen and members of my local poetry community.

I also let expectations go for my social life, for wellness pursuits, for schedules, for work, for play, etc. I am terrible at going with the flow, but I did surrender to it.

I realize now that this was a delayed response to the Collective Big Pause (i.e. global pandemic and associated social distancing/lock downs). I don’t do well with transitions, and I loathe uncertainty. I prefer clear paths over liminal space. I appreciate deadlines and established time frames. While so many of you leaned into the stillness of the pandemic, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I don’t mean the solitude got to me: Solitude is a good friend of mine. I mean that while many were able to soothe themselves with familiar pleasures (like favorite hobbies) or even seek new pleasures (like fresh projects or development of long-desired skills), I pretty much froze. I understood that I could be (maybe even should be) using the time differently, but instead I just sat in it. I worked online during the day, and at night and on weekends, I got numb. I checked out.

The last few months, early spring at first, now deep into summer, have been about easing my way back into feeling. I’m not all the way there yet, but starting with pleasure seemed wise. Savoring morning coffee. Working my muscles hard. Putting my ear to the creative ground and capturing bits of language. Shooting the shit with my boys whenever the opportunity presents itself and for as long. Absorbing sun. Reading books cover-to-cover. Painting my nails. Eating and drinking what I want.

Carolee Bennett, the annoying chewing sounds my brain makes

brown water grey headland
litter of shattered shale
wave lines slant to the shore

junction 23 roundabout
a mass of moon daisies
horses up to their knees in buttercups

I have the right
to be absolutely
wrong

Ama Bolton, Desire Lines

I grew up in small towns. On top of that, I lived in the country, not in town. I think living in relative isolation was good preparation for living in a pandemic. Honestly, I’m only now starting to miss in-person socializing. A little. One good thing about isolation of this kind is that you have almost complete control over your life and how you want to spend your time because you don’t have a lot of outside choices. There have been minimal demands from “out there” and I’ve spent almost every day doing exactly what I wanted. Kind of like it was before I started grade school. I was an expert at entertaining myself. I had books, I had nature, I had animals. I was never bored. During the past year and a half I have rarely been bored. I feel sad for people who need more stimulation. I’m sure it’s been much harder on them.

Charlotte Hamrick, Favorite Fiction: 2nd Quarter 2021

I have to admit, my three days a week in the library (courtesy of all those extra vacation days I’d been hoarding the past couple years) have made this summer seem a bit lengthier than they usually are. While most pass in a stack of weeks that are indistinguishable from the next. Now there’s some space between the work weeks–days I can devote to other kinds of work–mostly writing and the press, but sometimes a little painting thrown in. They make the days I go downtown feel like a singular week and not just one bleeding into the next. But even still. we are already knee deep in August it seems. Already creeping closer to the beginning of the semester while side-eyeing the news headlines. Columbia seems to acting from a place of hope I’m not sure they will get to just yet. The edict a few weeks back about going maskless on campus was snatched away even before most of us actually took ours off for any period of time. There are plans for in-person outdoor convocation and 75 percent reduced instruction, but I still feel like they are being way too optimistic given that even in well-vaxxed Chicago, our positive rate is somehow, impossibly creeping up nevertheless and the rest of the state is a giant, under-vaccinated mess. I fear for the folks I know in Florida and have a governor intent on killing everyone it seems. Even places under good leadership are failing.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/7/2021

I don’t want to reckon with my choices:
feels like that’s all we’ve done for 18 months
(should I mask, is this safe, what if
we meet outside and never breathe together?)
I don’t want to query who will live
and who will die, who by wildfire and who
by flooded subway, who intubated and alone
and who will have enough while others lack.
I just want all of us to thrive: our hearts
at ease, our hopes in reach at last.
Come close to me, God. Comfort me with apples.
Remind me the world is born again each year —
even if I’m not ready, even if this year
I’m not sure I know the words to pray.

Rachel Barenblat, Sonnet for our second COVID Rosh Hashanah

I’ve staged this harvest, taking only enough spuds at a time for the next meal in order to achieve that tub-to-table-in-20-minutes freshness which has been the whole point, or at least a good part of the point. I’ve served them with mint from the window box, and roasted them with rosemary which grows next to the mint. With the next and final serving, I plan to smother then in buttery sage – the window box sage is flourishing, having been dug up and sent to me by Morar by Royal Mail last autumn. She’d read I didn’t have any to go with my parsley, rosemary, and thyme (I Bottle Abundance). 

The rest of the point of the harvest has been to do with the pleasure of engaging in the physical world, the necessity of it. The joy of it is the reminder that growth often takes place out of sight … but oh … this is beginning to sound like it’s heading in the direction of a sermon …

You’re right, dear reader: I’m going to use my potato harvest as a metaphor for creativity. You see, all the while these Charlottes were growing underground, I’ve been working on poems hidden in a file on my computer since 2019, now published by Fair Acre Press. I’d originally hoped their coming to light would coincide with Beethoven’s 250th birthday in December 2020. This late harvest has also come in stages: a Zoom launch, a reading at the Poetry Pharmacy, and then a performance in mid-Devon on a summer’s evening of extraordinary heat and calm. 

Carol Caffrey and I had hatched the idea of a joint event back in the spring when our host, Richard Higgins, was looking for productions for a short season of open air events. It had seemed, then, so theoretical, so impossible: the chances were that it would never happen.

And then, it did. 

Our journey down the M5 and through the high-hedged lanes was long. When we saw our names in huge letters on arrival at Brushford Barton, it was as if we had dug our hands into the soil, and, unbelieving until the moment of contact, found potatoes … 

Liz Lefroy, I Harvest My Crops

grain theory

there is something i need more than facts. i need a good theory. or better put i need a theory about good. consulting scientists seems useless. they want the former while i seek the later. what makes something anything or us good. i am listening to kenny garrett play his sax with miles davis. I believe that will be the starting point of my search for the theory of good. when miles plays a song you dont listen to the song you just listen to miles. the song will appear at some point but you just stay lost in miles and it will come when it feels like it. 

someday. maybe tomorrow. i will come to you all and report my findings in the middle of a five hundred acre field of rye…

the loose sounds
of jazz
composing a melody
out of a ‘riff’

Michael Rehling, Haibun 213

I like distinctions, categories, naming things. But then if I think too much about them, categories, they fall apart. I’ve been thinking again about this idea of “narrative” poetry and “lyric” poetry. Many intelligent things have been said about those categories, I’m sure, none of which I can remember at the moment. 

But I’ve been thinking too about time, as I often do, and time seems to be the primary distinction between the narrative and the lyric poem. A narrative unfolds over time; a lyric is of a moment. Is that true? 

I was asking a friend recently about a poem of hers that unfolds over a short period of time but is focused on the feeling of a moment. She describes what she’s been up to in her work recently as “trying to use fragments of narrative as part of an attempt to creat a non-narrative experience.” 

Is a narrative poem just a long way toward a lyric moment? I don’t know. Maybe. Isn’t the whole point of telling a story to give that moment of impact? When all the notes of the song come together in a resonant chord? 

But that idea of music is the purview of the lyric, isn’t it? The etymology of narrate is gnarus, meaning knowing. Not much is known about the origin of the word lyre, or Greek lyra or lura, that stringed instrument of long ago, but made its way to the French lyrique or short poem expression emotion suited for singing to the lyre. Or something like that. 

Marilyn McCabe, It’s time time time that you love; or, On Narrative, Lyric, and the Restless Eye

I’ve been in a funk this summer, and feeling, frankly, as though all this writing is pointless. Aren’t there already enough books in the world? Despite good friends, despite a class in which I was assigned to write one metaphor per day. (Which can also be similes, “This weird funk, purple like Puget Sound at dusk,” or brilliant word substitutions: “A blue funk washed over me.”) Despite walks. Despite baking many loaves of sourdough bread.

But it is August, and that means POPO, or POetry POstcard Fest. I don’t always sign up for August, as I participate in my friend Carla’s February postcards event each year. But this year, August postcards feels like a good idea. Somewhere I have a quote written down, about letting go of expectations and big-picture goals and doing just the one next right thing. The metaphors can be that next right thing; the postcards can be that next right thing.

Bethany Reid, Writing a Postcard

My grandfather cutting cantaloupe on a summer morning as he readies for work, the light shining through the sink window’s short curtains. He sprinkles his melon, soft and vivid as the Hermistons I offer to my son like jewels, with salt. Paul Harvey’s voice is tinny through the radio, and my grandmother is still sleeping in their bed upstairs. I like not needing to say anything, having him all to myself, being cared for only by him, who makes me a piece of toast in the toaster that now sits on a shelf in my mother’s kitchen. He dies of a heart attack at 63. The night he dies, I sleep in that bed with my grandma, in his spot. 

I sit at my kitchen table and read a piece my friend Sharon is writing about grandmothers and canning and writing. About preservation and sustenance. She writes that she cans with words, not food. Then I read my friend Bethany’s piece about doubting the purpose of writing, she who writes multiple books through decades of mothering and teaching. I consider my history, the jars of applesauce my great-grandmother sent to our suburban house every fall that she made from apples grown on the farm, and how three generations later I am only just now, well into a sixth decade of living, beginning to learn how to grow food. I consider the tomatoes ripening in a bowl on the table, the literal fruits of my labor. I consider the one book of poems I cultivated, now nearly 20 years ago, and I wonder if the writer in me is a pale hosta. Maybe she is. Or maybe she is a rat, scratching at survival through blog posts and Instasnippets. Maybe she is an invasive, drought-resistant perennial with deep, woody roots. Maybe she is none of those things and all of those things. Maybe she is everything in the garden–the hostas and rinds and rats and tomatoes and trumpets and weeds and bees, being fed by whatever they can find there, wherever they can find it. It’s a conceit that brings comfort, here on the edge of the cusp of autumn, these brief weeks of both harvesting and fading. 

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the edge of the cusp

clutching the letter —
her dad lifts her up
to the mail slot

Bill Waters, Haiku about family and friends

–As I looked at all the glassware, I thought of our younger selves, the ones who wanted to have a glass for every possible type of drink.  Have we ever made margaritas or martinis?  No, but if we do, we have the glass for it.

–I gave away the one, lonely wine glass, the first one I ever bought, at a store near the B.Dalton’s in a mall long ago.  I bought it the summer after I graduated from undergraduate school.  I imagined that a grown woman needed a wine glass.

–Why did I think a grown woman only needed one wine glass?  And why is it so small?

–How did we end up with so many pillowcases?  Where are the sheets that once went with these pillowcases?  Do the pillowcases miss the sheets that have gone on to other destinies?

When I got to the Good Will drop off station yesterday, I was surprised to see a line of cars.  I patiently waited my turn, watching the people pop out and haul their stuff to the pile:  a pair of shoes, a child’s scooter, bag after bag of stuff.  And then I added my two bags of stuff and my carton of glassware.  I pondered the basic question:  what will become of all this stuff?  Will it go round and round and round again?

There are larger questions, of course.  Do others really need my cast-aways?  How does the earth bear this burden?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wisdom from the Good Will Drop Off

Before becoming self-conscious of all the things I’m doing wrong, I didn’t used to think about swimming when swimming, but I did sometimes think about poems. Some poets like to go walking. Personally I rarely get inspired when I’m out and about. And I have to say I don’t really write anything in my head while swimming, but being in the water is fraught with metaphorical energy, as are (for me and many others I suspect) swimming pools generally. I’ve had a ‘lido’ poem on the go for at least a decade, I think it’s currently out somewhere but I won’t be surprised if it comes back rejected again. Unlike ‘Lido’ by Alison McVety from her fine collection Lighthouses (Smith Doorstop) that sticks in my mind, the swimmer ‘left to plough on’ in the rain, ‘ten years gone and I’m still turning and swimming, turning and swimming’.

I’m now trying to remember various ‘not waving but drowning’ type poems, particularly one by a (currently living) poet whose brother downed… perhaps you can help me out? I think I read it in a magazine some time in the last ten years. I just did a search for ‘poem about a brother who drowned’ and it threw up an extraordinary list of results, all of the ’25+ Heartening Poems for a Deceased Brother’s Funeral’ variety. Funerals are probably the only time 99% of the population ever wants to encounter a poem, to be fair. Anyway, if I ever get to do a flip turn I’ll let you know.

Robin Houghton, Not drowning but waving

I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve been on holiday for this past week which is extremely useful in refusing to be worn out. And when I say holiday, I mean that I’ve not been at my day job but have instead been working on the proofs for my book, Everything Affects Everyone, and sorting out various parts of my life and planning just a little into the future. We also went to Banff, and I visited this little tree growing in a stone fence, and which I’ve taken photos of for years. Still, this little tree refuses to give up its hold and boy do I admire and love this little tree for just rooting in and keeping the faith. I have communed with this little sapling for years via my camera lens, which I guess means that it’s not really a sapling, is it? Returning, I never really expect it to be there. Afterwards, I don’t think much about it. We go home, life resumes. But every year when we return to Banff, I mosey by and when it’s there it’s such a pleasant surprise.

Shawna Lemay, On Refusing to Be Worn Out

walking sideways
in bosherton’s lily ponds
freshwater crabs

swansea’s mirage
drinking with the dead poets
in the kardohma

dreams of empire
all the red in the atlas
fading away

laugharne
around every corner
dylan

blue pool
half the depth
of my trepidation

Jim Young [no title]

‘What’s wrong with me?’ you used to ask as you watched
the man you knew you were slipping from your grasp.
Oh Daddy, why can’t I just remember the good times?

Bingo, helping you with your Spanish homework, the time
we went to Laugharne together to Dylan’s boathouse,
how you used to say to me, ‘You’re just like your mother.’

But still, after all these months, when the curtain first
goes up on my memory it is the latter darkness
that steps towards the footlights. I have to believe

this will pass, that grief will loosen its shroud
and the stage will flood with light and I will be
filled with joy, with the grace of your well-lived life.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Stage

He recants forms, the shape and texture of her throat once
translucent as a lotus stem, an old woman’s pouch now. When
she lifts her feet to cross the threshold, he turns away to burrow
in the pastel core of silence, looking intently at the emptiness
as the air decants with the freedom of uncoupling.

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling

I’m starting to worry about having a job. I don’t mean whether I can find one. I mean whether it was a good idea to find the one I’ve got. I work just three days a week and that seems like not that much until I think THREE OUT OF SEVEN DAYS THAT’S ALMOST HALF and then I start questioning everything. Without the job I make about $250 a month doing my little things I do. Sending people weird emails and making the occasional podcast. I used to make twice that but I gave one of my shows to someone else because if there’s one thing I’ve always been good at it’s financial planning. I mostly don’t watch other van life videos or Instagram accounts anymore but the other day I caught up on one of my favorites and he’s out there climbing mountains and paddling across lakes and I have, like, five polo shirts so I can wear them to work and I wonder if I’ve slid back too far. Right now I’m listening to the rain on the roof of the van and thinking about the loon calls I heard earlier and remembering the smell of the high desert and that time I drove as far as you can drive until you have to start paddling toward Havana and maybe I should go to bed and think about all this tomorrow.

Jason Crane, Havana

What turned out to be four lines of the poem appeared as I was driving along the M4 in rain like stair rods. I found myself repeating them over and over in my head to avoid forgetting them, building on what was one line, then two before getting to the fourth one. I was just debating whether to ask Rachael to write them down for me or to ask Siri to take a note (that would have felt weird, talking gibberish into my wrist while R and F were listening), but thankfully a services popped up, so I could type it up to come back to.

It’s a start. Who knows what will come of it.

Mat Riches, Vona Groarke’s Trumpet

I’m really delighted that my video accidentals (recalculated) has been selected for the International Review of Poetry, Videopoetry and Video-Art for the special on-line 10th edition of Bologna in Lettere, screening on 4th August 2021, curated by Enzo Campi.

This video started out life as a more-or-less standard poem. But then I realised that I could replace many of the verbs, prepositions, conjunctions and other linguistic elements with mathematical operators or symbols used in algebra, statistic,computing and engineering. The implementation of these operators and symbols in the piece is all internally consistent, so that a given symbol always means the same thing. Video was the ideal way to integrate the new text with the original poem via the voice-over. Most of the images were filmed in and around my home in South Australia.

Ian Gibbins, accidentals (recalculated) at Bologna in Lettere 10th edition

I’m writing from a blessed weekend of rain after a 51-day drought here in the Seattle area. I took a long walk under the cloud cover and my garden is much happier. […]

So, the month of August is often a good month to get in a dose (or 30) of poetry with The Sealey Challenge, with the goal of reading a book of poetry a day and posting about it. So far, I didn’t quite make it to that (lots going on, read above) but I did read two new books and revisited a few old favorites, plus ordered a few signed copies of new books from friends. I also plan a visit to Open Books in Seattle when I can get the time.

I notice all the reading inspired me to write a few new poems – something I rarely do in August unless pressed – and helped me stay calm during a time of great stress. Also, Sylvia really enjoys getting in on the Sealey Challenge by playing model cat.

I encourage you all to do a little poetry shopping and/or revisiting old favorites on your shelf if you get the time, and posting about it. The conversation about poetry couldn’t happen at a better time – we all need a positive distraction from the endless stress of the past year and a half.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Too Much Drama, Sealey Challenges, Possible Good News, and Virtual Breadloaf Starting Tomorrow

Summer is almost over here in Finland, after months of high temps and no rain, thunderstorms hit last night and it’s been raining all day. Schools start back in a week, so we’re on the wind-down. 

I’m torn about going back, I will miss the lazy days, but I would really like to talk to adults again. My stress insomnia has already started up, but hopefully that will pass once I go back for our orientation. 

I’ve decided to try the Sealey Challenge this month, to read a poetry collection a day for the month of August. I have to admit I’m not good at keeping up with my poetry reading. I buy collections and dip into them, but often struggle to sit down and read the whole book at once. 

I’m not sure if I’ll get through a whole collection in one day and will sometimes feel I’m not doing justice to the poet. I read fiction quickly, too quickly to appreciate play of language and technique unless I force myself to really slow down like I’m doing with my current reread of Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon which is a beautifully poetic novel and needs a slow read. 

I will treat this challenge as the introduction to the poems I’m reading, a first splash about and then I can spend some time fully exploring my favourites later.

Gerry Stewart, Sealey Challenge: Day 1

The river runs through this book [Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz]. “The First Water is the Body” begins, “The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States–also, it is a part of my body.” Later, the “I” becomes a “we.” “We carry the river, its body of water, in our body.” In the poem called “exhibits from The American Water Museum,” water is like language: “I am fluent in water. Water is fluent in my body– / it spoke my body into existence.”

Love poems wind in and out. Animals. Snake, wolf, crane, coyote, bull, tiger, horse, yellow jacket, all the animals on the ark. More basketball. In “The Mustangs,” her brother is a high school basketball star; the team is beloved by the whole community. “We ran up and down the length of our lives, all of us, lit by the lights of the gym, toward freedom–we Mustangs. On those nights, we were forgiven for all we would ever do wrong.”

It was a beautiful day to read this book outside. I love August, its pure summer feel, its poignant, back-to-school-soon, summer’s-almost-over-feel—but it isn’t! Summer goes on and on, long past school. And now August is the Sealey Challenge for me, a poetry book a day, a lushness of reading in the green afternoon, the coneflowers blooming, phlox, round two of golden lilies, the oregano flower-headed and leaning out into the lawn. I love how I can read these poems to learn, to experience beauty and desire in someone else’s language, culture, voice. I’m reading for joy!–though, yes, I encounter grief–and for knowledge. I learn that “Manhattan is a Lenape Word.” I learn the “Top Ten Reasons Why Indians Are Good at Basketball.”

And what a thrill to find Kearney, Nebraska in a poem, a town I lived in as a child, and the sandhill cranes. In a heartbreaking brother poem with a dismantled Polaroid camera. What a book! And what is a sky hook? Ah, now I know!

Kathleen Kirk, Postcolonial Love Poem

Delayed due to lockdowns and pandemic but finally available is Jordan Abel’s incredibly powerful NISHGA (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021). His first book since his third poetry title, the Griffin Poetry Prize-winningInjun (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2016) [see my review of such here], the critical memoir that is NISHGA utilizes archival scraps, talks, interviews, visual poems and other forms into a book-length collage that speaks of and to generational trauma and the residential school system, and the ways in which he has used his work to engage larger conversations about aboriginal culture and colonialism, and an exploration on his own identity and indigeneity. As he writes early on in the collection under the title “Notes”: “I remember talking with a colleague of a colleague at a book launch in Vancouver. She came up to me after my reading and wanted to talk. At some point, she asked me if I spoke Nisga’a. I said no and she asked why. But it wasn’t just the question why. There was something else there too. She didn’t say it, but she wanted to know how I could have been so irresponsible. How I could have been Nisga’a my whole life but never bothered to learn the language. As if I had access. As if I could just flip a switch and know. as if I hadn’t wanted to. As if I hadn’t felt that hole inside me. As if filling it was that easy.”

He writes of generational violence that rippled out from the residential school system, and how his work in The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks, 2013) [see my review of such here], for example, responded directly to some of those concerns. He writes of his background as Nisga’a but without access to his biological father, a Nisga’a artist who left when Abel was still an infant. Abel speaks of that disconnect; of growing up Nisga’a without knowing or even meeting anyone else Nisga’a until, as an adult, he briefly met his father for the first time. There is an enormous amount of pain throughout this project, and Abel maps some dark and difficult histories, from his own personal disconnects to a generational trauma, prompted by that original break due to the theft of his grandparents as children. How might anyone respond in such a situation?

rob mclennan, Jordan Abel, NISHGA

Twenty years after the most deadly terrorist attack on United States soil, what comes to mind? 

For many of the 117 poets whose work was selected for the forthcoming commemorative anthology Crossing the Rift: North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath (Press 53, September 11, 2021), what comes to mind is “the morning / rainfreshed” (Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin, “Tony Writes to Say He’s Alive”), “[t]hat September morning’s iris of sky” (Debra Allbery, “The Wakeful Bird Sings Darkling”), cloudless and blued into brilliance before exploding into unforgettable images of fire and toxic smoke, of bodies falling and returned to dust. For others in this anniversary collection, memory remains “one of those days when you remember / exactly where you were,” when “we lost the last of our innocence” (Kaye Nelson Ratliff, “Infamous Days”) and were forever after to carry “the long litany of the lost” (Glenis Redmond, “Witness the Whole World”) into a “new age of wars, two wars abroad that never end, and one at home to rip the fabric of our nation apart” (Robert Morgan, “A Sickness in the Air”).  

The clarity of what is remembered, and of what was and continues to be done in consequence, acts as both thorn and spur. Raised as  they are, individually and collectively, the poets’ voices guide us through the wreckage of our common history and challenge us to seek something better.

Maureen Doallas, 9/11 Remembered: ‘Crossing the Rift’ (Review)

“The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” is a collection of flash fiction that shows how small moments can create the longest life changes, as exemplified in “Sarajevo Rose” where a man thinks back to his regular purchase of fresh flowers after a woman dropped a coin in the market place, “He doesn’t remember dropping his sister’s hand. The building shook with the blast. When he looked up, his sister was gone. Damir has read how Sarajevans painted red roses in the shell’s concrete scars. When his flowers wilt, the petals fall to the floor. Damir never picks them up.”

Most stories though are told from a woman’s viewpoint. The woman’s story starts with being a war reporter, in “Bulletproof” where “they loan me a flak jacket, a big blue thing designed for men. It squashes my shoulders, metal plates pinning flat my chest, breasts yielding to the weight of them.” Of course, she wears it for protection, but also because “there are more male journalists on the frontline than women, because men are better at the warry stuff, and women more lightweight. I wear it because I don’t want to rock the boat and give the news desk another reason not to send me to do this job. I wear it because I’ve told them I am the best ‘man’ for the job. I wear it because I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.” The problem isn’t that it’s ill-fitting or the sexism inherent in war-reporting but what it doesn’t protect her from: the very thing she’s there to report on.

Emma Lee, “The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” Hannah Storm (Reflex Press) – book review

In a recent interview, poet and essayist Erica Hunt shared the following in response to a question about the best writing advice she’d ever received:

From Rachel Blau DuPlessis in “Statement on Poetics”—paraphrasing now: A poem is “bottomless,” “intricate,” and “tangible” in detail. I like thinking this is true regardless of “school” or length. Here is what it has helped me to appreciate: A poem is a work made through language that bears rereading, to discover that difficulty is never without love.

Erica Hunt, interview

I’ve come to realize that these latter two concepts, rereading and difficulty, have become integral to my poetic practice. I have long considered rereading central to poetic experience. Rereading implies dwelling, lingering, becoming engrossed in the matter at hand. That we may read and reread a poem, each time coming away with more, with something different–that is poetry’s lifegiving gift. If nothing else, we reread because one can’t catch everything all at once. We look words up, try phrases aloud, wonder: Who talks like this? Life’s a cacophony we sense music out of; why shouldn’t art be similar?

The other concept, difficulty, is something that I have been slower to embrace. On one level, this reluctance seems natural. There is, for one, the early difficulty of the classroom, the way poetry is traditionally taught to be a kind of puzzle, a use of language shrouded in mystery, the poet a wizard behind a curtain, knowing more than you and deigning to obfuscate the ordinary for you to luck upon. And there are definitely poems that live up to this tradition; and this type of poetry remains teachable but not graspable, or, to use a word Hunt quotes above, tangible.

This occurrence of a poem being out of a reader’s grasp brings with it a number of connotations. On the one hand there is gaslighting; we have had whole generations believing that they are at fault for not understanding “great” poetry, which often leads people to give up on poetry altogether. This brings to mind the implication of the literal “grasp,” that there are certain people whose touch and presence around poetry would sully it. I try to dispel this kind of thinking in my own teaching practices by showing that linguistic difficulty should be embraced in good faith, that we can engage with a poem and allow it to teach us how to read it, but also that we should trust our reactions as readers as well. This good faith is a human trait, a way of endeavoring and persevering.

Finding ways of endeavoring and persevering is central to the body of work gathered in Hunt’s Jump the Clock: New & Selected Poems (Nightboat Books). Across Hunt’s lively body of work, one comes in contact with a voice able to interrogate while remaining attuned to language’s vulnerable and raw personal nature. When reading Hunt’s poems, one feels attuned to language’s plasticity at the service of connecting and not intellectual indulgence. To put it another way, her poems meet a reader half way and allow the reader space to work out meaning as well as a meaningful experience.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Erica Hunt’s Jump the Clock

A woman cradles a skull in her hands like a bouquet.
The sun carves scallops on every window. Each face
accepts the signature of time. Lie closer to the floor
where it is cooler. Dip a cotton square dipped in water
to lay across your brow. The procession
is just starting or ending. It begins
and ends at the same place.

Luisa A. Igloria, Acts of Levitation are Difficult in the Heat

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, many bloggers took an existential turn. Others aired grievances and critiques. Sometimes they converged. Enjoy.


Fox barking to my right, to my left: what does it mean to be open? Risk, and patience. One bark after another, on and on they call and respond. Once home, once lost, once dead and blue at the bottom of the stair, stepped over: dream. Just a dream. The calls of foxes sound like screaming coughs, lungs gone closed and blued: I remember my dreams, even the ones I’d forget. What does it mean, “a wild patience has taken me this far,” if risk, if death? They bark and bark, echoing against June midnight, mountain. Crickets. Frogs. A whiffle of horse, a sussurus of sleep. I miss her, also gone. The new ones make sure to say my name.

JJS, Almost-ghazal, vulpine

and the rain
fell in one
long story
we sidestepped
between trees
i tripped my length
into fallen water
and you chased
a hare
into a rainbow

Dick Jones, dog sutras

You asked me once to tell about the whales
still in the deep places, untroubled. So I did.
I had a voice that persuaded then: I was young
and believed in victory. Far out to sea and far below,
I said, they are moving, huge and slow, older than us,
older than time, waiting us out. They know places still
that we do not. At last you fell asleep,
exhausted by fear and wretchedness: but I lay awake
and all night the stars picked their way across the sky.

Dale Favier, The Doubts

There are even organisms      

that rarely die simply because they get  old. Take the immortal jellyfish, for instance: faced
     with danger or threat, its clear, pulsing tent dandelion-ringed with 90 stingers might hitch a ride
     on the bottom of a cargo ship; or better yet, press the reset button to change itself back into a polyp.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Immortal Jellyfish Says No to Your Ageist Crap

The 27 year old finds a picture of your house, a picture of your writing room.  She imagines long mornings writing in dappled sunlight, drinking strong coffee.  She does not consider the long hours you have to work in your non-writing job to pay for the writing room where you never get to stay long enough. 

The 27 year old thinks about her own life trajectory, so much of it yet to come.  She thinks about your trajectory, both your writing arc and the other elements of your life’s narrative.  She cannot realize how fast it all goes, how one minute you are just starting out, full of resolve, ready to change the world with your words, and then the next minutes, decades have disappeared, while you still feel like your younger self.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writer Me: Younger Me, Older Me

between the soul and its autumn :: all of time can be found

Grant Hackett [no title]

I was, I wasn’t, I am, I’m not, I will be, I won’t be
I shot twenty-four arrows this afternoon
one hit the small pink target on the hay bale
the rest disappeared into the mist

I have a post office box & a driver’s license
am I real now?

Jason Crane, POEM: vespers

How many of you remember The Interlude on television, when there was only one (b/w) channel and a 17” screen was regarded as excessive, and potentially damaging to eyesight unless you lived  in a huge house? Programme sequences were interrupted intermittently by the interlude. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because the programmers had all grown up with the notion that visual entertainment like the theatre and the cinema traditionally had interval breaks when you could in one case go to the bar, and in another, buy an ice cream from a lady with a tray. Or maybe they thought that television posed too great a challenge to the concentration and/or eyesight, and that viewers needed a break for reasons of health and safety. 

Whatever the  reason, there would be a break that might feature a gently turning windmill or the hands of a person you never saw working at a potter’s wheel. It’s only just now struck me that they both involved turning wheels. Why? Are wheels soothing? If you use Google, you’ll find there was also one with a lady working a spinning wheel, but every now and then, a kitten playing with a ball of wool, and one of teams of horse drawn ploughs.

So I thought that if it was good enough for the BBC in its pomp, it was good enough for me. One reason why I write poems, and about poems, is that some years ago I used to go to folk clubs which were essentially sing-/play-arounds. The organiser would point to me and say “are you performing” and I’d say no and that would be it, until one night the organiser said ‘can’t you do a poem or something’. That’s how it started.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers

What struck me about the movie [I Used to Go Here], which was enjoyable enough, was a scene with the writer and a student in a cafe, where she begins to suggest edits and is cut off by the young writer’s reluctance to change her work in the interest of making it “publishable.” Set aside that most fiction writers have no idea about the experience of poets, and vice-versa, and the fact that it was weird they were having the conversation in the first place. There was something familiar and aggravating about the scene.  Especially given the main character’s queasy dissatisfaction with her publishing experience–no control on the edits, the cover, a general dislike of the book she just put into the world. The younger writer, who seems unliked by her fellow students for whatever reason,  is self-possessed enough to hold her ground in a way I’m not sure I would have been, even at 30.  She mentions that she likes her title and has no desire to change things for publishability. Is, in fact, planning on starting a press to publish work she wants to. You watch as the main character is both flabbergasted and deeply uncomfortable by the conversation, even mocking when she learns of the press and dismissive of the work she is shown.

It’s familiar because it happens to many of us.  Maybe all of us. When I was in my MFA program, I’d already started an online journal and was on the verge of starting the press, and yet people I met seemed one of two things–shocked or surprised, and largely put-off.  Instead of support, it was like a dirty little secret.   I once had a conversation with a male student I didn’t know all that well, and in the hallway outside class, he told me he “didn’t believe the things people said about” me and I was really confused.  I always felt like an outsider anyway–being slightly older, working for the college, being further along in publishing my work, and also, writing at a different stage in my development. I had a full-time job, creative distractions and limited time, so I wasn’t as much part of the socializing so many people talk about in programs. In the first few weeks of the very first workshop people seemed to at first, love my work, then slowly begin to hate it. The comments went from nice, to really mean, and I don’t think the work changed all that much. Later, I went out for a beer with two classmates and they said people didn’t like me because I didn’t seem to give a fuck about all of it, and maybe I didn’t.  It got better, I was part-time, so actually took classes over a four year span, and better and more self-directed poets joined on later and did things like start journals and presses and do the work of poeting.  The first year left a taste in my mouth, though, that never fully went away. 

Sometimes, I page back through this blog from those years, where I was very honest about my experience and my struggles.  I would fault myself not as not caring, but maybe caring too much about the wrong things. Or the things that weren’t for me. Unlike the younger writer in the film, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to question things like that publicly–that push to fit things into neat publishable boxes and to do things the way they’d been done only because someone said that was where they were done.  I might do so secretly under cover of the internet, but not in person. I saw so much bad advice in those years. For me and my classmates. I’m always shocked at the stats on MFA-ers who never write another word, but I get it. I totally do. 

Kristy Bowen, film notes | the mfa on screen

Sitting on my mother’s couch in Rohnert Park, watching the blue and red flashing lights on the television screen, I realized what must have happened. Of all the times for this to occur, my first and so far only reading at Moe’s happened to coincide with an event that included the possibility of violence. Not even the most die-hard poetry fans would risk bodily injury to hear me read, nor should they. The five people who’d come must not have realized what was going on just a few blocks from the bookstore. I felt bad for them.

In What Could Possibly Go Wrong, which starts with an illuminating quote from Harry Crews: “The artist lives in an atmosphere of perpetual failure,” the issue of scheduling comes up often. Lola Haskins’ university reading was empty due to the simultaneous audience-sucks of a very important test plus another famous speaker; Jo McDougall was pre-empted by Monica Lewinsky’s TV interview; Marilyn Stablein was upstaged by a “faculty event.” Bar noise, changes in personnel, and lack of promotion added to the woes of reading in front of an audience. 

On the back cover, after the price, a short phrase sums up the book’s classifications: Bad Luck / Fate / Literature. Sounds like the plot of a Russian novel. 

Or the life of a poet.

Erica Goss, My Worst Poetry Reading

I came across an article the other day that reminded me that instead of hopelessly dreading my likely failure to make the most of a good opportunity, I could consider planning ways to manage stress. Self-help is not my preferred genre, and I have successfully avoided lots of pieces about social reentry post-Covid, but I was click-baited this time by a title about “using sobriety strategies,” about which I know little. Plus I’m desperate. The Washington Post article by Erin Shaw Street is here, although I don’t know if the link will work for everyone.

In short, the advice is to “start with acceptance”–this reentry thing will probably take a while, and that’s okay. “Have a plan, but stay flexible”: well, I always have a plan. My idea was to turn the week into a writer’s retreat at home, so my spouse is visiting family. Next week I’ll order out, let the dust pile up, and refuse to answer email. Write write write, I thought, and get back on the submission train, too. Maybe even use the empty house to lay out all my recent poems and see if they’re beginning to form a new collection! My revised plan: sure, try all that stuff, but if it doesn’t work, just do my workshop, make the best of my two 15-minute meetings with fancy editors, forgive myself if some of it falls flat, and otherwise chill. That’s the “pay attention to your feelings” part, which lately have made themselves very clear. “Practice gratitude and mindfulness”: well, all right, I know breathing exercises and I’ve actually worked on mindfulness lately, in my distracted way. What I’m proudest of, by the way of emotional planning, is in the “having a group of trusted friends to call on” category. I have actually scheduled a phone chat with Jeannine Hall Gailey right before the conference, because she is the best literary cheerleader I know. How about that! Me, planning a social interaction for my own sake, because it will make me feel connected and maybe even slightly more confident!! Miracles can happen. I also wrote the principles on a post-it note and stuck it on my office window frame, hoping I’ll stick with the program.

Lesley Wheeler, Conference anxiety times a million

And in my writing life, it’s been a season of rejection, rejection, rejection. Yes, I try to comfort myself that I’ve been lucky enough to have five poetry books published, or that I’ve gotten into some of my dream journals, or that I have wonderful supportive poet friends to help celebrate the wins and mourn the losses. But sometimes I wonder if the rewards are worth the effort. So, if one day I just stopped writing or sending out poetry, it’s not like anyone would demand it or clamor for my next book. To be honest, I also wonder about the effort of keeping this blog up as well – it does take time and energy, and I’m not sure that many people even read it (thanks, those that read and comment though, of course!)

I don’t want you to think it’s all gloom and doom in my head; it’s not. And I certainly recognize that many people, including some of my friends and family, have had it much worse than me lately. Every poet probably struggles with rejection, and we do tend to be prone to melancholy; it’s been a hard year for everyone; I recognize that catastrophic feelings don’t help anything. I think it would be nice if I could feel like I was able to do something useful again in the world, get paid for my work, or at least feel like I was helping others. I’m writing an essay for an anthology on speculative work and I’ll be offering an online class on speculative poetry soon (of course I’ll post details when it’s closer.) So those projects are good. And I really am thinking about moving forward on acquiring a place to use as a writer’s retreat – La Conner, WA or Port Townsend, WA maybe? So I’m trying to see the good things coming. I promise.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Butterflies, Sunny Days and Speculative Poetry Picks, Broken Teeth and Meditations on Melancholy

I have a pamphlet of poems without a publisher – that is, I haven’t found a publisher who wants the poems – that is, I’ve sent the pamphlet to two pamphlet competitions without luck. So, you could say I haven’t tried that hard to find a publisher, perhaps because I have doubts about the pamphlet as a whole, but earlier this year I made a decision to put these poems to one side, for now, which has been liberating and released some new writing energy. I’m now working on new poems, approaching them in a completely different way to usual, and gradually accumulating poems that might be a book, eventually. Individual poems from my unpublished pamphlet – I think of it as a ghost pamphlet – have been published in magazines and perhaps I will be able to salvage some of those poems and include them in my newer manuscript. Not an unhappy state to be in, just not a state brimming with success.

Josephine Corcoran, End of month blog and some wildflower poems

1. Compile a rough draft of a draft of a draft manuscript.

2. Slash and burn – round 1/n. Doubt spelling, suspect grammar, hate most lines.

3. Cold acceptance that this is crap but maybe it is marginally better than other crap. No? Probably not.

4. Idea! Write new poems. Abandon idea.

5. Existential question: To book or not to book?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, 10 steps to a new poetry book

I say if a lit mag can’t get to your submission in 6 months, they have to publish it whether they want to or not. I mean, by that point hope has been sparked in the little writer’s otherwise dark and bitter heart. And a year with no reply? That spark has lit the kindling. “Surely that they kept it this long means it’s in the line-up,” the writer begins to allow herself to think, warming her hands on the fire. Come on, lit mags, are you really going to send your hard, cold rain down now, douse the small flame?

Yes. Apparently, yes. Back in 2018 I submitted to a magazine I had been published in before. A year and eight months later I got a rejection. Standard reject, no “thanks for your patience,” no “sorry it took us a while.” (That’s the last they’ll hear of ME. THAT’ll learn ’em.) Not to mention the no-simultaneous-submissions mag that’s now had three poems for six months.

Talk about being nibbled to death by ducks. My goodness po is a terrible biz.

Marilyn McCabe, Bird on a wire; or, On Seeking Publication

Nell also mentions an interesting and often-since-asserted observation by Billy Collins, made two decades ago, that, in Britain, ‘the number of poets is equal to the number of readers of poetry’. Nell, rightly I think, says that there may well be more poets than there are readers of poetry. Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but 10 or 15 years ago, when I was directly employed by a certain south-west London local authority, there was an article in the staff newspaper about a member of staff who had self-published a pamphlet of his poems and who was quoted as saying words-to-the-effect that he didn’t read contemporary poets because he considered none of them to be worthy of his attention. It hadn’t seemed to occur to him that potential readers of his pamphlet might agree with him and therefore decide that his output was equally unworthy of their attention. I have no idea whether he sold any copies. I hope not. The sheer arrogance of someone wanting to write and air poems without first reading widely and absorbing the lessons of their reading into their own poetry-writing goes beyond (predominantly male) entitlement to the point of being downright peculiar. He’s probably since progressed to become one of those people who go along to open mic sessions to read their poem, invariably exceeding their time-slot, then leave at the interval so that there’s no possibility that they might feel obliged to hear too many of anyone else’s poems or to look at, let alone buy, any of the books on sale. (I realise, though, that not everyone has the financial wherewithal to buy books.)

Nell also says that ‘a good and loyal reader is harder to find than a poet’. If every person who knows the value of contemporary poetry were to buy books for those who haven’t read any poems since school and tell them, with as much vehemence as necessary, that they really will enjoy the experience, then the poetry readership can grow. Despite the un-self-aware idiots like the one I’ve described above, there are still many fine poets to be discovered; more, probably, than one could ever hope to read whilst living a full-ish life. Why shouldn’t a book or two of poems on the beach be as common a sight as crime novels, thrillers or bonkbusters?

Matthew Paul, On HappenStance Press, the reader and the poet

I once heard Sonny Rollins play in Toronto. It was a perfect summer day in the 80s when I was studying music at York University, and a bunch of us went to the Molson Amphitheatre on Toronto’s waterfront. We lay on the grass just outside the cover of the roof watching Sonny, the blue of Lake Ontario in our vision. I remember one extended solo by Rollins, where the band dropped out and it was just him. Such a delightful squonking. Low register honks. Motifs broken up and tossed around. Time made into a salad. And all of it connected with Rollins’ characteristically playful intelligence. As Wallace Stevens says, “the poem of the mind in the act of finding/ What will suffice.” 

Ok, so gravitas didn’t seem to be explicitly there and the Coltrane-like bursting the seams, burning through the gates to another world. But there was meaning. Significance. And humility. And the sense of deeply being oneself. How? For Rollins his playing is often all about “the mind in the act of finding.” And what will suffice? Intelligence. Resilience. Creativity. Joy. A celebration of being. Of communication.

And the other thing I’ve come to understand in Rollins’ approach is ethics. Living through action and making choices. In a recent interview, Rollins says, “I’m just progressing through life, able to evolve now and to realize that to really live in a spiritual way I have to be an ethical person.”  In his music I hear this decision to live ethically. To be in the world. To choose one note after the other as an ethical act. To embrace life. To choose positivity, communication, joy. The life-force. To keep playing, performing. To be an old man and to St-Thomas-the-hell out of life. 

It’s an astounding thing.

Gary Barwin, Ethical Squonking: On the Coltrane-Rollins Continuum

It began with pain right where my heart is — a pain I initially discounted as probably a bad case of heartburn. It wasn’t such a big pain you’d right away think, heart attack. But after I lay down and it went away, I got up and went around doing things and it came back. Again, I went into denial. This is really bad heartburn — could my ulcer have reopened? Never, heart attack. I just turned 72 this month. Although my father and brother both had heart disease, my mantra was, I’ll take after my mother.

Called my doc’s private number. He picked right up, listened, said “Go to the ER and tell them you’re having chest pain. You’ll go to the head of the line.”

It wasn’t a comfortable procedure or hospital stay. But everyone who cared for me was wonderful. It was comforting to feel I’d survive and live well after this, as my cardiologist told me. […]

And the first thing I wanted to write when I could, was a poem. This one is for everyone I met and everyone who sent love.

The Heart

The heart is a muscle.
I feel its clench
protesting the lack
of blood, its nourishment,
and I go down, prone, bowing
to a central throne it inhabits in my body,
thrown to my back
and then to hospital,
where relinquishing clothes
and goods, I’m surrounded
by those familiar with a distressed heart’s ways.

Hours later, I am profoundly
embraced by science and love
that inexplicably flows
from these people whose powerful hearts
and muscles show up here every day.
And prayers that like a cavalcade of butterflies
shore me up in this new and sweeter life.

Rachel Dacus, A new heart, a new path forward

“We’ve been lucky. There was the nursing home outbreak,” she says, her voice lowering. The nursing home in town is a scant quarter-mile from the office where I’m getting my blood drawn. “And the soldiers’ home in Holyoke. But other than that, it’s been pretty good here.”

“May it stay that way,” I agree. 

“All done!” She smiles, pressing a wad of gauze where the needle was just withdrawn. Now I look over, and I see the test-tubes full of dark red blood. The color always surprises me. It’s so vivid, so deep. 

I’m not sure what they’re looking for this time, but we can’t schedule the next procedure until they run whatever tests they need to run on these gleaming garnet vials.

I wonder how many mini-conversations like this she has over the course of a day. How many lives she briefly touches with her blue-gloved hands. 

When I exit the building, I inhale lilacs under the clouded sky. 

Rachel Barenblat, Garnet

This weekend I spent some time reading poetry—some for a literary magazine I judge submissions for, and some from books that have been lying around that I haven’t cracked open for a while, namely by Wallace Stevens, who is my favorite poet, and Kahil Gibran. I needed to read both of those poets because somewhere in all of the chaos and heaviness of working at a hospital during the pandemic, I have lost my sense of passion and wonder. I feel ground-down and machine-like. I’ve been in survival mode for a long time, devoid of a sense of beauty and boundlessness, afraid to take any time to notice the natural world around me, afraid to slow down, afraid to allow for any sense of space and openness in my life. I shut everything out except the work that is front of me day-to-day, and I’ve been driven by dread—dread of the massive responsibility that has been handed to me at my place of work and at the same time, dread of being laid off, dread of loss both real and anticipated, and dread of what may come in the future for our country and for the world. I needed to read about love and astonishment and the miracle of pineapples and the cat forgotten in the moon and how the trees are there for me. I needed good language, the language of noticing, the language of elevation of the spirit and the essential divinity of human life:

“The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges.”
–Wallace Stevens, A Rabbit as the King of Ghosts

We’re coming out of it now, and I’m ready. Ready to breathe without a mask muffling my nose and mouth, ready for traffic and shopping malls and movies and night parties, ready for patients to flow into our facilities again, ready for the world to open its petals like a rose and for humanity to return to human-ing. For better or for worse, I don’t have a particular religion to hang my spiritual beliefs on, but I believe that we are children of God, and we need to remember our origins.

Kristen McHenry, Swimming Nostalgia, The Language of Divinity, Opening Day

“Remember we must die” need not be a call to religious fervor or to pessimistic existentialism. It is merely a fact that we ignore at our peril; for if we remember death is ahead, we can attune ourselves more closely to the lives we do have–and those others with whom we are in relationships. For whether you know it or not, your body has a relationship to Earth and all of its beings. Even, perhaps, the carrion beetle, not to mention billions of microbes and your best friend’s mother.

When I write about death (and I do), I find the tone of the poem depends a great deal on which words or images I use: the clear flow, or the leavings in the sieve. Different purposes, of course. Sometimes the poem wanders in sorrow, sometimes there’s clarity or a lifting of grief. It depends on the perspective (sometimes the speaker of the poem isn’t me), and on where the poem itself decides to go, particularly as I revise. Many readers believe that poems only ever arise from the writer’s experience, but poems are works of the imagination. And they are sometimes informed, or re-formed, by experience or insight that comes later in the writing process.

My own grief? That’s private. I may not decide ever to communicate how that feels. However, having sensed sorrow in my bones and gut and in the empty places in my community of loved ones, I can write about being in the moment of bereavement and the many moments afterwards when the losses make us ache. I like to imagine that memento mori keeps me alert to life. Even when I feel sad.

Ann E. Michael, Memento mori

It is a raw dawn on the morning of the poor.
“Be thankful,” they are told, “Here is your daily crust.”
The feathers of the wealthy have been groomed for the ball.
The day passes quickly for those who are pleasured.
Evening is a pistol and a whip; all the knives have been sharpened.
There will be fresh meat. “Where did the day go?”
Even as the poor ones scurry off, the music begins to play,
And the sound of laughter escapes the ballroom
The way a balloon escapes a child’s hand.

James Lee Jobe, Fresh meat.

cut the wild flowers were livid
~
living the wild flowers were vivid
~
in the hedgerows of my never mind
~
the limp excuses fall dry
~
in the hushed vase
~
the petals fall
~
lonely is the room
~
now
~

Jim Young, them cut

Otherworldly beauty, otherworldly creatures, otherworldly powers.

History lessons that keep writing and rewriting themselves.

Fake moon landings, alleged alien abductions, labyrinthine underground bunkers running through our blood.

It’s all part of how we’re hot-wired to allow our imaginations to roam wild, how we reverse engineer out-of-this-world technologies to better understand ourselves.

Close encounters of the lovebird kind, unknown lifeforms roaming darker minds.

From conspiracy theories to rational inquiry, from matters of the heart to unidentified aerial phenomena—

there’s a little Area 51 in all of us.

Rich Ferguson, You and Me Ufology

No, today’s post takes as its point of departure the fact that many younger generations always write poetry via a keyboard and a screen. Their typing is far more rapid than my two-fingered efforts, and a fair chunk of them don’t even own a printer. This last point means that they read through their drafts on a monitor rather than on a piece of paper, of course.

The key issue is whether the above-mentioned shift in writing habits is affecting the way their poetry is functioning. There seem to be two major questions. The first is whether speed of writing encourages lines to be longer, freer, less tense. The pen weighs up every letter before committing it to the notebook, but the keyboard rushes onwards.

The second matter for debate, meanwhile, is whether trends in line endings are also altering. The argument might be that moving a line ending with a pen involves writing the poem or at least the stanza out again (and again). It entails meditated probing as to whether an experiment functions. However, on a screen, the return key encourages the poet to play around with line endings at will, changing and then changing back in a few seconds flat, spotting immediately how semantics and synax might interact with expected and unexpected line endings. 

In other words, my suggestion is that if there’s a generalised evolution towards longer lines and more unexpected line endings among younger poets, it might not just be because of their aesthetic tastes but because the actual means by which they write are also different. And this is before even starting to consider poems that might have been drafted on phones…!

Matthew Stewart, Line length and line endings in the digital age

low battery —
trying to silence
the wrong smoke alarm

Bill Waters, Haiku about sounds or silences

I feel such a kinship with library systems, especially those in small towns. Often a hub, they have the ability to bring together, and in many cases, create community. When Bruce and I traveled Canada for many summers, our first stop was often the local library. It wasn’t just to borrow Wi-Fi to contact home, but also check out local happenings, what types of resources were offered, what folks were reading in their neck of the woods. In fact, I collected a good 7-10 library cards from small town libraries across Canada, from British Columbia to Newfoundland. I may never return to these destinations, but I like to think that my card-carrying membership added to their collective reader base, somehow.

Last fall, I sent some poetry to Mason Street, the Newark Library Literary Journal. The Newark Library is located in Newark, New York, and of course my curiosity about such an offering through a library system got the best of me and I had to learn more about this particular library. Like so many libraries I’ve had the joy of experiencing, the Newark Library is really no different. Community within community.

Mason Street’s Editor and Founder, Celeste Schantz selected my poem “Troubadour” for the winter issue and “Faithful” for the spring. Both poems are in good company, and I was especially delighted, no, fangirl delighted, to see that poet Marge Piercy headlines the spring issue with “My Library Memories.” Swoon! If you haven’t read her work, you should. The first collection of hers that I savored is titled The Moon Is Always Female, a must-read. This is her 7th collection of writing. Organized into two sections, the first is categorized as “amusingly elegiac to the erotic, the classical to the funny (Amazon).” The second section is lunar in nature. It consists of a series of 15 poems for “a calendar based on lunar rather than solar divisions” (Amazon).

I’m really thankful that both “Troubadour” and “Faithful” found a home in the pages of a literary journal of a thriving library far away from home. Should you get the chance, read both issues. Visit the archives. But most importantly, keep writing and sharing our work with the world.

Kersten Christianson, Mason Street, Newark Library Literary Journal

I think TFP (not 100% sure about The Frip yet, but it will sink in and become shorthand soon enough, I’m sure) will be with us for a long time to come. I’m looking forward to seeing the new poems arriving week by week, perhaps I may even manage to get one in there; although the famous adage of Meet us half way and submit one first applies at the moment.

I must confess that I was a bit worried when Hilary first approached me and asked me to review Rendang. I can’t put my finger on it, but it felt like the biggest review I’ve been asked to write so far, the most complex book yet, and I wondered if I was up to the task if I could find something interesting to say (and to be fair that’s the same with every review I write, and every poem, and every post here…and every sentence I say out loud, etc).

If I’m honest I was worried about engaging with the “contradictions of identity and cultural memory” mentioned in the blurb. Not because I didn’t want to or don’t feel I need to. I absolutely do, it was more a feeling of do I have anything valid to say on the matter without falling into the lazy tropes that Alyca Pirmohamed refers to here in her excellent essay at Wild Court, those adjectives like ‘urgent’, ‘important’, etc?

I think I avoided that, but I don’t think I can be the judge as to whether I had anything interesting to say. However, I found it fascinating and educational for a variety of reasons to engage with the collection as a whole by examining how the poems developed between pamphlet and collection, as well as the newer work, and how that benefits from the space and time afforded by a collection (literally and metaphorically).

Mat Riches, That Friday (poem) Feeling

So much for my New Year’s resolution to avoid buying new books. Somehow, my April blog push led me hither and yon over the entire poetry landscape, and I ended up buying a truckload of books. Among them, Ada Limon’s Bright Dead Things (Milkweed, 2015). Looks like The Carrying is next (winner of the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry).

I have a major poetry-crush on this poet. Not only does she write about horses and honky-tonks (subjects dear to my heart), but dogs, owls, sex, and death. She’s got it all. And language! Oh, my!

Bethany Reid, The amazing ADA LIMÓN

First up is the almost obligatory cat poem, simply called “cat” which didn’t come with trigger warning but introduces the idea of suicide and ends,

“we are all decomposing slowly
so that is of some comfort
we are all a million dying stars
so that is of some comfort “

The ability of the narrator to be comforted by the idea life will end anyway and it ends for everything around us is enough for him to accept natural causes is a better way to go. It also shows how something unexpected, encountering a cat, can knock someone out of a rut, a pattern of rumination and look beyond themselves. Instead of feeling like a burden the world would be better off without, the narrator has seen he can have a place in this world and the current pattern of things will stop, not with a sudden jerk, but a series of small changes.

Emma Lee, “Blue the Green Sky” Stuart M Buck (The Broken Spine) – book review

Theirs is a fascinating kind of call-and-response through the poems in Hearing, each short single-stanza lyric burst including author initials, so one doesn’t lose track of who composed which, from two poets deeply engaged with language, listening and experimentation. The crediting of each individual author is something I find interesting, suggesting the collection less a collaboration-per-se than a conversation in poetic form. This is a lyric through which each poet is responding to the other, akin to what Canadian poets and married couple Kim Maltman and Roo Borson did in their own conversation through lyric, the poetry title The Transparence of November / Snow (Kingston ON: Quarry Press, 1985). In Hearing, there is something lovely about a collection that exists as such a conversation, especially between two highly accomplished poets who happen to also be close friends, as though we are being allowed to listen in on, or even overhear, a conversation that might otherwise have been privately spoken.

rob mclennan, Lyn Hejinian and Leslie Scalapino, Hearing

[A] teacher friend has gotten me into the Poetry Unbound podcast and this has set me off on a new tangent. I’m also not into audio stuff much. I have struggled to focus on online lectures, audio books, music, podcasts, becoming distracted, flipping away if it’s on a screen. I listened to one PU podcast because my friend was raving about the title of the poem being a sign of a great poem, so I though I’d listen to the poem at least. 

The poem read on the podcast was Hanif Abdurraqib’s ‘When We Were 13, Jeff’s Father Left The Needle Down On A Journey Record Before Leaving The House One Morning And Never Coming Back’ and my friend was right. The title is killer, the poem even more so. The presenter Pádraig Ó Tuama has an amazing voice for reading poetry and he brings his own gentle enthusiasm for the poems he shares. So I listened on. And again on the way home from school that afternoon. I continued to pick another episode and another and another, in the mornings before work and often on the way home. 

One day after a partially tough morning with the child I support at school, I brought my lunch up to the classroom, rather than sit amongst the noise of fourth graders in the cafeteria. I needed to calm down before the next class started, so I stuck on a random episode called ‘A Poem for What You Learn Alone’ which seemed to suit my mood. The poem was Brad Aaron’s Modlin’s poem ‘What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade’. It is nothing about fourth grade and exactly what I needed. I think I’ve heard all three seasons now, but keep going back to favourites or finding one that I that I’ve forgotten. 

Gerry Stewart, A Poetic Daunder – Stepping Away from the Familiar

There are days when I fantasize about not having to teach. Not to get away from the work exactly, but to spread myself out thinly over the days. To breathe easily. While the pandemic has been difficult in so many ways, it has also given me the opportunity to slow down. Listen. Can I listen to the birds with the same sustained interest that I listen to a student presentation? This is a kind of work, too. What do I earn from this?

My childhood was a cramped succession of dramas, of noise and movement. A montage of cigarettes and speed, cocaine and black eyes. Drama became a kind of addiction that I struggled with through my 20s. I walked that jagged edge of violence where you never know which side someone will fall on: wounded or… disappeared. And as soon as I write this down I think: no, I’m not being fair to everyone. And still, I censor myself. After censoring myself in the first place. I make excuses for other people.

Maybe no one should ever tell the whole truth? At least not for the sake of entertainment or to makes one’s self interesting like a spectacle at Coney Island. Though people do buy tickets.

When I was in high school I went to the county fair alone and bought a ticket to see one of the “freaks”, assuming it would be a mirror trick of some sort. A kind of theatrical presentation. It wasn’t. The “freak” was a person. I turned around immediately and threw up outside the tent.

No. That would make a good story. I didn’t throw up. I just wanted to. I felt a sense of shame that was too familiar. But weirdly, I felt a shared sense of shame. With the person in the tent. I couldn’t explain it then, and I can’t explain it now except to say I understand why the whales that are kept in tiny pools and mistreated at theme parks will give kisses to their trainers on cue.

I don’t want to choose revenge or forgiveness. I want a middle path here, too. It seems even my personal life isn’t really free of ethical concerns.

And my writing never will be.

So for now, I write about mundane things like lapwings and chaffinches. The vibrating silence of the Hardanger plateau where the snow still lies in July. How cold has a smell where the North Sea is untouched by the Gulf Stream, and the harbour in Stavanger can smell like watermelon.

Ren Powell, A Story of Going Feral

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 21

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, I found a lot of posts about learning or re-learning from the familiar, the close-at-hand, the wilderness in one’s own backyard — something I suppose I’ve become perceptually vigilant for, since daily walks around my own small part of the world have become so crucial to preserving my sanity, not to mention unlocking new levels of perception and (maybe, hopefully) expression. As Ren Powell puts it, “Why do I feel a need to go away from home to pay close attention?” One’s own home ground may in fact be the best vantage point from which to hear what Shawna Lemay, quoting Li-Young Lee, calls “the hum of the universe.” And poets can translate that hum even into something as homey as prose...


It’s late 90s Baghdad: with a trembling heart and weak joints, Ra’ad Abdulqadir, the editor of Aqlam literary magazine, would return from his office to his home in the western outskirts of the capital every day. He would change into his pajamas, lay down on the couch, and begin to write a poem for what would become his most notable work, Falcon with Sun Overhead. He would then doze off with the notebook resting on his belly. Like much of the rest of Iraq, Ra’ad spent the 90s suffering from health issues, and the hospital visits became part of his routine. He hated doctors and hospitals and chronicled their dreadful presence in his poems. “The poet used to be an angel,” he told novelist Warid Badir al-Salim in what’s considered his last interview in 1999. “Now he is a coal miner.”

And what does that mean for you, Mr. Ra’ad? “Well, I like to think of myself as the angel in the coalfield.”

And so he is—the angel in the coalfield, the cemetery, the empty classrooms, the white hospitals, the dark streets. For years, he was the kind of poet loved and envied by both his contemporaries and the generations that followed for his magical ability to keep the angel’s garb free of ash. Now, though, he has been underrated and forgotten.

Mona Kareem, How Ra’ad Abdulqadir Changed the Iraqi Prose Poem Forever

Portland, Oregon poet and fiction writer Zachary Schomburg’s latest poetry title is Fjords vol. II (Boston MA: Black Ocean, 2021), described as the “second volume of Zachary Schomburg’s Fjords series of evocative prose poetry,” following the prior volume, Fjords vol. I (Black Ocean, 2012). I’m curious at the extension of his prose poetry project and how far it might continue, and if it sits within or alongside the trajectory of his other published poetry collections, all of which have appeared with Black Ocean: The Man Suit(2007), Scary, No Scary (2009), The Book of Joshua (2014) and Pulver Maar: Poems 2014-2018 (2019) [see my review of such here]. The pieces in Fjords vol. II are each short bursts of individually titled, single-paragraph prose poems collected together as a book-length suite. The narratives of Schomburg’s poems are fond of establishing a simultaneous light and dark tone, and writing poems with odd turns, and endings that sit, not as endings, but as a place for the mind to pause. In many ways, Schomburg’s poems haven’t beginnings or endings, but points at which the narratives start, with another point where the narrative stops. The effect is occasionally jarring, often turning bits of the logic of each piece back in on itself, as though it is for the reader to discern each poem’s actual shape: far bigger on the inside, perhaps. These are poems that reveal themselves in layers, and reward repeated readings.

rob mclennan, Zachary Schomburg, Fjords vol. II

Periodically I watch some free videos offered by artist Nicholas Wilton, who has a program called Art2Life. He’s unflaggingly enthusiastic and filled with wonder at discovering or uncovering processes by which he, and theoretically we, can bring our creative impulses to fruition on the canvas.

In a recent short one, he talked about how he’s trying to stay present with and focused on not what he is putting on the canvas but how he is feeling while doing it. And the feeling he is trying to maintain is, basically one of openness and a sense of possibility. And deliberately NOT a sense of assessment, judgment, predetermination of what should be happening on the canvas. He talks about having a “free outlook” and the “sense of wildness and freedom” with which he often starts a new painting — all that blank space, how it frames the first few marks beautifully — and maintaining that outlook and free sense throughout the process.

By focusing on the space out of which he is creating, rather than what is being created, he’s able to allow all kinds of things to happen. He says he can see both his own training at work in this more intuitive way of making, as well as a new “wild”-ness that is exciting.

Yes, I say. And thank you for the reminder. I’m talking as a writer now, and agree that the key to when I’m writing well and interestingly, and maybe the key to revision as well, is the center — i.e., me — out of which I am creating. And I love that feeling of openness and possibility. It’s a kind of ebullience, a word that means boiling up, bubbling up.

Marilyn McCabe, Warped by the rain; or, On Letting Go Control

Throughout the pandemic, in warm and cold weather, I often sit on my front porch. We’ve set up a table and chairs, curtains and heaters. I can be outside and work on my writing despite the weather. Or in celebration of it. 

It’s very pleasant—fresh air, bird song, many trees. 

Across the street, I frequently hear my neighbour, the artist John Miecznikowski, practising cornet. I understand that his son was an accomplished trumpeter and he gave the instrument to his father to learn. (They also share a love of motorcycles, and John has told me some great stories about his riding exploits in the 60s and 70s.) 

Because John is “learning,” he often plays what sounds like hymns, or at least, simple tunes, but on cornet they have a English brass band sound to them. 

Recently as I was working on a new novel, I listened to the sound of the trumpet entangled with the sound of the wind and the birds. I had been working on a cello piece for my old high school friend George. I decided instead to write something for John, something that evoked that entwining of trumpet and bird song. 

Gary Barwin, My neighbour John plays trumpet and I hear him while birds sing.

Being at sea suits me sometimes. I like learning. It’s why I’m always trying unfamiliar forms and genres. I just published a short essay, “Hand of Smoke,” in Speculative Nonfiction, that’s about being a student and also demonstrates me in a state of experiment–what am I willing to say about myself in the plainer mode of prose, and is this a risk I can succeed at? Enjoying being at sea can shipwreck into stress pretty quickly. […]

The other side-effect of my mother’s death, though, is a changed perspective on what’s urgent. Apparently I CAN put everything aside for big swaths of time to take care of others and myself. I’d lost that muscle memory since my kids became independent. It’s a lucky thing to like your work, but work doesn’t always like you back. When it’s too much, it really is fine to say screw it. Literature is watertight and unsinkable.

Lesley Wheeler, I don’t know what I’m doing again

Roche sits snugly below the limestone promontory from which its name derives, and straddles Maltby Dike which provided water for washing and beer, presumably upstream of its use as a depository from the latrine. It’s a beautiful setting, as ruined abbeys almost always are. No wonder that Turner, Constable, Piper, Sutherland and others were drawn to paint them so often. On a day like today, when the sun has finally arrived to announce the start of summer, the scene at Roche looked very beautiful indeed. It reminded me very much of Waverley Abbey, near Farnham in Surrey, the Cistercians’ first abbey in England. There, I wrote this haiku, published in Presence no. 54 and undoubtedly echoing [Peter] Levi subconsciously:

ruined abbey:
the dark mullein’s yellows                                               
light the transept

I wrote some more haiku this morning. It would have been rude not to, since they’re such inspiring places.

Matthew Paul, On ruined abbeys

I have to admit I went into Katherine May’s new book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times with specific expectations which is unusual for me with non-fiction books. Expectations about what wintering meant and what I was looking for from the book. I can’t remember where I came across the recommendation for the book, but idea that caught my eye amounted to learning to cope with the winters of our life and a connection to Finland. […]

The book contains many of my favourite wintery things which is saying a lot because to be honest I am not a fan of the season of winter at all. But I do love the darkness and magic of Samhain, the Cailleach, standing stones, hibernation during the cold dark months, wolves. She also looks at a few I don’t like as much like saunas and winter swimming. Both these latter things are very much part of the Finnish psyche, though Finland really doesn’t feature much in the book outside of this. May turns to these various things to try and work through her wintering periods. 

Oddly, it felt like she was full of energy to go off and try all these various techniques, on her own and with other people, something I think many people who need to ‘winter’ would struggle with, to be social, try new adventures. I realise that the events and adventures she wrote about were maybe separated by years at different periods of wintering, but I would have liked more examination of how to face the dark stillness of winter when there aren’t friends around or even strangers to go stand at Stonehenge on midsummer. This would have made the book even more helpful in the last year when we couldn’t go out much when we have been forced to winter and many of us found it incredibly difficult.

Gerry Stewart, Book Review – Wintering by Katherine May

as if life ripens on our limbs, sweetening
with every step, every right step —
I watch your uneven breath, the awkward
shape of your sleep, so much of the night
is just a defence against another morning.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, As if death is so discerning

Notice how the rain
falls down,
the old monk said.

Think like that, like
the falling rain.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (17)

A squirrel stopped halfway up the tree trunk to stare at us. Perfectly silhouetted against the blue sky, so that the silly fur-forks standing up from the tips of his ears were visible. I still have no idea if the tussle we witnessed a few weeks back was a fight for territory or some kind of mating activity. Maybe there is a second squirrel tucked away in the tree with babies.

It almost makes me sad to be so ignorant of something so close. I think maybe this summer – when school lets out in two weeks – I could pack a lunch and settle under the trees there. Bring binoculars and spy a little. Why not?

It’s odd. I actually have plans to do something similar next month. We are flying and boating all the way up to an island above the arctic circle to stay in a cabin with friends, without running water. I hope to spend a few days on the beach waiting and watching for porpoises and otters. Scanning the sky for birds of prey and trying to identify them.

Why do I feel a need to go away from home to pay close attention? It’s almost as if it is “allowed” then. It’s not indulgent, or eccentric, or peculiar. It’s a vacation.

Ren Powell, In My Own Front Yard

scrolling slowly
through a wet temple garden
on my time line

Jim Young [no title]

The range children are allowed to travel on their own is what psychologist Roger Hart has termed the “geography of children.” This range, for an eight-year-old, has shrunk from 6 or so city blocks a few decades ago to barely beyond the front door today. In the 1970’s, Dr. Hart spent two years conducting informal walking interviews with every child between the ages of four and 12 in one Vermont town to discover where and how they played. Kids particularly enjoyed the type of play that manipulated the physical world, making forts or using sticks and dirt to create (as one child did) a miniature airport. Dr. Hart observed that four and five-year-old children were allowed to play in the neighborhood without direct supervision, and children had the run of the town by the age of 10.

He went back to that town three decades later to see how childhood might have changed. No surprise, parents were much more involved in the moment-to-moment details of their children’s lives, resulting in much less freedom for children (and adults, presumably). As he did in interviews back in the 1970’s, he asked children to talk about secret places they liked to play. One child called out to his mother to ask if he had such a place. Dr. Hart wrote, “That would have been inconceivable 30 years ago. Then, most children I interviewed had places they went to that their parents had never been to.” Thirty years later, Dr. Hart found no children who played with sticks. This impeded freedom to play away from adult gaze has only gotten worse since.

Laura Grace Weldon, Neighborhood Kids & Authentic Freedom

When I was a kid the tree was impossibly enormous. It was like the giant Christmas tree that rose out of the stage, dwarfing everyone, in the local ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker. But mine wasn’t a Christmas tree. My tree had a big smooth trunk and thick, sturdy branches. One branch protruded over the jasmine, and there was another one a bit higher and to one side. The lower one was perfect for sitting on, letting my legs dangle. The higher one was perfect for leaning on with a book. I always had a book, Laura Ingalls Wilder or EB White eventually giving way to Robert Heinlein and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Eventually I got brave enough to climb higher, onto the roof of the playhouse with its asphalt shingles. Sometimes I would read up there, instead. Once I carved my initials into the bark with my red pocket knife, alongside the initials of the kid I had a crush on. The magnolia’s leaves were big and oval-shaped and glossy and they cast pockets of cool shade that kept the playhouse roof from overheating. The best time to climb my tree was late May — right around my mother’s birthday — when the magnolia would open her great creamy blooms. Her flowers were as big as my head. The petals bruised easily. Later, when they dried up and fell off, they were like scraps of tan leather. I used to try to stitch them together with monkeygrass to make doll clothes. By then, they only had a shadow of their former fragrance, but they were still sweet. I can almost remember that fragrance, forty years later and two thousand miles away.

Rachel Barenblat, Grandiflora

I finished a fiction book this week and I’m still reading Poets at Work, which is wonderful and strangely … well, comforting, for lack of a better word. I’ll be sad and bereft when I finish it. The Lowell interview is my favorite thus far, although I also just began the Walcott review — and I love reading it because it reminds me of being in his classes, and also the few precious times I had conversations with him outside of class.

But it also might end up be my favorite because of what he says in the interview, and how it resonates alongside other things I’ve been engaging with, like the Airea D. Matthew’s episode of the Commonplaces podcast. 

 For instance, this morning, I copied down this from the Walcott interview:

“What we can do as poets in terms of our honesty is simply to write within the immediate perimeter of not more than twenty miles, really.”

This made me think about my own art in this context, and about how I write, and my subject matter — which is often very much centered around my own experiences, not necessarily things that would seem universal — and I can’t escape that this is determined by my gender, my sexuality, my race, my socio-economic class, my career, where I live, etc. And then I was wondering if that’s worth anything. But I don’t think we can ever really know, or worry, about whether or not our work is worth anything to anyone else, unless we just want to make canned, color-by-number nonsense. We have to be honest, with ourselves and others, and perhaps in the way that Walcott suggests. 

Sarah Kain Gutowski, How to Ease Away from a Particularly Traumatic Semester: Reading, Listening, Thinking, Walking

I think Adam Zagajewski’s poems were easy to love, which is no bad thing. When I think of his poems, words such as the following come to mind: humane, gentle, affectionate, clarifying. After 9/11, his poem ‘Try to Praise the Mutilated World’ became very famous in its English-speaking translation by Clare Cavanagh when it appeared in The New Yorker. Not one of my personal favourites of his poems, I still appreciate it and its immense value in the wake of a huge, world-changing tragedy. It distills what I think Zagajewski did best – the acknowledgement that dark, horrendous things happen but the equal observation that life continues and that the value of light, beauty and faith remains unchanged. […]

It’s so hard to choose a favourite poem by Zagajewski. When I reread them now, years after first readings, they remind me of emotions and moments in my life, and they take me to places which I’ve visited or which I hope to visit some day. ‘Star’ has been a talisman for me for many years. ‘Vita Contemplativa’ occupies a central place of importance in my pantheon of poems, and lines from it often surface in my mind. ‘Poetry Searches for Radiance’ is a powerful mission statement for poetry. Whether one of his collections, a selected poems or something randomly found online, his works will reward both casual reading and prolonged engagement. What is much harder than finding the right poem by Zagajewski is accepting that he’s not here any more. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, Remembering Adam Zagajewski, 1945-2021

This project, the best kind, emerged from the whim of writer and artist, Matthew Wolfe. When the pandemic began, he started assembling and sharing on Facebook a daily photograph of possessions, many with notes. Each photo carried a shadowbox appeal, a frozen moment in time. Enter Sheila-Na-Gig editor, Hayley Mitchell Haugen, who suggested moving this work to a book format, and to open a call for writers to share their writing in response to Matthew’s photos.

And so the birth of Pandemic Evolution!

It is a hefty volume, beautifully crafted. The book contains Matthew’s writing, a record of the early days of the pandemic, his photographs with notes, and the writings of 46 poets from the U.S., Canada, India, and Wales, who responded in kind, ekphrastically, to Matthew’s work.

I am grateful to have three poems included in this collection: “Day 79: Something Cohen Said,” “Outside Terrace, B.C.,” and “Day 100: Road Trip Is Life.”

This project is truly an act of a collaboration in both the project and more global sense. It is one that I’ll look back on in gratitude having had this chance to document those early days the world entered into a period of social distancing, questioning, uncertainty, and survival.

Kersten Christianson, Pandemic Evolution

Last Saturday, 22nd May, was Artists’ Book Club Dove’s first in-person meeting since September last year. We have had ark-building weather recently, but by great good fortune this was a warm sunny afternoon with very little wind. We carried our chairs and picnics through knee-high buttercups in Dove Meadow to a clearing beside the Tree House (visible top right in the photo below, taken by Bron) and passed books and ideas around. What it treat it was to be together. […]

I’m only half-way through India
I’d rather do the washing up
if I were a reptile

in between the showers
a bit of deckle-grooming
cuckoos bitterns warblers marsh harriers

hot chocolate with a dash of brandy
hedgehog highways and rabbit lintels

Ama Bolton, ABCD late May 2021

This book has just been published by Suffolk Poetry Society as a response to the diminishing state of nature. It forms part of a collaboration between the Society and The Lettering Arts Trust (Snape), where an exhibition of the same name opens in July. I am delighted to have two poems and a micro-poem about IUCN red-listed species included. 

The topic resonates closely with Robert Macfarlane’s work (supported by Jackie Morris and her artwork) in response to an increasing concern over the fact that ‘nature words’ (the ‘lost words’: see here) were being removed from the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Apparently space was needed for words deemed more valuable in a digital and technical age. You can read my post here about a previous exhibition at The Lettering Arts Trust on this subject. 

Caroline Gill, ‘On a Knife Edge’, a new anthology from Suffolk Poetry Society

It was shocking, and not a little dreamlike, to experience going from a very small social circle that included my nuclear family, my sisters and niece, and a few very good, close friends and suddenly finding myself in Memorial Day travel at the Atlanta airport.

We were traveling to Oak Park, Ill to see my mother-in-law, more than likely for the last time, or maybe not. She is quite old, infirm, and suffering from dementia. She remains tied to her body by a silken thread, and so we plunged into the stream to be with her. […]

The Pandemic has made me much more conscious of my mortality. At 60, I’ve retired from public school teaching with a small pension, and I try to spend evenings on the back porch watching the sun set through the poplars and pines.

I’m so grateful to be alive, to have survived thus far, for breath, community, and connection. I want to dwell in these moments. My body and mind bask in the peace I feel under the trees in the evening air.

Christine Swint, Airport, Pandemic, and Gratitude

The littlest doll is also the one that doesn’t come apart, the one who stands complete. A inner strength that comes through in the poems that touch on the poet’s father’s death when she was aged 15. In “Matryoshka”, after the funeral, some dolls are taken apart some are “some shut tight, permanently locked in grief,” which leaves,

“The littlest doll found herself rattling around
in the wrong size body,
suddenly bulky with responsibilities
and listening to echoes.
To all eyes an adult, within, a child.”

The implication is that in the transition from child to adult, we don’t shed layers, we gain them. The intact baby doll is wrapped in experience and expectation. The external appearance is of an adult but the speaker still feels her inner child, hesitant and lacking confidence.

Emma Lee, “Russian Doll” Teika Marija Smits (Indigo Dreams Publishing) – book review

According to recent assessments from the eager
to travel again, have drinks with friends, shed

the year’s wardrobe of almost sackcloth
and ashes—we’ve come through to the other

side. But what is the other side if not a reverse-
engineered vision of this one; a looking glass

in which (we pray) each full-blown tragedy of
the past year shrinks back to what it wasn’t

before the unfathomable struck?

Luisa A. Igloria, A Tunnel has Openings on Both Ends

I had thought I would write about cicadas and husks and post-menopausal Noah’s wife feeling like she, too, is a husk.  This morning, I’m thinking about cicadas and Noah’s wife wondering why they got a space in the ark if they’re only going to emerge into life every 17 years.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cliche with Full Moon and Sunrise

beneath my house of memory :: a wind of unknown depth

Grant Hackett [no title]

Can you tell me how In an Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered came into being? 

I laid all the poems out on the floor to see how they spoke to each other. As I was going through them my biggest surprise was that the bulk of the collection was written using a very different voice to the one that I am most familiar with. I am a lyric poet by default. I tend towards the experimental, cross genre, free verse. I also approach subjects by going in slant. But this writing was radically different, it was narrative, direct, it employed characters and had a plot. Through the characters not only was I able to re-enact the past, but also to understand what happened and speak about it – although in these poems the boundaries between reality and fiction are blurred!

Crystal was one of the first characters on the scene and she was fierce and feisty! She had her own voice and demanded she be featured in her own book. The title In an Ideal World I’d Not Be Murdered is taken from the title of the penultimate poem in the publication, where Crystal sets out her own manifesto for an ideal world – full of contradiction and ambiguity:

Crystal knew what she wanted and that was somewhere quiet, but not so quiet I get
murdered.

Other characters trauma-wounds are experienced and displayed through the body, but are also expressions of fragmented memory, such as:      

Ash held off the stab wound
through her laugh. 

Abegail Morley, In Conversation with Chaucer Cameron

By the time I landed back in the city, internet journals were blossoming all over, and my first publication there (a site called Poetry Midwest)  was just as exciting as the one in print.  I was all in for sending out work at the rewards of publication, especially in those pre-social media days. Somehow, the community felt more connected then, or at least, the online journal community did.  Journal publications would be met with fanfare and sometimes fan letters from other poets. Some of the people I met in those years are still my online friends now, decades later and across several states. Some of the journals are still publishing, some faded into internet obscurity and 404 errors.  (Stirring and Pedestal Mag, for example,  are still going strong.)  At first, some poets scoffed at the online word, poets who now embrace it pretty regularly. I learned quickly that print journals were nice, but online was where things were more likely to get read (esp. by non-poets.)

The poetry world was, and still is, a constellation of communities.  I moved in several for awhile and at different points.  The online poets, the blogger poets.  The open-mic poets I did readings with in local bars and coffeehouses.  The MFA poets I was meeting at Columbia. Each community had their bibles.  The most exclusive online journals were the ones I couldn’t get into, but I kept trying and eventually did, though sometimes it took years.  (A couple others I am still trying to get into..lol..)  The open-mic crowd had their own local pubs and presses. The academics had a ranking of “high tier” and “lower tier” that I will never quite be at home with or understand. Community journals, academic housed journals. Journals run by one person and some html skills (wicked alice was very much this.) As such, I moved through journals in all these communities and met many different people in them. Even more awesome, was often invited to submit by editors who liked my work that landed in places I might not otherwise even thought about sending to. 

Ultimately, I have always kind of sucked at the submission game.  I was better a decade ago.  More often than not, even when i am writing a lot, I will go months without sending out a thing, then fire off a round to some familiar favorites and some pie-in-the sky places I’d like to see word.  Maybe some new discoveries I think are cool (Twitter has been awesome for this.). I stopped trying to get into places it didn’t really seem like my work was a fir for or whose work or values I didn’t esp appreciate..  At some point, I stopped trying to build a resume or appear in the sorts of places that got a certain kind of attention  and more just wanted to see if I could reach new or existing audiences with them. I began to think of poems as breadcrumbs you leave out in the world that lead back to a larger body of work, either just in general or to specific projects. This has made all the difference. 

Kristy Bowen, breadcrumbs

Further to my post last week about certain poetry readings in London, I thought it was only fair to focus today on regular events that are held all over the country (having mentioned them in passing as a point of comparison and/or contrast with London).

I myself have been a guest poet at regular events in Leicester, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Manchester, Huddersfield, Edinburgh, Chichester, Portsmouth, Cambridge, Coventry, Oxford, Shrewsbury, Bradford on Avon, Reading, Lewes and Birmingham, so I’m speaking from personal experience when I state that these events are all idiosyncratic and play an important role in many people’s lives, reaching far beyond the stereotypes of open mics, etc.

First off, there’s invariably a dedicated individual or team who volunteer to run things, often without any funding whatsoever (the irony, of course, is that this is where poetry really flourishes and makes a contribution to society). Secondly, there are the regular attendees, some of whom even arrive from outlying towns and villages, coming together for the reading in question. And that’s before considering their personal circumstances: on several occasions, a member of the audience has told me that poetry events provided their main (or even only) source of social interaction.

In other words, this post is a celebration of regular poetry events all over the country, though it’s also a lament, as their temporary shift online provides yet another example of the huge damage that the pandemic has inflicted on many people who already suffered great loneliness. And then, finally, it’s an expression of hope, that poetry can still form communities, even maintain them via the internet, and emerge into a post-pandemic era where we’ll be able to gather above a pub or in a village hall, and listen to each other’s poems once more.

Matthew Stewart, The communities created by regular poetry events

And so the job I’m applying for is one who praises. From, again, Li-Young Lee:

“Praise is the state of excess, ecstasy. We counted up all the deaths; we counted up all the dying: we counted up all the terrible things in life, and guess what? There’s still Van Gogh painting sunflowers, there’s still morning glories. There’s an excess in the universe, a much-ness, a too-much-ness.”

So I’m turning to Van Gogh, to the sunflowers, and to the morning glories. I’m going to change the station, flip the dial, change the channel in my brain, and devote myself to the hum of the universe. The mess is going to continue, I know that, and it totally sucks. I’m so beyond exhausted by heading into the fray (both physically with the day job and mentally). So I’m just setting it aside. I’m going to be a fool and turn back to the beautiful, I’m going to fix my broken hearing. I’ll end with another passage of Li-Young Lee speaking about the hum:

“I think it’s bad when poets say, “I don’t believe in the beautiful anymore. Look at the world.” Well, I say, “You’re looking the wrong way. You’re looking at the past. Poets should traffic in the ideal. You don’t traffic only in the past.” For me, as far back as I can remember, I was trying to hear a kind of hum, trying to feel it, and if I could hear or feel that hum, then the words just came and perched on that hum. If I don’t hear the hum, then I have to make the poem out of words. But if I’m hearing the hum and I hear it very clearly, the perfect words like birds will come and perch on that line. They will be the perfect words. but if my hearing is off — if it’s a little broken — and I’m faking it, then I’m putting the words in there, making the illusion there is something underneath. No. I’m interested in the frequency under those words.”

Shawna Lemay, The Hum of the Universe

After three cloudy, seasonable days–with no rain (we are in a drought)–the temperatures here got up to around 80° F and the cicadas emerged. I took a long walk around campus to observe the hatch.

Judging by the divots in the mulch around the trees, skunks, squirrels, raccoons, and other omnivores had a feast last night. But enough fourth-instar nymphs made it up the trees that I quickly lost count of how many exoskeletons clung abandoned to the bark of pines, maples, rowans, and assorted campus-landscape trees. There were also pale, newly-emergent cicadas–not yet imagoes–most of which were drying out their wings and bodies in the breeze. A few were still in the haemolymph stage (teneral adult stage), which is fascinating. Their wings are still furled, as they haven’t yet inflated with whatever fluid circulates through their systems, and the insects look particularly weird.

Brood X hatches mostly south of us, though this county is right on the border. Definitely seeing more of them this year than I have for many years past.

Magicicada are justly famous for their loudness. There were not many full-fledged adult bugs on campus at noon today; but when I return (on Friday or, perhaps, Tuesday), I expect the place will be buzzing. The students are not here to make the place buzz–I’ll be happy to hear the cicadas.

Ann E. Michael, Hatching day

Every day, more and more faces are stepping out from behind their masks,

lips making their debut on reality’s stage after having been in hiding for well over a year.

Thin lips, full lips, heart-shaped lips, turned-down lips.

Throughout L.A., all these rediscovered lips are like the new Norma Desmond, emerging from their Sunset Boulevard seclusion,

telling the ghost of Mr. DeMille they’re ready for their close-up.

Rich Ferguson, The Itness of Lips

So, last week I talked about discouragement from the whole rejection-cycle of being a poet. This week I’m going to talk about poetry dreams. The sort you’ve thought about for a while and think – now may be the time to take steps towards making them a reality. You know, I’ve been sending out resumes for jobs in the literary world (this is a big secret) but it got me thinking about what kind of work I could start on my own. I’ve thought a long time about opening up my own press, and lately I’ve gotten to start thinking about Virginia Woolf – the way she cultivated her own circle of talented artists, writers, and critics, and invited them to her home because her health didn’t do well when she was away. I thought about maybe investing in a little writer’s retreat cabin in a resort area that I could use, but could also rent out to friends (writers and artists), and maybe even running a little writer’s retreat of my own. I think that would be within the range of things I could do without endangering my health, especially if I had an accessible place to host from. What do you guys think?

The main thing keeping me from starting a press in the knowledge that while I have some gifts that are good for running a press – enthusiasm for getting underrepresented voices out into the world, a great reader (and pretty good editor, if I do say so myself), PR and marketing know-how, a pretty good idea of how to run a business – my worry is that I recognize I don’t really have a great mind for detail (even worse since the MS). I wonder if I could get a partner in the press who was great at detail-work. I know that the caveat of a one-or-two person press is that if, for instance, one person’s health fails (which has happened at two of my own publishers) then the press is gone. Thus my hesitance to “go for it.” (Well, that and paperwork – one of my least favorite things in life.)

So the kinds of jobs I’ve been applying for would be doing marketing and PR for presses – or even acquisition editor, a job I’ve had before in my previous life at Microsoft. While it would be fun to be part of a team in that case, would it be more fun if I had more ownership?

So, even if I don’t have the money, partners, or plans completely available right now, there’s no harm in putting these things out into the universe, is there? Please chime in in the comments if you have any thoughts, encouragements, or ideas about what I’ve posted here….

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Almost Summer – Memorial Day Weekend, Supermoons, and Dreaming Some Poetry Dreams

Collective dreaming, tons of it, was being reported early in the pandemic. It was a phenomenon of nocturnal spaces around the world.  I was thinking about that this morning around 4am, looking out from the second story window at a sea-green garden,  an octopus’ garden, to use the Beatles’ words, with the blue-green flesh of hydrangea calling out, the pompom leaves of trees being shaken in a hynotic motion; thinking of the way we tapped into soft, amorphous time and space world during the pandemic.

I was thinking of this after we had our first dinner party; as people return to social space, they rush towards individuation only to find they fit awkwardly in their bodies. 

What was all that dreaming about?  The unconscious was ordering things in a way of deeper reality, and people not previously accustomed were becoming awake to it.  When we needed it, a curative, creative depths became available beyond the frontal barking of social media, beyond the dominating mind.

What can we now collectively gather?  Is it too much to think of reforming a collective mythology, desires and fears of our shared humanity behind the lids?  What if we made a bank of dreams — the way we bank money, and bank blood, now bank sperm and eggs and genetic material. Thinking on the model of cloud banks, dream banks will mark undivided and shifting spaces where psyches run into each other, billow and split and dissolve. I’ll start. I dreamed C.D. Wright gave me a haircut, very slanted across my neck as we talked about her waiting to receive a certificate to teach swimming; I dreamed about my mother’s belly, my bodily home, in different ages and stages. Of course, I dreamed of bounding outside of lockdown, climbing over roofs and living in endless reconfiguration of rooms. The possibilities are endless.

Jill Pearlman, Dream Bank for the Post-Covid World

Rain against the window. The sound of my wife laughing in another room. A sadness for the mounting grief in the world. Things that tell me I am still alive.

James Lee Jobe, The universe. My wife laughing.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 19

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week I’m a little under the weather following my second Covid jab—light fever, general brain fog—so if the arrangement seems especially random, that’s my excuse. I found so many interesting posts, I had to be a bit picky and exclude a few things that might’ve otherwise made the cut—if that’s you, my apologies.


If my mother were alive, she’d be asking me why I haven’t written anything this week about Israel and Gaza and the West Bank. (Well, in fairness: she’d be asking why I haven’t written about Israel. She didn’t care about Gaza or the West Bank.) We had this conversation often, when she was alive and was well enough to get cranky with me about what I did or didn’t write. 

I’m struggling to find words this week. Would my words actually make things better for anyone? Would they bring light, or only more heat? Would they open anyone’s heart, or just deepen entrenchment? What purpose would my words serve? Instead I’ve been seeking out the voices of Israelis and Palestinians. Their words matter right now in a way that mine does not.

I read words from Leah Solomon about her heartbreak and desperation. I read words from Ismail (a young man writing under a pseudonym to protect himself) about feeling trapped between a quick death and a slow one. I read words from Lama M. Abarqoub about bereaved parents. I read words from Sarah Tuttle-Singer about blockades and parenthood and children. 

My heart breaks for all who have worked there toward justice and peace and coexistence.  The actions (and inactions) of governments and extremists are pushing justice and peace and coexistence further and further out of the realm of possibility. And I know the same emboldening of rightwing supremacists that scares me in the States is happening there too. 

So I pray this prayer by Rabbi Jordan Braunig, and this prayer of mothers for life and peace by R. Tamar Elad-Appelbaum and Sheikha Ibtisam Maḥameed (transl. by R. Amichai Lau-Lavie), and The smoke has not cleared by Hila Ratzabi. I pray poems by Yehuda Amichai and Mahmoud Darwish, Rachel Tzvia Back and Carolina Ebeid. I pray, and their words become my own.

Rachel Barenblat, Wordless

Some days we can lose ourselves in the labyrinth of dark news headlines.

Blindfolded by grief, we wander from one tragedy to another, tattooed with wounds feeling so un-akin to our natural skin.

We’re taught, yet again, how a bullet spelled backwards might not sound the same way but it still leaves a gun at the same speed.

Or how awful words can build upon one another, calcify, create the spine of hate.

Some days are so dark you can taste the fear of becoming a relic, an artifact, an extinct thing in the museum of breathing.

Gentle heart, return to us from the wild. Bell our weariness to a many-petalled joy.

Rich Ferguson, When the Bullet Meets the Bone

This past year I have not been able to write much, or rather, I haven’t been able to write much new poetry. I’ve written here from time to time. (Thank goodness for this blog, and the book that’s come from it – so much pleasure there, and the kind reading and sharing of it). And I’ve written thousands of emails, texts, even posted the odd tweet …I’ve written for my job as a university lecturer: thousands and thousands and thousands of words about, well, about how and why we can and must care for and empower each other, about how we try to learn when we cannot be together. That work has been utterly exhausting, though I regret none of it. 

As for the music of poetry? The place from which that comes feels numbed, weary, tuneless. 

    I asked, with everything I did not
    have, to be born. And nowhere in any
    of it was there meaning …

I woke this morning and after a bit of Sunday morning laying around, talked with myself about first things – about how I came to write poetry in the beginning, how I scribbled lines, hid them and tore them up, then eventually had the courage to join a writing group in my 40s. It was through reading poetry, not writing, that I found what I needed to know. After the reading, the writing – the impetus to express my own longings. I knew, I reminded myself decades later, that it was reading The Wasteland in my 1980s London bedroom that convinced me that I was not alone.

Sharon Olds, in her poem I Cannot Say I Did Not addresses the question of unbidden existence more clearly than anything I’ve heard or read in any other context: church, family, school, social work text books, The School of Life website …  This existential conundrum haunted my youth –  none of us asked to be born. Olds takes it head on in this poem, even daring to end on a preposition. It’s brilliant, and reading it again this morning (from the Bloodaxe Staying Human anthology) it confirmed to me that if I turn back to reading the poetry that moves me most, poetry which is about this existence of ours – the one that we’ve been hanging onto for dear life – if I turn back to the well-worn pages of Olds, Rich, Hopkins, Eliot, Collins, McMillan, Clarke, Sprackland, Duffy, Oliver …  in time, and with gentleness, and quietly, I will, in time, find my voice again.

    … I want to say that love
    is the meaning, but I think that love may be
    the means, what we ask with. 
Sharon Olds – I Cannot Say I Did Not

Liz Lefroy, I Struggle With Words

Strangely, in the last few weeks, I have taken some of the incredibly negative writing I’ve been churning out for months and months, and am turning it into something more positive. There is still an underlying sadness and fear but it also has hope. I had previously tried to find, in my vast pile of writing, some poems that were positive. I didn’t find many. I submitted those to a competition and was shortlisted. That was a positive in itself. And it is clear that people want hope right now – well, always, obviously. So I thought I’d try it on myself. If I can write it, maybe I can believe it. Some days it works. I’ll keep fighting.

Sue Ibrahim, Fighting

And the boat will light the night sky
enough for a sudden, uproarious rush
to the sea, in old clothes, good clothes,
underclothes or no clothes at all.
A wrecked boat with stories to be told
but nobody interested enough to hear.
Somebody will make a good fire of it
and it’ll be gone. Charcoal, ash, good to
spread on an allotment, or for the wind
to pick up and blow far out to sea.

Bob Mee, ON MADNESS STREET

I discovered the cure to writer’s block. Decide finally your rattly old car needs to be replaced so you can stop worrying about it. Do some dreadful car shopping, including endless reading of articles in Car and Driver or other magazines you would not otherwise frequent. While you’re in the middle of a reaction from your second Covid shot, buy a car you can live with for a price that gives you only partial dyspepsia. Sell the old car for far less than you had thought you could get. Boom: Start writing again.

Or was it springtime.

Or finally boredom.

Well. I guess I’m not sure. Anyway, I have several pages of scrawl, so that’s good. But I’ve also got a pile of really good reads (hm…could that have been what got me going…?), so I thought I’d share some.

Marilyn McCabe, But you gotta have something; or, On Writer’s Block and Reading

I’m not a silver linings kind of gal. Not a “look on the bright side” person. Not because I insist on wallowing, but that I believe I need to allow myself to accept what is hard, or unpleasant or destructive, for what it is – honestly. I need to see this “thing” for what it is and acknowledge the real consequences.

It seems to me that looking for bright sides is gaslighting oneself. A kind of emotional sleight of hand. That said, life is full of “things”. Dark things and bright things. And sometimes it does help to keep the nourishing things in view while dealing with the things that can kill us.

I remember seeing a drawing a few years ago of a dark tangle of lines inside a small circle. It represented grief. The image was followed by a larger circle with the same size dark tangle of lines inside. The idea being that grief doesn’t get smaller, but that life goes on and becomes fuller, and the grief takes up less space in our lives.

I am no expert on grief, but this makes sense to me. And I see no reason why it wouldn’t help to look around and make my life larger in the present. To make my circle of awareness larger.

Ren Powell, “All the Things”

As I read through Frances of the Wider Field, I think of my own grandmothers, one who died suddenly 30 years ago, and one who died 17 years ago from Parkinson’s. I often feel that I never really got to know them, and that is its own kind of grief. I see your poems as a way to stay in conversation with people you cannot converse with anymore, at least not in the way you once did. Do you feel there is something special about poetry as a genre that allows for these conversations to happen? 

I hadn’t really thought about it like this before, but yes. Poetry allows for all kinds of unexpected turns as opposed to, say, a mode that has some expectation of linearity. It seems to me that poems are not only a way to stay in conversation with people we can no longer access, but that writing into the unknown allows us to converse with mysteries. The Frances poems originated with that energy, of being open to conversations with people I never met, with places that existed before me, with lineage, with ghosts, with concepts of god. The energy was at first an impulse to write toward a very specific absence, but the poems turned into presence–Frances began permeating the landscape, the dailiness of past, present and maybe even future. I’m interested in the continuum of time and memory and how we move long through different planes of experience, sometimes all at once.

Allyson Whipple, Poetry Interview with Laura Van Prooyen

When I visit, now, he makes sure that I know that he wants me to have his onyx bookends. It’s hard to know if he knows that he’s said that before: he’s always had the good teacher’s capacity for clear repetition. He knows it’s not enough to say something once. One of the reasons I’ve always been a poor teacher is that I’m not able to repeat myself. If I even suspect that I repeating myself, I stop short; I’m mortified; I can’t proceed. Not that it actually stops me from repeating myself: I’m often startled, if I look back at my older posts, to see how often, how tiresomely, I say the same thing. I’ve said all this before, too. 

The bookends are massive, Mexican onyx, from some foray into Juárez. And I do indeed like them.

The mallet just kisses the huge metal disk: it rings, or rather throbs: a low tone on the edge of hearing, but a sweet call. If the huge slow earth were a cat chirruping with pleasure at the sight of a friend, it would make this sound. More things, more things in heaven and earth. A la deriva, but at least in motion. The sky is a pure wordless blue. This year’s wildfires haven’t started up yet. And we don’t actually know that they will.  There’s lots we don’t know.

Dale Favier, Bells that still Ring

You must forget what came before,
how really there was no cloud
of mosquitos that night, only a stinging
flurry of words, how everything happened
too fast once she arrived, and how
you were the only one left to bury her.
Afterwards, you ate and cried as you ate,
the toast black like the black soil
you kept turning inside your mind,
covering and uncovering a grave.

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke, so you
sat there, waiting, eating the burned
toast, raising your hands in surrender
to imaginary knocks on the door.
The makeshift table wobbled, half-chewed
by termites. The TV flickered on mute.
You made your own news, platefuls
of it, the gift of an alternate reality,
where the world was still the same, but
was played back in reverse, and last night
with its soft-pink center was yet to come,
led by the peace of a dreamless sleep.

Romana Iorga, Nothing Left to Do

I do not own a powerful telephoto lens for my old digital camera, so I rarely take successful pictures of birds. My noticing tends toward the small and not-fast-moving: flowers, mosses, flora, lichen, fungi, landscapes. I have learned to look mostly at my feet, and occasionally at the clouds. It seems that the limits of my camera and of my vision (terribly, terribly nearsighted) have led to a particular perspective that affects my photos, my botanical interests, and my poetry.

Which is, sometimes, all to the good–but not uniformly. Perspective should be varied; we humans need to imagine that other humans (and non-humans) may witness life from other points of view. This concept is fundamental to psychological understanding and to the much-vaunted and controversial “theory of mind.” It also gives us the pathetic fallacy and anthropomorphism, which expand human ideas about consciousness and offer plangent and resonant metaphors that writers can employ.

All of this came to top of mind today when a student brought in a Philosophy paper concerning Nietzsche’s perspectivism.

Nietzsche opposes philosophers who ignore the fact that individuals have limitations on their theorizing. What makes his idea so thorny is that at the same time he suggests–goes so far as to claim–that perspective (even limited, ideological perspective) is imaginative, is one of our human freedoms.

Ann E. Michael, Perspective(s)

Poetry is difficult to define. It’s a nebulous creature. Even if one were to point to particular tropes or concepts as being hallmarks of poetry, the definition shifts along with its multitude of forms, styles, and expectations.

The first episode of this Writing Excuses master class attempts to answer this question. However, instead of simply presenting her own definition of poetry, El-Mohtar wisely turns the tables, asking the question, “What is prose?”

Prose is so ubiquitous — being present in novels, short stories, and non-fiction works all around us — that we tend to take it for granted. By asking “What is prose?” Amal shakes up our understanding of what we read and write.

Since Kowal, Wells, and Taylor are all seasoned professionals, their answers to this question are thoughtful and enlightening. The discussion leads to the conclusion that poetry and prose are not opposites (as is often perceived), rather they use the same tools and elements to engage with language in order to create specific effects.

As a person who has recently published Twelve, a book that blurs the line between poetry and prose, I found this conversation particularly resonant. Each of the poems within my book are narrative-heavy prose poems, in which poetic language is broken into blocks of text similar to paragraphs. As such, it’s been interesting reading some of the reviews and commentary about the book, as some readers feel that labeling these pieces poems is an inaccurate description, calling them instead vignettes.

Personally, I don’t blame readers for feeling bewilderment. When I started writing this collection, my intention was to write poetry with a heavy narrative focus. However, as my writing process continued, each piece grew into a hybrid creature I wasn’t quite able to define. Ultimately, I decided that since my intention was to write poetry — and these pieces feel like poetry to me — that’s what I call them.

Andrea Blythe, What is Poetry? A Writing Excuses Master Class

Tomorrow is #DylanDay (see here), so I wanted to post some photographs linked to the poet whose hometown of Swansea was also my home for two decades. […]

Italian poet and Dylan Thomas aficionado, Lidia Chiarelli, charter member and co-ordinator of the Immagine e Poesia movement, has been busy assembling and curating a website of international writing and visual art to mark the day. I am delighted to have my poem, ‘The Gothic Arch’, posted on this webpage (the easiest way to find it is to scroll to the bottom here and then move the cursor up the page a little). The poem, as you will see, was written in response to a few words from one of Dylan’s poems. 

The site also contains articles, such as one by Peter Thabit Jones on ‘Dylan Thomas and Greenwich Village, New York’, in which he ponders some of the fascinating ‘what ifs’ in relation to Dylan’s short but extraordinary literary life. 

Caroline Gill, Marking #DylanDay 2021 … Immagine e Poesia

as was youth
beer-bloated and curled
a smile – winsome
isn’t that what they say
to the wide-eyed

but to the writers of poems
it is the meagre wages
of time squandered
in the good company
of laughter un-worded
worldly but unworldly
is this tragedy to behold

Jim Young, older dylan dying

Most of the time, I feel much more at home among zine culture practitioners than I ever did poets, and it may just be that my DIY ethos has never fit well in a system where such things are frowned upon. Where I have sat on panels arguing about self-publishing that are the exact opposite of zine panels.   Fellow zinesters are welcoming and excited about indie publishing, where many poets are just looking for the “acceptable” routes of work dissemination–academic journals, fancy presses, the things poets have been fighting over since the early 20th century and maybe before which have more to do with “legitimacy” and less with actually cultivating an audience.  Zinesters have to take the means of production into their own hands by definition, so the results are much more varied and diverse. 

And perhaps it is that seizing I try to convey to the classes the most. The idea of authorship and creating media in spaces and from voices that don’t always get heard. I am excited to see what comes of this year’s programming once we are back in the physical spaces..so stay tuned.

Kristy Bowen, for the love of zines

Q: How did Queen Street Quarterly get started?

[Suzanne Zelazo]: I had been volunteering as the photography editor (which was the only position open) at my college literary mag (The Trinity Review). The journal was as formally traditional as the campus. Although I found that limiting, I got to see a little of what went into such an enterprise. Most importantly, I got to see how and where it was printed, which was around the corner at Coach House Press. The singularity of that press with its commitment to the book as an art object was absolutely crucial to how I conceived of the QSQ. What they do as printers made it very clear to me that I wanted to produce a periodical that would showcase the materiality of the text, specifically by including sound and visual poetry. But, as a lover of much lyric work as well, I wanted a venue that would integrate the traditional and the avant garde. I believed and still do in the power of reciprocal exchange between different genres. One way I saw of enabling that was by according the ephemerality that characterizes much experimental work the weighted presence of a proper bound text and to have it appear on zephyr laid paper that would do much to fix the fleeting in place for the benefit of extended engagement. Additionally, I believed the less experimental material in this configuration would take on a different charge featured alongside seemingly incongruous work.

Looking back, part of the impetus to start the QSQ was no doubt youthful arrogance—I did not see any magazines at that time to which I wanted to submit work, or more precisely, which reflected the kind of work I was writing and interested in, so I figured I’d make one.

Q: What were your models when starting out? Were you basing the journal on anything specific, or working more intuitively?

SZ: I wasn’t basing it on anything specific but discovering older copies of Between C and D: Neo-Expressionist Lower East Side Fiction Magazine, edited by Joel Rose and Catherine Texier (1983-1990) made a huge impact on me. I read every one I could get my hands on. Printed and “bound” as it was, or rather, computer-printed accordion-style and packaged in zipped plastic bags, cultivated my understanding of the periodical as art object. The entire print run is stunning and the magazine’s commitment to the avant garde scene was so inspiring to me. Tish was the same for me in terms of prioritizing generic experimentation.

rob mclennan, Queen Street Quarterly (1997-2005): bibliography, and an interview with Suzanne Zelazo

I can barely lead this morning’s writing class. A sudden migraine hit only a few minutes before students began to show up on Zoom. It’s a bad one — pain and nausea plus vivid wavy lines distorting my vision. I take some restorative slow breaths, drink a glass of water, then welcome everyone to the class.

I love teaching. I’m particularly mesmerized by the way community writing classes effortlessly build connections between strangers. Over weeks of reading and discussing their writing, people can’t help but get to know one another. Ordinary conversations, even between close friends, tend to fritter time away on surface topics. But in writing class we skip weather and family updates, going directly to deeper topics. It’s entirely natural to bond after sharing universal experiences like fear, regret, grief, embarrassment, triumph, and joy. I suspect we carry one another’s poems and stories with us long after the class is over. I certainly do. Many friendships built in writing class persist and several former classes of mine continue to meet independently as writing groups. Writing together has a magic all its own. 

But this morning I am in trouble. I can’t easily focus on the screen and can barely see my notes. Worst of all, I have trouble explaining concepts due to migraine-imposed brain fog, In this session I introduce persona poems. I explain, falteringly, how persona poems free us to write from the perspective of a soup bowl, a tree, an astronomer, a virus. I point out persona poems can help to stretch us. After all, if we’re writing in the voice of a dolphin or the voice of Donald Trump, we are writing our way toward understanding those lives more completely. I note that some people insist all poems are persona poems because the “I” in the poem is still a persona the poet choose to present. I’m not sure how much I get across because I feel like a balloon floating over the class.

Laura Grace Weldon, Healing Power Of Writing Via Zoom

After trying checklists and flowcharts and a variety of other revision tools, all of which felt too prescriptive, I finally landed on the poetry revision bingo card. I figured making revision an actual game might encourage a greater degree of playfulness. I tell my students that the goal is to get a bingo, not to get a perfect poem. This frees them up to be experimental and take chances they might not otherwise take. While they also have the option of jumping around the board at random, getting a bingo forces them to try things that might be unfamiliar to them, instead of just going for low hanging fruit. I sell it as an opportunity to be surprised, to find out what secrets the poem is keeping, as well as what it has to teach about craft. And of course, sometimes what the experiment teaches is that you had it right the first time, which isn’t a failure of the revision process, but a validation of your instincts.

Poetry Revision Bingo – guest post by Suzanne Langlois (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

A thousand pages flutter open in the wind.

Translation: The days are gods
who haven’t shown their faces yet.
It’s when they appear as nothingness
that we think of them as powerful.
How can you supplicate
what isn’t there?

Luisa A. Igloria, (Continuing) Improvisations

spring daylight lingers
longer through the evening

we talk video games
coasting down hills
our bike lights blinking

James Brush, 05.10.21

A roar of Harleys,
a long rumble of them

coming through town–
spring.

Tom Montag, A ROAR OF HARLEYS

Walking home the other day, I noticed a cop car pulled up in front of a coffee shop on the main drag of my neighborhood. When I rubbernecked to see what was going on, I was a bit shocked to see a 100% buck-naked lady standing out in front of the entrance in full view of God and everyone. I would have expected this from an elderly person with dementia, but this was a young, attractive woman who appeared completely normal in every other way. She was perfectly calm and reposeful, not all at combative, just…naked. At one point she settled into one the chairs in the outdoor seating section, drew her knees up, and just sat there. It was quite strange. The cop on site was in observation mode, being very hands-off and obviously trying to shield her body as much as possible. I hope the naked lady is okay and that she got connected with some good mental health resources and that no one took pictures of her and posted them on the internet (I was watching the other pedestrians closely to make sure they didn’t have their phones out). The whole thing made me wonder about my own capacity to crack to the point that one day I just decide take all my clothes off in public and stand around nonchalantly. Somehow I don’t think this will ever happen. I am innately as modest as a nun and have a horror of being seen in anything less than full-length pants and skirts, so hopefully, even if I do have a complete mental breakdown one day, it won’t involve me stripping in public.

Mr. Typist and I took a long walk yesterday in celebration of the outdoor mask mandate being lifted, and I was surprised at how joyous it made me to see people’s faces again. It was a sunny, almost-warm day, there were a lot of people out, and practically no one had a mask on. Every time we passed people without masks, I was filled with a little zing of happiness at being able to see their full faces. I don’t know any of these people; they are just strangers out in public, but somehow seeing their whole faces brought me a sense of jubilance. This brings up all kinds of questions about what sort of long-term psychological affects that masking has had on us, and how it has affected our sense of our own humanity, and what it means from a biological and evolutionary standpoint to be visually cut off from the view of our fellow human’s faces for prolonged periods of time.

Kristen McHenry, In Defense of Hufflepuff, Buck-Naked Lady, The Joy of Seeing Faces

Finally, one from Rembrandt — I love this because it’s deliberately left unfinished, and we can see his fast, scribbling line. Look at that barely-indicated tree, over on the left! Picasso loved Rembrandt and you can see why. His facility is unnerving, and just makes me smile with delight when I see the way he “builds” the trees with just that line before starting to add any shading or detail, and then starts to go in: “yes, let’s work on the side of that trunk to show its gnarliness, let’s show the little leaves on the ground and the way the bank is uneven, these branches I’ll leave white against the dark foliage, but those others need to be dark against the light shining through”… I could feel him thinking some of the same thoughts and making some of the same decisions I did in my own drawing, and all those years and the distance between anonymity and fame collapse, and we’re just two artists concentrated on our work, looking intently at trees.

Beth Adams, On Drawing Trees

Can light redeem every/anything? Since I have lost my faith in so many things of late, maybe irredeemably, it occurs to me that my latest photo excursion was in part about testing that idea. Can light still change us? Can beauty? Can a seagull perched on top of a TacoTime cactus after rummaging through the trash show me something that I need to know? Can all of this, this attempt, be a synonym for happiness, even if it is couched in despair and a loss of faith?

Shawna Lemay, Synonyms of Happiness

The photographer wonders how to say in deer language: “I come in peace; be not afraid.”

The deer wonders how to say in human language: “Breakfast is ready and there’s enough for you. Come and eat.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Deer and the Photographer

This morning I thought with a start: does “console” mean with-alone? It doesn’t, it turns out. According to the OED, it comes from the Latin con- (with) + sōlārī (to solace, soothe). We used to say “consolate” until Dryden, Pope, and others shortened it. But I like my pretend etymology, too. There’s inwardness to mourning, but it’s also touching how many people reach out kindly.

Last spring I found it deeply strange that the world was coming to life so beautifully as a virus ravaged populations all over the world. This spring, as the human social world stirs in harmony with the natural one, I’m thinking about how my mother would have appreciated the warm weather, the annual sequence of blooms, and the lift of mask mandates (I worry about the latter, but I bet she would have flung hers away triumphantly and gone to brunch with her friends, to her children’s exasperation). It’s strange not to text and call her. Guilt and shame sometimes flood in about the times I wasn’t kind to her. I woke up in the middle of the night mad at a relative who wouldn’t talk to her during the last year (although he’s also elderly, I thought in the morning, and deserving of compassion, so I will NOT be extending the grudge). I wish my mother had one more summer.

On the “with” side of lonely brooding, I’m thinking about traveling and connecting with friends, in person. I rebooked last June’s cancelled trip to Iceland as well as an August week at a NC beach house with my kids–and I’ll come to the latter straight from the Sewanee Writers Conference, which I’m looking forward to with excitement now. This Thursday Chris and I are driving up to NJ to spend three nights at my sister’s beach house before attending a small memorial for my mother in my sister’s backyard, with a few friends and relatives I haven’t seen in ages. I’ve picked out a poem from Heterotopia to read, and I’ll share a letter from my mother’s best friend while growing up in England, but other than that, this writer has no idea what to say. There’s so much, and a lot of it feels private.

Lesley Wheeler, Celebration & consolation

sad at the passing
of a friend
we few now
the sun sets
but still
you drive
the dark paths
as if they had
no end

Dick Jones, Dog Sutra §22

So I spent some time this week reading Joan Didion’s new collection of as-yet uncollected essays from the 1960’s – 2000s, What I Mean – a great book to dip in and out of on the weekends. Standout essays include “Why I Write” and “On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice,” as well as some of her asides about her early days working as a copywriter at Vogue. […]

I also finished Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz, about the friendship and relationships between Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. There were two fun chapters – on how they met in a workshop with Robert Lowell, their meetups, and on their writing habits – and about four excruciating chapters on how both women suffered in their marriages, their poor treatment at the hands of psychiatrists, Anne’s abuse of her daughter, and their eventual suicides. I know it’s hard to get around those subjects in any kind of biography about either poet but it just – oof – made for tough going. It’s well-researched and the author makes useful notes and asides for context, but I was glad to have Joan Didion to go back to – she seemed so solidly upbeat in comparison!

I was also interested to find out for which book and when Anne Sexton won the Pulitzer Prize – click the link for more detailed info from a Poetry Foundation blog post – and how she negotiated for equal pay for readings, appearances, and publications. When reading about successful female authors of the past for inspiration, I often wonder how they would fare now. How much more equitable is our current system – health system, and the poetry system? How can we make it even better? How can we find successful women writers who had more stable, less abusive relationships, better help and more success in life who can be role models? There’s always Margaret Atwood, who remains bracingly cheerful in the face of a long, happy marriage and a lot of late-in-life success, I guess…Suggestions welcome in the comments!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Poem on Verse Daily – I Can’t Stop, Birds and Blooms, and Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion

Poetry has been a balm for many over the past difficult year, for others it has been an outlet to express the whirlwind of emotions. Chris Campbell’s White Eye of the Needle, currently available from The Choir Press, is the first published collection I’ve read that mentions the current epidemic, though its presence has been felt through poems in journals and online since this all began.

Covid’s stamp on the current poetry scene can’t be ignored as I’m sure it will continue to weigh down many poetic collections in the near future, but former journalist Campbell doesn’t dwell on the epidemic. The poetry collection themes range from travel to relationships. They are well-matched by Sandra Evans’ sweet, detailed line drawings, gems in themselves.

Campbell’s writing is delightful, focusing on those simple moments that in retrospect carry so much importance now, especially as many ordinary habits of our life, visiting a café, going to an open air market have been denied us in the last year. His poems remind us to savour the things we once enjoyed freely.

Gerry Stewart, Book Review – White Eye of the Needle – Chris Campbell – Blog Tour

A second review of Strangers is in! This one meant so much to me because it was written by Chris Banks, a poet whose writing and blogging have meant a lot to me (as you can see if you check out my ten Chris Banks “quotes” here on this site, which reach back over the last twelve years!). As Chris mentions in the review, Strangers features a quote from Chris’ second book, The Cold Panes of Surfaces

The quote accompanies the book’s dedication to my father and two brothers: “For we are who we are, and more, all that is ridden within us / in the same way our fathers are not our fathers but someone / else’s inconsolable sons” (“LaHave River, Cable Ferry”).

So I suppose Chris wasn’t a fully unbiased reader, nor am I a fully unbiased recipient. Chris’ attention being given to my book was an absolute joy. His observation that the book focuses on “grief for a larger world that is constantly passing forever into the past” echoes one of my favourite conversations, between Stephanie Bolster and Don Coles, on the”presentiment of loss” in Coles’ poetry. I hadn’t realized – slow as one is to see their own work – that I was in part drawn to that conversation because I think and write in similar ways. 

Rob Taylor, New Strangers Review

I’ve been blown away by some of the haiku in paul m.’s ‘witness tree’, and reading Wally Swist’s ‘The Windbreak Pine’ has made me appreciate the longer line (many of his poems are 17 syllables, although not necessarily 5-7-5). Both books are from Snapshot Press. I’d like to say more about these collections, but work has been hectic (plugging gaps due to an outbreak of Covid that seems to be rumbling on despite many other areas having lowers cases). Time hasn’t been on my side – is it ever? What I would say though, is that I have never been disappointed by any books I’ve bought from Snapshot Press. And I have a few more still on my wish list!

This sort of brings me round to another thing that I’m starting to do, which is sell some of my poetry books. From time to time, I give books away, either to fellow writers, or to the local Oxfam bookshop in nearby Holmfirth. I don’t do this lightly, but space is always a premium and sometimes I realise I’m unlikely to keep returning to a particular book. Most of the books I own aren’t worth that much, but one or two might be considered collectible. So, I’m dipping my toe in the waters of e-bay, in the hope that some of these books will find the right home, so to speak. My mother has a saying that goes something along the lines of: ‘She knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. I’ve had a careful think about what I value, and currently, it’s haiku. Any money I raise will go towards the purchase of haiku books. And I’ve taken the plunge and joined The British Haiku Society too (not sure why it’s taken me so long, something about a formal organisation that I find slightly off-putting, but we’ll see). Anyway, that’s where I’m up to on this rather rain-soaked Saturday afternoon. I hope that wherever you are, you are reading, and writing, and loving what you do!

Julie Mellor, rain-washed gritstone

The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by; have I come to threaten them? No? This is the anxiety of death that we all know. The burrowing owls, small, colored like the earth, like the cold ground, relax a little as I pass. I can see this. O cold night, let them know peace and comfort, these little beings who look at me and think of danger. 

James Lee Jobe, Flesh, time, fate, and some rather small owls.