A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.
This week, poets have been looking back on their summers, and those who teach are girding their loins for the fall semester. There were several intriguing posts about new approaches to poetry composition. And a few larger social/political issues came up for discussion: the insidiousness of social media, ageism in the poetry business, and white supremacy in higher education. Lesley Wheeler reports seeing “a revolutionary glimmer in some colleagues’ eyes”. Here’s hoping!
Suddenly, it’s September. I have been up since 4 a.m. Putting by tomato sauce and getting ready for the day of doing, this and that. Labor Day weekend. The crickets are still pulsating beneath the open window. I can smell the campfires from Hamlin State park. Summer is smouldering…
Brockport’s Fall semester began this past week. St. John Fisher begins next week. It’s hard to believe that I am standing at this threshold. […]
So grateful to the editors who have accepted this work. I have more to write, but settling back in our daily life has made me focus on what’s happening around me. This summer has been a waterfall of creativity. I am not sure where all of this energy is coming from, but it’s a godsend. I am seeing things that I’ve overlooked. Thank goodness for the 100 days of summer.
M.J. Iuppa, End of Summer… Let the Harvest begin…
I’ve written no poems at all this past month. It is really hard to write when you are in the middle of house hunting, moving, homeschooling four kids under the age of 7, and your husband is five hours away because he has already started his new job. Sometimes writing is the first thing to go. As much as it helps me to write, sometimes I choose to shower instead. Or to teach my online classes, or sweep, or cook a meal. As always, when I spend any amount of days alone with all the kids, I have a renewed sense of wonder for single moms! Going it alone is no fun. My goal this week as a writer is to take five minutes at the end of each day to read a little poetry–it isn’t much, but I think it is something my poet-heart needs.
Renee Emerson, the times they are a changin’
My much awaited book launch in Bothell, Washington two weeks ago was not stellar. I had laryngitis and did not sound my best poetic self. However, the venue was lovely, poets and friends showed up, and my editor, Sandra Kleven hosted with lots of wine and cheese and her usual unflappable grace.
A week later, my readings in Portland and Bellingham went on without me as I was still horizontal on the couch. And so is life. If I have learned anything these past few weeks, it is to let go, as best one can, to expectations. Things happen. People get sick. Life moves forward with or without you. Accept your disappointment and begin again.
This past Monday, my books showed up, and slowly over the course of the week, I realized I have a published book of poems. Seven years of work now gathered together in one place. AND I AM THRILLED! In the end, the book turned out beautiful and for that I am grateful to Cirque Press.
And of course I would love it if you would consider buying one of my books.
We write to share our story and our view of the world. We write with the hope to connect to another human soul. We write to say for one small moment, I was here.
Carey Taylor, I have books!
Learn to grovel, spread thinly
on the ground as
the mud banks crack
hiss out the moisture
of deep earth
coat the shells and scales
as swathes of life
net the land and
carpet polish seashores
with a rubbery ooze.
Uma Gowrishankar, The story of the Earth
The last three months have been really good — one of the best summers I’ve had in a long time, and primarily because I didn’t have a damn thing planned, aside from the kids’ week at camp (glorious! oh the hours of writing time!) and the trips to see my family. I could have done with a little less depression/mood swing nonsense, but I feel like I’m coming out of that somewhat (at least I hope so — I don’t have a lot of patience with myself when I’m mopey).
So — to sum up — this summer resulted in:
- 16 new pages of my play, and a significant shift in its structure, from a one-act to a two-act;
- 30 new poems — 23 of which belong to one emerging manuscript, and 7 which may belong to my collaborative project with M.S.; AND
- 10 new blog posts.
Additionally, I ACTUALLY READ AND FINISHED BOOKS, YOU GUYS. As you may remember from earlier posts, I managed to finish Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan, Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon, and The Halo by C. Dale Young. Just this past week, I finished Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado — which I am completely in love with. It’s the most gorgeous, beautifully weird, moving collection of short stories. Love love love. To the point where I probably won’t teach from it because I don’t want my students to ruin it for me. But anyway. GET THEE TO A LIBRARY OR BOOKSTORE AND READ THIS BOOK.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Summer Stats and Cautious Optimism for the New Semester
Yesterday, August 31st, I dropped a postcard with a poem on it into my favorite mailbox here in Ashland, and I was done—that was my last card for this year’s August Poetry Postcard Fest. This was my sixth year participating in the Fest, a month-long writing marathon founded by Paul Nelson and Lana Hechtman Ayers, in which people around the world write original poems onto postcards and send them off to other Fest participants. This year I managed to hit a personal best, writing 33 poems in the month of August.
As I’ve said in this blog before, the Postcard Fest is an unusually intimate writing marathon because only one person, the recipient, might ever see that poem. And with about 300 Fest participants this year, the recipient might be in Schenectady or Seattle or County Wexford, Ireland. So along with that intimacy, paradoxically, there’s a pleasant anonymity to Fest—since the recipient usually doesn’t know me, in my mind, that means that absolutely anything goes. That person doesn’t care if I’m writing about ants or tacos or Trump, so I tend to give my postcard poems a very loose rein.
This year I wrote almost all of the poems on the same theme, something I’ve never managed to do before. I can’t say I really planned that, but as we got toward the end of July, my region of southern Oregon was suffering from a hellacious, early fire season—several forest fires raged nearby, and we were choking with smoke that settled into our valley and didn’t budge for weeks. Like a lot of people in the area, I became obsessed with the Air Quality Index; several times a day I was checking two apps on my phone, plus a website, to see how bad the air was. Several days we got up into the maroon “hazardous” readings (over 300, the chart’s highest range), days of a strange, omnipresent white fog that felt almost moist in the lungs. People got sick, people fled town for the coast, people actually moved away, it was so bad.
And like my house, car, office, lungs, and very cells, my poems were permeated by smoke as I began writing them for the Postcard Fest. It seemed pointless to write about anything else, it was so pervasive, so all-encompassing. We are a mountain town, and we literally could not see the mountains around us; it looked like we were living in some kind of flat war zone. After a couple of sputtering starts at smoke/fire poems, I got into a groove one night and wrote one that ended up too long for a postcard. But I just went with it, spent a couple of days polishing it up, and ended up sending it to Rattle’s Poets Respond, since it was about a news story that had gone viral, a photo of five firefighters sleeping in a yard in Redding, California, two hours south of here, during the Carr Fire. Rattle published it on their site the following Tuesday, and to my astonishment, it was shared more than 1,000 times from their web page.
Still, the fires burned on and the smoke blanketed us with its netherworld. So I just stuck with it, writing poems about smoke and fire, each with that day’s air quality index noted on it. There were poems about angry meteorologists, weary berry pickers, finding ash inside the car, the language of evacuation orders, and fashion-forward smoke masks. It was like a bottomless well; writing them was almost effortless. Out of the 33 poems I wrote in August, only 4 weren’t about smoke or fire. And then, late in the month, we suddenly got a clear day, and then one that wasn’t too bad. A few days later, we got two incredibly beautiful, clear days in a row. Now we’ve had about a week of good air. And either I was sick of writing about smoke or the muse had finally blown away, because the fire poems didn’t come as easily without that smoke right in front of my face, right in my nose. One of the last poems of the month was about a horse. Just a horse, not a horse breathing smoke or running from fire.
Amy Miller, Smokin’ August Poetry Postcard Fest Wrap-Up
I have been trying a new approach to writing poems these days, very different for me, who usually has a stranglehold on word and idea. I’ve been kitchen-sink-ing it these days.
I start with an image and anything that occurs to me around that image which seems at all relevant to why the image caught my eye, I throw down on paper. And I do this for a while, leaving a file open on my desktop to add stuff to as it occurs to me as I wander around my day. After a while I start rereading them to rediscover what’s there.
If it seems like I’ve got a heap of stuff that has some relation — a bunch of silverware perhaps, or cups and saucers — then I pick through to try to create short, more orderly passages. I try to find threads to weave and gaps to fill. I toss to the bottom things that either don’t seem to quite fit or are blathery or boring, but I don’t want to throw away just yet. Often I find similar versions of the same idea, so I have to decide which one is most interesting, or twist a handle here, ding a tine there, so there’s enough different that I can keep them both. And I start to try line breaks, stanza thingies, start to clip and shift my way toward rhythms. And I try to find the point beyond which an idea I’ve thrown in just cannot stay.
It’s in this editing process that I bring some order to the mess. I do insist, it seems, on having some kind of organizing principle or through-line of reason. (Which it seems puts me out of touch with so much of contemporary poetry I read, poetry that tolerates the, to me, wholly tangential, the inexplicable, the, what I call, “hunh? quotient.” Of course, these contemporary authors may indeed have their own organizing principle for the seemingly random utterances. But what is it? What is it? What the hell is it?)
I am concerned about making sure there’s some kind of connective tissue at work in a poem, a line of thinking that at least somewhat clearly loops back upon itself. I want the reader to happily take leaps with me, not find themselves legs flailing over an abyss.
Marilyn McCabe, Order! Order!; or, On Finding a Unifying Principle in the Disorderly Poem
There is an adage in most monotheistic religions that collectively advises practitioners to pray when you don’t want to, and especially when you feel like you can’t. I think the act of writing poetry might function the same way; there are points in all our writing journeys when the purposeful trudge is necessary, when the pen feels more like a pick axe than a nimble sword. While this is in no way the only method, I almost always find myself searching out the structure of poetic forms when I feel stuck in those slog-moments.
Just Keep Writing: 3 Forms to Re-energize Your Poetry – guest blog post by Jerrod Schwarz (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
I know when I was at school I’d be asked, or told, to write a story; and when I was a young and not especially reflective teacher, I’d be the one to do the asking or telling. There was always the one or two or three who would very reasonably say: I don’t know what to write about, Sir / Miss. I guess they were written off in school reports: ‘Lacks imagination’. I was OK at school, because although I knew very little, I read a lot and I’d figured out the tricks of writing a story. Poems, not so much. But we were rarely asked to write a poem, so that was OK.
And then, many years later (in my case) you find yourself, for reasons you can’t fathom, writing, or trying to write, poems; meeting other bewildered and enthusiastic folk in the same pickle. And every now and again hearing (or reading on Facebook) the complaint that someone is ‘blocked’ or ‘stuck’ or has ‘hit a blank period’. It’s the voice from childhood, all over again. Please, Miss. I don’t know what to write. I’ll stick my neck out. Here’s the answer. It’s because, for one reason or another, you have nothing to say. Not for ever. But just now. It’s because nothing is exciting or puzzling you.
You can make a list of what ought to intrigue you: your childhood, relationships, friends, school….the whole autobiographical shtick. But if it doesn’t excite or puzzle you, why should it interest anyone else? Places, landscapes, other lives? Ditto. Stuff you know you know about? History, science, cars, philately? Ditto.
So I’m going to stick my neck out again and say it’s the stuff that takes you by surprise, that’s exciting but something you don’t understand, something you want to understand…that’s what you wait for or go hunting for.
I was talking to the poet Helen Mort a week or so ago and she said something that caught my attention (she said a lot of things that did that) and I had to write it down. She said that when she went to Cambridge she was thrown by the way so many students took the place for granted, as though they didn’t actually ‘see’ it. Whereas she, as an outsider, an incomer, was gobsmacked and excited and baffled and all that…And I was immediately transported back to the interview I had in Cambridge, aged 17. I felt like an alien. Which meant, I suppose, that I was differently observant. It was like trying to learn a four-dimensional foreign language. And then Helen said:
Ideally, writers are on the outside, looking in
They are ideally, I suppose, the dark watchers I wrote about last week. They are writing to discover, because that’s the medium they make their discoveries in. Helen said:
I can make poems to be written, and they might be OK, but that’s all
By which I understood: if you’re not puzzled by what you’re writing about then you won’t be writing the poems that need to be written. I’m really glad I was there to hear that.
John Foggin, From the back catalogue (3)
I’ve started thinking about, and writing, new poems for what might be a second collection. These are mostly poems to do with human ageing, the menopause, being an older mother, being a parent to teenagers and young adults, and small town living. Does this sound like these are poems that might make a book? Anyway, a book is a far away thought as I’m just filling up my notebooks with lines and fragments at this point – although some finished poems have emerged. I’ve also written some themed poems for competitions – I just fancied it and I wanted to support the people organising them. Occasionally I’ve won or been a runner-up in a poetry comp so we’ll see what happens.
I’ve also made a stab at some prose writing – thinking that I might be writing a novel – but when I’ve read through this work it seems that it is a series of poems hidden inside many pages of words, rather like word search puzzles.
Josephine Corcoran, Reading, writing, planning, etc.
To Speak or Not to Speak?
That is indeed the question! I don’t mean speaking the poem, that goes without saying, so to speak … I mean giving a brief introduction to some of the poems, the way I do when reading to an audience. My initial idea was just to record the audiobook as a verbatim rendition of the text in the pamphlet, but my experience of audiobooks over the last year has been changing my thoughts about this.
The National Poetry Library at the South Bank Centre on The Thames in London, will lend poetry audio CDs and I’ve been receiving two CDs per month. My favourites so far have included Jo Shapcott and Lavinia Greenlaw, and vintage recordings of T. S. Eliot and Philip Larkin. Approaches differ from poet to poet — some introduce their poems with information about how, when and why they wrote the poem, whilst other poets just read their work with no elaboration. My preference is definitely the former, though generally speaking the CDs are ‘So-and-so reading from his/her poems’ and cover a few of their published works, not a literal reading of one single book.
Since readers of the paperback copy of Dressing Up don’t get any explanatory notes on details pertaining to the poem (even in the poem The Kapluna Effect, in which I intended to footnote translations of 3 Inuit words I use in the poem but plum forgot to!) and will only hear those insights if they come and hear me read live, is it fair to include them on the audiobook version? I’m inclined to think it is, but that I might put a page on this blog, on which I detail the things I mention when introducing the poems live, plus some small edits I have made to the poems since publication, which I came to through the act of performing them.
Giles L. Turnbull, The Poetry Professional
I don’t know if my failure at Twitter has to do with my introversion, or simply my complete lack of interest in sharing all of my fascinating opinions with the world. I can’t imagine having a thought and immediately feeling an overwhelming urge to hammer it out and announce it to all and sundry on social media. Also, Twitter is a garbage barge under the best of circumstances. It’s a terrible form of electronic crack that caters to the absolute worst of our instincts. It’s a rage factory, a sewer and a societal blight. Yet I cannot bring myself to delete my account, because I am no better than anyone else and I get a little smirky, feel-good charge out of observing the gladiatorial verbal death-matches. Also, I keep thinking there has to be a more interesting way to use it, like writing a short story in a series of Tweets, or posting short poems…and then I could build a huge following and get Twitter-famous! See, I barely even use it and yet I’m still addicted and plotting some grubby rise to cheap fame through its auspices. It’s bad news.
Kristen McHenry, Bad at Twitter, Edwardian Trolling, Belated Buddy Update
I posted something on Facebook about the dearth of opportunities for poets after that first or second book prize, the lack of prestige presses reading open submissions or anything but first book contest entries, a whole poetry system that seems to spin on publicizing the young and the new. I guess they are more photogenic! LOL. Not to be bitter and old, but you know, great poets aren’t always the most photogenic or the hippest. Sometimes they are (gasp) over 40! They don’t always go to Iowa or live in NYC! Sigh.
Anyway, the post generated so many responses (some heated) that I had to hide the thread, but it was interesting to read the variety of responses – older poets saying that had given up on “the po biz” or publishing even one book altogether, older poets saying they wanted to encourage younger poets but also wanted more outlets for poets their age. Some folks pointing out that this could be a problem of scarcity – a feeling that the majority of scarce energy, time, money, publicity was going only to some poets, leaving the rest empty-handed. The weird thing is, there’s less scarcity in poetry than usual – poetry books, everbody’s telling us, are selling more than ever. Or “how dare you? Don’t you want to encourage young poets?” (I do!) Or “You should only write for the joy of writing the poem.” (Yes, to a point…but I also write to share that with others…) […]
I wrote an essay a while back for The Rumpus called “the Amazing Disappearing Woman Writer,” talking about Ellen Bass’s rise to fame in her early years, her disappearance from the map of mainstream poetry, and a bit of a late triumphal return. That seems to be a pattern – people seem more willing to embrace a woman poet when she is young and sexy, forget about her in middle age, and cheer her again when (perhaps) she is seen as less of a threat, more of a mother figure, in her later years? It takes a lot of courage and persistence and work to try to stay in the spotlight. The ones that stay there, they are fighting to stay there. Or other people are fighting for them. Anyway, this is why you may notice that my book reviews often focus on women, and women in middle age particularly, ones that I don’t feel have had enough written about them. Some poets get way too much review space, and others way too little, and I’ll do what I can when I have the energy to try to put a spotlight on these women in their middle years.
But there remains the problem – the culture of poetry’s fetishism of young poets. The desire for the new. Instagram poetry could be a great way to reach more people with poetry – or a great way to shallow-up the world of poetry, focusing on the pretty image and the tiny, easily digestible poem. I don’t have the answers. But you might – if you have the power to buy a book of poetry, or reviewing one, think about giving your attention to a poet who might not be the flavor of the month or in the spotlight, but might speak uniquely to you. If you are a publisher or editor, think about your gatekeepers – if they’re all 22, that might be affecting what gets past them, because at 22, you feel 30 is old – and that gives you a different worldview than someone, say, in their fifties. (If they’re all 22 white able-bodied males, you may have even more thinking to do.) Think about diversifying opportunity. After all, Ellen Bass never stopped being a terrific writer – she just dropped off the radar for a while.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Grappling with Middle Age and Being a Mid-Career Poet
I’m in on this: reading women poets in September, which, if you follow on Twitter, you will see delicious suggestions of many, many books you will want to read (or re-read), some poets you’ve never heard of but are grateful to know about, and a sudden urge to spend all of your allowance on (yes) books of poetry by women.
There is no sign-up; there are no rules, no commitment, but the idea of reading books of poetry, reading women poets, reading while thinking “this is a woman, a poet, a book of poetry by a woman” gives a certain delight.
Even if you have been doing this all year long for many years.
I have a pile of books that I intend to read (at least some of) this month, and hope to write reviews of (at least a few) here on my Sunday Morning Muse blog.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with #SeptWomenPoets
In May 2018, the Commission issued a long report recommending many changes, some of which involve altering the role of the chapel in university life; renaming buildings and changing the balance of what’s memorialized; and correcting myths to present a far more complex picture of [Robert E.] Lee. After 24 years of being upset by the way [Washington and Lee University] presents Lee, I appreciated much of the straight talk in the report, although I know plenty of people who didn’t think it went far enough. The Commission included stakeholders from many generations, backgrounds, and political persuasions, so its consensus surprised me and gave me a little bit of wary hope.
Well, the president just issued a response that started the flaggers cheering (and presumably plenty of deep-pocketed conservative older alums, too). Basically, he was very specific about keeping intact the tradition of whitewashing Lee, and very vague about how other report recommendations might one day, possibly, very quietly be partially adopted. I’m not surprised, but like all the other professors I’ve been talking to, I’m sad and disappointed. What a waste of momentum towards change. What a way, too, to disrespect an already demoralized teaching community. I feel particularly bad for colleagues and students who put hundreds of hours of work into the commission, many of which involved fielding bile from enraged right-wingers, who are invariably louder than anyone with a moderate or left-of-center perspective.
Am I angry? Not really; too tired. I am mad at myself for signing up to moderate diversity discussions during first-year orientation, which will add up to 10-12 hours of unpaid labor, some of them over this “holiday” weekend. Why volunteer to facilitate those conversations when the larger organization won’t support the values behind them? I am worried about the students, though–the first-years moving in this morning as well as my returning students and advisees. I want everyone to feel welcomed, supported, and able to be full participants in the intellectual and artistic community we try to foster. I know many students who felt disenfranchised and demoralized last year; I’m afraid the president’s letter just made things much worse. What DOES seem utterly worthwhile, and what I’ll try to keep my focus on, is continuing to give students what help I can in my classrooms and office hours. Aside from the extra dose of complicity in white supremacy (!!!), I like teaching here a great deal: small classes, great resources, talented students, talented colleagues. It’s not the worst corner a poet can get backed into.
Plus, in meetings yesterday, I saw a revolutionary glimmer in some colleagues’ eyes. Roanoke College professor and general education expert Paul Hanstedt was leading an outstanding workshop on general education and I think the hard-core university citizens in the room were realizing: maybe donors will win all the debates about names, statues, and institutional rhetoric. But the FACULTY is in charge of the curriculum. We can make CHANGES that COUNT.
In the meantime, I loaded some extra protest poetry into fall syllabi. More on poetry teaching soon, and on reading poetry for Shenandoah, which, it turns out, I LOVE—it’s so much fun to read new work pouring in. W&L’s distinguished literary magazine, currently being redesigned by a new Editor in Chief, Beth Staples, is open for submissions now, all genres, no cost to submit, and if you’re accepted, it pays actual money! We’ll do good work with W&L’s resources yet.
Lesley Wheeler, Flagging
A river enlivened my childhood. Several rivers, in fact–the Hudson, the Delaware–but the one that comes to me at this moment is the Eel River in Indiana, pictured in my recent post here. By coincidence, just this week Streetlight, an online literary review, published my poem “Eel River Meditation.” In less cheerful news, someone whose presence I associate with South Whitley, IN has entered hospice care. These associations summon memories that carry me into that realm of family tales, rituals, jokes, sorrows, generational mythology.
My grandmother lived beside the Eel. A self-taught artist, she painted the bridge over the river many times, in all seasons. It must have steadied her sense of being in the world, of being in place; certainly, her paintings evoke that place, a small Indiana town, in those of us who knew and loved her.
And what could be more metaphorical than a bridge? Than a river? Than the changing seasons?
Locally, this rainy summer in my valley region, the feeder streams are full to overflowing and rushing to the Lehigh River, flooding the low-lying marshy areas, stranding the occasional cow or motorist. The fall semester has begun, and the garden’s mostly abandoned to the aforementioned weeds. My mind and heart are full, too. Maybe there will be poetry.
Ann E. Michael, Feeder streams
If you want a book-length treatment of hurricane Katrina in poems, I recommend two wonderful books. Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler does amazing things, an astonishing collection of poems that deal with Hurricane Katrina. I love the way that Katrina comes to life. I love that a dog makes its way through these poems. I love the multitude of voices, so many inanimate things brought to life (a poem in the voice of the Superdome–what a cool idea!). I love the mix of formalist poetry with more free form verse and the influence of jazz and blues music. An amazing book.
In Colosseum, Katie Ford also does amazing things. She, too, writes poems of Hurricane Katrina. But she also looks back to the ancient world, with poems that ponder great civilizations buried under the sands of time. What is the nature of catastrophe? What can be saved? What will be lost?
I fear we’ll be asking these questions more and more in the 21st century.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Hurricane Katrina on the Ground and in Poetry
This gold and green shield bug was crawling around on my Crossandra this morning. His under side was an iridescent gold which I tried to photograph but it just didn’t translate well. Plus, he seemed to sense I was getting pretty close as he twisted and turned and crawled until he was on a very slender stem, clinging for dear life and seemingly discombobulated to the point of not knowing where to go for safety. It reminded me of myself when I’m stressed out, my mind a jumble of crossed wires. I guess in some ways we’re not so different, bugs and humans.
Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Shield Bug