Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 18

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.

Last week, I told someone who’d just read the digest that there’d been 35 quotes in all and they expressed disbelief — it seemed so short, they said (or words to that effect). This week, there are 36… and I can tell you that the hours I spent gathering them went by much too quickly. If posting slows now with Poetry Month behind us, I’ll be sad. True, some may need to gather their breath. But writers never remain silent for long.


From confessions and digressions, open books of hope and secret diaries of dilemmas. From dead air and stringed silences, forward-thinking dreams and counterclockwise insomnia. From what we cannot remember, what we refuse to forget. From broken bones and broken Spanish, broken homes and broken English. The chains from which we escape and the kindred spirits with which we’re linked. We the weary, we the wounded, we the wizened, we the wondrous—we rise.

Rich Ferguson, All the Bright and Battered Places

We have relied
on the promises of the labyrinth:
one path in, no dead ends,
no false turns, not a maze.

We have trusted
that the path leads
to a center that can hold
us all in all our complexities.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, World Labyrinth Day 2020

dog gods tied goose feathers to their ears to sing with wren tongues in the scribbly forest there is always a chance of betrayal there might be a quest monarch butterflies and bees hum straight up through the cloud layer tomato vine perfume on my elegant hands cat on the windowsill taking note animals as protectors animals as rippling safe spaces animals as letters and songs yesterday I found my childhood copy of Charlotte’s Web moth eaten rat chewed from my time in the known world and dog gods tied seaweed to their ears to sing with trout mouths and tomatoes clapped their green hands this morning I rinsed my hair in apple cider vinegar today I’ll scrub the floors and sing today I’ll thank my animal body for crawling out of the fire alive

Rebecca Loudon, corona 17.

I would prefer
America not be
my name but it
is my name &
is the name of
the poem’s market
place & share
holders even its
eventual dead it is
the name of this
lithium ion
battery this soft
ware pharma
ceutical logo
is the name of
the Tower where
I make my cameos
as a face discovered
in a poem’s country

R.M. Haines, Poem After May Day

Sometimes, the numbers on their own speak to us, as they do at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.; at the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia; at the Field of Empty Chairs Memorial to those killed in the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. At such places, the abstract is made conceivable, if still unbearable, through representation in artful form. 

What we don’t get is something more fundamental: the stories of the lives behind the numbers that collectively tell us who we are. 

A paragraph in a “Lives Lost” column, a column-inch obituary, a poem, a recitation of names, a tolling of bells: at most, they remind us, offer glimpses.

What does it mean to grieve if we have only numbers, build memorials based on numbers, but fail to learn and keep alive our stories?

And how do we grieve, knowing there exist throughout the country the counted but the unknown? Who grieves for those buried en masse in the trenches on Hart Island in Long Island Sound? With what certainty do we account for the disappeared and unremembered? For the lost stories of joy and hope?

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

People are suffering. I’m very worried for small business owners and deeply saddened by all of the boarded up businesses in my neighborhood. The financial hardships will have devastating consequences for years to come. Families have not been able to be with their loved ones when they pass away. Some people will have permanent physical damage from this virus. So a part of me feels very judgmental and irritated by what I deem to be petty complaints and overly-dramatic teeth-gnashing about “how hard it is” from people who are getting paid to work in the comfort of their own homes. I find myself thinking, We’ve gotten soft. We’ve allowed luxury and abundance to weaken us. People used to be tougher, more self-sacrificing and community-minded, stronger in mind and body. People need to buck up, face reality and get their shit together. Now is the time to stop wallowing, tighten up and get into fighting shape. If you didn’t lose your job or your business, or you didn’t lose a loved one, you have no right to be complaining right now. I don’t care about your visible roots or the fact that you can’t go to a cocktail party or that there’s no basketball.

And yet those losses are real and legitimate. Those are things that signify normalcy and a functioning society. Shared culture experiences such as March Madness matter. Visits to the salon matter. Parties matter. All of the things that we are not able to engage in right now are important to maintaining the integrity of a culture and our identity within it. It’s natural to be sad about their loss.

When I thought about it honestly, I realized that my judgmentalness is a projection. A part of me is angry at myself for the grief I’m carrying about my own losses, because I’ve deemed them to be petty compared to what other people are suffering. Yet they are still my losses, they are real, and they hurt–a lot.

Kristen McHenry, On Grief, Loss, Guilt and Judgment: A Little Light Reading

Most of my work meetings begin with a grounding activity, in which we are given some stimulus to help us center our ensuing conversation in our students and families, the majority of whom are people of color and/or living in poverty. The general theme when we are sharing our responses to the stimulus, since we’ve been closed, is this:

We are so fortunate, to be living in the privilege we do. We need to keep at the forefront our families who are not.

True and true.

Fortune is a relative thing, though, isn’t it? (Seriously, after you finish reading, come back and click on this link.)

In comparison to those who are sick, out of work, working on the front lines (which increasingly feels more literal than metaphorical), and/or targeted by bigots, we white educators who are working are fortunate. As an educator who is not providing direct service to students, I am more fortunate (at least in some ways) than those who are. (More than one I know has shared this teacher’s post this week.)

And yet, as the title of a book a therapist once put in my hands claims, The Body Keeps the Score.

I’m writing these words having woken up, again, in pain: spikes in the head, sharp ache in the back (it’s still with me, though not accute). The dull, medicated fuzz is settling in.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Whole enough

It’s been nice to have a cool spring, to enjoy the afternoon hikes I’m taking with my dog each day. And to be honest, this cool, overcast weather matches my mood lately.

This spring has been hard for me. Not only has the pandemic cancelled my book launch and all my readings, I’ve also dealt with some blows in my professional and writing life. I didn’t receive a promotion I was hoping for. My phone died unexpectedly and I had to buy a new one (seriously, why are phones so expensive?!), my car went in for work twice in three weeks, costing nearly $1k each time. And then, the worst – I received a wonderful, amazing rejection.

I know that sounds strange, to call a rejection both wonderful and amazing, but it really was. The press said my poetry was “visceral, vivid, and alive” and if they had the capacity to publish more collections of poetry next year mine would “almost certainly make the cut.” I was both elated and crushed. This was a press I felt was a good fit for my work. And they agreed, but they couldn’t add my book to their roster.

Courtney LeBlanc, Sometimes it Rains

I can’t stop thinking about the trend to make bread and Dali’s obsession with bread. For those of you who have followed Rob’s work over the years, you might remember that as part of a series titled, History of Still Life, he did a riff on Dali’s bread. Essays have been written about Dali’s bread.

We usually think of Dali’s melting clocks and surreal imagery but he said of bread that it “has always been one of the oldest fetishistic and obsessive subjects in my work, the one to which I have remained the most faithful.” Bread is a trope throughout Dali’s work — used to comment on consumerism, mass consumption, capitalism, moral hunger, etc. Bread has the ability to hold so many meanings at once and to resonate through time and take on new connotations and historical moments. Bread is always with us. 

When I think of bread I also think of the words of Gaston Bachelard. On bread in poetry and its place in the memories from childhood he says, “In days of happiness, the world is edible.” And “I am taken by the urge to collect all the warm bread to be found in poetry.” And then, “How they would help me give to memory the great odors of the celebration begun again, or a life which one would take up again, swearing gratitude for the original joys.”  

Perhaps it will be the perfume of baking bread at this time that will permeate children’s memories when they are grown. Perhaps, though lonely, they’ll come away with happier memories than we imagine.

Shawna Lemay, Why Still Life Might Speak to You Now

I’ve been keeping a pandemic journal. In many respects, it reflects what I’m posting on Instagram — baking bread (like everyone else), drinking, exercising in my house, etc.

But what the journal is capturing that social media (mostly) doesn’t is my incredible angst about returning to the office and to normal life after this is all done, whatever “done” means.

I’ve been honest about my struggles with anxiety and the grind, and although pandemic stress (even from my current distance to it) is real, social distancing and lock down have created a kind of comfort and stability that I haven’t had in a while. A fair amount of the pressure — which can come from too few hours in a day — is off. I no longer have to commute back and forth to work. I’m no longer driving 30 minutes each way to the gym. School activities are canceled. My frequent trips to the grocery store have been curtailed. I don’t have to maintain a wardrobe for work or social activities. I no longer eat lunch out several days a week. I am still working, but the hours in my day — even those work hours — feel more like they belong to me.

In thinking about what comes next, I can’t imagine returning to normal. That frenzy was poisonous to me.

And it’s poisonous to all of us. I’ll fully admit I’m a sensitive soul, but going 900 mph all day every day to support a household is terrible for nearly all of us. If we have a choice — and I’m not entirely sure we do — why would we choose it?

And how can we go back, really? If we didn’t know it before, our ability to stock up on and maintain “emergency” supplies is based on our privilege. Our ability to stay safe and social distance is also based in privilege. And whether we’re talking about preventing a contagion or limiting our carbon footprints, what will we do with that privilege after this? Will it remain a selfish force or can we stand up for collective survival?

Carolee Bennett, “ocean’s stomach of inevitability”

Over here in Spain, we’ve been in lockdown, or confinamiento, as we term it, since 15th March. The rules have been that nobody is allowed to leave their house unless it’s to work, shop for essentials or go to the doctor. In other words, no exercise has been permitted outside the home.

These rules have been widely accepted, especially as cases have dropped significantly since their implementation. The good news is that as a consequence today we were able to go out to exercise for the first time. Of course, the rules are still far stricter than in the U.K., as we’re not allowed, for instance, to drive anywhere to have a walk. Moreover, we’re also limited to a certain time slot by age group (ours was 6-10 a.m. or 8-11 p.m.).

We decided to have our first walk in the vineyards that begin about two hundred yards beyond our house. It was exciting to see how much the vines have grown over the past six weeks. As you can see in the first photo below, bunches of grapes are now starting to form. As for the views over the rolling hills, deep blue skies set against clay soil, they’re as gorgeous as ever.

Matthew Stewart, Our first walk

Today, I woke to rampant sunshine and the feeling that maybe, after a couple false start days, but not even enough of those, that spring may finally be going to happen out there with or without us. And at least without me for another month or so. But at least, it’s happening.  On the whole, I’m finding I can feel a little more normal when I avoid the news and social media until later in the day and dive into work–whether that be library or press related immediately when I get up, which sometimes is weirdly very early for me (I’m guessing I finally, after more than a month have caught up on sleep deficit) or sometimes after a nap due to that early rising. I find I can concentrate best if I turn something on that I enjoy, but doesn’t need too much of my attention (I’ve been revisiting The Office this past week.) So there has been more web-curation, and blog posts, and some other things in the hopper.  When I do read the news it’s as troubling, at least nationally, as it was before, even though Illinois seems to continue to be wiser and more cautious than the rest of the country.

Kristy Bowen, may

So, our governor has extended Washington State’s lockdown til May 31. Some things are opening: state parks and elective surgery, some construction. I have a lot of health problems and know I’m at high risk so I’m glad they’re being safe rather than sorry. Some states that opened too soon (Georgia, North Carolina) are already experiencing increased cases. I feel terrible for small business owners, for people who can’t run their businesses during the shutdown. Restaurants in particular will be hard hit. Glenn was working from home since February, and probably will until this fall; even Amazon has announced its tech employees can work from home til October. One in five people in Seattle have filed for unemployment. Meanwhile, things break: cell phones, stand mixers, my laptop. We learn to try to cut our own hair.

I will admit I miss some things – book stores, coffee shops, seeing my little brother on the weekend or taking a trip to one of the beautiful areas around Washington State. Walking around without being terrified of other people; remember that? This month I usually visit Skagit Valley’s tulip festival, hike around the waterfall at Ollalie State Park, or take a trip to Port Townsend or Bainbridge Island. This month, of course, we’re staying close to home. This is one of the only months that we can get outside (too much rain the rest of the year, wildfires during midsummer) so I understand that people are restless.

So, we continue to get by with grocery deliveries and walks around our neighborhood (to avoid people, I mostly walk around abandoned office parks and closed wineries, tbh) and spring continues to bloom. This week, lilacs, azaleas, wisteria. Our lilies were eaten by rabbits (or deer maybe?) but we continue to plant things in the garden.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s May and Lockdown Continues, Reading Stack During a Pandemic, Celebrating a Melancholy Birthday

Despite Georgia’s moronic governor opening businesses and restaurants and letting the shelter-in-place order expire, I’m still in lockdown mode. Here in Atlanta and Fulton County, we have the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying to resume their normal lives by completely ignoring social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. I’m guessing we’ll see a significant spike in cases in a few weeks, especially after this weekend’s sunny weather and a much ballyhooed flyover by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds brought thousands out to the parks and walking trails. I digress.

In the month since I last posted, I’ve done absolutely zero of my own writing (save for putting some stray words and lines into my iPhone that might eventually become poems), but I’ve written enough about COVID-19 for the magazine to fill a new trilogy of novels. My days have been spent posting updates and covering how the pandemic has affected Atlanta. After sitting in front of my computer all day and half the night, the last thing I want to do is even more writing.

Since April was National Poetry Month, there were plenty of online poetry readings. Maybe too many. Many of my interviews for the magazine and all of our staff meetings have been on Zoom and, honestly, I’m kinda over it. Zoom fatigue is real, y’all.

Collin Kelley, I’m still here…

It’s hard to say yet whether April was the worst month for the pandemic in the US, but I’m still glad it’s over! I tried to kick the poetry-writing part of my brain into gear, attempting to write a poem a day and share drafts with a small group of friends. What I wrote was neither great nor daily, but it felt like a productive practice and a way to feel connected across distances. I also devoted time and energy to getting word out about The State She’s In, although time and energy both seemed to be in short supply. (It’s a book about gender and ambition, among other subjects, which is another reason why I’m finding Whitman interesting to reread.) Maybe I’ve set myself up better for May. April’s unpredictability was getting me down so I organized my May class better: M/W for online discussion forums, T/Th for Zoom discussions, and Fridays and weekends, I hope, for poetry revisions, submissions, and publicity.

Any of you poets trying to submit work have probably noticed, too, the rush of editor verdicts lately. I’ve had some acceptances and some rejections (without wanting to assassinate anybody). It probably helps me stay philosophical that another April task was to reject some damn fine poems submitted to Shenandoah (650 subs for 12-15 spots). There was much hair-tearing and teeth-gnashing on my part, truly, so I now mostly see people who reject me not as nepotistic demon kings but as other stressed-out people making hard calls.

Lesley Wheeler, Hope, ambition, and other tricky green things

If you view a chapbook or book as the destination, you’ll almost invariably be let down on some matter of production value, interaction with the editors, or lack of media recognition. No process is perfect, especially if it’s coming after years of anticipation. 

I use the metaphor of book as passport; online or in person, where can a collection can take you? What conversations will it spark? That said, your publisher is not your travel agent. People are often surprised to realize that W. W. Norton doesn’t arrange or fund my participation in readings, conferences, or festivals. I do it all on my own. And there’s a lot to consider about the privileges and iniquities embedded in an attitude of “you make your own path”–that’s not a tidy end to any conversation. But it’s where we need to begin, in understanding the value of contests that yield an artifact of bound pages and a judge’s citation. What I’ve experienced over and over is that what matters most is not a physical book, but the community it fuels. 

Sandra Beasley, What Breaks Through: Poetry Book Contests

The downside of using competitions as a focusing method is the cost of entering competitions.  At the same time, I’m usually contributing a small amount of money to a worthwhile enterprise, a charity, that gives out a lot in terms of support for writers, writer development and public events.

I switch off my phone, I switch off the internet sometimes – when I need to.  I recognise when scrolling is a distraction.  The timer on my phone is a brilliant tool for helping me to focus in small chunks of time.  Sometimes a small chunk of time is all I need.

Sometimes losing focus is a means of providing inspiration.  Mindless scrolling on the internet turns out to not be mindless at all when it leads to an interesting article that leads me to a new writer; a wonderful image leads me to discover a new artist; a recommendation of a programme leads me to a worthwhile series.

Not adhering to a timetable can produce a conversation with someone I wouldn’t usually have connected with at that time.  In my head, I imagine I would like to be the kind of person who sets themselves a daily target of writing 5,000 words a day and doesn’t leave their seat until the words are written.  But I am not that kind of person.  Also, I spent at least five minutes fiddling around taking photographs of my glasses to try to capture a suitable image for this post.

Josephine Corcoran, Discover Prompts: Focus

Writers as famous as Tartt can go years without producing a book and still be part of the scene – they’re talked about in their absence. Other writers aren’t so lucky. One might think that the situation’s easier for poets than for story writers – they can place single poems in magazines, ticking over – but there aren’t that many opportunities available in good magazines, and lead times can be many months. Meanwhile, new graduates from Creative Writing courses flood the market. Consequently there’s a temptation to manage one’s image. If you stand still you’ll get left behind.

In The Poet Tasters Ben Etherington wrote about the Australian scene, pointing out that “a lingering sense of hobbyism can afflict the vocation. Just about anyone who has decided that poetry is their thing, and who has enough private means and persistence, can be confident of edging their way into a scene like Australia’s. Even long-established poets can be nagged by the feeling that the aesthetic communities from which they gain recognition only reflect back the effort they put in; miss a few readings, take a break from publishing, leave an editorial post and you and your work might disappear.

I can think of a few poets for whom that nagging feeling was confirmed by what happened after their death.

Tim Love, Visibility in the literary scene

Days pass strangely of late. I move through the rooms of my house in all the normal ways — eat food, watch TV, work, read, or clean — and yet there’s an oddness in every peripheral.

Time passes — quick, quick, slow.

Nothing is normal — and it’s hard to know how to feel when nothing is normal.

Today, I get to announce the wonderful news that Twelve, my chapbook of prose poems based on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” will be published by Interstellar Flight Press later this year.

I’m delighted — of course I’m delighted. Though some small part of me wonders if, considering everything that’s going on in the world, all the stress and doubt and fear, whether I should be subdued in my excitement, more respectful of those who are struggling right now.

But here’s the thing, I think the world needs good news. It needs victories great and small. It needs celebration in whatever small spades that life can offer.

Andrea Blythe, A Bit of Good News

I am pleased to announce the publication of a new collection of poems. “Being Many Seeds” won the Grayson Books Chapbook Contest and has just been released into the world:graysonbooks.com.

The collection is a hybrid thing in that, in addition to the poems, running across the bottom of each page of poetry is a brief essay of some thoughts about the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit priest and paleontologist. Plus each poem has three parts: the first poem, then another poem I “found” inside it by erasing some of the words, then a third such erasure, with each iteration either distilling, moving away from, or suggesting something different from the original poem. I’d say the theme of the collection is our connection to each other and to the earth.

It is a “chapbook” of poems, which is a common form in the poetry world meaning that it is about half the length of a full-length collection, and tends to be more thematically focused than a full-length, but also, since it is staple-bound rather than having a spine, it is a format often not sold in bookstores, as it has no shelf presence, nor carried by libraries. Buying a copy from the publisher helps this little press keep up its good work of getting poetry into the world.

I also have a stash of copies and will likely keep a box in my car, should we ever see each other again.

But if you are creative in some other realm and commit to trying to use this collection as a leaping off point for a creative work — turn the pages into origami, bake a poem cake, compose a symphony, dance a quadrille while humming the poems, soak the pages into a pulp and make sculpture, knit a poem scarf, whatever — I’ll send you a book for free right now!

Marilyn McCabe, I write the book; or, On My New Book of Poems

I’ve become quietly addicted to these little poems – click here to view the above.

For me, they’re the perfect antidote (or do I mean complement) to both the restrictions of lockdown and the long haul of editing my novel. I have 6 short films on You Tube now. The quality is variable, but given the restrictions of the equipment I’m using, plus my woeful lack of technical expertise, they are the best I can do for the moment. My focus, inevitably, has been on small things, the here and now: sun and rain, blossom and bees. Having said that, by really honing down the writing, and closing in on what I’m observing, other possibilities and meanings seem to open up.

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown

Cat Stevens’ voice breaks
when he sings the word “listen.”
Hummingbird flies off.

Jason Crane, haiku: 28 April 2020

had my death never happened :: who would listen to the rain

Grant Hackett [no title]

She leans over the microscope,
an incandescent eye, radiant
and restrained. Her dragons are shapechangers,
quiescent one moment, knit with stars
the next. They sidestep each question
like a dancer, a duelist,
incomplete but still close,
an invitation
(what will you do,
what won’t you)
with no
way
to say
yes. Or not.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah, Immortal

One metre fifty
from each other. In the queue
of lost needless things.

Behind a mask, eyes
that do not try hard language,
they’re soft and get it

that you’re vulnerable
too. Then the distance moves on,
fast to someone else,

before one must speak.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time (April – Part 2)

Today’s prompt challenges us to “write a poem about something that returns. For, just as the swallows come back to Capistrano each year, NaPoWriMo and GloPoWriMo will ride again!” ~ NaPoWriMo, Day 30

Once again, NaPoWriMo has been a wild, exuberant, insanely rewarding experience! I’m beyond grateful to Maureen Thorson for her delightful prompts and for the community she brings together every year. And I’m grateful to everyone who has been supportive and kind and endlessly enthusiastic about poetry.

I love this last prompt because it ends on a hopeful note. NaPoWriMo will indeed return next year. I know I’ll miss it this May, when my poetry-writing routine suffers from a lack of discipline (self-imposed deadlines don’t seem quite as urgent). And you know what else will return? Birthdays. Here’s a photo of the gluten-free cake my daughter made for me yesterday. And a photo of the meal my husband and son prepared for me in secret–and included some Romanian dishes. And a photo of the cards my kids wrote for me that brought me to my knees. It’s terrible how we forget sometimes how much we’re loved.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 30

In between working and crashing out on the sofa from too much screen time and sadness (are they the same thing? Discuss) the other day a line of a poem I have not read in twenty (?) or so years came to me: ‘I haven’t had time to stand and fart recently’. I first read it in the late and much missed poetry magazine Smiths Knoll, jointly edited at that time by Roy Blackman  Michael Laskey. I am guessing this must have been sometime in the early 1990s, when I was heroically trying to read everything I could get my hands on (a feat which I am very late in the day coming to realise I failed). Still, there was Smiths Knoll and The North and The Rialto  and Tears in the Fence and this thing I took a punt on one wild day called Scratch.

Links were being made. Tentative, pre-internet-and-email friendships, with things we still call paper and envelopes and stamps. Janet Fisher rang me up once about a poem and it was like a visit from Royalty. (I had to lie down then, too.) It turned out Mark Robinson was editor of said Scratch, so his name jumped off the page at me as I read about farting and love and poverty and anger and struggling. It appeared a few years later in one of my all-time favourite collections of poems, his debut with Stride, The Horse Burning Park.

Not remembering anything about the poem except its first line, I took down Mark’s New and Selected (Horse Burning is in my office at work…) yesterday and spent a very happy hour revisiting some (very old) favourites as well as making some startling new acquaintances. His tone, subject matter and political concerns are amazingly consistent. Reading the poem again now I am struck by how prescient it feels to our current moment: ‘spinning on the spot like a mad dog’; ‘Passing / on the street’; ‘I am hurrying, from one tired place / to another’; feeling ‘happier / on less’; and that remarkable couplet about poverty.

Now, in spite of what they told me at school, I am not stupid. This is a poem written nearly thirty years ago. It isn’t ‘about’ coronavirus or the lockdown any more than my left foot is. But what did happen is that it appeared when I needed it to, just like that, and that felt like a good thing in a week in which struggling has been the main thing. Years and years later, another connection, unasked for as Seamus Heaney might say. Another way of feeling and being alive.

Anthony Wilson, Struggling

How many lives will be
claimed when this
pandemic is finally history?
That, and for how long

this enforced isolation will
continue are a fatal mystery.
But you and I are blessed
that while living through

such stressful times, we are
one another’s shelter in place,
each other’s compassionate grace.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Pandemic Wonder, for Andy

– My wife and I are right at 2 months of sheltering at home. At times it is almost blissful; we love each other, our marriage is a good one, we still make each other laugh.

– Sometimes one of us will break down. Maybe it was the latest update of deaths, or maybe the talk of death takes one of us, or both of us, back to the grief of losing our youngest son at age 25, just 3 years ago. Sometimes it just happens. No reason needed.

– We both miss going to church, the movies, the coffee shops and cafes, getting our hair cut. My wife misses shopping; I detest shopping. But my God! My poetry readings! Holy crap.

James Lee Jobe, 29 April 2020 – The COVID-19 List

HOLD FAST, Holly J. Hughes. Empty Bowl, 14172 Madrona Drive, Anacortes, Washington 98221, 2020, 115 pages, $16 paper, www.emptybowl.org.

Rereading Hold Fast made my day. Among other superlatives I can offer about this collection, it’s a perfect book to hole up with during a pandemic. I knew this before Claudia Castro Luna, writing for The Seattle Times, closed her editorial (“Sheltering in Place, Our Inner Poet Soars”) with Hughes’s poem, “Holdfast.” (Click on the link to read Castro Luna’s wise words.)

One paradox of these poems is the way Hughes manages a deft and powerful critique of the world, while celebrating it: “all that can’t be said…./ the bodies, the dreams, the shattered stars flowing down / to where the river weaves the mustn’t tell with the imagined, / the unseen, the unheard, the fragile….” (“If the River”).

Bethany Reid, Holly J. Hughes

Water is not—
at the same time is more than—
two drops fixed by gold wire
and dangling from the earlobe.
Put it to bed in a box flocked
with velvet.
Carry it cupped
in both hands as you walk
through a field that feels
larger than any sense of yourself
that you know. But still tenderly.

Luisa A Igloria, After many years, the river runs into the river

Apparently we’re now all feasting on The Repair Shop and reruns of The Vicar of Dibley. The skies are bluer and quieter than ever, all the better to hear birdsong. Stars are brighter, if you have access to outdoor space at night time. I realise these are terrible times for so many people and I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’m not facing financial ruin, I’m ‘locked down’ in the company of my best friend and I have a garden. I’m able to appreciate Spring and watch things grow. Just the word grow makes me slow down. So what if I haven’t written any stonking new poems lately. I have a few ideas, but they need time to grow. SloPo seems to have come into its own. […]

I enjoyed reading an interview with Julia Cameron in the Sunday Times last week, (apologies if this is behind a paywall) on dealing with social isolation (“As westerners, we have a hard time sitting and doing nothing”). I remember reading The Artist’s Way and struggled to follow its advice. There’s something about ‘free writing’ that feels to me like the opposite: I feel restricted, I regress to cliche, old reminiscences, boring language and prosaic nonsense. An advocate might say ‘yes that’s the idea – not to think, just write’. But sadly it doesn’t free me up. I guess I could adapt the daily free writing to something else: word games around a theme or something that at least begins with a structure.

Robin Houghton, SloPo

Again, the violet bows to the lily.
Again, the rose is tearing off her gown!
   ~ Rumi

I am trying to make more sense of Rumi. He seems to transcend all religions, and speak to all people. We could use more of that. Even in our tragic moments when life is challenged and hinges on the edge of tipping one way or the other, we still have people driven and divided by fear and ignorance. The fear is natural. We all experience it at times. But when fear is fed by ignorance, the results are never good.

Just as I believe Rumi has a lot to offer us to better our life, call me a romantic if you wish, but I still believe poetry matters. I believe we can find our tattered and torn self in poetry. I have been reading Like A Bird of a Thousand Wings, by Melissa Studdard. Her words seem to be taking up residence in my soul.

Self is a place
we keep getting sewn back into.
We fly away.
It sews us back. We tear
the fabric, here comes the needle.
 ~ Melissa Studdard – But Who Will Hear You From So Far Across The Sky?
From Like A Bird of A Thousand Wings.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – How Are You?

After I had my strokes in my early 30s, I did a lot of reading and thinking and praying and spiritual direction, trying to come to terms with the mortality they had shown me. I studied the Baal Shem Tov’s writing on equanimity. I journaled endlessly. Eventually I reached the conclusion that yes, I could die at any time. But until that happens, my job is to live as best I can.

The strokes brought home my participation in our common human mortality. In truth, none of us know when our lives will end. I don’t mean that to be depressing or paralyzing: on the contrary! I mean it as a reminder that the only time we have is now. The time to be the person we want to be is now. Because now is what we have. It’s all anyone has. It’s all anyone has ever had.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” wrote Mary Oliver. This, right now, is our wild and precious life. Even in quarantine or lockdown or shelter-in-place. Even in uncertainty. (Especially in uncertainty.) Life isn’t on pause until a hoped-for return to normalcy comes. This is life, right here, right now. Our job is to live it as best we can.

Even with the possibility that we’re already incubating the virus. Because so what if I am? What can I do about it, other than what I’m already doing: wearing a mask in public, keeping my distance to protect others in case I’m an asymptomatic carrier, and meanwhile doing what I can to care for my child, my congregation, my beloveds, in the ways that are open to me?

Rachel Barenblat, With both eyes open

On the virtual Camino today our guide takes us past ruins, which I suppose have a particular resonance in our imagination these days. I love ruins. It’s easy to romanticize when the darker ages become concepts we can wear like heirlooms. Vicarious courage? Maybe a more generous perspective would be a connection to the hopes and fears of previous generations?

It’s funny. This plague. It does not feel like a “dark” age. It feels plastic and slick-yellow.

Ah, but the sky. Yesterday the blues were soothing. Today the grays are varied, dark as stones – and still soothing. A variable constant.

I grabbed the mail at the beginning our walk around the block. Silly, but a book in the mailbox will override common sense. The cardboard of the package soaked through by the time we got home. Leonard shook a cup-full of rain over the walls in the entrance hall while I opened the package. I don’t care. It’s a book written by a friend from long ago, whom I’m grateful to have reconnected with recently.

I have thought about gratitude before on this virtual Camino. How sometimes it doesn’t come honestly to me, and how I choose to open myself to delight instead – and let gratitude come. This, if I find easier. Small delights. Dog-flops and hugs, and the I-don’t-care-if-my-house-needs-vacuuming-come-in moments.

Ren Powell, Letting Go of The Facade

meeting an old friend‬
‪and the pain‬
‪of backing away‬
‪does not go away‬
‪with our smiles‬
‪stretching thinner‬
‪and thinner‬
‪passing by on the other side‬
‪with our thoughts‬

Jim Young, anti-social distancing

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 9

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 a lot of poetry bloggers writing about self-definition, belonging, identity, embodiment, and political engagement. It was a rich haul.


like when you try to put the silence back into your imaginary cat

like a boat on a lake in your ear you live with the wind

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, likes/som’er

Still, after all my ambition, I’ll never own a home or publish my novel. Remember in high school, how I’d run wild, chasing girls, climbing trees to query clouds, that sort of thing. Once in Miami, on a dare, I jogged around a city block wearing nothing but Nikes. I may have fallen hard for someone back then, but what do you know in your twenties? Still, I didn’t expect life to fall so short or to be so unlucky in love.

My days are delayed orgasms that will never climax..

I don’t plan rash action. There will be dinner, if I wash dishes and peel potatoes. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I probably won’t write again. Bills pile up, they won’t let me drive now, and I’m busy giving things away.

Risa Denenberg, Not-about-me poem, on the occasion of my 69th Birthday.

as I was going to sleep last night I had a very clear vision of how my mind works. it was a delicate, erector-set-like machine constructed like a bridge over the much vaster body of direct experience. I could hear it humming. “that’s all there is to it?” I remember thinking

Dylan Tweney (untitled post)

Who am I when I am not interacting with someone specific? That quiet watcher who tilts her head in puzzlement. Like a dog: taking interest, but not making up a story to imagine the world into meaning. It is a peaceful place. But lonely. Maybe that is why dogs curl up tightly against each other in musky dens?

Why Leonard presses his skull into mine until I have to distract him with a pig’s ear or a bit of cheese.

This desire than needs an object.

I should have been a dancer.

Ren Powell, March 1, 2019

prayer kneels down
wind builds a nest
for the passenger you carry without knowing

Grant Hackett (untitled)

A fellowship isn’t a residency. My duties are more complicated than that–not only because of financial concerns, but because I feel a general responsibility to be out and about in the city. But like a residency, this time gives me distance and fresh perspective on life at home. I miss so much, but I don’t miss everything. And letting go of those things that I don’t miss will be an important part of returning.

The weather can be mercurial. The hills are steep. Strange to become a version of myself that reaches for blue jeans and flats, instead of skirts and heels, and buries herself in warm clothing. But this is a deeply good place, and I am grateful to be here. 

Sandra Beasley, The Road to Cork

The character of the pinko commie dyke, who is sometimes me and other times other women walking through the world, has been speaking to me in a series of poems that muse on contemporary life and the issues and ideas that are important in the world today. In some ways, I think that this series is representative of my work, which is invested in lyricism and also narrative. I also am interested in personae and exploring where the lyrical ‘I’ overlaps with the poet and where it does not. The disjuncture between the lyrical ‘I’ and the poet fascinate me much more today than they did ten years ago.

The Pinko Commie Dyke Kills / an interview with poet Julie R. Enszer (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

Cathy Warner’s newest collection of poetry, Home By Another Road, takes us down the highway of reflection and, whether she is the driver or the passenger, it is a journey that asks all the big questions. Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? What is home?

Warner uses every map she has available to answer these questions, and while on this journey we are fortunate to have an honest narrator at the wheel. While navigating the complicated territory of family, faith, forgiveness, regret, and redemption, Warner clearly understands we all must pay the toll master for the right of passage we call a life, where you cannot know, you never could, what might become/of you or anything you have ever loved.

Carey Taylor, Home By Another Road

No one ever means to cry, no one says, I think I’ll cry now, it’s such a good day for crying      cry more she said the ocean needs your tears

the trash on the beach was pink & sparkly

driftwood like a pile of slingshots

her eye is a storm that rages from sea to sea

Erica Goss, Writing at a Non-Writers’ Retreat

One of my favorite moments is a few episodes into Russian Doll where, convinced she is losing it, Natasha Leone’s character, talking with the woman who mostly raised her, utters her safe word for mental health.  I found this a nice idea–a single word that would show the people around us that we were in a bad space that required help.   I don’t think I’ve every been quite there, but part of my weird anxious brain worries that if I ever were in need of help, I wouldn’t be able to convey the difference between an ordinary kind of brain wonkiness and something that bordered on dangerous.  And truthfully, the weekend I sat down to watch this show the first time, I was in a weirder place.  I made it through one episode and it made me so undeniably anxious that I had to stop.  I went back the following week, and was glad I did, because it was so, so good.

And really, there was something so similar about the characters repeating groundhog day experiences and life pretty much–days spent doing mostly the same things with variations.  This is probably why I found it initially super anxiety-provoking, the routine and the missteps that could lead to disaster.  How each choice sets off a chain reaction of other choices.   If you  change A, the B happens, avoid B then you skip C and move ahead to D. It makes every choice unbearable sometimes thinking 10 steps ahead of everything.  And I guess, welcome to my brain. And particularly, my brain on winter.

Kristy Bowen, russian doll

Where I grew up there was a mill at the bottom of the street and a farm at the top. A quarter of a mile up the road were acres of municipal park woodlands. Beyond that, an open-cast valley, more woodlands, brickworks, some working pits. In the valley where I live now, not far away from where I was born, is polluted river, a canal, a railway (think : The Rainbow).  There are defunct mills,a defunct marshalling yard. No one can build on the field beyond my back garden because it has pitshafts in it. There’s an even older pitshaft under my neighbour’s house. And so on. Everything formerly ‘organic’ has been managed, enclosed, changed, even the river itself. I live on the edge of a coalfield where the 19thcentury houses are on the boundary between stone and brick. My horizon is the skyline of high moorland from Holme Moss to Oxenhope. This is the lens through which I read the poems of Remains of Elmet, through which I imagine the landscape of the Wodo’s wanderings, the corroded dystopian landscape of Crow, and through which I see foxes, thrushes, pike, hawks.

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

I inhabit this place. Like a bat in a cave.
Like an owl in an elm. This place is my own.

I fill this land like a ghost fills a haunted house,
Like coffee fills a cup.

Starting out from here
Any direction is the right direction,

And turning about from any direction
Takes me back home.

James Lee Jobe, ‘From here you can see the snowy mountains’

I ate too much salt.

I listened to a podcast about a mystery person who turned out to be Sonia Sotomayor.

A flawed translation turned me into a lawyer.

Sarah J. Sloat, Tuesday minutiae

In response to my last post, friend David Graham wrote, “I’ve finally come to believe that ‘voice’ is not something to concern myself with. Others will or will not tag me with such a thing, but it just messes me up to think about it. I simply (ha! it ain’t simple!) try to write as well as I can & in the process figure out what I want to say (which for me always happens in the revision process, not before.)…In a similar way, worrying about originality is for me mostly a dead end. I love something Levertov said: ‘Originality is nothing else but the deepest honesty.’”

I thought about that for a while, and replied, “I wonder if it’s not the author that has a voice but the poems themselves. I know I get annoyed when a poem of mine starts having a kind of woff woff self-aggrandizing tone of some British lord or Oxford don. I have to shove it off its high horse. Then other poems just think they’re so damn funny they start laughing at themselves so hard I can’t understand what they’re saying.”

And soon after that exchange I found this notion by Richard Russo in the eponymous essay of his new book The Destiny Thief: “I’d been told before that writers had to have two identities, their real-life one…as well as another, who they become when they sit down to write. This second identity, I now saw, was fluid, as changeable as the weather, as unfixed as our emotions. As readers, we naturally expect novels to introduce us to a new cast of characters and dramatic events, but could it also be that the writer has to reinvent himself for the purpose of telling each new story?”

Marilyn McCabe, Mi, a name I call myself; or, More on Voice

Invisible damp fingers
leave prints on my skin,
out of sight, muffled roars –
uncertainty circles in a waltz.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Fog

Anticipation feels different from expectation, though the two are related. For me, at least, the connotation of the first is more open-ended. Anything can happen, though let’s hope what happens is good. Expectation seems more results-oriented. I am not a results-oriented gardener; I like surprises, I appreciate the education I get even from failures.

Come to think of it, I could describe myself that way as a writer or poet, too: not results-oriented, more intrigued by the things I learn when I work at the writing.

Ann E. Michael, Anticipation

imagine the newspaper you read every day
I will be the article you clip & never throw away

now do you smell the slow spring coming?
the grass humid with the buzz of dragonflies

an airplane’s drone reaches the rec yard
it’ll land somewhere in a few minutes

we will still be here
imagining birds & sky & other lives

James Brush, Air Mail

My mom had a couple of stories about my early childhood — one was that I didn’t walk until I was 13 months old. “I thought you were retarded,” she liked to say.

Another story was that I wouldn’t color in my coloring book until I figured out, at age three, how to do it perfectly, without going outside the lines.

I never had a spanking until I was three — around the time my next younger sister was born. “You never needed one until then,” Mom used to say.

So here I am, 59 years later, trying once again to finish a novel…and going back to the beginning, over and over, day after day, and trying to make it perfect.

Bethany Reid, What I’m Reading Now

These days, my thoughts return to the situation of our physical bodies quite often.  I have friends with very rare conditions:  one friend has kidneys that make cysts and another friend has a body that creates non-cancerous brain tumors.  Most of my friends are solidly in the land of middle age or older, so there’s vast terrains of discoveries–not unlike adolescence, but without some of the fun discoveries about what bodies can do.  Or maybe the fun discoveries are yet to come.

Or maybe as we age, the fun discoveries don’t revolve around our bodies but our spirits.

I’m still thinking about whether or not I could weave any of this into a poem that wouldn’t be trite or cover ground that’s well covered by past poets.  I joke about being rather medieval in my view of the body, that we’re holy spirits trapped in a prison of flesh; some days I’m joking, but other days I feel that way.  It’s a troubling theology, but it’s also pernicious and hard to root out of my consciousness.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Poet in the Body

“Protest Poetry” also carries my college’s “experiential learning” designation, which means the students are creating a couple of public-facing projects. The first, a collaborative venture, happened this Wednesday. We began planning it a few weeks ago, after a tour of the Rockbridge Area Relief Association as well as reading poems about hunger on the Split this Rock database. The assignment was (for very low stakes, grade-wise) to raise money for RARA through poetry. I told them a benefit reading would work–I’ve organized them before–but it was up to them. We toyed with the idea of a Haiku Booth or poetry-related crafts, but decided on an hourlong event that would be organized, promoted, and emceed by students in the class. They chose and booked a campus space, issued invitations to the readers, created fliers, set up sound equipment, decided the flow of the event, and brought refreshments (I acquired a small budget for the latter).

My undergraduates also did some extra work I did NOT expect or require, because, I think, they became genuinely invested in the cause. Some of them made another trip to the food pantry with questions for the clientele, cleared in advance by RARA staff, such as “What’s your favorite meal?” and “If you had to describe RARA in one word, what would it be?” They constructed poems out of the answers, performing them at the event as well as interspersing information between the poems about RARA’s work. They also set up a fundraising table for three days in the Commons, where they offered soft drinks and home-baked treats. Talking to unsuspecting muffin-eaters about how much food RARA can buy for a dollar, they then sweetly solicited donations in any amount. All told, they raised $470!

Lesley Wheeler, Teaching poetry activism

Home, for Syrians exiled by war, is gone, irretrievable, a lost paradise just as it is, at the same time, a place forever unattainable and mythic.  Listening to concerts this week by Kinan Azmeh, the Syrian clarinetist and composer, I was reminded of the  mystical desire of Arabic love poetry.  The object is unattainable. The wonderful paradox is that in evoking absence, art walked right in and created presence.

Azmeh’s music, presented by Community MusicWorks at local centers, evokes wistful longing with sighs, bends, microtonal wavering and high solemnity of Arab string exhortations — and Kinan’s clarinet wrangles with clarity and fading memory.  The feeling is raw, open and shared. Mohammed al Shawaf, a recent immigrant, jumped up spontaneously to read his own poem gathering at Dorcas Institute, a resettlement organization.  I scrawled down some of the lines as Kinan translated it into English. It’s about a nightingale who was encountering a displaced poet (apologies for the scrappy transcription!).

“Nightingale, I saw your sad face from the East…Are you a refugee like me? How did you leave heaven on earth? Everything is different, everything destroyed. Did you bring anything from home? You have awoken my feeling…. I promised you, Damascus, I would never forget you.” 

Jill Pearlman, Love, Our Inalienable Right

I also read three books of poetry in the past month. all this can be yours by Isobel O’Hare is a powerful collection of erasures from the celebrity sexual assault apologies. The poems are fierce explorations of how the men making these apologies try to evade their own culpability.

The chapbook Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned by Sara Ryan (Pork Belly Press) delves into the liminal space between living and dead, with this collection of poems about taxidermy. The nature of body is explored down to the bone, with footnotes that provide an expanded philosophical look at the art of preservation.

House of Mystery by Courtney Bates-Hardy draws on the dark undertones of fairy tales, providing a haunting look into the role of women in those stories.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: February 2019

The ceiling is low today. Clouds drift
through the window, grackles pick daintily
the last berries from frozen vines.
She can forgive winter

for its long oddity, its tired body
of a shrunken old woman. Vines spring
through her couch. A day comes when she must
do something, or simply lie there and bloom.

Romana Iorga, Spring Inspection

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 25

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

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

Current events cast a heavy shadow over poets’ blogs this week, but we still found plenty of other things to write about as well, which is a tribute to our mental resilience, I suppose. So I decided not to impose much order on my selections this time around, emphasizing variety instead of common themes.

in the secret game in the secret room your face is circled
Grant Hackett, untitled monostich

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M.S. and I have begun tooling around with a new collaboration, something I’m working on during my morning writing sessions. Our spring sketchbook-making was such a good way of keeping me/us working through the semester, even with the chaos of classes, and I loved the experience of responding to visual art and having visual art made in response to my writing. The new project is less binary, less call-and-response, and more like two adjacent artists working around a similar theme — at some point we’ll exchange our work and reveal what we have and then move on from there. . . I think. The project springs from one of M.S.’s earlier works, actually, that I found inspiring and she wanted to develop further, so to some extent I already have visuals in my head that I can respond to . . . unfortunately she has to wait for work from me, since everything is coming out in these weird blotches of language. I’m not really interested in writing prose poems, so I’m just considering them bookmarks for poems that I’ll eventually write, and hopefully sooner rather than later.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, New Writing and Close Readings

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When the breast is deprived of the baby
The tissue turns to stone
The ducts stiffen, become infected, inflamed
The breast weeps droplets of milk

 

There is no Promised Land
El Norte is a cruel myth
El Norte has stolen children
For hundreds of years
If the child be of darker hue
Christine Swint, Pilgrimage to el Norte

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Josephine Corcoran launched her collection, What Are You After, to a packed room, with special guest readings by Rishi Dastidar, Jackie Wills and Susannah Evans. I found Susannah’s apocalyptic poems really engaging (and funny, too; I love poems that make me laugh aloud) and I’ll be watching out for her forthcoming Nine Arches collection. Rishi and Susannah also paid tribute to Josephine’s online treasure trove that is And Other Poems by reading one of their poems published on the site.

I had my copy of What Are You After to hand for Josephine’s launch reading but found myself so drawn by the voice of the poet and the poems themselves that her book stayed on my lap (instead, it was my travel companion for the return train journey). Her poems have their feet planted firmly in everyday language; they are frank, funny, human, poignant. Afterwards, we were able to watch ‘Poem in which we hear the word ‘drone” as a film poem by Chaucer Cameron and Helen Dewbery of Elephant’s Footprint along with other poems from recent Nine Arches collections.
Jayne Stanton, Happy 10th birthday, Nine Arches Press!

So let’s watch that film poem Jayne mentioned:

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I have been musing on Rebecca Solnit’s text in which she writes about the Romantics’ “new” appreciation of Nature. I was particularly struck by her research about how in Europe, and among the Eurocentric American colonizers, pre-Romantic era society considered mountains not only dangerous but also “ugly” (in Wanderlust: A History of Walking). Aesthetics began to change in the late 18th and the 19th centuries. Walking the natural world for something other than pure transportation from place to place altered our social ideas about what’s “beautiful.”

The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.
—John Cage

[…]

Looking closely enough at something to find that you no longer see it as ugly requires an almost meditative change in perspective. It’s been an approach useful to me as a poetry prompt and as a means of more closely appreciating the world and everything in it. I don’t mean that I identify with the 19th-c Romantics, though I eagerly trod where Wordsworth trod when I visited the Lakes District a few years back; I don’t. My view of nature is really with a small ‘n’ and is pragmatic and scientific, among other things.

But: John Cage’s question to himself is a reminder to be compassionate, to observe with openness, information, education, perspective, and loving-kindness…while walking through the world.
Ann E. Michael, Aesthetic “therapy”

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[Octavia] Butler’s life as a writer has also been an inspiration and a comfort. I was so happy when she won the MacArthur award. I read an interview with her in Poets and Writers shortly after she won that award. She talked about the value of money to a writer, how having a funding source freed her to write all the books she’d been storing up but couldn’t write because she had to work. And in her early years, that work was often menial labor, the kind that leaves one too tired to write.

Butler was a writer who writers could love. Like many of my favorite writers, she stresses habit and persistence over talent and inspiration. Here’s a typical quote (found on GoodReads): “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Happy Birthday, Octavia Butler!

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I am sharing a poem today from my upcoming collection The Lure of Impermanence (Cirque Press). I wrote this shortly after the recent presidential election. It seems that the number of corpses on frosted asphalt has only grown larger in this increasingly unkind and immoral political atmosphere many of us Americans find ourselves in. May we all join together and be the song we need to hear.
Carey Taylor, Post Election

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In this body, which has become increasingly fragile as I age, I worry I can’t do enough – for others, for my country, for my dad. What can my contribution be? Well, I can at least not stay silent. I can at least let my politicians who care about my vote know where I stand. I can let my Dad know I’m thinking of him with care-packages and advice. I feel like I’m on the verge of yelling or crying almost all the time these days. None of it is enough. I can write my way through it – probably the only thing I feel competent to do right now.

How do you get through Crisis Mode? How do you take care of yourself and still help take care of the world? How do you, as a poet feel we should respond?
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Crisis Mode, My review of Oceanic up at the Rumpus, Redactions New Issue, Lit World Gender Representation, Crisis Mode Again

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How does one wade in the water, when the water is toxic? The current United States Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, approaches this question in a variety of thought-provoking ways in her profound fourth collection, Wade in the Water. The water Smith considers is literal, political, historical, and metaphorical: the water we drink, the culture we are steeped in, the history we carry with us, and the spirituality imbued in our everyday lives. With a deeply critical mind, Smith probes these dynamics through juxtaposition, documentary poetics, erasure techniques, secular hermeneutics, as well as anecdotal narrative. Following her Pulitzer prize winning collection, Life on Mars, Smith returns to an abused and ravaged earth, and listens to its discontents, sorrows, and complaints and shows us what is essential and not essential to the human condition.

At the center of this struggle for a world we can all wade in are power dynamics. Whether political or domestic, on a grand or a small scale, these dynamics directly affect the daily existence of Americans, whether we realize it or not. Power dynamics also affect our drinking water. Water is supposed to cleanse, replenish, and revive us, and yet due to unregulated toxic chemicals seeping into drinking water, it is killing people, in America and around the world. In the eco-poetics poem “Watershed,” Smith pulls phrases from an article summarizing a lawyer’s long-standing legal battle with the megacorporation DuPont. The case exposed decades of chemical pollution that resulted not only in sick employees, but in severe water contamination in specific towns as well as contamination throughout the world. The second definition of watershed is: an event or period marking a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs. This case against DuPont was a watershed moment in environmental legislation, though for many people the outcome came too late; the original plaintiffs both died of cancer after watching the majority of their 200 cows become diseased, deranged, and die from contaminated drinking water.

It is difficult to digest the horrific ramifications of DuPont’s negligence, nearly all people have been exposed to PFOA, the poisonous chemical used to process Teflon, it is in our blood and blood banks. Tracy K. Smith could have read this article in the NYT and gone on with her day, but instead she created a lasting work of art that stands as testament to this catastrophic event. With a surgical hand Smith extracts particularly disturbing portions of this text and interweaves them with extracts from a second text, accounts of near-death experiences, which are considerably different in tone and subject matter. This kind of courageous leap in thought is part of what makes contemporary poetics so exciting. The result of this interweaving is an almost surreal poem that underlines this global health threat, and also considers what it really means to be on the threshold between life and death. The near-death experiences Smith selects are rooted in love, an action opposite of the ones corporations are accustomed to taking. In the afterlife, according to these accounts, “All that was made, said, done, or even thought without love was undone.”
Anita Olivia Koester, American Toxicity: Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith

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Where I’ve been staying, most days in the early evening I hear a strange soft clatter, and look out the door to find a relatively orderly herd of goats walking down the road, kept moving along by a relatively polite and very efficient border collie. Sometimes a goat will pause to nibble at a tasty vine, but in short order the collie urges it along, and they all disappear around the corner of the stone barn next door. Often soon thereafter I’ll hear some bellowing, and I know the man down the street is calling the cows back to the barn from the field across the road, and they’ll shamble along slowly to his “Allors,” as if reluctant attendees to an obligatory meeting. Early mornings I wake to what sounds like a strangled cry which, after he clears his throat, will turn out to be a rooster’s call, soon to be joined by the dove’s ooo-ooo-er, over and over and over and over. And it occurs to me that these are my main modes of thought. And I can’t predict from one situation to the next, one impulse to the next, which of the modes will kick in. I can only hope they ultimately serve whatever the purpose: to move me along, to gather myself together, to wake me up, or get me out of the house to escape the incessant repetitions of thought. Allors.
Marilyn McCabe, I Herd You; or Habits of Mind

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What I am reading:

What Is Not Beautiful, Poems by Adeeba Shahid Talukder (The Glass Chapbook Series, June 2018)

This small book of poems can be read in order and in one sitting, a process I like to apply to all books of poems, but am not always able to. There is this joy with chapbooks, when good–as this one certainly is–in that their concentrated effect can be mesmerizing.

Starting with the picture on the cover, a small girl looking at herself in the mirror with a look that is hard to decipher. Wise and knowing? or tough and jaded? Compare this to the author’s picture on the back cover and you have the same face, the same expression, the same wonderment that presages the narrative of the book.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse Report

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Ian McMillan, Elvis, Ted Hughes … I spent this afternoon at the Ready Teddy workshop organised by the Ted Hughes Project and run by Ian McMillan. Ian was as entertaining as always, but what really came through was his ability to transcend the ordinary and to take his workshop participants with him on a flight of fancy which was uncannily grounded in the real and everyday. The setting of the former Mexborough Grammar School, where Hughes studied, was a gift. We wandered the corridors making absurd but inspiring links between past and present, fact and fiction, imagining Elvis on the trail of his hero, Ted Hughes. People came up with daft theories about off-the-wall things like boiled hamburgers, and outside we discovered ‘Elvis artefacts’ including a wooden heart. We sang Jailhouse Rock to the tune of On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At to get us in the mood for writing and Ian shared a brilliant tweet he’d received: You ain’t nothin’ but a thought fox.

That’s what Ian’s so good at, getting you to be absurd and creative and not to worry about what you’re writing.
Julie Mellor, Ready Teddy …

*

My father Langston hands his camel jacket to the coat-check lady.
He lifts his menu with a flourish and says now you order anything, anything.
My father Thomas Stearns says use your inside voice.
Embarrassment beads his forehead.
My father Ezra chants a grace to drive the waiter mad.
My father John Keats urges a scalpel between cork and bottle.
A candle-flame repeats in glass, wine, his hectic cheeks.
My father Walt pries open mollusk after mollusk, grooves on his thumbs adoring the grooves of each inky shell.
My father Allen insists I eat my broccoli broccoli broccoli and the outrageous curry of hilarity anoints his beard.
My father James Merrill, tortoiseshell-buttoned, conserves naked chicken bones for broth.
I will bathe them, he says, with bay leaves, peppercorns, and whole onions quartered through paper to root.
When the liquid alchemizes I will strain its gold and measure in cubes of potato, crystals of salt.
This soup will be for you.

Lesley Wheeler, Paternity suit

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 1

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 If you’re new to the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, read Donna Vorreyer’s explanatory blog post with the official list of participants (and leave a comment there if you’d like to join). Please note however that I reserve the right to occasionally also include links from other poetry bloggers whom I’ve been following for years, and who may be too antisocial to join the revival tour. As for my own blogging, this week I added two posts about poetry to my oft-neglected author site, so I’m definitely feelin’ the revival fever! If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

What is it to be a poet in this world? International, intercultural, intergenerational. Virtual.

My social-media life was the opposite of poetry. Since 2016, I’ve experienced it as divisive. I am tired of labels.  Even the silly ones. What kind of pizza are you? Which French philosopher? I understand that categories are useful. Scientists find use in them. But poets shouldn’t. Poets are occupied with the truth. And the truth is always a platypus.

I crave the deep work. The work of sincere attention necessary for poetry. I want to close my eyes and rediscover my senses. I want to fight against the stenciled concepts I’ve adopted.
Ren Powell, Poetry is the Unknown Guest in the House

 

I was very, very late to Twitter, but once I latched on, I saw a vibrant, diverse, and engaged set of poets. I initially followed old poet friends, and then I started to pick up all these new voices. At first, yes, I was dismissive of it all, from the registering of liking and retweeting of tweets, all about instantaneous, mindless, and cost-free feedback, to the humble-bragging about followers-to-following ratios. I wondered if Kaveh Akbar ever read a book a poetry without his phone ready to snap a new favorite stanza. I wasn’t sure what to think about Jericho Brown’s latest report of his body-fat percentage. And yet, poets like Akbar, Brown, Eve Ewing, Danez Smith, Shaindel Beers were not only accomplished in their craft, beyond woke in their politics, and genuinely enthusiastic about their art, but were challenging me to love more and assume less. These poets were kicking my ass.

Soon, the nosiness was rather pleasing to me, even with all the self-promotion, because it was this deep buzz of human activity. It was also useful for me to remember that these poets had much more serious, deeper engagements with their craft than their latest tweet-storm, and that the twittersphere is just one access point. It’s also useful to remember just how lonesome poetry writing can be, which is another quality that I do love about it, and Twitter is one means to connect.
Jim Brock, Broken Links

 

Work is a complex thing. It can be a soul-sucking, time-burning depletion, or it can be an expression of the full being. There can be grace on a production line, I imagine: pride in efficient, high quality work done safely by a team who believe in their product. But when I think of work, I think of solitude. That’s just me. I think of the times I’ve lost myself in my work of mind and hand — the swirl of thinking and logic and overcoming obstacles, being imaginative in problem-solving, articulating something effectively. And having fun in the process. Loving, in fact, the process. I also think of all the jobs I’ve had that were not that at all, were depleting in various ways, mostly because I either didn’t care about it or didn’t feel valued, or both.
Marilyn McCabe, Let Me Give You a Hand; Thoughts on Work

 

Here’s what I believe: writing in a supportive environment when the rules are: be playful and yes, anything goes are a great recipe for success. Unlike most other workshops, we focus on creating our own writing prompts (new ones for each class) and for each one, we have a secret mission whether it is to write image driven poems or create new forms — everyone leaves with at least six drafts of six poems they never would have written otherwise. Kind of wonderful.
Susan Rich, What I Love About Teaching Poetry Workshops

 

I liked this process of adaptation. When movies are adapted from books and stories, filmmakers change things. They fire characters and compress scenes in part to save money on paying actors and renting space, but also because there is often no need to say what is shown. Why not something similar with poetry?

I think writers and probably poets especially can get locked into the sanctity of their words and lord knows there are times when that makes sense, but if poetry is to be a conversation even if as in this case with oneself, I think it’s important to let go a little bit especially when changing mediums. My academic background is in film production and screenwriting where the expectation is that the written word is not final so maybe this comes easier for me, but it’s a comfortable way for me to work and I think it’s useful to see where your words can go and a worthwhile exercise to keep playing with what you’ve made and, if you dare, open it up for others to do so as well.
James Brush, all roads lead here & Notes on Adapting Poetry

 

Poetry is not meant to speak clearly now.
Circumlocute. Paint pictures, white
upon white upon white. Associate.
There is something to be said for fragment,
flash illuminated, a freeze-frame strobing.
Memory breaks like that. Stuck to glass.
Millibars drop, pummel backs with snow.
Whose scapular muscle twitches? What
feathered thing flies, heart hammering.
JJS, January 4, 2018: To the Small Bird Flying Under It

 

Ada Limón and I were part of a cohort of poets who came up at about the same time in publishing our first books. Now, I say that word “cohort” with two asterisks.
The first asterisk is that we were a cohort uniquely born of the internet era. Yes, we each had the communities created by school—which in her case, was a rock-star class of New York University MFA graduates. But in the larger sense, we were that first virtual community of poets who had a meaningful dialogue via comments left on each others’ blogs. We muddled our way through NaPoWriMo together. We cheered each other on when no one else was paying attention.
The second asterisk is that Ada’s first book and her second book were simultaneous, thanks to having Jean Valentine select the manuscript Lucky Wreck for the 2005 Autumn House Poetry Prize, and then—literally, within months—winning the 2006 Pearl Poetry Prize with The Big Fake World. That never happens. She made it happen.
Sandra Beasley, Introductions

 

When I make money from poetry, I try to put money back into poetry. I want to support the literary community as much as I can. I spent some time at the end of the year subscribing to a few journals, as I do every year – I try to rotate the journals so I can support as many as possible. I buy a LOT of poetry books (although I get a decent number as review copies) because 1. I want to support my local stores that carry poetry and 2. I want to support small presses that publish poetry. But I do also support the idea of literary publishers, organizations and journals trying to raise money outside the small circle of poets that want to publish – by reaching out more, trying more ways to gain subscribers, maybe advertising? What do you think? I remember being poor enough that every book contest fee hurt. I feel that fees have gone way up since I started trying to publish work waaay back in 2001-2.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, 2018 so far: A Poem in Rogue Agent, New Year Zoo Lights, Luck and Poetry Fees, and Thinking About the New Year and New Poetry Blogs!

 

January slid in on the light of a cold full moon. Like a winter wolf, I am denning, exploring the dark that is so much part of this time of year where I live. I curl up on one end of the sofa in the evening and plunge into the pages of book after book. I am twitchy and witchy and my reading choices reflect it. I began the year with Patti Smith’s Devotion, followed swiftly by Kiki Petrosino’s Witch Wife and the Em Strang’s Bird-Woman.

My dreams are full of skaters, spells, and wings. These are just the types of books I love, ones that bring you along head-tilted and stumbling, not sure if the path beneath your feet is solid or black ice. Books full of spells and enchantments. Images that carry the tang of fallen leaves and the hiss of snow.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Balancing dreams and reality

 

we undress together   down to our satchel of lost poems   refusing to be more than alive
Grant Hackett (untitled monostich)

Link roundup: Tenrecs, monostiches, kale and other wonders

The New York Times:When Democracy Weakens
Bob Herbert wishes Americans would take a cue from the Egyptians.

NPR: “An Immigrant’s Quest For Identity In The ‘Open City’
I have been reading the glowing reviews for Teju Cole’s new novel with great pleasure, but it was especially fun to hear this interview come on the radio while I was kneading bread this morning. I was all like, “Hey, I know that guy! I’ve published his stuff at Via Negativa and qarrtsiluni!” So good to see a member of the old blog neighborhood make it big.

Grant Hackett: Monostich Poet blog
I don’t link Grant’s poems in the Smorgasblog because they’re too short to excerpt — a monostich is a one-line poem and he excels at them. I don’t know anyone who packs more mystery and suggestiveness into such a small space. He used to blog at Falling Off the Mountain, but took that site offline late last year. On the new site, he seems to post at the rate of about one or two poems a day.

Moving Poems forum: “What comes first, the video or the poem?
Check out the variety of responses to my question from videopoets at all skill levels. I am going to have to remember to throw out questions to the community like this more often.

Voice Alpha:To read or to recite? Dramatic versus Epic
Dick Jones — poet, musician and retired drama teacher — wades into the debate about how best to present one’s poems to a crowd. Surprisingly, perhaps, given his background, he comes down rather decisively on the side of reading.

Call for Submissions: Festival of the Trees 57 with Rebecca in the Woods
Rebecca is one of the best young naturalist-bloggers out there, so we are very lucky to have her as host of the next Festival of the Trees.

Linebreak: “To Failure:” by Christopher Ankney
My first reading for Linebreak, a magazine I admire. Don’t know the poet from Adam, but I know the subject all too well! It was fun to learn the poem this way, over a series of half a dozen takes, even if I was a bit too tired to give it as good a reading as it deserves.

BBC Earth News: “Madagascar’s elusive shell-squatting spider filmed
Speaking of failure, check out the first spider in this clip from the redoubtable David Attenborough & co. (a win for photography and evolution). Then there’s…
Bizarre mammals filmed calling using their quills
Tenrecs! Stridulating!


(Watch on YouTube)
In a rare trip off the mountain, a chance remark at the coffee shop led me to discover that I was surrounded by fellow kale afficionados, and one of them later sent me the link to this video. What used to be an obscure vegetable back when we started growing it in the garden in the early 70s has now apparently achieved cult status. Who’d have thunk it?