Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 37

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: abundance and loss, fire and ash, falling, the fallen. Fall.


The apples are falling into bags which find their way to my doorstep, the damsons have relaxed, forgiven themselves for not being plums, the dish and the spoon are getting well used, and the courgettes are running away with the beans. Even the herbs in my window box are making a final push for the sun, over-stretching beyond their theme tune … Parsley, Chives, Rosemary and Thyme – with a ladida and a hey diddle diddle and damn the absence of Sage and a fiddle! 

I’ve saved jars, and jammed some fruits into them, I’ve baked an apple tart, sprinkled it with almond flakes and cinnamon. In years gone by I pickled. I stoned. I peeled. I cored. But this year’s new harvest trick is bottling. 

Bottle. What a word. I bottle, you bottle, he, she, zhe, they, bottle. We’ve all bottled it through lock-down and here in the northern hemisphere we’re facing, well, we’re facing west and the lowering sun, and the coming of the colder months. But before that, the plenty, abundance of good things to store, to shore us up, turn into something warm and friendly, encouraging and faintly medicinal for whatever lies ahead. It’s cordial. 

Liz Lefroy, I Bottle Abundance

This [click through for photo] is the University of Chicago “Great Books of the Western World” collection, edited by Mortimer Adler and published in the 1950s. My grandmother, a single mom on a budget, scrimped and saved for months to buy this for my father when he was quite young, maybe 12, and it shaped the rest of his life. He eventually went to the University of Chicago, and became a research psychologist, a scholar, a book collector, and a deeply engaged intellectual with a broad ranging curiosity and knowledge of the world. He kept this collection with him always – I remember it in his library when I was growing up – and it’s still right here next to the bed where he slept until last January. I’m staying in this room now, visiting my stepmom, and realizing just how long the influence of something like this can last. My dad truly believed in the life of the mind and dedicated his life to it, and his life – not to mention these books – are a testament to how the mind lives on in the pages we write, the people we talk to, the students we teach, and the children we raise.

turning the page ::
a vase of dried reeds on the old bookshelf

Dylan Tweney [no title]

The week was heavy and emotional. My eyes were permanently swollen from crying and I had a headache that wouldn’t go away. I slept little and ate like crap. But every day I held my dad’s hand, I kissed his forehead, I stroked his face, I told him I loved him. I spooned ice into his mouth and at the end, I spooned morphine into his cheek. I injected meds into his catheter. I emptied his urine catch and I changed his dressings. I performed these tasks with love and heartbreak.

My dad was unresponsive the entire time but I believe he knew I was there. The first few days he opened his eyes and looked at me. He didn’t say anything but once, while looking at me, I swear he was trying to say I love you.

Each morning I would rise early and watch the sky as I drank my coffee. One morning, the sunrise was breathtaking. I thought of all the days my farmer father greeted the day before the sun rose. How he watched the sky lighten as he worked the fields or fed the cattle. In that moment, I felt at peace.

While death is always overwhelming and hard and painful, I’m grateful I had this time with my dad. I’m grateful I could be with him all week and be with him at the end.

I tried writing but the words wouldn’t come. I’ve written a lot about my dad in the past and so maybe, for now, I’ve written myself out of this. Maybe right now I just need to sit with the emotions. So here’s a poem I wrote a few years ago. [Click through to read.]

Courtney LeBlanc, Saying Goodbye

Today I hiked Wendell State Forest, where hundreds of hours and miles of our laughter is imprinted in bark, water, sky, and springy pine-roots underfoot.

Finally, I don’t miss him: he just is, in me, again, differently now and it’s not as good but he’s there, imprinted in every cell, muscle, timbre, laugh.

I forgot my phone, my camera: just me and his ghost and the slant light of the end.

And herons. Bears. Minks. Otters. Beavers. Frogs. Turtles. Coyotes.

Images of him layered on my retinas, images of me in his tapetum, images of The Us reflected in every forest leaf-shimmer, in all that September gold.

JJS, last nights together: 7 years gone tomorrow

Meanwhile, our family house is eerily tidy. I have an urge to rush around the kitchen sprinkling every surface with breadcrumbs, smearing humus on light fixtures, kicking over piles of books to make everything seem more normal. The laundry bin is looking as deflated as a jumper that shrunk in the wash. I almost hate the silence as much as I hate the thumping beats of techno music. My daughter’s leaving feels much closer to loss than when she left to study at university – and I always knew she’d be back home every eight weeks.

But I hope I will get back to a regular writing routine next week. Much as I miss my eldest child, I’m glad to be reinstated in the room and desk I loaned to her for her studies and online tutoring. It is great to be able to shut myself away for some time each day and not be disturbed mid-sentence by my fantastic but distracting husband, Andrew, when he pops into the kitchen from his office (at the bottom of our garden) to make himself a cup of tea.

Josephine Corcoran, Proper Weeping

The whole West Coast is covered in smoke, with wildfires still raging in Washington State, Oregon, and California. Our air quality has been so bad I’ve been shut up in my bedroom with four air purifiers since Monday night, and the indoor air quality is still almost 100. Outdoor air quality yesterday was 400. It is impossible to breathe outside; even for healthy people, creosote particles (among others) can cause long-term lung damage. Cloth masks don’t work, either, only n95 or P100 masks, the news continues to tell us – though I have no idea where people are getting those, they haven’t been available to normal people since February. So, we’re basically screwed until it rains – which won’t be til Monday or Tuesday, and even then we’re not guaranteed clean air. […]

Hummingbirds continue to appear and drink from the feeder, and from the flowers. We run the sprinkler periodically for the birds and my garden; apparently the spray helps them stay cleaner from the smoke (or so I was told.) I have added houseplants to my room of solitude to help make up for the fact that I can’t go outside – an orchid, a snake plant, an aloe, a couple of ferns – all plants that coincidentally are supposed to help air quality. One thing about things you are able to control – I can’t stop over 600,000 acres burning, but I can plant a tree in my yard (when this is over and it’s safe outside, naturally.) I can’t leave the “clean room” in my house (without suffering more than the nosebleeds, headaches, and cough I’m currently having) but I can try to connect with others online, and think about how to improve the quality of the air in the house (air purifiers, plants, dusting, getting rid and loose papers, avoiding burning anything (food, candles, etc.) I’ve been writing poems, too, when I can, though I’m not sleeping well with all the smoke so they may be mildly incoherent.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, In an Apocalyptic Week, an Apocalypse Book Giveaway: Field Guide to the End of the World, and Margaret Atwood with Hummingbirds

the sky is brown full of smoke ash tar creosote and whatever else trees exhale as they burn as they die that picture is not current I just put it there because it is a portal I only stepped outside once yesterday to grab the CSA box from the porch and I held my breath while doing so no baking no frying no vacuuming (not that I was going to vacuum) and no running the dryer we are quiet inside both of us with raging headaches the house full of invisible smoke waiting for rain there are no birds flying or hopping around no birdsong the leaves on my rhododendrons are drooping my trees cast their eyes to the south toward Seattle and Portland which is now on alert to evacuate half a million people that amazing green place burning burning with an administration that has been steadily and quietly rolling back environmental protections an administration that does not believe in science an administration that disregards the entire west coast because our governors would not stoop to kiss the nasty man’s ring

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

The air itself seems heavy. Suffocating. The simple act of breathing is as hard as understanding your life. Outside, the fading lights of a passing car give way to starlight. Light and dark, breathing and suffocation. Your life is heavier than air. There’s the sound of footsteps, but you can’t tell if they are coming or going.

James Lee Jobe, smoke and ash everywhere

By Thursday afternoon my house was filled with smoke. My nostrils were parched, and my head felt not achy, but heavy. My eyes wanted to stay closed.

I am not in an evacuation zone, not even level one, but they aren’t far from me. […]

I had a conversation with an old friend, and we talked about evacuation plans, our children’s futures, whether or not we should buy guns and learn how to use them.

If you’d told me even ten years ago that I would think seriously about buying a gun I’d have told you to shoot me now. That I would never want to live in a world where I’d find myself thinking seriously about whether or not I should buy a gun.

But Thursday was the day rumors started to fly that the wildfires in Oregon were set by antifa and BLM supporters (spread by far-right talk radio and dubious web sites and hordes of ignorant, scared people), and I read from a valid news source that our country’s vice president was planning to address a meeting of QAnon supporters as a campaign event, and my house filled with smoke, and our already-closed schools closed more, and it felt like a reasonable conversation to be happening.

“It’s not like I feel like I need one now,” I said to L. “But I don’t think we should wait until we feel like we need to do some things. I think if we wait until then, it might be too late.”

The first thought that came into my head upon waking Thursday morning was that I should photograph everything in the house that I might want to submit in an insurance claim, if we had to leave and the house burned. I know my house isn’t going to burn now, but that seems like it might be a good thing to have.

Still, I felt calm. I still feel calm.

I think Thursday was the day I went over an edge I’d been getting closer and closer to. It might have happened after I dropped my daughter off at work and drove down a street and noticed that the line of tents camped along it had grown over the past few days. Two years ago we reported such camps to some agency, and a few days later we’d see them disappear. Now I can’t remember how long they’ve been permanently there. They are everywhere, modern-day Hoovervilles.

“I think,” I said to L., “that whoever gets to look back on this year will see it as a turning point, the time in which a fundamental shift happened. I don’t think we are ever going to go back to what we think of as normal.”

Rita Ott Ramstad, On fire in the eye of a hurricane

The physical technique stuff is learnable, even for me. But developing the true emotional readiness to defend yourself from an attack is a whole other layer. I can visualize myself doing the defensive moves. I can run the programs in my head and ready myself to act rather than freeze in the event that the worst happens. I am fully willing to protect myself, but I need to work on that small seed of doubt that I cannot. That small seed of doubt could literally kill me. Used correctly, these techniques will work reliably every time, so the only thing in the way right now is my thoughts, which are much harder to master than anything physical. 

My one regret is that I wasn’t able to break the black block. We did block-breaking as a mental exercise, and I broke every other one fairly easily after a few tries, but the black block was the hardest, and I couldn’t break through it, despite everyone cheering me on. One of my bruises from the class is on my wrist from whacking that thing over and over again, until the instructor took it away and gave me plaudits for trying. I am now haunted by that black block. That black block represents to me an unconscious lack of readiness, and a deep layer of shame about all of the times I have been attacked and bullied and was unable to protect myself. (And there it is. I didn’t expect to get so deep on myself that I would start crying as I wrote this.) I need to break that black block in my mind. I need to understand that I am not a frail, boundary-less, vulnerable person anymore. I am eons away from being that person. I have to know that and believe that, because my life truly could depend on it. So that is the real work ahead of me, grappling not physically but emotionally. Defeating not the enemy outside of me, but the one inside of me.

It’s been an intense few days, topped off by our air in Seattle being so thick with wildfire smoke as to be almost edible.

Kristen McHenry, The Black Block

The ongoing soundtrack of fire and smoke transform these western skies into a horror movie.

Reruns of choked air stumble zombified before our eyes, casting the sun in an eerie Halloween glow, making high noon a vast jack-o’-lantern on heaven’s porch step.

Our shadows don’t even tag along as we wander outdoors amidst a climate that’s changed into apocalyptic clothing.

And so we bide our time, counting the falling ashes, waiting for rains whose every wet syllable is aria.

Rains unafraid to bed down in dark forests.

Rains unshy in the ways of turning burned skies clean.

Rich Ferguson, How to Unmake This Movie of Our Making

Even as ice rained on the desert, even
    as the skies above California turned
the color of rusted chains, someone
    was still trying to dig out remnants
of that dream. Confused birds tucked
      their heads under their wings. 
In field after field, garlic and artichoke 
    hearts bent beneath the weight
of all they too could no longer hold.

Luisa A. Igloria, American Dream

Already these crystalline days.  Already the air moving in its own way, letting sun and warmth shout at mid-day, then fall silent.  Already sound of the sea in the crowns of trees.   Already baskets full with the harvest.  Already late fruits, second round of figs, God’s tomatoes.  Already coming into peak.  Already reap what you sow.  Already reap what you have sown.

Then, as if the bonfires of vine cuttings have been let loose on the country, already fires, fires, fires.  Fire balls and lies and a house divided.  Unloosed colors that are not our crystalline days.  Our, not our days.  Dazed by destruction, red-hot beauty that flashes in its rage.  Haze of underwater yellow dawn.  Smoke, air moving in its own way.

Leaders loosened from any ground.  Pronouncements. As with everything, the language exposes.  What our fears are.  What we’re not saying. 

Already turn, turn.  Turn of the twirling leaf.  Turn of teshuva of the Jewish New Year — return to a better self.  Breakdown, collapse, strip to origins.  Quiver, terror, suspense.  Turn after a long stare of paralysis.  Reap what you sow — maybe.  Reap in spite of what you sowed – maybe.  No guarantees.  Mystery.  Be nourished by all experience.  Sow, pause in the nothingness.  

The ripe tomato turns on the vine.

Jill Pearlman, Turn, Turn, September’s Turn

Every year I write an extra high holiday sermon. Not on purpose! It just happens. Every year, it seems, I write my three sermons… and then realize that one of them is predictable, or trite, or doesn’t say anything new, or doesn’t speak to the unique needs of this moment. I could publish a book of the sermons I never gave. (I won’t. But I’m amused that I could.)

In that sense, preparing for the Days of Awe this year has been just like every other year. I make an outline for every service, trying to balance Hebrew with English, song with spoken-word, familiar with new. I thrill to cherished ancient melodies. I practice singing, and I jot musical motifs on Post-it notes so I don’t lose track of which melodic mode we’re in. Just like always.

And who am I kidding: preparing for the holidays this year has been unlike any other, ever. I translated my machzor into a slide deck, adding images and artwork and embedded video, adding new readings and prayers for this pandemic moment. I made it much longer! and then I cut, ruthlessly, because services need to be a manageable length for Zoom, and they need to flow. 

I’m trying to help my kid get ready for school. He’s growing like mint, like a sunflower. There is a stack of new notebooks and pencils on his desk. There’s also a school-issued Chromebook. The year will begin with two weeks of remote learning before we enter a “hybrid model” phase. The juxtaposition of normal and unprecedented is itself becoming our new normal.

My kitchen counter is heaped with beautiful lush heirloom tomatoes from the CSA where I’ve been a member since 1995. I eat them sliced, on toast with cream cheese; cubed, with peaches, topped with burratini and a splash of balsamic vinegar; plain, like impossibly juicy apples. Any minute now their season will end, and I will miss this late-summer abundance fiercely.

There’s a gentle melancholy to this season for me, every year. The changing light; the first branches turning red and gold; the knowledge that the season will turn and there’s nothing I can do to stop it… I sit on my mirpesset, arms and legs bared to the warm breeze, listening to late-summer cricketsong. I know their song isn’t forever. That, at least, really is just like always.

Rachel Barenblat, Just like always

I’m still rambling through Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul. The part where he reminds us that “the word “passion” means basically “to be affected”…” He’s talking about the beauty / soul connection, saying, “If we can be affected by beauty, then soul is alive and well in us, because the soul’s great talent is for being affected.” He reminds us that “beauty is not defined as pleasantness of form but rather as the quality in things that invites absorption and contemplation.” Beauty isn’t necessarily pretty. Beauty is “things displaying themselves in their individuality.”

The soul needs beauty. And Moore quotes Rilke’s ideas on the “passive power” of being affected, in the image of a flower’s structure: “a muscle of infinite reception.” Moore says, “We don’t often think of the capacity to be affected as strength and as the work of a powerful muscle, and yet for the soul, as for the flower, this is its toughest work and its main role in our lives.”

The world needs a lot of things right now, but it also needs places for us to exercise that muscle of infinite reception. Libraries, for example. Schools. Art galleries.

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll have noticed that since the pandemic began, I’ve been going out more often and photographing people and buildings in my city, Edmonton. And so there’s a chapter in C of the S that spoke to me. Moore says, “Care of the soul requires that we have an eye and an ear for the world’s sufferings.” He suggest that we see things (not just people) in their suffering condition. (People and things are connected, and it’s just another level of noticing). When we see trashed areas of our city, and now boarded up ones, graffitied walls (not the artistic ones), what’s going on there? “When our citizens spray-paint a trolley or subway or a bridge or a sidewalk, clearly they are not just angry at society. They are raging at things. If we are going to understand our relationship with the things of the world, we have to find some insight into this anger, because at a certain level those people who are desecrating our public places are doing a job for us. We are implicated in their acting out.”

The book was published in 1994, but yah, we are all still implicated. That’s certainly something this past year should have taught us all. What do the ruins of our city tell us? Maybe we’re too deep in it all to know, but we can still record. We can photograph, describe with words. What do the ruins and boarded up or otherwise neglected places related to Covid-19 tell us about what’s happening? How will they continue to tell a story?

Shawna Lemay, To Be Affected

Her house is ramshackle, she bought it for a song because that was all she could afford in her post-retirement wish to move out of the city for a quiet life. When I visited her, she warned of the scorpions under the tiles, mice that sneak in through the mitham, and centipedes that permanently reside in the washroom. There was a contraption that looked like the one used to hold down a snake. Seeing me eye the long rod, she said it was used to pull down drumsticks and lime from trees. I remained alert during my stay and watched my steps.

Her husband took me around the village. The banyan tree dwarfed the temple and arched across the narrow road to canopy the large and mossy temple pond. A dirt road led out of the village to acres of shimmering paddy fields – heads of the tall grass heavy with grains, the stalks a coppery gold. When the sun moved high in the sky, the earth became a column of light, and I could barely keep the eyes unblinking. He led me to a tree and we sat for long in silence as dark patches gathered at the corner of my vision. In the city I had not experienced naked light; tall buildings and dust-laden trees bounce off the glare.

He wiped his forehead with the carefully folded thundu. His veshti was crisp and his shirt neatly ironed – echoes from the days he displayed fine taste. Many of my friends desired him to be their father, or rather desired their father to be like him – stylish and suave; he wore shades for Madras summer, and went for a jog near the Marina in shorts – something that only film heroes did.

He worked as a technical director in a film studio – what job that entailed I do not know, but l knew it commanded an envious lifestyle of parties and travels to places that I had to look up in the atlas. He sailed in a cloud of perfume, you could smell musk for hours after he left a room.

I wasn’t perceptive then; in retrospect, I see the cracks: his aspirations tensed his relationship with his wife. Now in the absence of all that he possessed, I sense a turmoil, his dis-ease with himself, and alienation from the resplendent kingfisher just a metre away hovering above the wild fern fronds.

Uma Gowrishankar, Kumbakonam thereabouts

I have a recurring dream that I am downtown at night, completely alone, and the lights go out.  Completely and not even a moon to see by.  In the most recent version a few nights ago, I was trying to use the flashlight on my cell phone to navigate. Sometimes, there are car headlights, but more often, it’s pitch black.

Tonight was my first evening shift at the library and my first night downtown since March, and it’s a strange, eerily deserted world I come back into and very much not the bustling one I left.  Granted, it’s chilly and a little rainy, which no doubt kept a lot of people in, but I only saw a few people on the streets, a few riders on the bus.  […]

But really, many of the storefronts were already empty long before Covid–high rents, dwindling physical shoppers. I would guess at least one storefront per block empty for years or recently vacated. So maybe it was always getting darker along that strip, and even moreso south of the river.  Not just the theatres and bars and hotels, but also the businesses that thrived because of loop workers, many of whom are working from home and no longer populating the cafes and lunch spots. I am curious to see how the Chicago rebuilds itself in the wake of this, what changes the textures and routines of city life.  In my neighborhood on the north side, things are pretty much the same and most eateries have managed to stay open. People who work from home still get carryout and coffee, just closer to their houses, but downtown, who knows what that will look like when this is over–if this is ever over… 

Kristy Bowen, chicago by night

I never wrapped up my thoughts on the Sealey Challenge, which dares you to read a poetry book every day of August. One question was, is this mostly a chance to look cool and post photos of your reading stack or is it a sincere request that you engage with poetry on a daily basis for a month?

Well, it’s up to you. In my case I didn’t read a book a day. Some of the books I wanted to read were more than a hundred pages long and even if I didn’t have a job I might not have managed it. But I consider 20 books a positive thing. I also didn’t have the desire or wherewithal to post something on social media every day. I’m sure the world is not bothered.

I admit there were a couple books I didn’t like, one of which I eventually gave up on. That was kind of sad, but I am old and I have to be selective. I’ve read just shy of 600 books over the past ten years. Hopefully I’ll live another 20 years, which means I have time for 1,200 more.

Of the books by poets I’d never read before last month, my favorite was Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall. The book includes many ekphrastic poems alongside family poems, all dealing with race, interracial families and identity. I felt it was very well done, beautifully written and felt and conveyed. It had music and meaning. It was engaging and accessible. I like that.

Sarah J Sloat, Thrall

–On Monday, we began unpacking the boxes of books that have been packed away for 2 years–2 years.  There were moments when I wanted to weep when I took the books out of the boxes, to weep because I was so happy to see them again.

–I didn’t finish unpacking the boxes.  We discovered that the lowest shelf wasn’t as attached to the wall as my DIY spouse thought it was.  We decided to take a pause to see how the other shelves, now full of books, responded.  So now the front bedroom is a bit of a disaster, but at least we’re in progress to getting the books put away. […]

–During one of my quicker restocking trips, I picked up a bouquet of flowers, the cheap $4 kind.  It has a hydrangea bloom, lots of small sunflowers, a huge fuchsia carnation, and some daisy-esque blossoms.  I am amazed at its beauty.

–Here is the task, it seems:  to continue to be amazed at the beauty.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Look Back at Labor Day

home alone
I plaited my hair
but word got around

domestic science
I wish I’d done more
reweaving my life

we are stymied
silenced by the virus
hold fast to courage

a transgression
to sing to Rosie’s goats
whose bones are made of music

Ama Bolton, ABCD September 2020

I don’t want these poems I’m writing now to feel forced and I haven’t quite got an organic spark for this latest one. So I’m tip-toeing around it, writing notes about images and a few lines, but at the moment it feels very telling and unfocused. I have a deadline for the end of the month I’d like to meet, so need to get it finished. 

The sun is finally shining after a rough, rainy week, so I hope to go out to the allotment today. The girls have been selling my excess courgettes this week and want to see if any others are ready. I have had a serious glut of them this year. They grow to marrows so quickly. The kids are tired of courgette bread and the veg in pasta sauces. I have a freezer full of grated courgette as well. I was surprised anyone bought them as they aren’t a traditional Finnish veg and most people I’ve given them away to haven’t known what to do with them, but they shifted over a dozen of them at fifty cents each. I’ll try and get as much in as I can before the wet gets to them, but I think the plot is winding down.

Gerry Stewart, Autumn Scramble

I’m sure everyone with school-age kids is finding it the same, but now that Flo’s back at school, we’ve been spending a lot of this week getting used to a new routine in the house. She’s getting up earlier again and that means we are too. It’s amazing what a difference an hour makes. Please note this is not where I start singing the praises of rising 12 hours before you go to bed, etc. I won’t do that as it’s a shit state of affairs and I’d rather stay in bed.

However, in an attempt to make hay, etc I’m trying to make use of the time and do my exercises and then spend at least 30-45 mins writing before work. You take what you can, I guess. I managed it once this week and that was more by luck than judgement, but it happened and the poem that emerged from it wasn’t half bad, if I say so myself and so far.

It’s based on an idea that’s been hanging around for a long time—well, almost a year, in scribbled note form, but sometimes these things just need to just do their thing sub-consciously.

Who knows what will happen next week. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing you can do consistently… I admire folks that turn up and just do the “work”. Perhaps I should do that. Sod it, let’s see what happens if I make a point of doing that for the next week.

Mat Riches, A Raise of Sunshine

I was thinking about the hazards of writing current events poetry, and asked some poet friends if we talked about Covid in our poems are we not in danger of having them become dated?

One argued that we are writing poems out of a specific experience, out of an extraordinary time.

But don’t all times feel extraordinary when we’re in them? 9/11, World War I, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the death of a parent — all of them were times that felt catastrophic to the individuals inside them. How to write a good poem that transcends its extraordinary time to encompass all extraordinary times? Or should that even be a goal? Why not linger in the time and be frank about it?

Another person called attention to Yeats’s Easter 1916 as a poem grounded in a specific experience but a poem that has transcended the time of that experience. It is a wonderful poem, which certainly by the title grounds us firmly in time, though makes the assumption the reader will understand the reference to the Irish uprising. That phrase, though, “terrible beauty,” captures the imagination and takes me in any number of directions far from Irish soil. And the naming of the dead is an ancient rite that we still take part in. The movement of the poem to the unceasing natural world is both a common approach of putting us in our place and also effective, a useful reminder of the fleeting nature of our existence. But even though he wrote it shortly after the event, the poem already feels like a historic, long view. It has a vital distance, the “I” a distant onlooker from the start, already elegiac.

Is it this real or perceived distance that offers an avenue into the power of the poem? I don’t know.

Marilyn McCabe, Got the rockin’ pneumonia; or, On Writing About Current Events

A large buddleia bush obscured my view of the raptor, so I could not make out whether it was a young redtail (it was on the small side) or perhaps a Coopers or sharp-shinned. The squirrel’s response intrigued me. In a fraction of a second, it determined that running straight toward me was ever so much wiser than running the opposite direction (braving the open lawn to make for the treeline). I watched, amused, as the squirrel scurried along the porch to within a foot of my chair, where it suddenly scrabbled its legs, slewed sideways, and stared up at me in confused terror. Poor thing.

It climbed down the side of the porch and huddled in the bushes as the hawk shook itself and made for the oak tree and the small birds returned to their interrupted repast. The cats gazed out with renewed interest, having felt a bit flustered themselves, I could tell.

I don’t blame them. Everything lately seems so unprecedented and apocalyptic.

I feel simpatico with the squirrel.

Ann E. Michael, Hawk. Squirrel.

It’s a test for me, this poem [“Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by Adam Zagajewski], I say to them. June’s long days and drops of rosé wine, yes. But refugees going nowhere? Executioners singing joyfully? After the summer we have had, that is a bit much. Isn’t it? Is it all part of the same whole, I ask them? Are we to look at everything as an opportunity for praise, for grace, for beauty? And what if we can’t see the world in that way? What if our past history and life experiences have hard-wired us to be just a little suspicious of messages which sound like ‘It’s all going to work out fine’? For many of us, it hasn’t, and didn’t.

Well, you start with the gray feather a thrush lost. You start with the gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns. That concert where the music flared. Can you praise those and hold them in the light, just for one minute? You’ll be surprised with what your imagination shows you.

Anthony Wilson, Praise the Rain

poems
chiselling the tombstone 
of the world

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 36

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 brought the beginning of meteorological autumn for many of us, as well as a full moon and the usual insanity in the news. Reading the poetry blogs, I’m finding it harder and harder to distinguish mourning from celebration. Perhaps we are all slowly learning what Rita Ott Ramstad calls “radical acceptance of the world we are living in now.”


end of summer…
cobwebs tie the trowel
to the shelf

Bill Waters, End of summer

Some people spent months planning their Sealey Challenge–in fact, that’s how I found out about it, by people posting photos of their stacks of books that were ready for August.  I did worry that I wouldn’t have enough to read, since many of my books are still packed away.  Happily, I can still get books from the public library, although the process is much more laborious.  

I did a short post each day, giving a micro review of each book.  Here’s an example:  “The Sealey Challenge, Day 29: Richard Blanco’s “How to Love a Country.” We are all exiles now, longing for a country that may never love us back. Or will it? Blanco says, “to know a country takes all we know of love” (p. 70), and sometimes we’re rewarded. Moving poems exploring the terrain of exile and immigration and love of all sorts.”

I also posted a photo of each book, a photo which said something about the book.  This process took on a life of its own–I’ll write a separate blog post about that process later on this week.

So what did I learn?  The most important thing:  I have more time than I think that I do.  It’s not a new lesson for me, but it’s important to revisit it periodically.  I realized how much time I usually spend in somewhat mindless scrolling and internet zipping.  Why is it so hard for me to avoid those traps?

I also learned that my poetry stands up against the poetry I’ve been reading.  I’ve got some manuscripts which are publishable.  I didn’t really have doubts, but it’s interesting to read a lot of recently published work and to see how my manuscript would fit in.

I chose to read only female writers and the male writers that I included were people of color. I’ve spent plenty of time reading white male writers.  Most of the authors I chose were familiar to me, in part because I didn’t spend the month of July planning to explore new authors.  But I was happy with my choices.  Even when I read books I had already read, it was a treat to revisit them.

For the most part, I read each book in one fell swoop.  Most of them took me about an hour of concentrated reading.  I often planned to pick up the book when I wasn’t likely to be interrupted.  It wasn’t the kind of deep reading I might ordinarily do, but it was rewarding in itself.

I learned that the perfect page # for a book of poems is 65-80 pages.  I read a few volumes that were over 120 pages–that’s a bit too much for most readers to sustain the focus.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, What I Learned from the Sealey Challenge

This crazy August, when no one could concentrate on anything, turned out to be the very first time I completed The Sealey Challenge, instituted by Nicole Sealey in 2017. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to be so diligent again. I’m on sabbatical right now, and in other years August can feel frantic. My annual poetry binge is typically In December and January, when I slow down and look around for the books that have been gathering buzz.

But I’ve learned some from trying. The most important result was just getting acquainted with some fabulous work. Like a lot of people, I put Sealey’s own Ordinary Beast on my August reading list, and it’s amazing–it’s a crime against poetry that I hadn’t read it before. There are several other terrific poets on the list below whose work I hadn’t read in book form yet, including Tiana Clark, Rosebud Ben-Oni, and first-book author Leila Chatti whose urgent Deluge I still can’t get out of my head. (I chose it, by the way, because it kept popping up in other Challenge posts–another benefit of the project–and the same thing happened with today’s pick from John Murillo, also a knockout.) Mostly I had no fixed idea about which book I’d pick up next, although I began with Kyrie because it’s about the 1918 pandemic. Other reasons for reading: I looked for recent collections by Shenandoah authors like Jessica Guzman and Armen Davoudian, although I’ve by no means snagged them all, and I caught up with authors whose books I always look for, out of fandom and friendship. I did purchase some books some at the beginning of the month, in part because I would have anyway but also to make sure my list would be inclusive in various ways. I wasn’t enough of a planner to be fully stocked in advance for 31 entries, but there was something felicitous about that. I dug into some pretty dusty to-be-read piles; grabbed poetry comics and image-texts from my spouse’s collection (those books by Eve Ewing and Jessy Randall are amazing!); and downloaded a few free digital chapbooks. I liked how this resulted in in unexpected diversities in style and medium. I found books I’ll teach in future and others I’ll give as gifts. Others I’m just really glad to know about and to help celebrate.

It WAS hard to keep up the pace, though. I devoured books at the start of the month, often reading over breakfast or lunch (I take actual lunch breaks on the porch now–it’s the bomb). I wisely began reading at the end of July to give myself a head-start and likewise worked ahead before the middle weekend of August, when I had an intense 48-hour virtual conference. Sometimes, though, when my own writing was going gangbusters, I’d delay the book of the day until late afternoon or evening, and then I just didn’t feel excited to read something challenging–although I never regretted it once I got going. At this point, I’m a little fried, so there’s no way I’ll manage many entries under the #septwomenpoets hashtag. […]

A last word on my cheat book of the month (lyric essays by a poet, so it’s Sealey Challenge adjacent!). I strongly recommend the brand-new World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. The subtitle is “In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments,” and it’s definitely eco-writing with a deep investment in and fascination with the more-than-human world. I’m most in love, though, with how the essays interweave research with compelling personal stories about moving around as a child and young adult, often feeling out of place as the only brown person in her mostly-white classes, until she found a sense of belonging in Mississippi. This book is often joyous and funny, but predation is a recurrent theme, and that spoke to me. I think it would teach beautifully–I admire its craft–but I also just really appreciated how it urges readers to care. In an unexpected way, it resonated with the Tiana Clark collection I’d read the day before, I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood: both of those authors eloquently argue that environmental justice should be inseparable from social justice, both in literature and in the world.

Lesley Wheeler, Wonders, discoveries, & #thesealeychallenge2020

What a month, what a challenge, and what a joy: to read a book of poems a day in August. Here they are! [Click through for photo.] A big thank you to poet Nicole Sealey, who dreamed up this challenge to make sure people made time to read poetry! I’m glad to have made the time, and it was fascinating to see the connections I felt to the poems and poets, and the connections between the poems in the books. 

Today I met again fire, tornado, television, and elegy in Fimbul-Winter, by Debra Allbery (Four Way Books, 2020). Holy moly, do I know how to pick them or what? I put this one on the pile back in the super-hot days, thinking winter images might give me a little relief from the heat. But the weather changed, and it’s gorgeous. And now I realized I’ve ended with Fimbul-Winter, aka Fimbulvetr of Norse mythology, “the harsh winter that precedes the end of the world and puts an end to all life on Earth.” Just what we need.*

This was a cold book. It wasn’t always winter in the book, but it always felt cold–and mysterious and haunted. “Chronic Town” describes “that icebound city” where:

     In the library, the homeless slept upright
     at long tables, gripping their open books.”

Of course, I watched some short training videos at work today on the homeless in the library. I worry about them this winter, if libraries have to close again, or have severely limited hours due to Covid. A Fimbulvetr, indeed.

Kathleen Kirk, Sealey Challenge, Day 31

A hot night. Silence,
the dogs won’t bark, not even
at a daring cat.

The wind’s tongue softens
the streets, dries kissed lips or tears,
things keep happening

while we try to fall
asleep for the next day’s sake.
But at night we hear

all the world at once.

Magda Kapa, August 2020

Our household of four is gathering its belongings together to make new plans in the Covid19 world. We can’t really say post-covid yet, can we, since the virus is still circulating? I am writing less poetry and more prose, writing and typing, one word at at a time. As I loop ink around printed out drafts, my family circulates around me, less hostile than an infectious virus. […]

In August we’ve visited places near to us in outside settings. A trail around a mostly tourist-free Bath visiting some of Jane Austen’s old haunts. Clifftop strolls in Clevedon on the Severn estuary. Walks around Figsbury Ring including a flight on a tree-swing.

We’ve grown pears, roses, courgettes, potatoes, herbs and an avocado plant.

My hair has grown. A lot!

And I’ve been to Mass, twice. I’ve found a quieter, less busy time – not a Sunday Mass and not a full service – twenty-five minutes which is the longest time, so far, I’ve spent in a mask. Forgive me but I so enjoy not speaking much to anyone and focusing on the readings, the language, my own thoughts and prayers.

Josephine Corcoran, August Postcards

Just to make sure I didn’t go in, they padlocked my workplace but that didn’t stop me working full time, more or less. I’ve been cycling around to avoid cabin fever. I started taking photos of village signs, ending up doing trips just to take photos. Some of the signs have stories behind them, with Saturn V rockets, radio telescopes and DNA featuring among the more common windmills, ponds, Romans and Vikings.

I’ve seen parts of the area I should have visited long ago. […] And at last I’ve visited Aldeburgh. I found the shell sculpture that I’ve seen many photos of. I’ve still not attended the poetry festival. My writing hasn’t suffered though the mood has narrowed. When I’ve had little bursts of creativity I’ve been free to take immediate advantage of them. I’ve radically rewritten some old pieces, merging them when I can. I thought I’d get more acceptances than I’ve actually received. I expected to do more reading. I’m still working through my book list. I’ve belatedly discovered audio books.

Tim Love, What I did during lockdown

there’s a half of a half of a half
of a degree of sadness
in the cooling of a warm breeze
of a september afternoon in a
garden forgetting the time of year
for how can the cat roll on the warmth
of a day like any other summer day
except for half of a half of a half
of a degree of sadness
not for the fat spider eggshell colour
spinning the caught day
under the garden table or
the grass cut short and still
some runner beans on the pole or
some tomatoes in their salad sun
and apples falling with the pears
the daisies yellow red and yellow or
the sedum lunching with the bees

Jim Young, stay – don’t go

The grief isn’t just about schools and teaching. It’s not just about the pandemic. It’s all of it, the whole big ball of change and instability.

Friday night I watched a pre-2010 romcom, something I’ve been doing throughout this summer. These movies fill me with nostalgia for a pre-smartphone world. They fill me with nostalgia for a time when I took for granted things I didn’t even know I had, that I now know the contours of through the spaces made by their absence. I see many of those things in the subtext of these movies that are silly and unrealistic and fun and oblivious to so many, many things. (They are a lot like pre-2010 me.)

I watch them to escape. I watch them also to ground myself in what’s real now. I watch the beautiful (almost always white) actors and actresses (can we still use “actress”? probably not) who were born in the same decade I was dance their way through familiar cinematic choreography, and, in the cases when something in the plot hinges on communication that is not face-to-face, send an email or whip out a flip-phone and talk, and I cannot pretend that we are not now living in a fundamentally different time. The things that were so vitally important to them! The sources of their anguish! While watching, I usually Google the cast of the movie so I can see what they look like now. They almost all look old now in the ways I do, their beauty fading or faded. (My god, we were so beautiful! Why can’t we see, when we are young, how beautiful we are?) On my phone I see the physical manifestation of time passed, which grounds me in the truth that the era in which those movies were made and made sense is not the one in which I’m currently living.

I think the romcoms are part of my attempt to embrace radical acceptance. The opposite of radical acceptance is denial, and that’s a road I’ve followed to far more poor life choices than I’d like to admit.

Radical acceptance of the world we’re living in now is painful, but not as painful as it is to fight the world as though we’re still living in the one we once had (or thought we did).

Radical acceptance is bringing me a kind of peace and calm I’ve never experienced before.

Peace and calm does not mean I’m OK. It does not mean I’m happy. It does not mean I am without pain. (It comes with pain, but the right kind.)

It does mean I am no longer beating my head against walls that will not be moved by my brain splatter.

Radical acceptance might look like defeat, but I’m finding it brings a different kind of power that is keeping me in the fight.

On the last day of the first week of my return to school/work, I didn’t cry once. This felt like progress. Educator friends and I posted funnynotfunny comments on FB about using crying as a metric in setting our annual professional goals.

This is how we are going to get through. Community. Empathy. Humor. Truth-telling. It’s how people have always gotten through hard times, though some of us have lived such fortunate lives thus far that we haven’t had to learn that until now.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Complex radical something, in simple terms

The movie was long, engrossed me for three hours as she

shed her youth, beauty and became the old woman I knew
in the kitchen, living in the interspace of desire and memory.

She rolled the rosary and recounted stories late into the nights
her body a begging bowl that refused to ask for a day more.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Fine Art of Aging

Or tragic like Williams himself in old age beginning Book Six, typing out fragments and notes even though he was half-paralyzed by stroke — still taking upon himself the task of wrangling with language: “Words are the burden of poems, poems are made of words” (243).  Thinking of the actual effects of his prescribed medication, he writes in Book Six, “Dance, dance! loosen your limbs from that art which holds you faster than the drugs which hold you faster — dandelion on my bedroom wall” (244).  […]

So Williams dies and only then is there an end to Paterson.  But even this statement is provisional in a way.  The unfinished character of the Book Six notes creates the appearance that the poem is moving ever on, as if it is still being worked on in the very moment.  It is stopped, or suspended, in an instant of continuation (like a line enjambed, but with nothing following) — in the midst of the dance and then someone presses pause, and

Michael S. Begnal, On WCW’s Paterson, Book Six

free fall

really, even going parallel to the ground

shrinking, no one there to see the bone loss,
the frothing tears, to throw a towel over it
must be rabies and stomp the misery out

JJS, echolocation

I followed your dither through the maximum amount of Christs and a small helplessness to see how things looked after the dustup my day-glo dress yielded a razor and a couple on a sidewalk near a pub in Chicago 1947 held hands she hummed he frantically searched his pockets there were holes in the wall of his belly I insisted beyond names until the day we woke the rats and elk in the clearing startled up their flanky desire

Rebecca Loudon, All the Montanas live in me

This body is new to me.

Sometimes it is like greeting a former lover who’s been around the world, and come back smelling of strange perfume, touching you with unfamiliar gestures. There’s a slight inflection when she says your name, and you think it might be an affectation. You hope it is an affectation.

“Just knock it off, will you?”

And you wonder if you ever really knew her at all.

This week I’ve been soft with myself. Trying to will the muscles to ease in my neck and upper back. Trying not to berate myself for not having more strength, more resilience – more sense from sensation.

But my hand fell across my stomach last night.
Just as I was falling asleep.
And I thought, “So soft.”

And I exhaled
and I thought, “So beautiful”.
“This thing that moves me through the world.”
“Through this life.”

And there wasn’t a qualification of any kind.

And I wonder if I’ve ever known my own body intimately
before that moment.

Ren Powell, Before the Kiss

I am a history
of small   planes 
revving
          toward the edge
of an airport field

                    then stopping short
before a mountain gorge

Yellow flares
                appear
in the darkness
                signaling return—  

Someone waving flags
curling in the shapes of fortune
teller fish

Luisa A. Igloria, I Wish We Could be Happy for a While

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
[…]

Given the time of coronavirus and covid-19, “a time to refrain from embracing” seems apt, and a little painful to contemplate. For me and my beloveds, a time has come in which to mourn and weep, and to embrace, because everything (and every one among us) must reach a time to die. The sweet-natured, intelligent man who took us to a Pete Seeger concert when we were children and told us where to find the lyrics in Ecclesiastes, among many other things, has moved from physical existence to existence in our consciousness–the strange loop of human “being” that none of us understands.

He would have called it soul.

Ann E. Michael, Turn, turn, turn

I have just read the inspirational book, ‘Some kids I taught and what they taught me’ by Kate Clanchy. It’s eye-opening in many ways, and so good on poetry. One thing which really resonated was the piece about studying English at school and onwards, which includes this:

‘In English, we assess and value only that last part of the learning process: the meta-language and the critical essay.’

At school my English teachers were not inspirational, did not give me a love of reading and writing or encourage creativity. Nor did they even, at A level, succeed in helping most students get good grades. I got a good enough grade to study English Language and Literature at University, and found that, again, I was not inspired, but at least, and it probably is least, I learnt the meta-language and how to write critical essays well enough to get a 2.1. As soon as I left University I swore I would never write like that again or read something in such a way that I could write like that.

However, possibly helped by seeing ‘Educating Rita’, (that should give you some idea how long ago this was) I realised that I now had a choice. I could read and write in a way that got me good exam grades or equivalent in the wider world, or indeed because it does have a value if used well, but I could also read and write what I wanted, and respond how I wanted, for the love of it and for what it brings to me personally and in terms of knowledge and joy. I could be as creative as I wanted. (Kate Clanchy writes so well on this.)

So why did I study Eng Lit to A level and degree? Almost certainly because I did have a good teacher – at home – my Dad – and he kept me going. My love of reading and writing, especially poetry, comes from him. He was a primary school teacher – a brilliant one. I am extraordinarily lucky to have had him as my Dad. Kate Clanchy shows in her book how children can be inspired and given control and power through reading and writing creatively. Her students, I think, were lucky to have known her. So many do not have that luck. Lockdown and the lack of access to learning has highlighted how disadvantaged people, in particular, miss out, as has the exam fiasco, but they miss out in so many ways, and we all will if we don’t value all aspects of a person’s life and potential and creativity.

Sue Ibrahim, Eng Lit, poetry and creativity

When I started to blog around ten years ago, on Posterous, I had no idea what I was doing (I still don’t). I had this vague notion that I should be blogging about the intersection of poetry and education, because that is what I have spent the best part of my professional life researching.

I remember one particularly tired blog post, after a long day of teaching, about the phonics debate in England at the time. From nowhere, two very heavyweight commenters, from opposite sides of the fence, weighed in with their views on what I had written. Very soon, below the surface of each retaliatory point, it began to get a bit ugly and personal. As one slows down to look at at motorway accident, and against my better instincts, I watched in a kind of appalled fascination. I thought, there has to be a better way of running a blog than this.

Then one day I opened up a notebook I had been keeping in which I had copied out hundreds of poems which had meant something to me over my lifetime. I had begun this as I entered remission from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer, in 2006. During my treatment, which included both chemo and radiotherapy, the so-called double whammy, along with my hair I had lost my ability to concentrate on reading.

The notebook was a way of deliberately sending myself back to my shelves to see if the poems I had loved in Life Before Cancer still held their magic for me. Based on the system used by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes when they put together The Schoolbag, I restricted myself to one poem per poet.

It took a good few years to complete the project. But there, in my inky scrawl, was my own personal anthology of poetry that I could take anywhere. I called it Lifesaving Poems, because that is how I saw every single one of them.

After the phonics-blogpost-debacle I opened the book up one evening and found Fishermen by Alasdair Paterson (who I am pleased to say has since become a friend). I wrote a few lines about it, posted it on my Posterous blog, and waited.

Nothing happened.

No one wrote in to say how good it was. No one wrote in to complain.

This was exactly the reaction I needed. I felt as though the universe was giving me permission to carry on. A week later, I posted another ‘lifesaving poem’, this time with a bit more of a story attached about how I had first come across it. Again, the same reaction. No one appeared to be interested. Undettered, I wrote another. And another. And on. And on.

All the time I was learning what a blog post could be and how to say what I wanted to say. I also knew that I had discovered, after a false start, what I really wanted to blog about.

Anthony Wilson, The most popular lifesaving poems

One of my favorite projects, and one of the first times I was breaking out of my comfort zone in writing in the early 2000’s was this little chap. It was initially created for a class I was taking in my MFA program devoted to hybrid writing and genres, and what it became was a series of poems in the form of, well, things that were not poems–indices, footnotes, instruction manuals, dictionaries, outlines.  It started with the tension, particularly throughout history, as to what are considered “women’s forms” and “men’s forms.”  Around the time I was writing it, I was particularly fascinated by men’s scientific writing on women’s psychology and hysteria, so all of these things came together to form the project in the fall of 2004, and early 2005 when I finished the last segments.  

There is so much in there–latin lessons, Dewey’s lady librarian guidelines, gothic novel heroines–as well as a storyline that actually only exists in the chapbook (the elizabeth poems), that part having been weeded out when I retooled the series later for inclusion in in the bird museum, to reflect that manuscript’s concerns more directly, where it opens the book and sets a similar tone, but a different emphasis. The elizabeth poems did not make the cut, nor did some other fragments –a pantomime scene, a poem in three voices about the institutionalization of women.  A couple other smaller pieces that only exist in the chapbook form.  (which you can see in its entirety as an e-version here.)  I released the print version in late 2005, with grey cardstock and vellum endpapers, and considering it was the very first year of dgp, it’s lovely little chap, even though layout in those days was much more difficult. I’ve long forgotten the size of the edition, but it was probably around 50–most of which were traded or given away at readings. Interestingly enough, the original version I turned into Arielle Greenberg that fall was a corset bound cover that I never quite was able to reproduce in a greater number.

Kristy Bowen, constellations and other messier objects

It’s a funny thing to have someone else talk about one’s own work. I’ve had a handful of reviews of my books of poetry over the years. I always end up feeling wildly impressed with whoever it was who wrote that work being reviewed…

and often surprised. Mostly because in the moment of making, I can’t say that I have a big picture of what I’m doing, no comprehensive thesis statement. If I’ve put a collection of poetry together that seems to have a theme, it’s only because my mind in the period of time of writing has circled around the same things. And those themes don’t seem to change very much.

A friend who put together a “new and selected” collection of his poems noted his abiding themes across forty plus years of writing. But I couldn’t at any particular moment even identify the theme of my questions particularly. I just wander around thinking stuff, reading, noticing, and at some point I write stuff down. Sometimes it’s directly related to that wandering, sometimes I think I’m remembering something else.

Marilyn McCabe, Does anybody really know what time it is; or, On Being Reviewed

So I had no chance to write during the week, but I took a lot of time this weekend to focus on editing, submitting and general organising of my poems and collections. I put a joking comment on Twitter about my horror at finding an old poem that used a word three times. It wasn’t an important word or done for any particular reason, I just never noticed that I used ‘clean’ in three different ways. 

I’m sure it seems a minor issue, but my writing group knows it’s one of my pet peeves for my own work. I want my words to have some power in their use and I feel overuse weakens that. Three times shows to me that I haven’t really pushed my linguistic skills and feels redundant. Was ‘clean’ a theme of the poem I hadn’t noticed, was I trying to express something through my word choice or was I just being lazy? I decided the latter. The poems wasn’t affected when I found different ways of saying ‘clean’ in two of the three spots. 

It made me wonder how many other unintentional ‘mistakes’ I’ve missed in my proof-reading over the years. I’m aware I sometimes reuse words or images as themes throughout a set of poems, Do we, as writers, sometimes get stuck on a riff and not notice? 

A mentor I once had wrote a book with an uncommon, but not unused, word in the title. Our group spent over a year working with her, sharing our work and almost all of us somehow managed to put the word in one of our texts, often without realising it. She was hyper-aware of the word, of course, so eventually pointed it out to the class, so I’m sure most of us edited it out. I think her editor eventually changed the title, but it showed how we were sponges at her feet.

Today, I found I used the word ‘mossy’ in two poems that I would probably later consider placing together. Again, it’s no big deal until they are actually sitting in a collection together. They were written about the same time, so I wonder if I had that idea on my mind. One was a mossy carpet and one was mossy light, so different images, but with both were used to suggest overgrown abandoned areas, one from above and one from below. Not sure how or which to replace or if I need to at all, but I love this level of getting down to the nitty gritty of language when editing. 

Gerry Stewart, The Nitty Gritty

If it is not
a good poem,
if it is not

beautiful, why
must it be
abandoned?

Don’t the homely
moments still
mean something,

even when
I don’t know
how to say it?

Should the lost
souls stay lost
because I have

failed? No.
I don’t think so.
Let even

the bad poem
be good enough
for what we love.

Tom Montag, IF IT IS NOT

Who knows why (or check “all of the above”) but this weekend I have spent a bunch of hours reorganizing one of my writing spaces. On Friday afternoon, I decided to move a big file cabinet from a corner of the playroom downstairs to my “zoom room” upstairs. First, I had to empty it. I found records for my 1981 Datsun, a copy of my wedding invitation, and six months of bottle-feeding and diapering records that we kept when our twins were born — from July 12 to mid-December 1993. (Good grief, what were we thinking?)

I also found drafts of novel openings that never went anywhere, short stories I had forgotten I ever wrote, tons of old Creative Writing Program journals, and stacks and stacks (and stacks) of poetry. I had kept every program for the old Castalia reading series, and other people’s poems from four years of Professor Bentley’s workshops–four quarters per year, labeled and dated. 

From all of these, I kept copies of my poems with Nelson’s comments on them. I kept a handful of the Castalia programs and a copy of the news article about his death, at age 72, of cancer. I kept my wedding invitation.

I felt a little like Theodore Roethke in his “Elegy for Jane.” (If you don’t already have it memorized, click on the link to hear Roethke read this 22-line poem for his student.) Or, I don’t mean his experience in the poem, but the story Nelson told us: that when Roethke came across his student Jane’s poems in his office files, he gave the bundle of papers a kiss and threw it into the trash.

I threw most everything into the recycle bin. So many people I will never see again. So many poems that I thought someday I would make the time to reread. Maybe I didn’t feel like Roethke. I felt more like Jane, as though I were a ghost, “waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.”

But I also felt lighter. I felt a little more able to move forward. Or to imagine moving forward.

Before I finished for the day, rain began. The dark swooped in a little earlier this evening, along with that smell that is partly rain, partly chill, and partly the scent of woodsmoke. It reminded me that even in the “Time of Corona” (as another friend calls it), one season is ending and another tiptoeing into the room.

Bethany Reid, The Land of Overwhelm

Remember when everyone (understandably) overused the word “unprecedented?” And now these times are more often called “unusual” or just “our life” or “now.” We’re settling in for the long haul now. We’re in the tunnel and we believe in the light but it’s only a rumour or something we can hallucinate.

One of my Twitter contacts posted this quotation by Jean-Paul Sartre: “What I ask of [the writer] is not to ignore the reality and the fundamental problems that exist. The world’s hunger, the atomic threat, the alienation of man, I am astonished that they do not colour all our literature.”

I think that even defiantly placing a vase of flowers in the room in which you work at this time is not nothing. Everything that we write or make is going to be part of this time, but it’s true, also, that we cannot ignore reality. I say that, but my writing has been going by the wayside for various reasons. I’m not necessarily happy about it, but who does enjoy these disruptions and heartaches and the politics of the day? Still, I’m taking notes, and am able to engage in a few side projects, such as taking photos of people amid and in front of Edmonton landmarks.

Shawna Lemay, Hi

Today I was watering my garden and suddenly a hummingbird, tiny and yet vibrant with color, dropped down from above and hovered in the cool spray of water, just for a couple of seconds, then lifted and flew away, almost instantly invisible to me, and this was a brief flash of beauty and life, and I gave thanks for being alive right now.

Sheltering at home, my wife and I play card games together, chatting and joking, we share every meal together, and we say grace, light a candle, and enjoy a meal that was prepared slowly and deliberately, with love cooked into it somehow, and so we pass our days together, and still in love after many years, and I give thanks for her, and for being alive right now.

James Lee Jobe, In a few minutes the sun will set and this day will start to fade

I hadn’t read the news yet; I wanted a few more minutes of the soft light on the oxalis and spirea, the seeping red of the begonia blooms, the slightly heavy lift of coffee to lips. Better, I thought, to listen to the poet speak of humanity’s endless appetite for conflict, while he manages, genius that he is, to work in Shakespeare and the Greeks, the Russian camps, the endless clamouring for news on the way to Ballymurphy or Kenosha, and have his company this morning as I “hug my little destiny.”

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 38. The times are out of joint: Seamus Heaney, Ballymurphy, and Kenosha

The moon the last few nights has risen orange and spooky, veiled by cloud, still bright enough to make quite an entrance. Full moons can seem to presage some kind of change. I’m hoping these changes will be for the better. I don’t know about you, but like the moon, I’ve felt veiled with a heavy layer of foreboding and depression. The news is full of horrors, including wildfires in Washington and California; I’m worried about the election, too. It’s hard to see the light.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Adventures During a Plague Year: A Full Corn Moon, First Trip to a Store (with Miyazaki), and First Visit with Family (and Unicorn)

On evenings singing low, we call down the moon so we can shine like new half dollars on parole.

So we can break free from the cold-boned prison of dead Mondays.

The moon reflects our truths and keeps our secrets.

The moon tells us if it’s ever placed before oblivion’s firing squad to not put a blindfold over its eyes.

It wants to see the bullets coming.

Then the moon uses a wishbone as a tuning fork to conjure forth the sweetest music.

There’s a moment when everything gets quiet. In the distance, we hear an angel’s needles knit a new pair of wings.

Rich Ferguson, Courage, My Love

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 35

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 myself drawn especially to posts on language, human and otherwise. And writers are turning over new leaves, just as storms are turning over old ones. One way or another, new energy is being summoned up.

A huge shout-out to everyone who completed the Sealey Challenge and read a book of poetry every day this month!


In the mornings – now that autumn is close – I sweep dead petals out of the yoga space. I lay out the mat, light the candles, and finish my coffee staring at the clouds through a rain-stained glass.

The first forward bend reveals the dreams lodged in my joints. The arching of my back makes space for them to free themselves, and fall away.

Right leg back, and arms overhead in a crescent lunge: inhale again. Stay upright. Stay open. Acknowledge the bones of the neck, give them the space they need to speak their wisdom.

By the time I put on my running shoes, I am ready for the chatter.

Ren Powell, Easing Mornings

What if our tongues were to escape the pink pillowy room of our mouths?

Gone voice, gone singing, gone drinking, gone soul-kissing.

Tongues not even leaving a Dear John letter or welcome mat in the vacant space they’ve left behind.

Tongues simply gone off with other tongues, learning new languages, tasting new foods, experiencing new loves, new grooves.

Tongues threatening to shack up in the mouths of others if not treated better.

Tongue-twisted, tongue-tied. Civil tongue, giving tongue.

Oh, for the gift of a mother tongue to truly express how much I’d miss my tongue.

Rich Ferguson, Waving Goodbye to a Tongue With a Shaky Hand

One day I want to write an essay about how studying saxophone in middle school opened up a vast world for me, that, as a little Jewish boy in Ottawa I had had no conception of. The rich imaginative, political, spiritual, powerful world of mostly black American musicians. I think about being in suburban Canadian bedroom listening to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and reading everything I could find about them. I’d babysit on Saturday nights and then make a pilgrimage to Sam the Record Man in the Bayshore Shopping Mall where I spent my earnings, learning about jazz. The world they lived in, their concerns, the sounds they pursued, the economic and political issues, the stories of their lives. Of course I could have no real understanding, but it was a portal, an opening that pointed to a much larger vision of what was and what was possible than I could have know otherwise.

Gary Barwin, Thank you Charlie Parker

Berger compared the drawn line to music, saying that the line emerges from somewhere and leads you on to someplace new. As a musician, it’s always been helpful to me to remember that music is never static; it’s always coming from somewhere and going somewhere. As an artist, I agree with Berger too: the drawn line arises and moves forward, and so do I, the draughtsperson. Each drawing takes me somewhere I didn’t anticipate, and in some very subtle way, changes me. But during the time when I’m drawing, everything except the line is very still.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 37: Beginning Again, and Again, to Draw

In that training circle
in the Amherst Writers Method
Pat Schneider’s living room,
I learned how to listen deeply,
not only to others, but to my own soul.
How its voice could raise a bell
in celebration with and for others.
How its lonely distant train whistle
on the night breeze could help
relieve others’ suffering.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, A tribute to Pat Schneider

The paper’s quite thick for folding but great for wet on wet watercolour. My illustrations are … well, let’s just say abstract! I wrote a haiku beside each tiny painting and slotted the cards into the folds. I’m no artist, but I do like that feeling of being absorbed in the work, the sort of feeling you get when you’re creating something new. I’m not sure I experience quite the same thing when I’m writing, possibly because it’s less physical somehow.

It’s worth mentioning here that the more haiku I write, the more present I feel – in contrast to the ‘zone’ or ‘mind space’ I need to enter when I’m writing longer poems, or prose. And because haiku are short, they seem to leave more time for actual living. My daily observations and experiences feed directly into the writing in what seems to be a perfect circle/ cycle of life-writing-life. Of course, this is an oversimplification of the process, but hopefully you get my drift. Haiku are less dependent on the imagination, more engaged with reality.

Julie Mellor, Blizzard books

It occurs to me, doubtless again, that revision is the art of clipping away everything we may have noticed in the wild world of detail but which may take away from highlighting what caught our attention, what echoed some inner — what? vibration? emotion? memory? some deep imagining?

I don’t know what it is that makes us makers, what notices us noticing what we notice and calls us to create something, something that records that electric moment. Because it does feel like a kind of recognition, or sometimes a reckoning, that moment.

Today on my walk I asked myself to notice light. Although I draw and paint, I’m not primarily a visual artist, but I know that light and shadow are vital in the world of visual art, so I challenged myself to pay attention to that particular input. It was staggering! All the twinkling of dew on jewelweed, the variegated shadows on fern fronds, how light works its way into the forest, and the astonishing fact of clouds. It was a day of clouds on clouds on clouds leaning on the hills or looming from behind them, and every cloud was an elaborate array of white and gray and gray-blue,  dark edges, white hearts, a little purple, maybe some green. Or was I imagining that?

Should I choose to write about that, my job is, I think, to get down what I noticed, and let what is inside me that caused that interest to rise up and help me find the words. To match those details with something that speaks out of those details.

Marilyn McCabe, You’re where you should be all the time; or, More on Paying Attention

I have a hard time getting students to incorporate research into their creative writing, even the quick Wikipedia kind, but I can’t write much in any genre without internet access–and having friends to interview about mundane details is also a big help. In poetry, specificity is everything. Studying scientific processes helps me understand the world and myself; the textures of unusual words make the language pop. In fiction, people need to have jobs other than mine, and they need to walk around and be doing ordinary things when plot twists surprise them.

Lesley Wheeler, Maps, teaching schedules, and other demented pre-writing adventures

I’ve spent a lot of time lately on my perpetual playing about with the order of the poems in my almost-finished second collection. Glyn Maxwell, in On Poetry (I think), advises strongly against ordering poems chronologically, and I get what he means; yet when poems are collected, I want to see not just that individual poems shine on their own terms, but also that they have some interplay with other poems, thematically and/or chronologically. I’ve been toying with reversing the chronology of my poems, so that those set in the present come first and those set furthest back in time close the book. I daresay it’s been done plenty of times before. On the other hand, I might just take Maxwell’s advice and mix them up, by theme or not, and see what happens. As ever, the problem – which admittedly is a nice one to have and isn’t really that huge in the grand scheme of things – is that I find it so hard to look at my own poems with the requisite degree of objectivity. In the Zoom launch of her Nine Arches collection The Unmapped Woman a few months ago, Abegail Morley revealed that she hung a washing line across her living room, pegged all the poems along it and then shifted them about until she achieved a steady state. It certainly sounds easier than putting them all on the floor and moving them around, because, as I’ve found before, you need a room the size of a small dancehall to be able to do that.

Matthew Paul, Channelling

Writing-wise, I’m working on a new collection. Not that my short Scottish collection that’s been scheduled to be published this year is anywhere near seeing the light of day, nor has my Finnish collection been picked up by anyone, but it’s giving me something new to focus on. In spite of my recent posts about self-belief, I’m still struggling with mine. So I’m snuggling up with my daughter’s crepes and writing poems about strong women, forgotten women on another wet Sunday. 

Gerry Stewart, Looking for Distractions

We seem to have crawled out from under the swampy late-summer air, and this weekend, into something cooler, milder, and less likely to have me tossing and turning in the sheets to find a cool corner of the bed. Summer, corona-style, was barely a summer at all, and I can’t say I am sad to see it go. Mostly it was just heat and work, with a side helping of anxiety. Fall is at least enjoyable when you don’t leave the house much, so I am already queuing up my horror movies and planning to make soups. I did learn that beginning next week, we will be open the usual hours at the library, til 10pm, which gives me back my late mornings entirely instead of a sliver of time between waking and heading out the door. Since we’ve gone back, my writing happens in this flurried space over breakfast watching the clock to make it downtown, then exhaustion by the time I arrive home in the evening. This will feel a bit more like normal, if normal is even a thing at all anymore, which means I can get back to design and layout projects that have been drifting while I try to catch up on orders and tend to other dgp business. Also reading manuscripts for next year (which if you haven’t submitted just yet, you have another couple days.) At the library are also getting a new staff member (finally) in our department which means I may eventually be able to take a vacation (not that I can go anywhere, but a week off work, as I learned this summer, is sometimes very much needed.)

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/29/2020

As we turn towards September, it feels like my energy for writing (and sending out work) is increasing. I’m feeling more hopeful about my manuscripts too, which I worked very hard on editing during the summer, along with writing new poems. Do you find the fall is linked in your mind to increased productivity and happiness, even with the pandemic? Summer is definitely not my season – I’m allergic to the sun, and MS makes you sensitive to heat – and anyway my personality definitely tends towards the “wrapped in a sweater, reading by the fire with a cup of tea” rather than “beach bunny” type.

I know some of my friends who are parents are struggling with having kids at home while working full time, and friends who are teachers and professors being forced to be in the classroom, which brings risk and more stress than usual. How are you adjusting to the coming fall?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Winner of the PR for Poets Giveaway, The Light in August with Otters and Unicorns, and Looking Forward to Fall (and Working While Ill)

My body has been chanting this excerpt on my death-hikes this week, just coughing up the words with each stride, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes a cry:

Once I fished from the banks, leaf-light and happy;
On the rocks south of quiet, in the close regions of kissing,
I romped, lithe as a child, down the summery streets of my veins,
strict as a seed, nippy and twiggy.
Now the water’s low. The weeds exceed me.
It’s necessary, among the flies and bananas, to keep a constant vigil,
For the attacks of false humility take turns for the worse.
Lacking the candor of dogs, I kiss the departing air;
I’m untrue to my own excesses.

[from Praise to the End! in Theodore Roethke: Selected Poems]

Weed-exceeded, I puzzle for mile upon mile over the word necessary.

JJS, walking chant

The poem pays tribute to “those boys in uniform” but it also captures the problematic ways in which our countries teach us history: “all the men of history sacrificing/themselves for Ireland, for me, these rebel Jesuses.” This obviously isn’t a particularly healthy perspective, but what brings me close to tears in these lines is also how true it is to how teenage girls think, or at least some teenage girls. Falling in love with dead heroes is just the kind of thing a lot of us did at 16. At the end of the poem, when the speaker says “I put my lips/to the pillar…I kiss all those boys goodbye”, we understand that some day she’ll look back at this as a crazy, sentimental, teenage moment. And yet, we also kiss those boys goodbye along with her and we feel the poet’s empathy for those in history who were lost to war, and her equal empathy for the wild emotions of the teenage years.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Victoria Kennefick: ‘Cork Schoolgirl Considers the GPO, Dublin 2016’

In her new collection, Obit, Victoria Chang address, tackles, teases apart grief—always a giant, messy subject. Here, it’s larger, as the poems explore mourning the deaths of both her mother and her father. The poems use the format of an obituary, with a subject and a date or a timerframe, to return to all the aspects, large and small, of illness and death. She writes of the deaths, on their dates, but she includes an obituary for her mother’s lungs, which “began / their dying sometime in the past.” Another poem addresses her father’s stroke: “Logic—My father’s logic died on June / 24, 2009 in bright daylight. Murdered / in the afternoon.”

The poems circle around and return to the dates of death, the dates of the stroke, and in these recurrences embody, for me, the experience of grief and its unsettling relationship with memory. In “Friendships,” Chang notes: “It’s true, / the grieving speak a different language. / I am separated from my friends by / gauze.” She includes a poem for the dress her mother wore before cremation, a poem for giving all the old clothes away, poems about the doctors, even self-portraits (“Victoria Chang”).

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday poetry pick: Obit

Today, in the cool comfort of my home office, because it was too hot outside, I read What Keeps Us Here, by Allison Joseph (Ampersand Press, 1992). This must be a re-read, as all the sweetness, particular candies, and images of “Penny Candy” came rushing back to me, but I probably didn’t read it back in 1992, when I had a two-year-old and was in graduate school. I remembered vividly. too, the innocent thrill of “[f]our brown skinned young girls” discovering their naked bodies in a basement in the poem “Accomplices.” And the sorrow of losing her mother to cancer. 

Probably different things took hold of me this time. This time, I was struck, in “Endurance,” by these two lines: “I should say this plainly: / a woman, dying, seeks God.” Yes, so plain, so strong. And the terrible, beautiful, true moment, in “At That Moment,” of learning of her mother’s death by telephone while away at school. This one connects with a story told yesterday, on Zoom, of when our family friend learned of her father’s death by phone while staying with my parents. She wailed all night long, and my mother sat up with her. And, in Joseph’s poem, “They put me to rest / in the narrow dorm bed, / my room now strange, unfamiliar…” The disorientation of trauma, of grief.

Later, some comfort from “The Idiot Box.” I was glad to see again “Lucy bawling after Ricky, The Odd Couple / clashing, Spock and Captain Kirk / on the flimsy set of the Enterprise” via reruns on late-night tv. Then the poems “Falling Out of History,” its content and its epigraph by James Baldwin, and “Broadside: from Decade’s End” connect to my side-by-side nonfiction reading this week: We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Kathleen Kirk, What Keeps Us Here

As part of the Sealey Challenge, yesterday I returned to Claudia Rankine’s Citizen.  I read it years ago, when it was all the rage. Back then, I liked it well enough, but then, too, I felt like I was missing something.  I didn’t fall in love with it, the way it seemed that others had.

Yesterday I was struck by the artistry of it, the way it combines all sorts of genres, along with some visual art.  I’m still not sure I’d call it poetry, although it was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry.  It feels more like a hybrid form that doesn’t have a name.

I circle back to the question of whether or not reading about racism can help dismantle racism.  As an English and Sociology major, I’m a firm believer that reading helps us see the other person’s point of view, helps us see the problems that other experience.

And in a perfect world, reading helps us develop solutions and the resolve to see those solutions through.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Reading Racism

This book of poems [In the Field Between Us] is a collaboration between Molly McCully Brown and Susannah Nevison, who exchange letters with one another in verse. It was recommended to me by Jill a few months back, and just recently, she and I have started our own correspondence. We’ve done exchanges like this before (and I’ve written in this way with Beth McQuillen and Ren Powell), but it’s been a long while in all cases, and it feels good to hear the voice in me that speaks to others directly. I’m craving meaningful connection so much right now, and that voice seems vital to it. Even though I haven’t been alone during the pandemic, there’s something about it that feels lonely… and not just the physical isolation we’re still navigating in many settings. Something else. Perhaps fear is a solo flight even during a global event?

That doesn’t stop us, of course, from seeking company. As Brown says in an interview in The Rumpus, “The epistolary form allows the text to navigate this painful, lonely space with an immense amount of company and intimacy. Every time a voice calls, there’s an answering voice.” Yes, please. Dear poets, dear Jill — thank you for keeping me company.

I also like how, in that same interview, Brown describes the themes in In the Field Between Us:  “lifelong, significant, relatively violent medical intervention. It’s an experience that one has to go through alone. It’s inherently singular and alienating. It divides you from other people in the world and from prior versions of yourself.” Isn’t that such a stunning way to consider life — and body — altering experiences? That they divide you even from yourself. The poems in this book grapple with all the versions of the self, as they are created, as they are destroyed. Embodying reality in any given moment, as we are aware more sometimes than others, is a moving target. 

Carolee Bennett, “birth is the first hard frost”

Hardly War and DMZ Colony are difficult to pigeonhole – they are at the same time translation, memoir, poetry, reportage, photo essay, polemic, experiment in radical translation, and an expression of both Choi’s own translation theory and those of others – notably Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, and more contemporary theorists Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson. Choi’s project is political, but she sees clearly that the political, the racial and the poetic are all bundled together in language. As a translator, she is perfectly positioned, where one of the languages is of the dominant global power and one is of a people dominated by that power, to create a new and itself powerful voice which is able to destabilize the power imbalance, to create a rift or, as McSweeney & Göransson call it, a ‘deformation zone’ which “makes impossible connections… unsettling stable ideas of language”.

Choi examplifies this in Translation is a Mode = Translation is an Anti-neocolonial Mode (from here on Translation) where she builds on Walter Benjamin’s Brot and pain as two words meaning ‘bread’ but which also (in my translation anyway) “strive to exclude each other” because they have different “ways of meaning” (Choi’s translation has this as “modes of intention” but pausing over the different translations of a theory of translation is way too meta for this essay!). Choi relates this to the Korean word for ‘cornbread’, oksusuppang, which combines the French pain with the Japanese oksusu to signify the food that was given to Korean schoolchildren after the Korean War as aid from the US. Here she shows us how the very language spoken strains against Korean sense of identity, nationality and race: a European word (Old Empires), a Japanese word (interim Empire) and a word which symbolises current US hegemony (contemporary Empire). “(M)y tongue”, she tells us “even before it had ever encountered the English language was a site of power takeover, war, wound, deformation, and, ultimately and already, motherless” and at this same level, the tongue level, she says the “seemingly benign humanitarian intention” behind the cornbread handed out by the US “creates involuntary longing, a life-long craving, which could easily be translated as a desire to be colonized”. We begin to understand the potential, the latent power of the translator who works with translation as an “anti-neocolonial mode” when she says “But my tongue deforms, it disobeys. I translate this longing, entangled with neocolonial dependency, as homesickness, which is a form of illness, a form of intensity.”

Chris Edgoose, Twins, Orphans, Angels: on the work of Don Mee Choi

There are those who hate cicadas as they hate the summer sun. I myself love both.  The haters hear cacaphony, noise, intrusion. They hear one solid tone – abrasive – not noticing how the insect chorus of crickets and cicada throbs, then silences, throbs again.  They hear “scissor-grinders.” They hear the snapping of a tab from a cola can, up and back, in magnified repetition.  They don’t hear the hum of deep satisfaction or the sense of time passing and the moment fulfilled, though maybe they hear grief in summer’s end.

I have wracked up an array of pantheistic images of this summer soundtrack which have come in handy this most trying of weeks.  Time slows in August, that motionless high summer standstill.  But I, like many, found myself staring at spectacles of dystopia.  Further incursions of terror.  Election Day dread.  The top somehow keeps spinning, even as it slows down, teeters, leans as far from its axis of normalcy as seems possible.  Light sweat becomes greasier.  The levels of cynicism keep upping, possibly a way of preservation.

The insect chorus kept spinning.  For some species the high-stakes erotic daytime display is a suicide song. But at night, the song softens to a rhythmic chant, a round of pure incantation.  As the dervish dances into trance, the insect night calms to its given.  I’ve heard an eternal soundtrack, the god in timeless dance shaking her string of bells, every night from a different limb.  Or worshippers in thrall to cosmic energies, in a public display of meditation. I’ve heard a sound girdle across the earth’s broad waist, a web of communication, the chanting wordless word of consolation.  It’s there, for those who listen, and I’ll be listening keenly as we shift seasons.

Jill Pearlman, The Insect Chorus

early this morning I was awakened by howling and screeching screams that I thought at first was a pack of monkeys being murdered by coyotes in my back yard I used to live near the Woodland Park Zoo and I have personal experience with howler monkeys 

I woke up Page so he could hear it too and filmed it with my phone at the same time though it was pitch black out there Page thought it was Bigfoot but this is no surprise since this summer we both saw bear scat in the yard and immediately thought cow

the howling went on for a good 30 minutes and I eventually figured out it was two owls mating and sent the video to Mary Moon She Who Holds Knowledge of All Things and she assured me that indeed those were owls having wild owl sex practically on my deck possibly right below my bedroom window

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I am wondering if I might find a tomb that I can rent. I just want to lie down on a marble slab for a few nights and whisper my secrets to Death. I really don’t need to move in and live there. Don’t we all have a secret or two to tell? Don’t we all have something to get off our chest? Oh well, the evening breeze is cool tonight. It’s refreshing. Perhaps I’ll just lie down right here.

James Lee Jobe, I am wondering if I might find a tomb that I can rent.

penclawdd – and the

sloughing of a snake-black night
broken boats with mud-arsed sailors
foot-printed down a sworn-drawn breath
estuarine slither-e-slither the delta worms
the sloped-shadowed masts of the mudders
goose-stepped gulls / urchin-crunch-shrined
rag-wormed slime-warm and the long-slow
riding of a tide’s bottom-splat until
the tabernacle bell summons
what! is it muddy sunday already?

Jim Young, penclawdd

Most years in Elul we say
“the King is in the Field” —

God walks with us in the tall grass
to hear our yearnings.

This year, Shechinah
shelters-in-place with us.

With her, we don’t need to mask
our fears or our despair.

When we stay up too late
reading the news again

or binge-watch The Good Place
desperate for redemption

she does too.

Rachel Barenblat, Shelter

So yes, everybody knows. We’ve all got this broken feeling. Might as well talk a good game about how life is, might as well hand out chocolates. We know the dog bites. But as Dorothea Lasky says in her book Animal, “What did my dog teach me about being human? To be gentle. To be gentle and wild and to be able to, but not to, bite everyone.”

Shawna Lemay, Talking a Good Game

Milky fog in the mountains,
thick as sea-foam: so the lizard
tells the hunters to jump in,
the water’s fine. That’s how
he gets away each time—finding
the words to scissor a path
into the next chapter, while
sounds of falling and surprise
echo on the previous page.

Luisa A. Igloria, Escape

Every year as summer wanes, I go back to work resolved to engage with it in a different way. I promise myself that I will keep getting exercise, that I will keep eating real food, that I will devote more time to what is important and less to what is urgent, that I will carve out time for friends and family and creative work, and that I will just not let it all get to me.

So far, every year, I have failed to fulfill such resolutions.

This year feels different. There are two sides to everything, and one side of this time in which so much is collapsing is fear: economic, social, physical, and political threats are all around us. On the other side, though, is opportunity. When so much is gone, changed, and changing, it is easier to let go of what was and try to figure out what can be.

Rita Ott Ramstad, New year’s resolutions

Late August.
The silence
of green dying.

The light
a kind of dust
in the wind.

Tom Montag, LATE AUGUST

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 34

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 cheating a little and beginning with a post from a couple of weeks ago because I missed it at the time. (Some of the poetry blogs I follow still aren’t in the proper category in my feed reader.) It sets the tone for a digest of mainly sombre and reflective posts as summer comes to an close and schools begin attempting to re-open. But as usual, there are still moments of levity — and lots of poetry books to read.


Once the entirety of my consciousness, a cellular fire, now my grief is most often soft-bellied and tired, complex and nuanced as so much seems to be as I get older. It began as only a void, an absence, a searing loss and now it’s sometimes that, but is also a warm room I can go to when I want to think or just feel. It’s a sail that moves me through relationship storms and it’s a small pebble in my sandal that reminds me to pay attention to others’ pain. It says, “Don’t stay too comfortable, here,” and “Pull your head up and look around you.” This grief used to be only mine and I guarded it jealously, decadently, but then I had children who had also lost my father, albeit many years before they were born, and I had to learn to both share and comfort.

Sheila Squillante, Wellspring

So I guess this is to say, in unusual-for-me-lately-regular-blog-post-style: things may stay sad around here for some time.

But part of grief is immense, inchoate tenderness for the beauty and joy that has been so cherished–and in the digital art practice I’ve been developing in the last few years, the flash/poem habits here: some of that sweetness may well be the catharsis of joy, of beauty, even as it is also finally-inarticulable loss.

My god, I may have fucked up almost everything, or been unlucky, or been injured unnecessarily in ways I don’t have the first idea how to recover from, or or or–but I have also loved beauty and joy with the devotional worship I reserve for the animal and embodied world, for the Salish Sea and the scapula, the vixen, doe, and sycamore, the way the beloved smells in peaceful sleep, the sense that all is right with the world for brief moments of this communion, even when it so self-evidently is not all right at all and the whole horizon is loss.

I am not okay. Not even a little.

But there is blessing in being this kind of animal.

And in being able to walk, and to breathe around the edges of lung scarring: the forest has more help for me than words do right now, so I will lose myself in it until I can find my way.

JJS, A blog post

bent tree‬
‪carrying the wind‬
‪long gone ‬

Jim Young [no title]

my right hand hurts because tendinitis has gripped my first two fingers the fingers in my bow hand my right hand hurts because I have been practicing Bach my right hand hurts because I am anxious my right hand hurts from pulling weeds and kneading bread my right hand hurts because I have been driving so much and I’m gripping the goddamn steering wheel like I’m about to be raptured and I’m not right with jesus I have not treated my hands as precious babies throughout my life they are pretty beat up

I go to the beach every day I watch the beach for hours I am not in a hurry with it I have distributed the silk sheet I have rinsed my hair in a tide pool I know which seabirds will be standing in the mudflats I know how barnacles stink in the sun I know what the tides are I have read and memorized the tide tables I have culled and given away the sea in my head I have considered how long it takes wounds to heal 

sometimes my son feels like my jailer everything wobbles and is in flux especially time during covid I am at 37% or 10% or perhaps 22% I cannot function after a few days of rain last week or two weeks ago or last week or yesterday I realized it was autumn as firmly as a handshake as riotous and alarming as a sneeze or a white boy high five never high five me my right hand hurts from high fives my brain hurts from high fives there will be no more high fives I love my son who takes care of me and he never tries to high five me and I am so glad and so lucky that he’s here

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

The plunge is breath-taking, awakening, vital. It confirms my body to my senses, pushes the air out of my lungs and into a shout. The plunge is essential for what comes next – the swim into the meaning of paradise: a new day, everything freshly rinsed by night and dawn’s caress. Birds skim the air, call to each other across our bobbing heads. We paddle the length of the reservoir, paddle back, return and turn until we feel the core of ourselves chilled like Chablis. 

To clamber out into the rough care of a towel, is its own pleasure. We talk of stitching two together to form individual changing tents like someone else’s mother made years ago. Many swims into the season, and we haven’t done it yet, but no matter. 

Back down at the car park, filling up now, we sit in camping chairs by the stream, breakfast on tea, hard boiled eggs, strawberries and banana bread. Not even the Famous Five ate this well after an adventure.

I can be back from the hills and at my desk by 10am on these swimming days, having taken the plunge, the waters, emerged from the vigour of a real paradise. 

Liz Lefroy, I Plunge Into Cold Water

The technician slicks her wand with gel, slides it
around the top of her right breast. On the screen,
pictures of moons under the skin.

*

Crepe myrtles blasted from trees by wind.
Sidewalks stippled with fuchsia and white:
another summer slipping off its wrappers.

Luisa A. Igloria, (more) Thumbnails

It’s been five years and five months since I embarked on a project that is far from being finished. The plain navy-blue cardigan is now highly colourful. I can see thin places that will soon need to be repaired. There are patches on patches and patches on darns. The button-band and the buttonhole-band and the ribbing at the bottom have been reinforced. The pockets are no longer usable. The owner is still wearing it, and wearing it out. I think there’s a moral here somewhere, but I’m darned if I can find it.

In other news, the dozen or so plants I grew from the seeds of a squishy tomato have been wonderfully productive. Yesterday I picked 33 ripe tomatoes of various shapes and sizes. They are small, but delicious. The sprouting potato I cut into five pieces has produced five healthy plants that are nearly in flower. And Hari is producing chicken-manure to feed next year’s crops.

Ama Bolton, Visible mending, continued

The last few years in this family have been rough, health wise. Far be it from me to fess up to more magical thinking than is psychologically normal. (None is normal, I’m told. That can’t be right.) But if there is a ever a time to indulge in some elf-sized superstition, it’s now. Why piss off the Elm Realm if you can avoid it?

But I’m not sure how to deal with this decapitated head. I consider a respectful burial. Consider letting it rest in a box with other sentimental things. And then I consult the son who had that elf birthday party many years ago. “Put it back on a picture frame,” he advised. “He’s still our elf.”

Laura Grace Weldon, Elf Trouble

We live in a time during which taking delight in small things is absolutely essential. This week, several small things delighted me:

I stepped out onto our landing on my way to work and was astonished to find this magnificent little snail, pictured here, hanging out by the steps. It has been years since I’ve seen a snail, although they are pretty common around here. I do not know how he made his way up a flight of stairs to find himself lingering on our landing, but I applaud his determination. His shell was a work of art, and I’m no snail doctor, but he looked healthy and alert. His little snail ears were erect and his coloring looked good, or at least what I imagine healthy snail coloring looks like. Clear and unblemished. I was kind of hoping he’d still be around when I got home, but there was no sign of him upon my return from work. I wish him safe travels.

I came across an article on my favorite trash site, the UK Daily Mail, about how to grow an avocado plant from an avocado seed! The article was much-derided in the comments section by sour Brits, their main gripe being that this is a commonly-known thing not worthy of having an entire article dedicated to it. I disagreed wholeheartedly. I had never heard of this before. I was enthralled by the entire process and the resulting vibrant, deep-green plant—to the point that I marched straight to the kitchen, plucked the seed from an avocado, and followed the first step of wrapping it in a damp paper towel and sealing it in a zip-lock bag. Of course Mr. Typist had to pop my plant bubble by insisting that it was going to grow unsustainably huge and that I was creating a monster and had no plan for how to deal with the outcome. He is correct that I have no giant-plant management plan in the case that it turns into an Audry and starts trying to eat us. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Right now, I just want to see a tiny little sprout of green life spring forth from my avocado seed.

Kristen McHenry, Garden of Small Delights

The advertisement was for a rustic cabin for sale. Looking at the photograph, I decided that rustic must mean beat all to hell. I looked down at my aging body; I must be a rustic poet. And then, from somewhere outside of my also rustic house, a dog began to bark. It barked for a very long time.

James Lee Jobe, The advertisement was for a rustic cabin for sale.

The cat is back in Oklahoma. I still talk to him, brace for the possibility he’s underfoot. Old habits. Like this: someone delivers an oversized zucchini I did not ask for. As if it’s a normal August. Nights turn colder.

Someone spray paints “SMILE UNDER YOUR MASK THIS TOO SHALL PASS” on a white sheet and drapes it from a bridge over I-90. I don’t remember when I first noticed it and just now realize I’m unsure it’s still there.

Hulu knows where I am better than I do most days. Whether I watch on the big screen in the living room or on an iPad in bed, it picks up where I leave off. It holds my place.

I email a local music shop to see if they want to buy my french horn. I haven’t touched it in years, haven’t become who I thought I would.

I order makeup I don’t know how to use. I will watch YouTube videos on boy brow and dewy glow and emerge from this a new person.

The retailer promises radiance and a 30-day return policy, like so many advertisers who have my undivided attention. It’s important to buy leggings you can’t see through. Surely, we need new furnishings to elevate our home offices. I guess the company that invented car vending machines prepared us for this moment. But where will we go?

Carolee Bennett, asked about forever, he does not say no

I fell down a rabbit hole of writing–but not far enough to finish the post. I pulled myself up out of the writing hole to attend to painting chores the room requires: repainting the bottom of the open section of the cabinet we built (because we didn’t build it right the first time and had to re-build, which messed up the paint) and painting the door to the room.

I could have done/faked the room tidying I need to do to be able to finish the post (because the post is about the room, but I need some different photos than I’m able to take with it in its current state), but I decided to do the things that really need doing.

And then I spent some time gathering and delivering a bag of treats for a colleague who is home sick with Covid, taking care of her daughter who is also sick with it. I did that because one of the things I’m writing about in the in-progress post is about values I want to live by in the coming school year, and connection with others is at the top of the list. I’ve gotta tell you: Strengthening that connection felt so much better and more meaningful than having pretty office photos and a complete post would have.

After that I took a nap. I’d had a low-grade headache since Thursday, and even though it’s not the kind of headache that disables me, three days of that kind of pain takes it out of me. It makes me tired. There is something so delicious about climbing under cool covers on a sunny afternoon. That sensation might be as healing as the actual sleep. (Health is another value I want to prioritize.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, In progress

Far from the
knife edge of
the moment

they are but
the empty
husks of dead

insects trapped
in a sill.
Try as you

might you can’t
breathe life back
into them.

Tom Montag, WORDS

Can’t believe it’s been more than a month since I wrote.

Occupied with the garden… at last, the butterflies arrived with the beginning of August!

Terrible heat and humidity for most of July, but better now.

Also occupied with finishing up the Syllabus to publish.  

School has started; this is the end of the first week.   

After some weeks of worrying, I decided to apply to teach the course completely remotely, from Zoom.

Since I am in the “most vulnerable” population regarding COVID 19, I was granted permission.  My university is primarily operating classes on a “hybrid”  of half in the classroom, half online.  If the students behave themselves and comply with the many rules about social distancing,  it will work. So far so good.

Anne Higgins [no title]

My dean wrote back to me, and it was the most grace-filled, kind, and understanding professional e-mail I’ve gotten in awhile.  In a week of political conventions, tweets from the president, and the swirl of news of schools opening and closing right back up again, it led me to think about how we’re managing.

I use that phrase in so many ways.  On the one hand, I use it to mean the way we’re all coping with our current situation.  I think I’m coping fairly well–OKish is the term I use when anyone asks me how I’m doing.  And then I copy all the details into the wrong course shell after I’ve checked not once but several times.  Harmless accident or some sort of outlier incident?

I also think about the way we manage in HR terms.  I think about an essay I had students write after reading a chunk of Machiavelli, an essay that answers the question, “Is it better to be loved or feared?’  My dean was operating out of a space of love.  I’ve had more bosses who have operated from a space of trying to inspire fear.

We see these competing narratives across all sorts of platforms, and in this upcoming political season, I predict we’ll see them both prominently utilized.  The fear narrative tries to make us believe that there’s not enough of anything, that we’re not enough.  In HR terms, I’m intrigued by which people in charge believe that we’re all doing the best that we can in any given moment, while so many managers seem to believe we’re all just eating bon bons and goofing off if someone isn’t there to yell at us all the time.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I prefer the love narrative–we have enough, we are enough, we can expand the circle, we can include everyone.  As I was preparing my course shells, I went back to the ones I used during the spring, as the pandemic was overturning all sorts of plans.  I was struck by the tone of my announcements.  I gave everyone blanket amnesty–if you needed more time, no need to write and let me know, just do the best you can.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Questions as Old as Machiavelli

I’ve enjoyed working as a teaching assistant this week, much more than I was as a middle school teacher last year. I’m not sure if it’s the age group or being able to actually work one on one with kids a bit more rather than trying to speak to the masses. We’ll see how things go. I wish I knew what I want to be when I’m grown up. Substituting has been a good option to try things out though.

I’m struggling with motivation this week with my writing. I see so many writers being awarded this and that, publishers and art bodies offering opportunities I can’t take advantage of because of where I live, so I feel I’m just spinning my wheels, wondering why am I bothering. I’m sure it’s just a blip and I will get a burst of enthusiasm again. My writing group stayed up late chatting online last night and that helped. I’m happy to have their life line. 

It’s raining today after several really hot days. I need an indoor day just to relax, but I really want to get out to my allotment and start sorting it for winter. I can see hints of autumn everywhere, heard the ghostly calls the Barnacle Geese flying overhead last night through a dark, opened window. That sound always makes me want to run away myself, but since I can’t I want to prepare for what is coming. 

Gerry Stewart, End of Summer Slump

Meanwhile, this week brought me a lot of late-August beauty, birds, deer with fawns, the dahlias bursting into fantastic bloom, the last of the late roses. I even have a bouquet of late lavender by the bed. I’ve been slowly getting my mental energy back, and yesterday I had enough write a poem and send my book manuscripts to some new places (for me.) I’m really hoping to have a book taken soon so I can direct my energy in a positive way as the fall comes, and opportunities to be outside dwindle. It’s good to have something to worry about besides coronavirus death rates, the post office being threatened by our evil would-be dictator, my own struggle to overcome threats to my own body, my family back in Ohio, etc, etc. […]

One of the kind gifts sent to me this week was Anna Maria Hong’s new book from Tupelo Press, Fablesque. If you enjoy fairy-tale-twisted poetry, mythology, experimental poetry, prose poetry, and harrowing tales of fathers escaping North Korea, this book is for you. I very much enjoyed it, and as you can see, Sylvia cuddled up to it right away.

I tried a bit of This is How You Lose the Time War, a sci-fi novel my little brother recommended, and finished Joan Didion’s White Album, thinking about starting the Year of Magical Thinking next. I’ve also been continuing my re-read of AS Byatt’s Possession, particularly as I go to sleep. In the heat, in my fatigue, reading is a way to make my mind and body work together, pass the time while I heal, while I hide out. Not so different, really, than my reasons for reading as a young kid.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Waiting for Fall to Arrive, Deer and Dahlias, a Week of Recovery and Reading, and a Giveaway

1988

Right before school starts, we spend a week at a cabin near Black River, with an amazing purple armoire tucked into the corner of a sleeping porch where I spend most of our time there popping jolly ranchers into my mouth and reading Sweet Valley High books in an effort to prepare for high school, which is this vast unexplored territory in front of me. Despite driving through fires on either side of the highway  on our way north earlier in the summer, this trip is rainy and cooler and our last before summer vacation ends.  High school turns out to be nothing like Sweet Valley High, but I adjust pretty well.  Later, I mine this summer of droughts and fires shameless for the poems in my first book.

1993

It’s my second year of college, but my very first at RC.  I’ve just successfully dyed my hair from blonde to dark red and wear things like broomstick skirts and tapestry vests (because, hey, it’s the 90’s.)  I love my classes that first semester and most after–Shakespeare, social psychology, philosophy. After long waits in registration lines, I spend most of my time on the patio outside the library, where they’ve set up long tables with metal folding chairs. I’ve no idea if they are intended to stay there, or if they are left up after an event, but that year, they are up through Thanksgiving break, and protected from sun and weather by an overhang, are where you would would find me studying between classes and eating vending machine snacks and carefully packed sandwiches from home. .  When it got cold, I moved inside to the library’s second floor and started scavenging books from the stacks, where you will find me for the next four years.

1998

This is the fall the tap comes on fully for poems, and most of the fall is spent writing the work that would land my first publications and form that first ill-conceived book manuscript. I’m starting my second year of grad school at DePaul and enrolled in a course on Modern British Poetry, which isn’t very modern at all, but very British, except for the weeks we spend on TS Eliot, faux British by way of Missouri  I become obsessed with Eliot’s recorded voice and soon, cannot read The Wasteland without hearing his voice in my head.  Later, at Columbia, a similar thing happens with Anne Sexton.   While I had read bits of it before as an undergrad,  this time The Wasteland loosens something in me that becomes a flood of poems that next year, and ultimately leads me to abandon any other plans–to teach, to continue Ph.D. studies, and just find some sort of day job and focus on the writing. Basically, I blame Eliot for everything. 

Kristy Bowen, snapshots | august

Although we’ve only been back a week and a half, the holiday seems a long time ago now. It was a great time for browsing and buying books as we started off by camping in Hay-on-Wye, ‘the world’s greatest book town’. Here I managed to pick up two haiku pamphlets/ magazines from 1980 and 2003, containing poems by writers I’m starting to become more familiar with. […]

As I love walking, another holiday read was Simon Armitage’s Walking Away. I’d had it a while and had been meaning to read it but just never found the time.

Hay-on-Wye is on the Offa’s Dyke path and there are a fair amount of walkers passing through. So, when I’d finished the book,  I did my bit for the book town by donating it to the book swap under the bridge, in the hope that some weary traveller might pick it up and get as much pleasure out of it as I did.

Whilst in Hay, I also bought Albert Camus’ The Plague.  I’d heard a dramatised version on Radio 4, recorded during lockdown, so I knew the main story, but reading it was so much more enriching. It’s a terrifying but redemptive story about an outbreak of plague in an Algerian coastal town, and life during the subsequent quarantine. The book reflected so much of what we have already been through, and are likely to continue to experience, putting human behaviour, both good and bad, right at the centre of the story (although mainly through male characters, I have to say, but that’s a minor quibble and no doubt reflects the time it was written). It might sound like a morbid read, but in the current situation, I found it oddly reassuring. It had the feeling of being important, of being necessary. That’s not always the case when you read a book. It made me question my own novel, and how ‘necessary’ it is. It remains as a second draft, which is to say there’s a fair amount of editing still required!

Julie Mellor, I love books …

Like many of you, I’ve been reading a lot more lately including some books that have languished in the procrastination pile. One goal has been to read and study one Shakespeare sonnet a day. They are too rich a diet to ingest more than that especially if one wants to understand them in their historical context and unpack Elizabethan usage. After reading a few, your ear will tune to the syntax. I urge you to read them aloud (all poetry should be read aloud!) and if you want to hear them in a lovely British accent, search for Sir Patrick Stewart’s (Picard of Star Trek fame) reading of each of them. […]

Here are the 4 commentaries that I used for studying each sonnet plus another intriguing book about Shakespeare being gay/bisexual and that author’s premise about the young man’s identity. It’s interesting to note that older commentaries are written by scholars whose work is based on the belief that WS is the absent narrator and the speaker in the sonnets is an unknown character created by the dramatist in a non-sequential collection of somewhat connected poems. Their posture seems rooted in an unwillingness to accept that WS was gay/bisexual or that the sonnets are autobiographical. More contemporary authors/scholars are accepting of both as reality—like more contemporary scholars understanding of Emily Dickinson’s sexuality.

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Pandemic Reading Project

Promises to keep. I’ve promised myself for months that I’ll write something about Jane Burn, a poet who unfailingly makes me sit up and pay attention, whose writing is full of turns and rhythms and moments that draw me in. For five and a half months I’ve been ‘shielded’, which is a euphemism for ‘under house arrest’. And I’ve been distracting myself with projects like ‘When all this is over’ and an abortive project which attracted precisely zero responses to an invitation to illustrate stories by my friend and collaborator, Andy Blackford. 

But inventive or analytic thinking has been beyond me quite. Concentrated, reflective reading, too. I decided I should systematically read the whole of Auden’s Collected Poems and see what I could learn…about technique, for instance. That lasted about a week, rather than the planned year. It’s hard to concentrate, especially when you’re distracted by frustrated rage at a country seized by the sleep of reason, and at the dreadful schism in the British nation.

Seeking for hook to hang the post on I went back, as I often do, to Tony Harrison. The school of eloquence, especially, and the extended sequence of sonnets that grew from it in Continuous. The theme that runs through them all, in one way or another is articulacy , the making of language and meaning which is ‘the tongue-tied’s fighting’.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Jane Burn and glossolalia

California is burning, Covid-19 proceeds unchecked, and twin hurricanes are headed to the Gulf of Mexico to hit land next week, so I chose this book for today, for the strange cheer and dark comedy of its title: Let’s All Die Happy, by Erin Adair-Hodges (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017). I gasped when I opened the book and read its epigraph by Bruno Schulz, because I had just encountered him that morning while reading An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine! Alignments and coincidences keep happening. I’m sure I’ll tell you about more.

Well, here’s one: hurricanes. In her poem “Pilgrimage,” full of beauty I’ll let you discover when you get this book for yourself, I find “goodbyes distinctive / and precious as hurricanes.” Speaking of goodbyes, oh, “Seeing Ex-Boyfriends” has such an excellent ending, and here’s an excellent title for you: “A Murder of Librarians.” Plenty of disasters, including asteroids taking out the dinosaurs in “Natural History,” but plenty of joy, too, as when her little son is delighted by that! “His fingers turn claws as the film / starts again and we wait for his favorite part, / the hungry meat, in the sky a coming fire.” I needn’t mention the coincidence of fire. Sigh…but I did. And in “Rough Math,” “I…want your grief / to pour from your eyes like smoke…

But, “Let’s all die happy.” That’s the first line of another poem with a wonderful title, “Everybody in the Car / We Are Leaving without You,” which sounds like a familiar threat, and a real invitation. Here I particularly love the hooking up of the Mother and Father of American Poetry:

                                …Let’s set Whitman
     & Dickinson up on a date & watch
     as the awkwardness flames.

Aauggh, flames again! Here’s a tender coincidence instead. In a scene I read this morning in the novel, a music box is important in a mother-daughter relationship. It’s also part of the mother-daughter relationship in the poem “The Robin Tanka,” used as an aural image: “Her voice is a music box / grown tired of being turned.” My attentiveness to connection, alignment, and coincidence keeps happening, as does my commitment to this reading of a poetry book a day in August. It has felt like work, but work I love, schoolwork (and I loved school), homework, even, in a weird way, holy work. So, of course, in her poem “The Last Judgment,” I find the phrase, “His Holy Homework.” This work is getting me through, giving me joy, and I hope giving you some joy, too.

Kathleen Kirk, Let’s All Die Happy

During sleep, I have referred to you by many names: candle, nightswimmer, monkeyshine.

Your voice comes to me in many forms: crow song, dog howl, the transcendental hum of wheels on highway.

Bouquets of rubies and summer rains I leave at your door.

A divining rod I offer you to seek out the purest peace.

Should your angels ever turn to ashes, I will sweep them up for you.

Together, we’ll build a new faith from the ground up.

While the signature of our journey has yet to be completed,

our country of devotion is just an embrace away.

Rich Ferguson, When Sleep’s Terrorism Slips Away

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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.

It’s the season of molting and early migration in the northern hemisphere, so it seemed fitting this week that so many poets were blogging about change, healing, transformation and flux. And most people seem to be back from vacations, so this is a very full digest. Enjoy.


David Bowie famously invites us–or exhorts us–to turn and face the strange. Necessary, especially during times people are wishing things were as they used to be. Change seems a stranger. We don’t want it at our door.

Facing change presents challenges and requires confronting fears. No wonder people resist; yet change is all there is. Without it, not even death (which is all about change). Just stasis. Not-life instead of no-life; un-life.

For now, a break from blogging, from submitting poems to journals, from sending out my latest attempt at a manuscript, from attending readings and conferences and workshops. I might say “it’s all too much” under current circumstances, but the reasons are more complicated and center around transitions of the not-writing kind.

In time, knowing the way my writing process occurs, these transitions will lead to more writing. More poems. Lots of process.

Meanwhile. I’m in the woods. I’m in the garden. I’m even (I think) going to be in the classroom. But it will all look different.

Ann E. Michael, Break/change

For someone who loves the countryside and nature as much as I do, staying in the city this summer has been a real stretch. Usually we would go to the U.S. to visit my father and spend time at the lake, but the border is closed to non-essential travel, and even if we did it, such a trip would mean a month of strict quarantine – two weeks on either side. Staying in hotels or B&Bs seems risky, so overnights away haven’t really been considered. I’ve never been so grateful to live near a large city park, or to have a fairly private terrace that I could fill with plants.

For several weeks, we’ve been working very hard to clean our studio of everything we’re not going to need. This has meant sorting through possessions, tools, supplies, equipment, and the work of our whole professional and creative lifetimes. It’s a huge, heavy, and sometimes emotional task that felt almost overwhelming at the beginning, but after steadily putting in several hours a day, day after day, we’re getting there. We’ve sold or given away a lot, recycled or thrown out the rest, and are gradually getting down to the core of what we want and need to keep for the next period of our lives. As you can perhaps imagine, doing this in the middle of a pandemic, very hot weather, and the current worldwide political and social crises has contributed to a roller-coaster of moods, from frustration to encouragement, that we’ve managed with as much equanimity as we could. However, we’ve really needed some breaks, and those are coming now in the form of day trips out of the city.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 36: Out of the City

These unplanned detours – which often seem to occur to me in August – derail my writing, my meager (during the plague, especially) life plans. But today I talked to a poet friend, my little brother, and caught up with my parents – a nice way to re-enter the human world, not the suspended animation of the medical care world. The dream (or nightmare) world of IVs and fever, of blood work and doctor exams.

Like going to and fro from the underworld, we need companions to help us re-arrive in the land of the living in one piece, recovering our spirits and reviving our bodies. […]

Have you been watching the falling stars each night at midnight? I’ve been standing on my back porch, drawn to the red glow of Mars on the horizon, once in a while catching the quick winking of a falling star, wishing and wondering if I should even bother wishing. Is it naïve or child-like for me to even make wishes?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Detours – a Week In and Out of the Hospital, Dahlias, and Feeling a Little Down While Wishing on Stars

Sometimes what we want to happen
doesn’t happen: fruit doesn’t ripen,
the ferns unexpectedly die,
what we see in front of us looks
nothing like we imagined it would.
We expect to heal. We don’t.
We go back over what was said,
what was done to us, what
we lost or gave away. We cry,
Where is the justice in the world?
Listen. In the small hours just as
dark gives way to dawn, a single
bird we have never heard before,
may never hear again, and in that
one rare moment we are saved.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Listen

I am now a person who burns incense. According to many, this makes me some kind of hippy. According to the product packaging, I’m opening up to warmth and sensuality (patchouli), wealth and riches (red ginger) and sanctuary (French lavender). My own sense of what’s happening is that I’ve been craving ritual, the idea of transforming ordinary moments into sacred spaces and the practice of envisioning — and honoring — what I want my life to look like.

I’ve considered trying it for years, but some old voices (parental? patriarchal?) held me back. Even though I burn candles most days, incense seemed a step too far. Whatever that means. Is it even a big deal? It’s not. It just had baggage for me — spiritual connotations I had no right to, stereotypes that didn’t apply, a self-consciousness that plagues me about so many things, other people’s ideas about who I am and what I do and don’t do.

But here’s to letting all that, and more, go.

Because for as long as the fragrance hangs in the air, I find my breath, which is something my Very Good Therapist keeps trying to help me do.

That breath — intentional, slow, deep — allows me to sit with things that I’d otherwise rush past to avoid feeling. Other times, it helps me pause when I’m feeling things too much and may be at risk of spinning out. Either way, it restores a kind of balance that so often evades me and helps to erase (even briefly) the micro-traumas that arise on any given day. Instead of white knuckling anxieties, I try to imagine safety, peace, abundance, expansiveness. I try to mother myself: Here, right now, you’re OK. You are capable. You have the wisdom and strength you need.

Carolee Bennett, august, green & undeserved

I came across this poem one evening noodling on the internet when I had nothing better to do.

I was having one of my periodic bouts of Poetry Exhaustion. I was convinced I would never again come across a poem that would move me and that my entire library of poetry was worthless. I may even have persuaded myself that my twenty-five-year-plus dedication to poetry had been worthless and that a career change was in order, banking say.

Like so many of my Lifesaving Poems I heard the poem before I read it, on this occasion via a YouTube clip of August Kleinzahler reading it at a prize-giving ceremony.

As I say, I was in the doldrums at the time, with no hope or expectation of anything resembling a poem ever coming into my life again.

Then bam, the tired, weary, slightly let’s-get-to-the-bar-already voice of August Kleinzahler reading a poem about a Toronto Twilight by a woman I had never heard of, began to still my breathing. Then stop it altogether.

I am sure there was something about the combination of the tiredness I was feeling and the exhaustion in Kleinzahler’s delivery that made me take notice. That, and the deceptively simple opening line: ‘Three minutes ago it was almost dark.’ Something about those short, declarative sentences, the way they innocently purport to paint a picture whilst carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders: ‘But the sky itself has become mauve./ Yet it is raining./ The trees rustle and tap with rain.’

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Poems: Margaret Avison’s ‘Twilight’

The idea of poetry as healing is one that is easily romanticized. This romanticizing comes often with an air of distance: poetry as balm after the fact of hurt. However, there is another facet to healing, one rawer and more immediate, that poetry can tap into. Poetry as stitches being sewn; as open wound learning to close and scar. Through the dynamic lyricism found throughout Laura Cesarco Eglin’s latest collection, Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals (Thirty West Publishing House, 2020), we come across a poetic sensibility reaching for this latter intersection between the poetic act and healing.

When the speaker of “Melanoma Lines,” for example, shares with the reader “I know / how to listen to what’s not ready,” it is a statement that brings the reader closer to her experience. To know how to “listen” is to know what to listen for, to forge, in this case by necessity, an awareness. Later, in the same poem, the speaker gives an idea of the cost of this knowing:

I smelled myself being burned.
Cauterized, they said, as if I
didn’t know how to detect euphemisms

José Angel Araguz, microreview & interview: Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals by Laura Cesarco Eglin

I’m puzzling over a poem and indeed it feels like a puzzle. Jigsaw maybe, as I try pushing pieces against each other and they resist or yield. Or remember Tangrams? You got a set of shapes and were challenged to fit them together to make different forms.

In this poem, the last line was bothering me. It felt thumpy, like, “OKAY HERE IS WHAT THIS POEM IS ABOUT.”

And yet it seemed important in its own way, so it occurred to me to repurpose it as the title instead of the last line.

Okay, but that left the former second to last line just dangling there, insufficient. So I started shifting groups of lines around, swapping sections, turning sentences around, flip-flopping the images and ideas of the poem, starting in the middle, starting toward the end, restarting from the beginning I had started with.

I know the incredible satisfaction of occasionally getting all the pieces to fit together: suddenly, snap, you have the shape you’ve been trying to make. But I must ask of the poem: Is there a piece missing?

This is the challenge of the poem versus the Tangram, I guess. It’s possible I’ll never be able to make the desired shape because a crucial piece is missing, and it’s not as easy as getting on my hands and knees and checking under the couch. I need to identify the gap and write into it.

So at the moment, for all my shifting and switching, the poem looks — instead of like a good solid square or a kitty or bunny — like a gappy rhombus in a hat.

Marilyn McCabe, Broken bicycles; or, More on Revision

Sometimes,
naturally,
the rhymes

come lovely
as a snail’s
trail,

slick with
mucus.
Our eyes

see
the chime
of language

as a wet
marker
left for us

on a dry
land, the way
our ears

hear
the echo
echo.

Tom Montag, Sometimes

Brian Sonia-Wallace was a writer-in-residence for Amtrak and the Mall of America and has his own small business called RENT Poet, and, you guessed it, he writes poetry for strangers on a typewriter! His book, The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America With a Typewriter (Harper Perennial, 2020) was, I have to say it, a great ride. It’s got lots of poems in it, including translations, so I was going to count it toward the #SealeyChallenge, but I also read another Debra Kaufman book, Delicate Thefts (Jacar Press, 2015), and there are tiny stolen things in both books, both concrete and abstract.

Like me, Brian is an actor, too. Unlike me, he approaches his poetry writing, as well as his reading aloud, as performance. Like me, he connects poetry with attention and listening.* He actually composes poems after listening to his customers’ stories, writing the poems they need. Vending his poems across the country, he has worked with all kinds of interesting performers, including clowns and witches, and has appeared at big corporate events, malls, music festival, and, interestingly, a detention center to document (in poems) the undocumented.

*Debra Kaufman dedicates Delicate Thefts “to listeners everywhere.” I sense she’s done her share of the kind of listening that results in poems, too. In “The Receiver” she’s listening at a bar: “When I…look straight / into a stranger’s eyes, / always he will tell me his story.”

Brian Sonia-Wallace experiences that intimacy, too, in talking to strangers. They will tell the deepest things. Back to Kaufman’s poem: “Two drinks in I have taken / the gift of his loneliness.” Here, the loneliness was a gift, not a theft, but the stolen things in Kaufman’s book include a locket, a wallet, stolen innocence, pride, self-image. All, yes, with a delicate touch.

Stolen lives. In “At Duke Gardens, After Another School Shooting,” there is nothing to do but seek solace, remembrance, and “peonies you can wash your face in.” In “Trying to Find a Way,” sometimes the heart is too full, with “no room for another’s story.” 

Kathleen Kirk, The Poetry of Strangers + Delicate Thefts

[Ralph Vaughn Williams] was of that generation which saw perhaps the greatest amount of change and technological advancement of any lifetimes – aged 13 when Benz’s first motor car was driven, 31 when the Wright Brothers took to the air, 56 when the first television broadcast was made, 73 when the first atomic bomb was dropped. . . In his long career he produced a remarkable range and quantity of work: nine symphonies; four concertos, each for a different instrument; chamber pieces (none finer than Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus); choral works; operettas; ballet scores; and many wonderful songs, notably settings of Blake, Swinburne and, above all, Housman

All of which brings me to John Greening. Those who have read any of his collections will know that not only is he a very fine poet, but he also has a deep love of classical music, as demonstrated by his last, beautiful collection The Silence, about Sibelius. Greening’s recent Poetry Salzburg pamphlet Moments Musicaux collects 34 previously uncollected music poems which, Greening says, “hadn’t quite fitted into individual volumes”. Two of the 34 relate to Vaughan Williams, ‘RVW’ and ‘A Sea Symphony’, named after Vaughan Williams’ first symphony, though the latter is not about the composer but somebody else.

‘RVW’, four rhymed quatrains dedicated to the contemporary composer and occasional poet Philip Lancaster, depicts its subject as, ‘An old man/ standing up by the Folly’ – Leith Hill Tower – ‘His back towards London Town’, contemplating a ‘fallen poplar’:

They lie there, unmastered, the nine branches,
  And numberless carolling shoots.
He kicks at the crown’s now silent ocean.
  He probes a fantasia of roots.

It’s difficult to write biographical poems which don’t resort to cliché. In the poem’s ending, Greening gently refers to the deafness which afflicted Vaughan Williams in his last few years but which, like Beethoven before him, didn’t prevent him composing:

The old man sitting up by the Folly,
  Not hearing the aspen’s riposte:
There’s more to be sung than it ever dared whisper,
  And pastoral may not mean past.

It’s a haunting image, with a message which is as ungraspable as the wind is strong, up there at the highest point in south-east England.

Matthew Paul, On Vaughan Williams and John Greening

Every poet I’ve ever translated has taught me something. One of the perils of poetry is to be trapped in the skin of your own imagination and to remain there all your life. Translation lets you crack your own skin and enter the skin of another. You identify with somebody else’s imagination and rhythm, and that makes it possible for you to become other. It’s an opening towards transformation and renewal. I wish I could translate from all the languages. If I could live forever, I’d do that.

– Stanley Kunitz, from his Paris Review interview (Spring 1982). I originally found the quote in The Other 23 & a Half Hours by Catherine Owen, which is chock-full of poetry goodness.

Rob Taylor, trapped in the skin of your imagination

Today I read one of my favorite books by far for the Sealey Challenge, a volume of selected poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. It’s a slim and elderly hardback from the famous (in Germany) publishing house Insel. I inherited it from my husband, who winnows his library by offering unwanted books to me. This pretty much never results in books being thrown out. And never if they are from Insel.

Rilke in German is marvelous. Many beautiful and resonant poems. One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Rilke’s poem “Im Saal,” or “In the Drawing Room.”

. . . . . They wished to bloom
and to bloom is to be beautiful; but we want to ripen
and that means growing dark and taking care.

. . . . . Sie wollten blühn,
und blühn ist schön sein; doch wir wollen reifen,
und das heißt dunkel sein und sich bemühn.

In German it rhymes, and it is a great rhyme. I’ve surprised myself. I love contemporary free verse (in English).

Another excellent poem –“Archaïscher Torso Apollos” (Archaic Torso of Apollo)– ends with the famous line “You much change your life.” But the line flows more naturally in German and seems less abrupt, if only slightly.  And of course it is its abruptness that makes you catch your breath. I hear the line echoed in many English poems, such as:

1) James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” which ends “I have wasted my life.”

2) Mark Doty’s “Messiah (Christmas Portions),” which ends “Still time. / Still time to change.”

Rilke talks about how the sculpted stone seems to burst from itself “like a star,” and its power leaves the viewer totally exposed.

Sarah J Sloat, you must change your life

This Friday, I’m moderating the first panel at the Outer Dark Symposium 2020 (virtually): “Weird Metamorphosis or Life Change.” Moderating panels doesn’t especially scare me. It’s basically leading a class discussion, except with very smart people who love to talk. I’m always nervous about Zoom, though; I’m no technological wizard, plus catching all the undercurrents in a virtual conversation is hard. To make things eerier, I have to tune in from my extremely haunted office, because I’d be competing for bandwidth at home. I usually clear out of Payne Hall when darkness falls.

I’m also thinking about fear because it’s an inescapable part of transformation stories in Weird fiction and film. Some of the panelists are especially interested in body horror, which involves violence or violation to the body, as in “The Button Bin” by Mike Allen or “Anatomy Lessens” by Edward Austin Hall. Some, in our pre-panel discussion, expressed fascination with what puts people emotionally onto that uncomfortable-to-terrified continuum. They explore it in awesome ways, thinking about race, gender, sexuality, disability, and their intersections.

I’m involved in this panel because my new novel involves the deeply weird transition of menopause. As I wrote and revised Unbecoming, though, the feeling I focused on was not fear but desire. The uncanny power growing in the main character, Cyn, lies in wishing for change, both through small rescues and major redirections. Desire is key to making characters interesting and complicated, so it’s probably central to all fiction. I had a list taped to my wall as I composed, listing what each major character thought they wanted plus what they REALLY wanted (which is often the opposite of what they thought they wanted), and sometimes what they really, really, really wanted in their secret hearts. The push-and-pull among those impulses can make a character–really a bunch of words–come to life in your imagination. Like magic.

Lesley Wheeler, The other side of fear

Yesterday, for The Sealey Challenge I read Lesley Wheeler’s The State She’s In.  I ordered this book just after I returned from the AWP conference, and by the time it arrived, the world was in full pandemic panic mode.  I flipped through it, read a few poems mainly from the end of the book, and thought that I just didn’t have the concentration to read the whole thing.

If I had started from the beginning, I might have devoured the book back when it first arrived.  Or maybe my brain was just too frazzled. But as I read the book yesterday, I did realize that I liked the first part of the book best. 

As I was trying to think about a photograph, I realized that part of the volume revolves around the state of Virginia, one of the “states she’s in” (the other states are metaphorical states).  I thought about Florida, the state I’m in.  I thought about how both states will always feel both like home to me and like places where I feel I’m an alien dropped in for a visit.  I thought about a beloved Colonial Williamsburg mug that was living on borrowed time, as I noticed the crack in the handle–and this week, the borrowed time came to a crashing halt. […]

I love how Wheeler explores gender in intriguing ways, especially gender issues as they impact women who are no longer in their 20’s and 30’s, but she’s also fascinating when she dissects history–and of course, there are intersections where the two come together, and it also gives her the opportunity to braid together an analysis of class and race. It’s an amazing work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Lessons from a Challenge Month

Covid-19 is reminding us in no uncertain terms that human lives are uncertain. In The Unmapped Woman (Nine Arches Press, 2020), which is Abegail Morley’s latest poetry collection, things have changed in ways the speakers can not have foreseen — they lose people, they don’t know how to go on, how to deal with memories. They are left with holes and absences.  I’ve been mulling over Abegail’s ability to “do” Big Issues (birth, love, change, uncertainty, loss, death )  using the small scale of intimate relationships. Emotions are created for us — they are born and flow through the words she chooses: the unexpected imageries, the narrative arcs, the music of word-sounds and rhythms. Her technical skills are exemplary. 

An example of how she combines the above to create feelings of wonder are the first lines of the first poem of the book. “Egg”

I breathe into the lonely snow-lines on the scan,
Tell you how to grow safely, how to throw
and catch a ball …


[…] Abegail describes many, many kinds of loss and relationships. There is pain and grief and the unanswerable. In “The Library of Broken People”, there is a startling variety of injuries described. These “lost souls”, feel like damaged books to me. One of them says that “life’s an unworkable toy”. The speaker “survives amongst them, wear[s] a long jumper, drag[s] sleeves down wrists.”

E.E. Nobbs, The Unmapped Woman – Abegail Morley

What a thrill to hold this book in my hands! I first met Paul Marshall at Everett Community College 25 years ago, and we’ve been writing together since we put together a teaching lab around writing in 2009. This past March, he decided to dedicate some time to assembling a book of poems, and he asked me to help. To quote from the back cover:

The poems in Stealing Foundation Stones share the journey of a blue collar, small town, hot-rod loving kid who grew up to go to Vietnam, returned home to the radical turmoil of the 70s, became a psychology professor and an award-winning community college educator, then, after a major loss, rebuilt his life, remarrying and morphing (yet again) into a ukulele-playing grandpa and woodworker and writer. It is a trip you don’t want to miss.

I hardly know what to excerpt here, as I love all these poems. They’re familiar to me as old friends and as welcoming.

Zen Handyman

Cursing saw torn flesh
dripping red blood mars heartwood
my grandfather’s laugh

In these poems, cars rev their engines and bears growl. Blackbirds hoard trinkets the way the poet hoards memories while he lets go of detritus, including old books that (like the bears) growl back: “Their cat haired, dust bunnied pages / fall open as they gasp out their reason to be saved. // I’m a first edition. / I’m an autographed copy.” (“Don’t Leave It for the Children”)

Bethany Reid, Paul Marshall at Chuckanut Sandstone Open Mic

It’s that time of year – the Edinburgh Fringe has been cancelled, but my mind is still drifting northwards and backwards. 2013. Threesome’s first appearance on 10th August – we’d hardly written the script by 9th August, the same day I met Ms Beeton for the first time. It’s LJay’s birthday today, so that has added to my nostalgia. […]

The show was in 3 parts – I was the opener (or ‘delicious entree’, as described in one of our two 4 star reviews) with a piece based on the Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like ItThe Seven Rages of Woman is a poetic romp around … well, some of the rage I felt about a restrictive evangelical upbringing and some of the rage I felt about the lack of representation of women in film, and several other rages,: approximately seven of them in fact. Listening to a sermon about women and submission yesterday, some of this rage was momentarily reignited.

Since this photo was taken, there have been new happenings: a beautiful baby for Ms B, glasses to correct my eyesight, a new suit and tie for LJay, and suchlike. But when I look at it, I enjoy the feeling I felt then, right then, at the moment Peter took the shot. It comes flooding back, the camaraderie, adrenaline, freedom, the reckless pleasure of the name of our troupe. And, as Ms Beeton might have said of her microwavable chocolate sponge cake (whose making was the pinnacle, piece de resistance, of the show), the feeling is marvellous, darling!

Liz Lefroy, I Enjoy The Memories

When I last posted about the goings-on in Stardew Valley, I was patiently waiting for Harvey to ask me to have a baby, and sure enough, he finally did. After a brief gestational period of fourteen game days, a tiny pixelated baby appeared in the nursery crib. We named her Lily. She was very boring in the beginning. All she did was sleep. Now that she’s a toddler, she’s still not very interesting. She just crawls around randomly and occasionally plays with a toy ball that I did not give her, so God knows where she found it. I don’t mean to be sexist, but it’s obvious that the game was created by a young man who did not at any time think through practical issues such as house child-proofing, feeding, diapering, and day care. Harvey works long hours at the clinic and those crops don’t harvest themselves, so the kids knocks around the house completely unattended all day. Oftentimes I don’t even know what room she is in and I worry that she’s pulled a lamp over onto herself. Hopefully little Lily has an independent streak, because that child will be fending for herself. Good. It will make her a tough farmer some day.

Kristen McHenry, Gym Return, Trainer Two-Timing, Boring Baby

disease vector
a mom hugs her kid
after school

K. Brobeck [no title]

On the day I take my daughter to the airport, I have to get out of my house filled with absence. I drive up to the mountain, to the river where I raised my children for the first half of their lives. It is not that I want to go back in time; that mountain, that river, was a place I once needed to leave, too. But sometimes, we need to go back to figure out how to move forward. I want to get grounded, literally. I want to dig my toes in the river’s sand, to let its water cool my feet. I need to see water flowing past me.

I spread a blanket in some shade, doze to the sound of children playing in the water with their mother. I sit on land one of my children once named Dogarnia, and another called The Forest of Enchanted Wieners. Rule of this kingdom was hotly contested. When I close my eyes, I can see them climbing in the trees, our tiny Dachshunds kicking up sand as they run in circles around us.

I want to call across the water to that other mother. I want to tell her: Imprint this day in your memory. Don’t worry about what you’re going to make for dinner or how you’re not getting the house clean before starting another work week. Soak yourself in these moments, right now, so that later you can remember this sun-drenched summer day when all of you were golden. But I don’t. I don’t know her life, and I don’t want to impose my reality and regrets on hers. Also, no one in the thick of it wants to hear this kind of thing from some stranger whose time has passed.

On the afternoon of the day I take my daughter to the airport, I understand another thing: My attempts to keep my house of cards intact, to keep her unexpected stay from coming in and blowing down my hard-won peace was futile and stupid. I’ve let anticipatory grief rob me of embracing all that she–and this terrible, unexpected, wonderful chance to mend and grow and be together–brings. She, like all children, was born to make and remake me, to strip me to my foundations, to give me reasons to build (and build again). I see now that I cannot protect my heart by clinging to what I constructed the first time she left. It served me well enough, I suppose, but now I need something strong enough to stand, open, both when she comes and when she goes. Because I have to let her go; that is what I was born to do.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the day I take my daughter to the airport

a house
falling into the sea

becomes sand

the egg timer turns over

a crying child is suckled

Jim Young [no title]

The heartwood browned with age holds
the secret of her progeny. Stewing the sap
into the folds of the skin, she births a calf
who sleeps in the ooze of milk.

Uma Gowrishankar, In her land, it rains every tenth day

I read a few poems every night before bed, the one time I can be sure I have time. I have turned back to Fiona Benson’s Vertigo and Ghost which I started last year. This is one of those collections I wish I had written, but not lived. Such beautiful writing that tears me apart emotionally. Even the more gentle ones about parenthood and the poet’s fears connected with raising girls in this difficult world when other mothers are leading their children through unimaginable dangers in the hope of finding safety and shelter dig into all my tender places. But Part One which considers the mythology of Zeus in modern terms, as a serial rapist is more of a punch to the throat. Benson plays with the words on the page, mixing modern language with ancient stories and uses a kind of interview format to give voices to the victims, Io, Callisto and others, as well as bragging, bravado-puffed Zeus. It goes much further than Yeats’ ‘Leda and the Swan’. Difficult to read as it doesn’t shy from blunt emotion and descriptions, it is an important voice in these times when ‘Me Too’ is not a thing you wish to say, but it needs to be heard. 

Gerry Stewart, Gearing up and Down Sizing

Waking up from a thick sleep, I see that I am a passenger on a ghost train. For long hours through the night we rattle along rails long unused, but we never stop at any stations. Along the aisle, little ghost children play; the same as living children, they are tired of being penned up. In the dining car, fashionable ghosts are sitting down for dinner, served by ghost waiters in white waistcoats. A ghost porter hurries by, carrying empty suitcases back to the sleeping car, which also is haunted. We enter a long tunnel, and I look at the window; the only reflection is me, and then I fade away, too. 

James Lee Jobe, Waking up from a thick sleep, I see that I am a passenger on a ghost train.

There are other *big* ideas here.  In “Panning,” there is the notion of debate and argument and its futility: “in the heat where you pile the arguments for / a to one side & b to another / . . . beliefs without bases solidly founded beliefs. . . .”  Finally, [Maurice] Scully questions the efficacy of logic itself as a means of knowing the world or arriving at truth/reality: “compare the flying pieces of the jigsaw / that each claims to be The One True Picture.”  But that is not actually the end of the poem.  Having dispensed with the tyranny of logic, of Enlightenment values, Scully counterpoints a radically different second section, a vision of the sap system of trees, their “conducting / vessels” — but almost bizarrely imagined through “x-ray eyes / a forest without its / supporting timber. . . / a colony of glinting ghosts / each tree a spectral sheath / of rising liquid in countless / millions of slim threads.”  And it goes on.  It’s an amazing image that combines lyricism and biology, both art and materialism, into a whole other kind of epistemology.

More than one piece is titled “Poetry” (NB: all titles begin with ‘P’), and it is the poetry itself that strikes me here and the more I read Scully.  Yes, his work is rich with philosophical questioning, and/or focused on the seemingly mundane details of life (which with Scully are never mundane) — but the more I read him the more and more I become amazed at his use of language, the ebb and flow of a long poem, its sudden turns and veers in thought, its delight.

Mike Begnal, Review of Maurice Scully, ‘Play Book’ (Coracle, 2019)

It was a release from the everyday order, a time for chance and an outside world I didn’t know to break in. I got to renew the language of fish and fishermen that I use in languages I barely speak – international fishmonger lingo.  All those crusty lobstermen, dipping their catch in salt to make bait for the lobster catch.  Tiny islands that look like the heads of seals as they appear and disappear.  The light was equally teasing – there, barely there, so thin and transparent it made everything within its reach slightly magical.  Light itself is invisible, though we tried to capture the zinc gleam on the mudflats at dusk, the streaky pink, glimmer of oyster shell in the sky at sunset.  

The Zoom I prefer: going so far out of yourself you become part of that thin, invisible light, then settling back into a slightly different self. 

Cervantes wrote, “Where one door closes, another opens.”  The LED signage on the white clapboard Baptist Church in Damariscotta, glowing under a dark starry night, read, “Change is inevitable, but growth is up to you.”  Voilà!

Jill Pearlman, Strange Rerun: the American Vacation

Let’s really give this metaphor a kicking shall we. If the prep work is the research and possibly the notes for a first draft, then the painting is the actual graft of writing the poem. The walls are the first and second drafts, the cutting in and ceiling (assuming it’s two colours) are the nth draft and then getting closer to a finished product. You’ve covered all the big ground, you’ve got your form and message working in unison.

If, and it’s a big if on an extension pole, we are prepared to accept any of that (and I can’t say I blame you if you choose not to), then this weekend was the final stages: the gloss work. I have spent the weekend taping up and then glossing a lot of woodwork.

I’m going to liken this phases to the putting the final touches to a poem (or story, etc). This is where small words and changes matter, where you change from the roller to the brush, then a smaller brush still (do write in if my technique sounds off) for eg the tops of skirting boards, corners etc. Words come in, words come out. A line is removed here, a stanza is tightened up, a comma comes in, an em dash replaces a semi-colon and then the semi-colon goes back. Until finally, you’ve covered everything.

You dip your brushes in White Spirit, you crack open a beer (other options are available) and tidy away the kit/press ctrl+P. You let things dry. How long you choose to let it dry is up to you. For the avoidance of doubt, I’m saying don’t send the writing out straight away. It always does it well to sit for a while.

And when the paint is dry, or the ink has settled, you remove the masking tape to see what you have and if all is still well.

If there are no drips, no missed bits then you re-hang the pictures, put the coat rail back up, put things back, etc.

This is where you send your poem, etc out into the world.

Christ, I’d love to find myself getting the rollers out soon. And I do mean work on a poem. I’m not picking up the actual rollers again for at least another month. That said, there’s still work to do on the gloss front..and sadly that does mean actual painting.

Mat Riches, Working in broad brushstrokes: let me tell you how, man

Dear Henry,

how does it feel how does it feel to get old like summer in Chewelah like sugar pie an unmanageable stain a kind of hoarding I abandoned my clothes Hugh Hefner wore a suit in public enough already with the stained smoking jacket and coiffed hair tug your sweater across your stomach dear or sit with a pillow on your lap watch the bone gaunted mules pull cart across Wyoming I gave you my hung my pedicure my airplane hangar everything in aspic how many evenings you wasted soaking your foot in a bowl of hot water and Epsom salts it’s time to stage a fake suicide scatter your final notes everywhere including the Aurora Bridge and the mighty Mississip swallow whatever Jesus puts in your mouth choose another child an empty prize bent toward the shack where they gut fish where we gutted ourselves the artist who created Superman had a gig on the side drawing for an S and M fetish mag knew it wasn’t ripe but he kept eating guttural momentum would it make a difference to the sperm splurging split that morning I bought steaks and a GI Joe doll roasted the hairpin that hid your surgical coin folded it into the secret girl book this morning I’m looking for you not one bit shy buster not one bit plague or earwig in your egg drop soup I am hammer toed I am a hammerhead shark waking up God

Rebecca Loudon [no title]

In the end, then, even
          devotion
ashes in the mouth, choking
          and inconsequential.

[image]

Throat-closing keen: so much
          now is air
sucked out

JJS, swallows

Nouns drop from their perches,
seeking a less
hate-driven sentence,
aiming for purpose or purchase
or mere acceptance.

Freedom gives way to cages.
Fewer of us hide
secret urges—many more
exalt them in churches.
What’s next? Pogroms and purges?
More shootings? More dirges?

Romana Iorga, Déjà vu

These days, I write
but don’t necessarily feel unburdened.
Too many dead, too many dying;
and this heart of moss wanting to be
a sail filling up with wind:
not a scroll with all the names
of everyone it has lost.

Luisa A. Igloria, Is it still permitted to talk about the heart?

I’ve gotten to the point I think where the news is so horrifying that new terrible things barely phase me. This weekend, mad amounts of looting in the Loop & Mag Mile that left windows smashed and closed up downtown.  A crazy storm that apparently spawned a tornado (or at least a funnel cloud/water spout) a few blocks north in Roger’s Park. I am waiting for plagues of frogs and locusts and would not be the least surprised to find them in my headlines tomorrow morning.

As for the looting. I’m less concerned about plundering of bougie high end merchandise than the general level of chaos and the way things like this are used to put down Chicago as this crazy crime-addled shithole (which it in no way is, even the rougher more dangerous, under-resourced parts of the city.) Gangs & drug trade are a problem,  but I feel safer in Chicago when it comes to random crimes, like someone mugging you in the Walmart parking lot or breaking into your house.  Also that people are looking out for each other, ie wearing masks and conducting themselves appropriately in public, which may be the result of being such a tightly constructed community.  When the quarantine hit, one of the first things that happened was someone organized a mailing list/discussion board in my apartment building to keep people informed, publicize rent assistance, help elderly people get what they needed.  There are neighbors I’ve lived amongst for two decades and never spoken to.  Also an endless train of Loyola-ans who stay for 1-2 years and bounce. Some families in the bigger units.  The key to living close enough to people to hear them through the wall is to not really know them (as apposed to the burbs where I would feel like people would be up in my business. )   The woman across the hall has lived here as long as I have.  We smile and nod and sat hello on our rare encounters. I feel like there is a general feeling we are in this together, but separately in our own little introvert bubbles and this is good. The couple neighbors I have talked to are the more extroverted ones I’ve encountered frequently on the bus, but they all live higher in the building. 

As for the storm, I figured I was safe enough herding the cats into the bedroom with the option to dive into my closet, the most interior space, if things got crazy.  I’m on a lower floor in he L-shaped crook of a solid brick building the back of which took all the wind, so on the rare occasions of storms like this, feel pretty safe. .Usually, I’ve been in the library or the studio when storms like this hit and the most terrifying years ago found me in the with giant 9th Floor windows that were shaking in their frames and no way to easily get downstairs. I would have to choose between the elevator or stairwells with giant skylights–yikes!  I wound up hiding in the bathroom across the hall, whose windows were at least sheltered by the courtyard..  It did get really dark and the wind was giving quite a lashing to the one tree I can see from that window, and it was raining sideways at one point, paper and trash flying through the air, but nothing alarmingly large or heavy.   I though maybe I felt my ears pop, and this may have been evidence of the suspected funnel a few blocks away.   Today, so many trees and limbs down in the cross streets and in the park along LSD. I think it might have messed up construction sites and knocked out some power, but the trees took the brunt of it. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/12/20

The other thing that keeps me interested right now is thinking about how our stories have shifted and changed and keep evolving. This is true for yourself and true for probably every single person you encounter. And isn’t that wildly interesting? It’s not always comfortable, it’s not always splendid. But it’s pretty much always interesting.

Think about this from Anne Bogart:

“We are telling stories all of the time. Our body tells a story. Our posture, our smile, our liveliness or fatigue, our stomach, our blank stare, our fitness, all speak, all tell a story. Howe we walk into a room tells a story. Our actions relate multiple stories. We invest our own energy into stories. Deprived of energy, stories die.

”It is natural to adopt other people’s stories to her create our identities and to fill in gaps in our experience or intelligence. This can be helpful up to a point but it is easy to get stuck in other people’s narrative structures. Stories become easily cemented and rendered inflexible, developing into assumptions upon which a life is lived. Without vigilance, stories become documented history and form, and their origins ar forgotten. Rather than mechanically allowing other people’s stories to guide our lives, it is possible to get involved and narrate from a state of passionate participation.”

I repeat, get involved from a state of passionate participation!

Wow, hey?

How do you want to tell your story? In what ways do you want to be alive? What energy do you wish to bring into a room or a space, even if that space is an online space. What is your story now? Bogart also says that “all of our thoughts and actions become, in due course, public.” She uses the example of how the impact of even a telephone call conversation reverberates. “The conversation travels.” Perhaps it is overheard, or conveyed to another person, and so on. We have no idea how far a simple exchange will ripple out.

Bogart wrote, What’s the Story well before the pandemic, but for me it feels even more relevant. She quotes Erich Heller who says, “Be careful how you interpret the world; it’s like that.”

There are a lot of strands to the story, some we don’t even quite know about, or some that are just out of our reach or realm. But I remind myself that it’s up to me how I enter a room, enter the day. I want to be a good interpreter of the world. Aspirationally, and with the full knowledge that this will not always be possible and that I will often fail miserably, I want to participate in this story we are all currently in the thick of, from a place of good energy, delight, and with a soul aligned with joy.

Shawna Lemay, Be Not Soul-Dampened

Birds burble new melodies. Traffic flows differently.

Past clouds shaped like a T-Rex and a car wreck, now a candelabra and a castle.

Kisses aren’t kissed the same way. Old ones tasted of relentless rains; today’s are love-covered honey in its first burning.

Bullets, now breezes. Yesterday’s serial killer, now a savior. Republics of rust rediscovered by amazement.

Rich Ferguson, Morning Sheds Its Yesterday Skin

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week found poets wondering, worrying, meditating, communing, caring, grieving, raging, making, editing, despairing, finding hope, and reading other poets — a great deal of that, thanks to the Sealey Challenge to read a book of poetry every day this month (something I used to do in April, not realizing that the cool kids were doing it in August). Enjoy!


can you recall the first poem to see you

why is a luna moth in eclipse
beyond my grasp

how did the smell of rain arrive on earth

Grant Hackett [no title]

What happens in the night
Never stays there
Sitting on your shoulders
Breathing into your hair
A hitch hiker that won’t shut up
And you, the driverless car
Never reaching the horizon

Charlotte Hamrick, Worry

6:10 a.m.
three bells ring
I bow as I finish zazen
turn to find him sleeping
on the recliner behind me
he yowls softly as I scratch his tummy

Jason Crane, POEM: the dharma according to Norman

It’s the ripple and slip of underskin muscle, sometimes spasm sometimes grip;
more feline than sapien, love purrs tachycardic, a giant in bone cage.

In the forest, a mass of presence neither male nor female,
human nor animal, made me feed cats to the foxes
and their armies of weasels and minks:

see, it doesn’t have to hurt, though it has to happen, it said,
snapping tawny necks and passing limp muscle into sharp teeth.

JJS, (Sometimes, it’s a sharpening.)

As we come out of lockdown, I feel nostalgic for a sky free of vapour-trails and for air free of exhaust fumes. I resent the return of traffic noise from the relief road a couple of hundred yards away. I think fondly of the recent months when the no-through-road on which we live was not cluttered all day with the parked cars of shoppers and commuters. I can see local friends and meet my children and grandson, but I can’t hug or kiss them. As for more distant friends and relations – I wonder if I shall ever see them again.

I enjoy my long walks in the woods and fields, but I badly miss the dancing that was such a joyful and important part of life before lockdown. I have more time for writing, but a more insistent internal voice asks, “What’s the point?” I have a sense of being stuck in a broken-down train while the train I should have caught moves on into a different future.

A fellow-creature came into our lives on Thursday.

Hari Rama is a three-month-old Brahma hen, slightly disabled, socially isolated and very much at the bottom of a heartless pecking order. I have promised her that she will never be bullied again, and I shall do my best to give her a good life. She has the run (not that she can run!) of our small walled garden and is slowly beginning to find sunny and shady places to sit. Coincidentally a poem from The Paris Review appeared in my inbox the day we brought her home. I take this as a good sign.

From Pindar Says the Poet Must Guard the Apples of the Muses
by Antonella Anedda, tr. Patrizio Ceccagnoli & Susan Stewart

Pindar says the poet must guard the apples of the Muses 
like a dragon, but …

if anything, we need a hen,
the creature that hatches the egg of verses:
white for the void, yellow for the words.

Ama Bolton, Diagonally parked in a parallel universe, with a hen on my lap

I get leads on projects many different ways, but this is the first time that a neighbor–one with whom I trade cat-sitting favors–has given me a heads-up on a call for poets. Fast-forward to being on the phone with the organizer of an annual local outreach project that usually takes the form of four communal meals staged during the month of August. The Sunday Supper series would have to take a different form this year, due to COVID-19 concerns. 

The question: could I write six poems with one week’s notice?

The answer would usually be No. I’m not a particularly fast or prolific poet. If asked to talk about how I come up with a poem, I compare the process to an oyster at work

But I really wanted to take part in this project, to be staged in the Southwest Duck Pond adjacent to our apartment in DC. That’s the park I look out over, from our balcony; the park whose quacking ducks keep company on quiet summer days; the park we walk through on our loop to the farmer’s market. For me, the Southwest Duck Pond is the heart of the neighborhood, and I couldn’t imagine passing on the chance to have poems there. 

As I talked to the organizer, I was pacing our living room. My gaze fell on a copy of Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit. That was the solution, I realized: action poems.

Sandra Beasley, Necessity Is the Mother of New Poems

I’ve liked The Poetry Exchange’s regular podcast project Poems as Friends since I heard John Prebble and Andrea Witzke Slot’s conversation with Nicholas Laughlin the editor of The Caribbean Review of Books about the Martin Carter poem ‘Proem’. Laughlin’s disarming reading of this difficult-to-pin-down poem as he and his hosts notice things about it which have not struck him previously, his openness in accepting a level of non-understanding (“not an irresolute but not a resolved poem”) along with his insights into individual lines and a positioning of the poem in its political context struck me as a very healthy approach to poetry, and one which comes through in all these Poems as Friends episodes (there are more than fifty of them now). The idea of embracing a poem as a friend you wish to spend time with as opposed to a trophy you wish to hold aloft on social media as evidence of your great reading fits perfectly with the ideas around Responsibilities of the Reader that I posted about recently. It is also an approach which seems very anti-Cancel Culture to me, and while I think Cancel Culture is in some ways a misnomer for the phenomenon of principled people finding a voice for protest (let’s face it, there are aspects of Culture that can do with being Cancelled), it also has a knee-jerk, baby-out-with-the-bathwater side to it which Poems as Friends resists. The most recent episode, featuring actor, writer and director Stephen Beresford talking to Fiona Bennett and Michael Shaeffer about Larkin’s ‘Vers de Société’, is a very good example of this warts-and-all friendship aspect of The Poetry Exchange’s philosophy.

Philip Larkin, of course, if he has not already been cancelled is, along with Ted Hughes, ripe for the cancelling. He ticks all the boxes for the problematic dead white male poet category, and it would be silly to deny that there are elements of his writing which are not only out of kilter with contemporary sensibilities but objectively snobbish, racist and sexist. It’s the misogyny, not to mention the intellectual snobbery, as Bennett and Beresford point out, which comes through in ‘Vers de Société’ in the line “…to catch the drivel of some bitch / Who’s read nothing but Which”. But Beresford says at the beginning of this conversation that for him “(this poem) is the friend that most other people don’t like, and they say the wrong thing, and there’s a WhatsApp group where people discuss how terrible they are…and because of their unpopularity, because they’re difficult, I find as I’ve got older I’ve more and more grown to respect them”. This is the real stregth of Poems as Friends. Some people will read an article like the one linked above and decide that Larkin lies on the wrong side of the good/bad divide, taking their relationship with him no further than that; but others will recognise the idea of an imperfect friend – one who you know well enough to be able to appreciate their good qualities, which stand side-by-side with their bad ones to make them a fully-rounded person. And it is hard not to acknowledge that sometimes the most difficult individuals can (in spite of and because of that) also be amongst the most talented, creative and profound.

Chris Edgoose, The Poem as (in a Pig’s Arse) Friend

Regular readers of Rogue Strands might recall my post last September (see here) about the National Poetry Library’s attempt to charge for membership, an attempt that failed on the back of petitioning from throughout the poetry scene.

Well, the situation has now worsened, not only with the temporary closure of the entire South Bank Centre due to Covid (which means no one could access the Poetry Library anyway) but also with the Centre’s consequent aim to make mass redundancies and shift to a far more commercial model. The question at this point, of course, is how the change will affect the library in both the short and long term.

I’m not against the idea of seeking out new revenue streams for arts ventures and venues through the use of their premises, so long as that’s combined with sensible public funding. However, this commercial process often seems to provide an excuse for ludicrous salaries in senior posts rather than making the most of those extra funds to generate high-quality, free artistic content for users who might otherwise be excluded.

Moreover, I do get extremely concerned when marketing people start producing word salads like the following quote from an excellent New Statesman article on the issue:

When we talk about ‘start-up’ we mean a ‘mind-set approach’: being agile, adaptable to change, moving fast, risk-taking, innovating, constantly learning, changing the status quo, learning from failure, for example. We are not re-modelling operationally as a start-up.”

This is just empty fluff. Of course, everyone’s aware that the South Bank Centre’s income will have dropped hugely and will remain at a low level for the foreseeable future. Neverthless, the current crisis shouldn’t be allowed to offer a perfect excuse for a permanent change in approach and the loss of one of the nation’s key cultural assets. In this context, central government must step up to the plate for once.

We need the National Poetry Library, we need its excellent staff and we need free access to its unique collection. Once again, we’re going to have to defend it…!

Matthew Stewart, The National Poetry Library and the South Bank Centre

I was speaking to my writing group about this question of self-belief in one’s writing I discussed in my last post and they pointed out that I was lucky to have a positive first creative writing teacher, positive early role models in general. They felt, and I now agree, that the first voices you hear as a child or young person about your self-worth stick with you. If those people, parents, teachers, mentors, were over-critical or negative, that’s the soundtrack that follows you throughout your life. If they were positive, it gives you a bolster of belief that could help support you when things are difficult. It’s worrying as a parent and a teacher to understand how much weight the words we speak to children have throughout their lives. […]

I joined the Helsinki Poetry Connection for an open mike night this week. My first in Finland and my first in at least 10 years. I’m well out of practice, but it was a good laugh as a few friends from my group also braved the experience and did amazing. Open mikes are the same in the US, UK and Finland in my experience. It all depends on the crowd, but there’s usually a good sense of support, some fun, funny and downright crazy readers. It’s a weird experience in another language. My Finnish is just not good enough to follow the poems, but I love listening to the sound of it and how everyone made it do different things. Helsinki Poetry Connection was welcoming and multi-cultural, so I didn’t feel strange reading in English. I’ll definitely do it again. 

Gerry Stewart, A Positive Voice

The pandemic has this way of both stretching time so that it passes really slow, but also, like a snapping rubber band across a room, really fast.  We are entering mid-August territory, which means the end of summer is upon us.  Normally, I would be relishing in back to school vibes, though the idea of “school” is this strange uncertain thing that feels the same, but is entirely different.   Soon, I will walk outside and find the one tree at the end of the block has dropped its leaves over night, almost embarrassingly early. Already the light and weather is different. 

For the press, that means the open reading period will soon be ending and I’ll no longer be dipping my toes in the pool for an occasional read, but diving in wholeheartedly.  I also feel like we are in a weird place, not necessarily just the pandemic, but the fate of the USPS, on which the press depends wholly (and which corrupt politicians seem to be trying to quell for their own nefarious purposes) . If things go sideways there in terms of shipping options for single copies, it may require revamping the entire business model and format of how we issue books (it could be done–digital chapbooks, which of course would be free, maybe giving authors the option of print volume in larger orders that could be fed exed.  Which would make the books more widely available and affordable (a plus of course, but also harder to keep us in toner & cardstock–we depend on single sales as much as author copies), but I still also believe too much in print to let it go entirely. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but I’d like to have a bit more certainty before I take on books for next year so I know what to be able to promise authors on publication offers- business as usual with regular single copy distribution, or something more hybrid, more electronic, but still solidly in print. Losing USPS functionality would put a serious dent in publishing in general, so let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.  It would also make it much harder to ship artwork and prints cost effectively, or anything really.

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | august 2020

America, it’s the day after
another hurricane hurtles
through towns, a fringe
of tornados leading the way.
The Baptist Church on the corner
of 38th and Bluestone has its face
sheared off completely by blades
of wind. Oak trees lie on their sides,
unpinned from lawns. Pine
branches intersect with power
lines. America, I used to believe
in your storied generosity: how
firefighters and volunteers alike
paddled through high water
to pluck shivering families off
their roofs; how police tapped
on the window to ask if every-
thing was alright instead of
ordering an entire family,
down to the youngest child,
to lie on the asphalt, arms
crossed behind their backs.

Luisa A. Igloria, America

This is the Mississippi Goddamn Nina Simone moon

pink slip goddamn eviction goddamn soft potato goddamn sick in the head goddamn doubledown Monday goddamn fed up motherboard goddamn blood down my leg goddamn vampire government goddamn two headed dog goddamn rancid labyrinth goddamn live wire black anemone goddamn slumlord goddamn car crash goddamn collapsed goddamn autopsy goddamn

Nina Simone O Nina Simone I need your fire to rise up in me

Rebecca Loudon, 100% full

If I did write a memoir, I would write it with water, on water, in water.
Water makes the world simultaneously lighter – and darker.
It clarifies and it distorts.
Soothes and terrifies.

I’ve been having vivid dreams. Usually that happens when I’m depressed. But now I think it is menopause – this crossing over. Crossing through.

There is a place in Skagen, Denmark, where two seas meet and the sky is soft. Once I watched a friend swim there with seals. It’s dangerous, though. One helluva rip-tide.

Ren Powell, A Story Written in Water

I grew on land bordered by tides, water that advanced upon and retreated from rocky beaches. Now, I live next to rivers that run in one direction past sandy banks.

I need water to be the person I think of as me.

How do we survive drought? I don’t really know. Sometimes we don’t.

Last year I planted a small hydrangea tree. It has been a gorgeous thing, full of creamy petals and vibrant, supple leaves. I love the tree, whose only purpose is to be beautiful. This week, after days of relentless heat, I realized its branches were drooping and its leaves were spotting, some turning dry and dropping.

“Nononono,” I whispered to it. “You cannot die.”

I brought out a sprinkler and soaked the bed it grows in, only then noticing how its edges had cracked and pulled away from the pavement bordering it. When did that happen? How did I let it?

We are all connected, my drought contributing to its.

What are the limits of adaptation? I’m thinking that a hydrangea cannot simply mutate into a xerophyte. But what do I know? The cactus was once a rose. Still, I think we’d all agree: A cactus is no longer a rose, which begets the question: What does it mean to survive?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Let the rain come down

In this jungle of burning stars and broken-glass promises,

the daytime air feels like night and nighttime feels like an itch on a phantom limb,

reminding us our brains have not yet fully rewired themselves to comprehend the loss of old ways.

Everywhere I look,

small businesses burning from no customers.

“For Rent” signs as prevalent as facemasks in the supermarket.

Eviction threatened by landlord hearts too broken to house any bodies.

Oblivion scribed on the voided noise of lost neighborhood hubbub.

Each night before sleep,

I pray we may soon be paroled from these dark dreams and released onto well-lit, well-lived streets.

Rich Ferguson, The Wonderings of Phantom-Limbed Days

We long to be transfigured in the Holy Flame,
to harness atoms to do our will.
At the thought of what they attempt,
leaders and scientists tremble.
On the other side of the planet,
people vanish into the unforgettable fire,
wisps of cloth pressed into concrete,
the only sign that they existed.

We cling to the Ancient Lie
of the violence that can redeem
us. We purge and plunge whole
landscapes into the land of ash and smoke.
The sun rises over a steamy swamp
of decimated land and decapitated dreams.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Transfiguring Atoms

I would say that the government is lying about the shape of the world, lying about the dreams that wake you with a shudder, lying about everything. I am living now in the silence of things, sleeping in the dusty corners. Accept the finality of the human experience. Raindrops like teeth, the enamel of a god; I am a being of light, and I refuse to answer to anyone.

James Lee Jobe, Raindrops like teeth, the enamel of god.

deconsecrating 
the concrete of the altar
ego

Jim Young [no title]

If I look back at previous Augusts, I’ve been in the hospital for various problems a lot – I mean, maybe it’s the heat, the waning summer, summer germ theory – so I can’t be shocked, though I’ve never had this particular kind of superbug infection before. The Dog Days indeed.

My coping mechanisms for previous illness-filled Augusts include trying to focus on the things I can do and enjoy – watching movies (recently, loved the quirky woman-writer-centered comedy “I Used to Go Here,” the first twenty minutes of which I swear was stolen from my own first book tour experiences), listening to audiobooks, dipping into poetry, photographing things when I get the chance. Not focusing on my lack of ability to do my normal things (even in these highly abnormal time) or focusing on my lack of productivity. Not focusing on possible mortality issues (this particular illness has a 6-8 percent mortality rate, higher than coronavirus!) […]

So yesterday I went out into my neighborhood of Woodinville and found small u-pick gardens and took pictures of dahlias and sunflowers. I even took a picture in one small garden, because I want to be reminded that I live in a world surrounded by beauty.

Similarly, I’ve been taking a partial try at The Sealey Challenge (because not every day is an “up” day where I feel well enough to read, I’m not reading a poetry book every single day in August, which is the challenge, but I’m trying to pick up a book on the days when I can.) And one thing about reading more poetry, and reading widely, from lots of publishers, is being introduced to all types of writing, and voices, and you notice covers and fonts, and you start thinking about how what you read influences your own work, and how your voice fit with with other voices of your time.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Down Days, Up Days, Dog Days, Poetry Manuscripts Going Out into the World, and the Magic of Selkies

I love so much about #TheSealeyChallenge, a project created by poet Nicole Sealey asking people to read a book of poetry a day for the thirty-one days of August. I’ve read some guilty-sounding social media posts, though, by people saying they just can’t read poetry that fast, and I get it. The event has been running annually for a while now and I’ve only been able to post with the hashtag sporadically; I usually spend August desperately trying to finish up summer writing projects as I simultaneously gear up for the academic whirlwind of September, which has ALSO involved, for the past twenty years, filling out back-to-school forms and shopping and packing with my kids. Crazytown. This year, though, I’m heading into the best-timed sabbatical in the history of the universe. I can spare an hour a day for other people’s poetry.

Yet I have to add that one of the great things about poetry is how it slows us down, drawing readers into hard thinking, compressed language, and close observation of the world and ourselves. It’s paradoxical to try to read a lot of poetry FAST. I often do a first reading of a poetry volume in a single hour, trying to understand its scope and aims, but unless the poems are unusually brief and straightforward, that means I’m not taking in every poem deeply. I just read ARCs of a forthcoming book I plan to review, for instance, and I’m going to have to reread it much more slowly soon, taking notes, developing a deeper grasp of and appreciation for the work. Teaching a book, likewise, requires layered engagements with lots of pauses. And sometimes you just WANT to go back and reread something non-instrumentally, for the pleasure of it. #TheSealeyChallenge is a bit like NaPoWriMo, when people try to draft a poem a day for the month of April. The product isn’t the point–it’s the process of making daily space for art that counts.

I appreciate, though, how this challenge inspired me to buy a bunch of books, dig through piles of books I’ve never managed to read, and investigate library holdings. And I like, after months of flogging my own books, turning to poetic citizenship by promoting other writers. Finally, it’s fun to follow the hashtag and use it to find other writers and readers with similar tastes. All that said, it’s only the 5th, so who knows how I’ll do?

Lesley Wheeler, #TheSealeyChallenge & #TinyBookFair

I have managed to read a book of poetry a day so far in August for the Sealey Challenge. The biggest surprise has been reading poetry in German. I love it, and I love reading it aloud. I like that it asks for all my attention. I read a book of Ingeborg Bachmann last week and today I got a jump on tomorrow’s book by Rainer Maria Rilke. I remember my father and stepmother had Duino Elegies in their house when I was a teenager and it seemed so exotic. I had to look up again today what ‘Duino’ is. It’s a castle.

Otherwise, the best thing about participating in the challenge is I’m reading wildly different books, many by poets I’ve never encountered. So far:

DMZ Colony by Don Me Choi
Telephone: Poems by Jay Besemer
Die gestundete Zeit by Ingeborg Bachmann
The Good Apocalypse by Anne Boyer
Silk Poems by Jen Bervin
East Window, translations from WS Merwin
Fair Copy by Rebecca Hazelton
The Truth Is by Avery M. Guess
Head Off and Split by Nicky Finney

I confess I am feeling forlorn for fiction. I’m addicted. But for August I can’t fit it in with working, eating, sleeping, drinking, scowling and despairing.

Sarah J Sloat, Sultry with occasional thunder

As with so many books of poetry, here’s a beautiful cover that draws me in, with cover art by poet and publisher Richard Krawiec, and cover design by Daniel Krawiec. The book, on Day 9 of the Sealey Challenge (where I should be saying #sealeychallenge except I am hashtag challenged), is The Next Moment, by Debra Kaufman (Jacar Press, 2010). Lots of beauty and empathy in this book, speaking directly to me in poems like “The Drought Speaks,” naming flowers I love, dry spells I’ve known, and things I now know to be true:

     …it’s the wildflowers that prevail,
     their ragged foliage
     still green in the heat,
     new blossoms about to open.

As I read this one, on a cool morning after enough recent rain that my husband is mowing, our devil’s strip is wildly blooming with Queen Anne’s Lace. I’ve got some in blue water on the kitchen table because my friend Kristi said she did this as a child to watch the white blossoms turn the color of the water. They did, after a week or so. Blue lace!

Kathleen Kirk, The Next Moment

In 1991 I made the decision to spend more of my time concentrating on the thing that fulfilled me the most, writing poems. To  make this happen I began working part-time so that I could block off a part of each week in the pursuit of this.

I made several mistakes. If I had my time again I would have attended at least one Arvon Course, mostly to meet other people. I would have attended more poetry readings. I would have written more.

One thing I do not look back on with any regret is the amount of reading I did. Subscribing to as many poetry magazines as I could, I read, I felt, everything I could get my hands on, aware at the same time that I was barely scratching the surface of what was available.

The twin achievements of this intense phase of reading and writing were that a) I wrote a lot of poems -some good, most of them bad, but all of them mine and b) I felt more alive and less alone at the end than I did at the beginning. (I still often wonder if the latter is not the chief purpose of all of my writing, for better or worse).

When I am asked for it, the advice I most often repeat is: read. To write poetry, you need to be in relationship with poetry. It is not rocket science. But it is a process, and you do need to commit to it. One of the best ways of feeling less alone is to subscribe to poetry magazines. (Or there is Arvon). You realise there are other people out there who are just as afflicted with poetry as you are. And you can learn from them, guess at their influences, watch them develop, even write to them.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Poems: Mandy Sutter’s ‘Caring for the Environment’

The title of your collection, Dressing the Wounds, evokes the forgiveness and reparations of relationships, the healing that occurs for love to continue on. Do you find that the act of writing itself is a way to dress and address your wounds? What about the act of reading of poetry? 

Thank you for that description! That is just what I was hoping to evoke, and I do think reading actively achieves that as well, which is partly what I was getting at with my last answer. I worried a little over the title seeming too grim, if people focused on the “wound” aspect over the “dressing” part. There are actual dresses/costumes in the book, so that was a literal aspect I was trying to conjure, but, yes, mostly the title was, for me, about how we move forward by healing and taking care of the places we are vulnerable. It absolutely speaks to forgiveness. 

I do indeed find that writing is a way to confront, to address wounds and reckon with them and try to puzzle out how to feel about them, how to move forward in spite of them. For many people that is a pretty private thing to do, and one reader recently told me the book is “brave” in that it tackles terrain many are familiar with but don’t often share. I was really happy to hear that take on how the book felt to her. My intention was to try to express myself in a way that extended beyond what would matter to me, and I hope that readers find their similar wounds addressed too. I also didn’t want to write a one-sided account that excluded a partner’s experience, though I am not sure I was 100% successful since I, like everyone, have a hard time being objective when it comes to these things. The act of considering both sides and trying to write in a way that avoids judgment is the place I think it is most respectful to write from, so that’s where I aim and where I hope I land most of the time. Certainly time and other readers can help in hitting this mark, so I did have fellow writers, and my husband, read the book after it had been accepted and before the final version was due to the editor.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Rebecca Hart Olander on the Flaws and Snags of Love

I’m one of those negligent bloggers who rarely pays attention to analytics, but for the last year or so, the top post here, overwhelmingly, has been 10 Poems for Loss, Grief, Consolation. And since Covid-19, even more so. We have so many new griefs now, so many permutations and adumbrations of grief. And because of the way things are, and how limited we are in our gatherings, we’ve had to develop and discover new rituals. How do we console our friends from afar? How do we process these new kinds of griefs?

There are a lot of people more qualified than I am to speak about grief at this time.

And maybe this is not a thing for everyone, but I’ve been having fun planning my own funeral/wake/memorial — I think I want a better name for it. But after I’m gone, I’d love it if you read some poems, had a good glass of whiskey, (unless you hate whiskey), listened to some good music, looked at some great art, released some butterflies (probably metaphorically), and wore your favourite dress-up clothes, in my honour. It doesn’t matter what, but I’m partial to fancy shoes and velvety garments. Jewel tones, and plenty of black. Your most empowering lipstick. Make yourself your favourite sandwich, a clubhouse maybe. Grab some Miss Vickie’s chips. (Or Cheetos if you prefer).

I would like some good jokes, some funny skits played. Whatever makes you laugh is great. Because laughter really is vital.

Shawna Lemay, New Rituals for New Griefs

The long sun at evening.
Wind in the hairs of your arms.

What descends in the coolness
is the darkness of knowing.

From here to the horizon
anything you touch will

change who you become.
Listen, the wind says. Listen:

you can go, you can’t go back.
This is where you came from.

Tom Montag, THE LONG SUN AT EVENING

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 29

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 in a bit of a rush to get the digest out before the promised storms hit, which will mean disconnecting the wi-fi: on a mountaintop, routers are especially vulnerable to the electricity in the air during a thunderstorm. But my gardens are so parched here, I am praying for all the bad weather we can get. And by praying, I mean reciting Robinson Jeffers: “Come storm, kind storm. August and the days of tired gold and bitter blue are more ruinous…”

Anyway, I apologize for any possible typos below, and for my lack of a concise intro. As some writer or another once quipped, I’m in a hurry, I don’t have time for brevity!. But I was pleased to find no shortage of great posts to quote (or in some case, reproduce in their entirety) this week, starting with an ocean swimmer’s essay on the toadfish…


The toadfish sits on the bottom of the sea, singing a song of love.

It is a creature midway between humble and fabulous. It is small enough to fit into a person’s hand, and has a bulbous, grey-green, wet look. It is quite ugly, except for the luminescent dots (photophores) running along the length of its body, which give it a spiffed-up, dance party look, like the buttons of an ensign’s jacket, thus giving the toadfish its other name: the plainfin midshipman.

I have never seen a toadfish, but I have heard them singing.

Ordinarily the toadfish lives in the deep, dark sea. But when it is time to seek a mate, the toadfish swims up to the shallow, intertidal waters of a bay or slough. The male burrows into the mud at the bottom, and begins to sing, hoping by his song to attract a female to his burrow. Vibrating his swim bladder, the toadfish emits a clear, resonant tone — a steady drone, a hum. Other toadfish nearby tune in, and they synchronize their pitch with one another, so the water column fills with a continuous humming note. It can be quite loud, penetrating the hulls of boats and ships, keeping their occupants awake at night. It may even be loud enough to awaken those on land. It is often mistaken for a sound of mechanical origin: A distant ship motor, a generator, or some other machinery operating on the shore. But no: It is a sound the toadfish have been singing for probably millions of years, since long before humans existed.

On a recent swim along Muni Pier, aka Aquatic Park Pier, I heard the toadfish singing, each to each. I did not think they sang for me. But their song sounded, to me and my swim friend Zina, like a chant, really, a steady, clear, “OM” sound, somewhere around low A, and it was a song I felt I could join. The deeper I put my head into the water column, the clearer and stronger the sound became. If I could swim deep enough, I thought, I could enter into the sound completely, but I might never return. So instead, from the surface, I tried matching the note with a sound of my own, floating there with my face in the water, chanting my own OM into the water, bubbles blowing out of my mouth as I chanted along with the toadfish.

When I found the right pitch, my whole torso resonated with the sound. I had joined the chant, the chorus of the toadfish. It felt like the all-encompassing, penetrating tone of pure love. It was the sound of the universe singing to itself.

Dylan Tweney, I have heard the toadfish singing.

Covid exists. Covid-19 exists, summer-20 exists. High noon exists. Heat exists. Water in rivers, in seas, in showers, from fire hydrants exists. Coves exist. Hidden lanes of purple hydrangea exist. Overturned bones of kayaks. Smoothness of stones, stones, pebbles irreducible pebbles exist. Marsh grasses like glissando on a piano. Poison ivy exists. Bodies in hospitals exist. Grief exists. Shadows and data and systems, bindweed and drifting boats, errors and interpretation. Brutality exists. Bridges, from a distance, from other islands. A breeze laying traces of a fishnet on the waves. Wildness, wilderness, wildness exists. Light that has never been the same since the beginning of time exists. A swimmer’s ecstasy exists. A swimmer exists as she swims through that moment’s infinity. Festivity exists only because of the possibility that it might not exist.

Jill Pearlman, covid-19, summer-20

This summer, I’ve been participating in Wednesday Night Poetry, the longest running weekly poetry reading in the nation. This series is usually in Arkansas, but its presence online is one is those unexpectedly beautiful things that has come about during the pandemic. I’m so grateful to Kai Coggin for hosting this event and curating this reading in such a welcoming, inclusive, affirming way. This has been a summer highlight for me.

Last night I shared my poem “Nevermore,” a love poem for my Granny from my chapbook 28,065 Nights, which will be published next month by River Glass Books. [Click through to watch.]

Katie Manning, Wednesday Night Poetry

I was feeling rather smug about having a new collection of poems for which I could start gathering rejection letters, until I realized that at least 10 of the poems in the 50 poem collection seem to be the same damn poem over and over again.

Yes, they differ in imagery and rhythm and movement, but they land in the same place, with they same no-duh realization.

I know I often feel like I’m writing the same poem over and over, but to have it so plainly in my face is, well, annoying.

I thought I could get clever and tried to turn one poem on it’s head, so it at least STARTED in the same damn place but ended someplace else, but I wasn’t fooled by my trick.

It’s funny, of course, because I hadn’t realized how obsessed I’d been. But clearly I’ve got issues. Or one issue, anyway.

How many such poems can a collection can get away with having? Two? Three? Four if I hide them throughout and distract the reader with shiny objects?

Marilyn McCabe, It was fascination; or, On Writing the Same Damn Poems Over and Over Again

I’ve read that many writers are stressing about not writing as much right now as they think they should (what with still being mostly constrained from fun distractions, like offices, travel, parties, etc. but still in the middle of a poorly controlled pandemic) but for me, summer is a natural time for revision. I don’t write as many poems in the summer, typically (and it also tends to be my worst season for health – unfortunately, this July has proved no exception – I caught a superbug during my root canal AND just got tested for coronavirus as well, because why have just one thing?) […]

So besides photographing my cat and flowers with my typewriter, I’ve been spending hours looking at the drafty drafts of poems I’ve written since January, looking harder at my two book manuscripts in terms of organization and order. It’s been four years since my last book, and I’m getting a little anxious about getting another book into the world, but I do want them to be the best books possible.

I’ve had a couple of writers take a look at my newest manuscript for feedback (which I recommend if you’re feeling stuck and unable to “see” the manuscript anymore), and I was surprised by a couple of things, including that I’d been writing accidental sonnets. Anyway, I also don’t recommend futzing with two books at a time if you can help it. I think the older manuscript is pretty polished, it’s the newer one that still needs some reshaping, but keeping track of both in the same spreadsheet is eye-crossing. I got an encouraging note from a great publisher, but had to really work to track down which manuscript they were responding to! Not good, Jeannine.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Summer is for Revision, Phone Calls to Catch Up with Writer Friends, and Twitter’s #PoetParty Returns

I slid off the rocks pictured above at Willoughby Spit, Virginia, last weekend, cutting my toes and raising a mother of a bruise on the opposite shin. A couple of days before that, I fell off a bike, although that time I managed to throw myself clear onto some relatively cushy grass. The day before that, I got bashed down by Virginia Beach waves a couple of times; the wind was high and getting from the billows to the shore was a challenge.

I’ve always been a klutz, but my muscle tension is higher now, which makes my balance lousy. Paradoxically, I don’t think my fear of falling helps. I watch my 19-year-old leap up and down steep trails, the kind spined with sharp rocks and tree roots; his footing is relaxed and sure because he trusts his body to do what he wants it to. Was I ever that agile?

I still want to move with speed and attain the great view, but if I push even a bit too hard, I end up benching myself. I’ve been thinking about ambition in writing, too–not, this week, ambition for quality of the writing, but craving a little bit more recognition, pushing myself to apply for more opportunities, even knowing that middle aged women hardly ever pull the brass ring. Leaving town for a few days, even though we didn’t go far, allowed me to stop thinking about Unbecomingand The State She’s Inhallelujah! When I got back from the beach last Sunday, though I dropped into a homebound funk, made worse by a sore throat. I immediately thought I was dying from COVID-19, felt sorry for the kids and husband I would leave behind, and did some soul-searching about what work I had left to do in the world (yes, I go apocalyptic quickly and vividly). Then I realized I had stopped taking an allergy medication at the beach, started it again, and felt fine within two days.

That cheered me up, but what cheered me more was a long phone call with Jeannine Hall Gailey ranging over all these subjects–health, career aspirations, politics, literary culture. It helped SO MUCH, and not just because she’s a gifted pep-talker, which she is, or because she gave me good concrete advice, which she did. As she wrote on her own blog earlier today, conversations like that can remind you that we’re not alone in aspiring and feeling frustrated. There’s a difficult balance to walk: for sanity’s sake, you can’t get carried away by po-biz longing, but I also don’t want any of us to underrate ourselves. Others are perfectly ready to ignore or underestimate us–we don’t need to get a jump on them!

Lesley Wheeler, Like water wants to shine

Someone mentioned Imposter Syndrome to me recently when discussing confidence. There have been times when I’ve had to play at being a poet to be able to get through situations where I haven’t felt up to the task. After my second son, I think I struggled a bit with post-natal depression and barely went out or talked to people. I actually put on a costume (a fancy pin and scarf I wouldn’t ususally wear) and went to various writing events to force myself to mingle and smile. I eventually worked back up to reading my work in public. I still wrote, it was the public side I struggled with and pretending I was a capable poet helped. 

I’ve had days when I’ve ripped up poems or just deleted them. Days when I’ve cried at a reader’s harsh or tactless or too honest words. Days when I’ve despaired that I’d never get published or that my writing was so bad that everyone hated it. 

But I always went back to writing because it has never been about publication or being liked or finding an audience though those things would be gravy. It was a need to write, to capture my thoughts, my life, my breath on paper. To give them a permanent space when everything was swirling around my head. And I didn’t compare them to others’ work, didn’t worry if they were good enough because they were me, at that moment, rough and raw, slightly polished with time, changing with mood and experience. And I have always been good enough. 

It frustrates me that I can praise my fellow writers, my mentees until I’m blue, but I can’t make them see how good and brave they are for just writing what they want. How bringing that scraggly, imperfect poem into the light of understanding readers is a cause for celebration and pride. How sending your work to a journal even though it will probably be rejected, because the odds are against almost all writers there, is amazing because for 10 minutes or so your words are inhabiting someone else’s head and making them think about something you cared enough to write. And if it’s not for them, it’s still yours. 

Gerry Stewart, Good Enough?

This weekend, I put the bloom project to bed.  Or perhaps planted it deep in the ground (if the metaphor is more apt.) It’s still a little rough, and I plan to spend the next few weeks smoothing out some edges and see what I’ve got.  Again, it’s hard to write about things without distance, so maybe some time is what these pieces need.  Up next in writing plans is a little fun series on Weekly World News headlines I’ve been batting around in my head that is making me giggle. It might be the perfect antitdote to some darker projects I’ve been immersed in the past few months. (well as shadowy as The Shining and virus poems tend to be.) 

According to my journal/planner, I had all sorts of creative plans for this spring and summer, but now feel like much of them fall to the wayside in the name of just getting through the dumpster fire that is 2020. But at least there are still poems, pretty much daily, first thing I work on over breakfast. I’ve also been devoting one weekend day to writing-related things like submissions and manuscript org, and book promo efforts (this this weekend’s book trailer success.)  which feel like they can get swept away, especially now that I am back to commuting during parts of the week. My relationship with all things poetry is still rocky, and I tend to go from obsessing about writing then back to not caring at all, but it’s still a case of pandemic brain that I hope will pass. It might be one of the things that I still feel I have control of–so perhaps I need it more than ever. […]

My longer projects tend to build as smaller things constellate–and tend to be more over-arching in their themes, but broader in their subject matter.  Maybe it’s just easier to write several small books than one big one, or to somehow trick myself into writing a larger mss. by composing it out of small ones.  Like building a doll house out of wood blocks rather than framing it out and constructing a whole.  

Kristy Bowen, for the love of tiny projects

little spiders 
born in the smallest room
my house is yours

Jim Young [no title]

Thinking about fires in a fireplace, because we have a fire in our summer cottage on cool mornings when I’m writing, I ask myself whether “hearth” refers only to what the fire rests on or the whole fireplace.

I open the dictionary.  It means the stone under the fire.  But my eye catches the word “hearth-tax.”  In seventeenth century England and Wales, I read, a hearth tax of two shillings a year was levied for each hearth.

Now I want to know:  Is this the original form of the property taxes we pay for our houses?  How much did two shillings buy in the 1600s?  Did people complain about what their tax was paying for and how high it was?

Could I use this in a poem?  And how am I supposed to get back to work?

But I couldn’t write without a dictionary.  Mine is a one volume version of the OED.  When I pause to look up a word – usually for its etymology, its base meaning – I feel fully engaged in my language.

Ellen Roberts Young, Delight in Distraction

For some reason, I got it into my head this weekend that I needed to find my long-abandoned Fitbit. I was gifted this item several years ago by a friend and used it obsessively for a month straight before I decided I was in an abusive relationship with it and impulsively tossed it into a drawer, never to pick it up again. But now I want it back and I can’t find it and it’s driving me crazy. I vaguely remember having put it in a box at some point along with my obsolete Kindle and a tangle of cords and cables, but this mythical box is nowhere to be found. I’ve combed through our credenza, our junk drawer in the kitchen, the hall closet, and the bedroom closet. I looked in our storage bin in our Laundry Room. I dug through the computer room closet. It’s nowhere. And the longer I look for it, the more I want it. It’s more about desiring the victory of finding it now than it is about actually wanting to use the annoying thing. I am obviously harboring deep feelings of loss elsewhere in my life that I am projecting onto to the poor Fitbit. But that’s not stopping me from fervently believing that if I can just find the damn gadget, it will redeem all that has gone to wreckage in my life. In fact, I’m going to look for it again after I get this post up.

Kristen McHenry, Desperately Seeking Fitbit, Game Babies, Mean and Sexy

I haven’t really worked with clay since I was 13. I had an art teacher then who let me use the kick-wheel during lunch breaks. Mr. Shannon didn’t teach or instruct me that year. He was my mentor.

Once he gave me a set of watercolors and a salt shaker and said, Get at it.

Once he made a blind so I couldn’t see the paper while I drew my own hand, and I have been fascinated by the tactile quality of lines ever since.

Later I learned that Edouard Manet said there are no lines in nature. That is because line is a language. And, like my grasp of Norwegian, here my comprehension far exceeds my composition skills.

Another time, Mr. Shannon asked me to describe all the colors I could see in a white hat – worn by a cowboy in a Marlboro ad in a Smithsonian magazine –  if I remember correctly.

Not even black and white are black & white.

At the end of that year, my life was uprooted (again), and I lost whatever I was connecting to then. But the desire remains even now.

When I experience nostalgia, it is like this: small moments of half-discoveries. And nostalgia’s inherent fear of the unmet potentials.

Still, everytime I hold a rough piece of ceramic I am flooded with a calming and full ambivalence. There are days I wonder why I’ve not thrown out all of the dishes and settled with a few scratchy, glazed bowls and a few wooden spoons.

I suppose this really is the very definition of nostalgia? If I ever won the lottery, I would have a second, tiny home made of roughly-hewn cedar – and I would fill it with wool and beeswax.

Cinder block frightens me.

But so does snow.

Paper can make me weep with grief.

Handling old books is cathartic. And I cannot – and don’t want to – explain it.

I trace marginalia with my finger.

Ren Powell, The Emotion of Textures

[Writing about loss]

is letting the memories come

is sifting them out, writing down what was said, what you saw

is sitting with the sadness, reentering it

is knowing this is the only way to explain it all

is giving the context in each cover letter

is sending her picture in with the poem acceptance

is telling the editors her name

is daydreaming not of the book getting published, but of sending the book to her doctors

is daydreaming of the only poetry reading you’d want to do of it–at her graveside, for her.

Renee Emerson, Writing about loss

5:45 a.m. The storms that rumbled in the distance for hours finally arrive. The doors and windows rattle, and the street lights blink out, even though the electricity in my house stays on. I turn on some battery operated lights (fairy lights in mason jars) just to be sure.

I’ve been thinking about the lives lost this week. The COVID-19 deaths are hard to process: of the 14 million (14 million!!!) confirmed cases worldwide, there have been 603,059 deaths–139,266 deaths in the U.S. In an average flu year, we’d have 250,000-500,000 deaths, 36,000 of them in the U.S. Does anyone still think that this new corona virus will be no worse than the flu?

I was sad about particular deaths this week. Yesterday, I saw the news of the death of Christopher Dickey, son of James Dickey. When we moved here in 1998, Chris Dickey had published his memoir, and he was all over the NPR network–and then I kept hearing his reporting from various difficult areas across the globe. Plus, James Dickey was teaching at the University of South Carolina when I was there as a grad student, and while I never had him as a mentor, some of my friends did, and they spoke of him highly. Chris Dickey was much too young to die, just 68.

How strange to lose 2 Civil Rights era icons in the same week. Rev. C. T. Vivian died, as did the more famous John Lewis. In some ways, their deaths are good deaths–they come at the end of long, productive lives, and the world is a better place because of them. John Lewis was 80, which these days seems a bit young to die.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Morning Reports

Your scythe drags its shadow
over the threshold
like an unwanted child.

The slippery blade curves
under the burden. I recognize my fear

in the throaty croak of a rooster.

Romana Iorga, Sharp Dawn

“Tell us a story.” For my parents’ generation,
a siren was normal. Normal was hiding

beneath ones desk, dreaming a bomb.
On screen, the anchor quotes a dead poet

while our rockets launch. Syria. Beautiful
is a word we still use. Virtue is a word we use.

The interrogator’s textbook says not to look
for symmetry. Not to get attached to a source.

R.M. Haines, New Poem: “Death Prime”

I have been on a Dickens kick since March, reading his novels and travel writings that I had never gotten around to in the past. He was, in many ways, a journalist: a consummate observer of human behavior, appearance, society. It struck me, reading American Notes for General Circulation (1850), how prescient he was about the USA.

In 1841, Dickens was just 30 years old but well-regarded in England and in “America,” where he traveled with his wife for six months. His observations tend not to demonstrate the best about 1840s Americans, though he also reflects on the “good character and general friendliness” of the people here. He remarks at how free education means that almost everyone is literate–every non-enslaved person, that is.

What amazes me is his wrap up, where he concludes his book with a kind of warning to Americans, a warning about our inclination toward doubt in our fellows–our lack of trust, about hyper-partisan political ideology and its poor results, about the ruin slavery will visit on the nation, and about the sad tendency to reward/admire “smart men” over moral, kind, generous, or intelligent ones. He additionally blasts this infant nation for its insistence that trade (and capitalism) matters more than just about everything else except the vaunted concept of personal freedom, which of course is belied by the existence of slavery.

Ann E. Michael, Foretelling

Now, more than ever, America feels like the prom date that’s gotten totally wasted, and is spending the whole party sick in the john, leaving the rest of us by the bandstand, mirror balls spinning above our heads, scattering shards of shattered light across our face masks and crumpled quarantine attire, wondering when the band will, ironically or not, play “Freebird” and light up these purple mountains and amber waves of grain with enough electricity to shred the heaviness from our bones and make us feel light enough to walk on water.

Rich Ferguson, America, the Freebird

We talked before about our meeting in university, but I’m curious about your interest in poetry before that. With the name “Hafiz,” I suspect your parents played a role, but perhaps not? What role do you think poetry has played in getting you to the place in your life where you are now?

Shazia [Hafiz Ramji]: I don’t think my parents knew what they were getting into with me! A poet in a poor immigrant family is hellish for all involved.

Hafiz is a popular name in Persian and South Asian and Muslim cultures, as I know you know from the infamy of Hafiz/Hafez the big poet. I was named by my grandparents as “Shazia Hafiz,” which is my full first name actually (but I go by Shazia in conversation). The grampy and grammy must’ve known what was coming more than my parents did! Though, they were initially going to name me “Sasha.” I don’t know why… or I don’t think I’m ready to find out!

My dad used to sing ghazals when I was young – on tape, every day! At the time I really disliked them. To my little kid ears, they sounded so sad and slow. They stopped me from living in my fantasies of becoming an explorer when I grew up. My dad also used to tell me stories at bedtime. We all used to sleep in the same room, because our house was small and because the Gulf War situation scared the crap out of us. I would not be able to sleep if he didn’t tell me a story!

I also remember reading voraciously. My parents would take me to the bookshop and the owner would let me exchange the book for one on the shelf (without ringing it through), because he knew my parents were broke and that we’d be back in no time.

I don’t think I legitimately knew what a poet or a writer was until I was into my teens, but I remember writing constantly when I was young. I would sit in front of the TV and watch snakes and other creatures on National Geographic, and I remember feeling awed by so much beauty! And that’s when I would pick up a notebook and write “a poem,” which was just descriptions of deserts and oceans and cool stuff on National Geographic.

I still watch Blue Planet and Planet Earth to get into the writing zone. Wonder and awe return me to a good place.

Rob Taylor, To Reach Each Other With Love: An Interview with Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Here’s a dorky story that I’ve kept with me my whole life. I was in grade one, I know this because we moved house the following year. I knew that the woman down the street was older and alone and unwell. It snowed a lot one winter and I had a red plastic shovel and when it did snow I sneaked down and cleared her walk. Probably did a terrible job, but there it was. I remember doing this several times but once, she came out her front door and called me over and tried to give me a two dollar bill (which have long been discontinued and which is entirely beside the point — but I can vividly picture that two-spot waving in the wind and her in her floral house dress holding the screen door open and how cold it was). It was super nice of her, I’m sure. But all I can remember feeling was that it was all ruined, that I’d been caught, and it was ruined, the gift was. I wasn’t doing it for money, it was just this secret thing that had been making me feel good. I ran away without the cash and cried and I’m not sure anyone really understood why. Maybe they did.

So anyway, what that taught me was to just be more stealthy, and to do secret good things.

Also, an aside, I remember really loving that dumb little red shovel. The sound of it digging into the snow. You know? Remember when the things we now call work were just plain fun and delightful? I’m still that dorky weird little white haired ghost kid who never hardly spoke a word to anyone outside my family and because of that my mom would always get phone calls saying I should be “tested” since I must not be very smart.

Shawna Lemay, Do Secret Good Things

In February 1992, so long ago, I moved to Germany. I rented a little place temporarily in the old city area of Mainz. It had no heat, or rather, it did — an old coal oven that I was sure I would use improperly and end up suffocating myself. And funny enough I was reading Germinal at the time, about the French coal miners, the poor, who shall inherit the earth. I still remember the passage about the brioche.

After a few weeks I moved to a one-bedroom apartment near the train station where I could catch a bus to my office on the outskirts of the city. Mainz is not a big city. One night soon after I moved in I was asleep in the back bedroom, which looked out over a brothel, when I awoke to a shaking for which I had no explanation. The bed rattled and I looked around and wondered what on earth could this be and I thought it must be the devil come here. All my childhood fears have materialized and here I am engulfed in the devil’s blender!

This couldn’t have lasted long. I got up the next morning with the feeling of having had a bad dream that you’ve forgotten except for the fright of it. I didn’t recall the jolt or ever opening my eyes. But when I got to work one of my colleagues asked if I’d felt the earthquake. It was like someone brought the smelling salts. Immediately I remembered the rumbling and surprised as I was I was also relieved for an explanation. I was also shocked to find out there were earthquakes in Germany.

The trigger for this memory is the book I’m reading, “What Belongs to You” by Garth Greenwell, in which the narrator has a similar experience in Bulgaria, most likely in 2012.

“I was pinned to my bed by an animal fear as the world shifted with a sound I never heard before, a deep grinding thunder and the sound of alarms, all the cars of my neighborhood shrieking their warnings, a bewildering cacophony of patterns and tones.”

The book is beautiful and transcendent and I recommend it, earthquakes and all.

Sarah J Sloat, Tremulous Adventures

I am tired.

Though I write from a place of privilege and of safety, I am tired.

Tired of feeling mentally fried nearly all the time.

Tired of the government -who are not a government, but a campaign team that got out of hand and do not have our interests, least of all our human flourishing, at heart.

I am tired of lockdown-not-lockdown. I am tired of the masks-debate. I am tired of ‘But those statues are our history‘.

I am tired of Donald Trump.

And yet.

And Yet.

And yet….

I pause to be still, I remind myself that I am not alone, I breathe, I practice self-care and notice again that the tiredness I feel is what my South African activist friend Roger calls ‘part of the plan.’ ‘It’s what they want. The trick is to experience it but not give into it.’

So I remind myself that my favourite word in the Psalms is ‘But’. Especially the ones where it doesn’t appear and the reader inserts it for herself. ‘It has all gone to shit’ (which as Anne Lamott reminds us is a theological term): ‘but’. I still have a job. But my kettle still works. But the bakery remained open. And the Common Beaver has opened a courtyard (see above). But I got to see my mother yesterday. But I have a garden. Verily I walk through the shadow of death, but thank the Lord, Shawna Lemay is still blogging. And Karen Walrond. And Josephine Corcoran. And Simon Parke. They are my go-to resting places. My places of clear water (is that a Heaney line?).

There is still so much to be grateful for.

Anthony Wilson, Tired, but

There are so many things I want to write but this much exhausted me Portland is a fire bomb in my heart I have zero plans for July for the first time in maybe ever I have so many friends who are teachers who are deeply concerned about the school year when I taught orchestra in middle school I could not have imagined containing all. those. droplets. I built a plant stand today I have green tomatoes and sugar snap peas and roses and calla lilies in my garden I made cinnamon rolls last week and canned marionberry jam this week

I feel adrift lost at sea I wave from my boat Ahoy! Ahoy!

Rebecca Loudon, Three strange things

I have attempted schedules in which I go to bed with plenty of time for adequate sleep, but there is then little time for anything but work, necessary chores, and sleep. No time for reading, music, creative play, relationship nurturing–the things that make life most worth living. No time to just be. What if Kate is right, and these things are not wants, but needs?

Of course we can live like this. I have for decades. Many, many people in the world live with far less rest than I have. But can we be well?

These might seem like frivolous or tone deaf questions to be asking in the midst of a pandemic, when living is no longer a given for anyone, even the most privileged of us. Perhaps, though, this is the best time to be asking them.

As I contemplate a return to in-person school in the fall, and read articles in which transmission (which will mean death for some) is a given and something “schools will need to prepare for”–because in-person school is increasingly being framed as an intractable necessity rather than as a choice our society is making–I am seeing more clearly all the ways in which what I’m going to be required to do is just an extension of what’s been required for all of my life.

And I can’t tell you, today, what my response to that will be–because the bottom line is that I work to eat–but I can tell you this: I am fucking sick of it and from it, literally and metaphorically. I have zero interest in being a martyr or a hero, nor do I have plans to be either. If I get sick and die from it, it will be tragic, not heroic. And the tragedy will not be the loss of my life, but that the loss was preventable.

We all get what we pay for in a capitalistic society. Hope everyone will remember that as they send their kids back to school this fall.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What feeds us

Both of my grown-up children (aged 19 and 21, and sent home from university in March at the start of the UK C-19 lockdown) started temporary jobs in local factories this week, packing cosmetics and cheese respectively.  It’s been fascinating to hear their anecdotes of shop-floor life.  Basic hygiene is adhered to rigorously, but social distancing and mask-wearing isn’t, I’ve been told.  They are both on zero-hours contracts so it’s been eye-opening to learn more about current working conditions and about what is expected of temporary factory workers.

In the distant past, I’ve worked in low-paid temporary jobs – although never in a factory.  I did childcare, office work, shop work, door-to-door sales and telesales.  All this before I went to university as a mature student and became a published writer.  In recent years, I’ve become more out-of-touch and I tend now to mix with people who have well-paid, secure jobs, or retired and semi-retired people with a comfortable income.  There is little poetry – that I know of – written about ‘low-skilled’ work.  Can you think of any, other than in the poems of Philip Levine? Who now is writing about factory work, zero-hours contracts, working in a crowded production line in the middle of a pandemic?  Which poets live in this world?  Do you know any?  I don’t.

Josephine Corcoran, What the real world is

This nicely-produced little book arrived today from Bob Horne’s small press Calder Valley Poetry.

John Foggin’s invitation to submit poems based on the opening words of Eilean Ni Chuilleanain’s poem Swineherd (When all this is over …) brought nearly 100 responses from a multitude of poets speaking in the voices of a variety of occupations. Calder Valley Poetry asked the poet Kim Moore to choose one poem for each letter of the alphabet for an anthology.

Here you will find poems that are are witty, serious, surprising, imaginative, empathic, well researched and well polished.

My favourite is perhaps Wendy Klein’s Wonder Woman, who dreams of sensible clothes and a retirement in obscurity, when she will not have to try to bring /peace to bellicose men who say one thing/and mean another.

Or maybe it’s Julie Mellor’s Phrenologist, who longs for a simple self-sufficient life free from the troubling cartographies/of other people’s minds.

Or John Foggin’s Night Soil Man, who looks forward to smelling The essence of  a baby,/the blue pulse in her skull I’ll be allowed to kiss.

Or Sarah Miles’s Graphic Designer whose fate is to default to Comic Sans. It’s so hard to choose!

Ama Bolton, When All This Is Over

Long-awaited has become a tacky term, its soul ripped out by marketing bods who desperately hunt a unique selling point for a poet, only to find it’s ubiquitous and emptied of any meaning. However, there are still certain moments when it really is valid. One such is the publication of Alan Buckley’s first full collection, Touched (HappenStance Press, 2020).

Buckley’s work is riven from experience, both of poetry and life. As a consequence, his verse eschews facile certainties, setting out its stall early on in this book, in the poem Life Lessons, which assumes the format of a Q&A:

…How do I live without being touched?
Your skin will be become stainless steel.

How do I learn to survive in a vacuum?
Don’t move. Don’t breathe. Don’t feel.

Matthew Stewart, Might and maybe, Alan Buckley’s Touched

Why am I a poet? My father’s face was hard and angular, his thin lips seldom smiled, and when he spoke it was not of love. My mother spoke of love quite often, even when she slapped my face or took a belt to me. I noticed the power of the sunrise when I was still a small boy, how the streaks of color blessed the dark sky, and I loved the way the winter air tightened my cheeks. I always knew that birds had a language all their own. And the smiling eyes of girls, I caught that very early as well. Why am I a poet? Because it is the only thing I know how to be.

James Lee Jobe, Why am I a poet?

Wanderer
in the mountains,

monk
of simple joys,

sayer
of what cannot be said,

keeper
of the mysteries,

lighter
of the lamp,

old man
with his hair falling out

thinking
like a flower.

Tom Montag, Wanderer

The idea for my latest novel, The Beekeeper’s Daughter, came from my love of Plath. In many ways it’s The Hours with Sylvia Plath. It is the story of three women, one a modern day woman dealing with modern day, Plath-like problems (mental illness, a cheating husband), another is Sylvia Plath herself, during the time she moved back to London with her two young children just before her death. The third female storyline is that of Esther Greenwood. It’s a made-up story, but it does stick to the plot-line of the post The Bell Jar stories that Plath herself wrote (that survived) starring Esther. In The Beekeeper’s Daughter, Esther Greenwood is just out of college and living in London. She’s wondering about an old flame while becoming entangled with a guy whose voice is too loud, who drowns her out not only with his large physique but with his overpowering personality (a’la Ted). To research for this novel, I did more than read The Bell Jar many times. There were more than a few biographies and a trip to London to see the house where Sylvia Plath lived with her children just before her suicide. (It is coincidentally the home of the famed poet Willianm Butler Yeats.) But I found while I was writing, after a lot of research, that I really needed to go back to Plath’s poetry.

It seems like a “well duh” moment now but honestly, I hadn’t thought to focus on Plath as a poet when I started writing. I knew Plath was known for her poetry. I knew she thought of herself as a poet beyond any other medium. But I wasn’t a poet and so I didn’t even think to go there. And I will just admit that many novelists are terrified of poetry. Poetry scares us. An economy of language! That’s not for us. We prefer to drone on and on. But I digress. I realized as I was writing about Plath that I needed to study, to really dive into her poetry.

And so I began to read her work. I started with Colossus, since that had been her first collection. After reading Colossus I moved on to Ariel. I blew through both collections and then realized I had to stop, I had to slow down and really take them in. I realized that despite studying English literature and creative writing extensively in college and graduate school, I never really figured out how to read poetry. But as I kept reading Plath’s words, I found myself thinking more and more in poetry. I heard poetry in my head the way I used to get ideas for fiction. And as I kept reading poetry, I wanted to write it.

Balancing ‘The Bell Jar’: How Sylvia Plath Led to a New Appreciation for Poetry – guest blog post by Jessica Stilling [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]

To estrange; to take the once-
familiar and see how circumstance

bevels it, throws it in a different
light. At noon, the fountain pours

its brightness one shade cooler. All
the pigeons flock there, and in that

other time, children who heard it
calling their name. I lean my cheek

against the window glass— how thin
the broken distance between here, now,

and those years before everything
we touched left a smudge on the world.

Luisa A. Igloria, ILIW

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 24

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.

It was easy to feel a little gaslit this week by politicians and an increasing percentage of the public acting like the need for social distancing and other safety measures is over; in the US and the UK, at any rate, the covid infection rate shows little sign of slowing. Many in the poetry blogging community shared this unease, as well as cautious optimism on social justice issues. Writing continued to be elusive for some and a lifeline for others. Mostly, I was just pleased to find so many like-minded souls. La lucha continua!


I said to some friends: it is like playing Monopoly. You pick up a Chance card which tells you to go to Mayfair. (At which moment, you may win or lose the game.) ‘Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200.’

You have to go straight there. You cannot delay. You cannot take anything with you. There is no time to say goodbye.

You have to leave right that second.

There is no time for sitting with the trauma and the loss and the grief of the moment because what is needed right now is a solution for how we are going to [insert your own thing in here] and plan for [insert] and cope with [insert].

There is no time.

No time for grieving. No time for sitting with it, for preparing to bleed.

Anthony Wilson, Do not pass go, do not collect £200

Fool if you expected silence,
or thought that the trees would be empty.

But the contrails have gone and the big roads
are all but deserted. I don’t hear the kids
with their acrobat bikes and clattering skateboards.
And no Mr. Singh (“Call me Ajay”) with his deep,
deep voice over the parcels and stamps. All the buses
are empty when they stop at the curbs.
Are they discharging ghosts?

Dick Jones, LOCKDOWN

One of my daily chalkboard poems was about masks. So was another, one I chose not to put up, as it seemed too harsh and might upset the mail carrier. But you can probably handle it:

Unmasked

If you don’t wear a mask         
you reveal who you are

in more ways than one.

It is a little mean and glib. (And, oddly, it reminds me of a line from one of the Batman movies.) But, really, that’s what’s going on around here, out there, many people not wearing masks, thinking it’s all over, we’re all OK. Friends and co-workers are experiencing it out in the world and are worried. My parents decided not to go to an outdoor restaurant with friends when they saw how crowded it was, how few people were wearing masks, how some were sitting indoors… I’ve only seen my parents four times since March 13, in their back yard or their huge great room, six feet apart. A friend from Chicago came to town, and I visited with him outdoors and at the proper distance, no hugging. […]

Sigh… Yes, constant chalk revisions of our very lives. Chalk circles now on park greens to designate areas to sit in the sun. But don’t be fooled, the virus hasn’t been erased.

Kathleen Kirk, Chalk Revisions

I seem to be having lots of conversations about how the world is changing as we emerge from lockdown, about how our lives will never be the same and yet at the same time we are supposed to carry on as ‘normal’. Of course, many people are still isolated, cut off from friends and family, the wider community. My experience of lockdown has been much easier. In fact, now I’m back at work I’m missing all the free time I had.

Then there are those conversations I only have with other writers, about what poetry can and can’t do, about how we should respond to current events. In terms of creativity, I tend to try and carry on regardless. The world is a fascinating place, even in times of hardship, even in times of great trauma. It will always provoke a creative response in me, although the form of that response is ever-changing. I have a second draft of a novel that still needs more work, I have a short story that I know I must go back to, if only to satisfy myself that it can be finished, and a file of haiku of which a handful are probably good enough to send out. Oh, I also have a few sketches that are embarrassingly bad and are unlikely to ever see the light of day! What I’m getting round to is that being creative has helped me through lockdown. It’s given me a purpose. I like to be active, to be doing something. Writing is a great way of ‘doing’ because it doesn’t require much space or many resources. A pen and a piece of paper and you’re away. It’s affordable and portable. It does, however, make demands on your time. You have to commit. And there’s no guarantee of success. Time. Commitment. Failure and rejection. Small moments of success. These are constants.

We are living in a very unsettling period. There’s a general feeling of apprehension. And yet the impulse to write is still there. And for that, I’m grateful.

Julie Mellor, A changing world

–It’s very strange to have spent the months of March, April, and May reading about disease in general, COVID-19 in specifics, and some general apocalyptic works of fiction, and then to see states re-open and people gather with and without masks, with seemingly no care in the world. I’m still asking myself if any gathering is worth the risk. Grocery stores–yes. Spin class–still feels dangerous to me, since my spin class is held in a gym that’s in a hospital. Protest marches–much too dangerous, all the chanting and yelling in close proximity. Of course, that’s all from an epidemiology point of view–there are other points of view, like the need to demand social justice, the need to be with humans, the need to restock, the need to take care of oneself.

–I am also struck by how our students are responding. Everyone complies with the rule that masks must be worn, but many of them can’t seem to keep them on properly. And then there are a few students who have not only a mask but a face shield and gloves.

–NASCAR has banned Confederate flags and imagery. This moment seems like a real turning point somehow, even as I realize it won’t be a teaching moment for many NASCAR fans (either because they already understand the importance of it, or they will never understand).

–These types of shifts on race make my head spin. The polls that show a huge shift in attitudes towards racism and policing–it’s a shift that seems similar to the shift towards approval of gay marriage almost a decade ago. It feels like it happens overnight, but I know it’s because of years and decades and centuries of hard work, shifting those attitudes one by one.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days of Cognitive Dissonance

Beyond where I live, two (invisible) pandemics become visible. Daily, I am distraught by what is happening. I wish for a cure, and know that a cure comes about when we care for each other.

I listen to the news, like three doses a day. In between, I am outside working in our three gardens, or preparing reports, or courses, or writing to keep me centered and calm, because I feel overwhelmed by the hardships people are facing daily, in cities and small towns, across our country. Reports are saying the death toll from Covid-19 will reach 170,000 by October, 2020. That number is staggering and frightening, knowing the cruel way this virus work. Equally, moving into 18th day of protest in some cities means “Enough is enough.” Things have to change. Things are changing.

I had no idea, (truly) no idea, that the Army bases in the United States were named after Confederate Generals. I was stunned by that revelation this week. Why would the Army honor the Confederate Generals? It’s a strange contradiction, seemingly supporting a Confederate mindset; and, it’s been an “under-telling” narrative for years.

M.J. Iuppa, Vistations and Dreams, June 12, 2020

No baseball has been played. I filled my gas tank once, I watch thousands of protesters on TV. I saw too many fires and broken windows. I watched too many incidents of police swinging clubs at people, pushing to the ground, spraying chemicals at protesters, I grieved for people hurt and those killed. I grieved for families that lost loved ones. I wrote most nights. Failed to get enough walking in, thought about yoga but did none. Grilled BBQ stake. Had a root bear float at work. Wore mask up in public, washed and rewashed my hands too many fucking times. All this and more since my last confession a week ago.

I confess that I do not know what day of the Covid-19 pandemic it is, I just know we are no where near the end. Last I saw there were 786 related deaths in Missouri. Nationwide deaths exceed 114,000. I saw today that there are flair ups in Texas and Mexico. People aren’t exercising social distancing very well and I totally expect that we will have to go through another shut down.

Baseball is my go-to to pull me out of the winder doldrums and into the spring then summer and it just makes life remind me of poetry and brings comfort. I confess I am struggling for this comfort.

I’m awaiting some poetry books and I’m really bad at waiting for books to arrive. Amazon has spoiled me, but. I do order elsewhere and I still want them yesterday. Is this impatience a sign of a character flaw?

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday Spontaneous Combustion Edition

I was initially afraid that we were all just shouting booklists at each other, but it turns out books related to BLM are selling out. That’s reassuring.

I keep thinking of this Tweet by Charles Blow: “Anti-racism is so hip right now. Yay! But, don’t let it be a fad; make it forever.” It should be just the basic level of what being a human is but we know that IRL it’s otherwise.

Of course, if as a white person you’re finding all of this wildly stressful, then you are feeling only a tiny fraction of what BIPOC feel all the time. So I keep thinking, let us not tire, let us not let up, and let us pledge to be in this for the long haul.

I was pretty exhausted by the Covid-19 situation. And I’m not any less so now. But I’m trying to keep alert, too. I think if we just each quietly did something positive, whether that’s buying a book and learning more about anti-racism, to donating money, even a small amount to a good cause, this can be something. If you live in Edmonton and want to support an Indigenous organization, I’m very fond of the Edmonton Native Healing Center and here is their donation page.

Thanks for reading, and looking at the photos from my backyard (which have nothing whatsoever to do with this post!), but where I’m spending a fair bit of time thinking things through these days.

Shawna Lemay, Let Us Not Tire

In these lengthening days
it’s easy to feel that we
are past any danger. The idea
of crowded hospital beds
and makeshift isolation tents inside
stadiums sounds like a bad fairy tale,
until the angel of sickness walks
across your threshold and sets down
his luggage. When he hangs up a towel,
sets a worn toothbrush on the sink.
you know he’s there to stay
a little while longer.
Even so, he is not the enemy.
Without any special malice,
he is only doing what’s in his nature.
But the enemy took ships across the water
and returned with shackled bodies
loaded in the hold. The enemy
cracked a whip across the fields
where our people bent over beds
of garlic and strawberries.
The enemy is a bullet
that will take out your eye
or stop your heart even when you’ve
knelt on the ground as instructed.
The enemy is a god unto himself.
It shows no mercy but fears
every dusky body running
and playing in sunlight,
numbers of them walking now
with a single purpose across the land.

Luisa A. Igloria, Enemy

erect a statue 
to the statue topplers
and topple it

Jim Young [no title]

You may or may not, if you live somewhere far away from Seattle, have been getting reports – mostly false – of chaos and crime and uproar in Seattle. But for the most part, we are all fine here. Hearing that Fox News doctored photos from Capital Hill’s protest zone (See: WA Post’s story here) didn’t surprise me, but I had to reassure people who don’t live here that things were mostly operating as normal, that I had friends going to the protest zone where people were sharing food and doing poetry readings, you know, truly revolutionary behaviors. Artists drew a beautiful mural spelling out “Black Lives Matter” on the street. Ah! Chaos! So you don’t need to worry about us here, and you definitely shouldn’t support sending in the military. As Han Solo said, “Everything’s fine, we’re all fine here. How are you?” […]

I’ve been talking about the defunding the police all week, and this made me think about other corrupt systems, and how we correct them, and if necessary, dismantle them. Does this make me a revolutionary? I think few people would consider me a radical, but the corruption and bias of the police is a big problem, and I don’t think “reform” is enough. At least it hasn’t been enough over the last, oh, I don’t know, 100 years. Besides racism and sexism (talk to me about how the police handle rape and domestic violence cases, in case you want some horror stories), corruption of power, problematic protections by a corrupt police union, the militarization against citizenry, and questionable immunity status…how do you reform the system of policing? Judges, sheriffs, mayors…we vote for them all. Are we holding the people we vote for accountable enough?

And there were aftershocks even in the poetry community. The Poetry Foundation had two resignations. Outrage against editors and publishers bloomed all over social media for offenses minor and major. The discussion of how much writers get paid was also a hot topic – of course, for poets, all mostly a theoretical discussion, getting paid, but interesting to see the disparities nonetheless. Do we hold non-profits and groups who support the arts to the same standards we hold, say, corporations or government entities? Is the literary publishing world as messed up as, say, the educational system (which many would say also needs a little dismantling at this point for its inequities)? Who are we holding accountable, and why? How do we build a better world, the world we say we want? A world that treats people equally regardless of race or gender or (dis)ability? How does that begin? The status quo does not seem to be working for the vast majority.

I often feel like an outsider here in America. After all, I’m disabled and chronically ill (which numerous Americans lately have been indicating makes my life worthless, in the face of the coronavirus) and a woman. I’m white, but I’ve witnessed enough racism to believe that yeah, it’s still a problem that did not magically get erased somehow in the last fifty years. Then there’s the issue of social and economic disparities that appear to be getting worse, not better. So how do we make America better, fairer, a place where everyone can actually have a chance at the American dream even without being born a healthy white heterosexual male?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The 13th of Juneuary, Seattle is Probably More Peaceful Than You Think, Being Sick and Considering the Dismantling of Corrupt Systems

It’s useful to remember that when people like me call for the abolition of the police, our proposal is not “leave the world exactly as it is except without the police.” The idea of police abolition goes hand in hand with the idea of communities taking care of the basic needs of their people. No baby is born to a life of crime. Instead, babies are born into a world without adequate shelter, food, education, leisure time, arts, communal structures, play, and all the other things that make life worth living or even possible in terms other than mere existence. As long as we continue to allow our society to work at the whim of corporations and the wealthy and the powerful, there will always be a need for an armed force to enforce those whims. When I say “get rid of cops,” I also mean “take the money we use on cops – whether here inside our borders or via our armed forces – and use it to build a better world.”

Jason Crane, What I Mean When I Say “Get Rid Of Cops”

When I decided to go quiet,
was the time I should have been speaking out.
When the screens started going dark,
black voices said to offer lifelines.
When I wanted to write,
I knew my voice wasn’t one that needed to be heard.
I couldn’t watch the violence any more,
but can’t turn away any longer.

Gerry Stewart, Apologies for My Lack of Response to Current Events

It’s easy to understand why people would want to avoid the topics of privilege and of systemic racism. We are taught to be polite; one of the social contracts I was urged to respect was to keep conversation friendly, to avoid religion, politics, and other hot topics in order to get along with my neighbors and coworkers–to maintain friendships with people whose perspectives are different from my own. This approach does work, to a degree. Politeness, though, is not the same as compassionate interest and doesn’t always encourage listening and reflecting.

So it stops the conversation just when the conversation might be getting interesting. Or difficult. I have seen this play out in the course I teach time and again. Some students try to mediate as soon as a disagreement starts. Some tune out; some get embarrassed; some shut it down. Some talk to me after class, individually. Only a few times are my freshmen confident and mature enough to speak up assertively but in a way that admits of, and permits, other points of view.

That behavior is what I try to teach and to encourage. We need to admit of other perspectives rather than keep comparing this with that or bring up side arguments or shut people down with ad hominem attacks. That means ideologically “liberal” people also have to listen and to allow opposition, by the way. I teach in a fairly conservative university; and as a rather unconventional thinker in that environment, it can be a challenge for me to let students express views with which I disagree. But that’s the point: to listen and try to understand, and then to show where the argument goes awry–if it does–and acknowledge the validity of the stance, as there often is some.

Ann E. Michael, Just speak

I’ve been extraordinary fortunate with [dancing girl press] in that, with such a large number of submissions, I have a healthy number of manuscripts coming across the desk–a variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, gender/sexual orientations, subject matter, experiences. Others come to me through recommendations of other writers or happenstance. I can usually find a decent percentage of writers of color whose work I want to publish, but of course, there is always more work to be done if you truly want to reflect the breadth of work and decenter the glaring whiteness of the publishing world. And these are what I’ve been thinking about in the past couple weeks as this is on everyone’s mind and publishers are examining how to do things better in the future–how to welcome more writers of color, particularly BIPOC into publications and presses. How to find those authors, because they are out there, and how to bring them to the forefront of publishing efforts as an industry (which includes the biggest of the large publishers down to the tiniest of the indies). And specifically, how I can make those things manifest through dgp, where while we do get to publish a somewhat diverse list, it seems like there is still more work to be done to have a chapbook series that truly reflects population percentages in general. I’d like to do a bit more soliciting and maybe pushing POC authors to the front of queue and making them a priority this summer. In the meantime, also championing and promoting the work of writers we have published is a useful thing as well. More soon on this as I mull it around…

Kristy Bowen, decentering and publishing in the era of #blacklivesmatter

protest hate / love peace—

this battle waged on bloodied american soil / countless bodies converging in cities all across the country / human spirit refusing to become collateral damage amidst systemic brutality and oppression / see the courageous display what happens to equality long-deferred / it doesn’t go quietly to the back of the bus / it explodes out onto the streets / enduring bullets, brawls & pepper-spray halos to get its message heard

do not / protest love / hate peace

Rich Ferguson, It’s All in the Way the Words are Arranged

I’ve never had much talent for hope, and what hope I’ve managed to summon tends to get squashed. It’s a feeling I’ve learned to distrust. Yet widespread public outrage at police assaults to Black lives and dignity: it springs from that four-letter-word. Protests and anger, imply at least some tiny spark of faith that the world can change.

I’ve been trying to write more poetry from and about hope during the past couple of years, and one of those pieces, “We Could Be,” appeared recently in About Place: Practices of Hope. I’ll be reading it–and listening to some of the other fabulous contributors–in a group reading today, Friday 6/12, at 7pm EST on YouTube Live (details above). I find poems of joy, hope, gratitude, and love hard to generate. For me, poems grow more readily from complex, often negative, emotions and situations: conflict often powers the turn or volta that makes a poem surprising; ambivalence and ambiguity somehow sharpen the language (I’m not sure how that last process works, but I certainly feel it). “Unsonnet,” a poem of mine recently published by Ecotone and reprinted by Verse Daily, operates in the latter mode of darkness and uncertainty. It comes from grief about my son growing up and getting ready to leave for college, and it ends not with optimism but denial and a wish to turn back the clock. I like the vivid language of “Unsonnet,” a poem that came relatively easily last spring; I started “We Could Be” four years ago and revising it was monstrously difficult. I don’t know if one is aesthetically better than the other. But the way the latter poem puts hope out there does seem ethically better. (Those are fighting words, I know, that poetry can have an ethics, but I think it can. It’s just slippery, as language itself is.)

Lesley Wheeler, Practicing Hope

For the last two days I’ve been reading Koon Woon‘s Water Chasing Water (Kaya Press, 2013) and feeling my own heart swell upwards as if on a rising tide. Other reviewers have described him as a “writer of solitudes,” but I love the community Koon Woon invokes in almost every poem. I love his poems for his father, poems about sleeping under bridges, about the Chinese waiter reading Nietzsche and dreaming a writing life into being. In this time of madness and isolation, he gives me hope.

Bethany Reid, A Poem and a Writing Prompt

You might hear them before
you see them, the sign says
but we still look up

a little like the way we hear
the voice of our own conscience
or our fears, and look around

for a sign that might convince us
to take that first step forward.

Lynne Rees, Skylarks ~ a poem

I had a lovely phone conversation yesterday with my long-time writing mentor. We mostly communicate via e-mail, so it was great to connect over the phone. We chatted about a lot of things, but a great deal of it was about literature, which was a treat for me. This person is extremely knowledgeable and passionate, and the conversation transported me back to feeling like I was in college again and listening to a professor wax poetic about the beauty of language. I realized that I just don’t have those kinds of conversations anymore. I haven’t in years, and it’s really a shame. I didn’t realize how hungry I was for it. I don’t have anyone in my day-to-day life to talk to literature about on that level. And my reading habits have gotten very lazy. Reading for me has become just a way to unwind before bed, rather than an experience of delving deep into a rich work of art. I’ve read a few heavy novels here and there, but it’s mostly been literary junk food. I made a semi-resolution on this very blog several years ago to read one classic a month, and I never followed through. I think it’s time to dust that resolution off and give it an honest try this time.

Kristen McHenry, Poor Soup Outcome, Literary Hunger, Plug-and-Play Genius

I’ve made a poem collage for  the Begin Afresh Campaign for Poets for the Planet  following their open call for poems which reads as follows:

Poets for the Planet warmly invite you to join us in writing poems on the theme of ‘beginning afresh’.

We are calling for poems that respond to the need for change. How must the world change as we come out of lockdown? Is there anything we’ve gained from lockdown that we should hang onto? What do we need to let go of? We’d love you to share your poems of no going back, starting again, turning over a new leaf, letting go.

My contribution includes daisies, buttercups, common knapweed and yellow hawkweed – wildflowers which have grown in our back garden since we stopped mowing it.  The #NoMowMay and #NoMowJune campaigns encourage people to leave their lawns alone, so encouraging weeds to flower and provide a greater source of pollen for bees and other pollinators, and habitats for more insects and other garden wildlife. This is one small change I’ve made with my family  – not just in the lockdown because we also did this last year, influenced by this article by Alys Fowler in The Guardian – but the lockdown has made me even more aware of my desire to do more to care for our planet.  Not mowing the lawn is my very small gesture of starting afresh.

Josephine Corcoran, We found the O My! in No Mow May

I played her the song on the way home and then promptly forgot about it..until earlier today when I heard it coming from her room. I was pleased, checked my dad privilege and then got on with enjoying it as a moment. As is often the wont, that’s a poem, I thought. There’s an idea there, however shite, it’s an idea, but how to get anywhere near writing down the history of how we got to that moment (especially without referring to Beckenham Tescos) and without making it sound like I’d made her listen to it. It felt like a tall order (even once I’d navigated the internal monologue about whether it was a shit idea). And to be honest with you, I’ve got this far into this post without really knowing what my point is other than thinking that I see lots of posts about the poems we have written, the poems we didn’t write, how to write the poem we didn’t know we wanted to write (via prompts), how to edit the poem we have written (for example this great one from today by Natalie), but I can’t recall seeing one that talks about something from the moment of conception, how it got that far and whether it should then carry on.

To be fair this isn’t that post either, but it’s potentially a marker in the sand (another Pearl Jam song, as it happens) for the future. If I get beyond my internal wrangling about how to even start it and if I should start it I’ll let you know. In the mean time, I’ve linked to a few great songs on the way.

Mat Riches, Is Whilst

The farm-cabin is not for everyone–the closest any kind of restaurant is 20 minutes of driving through fields, there’s only phone /internet signal if you sit on the porch at the right time of day, and the view is fields and more fields. But for us this is perfect–we’ll only be a couple of hours away from our girls (and my generous mother who will be caring for them) so we could get home in a hurry if need-be, we’re not too far away from the hospital if I went into surprise early labor, and we actually enjoy quiet isolation and have our own writing projects that we’ve been slogging away on inch by inch. […]

I wonder too how with the state of the world if it is the right time for either of my areas of interest in my manuscripts–what do poetry readers need and want to read right now? The oppression of nuns and the mourning of a baby? I don’t know. I suppose I can’t help but write what feels important and alive to me. Perhaps these are questions to ask myself during the weekend at the cabin.

Renee Emerson, Preparing for a DIY Writing Retreat

I grieve for my finished unfinished manuscript. Ten years worth of research and scrawl that feels stillborn now even though it is still alive still kicking dust from the molding with its tiny shoes in the office of a publisher. I feel guilty for my grief for giving into it in such a powerful historic moment decade.

I stack my unread copies of the Paris Review in numerical order on the child sized roll top desk from which I used to teach pretend school as a small girl believing that one day I would actually be a true student. I’m afraid of opening them. The smell of fresh ink makes me high. Mimeograph ink was my first drug. I would shake when I held the damp slick test paper gentian letters swimming into my malleable brain.

Since the plague I’ve been afraid to turn on my pc where my manuscript lives. I tell myself the boxy computer is going to be dead or the monitor ultra bright wavy constant updates whirling away the white mesmerizing circle on the blue field Word won’t allow me access my pages will come up as Read Only and I won’t know how to fix it my story will be broken even though I have four copies maybe more in my email. It feels like sickness.

Rebecca Loudon,  Sarah Manguso wrote in the Paris Review “ How far along are you? people will ask of your book

Here I am, showing up, doing the thing I’ve assigned myself to do.

I feel a little hollow, scraped out. Writer’s block is when you have the words but can’t release them. They’re trapped behind a wall. I think I’ve got writer’s drought. Lots of arid sky in my head, dendrites dry as August dirt.

Tears came easily this week. Thursday, I had a panting, sweaty meltdown: droplets spattered everywhere. I thought some physical work would make me feel better, but instead of dissipating a persistent ennui it activated a wet rage. (At least my garage and yard look better.)

I have nothing worth saying today. Feel as if I have been swimming and swimming in everyone’s torrent of words for weeks now, and all I want to do is lie still on some shore and dry out a bit.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Showing up

In the end, COVID-19 covered the earth like a blanket covering a small and trembling child. This virus filled the sky as if it were smoke from a tremendous fire, a fire that burned for a thousand years. It flowed with swift rivers and filled the oceans. Entire oceans of COVID-19. We are simple people. We touch the virus, we breathe the virus, we wear the virus like a suit of the finest silk, perfectly cut to fit. And so now we embrace COVID-19. We embrace death. We are Little Red Ridinghood embracing the wolf at last. Come. Let me hold you. Die with me tonight.

James Lee Jobe, In the end, COVID-19 covered the earth like a blanket covering a small and trembling child.

We get to wholeness and peace both by pursuing justice with all that we are, and by surrendering to everything we can’t know about how we’re going to get there from here. It’s not an either/or: it’s a both/and. If we wait until we feel fully ready we might never act at all, and, if we imagine we know all the answers we’re guaranteed to be wrong. We need humility and chutzpah.

“Not by might and not by power, but by spirit.” The Hebrew word for “spirit” here, ruach, can also be translated as breath. I find a message in that for our current moment too. We reach wholeness not through pursuing power, but through ensuring that everyone can breathe freely. When all of God’s children can breathe, that’s wholeness and peace. 

Eric Garner’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” Racism, like coronavirus, steals the breath. Just this morning we sang nishmat kol chai — “Breath of Life, the breath of all that lives praises Your name.” We name God as the Breath of Life. When a human breath is diminished, it’s as though God were diminished. 

We don’t know when the cloud will lift — when justice will roll like thunder and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Amos 5:24) We don’t know when the cloud will lift — when the pandemic will end and it will be safe to return to the world again. We only know that right now, we’re in the cloud. It’s hard to see how we get there from here. But that doesn’t exempt us from trying.

Our task is to protect ourselves and each other during these pandemic times. To end racism in all its forms. To cultivate the chutzpah of believing we can make the world a better place alongside the humility of knowing that we don’t have all the answers. When the cloud lifts, we move forward. When the cloud doesn’t lift, we do what we can to build justice right here where we are.

Rachel Barenblat, In the cloud

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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 included some searing posts on death and illness and several thought-provoking posts about the vocation and political economy of writing. Plus many other wonders.


What’s there to fear
of the old men on Rikers

condemned to die —
not for their crimes

but for living long
enough to pick up

the lethal virus from
their concrete beds.

No visitors allowed.
The men on the island

can’t speak of how
spring pushes up

not daisies not miracle
cures but takes away

their little breath left
the crown of the virus

colonizing their lungs
robbing their hearts

of energy enough
to beat bad odds.

Bio-containment rules
rule out the six feet

of physical distancing
but not the six feet

down where the trench-
diggers go, where

the bodies, their own,
come to rest four deep.

Maureen E. Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XIX

Everyone who knows me knows this story. How does it become more than just another story of someone losing someone they love? Especially now, when there’s a whole new category of how to lose a loved one? Maybe recognizing cycles and honoring them is a story we all need.

Yesterday morning I had a committee meeting of the land trust board I’m on and I did the Zoom call on my porch. Other people on the call could hear the birds in my yard and there were texts about the birds, asking what they were. I know I have robins, sparrows, chickadees, mourning doves, bluebirds, mockingbirds and bob-o-links in the pastures across the street.

But when I was asked what the song was punctuating the call, I didn’t know. I pay attention to the birds in my yard, but I’m not sure I want to be able to name the ones that mark the descent into illness for Eric.

Grace Mattern, Birdsong Yahrzeit

I know what’s coming. At the same time, I have no idea at all. It will be terrible, it will be beautiful, it will not be what I expected. It will live with me every day. It is already living in me.

As we say, the memories ‘come flooding back’. Whoever first said this has a lot to answer for. Sometimes they drip drip drip away at me, in the dark, not a flood at all. Other days (nights) it is a torrent.

The sound of her laughter. The smell of onions frying. Her lack of solemnity. That time the car broke down on the way back from school, the steam, the searing heat that day.

The sheer look of joy on her face in this photo, unguarded, not posed. That’s a rare thing to encounter in this life. And I am grateful.

But still I want her back. And it hasn’t really started yet. This is just the beginning.

Anthony Wilson, On the Edge

Over the weekend, my body finally succumbed to months of stress and I got sick with some sort of illness that had me deliriously wondering why miscreant elves were appearing in my stomach and stabbing me from the inside at unpredictable intervals. Hence the very late post this week. I’m on the mend now—still a bit weak, shaky and wrung out, but climbing out of it. It wasn’t the ‘Rhona. I know because I got tested, which was a weird experience involving people in space suits at multiple confusing checkpoints and about fifteen seconds of deep unpleasantness while an alien tentacle molested my nostril. The world has become a very strange place.

Kristen McHenry, Down for the Count, I Got Tested, Bitchy Reviews

Does it start with that viral Unseen Photos Of Frida Kahlo at the End of Her Life! photo essay?

COVID means the world reduced to Facebook, to what is viral.

She was softened, later. And toughened, too. The strongest leather thong; her face my jess.

I wrote: fire is a praxis of leave-taking.

[…]

Equivalent, the falsehood, the heart rate, the oxygen, the glue. My spine screams. Hypoxia makes it vague, and impossible:

this body:

a false equivalence

between love

and death.

JJS, to shapeshift impossible leave-taking: an essay in embodied quarantine

I shivered when I took them off,
those masks of forty years —
goodgirlgooddaughtergoodstudentgoodwifegoodmothergoodgoodgood.
I stood naked in a new day.
Who was left?
Could I find her?
Would I love her?
Would anyone?
I set out to build a woman
without masks.

Sarah Russell, Unmasked by Sarah Russell (WEARING A MASK Series)

When we believe fate’s deck is stacked against us. When kindness, science, and common sense play a zero-sum game against the government.

When we carry ourselves like a forlorn flower heading to the gallows. When perpetual anthems of inner rain dull our spirit to rust.

When, during these rootless and ruthless days, our calendar minds are stripped of their pages—

may we call upon instinct’s North Star to guide us home.

May we rely upon muscle memory to recall our most cherished embrace.

To say these things, it is not my wish for us to walk on water. Instead, to rise from it should we feel like we’re drowning.

Rich Ferguson, Humming This Song Until I Discover a Better One

While a wild wind blows
and changes the weather like
a light switch: on, off,

on, off, we listen
to mixed tapes dedicated
to teenagers’ dreams.

We remember those
days in our rooms, in ourselves
well now, as we try

to figure out this.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time – May so far

I write smoking a cigarette 
blindfolded extinct among the scribes 
does my spirit without fleshy gravity 
rise or is this then an angel 
in the stupid theory of angels
we ate thanksgiving in May 
it felt like dying a little
I am an angel arm stretched 
to catch a pink star on a pole
that never stops swinging

Rebecca Loudon, corona 20.

The second blackbird to come was bold. He drank five beaks-full, stretching down to fill his lower beak, then tipping his head back to swallow. All this within two metres of me. Well, within two metres of my head. My feet were considerably closer. […]

Over lunch, I chatted to my son about the meaning of social distance. He pointed out that his head is socially distanced from his feet, unless he’s engaged in yoga. A reason to stop doing yoga, if you were looking for one, I said.

This confusion seems to be widespread – why else would some people veer into hedges or oncoming traffic when another person approaches, and others keep doggedly moving forward, passing by, bringing our heads no more than two feet apart.

The blackbird was at just the right distance from me for me to appreciate his bold glory. We both kept safe. He left after his drink to sit on a nearby branch. His song stretched from there to here, causing soundwaves to vibrate my maleus, incus and stapes – reaching right inside of me.

Liz Lefroy, I Socially Distance

Female bees will also burrow
deep inside the shade of a squash
flower: the closer to the source
of nectar, the warmer and more
quilt-like the air. In the cool
hours of morning, look closely
for the slight but tell-tale
trembling in each flower cup:
there, a body dropped mid-flight,
mid-thought. How we all retreat
behind some folded screen as work
or the world presses in too
soon, too close, too much.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ode to Tired Bumblebees Who Fall Asleep Inside Flowers with Pollen on their Butts

The kids in Finland went back to school on the 14th for about two weeks before the summer and I started subbing yesterday for 4 of the last 7 days. I’m not going to get into the wisdom of that decision as I’m not sure where I stand on it, but regardless, we’re all looking forward to a break from this new normal.  

On the days I’m not working, I have plenty of things to keep me busy with my course, my writing and other things on my To Do List. They’re opening the libraries to pick up reserved books, so that’s something to look forward to. As I’ve said before I’m used to social isolation, it’s the strain of home-schooling 3 kids on my own that’s been getting to me. 

My focus has changed, so I’ve struggled to keep up with this blog. I’m back on my course work, trying to get my allotment sorted before my birch allergy gets so bad I can’t go outside and I’ve finished painting my stairs, so I can focus on the kitchen cabinets next, if I’m not going back to work. I’m still trying to write my poem a day, but usually late at night, so I barely remember what I wrote in the morning and it feels like a new poem. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus: Week Nine: Back to Semi-Normal

It’s the end of the third week of May, and while many states are opening up, my area in Washington State is still mostly in lockdown. This really doesn’t change anything for the likes of me, someone who’s high-risk and immune-compromised, honestly, but I can feel others getting impatient. We still don’t have enough: tests, PPEs, viable treatments. If you feel stressed, remember we’re living through something unfamiliar, unprecedented in either ours or our parents’ time. It’s like the Great Depression plus tuberculosis, with a number of dead in such a short time it rivals a fairly big war. People say, “When are we going back to normal?” and I think to myself, the answer is maybe never. Maybe we won’t go back to crowded concerts or lots of packed-in-sardine-can planes, maybe the sky and water will be cleaner, maybe we won’t shake hands anymore or ever dole out casual hugs to people we don’t know well. Maybe more companies will let their employees work from home and voters will decide universal health is maybe kind of important. Maybe hospitals and retirement homes will be redesigned with more privacy, better ventilation, more sunlight. And we went from “normal” to isolated and scared, dealing with scarcity in all kinds of things (thermometers? vitamin C?) in a matter of days and weeks. We lost 100,000 people, just in America, in about three months. Of course you don’t feel normal, of course you feel scared and stressed. It would be remarkable if you did not. Don’t worry. I’ve got bird and flower pictures, as well as recommended reading for grim times, farther down the post.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Poem in Baltimore Review, Field Guide on a Grim Times Reading List, More Pink Typewriters and Birds, and Weathering May Gloom

Has anyone else been struck by how elegant, how almost attractive, some of the images for the coronavirus are on television?

Image Problem

All those flower-like
protrusions as if marketing
designed a logo for it, as if
it were not ugly—and
too small to see.

Are these trumpets signaling
attack, mouths to gobble
the good microbes, suction
cups structured to latch
onto surfaces or cells?

Ellen Roberts Young, Image Problem, In Reverse

There with the native plants, and aggressively overtaking the undergrowth, are amur honeysucke, asiatic rose, barberries, wintercreeper, japanese knotweed, mugwort, ragweed, burdock, thistle, garlic mustard, and whole hosts of plantains and creeper vines. One part of me abhors them. But I admire their tenacity and their ability to adapt to new circumstances. They’ll probably be thriving long after humankind has departed the planet.

As, perhaps, will the whitetail deer–a century ago, become scarce in the wilderness, considered almost “hunted out”–they managed to recover their numbers through adaptation to suburbia, where they are now “pests.” They graze on front lawns, nibble at ornamentals, gobble the leaves and bark of decorative trees, and gather at street-side puddles to drink, leaving heart-shaped prints in the mud and grass. But on my walk yesterday, I observed a doe lying amid the brambles; and she observed me. With the eyes of the wild, darkly liquid, meeting my gaze with her own. I did not move. Nor did she. I made no sound. We watched one another until, with a fluid motion and almost soundlessly, she leapt to her feet, twisted in the air, and fled in an instant. A brief rustle of trampled branches in her wake.

Ann E. Michael, Wild places

It is a rainy Sunday morning, but not the flooding kind of rain. I woke up thinking, is that rain hitting the windows or the tiny feet of a creature in the attic? Hoorah! It was rain.

I spent much of yesterday looking for rain, as threatening clouds came and went and then settled in for the evening. It was sunny early in the day, and we had a great time outside, reading by the pool and then getting in the pool. I hadn’t gone on my walk, so I spent 45 minutes swimming back and forth.

And then, fighter jets appeared out of nowhere, out of the south, flying north. My first thought: I hope they’re ours. My old habits kicked in: listening for explosions, keeping an eye open for a mushroom cloud, wondering if I should go inside to be safe from blast burns or the stuff exploding away from a blast site.

None of that happened, and come to find out, it was an Air Force squadron flying over to say thank you to various hospital workers. I still find it a curious way to say thank you.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, So Normal, So Not

We are defeated. From over the ocean the warplanes return like dragonflies flying over a fishpond. The stars above them hum and whisper in diamond light. The world is a whirlpool of churning thought. We are defeated, indeed, both sides are defeated. No one really wins a war. The graves of the innocent villagers are shallow and hard. The broken arm of the night will not mend, and the soldiers know this. Some of the soldiers sleep in sleek caskets. We should bury them together, two to a grave. One American, one Afghani. They could rest forever in each others arms.

James Lee Jobe, We are defeated.

Into the sudden sunlight
springs the lilac

under an iron sky
sleek as hematite

and the air is a prickling
sharp as cold ashes

blown past velvet houses
where light recedes

into the settled darkness
beyond the earth’s shoulder

Clarissa Aykroyd, Previously unpublished poem: ‘Breath’

The worst part about the current crisis for me personally, other than intense sadness about the loss of life worldwide, has been the loss of making music with others through singing. Added to that is the growing awareness that, because singing is one of the most dangerous activities, it may be a very long time before we can return to it. I was already fearing that I might be getting toward the end of my time as a choir singer, though I waffle back and forth about that. Now, in my worst moments, I wonder if I will ever return to it, after a lifetime of being in church and cathedral choirs.

However, our choir has just produced their first virtual-choir video, and we’re working on two more which I’ll share with you here when they’re completed. It’s a bizarre and quite self-conscious process, where you  record your own part, solo, while listening to a backing track on headphones. The tracks were then assembled by our music director, Jonathan White, and the resulting video recording sounded remarkably like us — the way our own particular voices blend and sound together. This video was played during the cathedral’s Zoom service last Sunday morning, and a number of parishioners told me they were very moved to hear and see the choir again.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 24: Remembering Patrick Wedd

It’s been a long time since I’ve put fingers to keyboard in service of creative writing. Too long and I don’t really know what to write here. I write for work, and while challenging, and creative in problem solving and working on teams, it doesn’t really provide an outlet for making something new.

I’ve collected some various prompts and images in the last few years. Kids were born, bought a house. Life continued, which should provide plenty of material to generat-icise new poems.

I even have the start to a chapbook that I haven’t looked at in… at least two years.

One line I have written down is

This poem will piss you off.

I think it’s supposed to be in the voice of the president. But I can’t even see through my own anger to start writing it. I have no distance.

I have pictures of various atrocities. But again, I have no distance.

There is a way in which my jaw has not unclenched in almost four years. Longer than that, I guess.

There’s a need to pull it out of the gut like gutting a fish it should be messy and a little gross and inelegant. Righteous hellfire wrath were faith still important. Though it’s all some people have they’ve swallowed the hook. There is not a pretty way to exorcise that barbed point.

Eric M. R. Webb, Need to write

I’ve been thinking a bit about the speed at which things spin past us wildly. About social media, especially in a world where our attentions are split in 100 different directions. The things I followed once on the regular, blogs, you-tubers, litzines, get lost in the rubble of horrible news articles and general mental scatteredness of living in crazy world where we may have never had control of it, but even the illusion that we did seems to be unraveling. I’ve been thinking about my own writing and art and how I feel like even when I am creating it, I am disconnected from the audience. Or from even the idea of audience that I used to feel. […]

Probably from about 2005-2009, blogs were the center of my online lit community, full of comments and interactions (good and bad) that dwindled once writers began to move to facebook for such things. I joined Facebook in 2009 and that soon became the way you connected with other writers, while the blogs sort of dwindled down to the folks, like me, who still loved long-form content too much to give it up. But probably now and for the past decade, the blog feels like someone playing a record in space. You know it’s making music and broadcasting, but aren’t quite sure if it’s reaching anyone’s ears. And maybe it just feels that way because we’re now trained to expect more interaction when we post things..a like or comment or a heart. Proof that someone at least heard us.

But then again, writing might be a little like this itself. You write a book, you publish a poem, and it blasts off into the universe, and only occasionally an echo comes back. Someone writes a review or says a kind something that makes your heart soar, You click with an editor or a something goes over really well at a reading. For poetry, it stills feels like there is a lot more silence than there is echo. But then of course, how can it be any other way?

Kristy Bowen, space music and paper boats

The other meaning of the word “career” got me thinking about my “career” and my life’s career, and about how much I love double-entendre and the tricksiness of words. So as I careered (derived from horse riding) and careened (derived from ship repair), from one kind of life to another, little remained that looks like a career (derived from wheeled vehicle).

In fact I cleaved from path after path, quitting this, trying and quitting that, cleaving to a desire to be true to myself, whoever she was at any given time.

I buckled up in each trajectory’s car, buckled down to the work, but inevitably buckled from the pressure to sit.

I overlooked clues to what make me satisfied, overly concerned with some imagined authority who overlooked my choices.

Okay, maybe I’ve pushed the game too far. But I love that these are known as “Janus words,” that old two-faced bloke. But truly, I have careered, and cannot claim to have had a career, a definition that includes the notion of durability, of a devotion of time.

And the only thing I can say I have been devoted to across time is words. I have also loved silence. And there we have poetry.

Marilyn McCabe, And you always show up late; or, On Words (and Life) That Go Forward and Backward

I’ve been ashamed for twenty-two years now to be a teacher. This was supposed to be a stepping stone to being able to call myself something else. But it is what I have chosen to do to be able to afford the doing.

The price and the prize. Somewhere between them is the doing. I guess I found the price I couldn’t pay to call myself a writer was not the studying, but the salesmanship – networking, presentations. And what I thought as a kid would be the prize: fame, respect – wasn’t really what I was after.  I thought those things would raise me above the trolls in the world. Ha!

I’m fine fighting my trolls in the dark, anonymous corners…

and sometimes I get a quiet notice that someone read my work – not just my bio with an eye toward networking.

I’m not exactly off grid – but looking for a middle way. And I’m beginning to wonder if teaching isn’t really the oldest – and most indispensable – profession any way?

Ren Powell, What  We Do for a Living

Much of my adult life has been shaped by the literary-academic system. I have both an MFA and a PhD, and I could go on about these things at length. But I want to focus on the more recent events leading up to my decision to self-publish my collection of poems, A Dark Address. It first took shape in 2016 as part of my dissertation. Between then and now, it shed its skin multiple times, many new poems were added, and it is mostly unrecognizable from that earlier draft. Also in the intervening years, I submitted the manuscript to book contests and many of its individual poems to journals. However, going through this submission process in a rigorous way for the first time (I made some very clueless efforts with a previous, jettisoned book around 2008), I soon began to question whether or not I wanted my work to reach the world in the way this system makes possible. All along, the process of submitting felt exploitative and increasingly unrewarding. Fees kept adding up. While I could find exceptions for journal fees without much problem (though it cut down my options by about 50%), avoiding book submission fees severely narrowed my possibilities. Too many books are attached to contests, and these very rarely cost less than $25, with a few bucks tacked on to cover Submittable fees. Even open reading periods at many presses run $25 or more. I explored various very small presses, many of whom I greatly admire, but many of these focused on chapbooks or micro-chapbooks, or they simply did not seem like a good fit for my work. I felt stuck.

The thing is, even my successes felt hollow. I managed to land some “prestigious” acceptances of individual poems from the manuscript, but I had no idea if the poems were even being read. It went like this: finish a poem, submit incessantly, receive acceptance after three or more months (amid multiple rejections and some very long waits, and some submissions just falling off the radar, apparently), and then wait six months to a year or more before it appears in the world to little or no notice (except in the very rare case where a journal had a strong social media presence). Sometimes I got paid, sometimes not. In sum, it all felt a bit hollow. I mean, I wasn’t expecting a parade; I know it takes patience and that one can never really know what their work is doing out there in the world, or what it might do years later (and perhaps only for one individual you will never meet). And I also know that, ideally, this is a form of participation in something larger than I am. And yet it seemed less and less like participation in anything, really, besides paying fees and waiting to read form letters from anonymous readers and editors. Increasingly, I realized I was adhering to a process that I intensely disliked — and which cost a lot of money — all in order to perpetuate…what, exactly? Why was I doing this?

R.M. Haines, Poets Should Be Socialists

I have thought a lot about how to be a writer, a woman writer, over the years. I have spent my entire adult life contriving to find time and energy, the energy! to write. I have looked closely at the lives of women’s writers trying to find the secrets to apply to my own life. I have asked, how can I do the work I want to do, the work I’m able to do, and what is the work I am “allowed” to do, what is the work I will be hindered from, the work I will be given credit for and the work I will be erased from having done, what is the work that I will be thwarted from, and who will thwart me? and given all those variables, how will I refuse to be thwarted, and how will I manage to work in spite of, because of, because of. How will I continue, how will I contrive my own particular set of circumstances so I can say what I want to say, however small?

It’s the strangest thing of all about this Covid-isolation. I have been basically given my dream life on a platter, my hermit writing life, and it turns out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. (Mainly because of the worry….). But that’s fine. Imagine Jane Austen writing, and having all her worries about where she would next be living, who she would be reliant upon, what obligations she need fulfill.

We just want to work. I in my room, you in yours. I don’t want to be in competition with you, but to send my good wishes to you so that you can send yours to me.

This is what I learned from reading Eavan Boland. How to wonder about you, the importance of that wondering, and to remember that you are wondering about me.

The terrible regret I have is that I might have told her, I might have written her, and did not. And now it is too late, and I hate that. I hate that.

Shawna Lemay, The Hour of Change – Thinking About Eavan Boland

When all this is over, said the phrenologist,
I shall spend my days at Walden Pond
where white rocks line the far shore
like so many discarded skulls.

I will hoe the yellow loam and plant rows of beans,
walk to Concord in my own company
to buy a bag of rye or Indian meal, forget
the rag-stoppered bottle of yeast
spilling in my pocket.

Julie Mellor, P is for …

Reading Ned Balbo’s sixth collection is a powerful and eerie experience right now because of its mix of isolation and intimacy. The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots, winner of The New Criterion Poetry Prize and published in December 2019, takes its title from a poem about plants at the Cylburn Arboretum. A companion shows the speaker how leaves recoil at human touch. After they walk away, he wonders about “green fronds unfolding till/ the surface of their sea is calm again”–as if ease can be restored after an interval of shocked separation. Balbo’s title phrase recurs in a poem called “With Magdalene, near Daybreak,” when a resurrected god tells Magdalene, Touch me not. Balbo wonders why Jesus would return only to “order her away” and how she would have felt: “she who’d grieved already,/ shocked, stopped where she stood,/ the world strange, unsteady// though he was radiant…” This book, written well before the novel coronavirus, is about social distance.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #12 with Ned Balbo

Simply put: this is an extraordinary book of leave taking and home coming. 

The lyric poems are collaged into a moving narrative of one family’s journey. And while Bone Road documents the story of Geraldine Mills’ great grandparents leaving the north of Ireland in 1882-84 with assistance of the Tuke Fund, this also can’t help but echo peoples around the globe who are forced to leave home due to famine, war, and poverty. 

The twist in this history is that the family returns to Ireland. The faux gold of New England does not hold the family. They return to Ireland just as impoverished as when they left. What is that pull called home?  Untumble the walls of the house / Uprise its lintel from the overgrowth /…Unbreak the heart. 

Susan Rich, Recommended for Everyone! Bone Road by Geraldine Mills and Asking the Form by Hilary Salick

As a reader and as a writer, I’m fascinated by the way [Rick] Barot pulls together, for example, in “Cascades 501,” an overheard story of heart surgery and the view from the train window of “Punky little woods,” “The bogs that must have been left / by retreating glaciers” (which expands the poem into prehistory), “the summer backyard with the orange soccer ball,” and “the pickup truck / parked askew in the back lot,” noting “Each thing looks new / even when it is old and broken down.” Then the poem moves again, but I’m not going to spoil the ending.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: The Galleons

Raw with shared pain, these are not angry poems. They are cries of hope and compassion, demanding change/not the promise of change/not a panel to study change/not a worthless piece of paper

Full of questions, they do not offer slick answers; how much light asks the poet, does each falling body take with it as it hits the groundhow many days does one have to wake up with less dignity … how many years can you look for the one who is still missing … I want to open every fist they put around your heart/and listen as you tell me again how close liberty is to where you are standing.

Ama Bolton, Letters to Iraq: “listen to the hope and beauty”

it frightens me – sometimes.
how the words seem to come from a spirit
just behind the edge of hindsight,
beyond the dusk at the back of my mind.

is there a hole in space-time leading to where
the poets rail that their words must be heard,
must be still the font of all of their times;
and am i chosen as this conduit?
a vent in the dam of the damned words!

Jim Young, ‘how he wrote the flow of our pouring’

Moments of creative flight can be fleeting. Just as quickly as creativity floats into view, it can drift away again. I’m attempting to seize the moment and engage with the work as much as possible while this spark is present in my life.

As I’m in abundance, I send this blessing out to you, friends. May your creativity spark with new life, may it thrive and grow, may it cultivate and bear fruit. May your art, your words, your craft, your cooking, your endeavors gather and linger in your days and fill you with joy.

Andrea Blythe, The Vibrant Effusive Creative Spark

The earth stretches
into morning mist.

Happiness is not the exact
word, but it’s close.

So says the red-tail hawk.
So says the dove.

Tom Montag, THE EARTH STRETCHES

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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 was for many our 8th under quarantine, which prompted reflections, as did Mother’s Day—in a darker vein than usual—as well as mounting death tolls, incompetent leaders, and other recurring themes of life in a pandemic. But also there were appreciations of new books, memories of libraries, writing experiments, and as always, newly birthed poems in all their rough, raw beauty.


There is a lot of grief in the world right now.

For you.

For me.

I hope your grief is not unbearable.

Despite all of it, I have gratitude as well. I don’t exactly like that word, “gratitude.” It has religious connotations to my ear. But, well, it works.

I am lucky that I can work from home. My company has been fantastic, and actually quite surprisingly agile.

All of my loved ones are still with me. We have had to be in the hospital with unrelated illnesses, and yet we are safe.

Since the last time I wrote on here two years ago, the new baby has grown. He’s two and a half now. […]

You would think there’s all kinds of extra time to do things like productive writing, yard work, etc. But no.

There is no time. There is even less time than when I was commuting two hours a day.

What a strange world.

What strangeness it is to see profit opportunity instead of humanitarian opportunities. What grotesque macabre times we live through.

Inane cruelty. Stupid selfishness.

What protest can we mount while physically distancing?

Find a way. Write. Put it out there.

Vote.

Eric M. R. Webb, Grief and Isolation

I started baking for porch drop-offs in my small rural township over a month ago. I figured I had a good stockpile of flour, butter, and sugar. I had way too many eggs from our chickens. And I had to do something with my despair. […]

Although we’ve lived in this township for nearly 23 years, we simply haven’t gotten to know many people. Perhaps it’s because the houses are farther apart than in our previous neighborhoods. Perhaps because we homeschooled. Perhaps because of other encounters in our first few months here that made us wary, starting with a veiled death threat.  But as the baking donation weeks have gone by I’ve started to feel closer to my community.

And also, as I’ve baked muffins and loaves and cookies, my mood has leveled off. I’m starting to catch up on work. I’m back to writing and reading and happily tending seedlings nearly ready for the garden.

I’ve also gotten some perspective on despair after talking with my friend Maureen. She told me she’s been inert and ineffectual, retreating into herself. She also said she was feeling on a deeper level all the loss she’s been through in the past few years while at the same time feeling guilty about her grief because so many people are going through far worse.

I realized I’d been feeling the same way, not depression at all but some kind of collective mourning. All that our species is going through can’t help but ask us to more intensely feel our own losses. Perhaps feeling our own grief more fully — seeing it, naming it, letting it walk with us –may help us on a collective level.

Maybe the different ways we react rise from wise inner promptings, helping to heal what has felt unbalanced in our lives while, on some level, we process the world’s larger fear, loss, and terrifying uncertainty.

As I pack up today’s Hermit Bars, I am grateful that offering homemade sweetness to strangers restores sweetness to my life. And I choose to believe everyone who claps for healthcare workers, or shops for neighbors, or sends cards to nursing home residents, or donates food, or adopts shelter animals, or plays music from balconies, or supports local businesses, or abides by social distancing to keep others safe is remaking a more connected and compassionate future for us all.

Laura Grace Weldon, Hermit Bars, Despair, and Collective Renewal

Alex Trebek is a fit fitter
coal mine canary
if contestants don’t know
an answer I shout it to them
through the blue water screen
in Poplar diphtheria sweeps
the town and every single
person gets tested all I do
is stand in the forest and stab
the dirt with a shovel
as ivy widdershins
up two hemlocks I have named
The Sisters if I tell you
I pray it’s a lie god
does not live in my ear
god bless or goddamn let’s finish it
the american president wants us
to illuminate our guts
with poison The Sisters
are guards and looming gates
history drowns itself
let me lick your Kevlar vest
let me drink your mask
there is still so much to do here
in the sorrow church I look up
just in time to see Ed Harris tumble
through an open window
bang bang how dare the world
mirror itself back to me

Rebecca Loudon, corona 18.

The dead of COVID19 visit you in dreams and ask you to remember them, to remember their names, their lives. Morning comes to you, and these dreams are forgotten. You awaken each day to a feeling of sadness, a dull emptiness. Nights come and go, and you are, in time, full of these forgotten dreams, forgotten names, and everyday the number of COVID-19 deaths grows. Everyday.

James Lee Jobe, The dead of COVID19 visit you in dreams

I try to document the change of seasons, the flowers, the birds. With quarantine I’ve become a better documentarian of local birds; I notice species I could swear I’ve never seen before. I glimpse an osprey overhead with a fish, a red house finch lands briefly on my balcony while I water flowers. I see my first ever black-headed grosbeak. Paying attention to something, taking your time, staying quiet, that’s birdwatching, and gardening, paying attention to something outside yourself. It is surprisingly rewarding. This seems like a metaphor, doesn’t it? If we just stay quiet, and still, we can much better observe the world around us, in all its surprise and beauty. Woodpecker and hummingbird were there the whole time; we just don’t usually notice them.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Flower Supermoons, the Art and Science of Birdwatching, and Mother’s Day with Social Distancing

In a time of pandemic, I sustain my sanity the usual ways. Garden. Poetry. Walks. Family. Reading. Tai chi. Going, most of all, for balance and observation. On the lookout for the things that delight me, though those things may seem “small” or easily overlooked.

Which brings me to the book I’ve been savoring, Ross Gay‘s The Book of Delights.

Nicole Rudick, in The New York Review of Books, has already composed a wonderful write-up about The Book of Delights–so I don’t need to. (Do read it: here). But, back to last month’s posts about responses to poetry collections, Gay’s latest–not-poetry, mini-prose, essayettes–evoked from me the response I suppose the author sought from his readers: delight. Delights, plural. Gay’s close observations and slightly goofy sense of what is funny (fallible, silly, skewed but not skewered) feel kin to my own, though my perspective differs from his due to how we are differently embodied and differently socialized, or non-conformist as to said socialization. For any human being, perspective’s inherently lodged in the body; and other people’s perspectives about us, or assumptions about us, are socially based upon the bodies in which we dwell.

Which is to say that he is a Black man in his 40s and I am a White woman in her 60s; yet Ross Gay and I have overlapping backgrounds and interests. Hoosierism and Philadelphia-dwelling, for a time. Poetry. Students, whom we love. Gardening. Passion for figs, awareness of pawpaw fruit and hickory trees. Observers, the sort of people who want to learn more about animal scat and bee species. “Jenky” gardeners. [My term is jury-rigged, but it means about the same thing, without the urban/ghetto connotations: adapting to one’s immediate need without overmuch consumerism…which is to say, making do with a crappy substitute. I learned that from my folks, too.]

And the urge to recognize, and celebrate, delights.

Ann E. Michael, Delights

As we’ve been transitioning from spring to summer and finishing up the last of this year’s curriculum, I can feel our house fall into new rhythms. We don’t follow a strict daily schedule, but sort of an “ish” one–we start school at 8ish, have lunch at 11ish, nap around 1ish, etc.

I’ve finally managed to start waking up before the children; there are seasons where this works for me, and seasons where it doesn’t. I know as I get more pregnant, I’ll not be able to do it anymore, and of course when the new baby comes this August he or she will bring his or her own schedule along with.

Waking up before the kids has been good for me though. During the day and even after B gets home from work, I have very little time where I can sit quietly and think–and consequently, very little time for grief. It is hard to fully feel my emotions and really give my grief space when I’m reading a picture book to D, doing the dishes or helping Z with math. […]

I’ve been keeping up my daily writing practice–usually about 15 minutes during “quiet rest time” in the afternoon–I’ve been a little more strict about this time actually happening, since I’ve been getting more tired and needing the time to actually get off my feet and rest. […]

I know when Quarantine finally lifts we’ll shift again, but this is a pretty pleasant season actually–with all our natural space from each other being taken away from us by forced shelter-in-place, I’ve had to be more purposeful about making space for myself (hard to want to do) and learning how necessary that space is (hard to want to do until you find you have to do it).

My prayer is that I can continue to meet each new season with gratitude and hope.

Renee Emerson, Spring-to-Summer Rhythms

You have such potential, I tell the small oak tree that Tony found sprouting in a damp corner of the lawn, dropped there by a bird, I guess, or perhaps, now I think about it, from one of the oaks the railway men cut down some years ago, to clear the track, then brought the logs up to our barn, the thought not entering anyone’s head that this was not an end, only a beginning.

I draw the line at showing it the photo I took this morning of a great oak sweeping its low branches across sunlit bluebells and resist the weaving and unravelling of any stories of its possible future, after all none of us want our paths mapped out for us by others.

But look how the light on those young leaves illuminates the pulse of chlorophyll. Sometimes it’s the science that breaks open our hearts with gratitude.

Lynne Rees, Sometimes it’s the science…

How many times have I thought that I needed to go back and study medicine? Become a gardener, a carpenter – someone to be stuck on a desert island with.

And here we are, now: socially distanced. Each of us feeling a bit like an island. And each of us looking at what we valued in the work done by the people in our communities.

The nurses, yes. But the people who wash our desks, drive our buses, put the fresh fruit in the bins.

No one is banging on my door to hear me recite an original epic poem. But I find myself answering a phone call from a student on a Saturday afternoon. Because I want to. Because it is what I do.

Nine times out of ten I say the wrong thing. But I talk a lot, so there is that one time when I say what is needed.

And I know I threw out numbers, but I’m not keeping a tally: “You win some, you lose some.” 

I’ve stopped questioning motives. I’ve stopped thinking of myself as a character in a play. (An unexpected advantage to having aged-out of Hollywood storylines.)

Something has shifted in me. Somewhere along these last years I have lost a lot of need, and desire has flooded into that space. And I hadn’t even noticed.

Maybe every kind of truth, told or achieved, must be approached obliquely?

Tell all the truth but tell it slant  – Emily Dickinson

What do you fill your life with? What do you dare to take?

I do believe I am getting old: It’s not that I’ve lost ambition. I’ve lost fear. And it is wonderful.

I have a round life
and it keeps expanding, like
dough rising for bread.

Ren Powell, What We Do With Our Lives

There’s so much I want to say about the beauty of libraries. I’m not yet mourning or grieving the closure of the library. I guess I’m busy looking to the future of libraries. And let me say also, that I have no idea what they’ll be like. That’s not even really my job. I’m lucky that I work where I have perfect confidence in our library system and executive to guide us through this (I’m just gonna use the word however tired we are of it) unprecedented time. The one thing I do feel convinced of is that libraries will persist, they will lead, and they will find a way to do the important things that libraries have always done: libraries share knowledge, they help us to learn and grow, and they will find unique ways to do it.

Do I sound like a library infomercial? I mean, it’s fine if I do. I find hope in libraries, in my library, and I hope you do too. I’ve been criticized in the past for making libraries sound like simply happy cozy places, but I know about the layers; I have lived the layers. I have dived deeply into those layers. In my branch we have a lot of at-risk customers and difficult conversations and tricky behaviours, a lot of really difficult and rewarding and emotionally intense moments every single day. But we are instrumental in guiding and helping and referring people or just being there for them. In fact, that’s what I miss the most. I’ve had conversations with some of my co-workers about this — that this is what we miss most. Helping people. Being there. Listening. Making whatever small difference we’re able to. […]

There are so many things to say about libraries. But I think right now it’s okay just to love them. One of my favourite writers (C.D. Wright) once said about the trees in the Ozarks, “the trees true me.” I would amend that to, “libraries true me.” Wright said of poetry that “the radical of poetry lies not in the resolution of doubts but in their proliferation, in an ongoing interrogation with what Roberto Juarroz called the poet’s one untranslatable song.” What libraries do is what poetry does: they engage in a radical and ongoing interrogation with the untranslatable song of the universe. They live with doubts, they are interested in the human condition, they are never indifferent spectators.

Shawna Lemay, Are You Missing the Library?

I find myself missing my mom, even though she’s still alive, and I can call her later today. My mom is/was a great mom in so many ways, but the one that was perhaps most important to me was that she kept me supplied in books. Before I could drive myself to the library, she drove me and checked out as many books as I wanted (the Montgomery Alabama public library only allowed children to check out 5 books at a time–5 books??!!–I could read that amount in a lazy afternoon!). And when our family only had one car, we biked to the library. She was supportive in any number of my future endeavors too, like writing and drama and choosing a college and writing a dissertation and oh, the list is so long–but all those quests are rooted in my early reading. It was those books that showed me all the possible lives that humans could have. And it was my mom that made it possible for me to have books.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, “Necessity of Moisture”: A Poem for Mother’s Day

I knew only
my mother’s laugh,
her head thrown back,

my father’s tread
on the rising stairs,
and your silence.

Yet, even then,
its bending edge
cast light enough to read by.

Dick Jones, AIW – 2007

I don’t understand her terrible,
insatiable hunger. How she calls
through the day and night
to be fed,
           though she has eaten;
though the day is a conjugation of meals
that will pass through her as if
it is her ghost
                whose mouth closes around
the spoon and gums rice or bread
into pieces that can be swallowed.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem in Which the Woman I Knew Only as my Mother is Never Appeased

There have been many moments in the past two months when I was again thankful about not having my own children. About the choices I’ve made. Not just the more practical reasons of wanting time for myself, now more than ever, when I see others struggling with work and homeschooling and children that really don’t want to be inside and are going stir-crazy. That would be another life, of course, but I’m not sure I’d be as content in it as I am in my current one. Those desires could probably be called selfish by some , and maybe they are, but it’s a kind of selfish I think is okay. Women shouldn’t have to not be selfish if they don’t want to (and men don’t feel that sort of pressure at all, nor are they burdened with as much of the child-rearing.) But also, the whole other thing– the worry of having children in this world, whether they’re locked in the house, or worse out in the world. How I’m not sure my heart could handle that sort of strain, so endless hats off to all the mothers who manage it without their hearts utterly breaking in half.

Kristy Bowen, mothers and the worry monster

I have never been a mother
to any but four-legged creatures.
Suddenly I have this lethal urge
to hug this young man—
Coronavirus be damned—
tell him he is wonderful
and loved and the world is
better for his presence in it.

I do neither.
I don’t know him.
But I do wish him well
and thank him
for his heroism in this time.
I hope the world will be
the kind of mother
he needs most.

As for me,
today is as good a last day
on earth as any.
Though I’d rather rain
than this balmy sun.
I’ve had a mere five decades to
practice my humanity,
still very much a work in progress.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Mother’s Day Gift in the Pandemic

When I think of all the things my son is losing this year, I grieve. I tell myself that he’ll be okay, that he’s resilient, that he is learning good tools.

Time becomes fluid. The two months (so far) of sheltering in place and social distancing feel simultaneously shorter and longer than they measurably are.

And of course this is a journey of unknown duration. It’s easier if we know when a thing will end. There is absolutely no knowing when this will end.

And yet life goes on. I make coffee. I cook meals. My son does math problems, plays Minecraft, re-reads a favorite book. It’s like normalcy… almost.

I know how fortunate we are to have something like normalcy. I try not to think about how precarious that is. How easily these comforts could fall away.

Rachel Barenblat, Almost normalcy

In a phone conversation I try to tell my son, the Marine I don’t know when I’ll see again, how the world felt to me when I was growing up in my working class home. Although some definitely had more than others of us, I don’t remember any of the kids I went to school with worrying about food or living in cars or surfing for sofas to sleep on, the way so many do now. In my memory, almost everyone looked down upon racists and fascists and censorship and monopolies and religious zealots, and it was socially taboo to openly express that some of us were lesser than others of us–because we all knew such a belief was wrong. The people I knew respected science and education. We knew there were problems (racism, sexism, all the -isms), but there was such surety in our elders’ belief that we were forever on a march forward, that each generation would do better and have it better than the ones that came before it, their belief felt like fact.

No one I know feels that way now. “I’m worried for our kids,” we say to each other, not in large groups, but privately. Guiltily–not only for not passing on the same prospects, but for having had them when others did not. For not understanding, earlier, that not everyone had them and that others were working to strip them from many of us who did. For wondering what else we might not be seeing now, because having been profoundly blind once, we can surely be as blind again.

My son and I catalog all the ways in which his grandparents and I had it better than any other generations of Americans (including his), which, perhaps, makes us supremely unprepared for this time. “I feel soft,” I admit to him.

“I don’t want to go back in time,” I tell him. I don’t want to go back to an incomplete understanding of my country, or to a time in which so many people like me didn’t understand that only people who looked like us had the kind of security we took for granted. Still, I want my children–everyone’s children–to have what I had, and in profound ways they don’t. “It doesn’t have to be like this,” I say. “We could make so many things better for everyone.” I wonder if my belief is naive, as little tied to evidence as any faith.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What’s left

On Zoom today, I told about how wonderful it was to talk to my mom on the phone when I was young and alone and homesick on my own in the big city. Sometimes I’d call up and say, “I’m sad, sad, sad,” and she would help me remember the beauty of the world. Today on Zoom, my daughter began to tell how I helped her learn to breathe…to handle pain…and then she cried, and I cried, and the Zoom went on, and we had our quiet tears and quiet recovery, and here we are again.

Kathleen Kirk, Mother’s Day, Again

One of the first phrases I underlined in Ruth Dickey’s debut collection, Mud Blooms, occurs on page 5 in “Four-twenty-one,” a poem about a beloved calf Dickey’s parents wouldn’t let her name. It’s the last line: “my brother and me leaning on the fence, stretching our hands through.” The first poem, “Somoto, Nicaragua, #3,” tells you Mud Blooms will be about hunger, but by page 5 you see the book also concerns a longing for connection with the human and more-than-human world, past all the barriers thrown up by difference. Dickey expresses humility about these efforts, especially in her deeply moving poems about working at Miriam’s Kitchen in DC. She orders apples people can’t eat before she knows that “almost everyone who is homeless has dental problems”; “my stupidity galls me,” she adds in an intermittent, abecedarian prose poem sequence called “Alphabet Soup Kitchen.” Sometimes, too, Dickey doubts the worth of her own efforts, because homelessness and hunger are such huge, seemingly intractable problems. There’s so much loss and suffering here, but what impresses you most about the book is its big-heartedness and radical openness. I love this collection and the spirit that shines through it.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #10 with Ruth Dickey

A while back, I read an article about the lost art of memorizing poems, and I was intrigued. I resolved to build up a catalog of memorized poems, but I never followed through. Recently, this came up for me again and I decided to actually do it, starting with a beloved favorite, “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry. It’s short and has beats that make it easy to commit to memory, so I figured it was a good one to start with. I only started memorizing it a day or two ago so I don’t have it completely “in there” yet, but the process of memorizing it has given me an even deeper appreciation for the genius of this seemingly simple poem, which is not simple at all. It’s quite the musical feat, actually. I’m excited about this new plan of mine. I can already sense that this process will deepen my appreciation of poetry and help my own poetry improve. But more importantly, if we ever have gatherings again, it will be a great party trick to pull out.

Kristen McHenry, Warrior Mindset Meets Crushing Blow, Bright Spot, Literary Party Trick

I’ve finished Nan Shepherd’s A Living Mountain. I love her sweeping language, totally caught up in her place. As a sweet coincidence, my copy of A Scots Dictionary of Nature by Amanda Thomson has arrived. I knew the author as an artist before I left Scotland, so I was surprised to see there’s not a lot of illustrations in the book and they seem to be photographs. But I’m looking forward to rummaging through the book with ideas for writing. I don’t write in Scots often, but I love the feel of the words I do use. I mean, curl-doddy for a pine cone just screams ‘write a poem about me,’ doesn’t it?

I also ordered Moder Dy/ Mother Wave, a poetry collection by the Shetland writer Roseanne Watt. The poems flit between English and Shetlandic, sometimes as translations, sometimes within the same stanza. I can’t wait to have a look tonight when the craziness of home-schooling and kids has passed. I just had to interrupt writing this to help a child understand his math lesson and because another dropped a laptop on her lip?! But even the first poem pulls me in…

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Eight: Distracted

When I picked up Madwoman [by Shara McCallum] in my hands, noting what appears to be a scribble and a line drawn in crayon line and also noting its size (slightly larger than standard), I had the sense that I was about to embark on the kind of journey one enters when reading a child’s storybook out loud. And so I began with that feeling, best described, perhaps, at least for me, as a kind of tumbling. Remember rolling down hills as a kid? Anticipated dizziness. Invigoration. Fear. Speed and rocks as questions. The halt at the end both a relief and the realization of wanting more. Except for how the book felt in my hands, I am [not] entirely sure why I settled into reading the book to myself this way (the way we read to children), but I did. In a voice that wasn’t quite mine. In a rhythm that took over and propelled me (like that tumbling). In wide-eyed greeting of characters and struggles and triumphs. Whatever the impetus, I have to say that it worked. I don’t mean to imply that the verse is sing-song. It isn’t. I don’t mean to convey that its themes are simplistic. They are not. But there was something to feigning a kind of innocence in the beginning — and ultimately, of course, watching that innocence unwind itself — that really worked. […]

I can’t stop thinking about this pair of lines: “Stories wake in us what is inconsolable, / begin in us again our animal mewling.” It’s one reason I turn to poetry: to validate my thirst/hunger, which feels — regardless of what I’m craving — absolutely primal. Anyone else?

Carolee Bennett, “the sun / is a mound of butter”

If the mind were a bullet, perhaps it would never stop screaming. But I am not screaming. I am speaking to you in a whisper. I am saying my heart feels vast and bright, like an oasis of spilled ink when writing your name across the sky. I am saying there are bruises that leave the body when sung home by angels. That sometimes the breath calls the voice collect. Inside that breath and voice—light. Torn lives mended. Mended lives torn into the bright confetti for love’s parade. Perhaps I am not phrasing any of this in the right way. What I am trying to say is: we will all reach one another when the time is right.

Rich Ferguson, If the Mind Were a Bullet

Spring is only
this sauntering.

Its leaf-green
offering is

only a tug at
our wanting more

every day than
the grey memory

of winter’s
bitterness.

Tom Montag, SPRING IS ONLY

I had begun to envision this as a digital object, something you could watch while the erased words disappeared before your eyes, and the essay text appeared down the side of the virtual page. But I didn’t know how to do this, nor did I know how to contact an organization or person that did, nor did I know how I would get such a thing out into the world. So I created a paper-based version, at first having the essay text running sideways on each page, so you’d actually physically have to turn the page around. But some beta readers questioned this, so I ran the text across the bottom.

But the idea of a visual version haunted me, so I began experimenting with what software I did know how to use to try to approximate my vision. This was arduous and had several dead ends, but I finally figured out how to make it all happen in iMovie, and created some music/sound and manipulated some of my own photos.

So more than any other collection of poems, this one came together through a series of “lemme try thises” and “maybe I’ll try thats.” I felt through much of the process that I was moving through a combination of instinct and blunder, like walking around a familiar room but in the total dark. I was never entirely comfortable. It was a really stimulating process, and fun, in the end, if a bit bumbly in the middle.

So I encourage you to get uncomfortable. Turn out the lights, get up and wander around. Let something catch your eye and turn toward it, try it. Don’t think too much. Have a little fear, but not too much. Whether my book or video appeal to you or not, you will have a very interesting experience, I can promise you that.

Marilyn McCabe, I don’t know I don’t know; or, On Writing a Chapbook: The Story of Being Many Seeds

This is third haiku/lockdown post I’ve done and I’m beginning to realise I need to hang on to some poems, otherwise I won’t have anything to send out to magazines!

Still, I love the video poem format, no matter how cack-handed I am at it. Poem plus visual image gives such a neat little hit. Also, it’s made me focus on my surroundings and re-instilled a sense of place into my writing. Of course, the lockdown has done this too. I’ve had to stay local and I’ve had to stay in the moment. Form and content have come together in a way I hadn’t thought of as being my sort of thing. I tend to worry if I sit down to write (whether at home or in one of the excellent online workshops the Poetry Business have been running) and don’t produce a sizeable wordcount. Haiku force all that to one side. I’m tempted to sum it up as quality over quantity, except to put a ‘quality’ judgement on work that’s so recent is probably unfair, and not really in the spirit of the endeavour, which is simply this: to remain creative in these strange and difficult times.

I understand that many people’s lockdown experiences will be far more difficult and claustrophobic than mine, so I hope my focus on creativity doesn’t come across as shallow or selfish. It’s just my way of coping, and maybe it’s yours too.

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown #3

Little Richard’s
obituary on radio
I spill my soup

Jim Young [no title]