Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: redefining productivity, being formless, emulating crows, stealing Jesus’ wallet, beginning with the stone in the shoe, writing like you believe your voice is worth hearing, painting the chaos, joining a drum circle, feeling the winter blues, building synagogues in Minecraft, learning Japanese, celebrating William Stafford, and more.


snow drifts, thick
and slow past
the window

each day
the death count
rises

i am glad to be old
to not witness
what is coming

Sharon Brogan, even in sleep

Time is of the essence: not a premise to justify acceleration and a headless chicken rush towards mindless ‘productivity’, but one to frame a culture of thoughtfulness and generosity. A form of active resistance to the commoditisation of everything we hold dear, not as a draining effort or a daily grind, but through reflective thought and meditation. Better things must result from careful consideration; the ongoing, permanently panicked emergency-response mode of the 24/7 switched-on mode only leads to collective burn-out and shortcircuits any important projects’ goals. This is more a mission statement than a new-year resolution; an ambition more than a promise. To make more space where there is little; to re-own the time perpetually robbed from us.

A type of via negativa for personal and professional life (because it remains important to separate them, particularly in fields such as higher education, or the arts), where that which we don’t do leads to positive, productive outcomes. To define ourselves also for what we decide not to do, rather than for all the things we do, or for doing all the things. This would mean re-defining “productive”, and, importantly, resisting auto-exploitation. Auto-exploitation is never purely individual- overperforming hyperachievers do also create more labour for others who are likely to be in less privileged circumstances, and who are already overwhelmed within their own exploitative conditions of production. Less can be more, much more, in a different sense to usual quantification. A different way of being with ourselves and the Other would require to stop turning ourselves and the Other into means to ends. We need to start from our own positions.

Ernesto Priego, Switch It Off and On Again

My student is researching wolves for a role I wrote for him. He tells me that wolves howl as a form of grieving. I don’t know where he read this, or if it is true, or how we could ever know if it is true. It does make sense to me. The sound tugs up a fear for us because we recognize the vulnerability inherent (probably a prerequisite) in grief.

Loss. Aloneness. It is all a matter of perception, really. The recognition of our disconnection. Nothing is really lost. Except perhaps the illusion of having had. What do we ever have/own/possess? We experience, and cannot possess experiences. We can’t even possess the memory of experiences, because memories are also impermanent: morphing and reassembling, like metal shavings following a magnet.

I am formless at the moment. Even memories of my former selves are formless. I’ll run now and something within me will howl at the moon. Something in me will change shape, pulled by the earth’s magnetic field. Every cell in motion, rearranging, experiencing the morning before dawn.

Ren Powell, Butterfly Goo and Moonlight

Because dawn comes as I write 
and in the stillness before the first bird 
there is a restlessness, and the trees rock, and trail their fingers
over the fence tops; and the last bit of moon 
is eaten up by cloud.

Dale Favier, Because The Tuning

Outside the crows are cawing, cutting up a ruckus amongst the magnolia branches. Squirrels are on the ground eating peanuts, laughing at the crows in squirrel-talk , chitchitchit = hahaha!

Crow flap their large black wings, fanning the flames of outrage to each other, Can you believe this shit? Caw!

Crows leave nothing on the table. They take the dishes, forks, strawberry jam and biscuits and throw it all up in the air, clatterclatterclatter = listen to me!

Were that we all were like the crows. Letting it all out, leaving nothing inside to fester and mold.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Crows

It’s been a strange week here in the UK. The pantomime that is our political system appears to be thoroughly broken. The government seems to be totally incapable of doing what they tell us we must do. Perhaps it is due to that sense of entitlement public schools appear to imbue these second raters with. Some Catalan friends of mine were saying how funny the actions of our crime minister and his troupe of clowns are. I had to reply that they do not have to live with the madness that their actions generate.

A poem about stealing Jesus’ wallet. It arrived nearly fully formed.

lifting Jesus’ wallet you confessed
was easier than you ever imagined
the real mystery was locating it amid those flowing robes

you continued by describing the contents:
four crisp ten shilling notes
a religious medal of St John the Baptist
a return tram ticket to Barrio Alto
various coins of different denominations and epochs
all too perfect to be kosher

I began to wonder if He
had let you steal it so
you would have something to worry about in the night

Paul Tobin, SOMETHING TO WORRY ABOUT IN THE NIGHT

“Poets dwell on death,” some fool will say.
Because they are blind.
And so the evening passes,
And one by one or two by two the people leave,
And so return to their own eternities,
To the depths of their own being.
Finally it is just you and your death.
And neither of you speak.
The silence is magnificent.
And then, with a tired sigh,
Your death stands up and walks toward you.

James Lee Jobe, The Grand, Wide Evening of You and Your Death.

Back in October, when I decided to play a bit with some short fiction writing, I told myself not to worry about poems. I was, after all, between projects, having wrapped up the collapsologies manuscript with the grimoire poems.  I toyed with a couple new things that are still on the horizon, but I wanted a shift.  I also wanted to figure out my life and writing poems wasn’t on my top list of things to be worried about in the grand scheme of things.  I gave myself permission to sit October out on my daily writing.  Then November. By December, I had taken on some freelance writing, which I was trying to squeeze around my regular obligations to see if I liked it, so my mornings, what time there was (it’s harder for me to get up early-ish in winter) was devoted to the drafting and research necessary for that.  I actually extended my poem vacation through early February, when I would then be working on my own and my schedule (and concentration) much kinder.

I wasn’t going to write poems, but then Monday night, somewhere between washing the dinner dishes and going to bed, I had a first line and just went for it.  For one, it was unexpected to be writing at all, especially in the evening, when my brain is usually on low battery power.  Granted, I’d been home all day for MLK day and mostly just folding chaps. Also, odd when specifically I said I would not be writing poems, and yet, there I was. I went back in once before bed and tweaked some things, but haven’t looked at it to see if it’s any good since. It may be the start of something, though it may also just be a snippet of a dead end, but as I wrote it, I realized how much I missed it.  This is, of course, after whining all summer and into fall about whether or not poetry felt worth it, or whether anyone was even reading, or why I kept doing it, even thought the effort / compensation  ratio is kind of dismal.  That maybe I should focus on writing for paying markets. Or who the hell was reading any of this anyway?  I always long to be one of those writers for whom process is all important, audience be damned, but I actually want readers, however they get there. As someone who, in the fall, was adjusting financial income streams, poetry seemed a  poor place to fixate my efforts. Especially now, when I should be seeking out things that actually allow me to, you know, pay rent.

And yet, like the ex that occasionally shows up at 3am, there she was. A poem.  Maybe not a good one, but still.  I think I’ll keep her. 

Kristy Bowen, poeting in winter

I love drab birds and in winter I love the trees, sugar frosted.
Coffee and milk. Moss in the forest, the cool shady spots where it grows.
Morning light. Pink-apricot rose petals.
Daughter’s smile. So many poems.
Leather sandals. Pale blue sky. Suitcases. Home.
The chair in my garden where I can sit and no one can see me.
Daydreaming and night dreaming —

and poem dreaming.

Shawna Lemay, I Love, I Hope; I Hope, I love

So this is a bit spooky. All week I had in mind these marvellous final words from Lucille Clifton’s poem of grief and acceptance ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’. They’ve been going round my head for a while now. Last year I came close to using them as an epigram for the collection I was working on. They gave me the wild idea (it’s January, grey and cold and I am still grieving) to do a riff reminding myself of the things I love, both in poetry and the real world, and the overlap between them, just, well, because.

And then Shawna Lemay goes and pretty much writes the blog post I wanted to write. Which isn’t just fine, it’s great, because Shawna is the best and one of the main reasons I keep going. But just to add to the love and the hope, if I may, for a moment, here are some of the things, as in things that I love and need to have near me just now:

blethering on the phone with Josephine Corocoran about all the poets she is reading and I am not reading and who is accepting and not accepting our poems and how to keep going in spite of all of this

the Frank O’Hara book Shimi gave me for Christmas which inexplicably I did not own and have been gobbling up ever since a bit like when I first fell in love with him 123 years ago

the very tender poems of love, memory and grief in Adam Zagajewski’s last book, Asymmetry, beautifully translated by Clare Cavanagh

Anthony Wilson, The things themselves

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

Nursery rhymes would be the accurate answer, and my immersion in the Yorùbá culture that included ewì, poems that were mostly orally delivered. As I learned to read by myself, an early anthology of delightfully-illustrated poems fascinated me. I do not remember the title, but it included such poems as Wole Soyinka’s “Telephone Conversation” and Christopher Okigbo’s “For He Was A Shrub Among The Poplars.” In my first three years of secondary school, one of my favorite subjects was literature-in-English, in which Mrs. Ukpokolo helped us dissect poems and find their internal life. Studying the anatomy of poetry this way, especially  the poems in West African Verse, an Anthology edited by Donatus Nwoga, gave me a poetic framework I still draw on today.

3 – How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I tend to feel my way around new projects. I do not start off knowing what a project is about. But because there are “eras” in my thought life, I tend to ruminate on particular topics for months at a time, while my mind grapples with paradoxes or things I do not understand. The poems that I write in these periods tend to be equation proofs that help me know what my questions are, and give me some answers, which raise further questions, and so on. The shape (and using another mathematical analogy, the slope) of the initial poems help me intuit the direction of the project. This tends to take 3 to 5 months. I then pause and try to structure my thoughts, outline as much as I can, and continue with a firmer idea of what my current exploration is.

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

It begins with the stone in the shoe. The stubborn notion. Or the poignant phrase that drops in my mind. I don’t know how my brain draws associations that become the often-arresting realizations and images many of my poems present themselves with, but I have learned to respect them, and put them in my Notes app. Sometimes, I can develop these phrases into a stanza or an entire poem (if I have thought about it for long enough), but more frequently, I accumulate several fragments that help me sketch out a poem. I then take some time to build it out. I don’t often start off writing a book. I tend to discover after a while that what I am writing is a book. This is easier when older manuscripts are “complete,” and the new poems stay afloat till I can decide what to do with them.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tolu Oloruntoba

David Cooke’s poetry might be rooted in anecdote, but those roots are simply his point of departure for words that reach up towards the light. In this respect, his new collection, Sicilian Elephants (Two Rivers Press, 2021), builds on his previous work.

Many of these poems, all written from the perspective of a U.K. resident, were probably crafted prior to the consequences of the fateful referendum. However, their openness to Europe now grants them a fresh impetus in the context of Brexit. At first glance, excellent poems about gardening and DIY might seem geographically limited and limiting. In fact, the opposite is true.

Matthew Stewart, A reflection on who we are, David Cooke’s Sicilian Elephants

Just a quick note to let you know that the new issue of Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction arrived in my mail today. A loooonnng time ago — in my writing group — I shared a poem called “The Rule of Three” about an encounter I had with a student/veteran (some of you may remember). It’s one example of how I always learned as much or more from my students than they ever did from me.

No, it’s not on-line, but I may be persuaded to share it with you. Constellations is now open for submissions.

Also — drum roll, please — my poem “Even in Winter, You Must Marry It,” will go live January 19 at Cordella.org. Look for it under “Field Notes,” or click on the poem’s title (above).

I first learned about Cordella when I was searching on-line for poems by the late Jeanne Lohmann. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, follow this link to read a sampling. It’s an honor to have my poem published at the same site.

At this rich on-line venue, you’ll also find Cordella’s newest issue: Kith & Kin.

Bethany Reid, Poems, poems, poems

We read words but we also hear silence. This is what I love about poetry, those two things at work. The word works with and against the word next to it, and above and below it, but also with the silence laced through the poem by punctuation and breaks, and sometimes the imposition of        

Ha! See what I did there? I’m not saying anything new, of course. And there’s much more to be said and that has been said on rhythm, on how words rub up against each other to create emotion. I just felt moved to share again my wonder about this stuff. How we bundles of chemical equations and biological impulses have this crazy thing called emotion that is conjured up out of relations: one note to another, one word to another, one silence to another, you to me.

Marilyn McCabe, Looking at the river, thinking of the sea; or, On Poems and Blank Space

“Extended Release,” now in Guernica, is one of those poems that came to me in a rush, the kind that writers sometimes refer to as a gift, in that it arrives in near-final shape. I jotted in a dim living room during my mother’s last weeks, when she was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes as we sought a diagnosis and, we hoped, a cure. I had been taking care of her in the house she shared with my brother when she suddenly couldn’t hold a spoon steady. I called the home nursing service; they said to call an ambulance. My mother’s reproach when she saw the EMTs–“Oh, Les, what have you done”–will haunt me forever, I’m sure, as well as the difficulty of negotiating treatment for her pain. I think she trusted me to be ruthlessly kind, if you know what I mean, and she was disappointed that I didn’t catch on that she could have slipped away without fuss that night. Days later, I would be the person who discovered her death, and I have a gut feeling she waited to let go until I was on watch because she thought I could take it. She always told me women were stronger than men and seemed to think I could endure anything the world would throw at me. I guess I have, so far–not that I’ve had the hardest life by a long shot, but I’ve kept plowing along. Maybe that’s just what I need to believe, that she thought I was strong.

The balancing force to my regret was our exchange about what comes after pain. My mother was spiritually all over the map, sometimes describing her many reincarnations and other times saying, “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” But she really did talk, as I recount in the poem, about what people wear in heaven. We compared notes on what heaven might be like, for us, if it existed. That was one of the best conversations we had during those last difficult weeks. She seemed peaceful and curious. It was a gift to be there and mull over possibilities with her. People’s kind responses to this poem have been gifts, too. So many people have been through this with loved ones. I wonder if it’s any better when someone dies suddenly, without that month of pain and uncertainty. I suspect not.

Lesley Wheeler, Literary sources and afterlives

Working on my collection of poetry Church Ladies, I sometimes would read through poets who do similar work (persona poems from the perspective of women of faith…it is a little niche), and then that little nagging voice says “oh why even write this, This Poet does it better!”.

Let’s be totally honest: maybe they do.

However, they don’t do it the Same.

Unless you are straight-up plagiarizing them, you do have a unique voice that will come through on the topic, whether you want it to or not. I’m a believer that voice doesn’t have to be found so much as it needs to not be suppressed.

So when you are finding it difficult to write because So-and-So and their perfect iambic pentameter on the exact subject you write about in less than perfect somethingmeter, just stop it. Stop it! Turn off the social media, skip out on workshop (if you aren’t in a class that is), and just buckle down to work on your own stuff. Maybe take some time to read poets who have completely different obsessions from your own writing. Then write like you believe your voice is worth hearing too.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Eyes Forward!

Just an image:
an old man,
thinner, his
trousers loose,
belt tightened
as far as it goes.
An old man
in a check shirt
open at the neck,
one hand on
the door frame
the other raised
in a wave of
farewell.
Is he smiling?
It’s up to you.
The image began
as mine but
it’s yours now.

Bob Mee, IS HE SMILING?

sweaty plaid dad had a gadabout

Jason Crane, haiku: 20 January 2022

Sometimes you can’t
get far enough

away to see it,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (111)

I propped my watercolor box on the chair near my knee, and started painting directly, laying down one color after another, as quickly as I could, to try to capture the energy and chaotic over-crowding of the scene before me. The terracotta pots and wooden table gave the picture a little bit of unification and structure, but basically there wasn’t any overall composition to be had. Nor were there strong shapes – just the big fleshy leaves of “Fang”. The geranium in the background, the butterfly-like triangles of the oxalis, the succulents, and the busy needles of the rosemary plant were all similar enough in size to compete with each other, but not stand out. I just kept at it, adding brushstrokes, dashes, lines, dots. Once all the color was on the page, I went back with a pen and sketched in some loose shapes and lines, and finally added the vertical window blinds in the background with watercolor.

The only solution, it had seemed, was just to go for the visual clutter. Feeling dubious, I posted the image on Instagram, with the slightly apologetic comment, “Once again, fascinated by the busyness of plants.” A little while later, my friend Michael Szpaskowski and I had this exchange:

Michael: “And that that ‘busyness’ becomes the compositional imperative here is great. Both truthful (I’m not saying that artistic truth is always of this nature of course) and very beautiful.”

Beth: “It is both the compositional imperative and its greatest obstacle. The urge is to bludgeon the busyness into some sort of submissive order, but that wouldn’t be true. So then what do you do?…I like aspects of it, but it still doesn’t entirely work for me. Tonight I was thinking maybe if I tried it from a high angle, the ovals of the tops of the pots would give a compositional rhythm that might unify the picture a little more. But not sure if I have the energy for another try!”

Michael: “Oh it is precisely its ‘awkwardness’ that I find so winning!”

This was a very helpful exchange, because when I studied the image again with his words in mind, I realized that it was actually OK not to have a strong and obvious composition or structure; instead there’s color and life dancing all over the image, and the loose horizontal and vertical lines do just enough work to hold everything within the frame.

Beth Adams, Making Sense Out of Chaos

the chaos is real
tangled inside and out
you try to iron it like a shirt
but it creases against skin
over every warp, every scar,
over the forgotten, the elapsed —
like the delusion of stretched blue sky
that turns as it comes closer,
into viscous cloud, into grimy light,
dead stars falling into unopened eyes:

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Chaos

What is it about January? You have to trust that living things are asleep and not dead. The garden is brown and damp. In January I examine any magnolia tree I come across, looking for buds: signs of life. Even though days are getting longer it happens so slowly. Generating every extra minute of daylight seems a huge effort for Gaia.

On the other hand, I was in the British Museum recently looking at the Parthenon marbles, and I was so struck with the energy and verve that still shines from these 2,500 year old carvings. Despite the difficult relationship between humankind and the natural world, I’m uplifted by the way that the creative energy of humans channelled into art can endure, and still have the power to amaze and inspire people hundreds, if not thousands of years into the future.

Here’s a bit of joy in a dark month: this evening is the online launch of Sarah Barnsley‘s excellent first collection, The Thoughts (Smith Doorstop). I’m a bit biased as Sarah is a good friend and a Telltale Press buddy – I’m proud to say we published her pamphlet The Fire Station in 2015. The Thoughts is compelling, and a bit of a page-turner (if poetry can be described that way); it’s formally inventive, sometimes a painful read and sometimes painfully funny. I’m so pleased to see Sarah’s name up in lights. She’s a fine poet and it’s so well deserved that she’s been picked up by Smith Doorstop. Buy, buy!

Robin Houghton, Nature sleeps. Thank goodness for art

I was delighted to get a surprise call this week from my long-time poetry mentor. Long story short, he encouraged me to start sending out work again, so the plan of publishing new works on this blog has now transformed into a plan to write and submit one new poem a month. I’ll still post a previously published poem once a month, but I’m going to save the new work for sending out. It feels like a strange journey to be embarking on again after all this time. I can’t pinpoint exactly why and when I stopped sending out submissions, but at some point, I just lost patience and got sick of the gatekeepers jealously guarding their insular little lit mags that are only read by a niche group of other poets, all bowing to each other in their exclusive mutual admiration circle. I want to write poetry for the people, man. Seriously though, I never had any patience for the snobbery and academic parochialism that pervades the poetry world. There is a reason why most non-poets are fearful and distrustful of poetry, or just plain find it incomprehensible. First off, the way it’s taught in school is awful. For people who do not naturally resonate with metaphorical language, bashing them over the head with a “gotcha” about the meaning of a poem is just cruel, not to mention unimaginative. And these weird little “schools” that proliferate for the sole purpose of encouraging incomprehensible poetry that only other academics can understand is the height of pretension if you ask me. The bottom line is that normal people want to read musical, ear-pleasing, relatable work that has a surprise or two thrown in. Maybe one day I’ll start the lit mag equivalent of those jumbo crossword puzzle books and call it “EZ Poetry.”

Kristen McHenry, EZ Poetry, Busted Bubble, a Vision of Vision

I’m struggling with
my clown ear

and on the other side

I’m also struggling
with my clown ear

Gary Barwin, Need to Know & Clown Ear

Last night, we went to a drum circle in the Arts Park.  They happen every month, but it’s on the night of the full moon, which means that if I’m in class, I can’t go.  If it’s rainy, I bail out.  Last night it was chilly, but that wasn’t a deterrent.

It was led by a group from Resurrection Drums, which was a pleasant surprise.  It helped to have leaders to get a rhythm going.  They also had drums, which they passed out to people who didn’t have one.

My spouse and I had brought a drum of our own and a shaker, so we didn’t need the drums.  I was happy to have the bits of instruction that they scattered throughout the night.  For someone who has listened to as much music as I have, as wide a variety of music, I am still staggeringly bad at picking out the beat, and I can be even worse at maintaining it.

What I love about a drum circle is that it doesn’t matter.  The stronger drummers carry the rest of us along.  All of the beats get incorporated into the larger experience.  It’s a metaphor for our larger lives, but I realize it more fully in a drum circle.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Full Moon Drumming

snowflakes
falling through
my open hands

Jim Young [no title]

My heart keeps breaking. A friend just died, not of Covid but of Parkinson’s, and though we knew it was coming, and he and his wife had time to prepare, it is still a shock and will be an ongoing sadness. Some of us mourners will read some of his poems at his memorial service later this month. You can donate to the William Morgan Poetry Award here.

Another friend feels “done.” It’s not quite despair but a kind of retreat into “winter blues.” He expresses himself here and encourages our response, in words or the wise use of our time.

My parents are tired of the brutal cold, though grateful for the recent sunshine, as am I. They are very old: as of January 15, the same age, 89, for about a month, till Dad turns 90 in March. They have lived miraculously healthy, productive, creative, lucky lives, right up until now. More gratitude! But the end of their lives has been shadowed by this pandemic, as you can imagine, since we are all under the same shadow. Like my friend Basel, above, feeling the winter blues, I am weary.

Meanwhile, I continue to rehearse Life Sucks, a sort of perfect play for our times, given its title, and we are in that stressful time moving toward production week and an opening in early February. I am in the “What was I thinking?” stage I encounter with every play, but all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, no doubt.

Kathleen Kirk, My Heart Keeps Breaking

In my son’s Minecraft world
there is no pandemic.
No one spits at nurses
or lies about elections.
No one’s father has dementia.

My son thinks I’m playing
for his sake. I build
shul after shul, and in each
I pray for a world
where evil vanishes like smoke

like the mumbling zombies
who go up in flames
every time the blocky sun rises,
gilding the open hills
and endless oceans with light.

Rachel Barenblat, Tending

The one good thing about being sick all week is I caught up on my reading! Pale Horse, Pale Rider is Katherine Anne Porter’s semi-autobiographical account of living through the 1918 flu as a single journalist in Denver, when the hospitals were overcrowded and they couldn’t just order an ambulance as they were too busy. Her vivid hallucinations while sick for a month with the flu are unforgettable (she sees the nurse’s hands as ‘white tarantulas’), as is the ending. I also read Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Garden Party,” about an upper-class family organizing a party as their poorer neighbor falls down dead in front of their house. Again, feels so relevant.

To add to the cheer, I’m also reading Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human with my little brother, and though it is bleak – written in 1948’s Japan, about an individual who suffers multiple childhood sex abuse traumas,  grows up to be a cartoonist, tries to commit suicide, is put in an insane asylum – my brother made the astute observation that it shares a lot with Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It’s been read historically as thinly-veiled autobiography, but I’d argue it’s more ambitious than that – it’s Dazai’s attempt to embody the suffering, corruption and dehumanization of Japan during the WW II years.  It’s the second-best selling book in Japan of all time, and you can see why – despite the bleak subject matter, Dazai’s writing is stunningly beautiful, even in translation (he writes with a different pronoun that the Japanese “Watashi” for “I,” except in the prologue and epilogue, but that can’t really be translated into English, which is a shame). If you want to discover Dazai but want something a little more upbeat, read his warm and funny collection of modernized fairy tales in Blue Bamboo. I’ve been teaching myself Japanese for almost a year now, and I’m sad that I’m still not fluent, but I am starting to pick up a little more on the slight variations of words – pronouns, seasons, puns. Some part of me wish I’d picked something easier, like Italian, but Japanese literature is kind of an obsession of mine, and I’d love to read these books in the original, eventually. Or at least be able to have a really simple conversation in Japanese.

The other accomplishment I’m proud of is that my NEA application is in and done. I mean, I did it with a fever and on a lot of cold medicine, so it may not be the best application I’ve ever done, but it is finished! I was in isolation while waiting for my PCR test (two of my doctors told me that I for sure had covid, based on my symptoms, so better safe than sorry) and the only thing that is good for is reading and getting grant applications done. Wishing you health and safety this week, but if you do get sick – either this nasty flu or covid – I hope you have a good window view, a stack of books, and someone to bring you unending soup and hot tea.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Signs of Spring, a Week of Illness – Covid or Flu?, Hummingbirds, Hawks, and Deer, and the NEA application

I wonder why there are far more books than time to read them.

Or if forgiveness can ever be given freely, or is it only offered on the installment plan.

I wonder if miracles ever need manicures or what happens to the many thoughts and feelings of those who pass away.

I wonder what weapons will look like in fifty years. Or our government, or how we’ll relate to one another.

I wonder what wonder will look like in fifty years.

Rich Ferguson, World of Wonder

Once I thought even a small garden
could multiply my hopes. I planted

bulbs in a plot. Citrus and persimmon, purple
streaked verbena. But never again the ridged

yellow of ginger flowers, never again
the ghosts of white-throated lilies declaring

their own thirst.

Luisa A. Igloria, Greenhouse

I have long thought of myself as an apprentice to light, which also means, I am an apprentice to darkness. Not opposites but a necessary union.

I suggest to students that in their poetry there must be joy in order for the sadness to have depth. There must be love in order for loss to have meaning. Shadow gives shape to light.

And so I remind myself.

I am an introvert, an introvert’s introvert. And yet to keep that solitude from being overwhelming, strategic forays into community. This week, it was a bright evening as one of the featured readers for a celebration of William Stafford held by the Lake Oswego Public Library and the Friends of William Stafford. For anyone feeling that poetry makes nothing happen, I suggest listening to the tenor of those lovely people reading poems by a beloved poet who has been gone almost thirty years.

And then wave after wave of sadness for the passing of Thich Nhat Hanh on Friday.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, A Handhold

Not so fast, walker
on the winter beach

under a shrouded moon.
Desire far outstrips

your first unsteady steps.
No sight, no fixed points:

Recalibrate. A roar answers
your question before it’s asked.

Jill Pearlman, Le Noir (Winter Beach)

i beheld a bell breaking into light :: but what did the sleepers hear

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

Saudamini Deo, The enchanted phrase

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

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

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

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Isolation and Poetry

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

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

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

And I’m thinking about winter, and snow.

Ann E. Michael, Winterwords

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Pratt, A Sense of Belonging

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, Thinking-Things-Through

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

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

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

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

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

Courtney LeBlanc, Screaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beth Adams, Incremental

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

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

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

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 8 – Event Horizon

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

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

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

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

The stars are
already conspiring

to make the next
universe,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (107)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, The well

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

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, 2021 Writing Review

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

Jason Crane, POEM: The Clean Blue Field

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

Rich Ferguson, better weather / whether better

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, All the Stars

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

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

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

Sandra Beasley, January Jump

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

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, Twist and reek

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

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

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

Tim Love, 2 poetry podcasts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, painters and poets, oh my!

3 – How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magda Kapa, Timeout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, Thinking about poem and book titles

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

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

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

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

Carolee Bennett, 2022 writing goals: more comets and sonnets

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

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

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

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

Gary Barwin, BROTHERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING PANTOUMS

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, The Values of Black

whose eye shall fill my light with sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

Chosen,

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

Offering up my sweet
entirety. Until emptied again,

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

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

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

James Lee Jobe, I wonder if I should whisper

frost
on a station platform
tomorrow is late

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This first full week of the year found some poets still looking back at 2021, some looking ahead with goals and writing strategies for 2022, and many looking within. I have a bit of brain fog as I recover from a mild, breakthrough case of COVID, so the arrangement may be less coherent than usual, but as always there are so many interesting and surprising posts, it almost doesn’t matter what order they’re in. Enjoy.


To net the light before it escapes
our horizon, stretching
in the expanse between us; stars
migrating like geese.

To learn the language of distance,
pull the furthest past into focus
like a new-born child her mother’s face.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 1

I haven’t been doing too much poetry writing lately, but one morning this week I drafted a poem called “Lying to Myself,” that sort of veered off topic as if to demonstrate the title. Furthermore, when I flipped the pages of the poem-drafting notebook, I saw that I had been drafting poems all along, just not doing much further with them. Sometimes I typed them into my computer, revising a bit, et cetera, but some just sat there languishing… 

Then a friend sent me a text with a link to a New York Times article on languishing as a state of unfocused mind during Covid, not depression but also not flourishing. Yes, it clicked. Thanks, Chris! It was an article from April 2021, revisited in December 2021, and I couldn’t read it on my phone, and I hope can see it via this link, but I could read it on my computer, thanks to an electronic subscription given to me by a friend. Thanks, Scott!

It was comforting to learn that I’d intuitively found ways over the past year and a half to both comfort and focus myself, and that I didn’t have to see all my tactics as escape or avoidance but rather as real strategies to fend off too much languishing. I could create temporary “flow”—that state of time both suspended and flashing by during intense focus on a creative project or sports—when drafting even the poems I forgot (or didn’t revise or submit later). I could get steady satisfaction from small daily tasks and goals. I could, as I did, immerse myself in other stories than my own, every time I read a book or watched a movie, and I did a lot of that. 

Kathleen Kirk, Lying to Myself

For a while a white softness
would rub out the dirt of the streets,
the remains of this year’s
half-hearted celebrations.
And then, soon after,
we’d be thirsty for colour again,
our mind would shovel away
the heavy burden
from green bushes and red cars,
we’d long for the blue sea,
the moonlight in a warm night
when the cicadas cannot sleep.
But to make it all worth it,
first the snow must come.

Magda Kapa, No snow here

January 6th is Epiphany, when Christians celebrate the coming of the Three Kings from the East to the cradle in Bethlehem, led by a star blazing in the heavens that “stopped over the place where Jesus lay.” It’s always been my favorite Christmas story, in spite of the fact that I hardly believe a word of it. Like all the Biblical narratives, it probably has seeds of truth. The Greek word magos (of which magoi is the plural, later shortened to magi) gives us “magic” and “magician”: the magi were generally thought to be priest-astronomers who were well-versed in astronomy and astrology, alchemy, and other types of esoteric practices. […]

I thought about the Magi again this past weekend as we watched a documentary about the James Webb telescope, launched on Christmas Day and now well into its journey to deep space, where — if everything goes as hoped and planned — it will send pictures and data of unprecedented clarity and detail back to earth, furthering our knowledge of both the near and far reaches of our universe and its origins. The telescope will be able to “see” infrared light from over 13.5 billion years ago, when the first stars and galaxies were forming, and it will also give much clearer data and measurements of planets in other galaxies which might harbor conditions conducive to life.

In some ways, it’s easier for me to believe in wise men from the East, following a star to Bethlehem to search for the infant King of the Jews, than to wrap my head around stars coming into being from a Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago — what does that number even mean? Let alone the concept of some sort of ultra-compacted super-heated Density suddenly expanding into the Somethingness that eventually gave rise to Everything. But I do trust science, and mathematics, and the observations of astrophysics, and I am prepared to be amazed many more times in my life by the explorations and discoveries of space science. I hope I live long enough to see some proof of what I have always believed: that we are not alone in the universe, and that Life probably exists in many other places and forms.

Beth Adams, Stars

what to do but
trace the hollow
of the moon
taste the air that once
held your name
and know how
one by one
inch by inch
shadows lengthen
inside you

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What to do

Stanza length happens to be one of the aspects of a draft I am most likely to change when revising. Stanzas being the little rooms of the poem, it seems the spaces between stanzas play, usually, a more than visual role in the best poems…well, that got me thinking about space in the poem and somehow led to thinking what poems offer. Why we read and write them, even in the 21st century.

Explicitly: The poem is a space for reflection. In the space of the poem, a reader can expand perspective or feel resonance, as in a concert hall; or find a mirroring of the reader’s self (reflection); or, in a critical sense, the reader can reflect upon the poem’s topic, context, argument, content, imagery, craft, language, or beauty. The space of the poem urges response and responsiveness. Poems are not rooms built solely by and for the writer but built of the circumstances and for the reader, too.

What poetry means, in terms of reflection, is that the response can be reflective of the reader’s space, as well as the writer’s. I know that I have had different responses/readings of the same poem depending upon the place I was in while reading it (emotional, physical, contextual “place”). Different kinds of mirrors reflect different visual images. The lighting matters. The time of day. The mood. All of those are spaces, metaphorically or actually. Different stanzaic rooms, different poetic rooms–ready for a reader’s exploration.

Ann E. Michael, Reflective spaces

by what power does the dark pull of the moon :: become our silver light

Grant Hackett [no title]

We adjourned to the courtyard for our evening worship.  There’s a Native American group that we’ll learn more about today who came last night.  They had a smudging ceremony in the courtyard.  We each stepped forward to be smudged with sage that smoked in what looked like a giant shell.  The elders swirled the smoke around us with big feathers.

I wish I could have heard better.  At first I thought the same words were repeated with everyone, but as I watched, I realized that wasn’t true.  I was second to be smudged.  The female elder of the tribe said, “Oh, such strong shoulders” as she touched them with the feather.  She said, “And a good heart.”  I’m not sure of the rest, although at one point, she did say, “We’re getting rid of all negativity.”

Later she told me that there are 4 types of smudging smoke:  tobacco, sage, sweetgrass, and cedar.  I wonder if those smudging ceremonies are different.

The one we experienced last night was very powerful.  Many of us cried a bit, and a few of us were deeply shaken, and I’m not sure whether it was in a good way or a bad way.  Once again, I was reminded of how cerebral most of our mainline Protestant worship services are, and how it might be much more powerful/effective to do more embodied practices.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The First Full Day of the 2022 Onground Intensive

The mushrooms kick in and your brain grows feathery wings
And flies right out of the window, into the exploding green sky.
You hear bassoons and oboes. Someone is singing the poems
Of Emily Dickinson quite loudly, and without any particular melody.
The smell of french fries. Aah. And flowers fly beside you
Like small birds. Chirping. Any hard feelings you were harboring
Are now gone. You love your enemies, just like Jesus said.

James Lee Jobe, Jesus and the French Fries.

Almost wisdom,
the master said before

he dismissed it,
the old monk’s poem.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (98)

Is it nerve-wracking meeting with other humans during Omicron’s numbers, overrun hospitals, and daily news? It was! Was it worth it? Well, neither Glenn and I (who tested before and after) got sick, our guests didn’t get sick, and everyone was vaccinated (most triple-vaccinated, except me) and we were running four air purifiers and kept windows open (circulation still important!) so definitely yes. I have missed other humans! It’s just not the same over the phone or over Zoom. And Glenn really enjoys cooking for humans who aren’t quite as jaded to his excellent food as me and the cats have become.

While Rose and Glenn bonded over Seahawks and cooking, Kelli showed me how to share an Instagram story (Instagram is still a new skill set for me) and we talked poetry, PR, the problems of launching books during a pandemic…you know, typical girl stuff! Seriously, family bonding and writer-friend bonding felt really life-affirming. It also felt unfamiliar – seeing people in person. When this pandemic is over (someday soon, hopefully,) I’m going to have to re-learn my socializing skills. What is it going to be like to do a poetry reading in public again?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Late Holiday Celebrations, 10 Questions with Massachusetts Review, After the Snow, Floods, and Next Week, a Speculative Poetry Class

wandering poet
in the catacombs of mind
a thousand coffins

Jim Young [no title]

Today I am grateful for the poetry books of others as well as for the wonder of my own deep revision. 

This afternoon, I’m halfway through Disappearing Queen by Gail Martin, winner of the Wilder Prize by Two Sylvias Press and I don’t want it to end. The different narrative threads include the life of bees, the life of an older American woman, and the accrued losses implicit in both. […]

And somehow, the day is almost gone and my poem “architectural digest, reboot” is nowhere near done; neither is “The Pickle Barrel at Morse’s”. Maybe they never will be. When working on new poems there is simply joy at  attempting something new; a deep feeling of gratitude for the creation.

May your creativity flair in unexpected and exciting ways; may your creativity swerve sideways or even take a small rest. I feel so lucky to be living this life as a writer and a secret painter; to be creating community and also to love the solitude. 

Susan Rich, Happy New Year, One Day Late

the letters on the gravestone
became letter-shaped pools where
letter-shaped moss grew

Gary Barwin, PO(E)TATOES

This year was another big reading year for me – I read 319 books, down from last year’s 332 books! Of those books consumed, here were my favorites:

Poetry

~ No Small Gift by Jennifer Franklin: Poems with themes of betrayal, mothering a severely autistic and epileptic child, battling cancer during a divorce, mythology, and eventually, hope.

~ Where the Water Begins by Kimberly Casey: Poems with themes of loss, grief, addiction, hope, health, and figuring out how to keep moving forward.

~ All Sex and No Story by Laura Passin: A chapbook of poems that focus on the body, desire, sex, relationships, and the boundaries in between.

~ Green by Melissa Fite Johnson: Poems with themes of loss, teenage angst, hope, love and forgiving yourself for the mistakes you made in the past.

~ Borrowing Your Body by Laura Passin: Poems with themes of death, dying, loss, space, science, the infinite universe and surviving it all.

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books Read in 2021

The band announces itself with a flourish
before fading into the soft white of the piano.
It sounds better because it’s old,
a half-remembered audio phantasm
floating just out of reach.
Sure it would be nice to hear
every nuance, every breath, every
subtle shift in tone or timbre.
But given the choice, I’ll take
the crackles and static,
the muted highs and lows,
the mid-range heard as if
underwater, perhaps from
the bottom of a pool
while the band
plays on the
patio
above.

Jason Crane, POEM: Listening To Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall”

A couple things changed in the last 6 months–even the last two months.  I began to feel a little more smothered and hopeless at the Library as things continued to be too much weight and my enthusiasms that used to buoy me waned.  Remedies for it seemed even further on the horizon if there at all, with pandemic budgets and hiring freezes.  I was trying to hold on to the side of the boat, scared to swim, but I was still drowning somehow.  I started looking for wreckage, a door, a board, anything I could build a raft with.  I didn’t want another ship (ie another library job), though nearby ships were aplenty in this land of the Great Resignations, but I did need something that could keep me out of the water should solid land be further out than I thought or the sea more treacherous than it looked.  

I found a good one in the form of some freelance work, maybe even comfy as a rowboat, in  November and its proved to actually be pretty enjoyable, but is not so heavy that I can’t control its weight.  Enough to make up the lost library income (that’s actually not that much, also part of the problem) and get me somewhere safely.  By leaving, I realized that I could parlay funds from unused vacation hours (months and months b/c  we could never actually take time off) into a nest egg of savings should I need it for emergencies (this was another thing, as single person household I worried about.) . I figured things like health insurance premiums and self-employment taxes and other things that seemed scary. 

All I needed was to let go and start rowing…

Kristy Bowen, onward, across the sea

At the behest of a long-time poetry mentor and friend of mine, I made a commitment recently that I’m both nervous and excited about. I’ve agreed to write and post one new poem per month on this blog. There, I’ve said it publicly and now I’m accountable. For a number of reasons I’m not going to detail here,I’ve been in a hopeless funk for a long time about writing poetry and have struggled to find the calling. So I appreciate this nudge—or more like the light kick in the pants I needed to get going again. Because I am me, of course I decided to re-start this endeavor by writing a sestina about the Burr vs. Hamilton duel, but quickly discovered that this was far too ambitious a plan for my weakened, out-of-shape poetry muscles. It’s like when I go ham at the gym after a long absence and end up debilitatlingly sore the next day. So I’m going to start with something a little simpler and work my way up. I can’t guarantee when the first new poem will show up, but it will be some time in January. I also offer no guarantees as to the quality or literary worth of any new poem. However, if you insult one of my poems, I shall challenge you to a duel!

Kristen McHenry, Affairs of Honor, Poem Promise

The great thing about the first week of this year: I dedicated a substantial chunk to poetry. I discovered that although I’d revised older work, I hadn’t drafted a new poem AT ALL since summer 2021. That’s really rare for me. I tend to throw down drafts during spare hours and come back to them during academic breaks, but honestly, October through December were remarkably short on spare hours. In retrospect, it was right to commit to what felt like countless conferences and conventions to get word out about my 2020 books, and I have no desire to put aside my Shenandoah editorship, even though it can be an overwhelming amount of labor. I received edits on my forthcoming essay collection later than I expected, so mid-fall involved a full-court press on enacting them. I also put scads of creative energy into teaching, and I don’t regret it. But I said yes to too much other service/ committee work. My brain was always revving at top speed, which made sleep difficult, and that created a circular kind of tiredness. Pandemic anxiety and grief for my mother were also operating like background programs, slowing my machine. My PT person told me to walk less to let my tendonitis heal, but that’s bad for body and mind in other ways.

I know what to do with myself to recover from months like that, and as best I can, I’m doing it: more downtime and fun reading, non-homework evenings, plus physical pleasures like sleep, good food, hot baths. I took my respirator mask to a couple of art museums during those few days in Savannah–looking at art restores me, maybe because it’s slow and silent or because it always fills me with a sense of shared effort. The flow experience of writing lifts me, too, but it wasn’t happening. Re-approaching my poetry ms-in-progress felt like hard work I was reluctant to begin.

By dint of ruthless will, though, I made myself shift poems around, add, cut, and revise individual pieces to bring the book into cohesion–the usual arithmetic of solving for the book–and I called in a friend for advice. I can’t say I achieved flow very often last week, and the book still needs more time and thinking, but I do feel better after making real hours for the efforts most important to me. And I wrote two new pieces, one at the crack of dawn this morning!

Lesley Wheeler, The work + worry equations of winter 2022

You’ve seen the plot before. The local police have been told not to apprehend a criminal but keep him under surveillance because Interpol want to catch the whole network. But an ambitious, impetuous young cop who’s unaware of the big picture arrests the criminal because he thinks the criminal’s getting away.

Apprehending a poem can have the same plot. Committing yourself to the first interpretation ensures that you get the bird in the hand, but you might miss out on many more that two other possibilities in the bush.

So follow at a distance. Wait for it to make contact with more significant agents. Try to picture the whole network. The first idea you have may be the easiest to find because it’s the most superficial. Don’t think that the title says it all. Don’t think that the rhymes are what it’s all about. Remember that even low-level operatives are cunning enough to lead you down blind alleys.

Tim Love, Apprehending

I’m currently reading, and very much admiring, the excellent Nine Arches Press book, Why I Write Poetry, edited by Ian Humphreys, in which 25 contemporary UK-based poets address aspects of their poetry practice and motivation. The subtitle, of sorts, of the book is, ‘essays on becoming a poet, keeping going and advice for the writing life’. These words from Rosie Garland chime precisely with attitudes to artists like [Louis] Wain:

‘Outsider’ is an opinion, imposed by those who regard themselves as ‘inside’, and impose their arbitrary norms.

Yesterday was the seventy-fifth birthday, as it were, and tomorrow marks six years since the death, of the person who did as much as anyone to give licence to outsiders in the UK and beyond: David Bowie. Later this year, it will be fifty years since his incarnation as Ziggy Stardust changed many people’s lives forever. His first gig as Ziggy took place on 10 February 1972, at the Toby Jug pub at Tolworth roundabout, a mile away from the house in Old Malden that my parents, brothers and I had just moved into. We got our cat, Puzzle, shortly after. I read the other day an excellent piece, here, about Bowie’s northern patrilineage.

The sense of being an outsider, of ‘othering’, is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a recurrent theme in the book. Nine Arches, like increasing numbers of others, is a publisher which specialises in bringing to the fore poetry by diverse voices who would undoubtedly have been marginalised, if not entirely unpublished, in previous generations, and the much longer established poetry publishers seem to have started to respond too. I’m very glad, incidentally, that Nine Arches will be publishing Ramona Herdman’s first full collection this year. Of late, I’ve also been (re-)reading Caleb Parkin’s Nine Arches collection, This Fruiting Body, which is full of riches – even his most straightforward poems, such as his magnificent ‘Ode on a Black Plastic Compost Bin’, are so lush that each one needs properly savouring.

There is much to relate to, to be inspired by, and to reflect upon in Why I Write Poetry’s essays. Each is heartfelt and I know I will come back to them again.

Matthew Paul, On Louis Wain and Why I Write Poetry

Comprised of seventy-three large full-colour photographs of visual poems comprised of a combination of object (leaf, bark, branch) and text, is Toronto poet, editor and publisher Kate Siklosi’s full-length debut, leavings (Malmö, Sweden: Timglaset Editions, 2021). leavings is a collection of visual pieces composed through a combination of printed text, visual poems and letraset combined with leaves, twigs, branches and fir to reveal, in close detail, the physical interactions between nature and language, and the impact of absolute brevity. […]

The pieces are structured in four titled sections, with a single large image per page: the twenty works of “a leaf,” the twenty-three pieces of “a leave,” the eleven pieces of “a left,” and the nineteen pieces of “a mend.” By section titles alone, Siklosi’s quartet hints at an echo of bpNichol’s infamous eight-line poem etched into the concrete of the Toronto lane that now shares his name: “A / LAKE / A / LINE / A / LONE [.]” Just as in Nichol’s poem set in concrete, Siklosi’s poems are uniquely physical, and deliberately temporal; the delicate nature of some of these pieces suggest that most, if not all, might no longer exist in the forms shown in the photographs, leaving the photograph as both framing and document of an object that can’t easily, or ever, be archived. Is her purpose, then, through the exploration, the object or the documentation? There is something fascinating in the way the pieces in leavings also suggest an approach in tandem with her found materials. These pieces exist, one might say, in collaboration between Siklosi and her materials (leaves, branches, etcetera), as opposed to her simply dismantling and repurposing whatever materials she may have found as part of her walks (her acknowledgments include a “Thank you to NourbeSe for our ravine walks, on which many of these leaves and thoughts were collected.”). Instead, Siklosi appears to respond, from her collaborative corner, as a way of shaping to and around the materials-at-hand. It is no accident, I would think, that her dedication reads, simply: “for the land, our wisest poet [.]” As she writes to preface the collection:

a life is composed of leavings: the remains of crusts and skins, the remnants of night in a dawn sky, the residue of mourning, loves too deep and too shallow, the hard words left unsaid, the time taken, the dust in our tracks. in our tiny expanse, things pass and things grow. we kill and we cultivate. we hurt and we mend. we pick up the pieces and create. we do better and we fail. we thread ragged beginnings from the trodden decay of our pasts. beginnings still. we collect, windswept and tired, in piles against a fence. in our shared fragility, we quilt a being, warm and enough.

rob mclennan, Kate Siklosi, leavings

Ivory, ecru, massed
petals on three heads
of hydrangea. After three
days, each begins to sport
a light ochre outline. We know
what it means: everything
goes into decline. Yesterday,
a communion. Today, a wedding.
Tomorrow, blooms falling
like snow into the open earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Life Cycle of White

“Reading IS writing”

Well, actually…it isn’t.

Sorry to disappoint you! But only writing is actually writing.

Reading however is an excellent tool for your writing. Along with writing everyday, I try to read at least a couple of poems everyday. I like to think of it as “filling the cup of creativity.”

Reading gets good rhythms and sounds in my mind, topics I want to dialogue with, jumping off points, arguments. Reading / Writing is a conversation between two people who may never meet.

It can be comforting when going through a dry spell of writing to hear that Reading is as good as writing, but don’t let that idea hinder you from bravely meeting the page.

To be clear: you shouldn’t feel any shame about taking a break from writing to just spend time reading. Maybe life has taken a lot out of you, and you really need some filling up! And, in my experience, the more I read, the more likely it is that my reading will spill out into writing sooner than later.

So go read! But don’t ONLY read if you want to hit your writing goals.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Read (but not too much…)

The birds return in one of the final poems, “The Un-flight of Porcelain Birds”,

“Spillikins of feather,
your wings are kept by clay.
Roost in my palm, echo of wild things.
You have never trembled evening from your throat.
You have never known
the blue sail of sky.”

There’s a note of regret: these representations of birds will never be wild but can be kept and domesticated. They aren’t sentient beings so won’t know they’ve never known flight, but there seems to be a transference: the narrator is transferring her feelings of confinement and lack of freedom to the birds. The lack here is not having the same freedoms as neurotypical people, the restrictions of suffering domestic violence and the fear that keeps her checking her reactions and actions appear “normal” to others.

“Be Feared” are poems from a poet taking back control of how she expresses herself, how she centres herself, not to dominate others, but to assert her boundaries and encourage others to accommodate her. They acknowledge her suffering from abuse, from being neuro-diverse and how she moves from surviving to coping and thriving. She draws on folklore and myth to make sense of a world that is strange. Jane Burn has created a series of poems of resilience and remaining true to oneself in a world that demands compliance and capitulation.

Emma Lee, “Be Feared” Jane Burn (Nine Arches Press) – book review

A year ago, I wrote, “Since there’s no guarantee 2021 is going to be any less pandemic-y than 2020, I’ve opted for a no nonsense approach to the year’s poetry goals.” The statement introduced a super simplified poetry action plan* for 2021 I thought I’d pared down enough to help me feel productive without applying too much pressure. However, 2021 required more rest and restoration than I’d anticipated. Every activity (writing-related or not) required a recovery period. While that may always have been true, I became acutely aware of the swing of the pendulum.

In looking back at the year, I also realized that most of the writing activities I did were in social/group settings (virtually, of course). I spent far less time with solo writing efforts, like crafting new poems, revising existing drafts and submitting work. It’s possible that my temperament throughout the year — never before have I needed so much mind-numbing downtime — made that true, but it’s also likely that so much engagement with others required more recovery than anticipated (and in comparison with solitary activities).

When I set goals for 2022 in the coming days, I’m going to take that into account and aim for a quieter, more inward-facing writing year. But I have no regrets about what I did/didn’t accomplish in 2021. I rested more than I wrote (2021 was also full of some huge life changes), but I showed up for workshops and readings that will inform and inspire me for years to come.

Carolee Bennett, revisiting 2021 poetry goals: more rest than writing

How do you want to live, now? That has been the question asked by countless writers and I ask it of myself all the time. The Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart once asked:

“Isn’t there some statement you’d like to make? Anything noted while alive? Anything felt, seen, heard, done? You are here. You’re having your turn. Isn’t there something you know and nobody else does? What if nobody listens? Is it all to be wasted? All blasted? What about that pricey pain? What about those people. They sit outside this story, but give it its shape. If it has a shape. What about all the words that were said and all the words that were never said?”

As for me, I do want to make of my life art. I want to be a witness to splendour. I want to get as much down as possible, whether by the light of photography or by the light of my weird noticing. I want my presence to be art. I don’t want to waste anything, not a moment. I want this blog to be art and I want to inspire you to make art of your life. I want my peanut butter sandwiches to be art, and I want the flowers I arrange in a vase to be art. You’ll remember this quotation by Anne Morrow Lindbergh from her lovely small book, Gift from the Sea.

“Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day- like writing a poem or saying a prayer.”

I look around at all the people I know navigating this pandemic life with grace and fortitude and the way they parent and work from home and do all these things that we would have thought to be weird in the beforetimes. So weird and so impossibly difficult! And yet though so many are stretched so thin, processing a ton of unevenly disseminated information on how to stay safe, keeping their loved ones safe, working in non-ideal situations, and etc, they are often doing it with a sense of humour, with elegance, with an amazing make the best of it attitude. Sure, we’re all crumbling from time to time; we’re struggling. In the last two years most of us have felt pretty much every emotion under the sun. But if this isn’t art, the lives we are leading right now, then I don’t know what is. If, as Li-Young Lee says, the self is the final opus, then how do you want your soul to look when all this is said and done?

Shawna Lemay, Your Life and the Work of Art

There is no map to show me
where clouds go.
Exactly where do clouds go?

Wind blows its hail
across the field.
In the darkness of the shed
the pigs bury themselves
in fresh straw.
I shut myself in the cabin,
watch trees bend and water
gather itself in old tracks
I’d forgotten were there.
In the end is the beginning,
in the beginning, the end.

Bob Mee, BEGINNING OF THE YEAR

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 50

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This edition was compiled in a bit of a rush, so I apologize if it seems a bit more disorderly than usual. Some posts about childhood led me to posts about the holiday season, favorite books (and blogs!) of the year, writing advice, po-biz pondering, and more. Enjoy.


The field was a living space. We walked through the field to get to the woods. Its edges were important to the shape of our days. Other children had parks, community centers. We had our field and a good half-hour of driving in any direction to reach a gas station.

As a living image, as personal history with land, the field to me is pure potential. It is unmarked by play structures. There would be fields in my future that my father fenced for our goats and chickens (I remember how impressed my parents were, when I was in college, and I told them my friend fenced—they thought only of farm skills, not athletics), but this field was different. This field was unfenced.

If you got down low in the field, there were field mice in grass burrows. There were wild tomatillos growing, tiny green fruit in their paper lantern wrappings. If you crouched or lay down, you could disappear from sight, the sedge grasses waving in the wind above you. There is a specific sound of wind through the grass before a storm—the sedge billowed like a copper sea.

I can trace my poetics back to this unfenced field. I spent five or six years practicing meter and formal poetry, until I could write iambic pentameter without thinking about it. Paradise Lost was like home to me. That is the fenced field. I return, as I must return, to the field of pure potential, unmarked by wire and posts. The only electricity that hums there is that of the person in the field.

Han VanderHart, The Field and Poetry

childhood running
we caught all the butterflies
and killed them

Jim Young [no title]

To Mr. Typist’s great bemusement, I went down a John Denver rabbit hole this week thanks to a casual comment on one of my Facebook posts. I hadn’t listened to John Denver’s music or thought about him for many years, but the comment inspired to me go and watch his concert footage from the 70’s, and I was awash with memories. I tried to explain to Mr. Typist that when I lived in Alaska as a young child, during the summers hippies would emerge in the early evenings on porches with guitars and play John Denver songs, and all of us children would gather around and sing along. We had no idea what the lyrics meant, but we knew they felt good to sing. I don’t know why there were hippies on an Air Force base in Alaska, but there were, in greater numbers than you might imagine. And they have an unerring instinct for twilight and children and catchy, emotionally compelling songs about mountains and nature, so there you have it—spontaneous 70’s John Denver porch concerts on an Air Force base in the middle of Alaska.

Kristen McHenry, John Denver Rabbit Hole, Bike Embroilment, Frozen Shoulder

Charlie, bald head, sullen sage, you say our lives are cartoons to be puzzled over again and again. What are we equal to and what do we translate? Like Schrödinger’s Dog, the dog is always there but what about us? Sisyphus and Lucy kissing in a tree. The kite’s a twisted bird in the branches. Ancestors, Charlie. All these years. What’s the best thing about rhetorical questions? 

Gary Barwin, Charlie Brown’s Body

A prohibition….

….lifted on the stroke of midnight
on some special Eve, Midsummer, say, or Christmas.

Then, it’s said that stones, or trees, or owls can speak.
Or toys piled pell-mell in boxes kept in lofts, in attic cupboards;

and also things that hang in Christmas trees,
like fairies, snowmen, angels, and wind-up clockwork toys.

What is it, do you think, they say, just once a year, just for one day,
This is the truth of it. The dark that lasts all year, the silent dust

that settles bit by bit, grows coarse and gritty, will clog their tongues.
Listen. They’re as mad as stones and deaf as owls. They’re let to speak,

have forgotten how, and what, to say. Stay silent
till the twelfth night. And then they’re put away.

John Foggin, Christmas stocking fillers

It’s all really depressing. I won’t be eligible for a booster until early January. More restrictions are likely to be imposed, and in my opinion, far too late. The federal government of Canada is requesting that all international trips be cancelled, and it sounds like border restrictions will be re-imposed soon. “Rethink your holiday parties,” is both lame and ineffective, but people are desperate to be with their families, too. Sadly, we had already cancelled our plans to be with my father in upstate New York today for his 97th birthday, and obviously we won’t be seeing our American family members for Christmas. I have to just try not to think about what that means. Meanwhile, in the U.S. and many other places, people seem to be doing whatever they feel like, and counting on their vaccinations to protect them from serious illness. I hope it works, and wish them well.

So, all I can say, from this interior space where I will be for most of the next few months: color helps. And reading. I’ve been working on a new print, which you’ll see eventually: the carving was complicated and absorbing, and the repetitive process of printing is calming. I’ve been grateful for it.

I want to think not about breakthrough infections, but about breakthrough color: the way primary red and yellow, and gamboge and intense cobalt blue and viridian push aside everything else we’re obsessing about, and make us stop and look, make us feel something emotional and positive.

Beth Adams, Christmas Fruit, and Breakthrough Color

As night falls, no one
says crepuscular or eventide.
As the orphaned child sobs under
the mother tree, no one blames
patriarchy. The crone isn’t wise, only
bitter. The young are either desperate
or lost. The last page delivers a verdict
reputed to be the will of the gods.

Luisa A. Igloria, Reasons to Disrupt the Narrative

This past week I’ve been flashing on Penelope Fitzgerald’s scintillating descriptions of preparing a house. Her novel “Blue Flower,” set in the 18th century, is full of the bright crush of domestic detail, the half-laborious, half-ecstatic ritual of organizing a home. As I was dashing around, making way for my grown kids and friends to migrate, I heard Fitzgerald’s echo — “great dingy snowfalls of sheets, pillow-cases, bolster-cases, vests, bodices, drawers, from the upper windows into the courtyard … into giant baskets.” I’m not firing up the old Maytag with anything but a switch; still, I note my excitement to make a nest, a safe haven through methodical hands-on work. I bent my head as I came down from the attic, carrying unrolling stored mattresses, shaking goose down through the corners of comforters, slapping pillows to life so they seem just born, cutting flowers for vases.

Jill Pearlman, The Home Groove

how can night air on a branch of december :: have turned its face to me

Grant Hackett [no title]

My first idea was for a haunted house and I would put all the regrets that haunt me on the boards of the house. But I made the house too big, with no room for all the ghosts and monsters that I envisioned circling the house. And then these other aspects appeared: the woman on the side of the house, the stuff going on in the attic (not exactly sure what’s going on there), the plants and pumpkins and cats and the table inside that’s ready for tea.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Six Weeks of Sketch Responses to “Crisis Contemplation”

Out from the corners of night, shadows gather like hungry soldiers at mess. To the west, these shadows slowly eat the Vaca Hills and roll down easy to the ocean to drown.

Veterans sleep in front of TV sets, numbed by beer and weak programming.

From the south, a chill breeze races up the delta lands and marshes, the estuaries. Herons shiver in the cold water, wading and hunting. Dragon flies race; they are fighter pilots in a Hollywood movie.

This breeze makes a lonely sound, like a saxophone on the radio. Like a child crying for something it cannot have.

The corners of night square off into a box. The lid is shut now. It will not open until morning.

James Lee Jobe, numbed by beer and weak programming

red barn     long shadows
rust-colored hawk descends
and vanishes

Ann E. Michael, Few words

Last week, my daughter, who is planning a Christmas celebration across a continent and ocean with a young man she loves, asked me about our Christmas day traditions. “I remember the advent calendar and decorating stockings before Christmas, but I can’t remember much about the day itself other than opening presents,” she said.

“Oh, honey,” I said. “I was always so wasted by Christmas day I didn’t do much more than make a breakfast and clean up the wrapping paper and take a nap. And some years we spent the day in the car.”

I told her about staying up long after everyone had gone to bed, wrapping gifts. I told her, laughing at myself, about the year her dad and older sister had built a train table for the Brio set, and I was painting the little town scene on the base of it until after 2:00 AM on Christmas morning. I told her about the year I made her a dress-up trunk. “I had to find a trunk, and the clothes to put in the trunk–which I got from multiple visits to Goodwill–and the flower and letter decals I put on the lid of the trunk.” I told her about how my favorite moment of Christmas was often the one that happened in those middle-of-the-night hours, when everything was finally done and I would sit by myself in front of the lit tree in our dark living room and sip a glass of wine and relish the calm. I even told her the story of the laptop year and the afternoon at the dentist.

“Well, you know why I wanted a laptop,” she said. I told her I didn’t.

“I wanted to be like you,” she said. “Every morning when I got up, you’d be downstairs on your computer.”

“Really?” I said. “I never knew that.” I remembered those years when I used to get up at 4:30 in the morning so I would have time to write, and how that time often ended when she, like me, always an early riser, came down our stairs to find me sitting on the couch, tapping away. I both loved and dreaded the sound of her footsteps.

She paused. “For someone who’s so aware of so many things, how could you have missed that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I suppose it’s because missing things is what we do, especially when we are in the thick of it.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Not exactly a Hallmark holiday movie

Although they are two very different debut collections, Inhale/Exile by Abeer Ameer and Mother, Nature by Aoife Lyall share a number of similarities when considered together, the most obvious being that they are both concerned with notions of Home. In Inhale/Exile, Home is Iraq, or perhaps the more ancient Mesopotamian homeland, ‘the land of two rivers’, from which her own family and many of the characters in her poems fled during the days of Saddam Hussain’s totalitarian Baathist regime. But Home is also the UK for a poet who was born in Sunderland and raised in Wales; and so, much of the work is suffused with both a refugee’s paradoxical longing to return to what is now an ‘alien land / called home’ (The Fugitive’s Wife (vi) return) – Ameer uses the evocative Welsh word hiraeth in her acknowledgement of gratitude to the Iraqi diaspora community – and an understanding of non-belonging in a land which remains foreign: language errors, for example causing a recent exile, who I take to be the poet’s father, ‘an awkwardness he’ll know well’ (The Waiting Groom). The awkwardness is not Ameer’s as a second generation Iraqi immigrant to the UK, but that of her parents’ and her grandparents’ generations, for whom Inhale/Exhale stands as an impressive tribute. For Lyall, simultaneously celebrating the birth of one child and mourning the loss by miscarriage of another, the speaker/poet herself is Home to her surviving baby: ‘I am your home / Hold me close and you can hear the ocean’ (‘Hermit Crab’). The ‘I’ and the ‘you’ of these poems exist in a state of symbiosis, their mutual dependencies are the fabric that binds them and protects them from the outside world. They are the universe drawn inwards, and for a time (painfully short for the mother) they are hermetically sealed and yet all-containing. But this is no smugly beatific Earth Mother; the Mother-as-Home in Mother, Nature bears all the pain and responsibilty of nature’s personification: ‘…I tried not to cry. I felt your stomach fill / with the violant sting of golden milk. / My body bled for you.’ (‘3oz’); ‘There is no room for error / (…) / …If I open / my eyes to the chance of falling / I will fall. And down will come baby, / cradle and all.’ (‘Trapeze’). And the grief of a mother’s loss, Lyall shows us, is an emptiness which is far from metaphorical; it is of course the all-too-physical reality of an unoccupied womb, ‘this house your home in me a hollow place’ (‘Ithaca’). This is a truth we may have already known, but Lyall’s language begins to make us feel it.

Chris Edgoose, Two debuts: Abeer Ameer and Aoife Lyall

Over the last dozen years or so, Angela France has developed into a seriously good poet. I was thinking about the collections I’ve read this year, wondering which I preferred – and then her book, Terminarchy (Nine Arches Press, £9.99) dropped on the mat with the bills and early Christmas cards.

Within a few pages – I have a strange habit of beginning books I don’t know at the back as well as the front – I thought this seemed so confident and assured I wanted to read it all, there and then. As is so often the case, it wasn’t possible. For a start, hens had to be cleaned out and fed, the home-made pig-sty, known to family as Pig Ugly, needed to be upgraded to deal with winter, given the arrival of four new inhabitants at the weekend. I was also writing a (bad) long poem, which eventually failed to survive ‘Delete’, and which took up a stupid amount of time before its demise.

So, when I finally settled to read Terminarchy, from front to back this time, it was with a fresh eye. And after two readings, I’ve found it the most pleasing new collection of my 2021. By that I mean that so much is published each year it’s impossible to read everything. I also have a tendency to re-read old, familiar books that have been on the shelves for decades. Nevertheless, acknowledging the limits of the statement, Terminarchy is top of my relatively lengthy list.

Bob Mee, POETRY COLLECTION I’VE ENJOYED MOST THIS YEAR – TERMINARCHY BY ANGELA FRANCE

The highlight of my recent reading continues to be Gillian Allnutt. I love the polished simplicity of her poetry, which makes much contemporary poetry look and sounds overwritten in comparison. Take these lines from ‘Tabitha and Lintel: An Imaginary Tale’ from her 2001 collection Lintel: ‘Snails have crossed the doorstone in the dark night / secretly as nuns, at compline, in procession’. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it.

Matthew Paul, It was twenty years ago today

I’ve been reading in that want-to-underline-every-sentence way (not that I’ve ever been an underliner, except in college when it seemed like that’s what everyone did and so I thought that’s what “studying” meant, a skill I had never learned) an essay by Daniel Tobin in the anthology Poets on the Psalms (edited by Lynn Domina, Trinity U Press, 2008). Tobin, whose poetry I only recently encountered, speaks movingly — and so eruditely that I have to really slow down my usual impetuous reading pace — of how the psalms are the crying out of the human need to be heard and seen, in this case by a God who has seemed to have removed itself.

But he’s also indicating that communicating itself, speech, writing, is an incantation to create an other, or an Other, as a way of becoming oneself, of confirming being. Or maybe I’m going too far here, but it interests me, this idea. I think of hearing coyotes howl in the woods at night. I thought they howl after a kill but that’s apparently a misunderstanding of this act. It’s a “sounding,” that is, the individuals of the pack locating themselves and each other in the dark. So the psalm — and the poem, and the song, the story — are how we say “I am” and ask “Are you?” (And if the coyote howls and there’s no response?)

Marilyn McCabe, Captivity required from us a song; or, On Daniel Tobin and the Psalms

I simply don’t believe that poetry blogs are anachronistic in 2021. What’s more, when compiling my annual (subjective and incomplete) list of the Best U.K. Poetry Blogs, I was reassured and reminded by all these amazing bloggers’ efforts that the medium is very much alive and kicking, offering a more substantial and less ephemeral format than social media.

This year’s list even includes several top-notch newcomers, some of whom have been blogging for years but have only appeared on my limited radar this time around. Let’s start with them…

Matthew Stewart, The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2021

As far as retreats go, it was a small group, just eighteen people plus myself and, surprise surprise, all women. I’m not sure what it is about me that puts the men folk off working with me. (because I refer to them as ‘men folk’ perhaps?) I do get the impression that I’m not really taken seriously as a writer or workshop facilitator by some men, perhaps because I write about, or have written about baby death and pregnancy and infertility. Traditionally ‘women’s issues’. Maybe it’s because I am ‘friendly and approachable’ which seems to translate as fluffy and inconsequential in some circles. There are, of course, women writers who don’t take me seriously either. Although it irritates me slightly; this feeling of not being taken seriously as a writer/facilitator, I have an inkling that it might well be more about my own insecurities. You can’t please all the people. And I know I carry my working class background on my shoulder, not like a chip, more like a parrot; always telling me that I don’t fit in and am not good enough. The same parrot tells me all sorts of awful stuff about how ugly and fat I am and how I won’t fit in because of that too and how I am totally unlovable. I’m not going to lie, the parrot is a nasty little bitch. But I’m sort of used to it now, the parrot, and mostly it is fairly inconsequential to me, mostly it doesn’t rule me, mostly I find that a bit of kindness to the parrot goes a long way. Maybe it just wants a cracker and a dark cover and some sleep in a safe place, I don’t know. I have stretched the analogy of the parrot too far now. It is dead. It is no more. etc. Anyway, back to the retreat. To be honest, to be able to share the week of the retreat with an all woman group was something very special indeed. What I’ve learnt as a facilitator is that to be able to provide a safe, warm, welcoming place where people, and in particular women, can just be, is important. And that’s what the retreat was like. We had people from all backgrounds, people with all sorts of personal life difficulties, all looking for something special to them. I wanted to create a place that felt like a retreat in the true sense of the word, where just for a few hours in the day, people could come and prioritise themselves and their writing. There were opportunities to hone writing skills, to be prompted to write new work, but there was also plenty of opportunities for quiet, no pressure, group activities, just writing together, talking, sharing our thoughts. And, of course down time/writing time. The evening reading events were a real highlight, in particular our last guest of the week, Jonathan Davidson, who’s honesty about the writing world, about the working class poets who never got their chance, about his own journey and the people who he had met on that journey was filled with love and humour.

Going back to the deceased parrot- I’d happened to mention that I was feeling a bit bruised by my book not having made it onto any lists – not award lists, not book of the year lists (It is continuing in great strides to not make it onto any lists at all by the way) – and how, even though I knew I had done what I needed to do with the book, that I felt it covered what I wanted it to cover in a way that made sense to me, it still stung a bit, but that as writers you are not meant to really say that out loud. As writers we are supposed to be slapped in the face by rejection after rejection and just get on with it, because it’s part of the job. And we do, but do you know what, it hurts still. Why wouldn’t it? Every poem has a sliver of yourself in it, especially the personal ones. What I got back from sharing this was such good, solid, kind, appreciative feedback, because the people on the course had read my book. They had heard poems from it in workshops, stuff I didn’t know anything about, and I can’t tell you how much it lifted my spirits to hear that the book, the book that launched in a pandemic, was finding its way around the writing community and being used in workshops and doing good stuff for people. I do not need the lists, I need this, these moment of recognition from readers. I had been a bit blocked and that seemed to free me to be able to work on new poems for the new collection. It shut that god damned parrot up.

Wendy Pratt, Retreating from the World

38. Recognize the Value in Silence

This one at first will not sound heartening. C.D. Wright has written a piece called “If one were to try to describe the heed that poetry requires.” (And I honestly thing you could replace the word poetry with and art making process). It begins, “Barbara Guest called it orchid attention. She felt the poem should tremble a little.” She talks about the “uncountable hours” a poet will spend in their lives on their tender observations, on their craft. She compares it to scientists spending a lifetime cataloguing and observing one small niche subject. Wright says, “As with most scientific papers, silence may be all that is at the other end. Maybe silence itself has value beyond being humbling. Maybe the record being made is its primary worth, and the rest of our temporal span is meant just for living and for the attention it commands.”

The truth is that even if you receive some attention for your books, the great majority of writers live mainly in obscurity. We live with a lot of silence on the other end. We do our work knowing that it may very well be met with silence. So it’s good to figure out what the value of silence is for you. Yes, it’s humbling. But it’s more than that. And the deeper you go into it, the greater the value.

Shawna Lemay, 20 (More) Pieces of Advice for Writers

I just finished writing a poem, and I’m worn out. 

For days I walked around in that weird stage I call “pre-poem anxiety,” which feels almost like a period of mourning: what the hell have I been doing with my time, not writing a poem? I’m plagued with morbid thoughts: what if I died tomorrow and I hadn’t written the next poem? What if the last thing I did before (awful thing happens) was NOT write a poem?

This catastrophizing mood comes over me when the interval between finishing a poem and writing a new one has dragged on too long. I search through my journals, make word lists, read poetry, looking for anything to spark an idea and get me writing again. 

Eventually something starts to gel. This leads to the next phase, where it almost feels like you have an itch in your brain. It’s a physical sensation, this itch. It comes over you while you’re going about your daily tasks. I walk around in a semi-daze, forget where I am, ignore my to-do list filled with deadlines and commitments. Before I’ve written a word, I enter a state of hyper-focus. 

Then I write the first line. I think it’s the most beautiful line ever written; I’m in tears, struck by its brilliance. I can’t believe it came from my brain. There it sits, on the page in front of me, vibrating, fresh, and unlike any line I’ve ever written before. I read it over and over. I’m as proud of it as a new parent whose child has just uttered her first word.

One line leads to the next. I’m in a state of semi-mania, writing hundreds of words, most of which will be deleted and rewritten.

Erica Goss, The Emotional Stages of Writing a Poem

The main way that I have been able to continue writing while homeschooling and being home with five kids is the “Open It Everyday” method.

EVERYDAY open your writing notebook. Even if you just glance over what you read last, or put it down and read something else, pick up the book and open it and look at it, Every Single Day. I used to say “five minutes a day” but honestly even less than that can still work.

Inevitably I write something in the notebook (maybe just a line or a few words). Inevitably a poem forms.

Over the past 7 years, amidst having babies, losing babies, three moves, and many, many classes taught, I was still able to write enough poems to produce two poetry books I’ve published (or are forthcoming– Church Ladies!) and one manuscript unpublished (as of yet). And also a middle grade novel, and the countless poems I tossed out because they weren’t good enough for a book (hundreds).

I’m not really a fast writer, I’m just persistent and consistent. Being persistent will get you further than you think.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: #1 Open It Everyday

I’m also watching poetry Twitter, as usual, and recent posts about some beloved poet, unnamed, who paid $25,000 for a publicist to promote their first collection and, as you’d suspect, did pretty freaking well. (It’s probably terrible to ask you to message me if you know who the $25K person is–I’m just crassly curious.) I don’t have that kind of money burning a hole in my pocket, but I have thought about smaller-scale consulting with a publicist, and I know other friends who have, as well–it’s suddenly an open secret that many writers find audiences by investing cash upfront in the process. It’s one way of managing another huge time commitment, I guess, as well as a way that the publishing playing field will never be level. Certainly applying for reading series, festivals, etc. is work I strain to get done. It’s the usual quandary of whether to play the system as it exists or step aside into an alternate artistic economy. I get the arguments for both strategies. I like to think that if I spent some money and gained prominence from it (which can’t be a given, right?), I’d use any power I gained to help other writers. In some ways I already do, but that is certainly a rationalization–if your real goal is to help others, you don’t start by hiring a publicist. Anyway, as I slow down and look around, it’s one of the things that seems to be on my mind.

Lesley Wheeler, Shenandoah, #DisConIII, biobreaks

I think the bulk of the negative reactions were 1) a purity test for poets that we don’t hold fiction and non-fiction writers to (they often hire publicists with no static) and 2) a class envy response – who has $25,000 to spend on promoting a poetry book? Most of us do not. My first thought was “$25,000 is a car!” I didn’t grow up wealthy, and don’t consider myself someone who could easily justify coming up with that kind of money to promote my books. Heck, I have trouble spending $150 on an online ad for my book!

But, having interviewed a few publicists for my book PR for Poets, and having researched book publicity, there’s really no reason a poet can’t hire a $25,000 publicist – although most publicists don’t work with poets, don’t know poetry’s markets or reviewers, or just don’t see enough money in it to do it.

Am I pretty excited to have a publisher for my seventh book who has an in-house marketing and PR person at last? Absolutely. I’m used to doing everything myself, with varying results for varying amounts of time, energy, money, and hustle. I think that’s the experience of most poets – getting together their own mailing lists, asking bookstores for readings, maybe even sending out their own review copies. The prospect of marketing a book during a pandemic – which is something a lot of my friends have already had to do – is daunting indeed. There are already whispers of cancellations of people and publishers who had been planning to go to AWP 2022. I already took a class on Instagram to get that account going before my two new books come out. I do take this stuff seriously.

I am hoping AWP 2023 – which is, yay, supposed to take place in Seattle – will be safe. I really enjoy seeing my old friends – and I’d love to meet my two most recent publishers in person – the editors at Alternating Current and BOA Editions. And do a reading or two, take friends out to see parks, bookstores, and coffee shops.

So, when I wrote my book, PR for Poets, I said for most poets, spending more than $5,000 – the going rate for a publicist for one month – on promoting their poetry book probably doesn’t make sense. Most royalty rates and poetry sales will rarely net more than $1,000. (It’s happened for me on a couple books, but certainly not all.) But if someone has the money lying around, and they really want to advance their poetry careers – big fellowships, tenure track jobs, visibility that makes them more likely to get well-paid speaking and teaching gigs – I mean, who am I to say they shouldn’t?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding Holiday Cheer, a Few Thoughts on Poetry and Publicity, and a Few End of the Year Book Suggestions

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

As a dog owner, I do a lot of walking. I don’t listen to music while I walk or look at my phone. I pay attention to the dog and the natural world and lines come to me. That happens whether we’re on city streets or in the woods. In Fredericton, the dog and I walked often along the Wolastoq river. Fredericton has a wonderful system of trails that are usually almost entirely people-free. I learned that the river is different every day, even in the winter when it’s frozen. The river didn’t necessarily make its way into my poetry, but those walks helped me to think and allowed lines to come to me. Now that I live in Victoria, the dog is very old and can’t walk as far or as fast. We do make it fairly regularly to the off-leash dog park on Dallas Road though. There, I let the dog take his time sniffing weeds and grass and other dog’s butts, and I enjoy the view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympics across the strait and the sun on my face. And lines often come to me.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Sharon McCartney

hill farm
the curlew’s long call
over the lambing shed

Julie Mellor, Presence

I haven’t been to Texas since the unveiling of mom’s headstone. The backpack I use when traveling has been in the closet a long time. In its pockets I find paper remnants from the Cuba trip in 2019.

I also unearth my pocket Koren siddur which I had given up for lost, and a wooden coin that reads (after Simcha Bunim) on one side “for my sake was the world created” and on the other “I am dust and ashes.”

Flying for the first time in almost two years was always going to be strange. Flying for the first time during a global pandemic, even more so. Thankfully no one is belligerent about wearing a mask.

To make the day even more surreal, it turns out my local airport has been redone. New parking garage, new traffic flow, new everything. Delta still flies out of the B gates; at least that hasn’t changed.

On the first plane I watch Roadrunner, the Tony Bourdain film. I loved his writing, and the way he brought the world into our living rooms. I loved how much he seemed to love the wide world.

There’s a sense of dislocation in the film. The dislocation of travel, especially the kind of travel he did 250 days a year. The dislocation of a world where his light shines now only in memory.

Rachel Barenblat, Dislocation

maybe it was only about
that moment of knowing, enduring,
of that certainty of surrender —
knowing the sun would melt our wings
knowing that falling was another
becoming,
remembering that within the clouds
we too smell of unborn lake —
but that wasn’t the plan, was it?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, No way back

In other news, I’ve been greatly enjoying the bit of freelance work I’ve been dipping my toes in.  Last week, I got to write about installation art, this week, a short story I had not read previously by Kate Chopin.  Next up, fashion in the Great Gatsby. I don’t know what next year will bring, but a little extra money around the holidays is a great help. I’ve been doing these other types of writing instead of poems in the morning, along with some more work on some short fiction, but I am getting itchy to get back to poems after the new year (or possibly during the brief holiday break. Tonight, I attended the release reading for Carla Sameth’s WHAT IS LEFT, and her work and the guest readers left me incredibly inspired to get back to it.  This week brings much assembling the last round of releases and new layouts on the very last chaps of 2021. I will also be finalizing details on next year’s selections, sending out agreements, and getting started on some other little bits I have planned. I am also in-deep on my advent project, which develops a little more each day. 

It gets dark so early, especially on weekends when I tend to sleep in and then have only a few hours before the night descends.  I light my small tree and the faux candles and try to do cozy things like make cookies and soup. Last night, a feast of stuffed pasta shells and garlic bread and holiday romance movies. I try to be festive while also still being anxious. 

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

I hear the voices of loving defiance refusing to perish.

bell hooks once said, “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.”

Before that, Paul Robeson:

“… I belong to the American resistance movement which fights against American imperialism, just as the resistance movement fought against Hitler.”

All the voices of benevolent intransigence will forever transmit across history’s airwaves.

Far beyond my life, they will grace the ears of others.

Courage is timeless. Intransigence, ageless.

Rich Ferguson, What Echoes Through the Ages

When I’ve filled
the emptiness

with poems,
I’ll be done,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (46)

the ferry departs
to the whistle’s shriek
morning snow melted

Jason Crane, haiku: 18 December 2021

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: living with poetry brain, surviving the holidays, burrowing into books, and much more. Enjoy.


to live among & within & through words or more vitally, caring attention—that’s the daily practice, not writing poetry 24/7. but living with poetry brain, which could be the same, depending on the day, as laundry brain or long-talk-with-good-friend brain or soup brain

Chen Chen, i mean what could be more BEAUTIFUL

I mean, first of all, I’m proud to have published works in the plural about which to have opinions! And I really liked the process behind that most recent collection, and I’m pleased with its innovation: poems that unfold as erasures of themselves, with an essay that scrolls across each page. But I don’t really think the poems, for the most part, work. I’m really pleased with the video I created that allows the erasures to disappear on the screen. That took a shit-ton of work to figure out. This collection won a contest to get published, so SOMEONE liked it enough to make it the winner, and for that I’m very grateful. So much to feel good about!

But the actual poems? Eh.

I have to assume that all artists who have created enough stuff look back at some and think, oh, dear, what was I thinking. I won the important battle I often have with myself: I loved the process.

What’s the takeaway? Well. I’m not sure. You win some; you lose some? Sometimes even if you win some, you lose some? Love the process, beware the product? Good process doesn’t always assure good outcome? (Conversely, I presume, good outcome can be birthed of crappy process?) All of these?

Marilyn McCabe, It’s not unusual; or, On Artistic Regret

I realized this weekend that November is the 15h anniversary of the release of the fever almanac, my very first book progeny.  In November 2006, amidst a fall which included heartbreak (and the start to a long dysfunctional entanglement that took years to disentangle) I was mostly euphoric and very sick –with what turned out to be mono, though I didn’t know it yet.  As fitting to the title, the time around the release was a sort of fever-both literally and metaphorically.  The trees were crazy gorgeous that year. There was a fire a block from Columbia that sent us home and whose smoke gave me a headache for two days.  I was falling for someone I would find out later was married and a compulsive liar, but that November I was still under the illusion that he was my soul mate, despite inconsistencies and occasionally missed dates. While I had dated a bit before, had myriad flings,  and even had a 4 year open relationship that had dissolved in the summer, I was convinced this was wholly different.  the fever almanac itself was mostly a collage of bits of my romantic life in my twenties, with some spinning for the sake of art.  I had not yet really had my heart broken to that point. In some ways, it was whole book yearning for that sort of loss–losses that would inevitably come later. Kind of 13 year old me listened to sad songs and thought about being devastated.  The devastation was the point. The wreckage, while just theoretical at that point, the goal. 

But the book, the book was beautiful.

Kristy Bowen, november and other fevers

My reading of late has been my usual mixture of systematic delving into poetry collections with non-fiction on the side. I hugely enjoyed Henry Shukman’s One Blade of Grass, which made me question, in a good way, the value of writing poetry in the grand scheme of things, but also flagged up the importance of meditation: how it had helped him with the clarity of his poetic vision, back in the days when he still published poetry. It’s a real shame for me that he no longer publishes his poems, but his book explained over the course of many years’ spiritual journey why he doesn’t.

I’ve been intrigued too by the poetry of Gillian Allnutt, whose 2013 collection Indwelling I bought in Nottingham a few months ago. Her poems are sometimes so short and gnomic that I find them disconcerting, in a beneficial way. Whilst at Lumb Bank, I took the opportunity to read more of her books and will continue to seek them out. I’ve enjoyed too, a conversation she had with Emily Berry, here, and another with wonderful Geoff Hattersley, here. In the latter, Allnutt compares the gaps in her poems to the holes in her mind which she wrestles with during meditative practice.

Matthew Paul, November news

After a variety of solo and collaborative chapbooks, including his full-length collaborative volume with Gary Barwin, A CEMETERY FOR HOLES, poems by Tom Prime and Gary Barwin (Gordon Hill Press, 2019) [see my review of such here] (with a second volume forthcoming, it would appear), London, Ontario poet, performer and musician Tom Prime’s full-length solo poetry debut is Mouthfuls of Space(Vancouver BC: A Feed Dog Book/Anvil Books, 2021). Mouthfuls of Space is a collection of narrative lyrics that bleed into surrealism, writing of existing on the very edge, from which, had he fallen over completely, there would be no return. As a kind of recovery journal through the lyric, Prime writes through childhood abuse, poverty and trauma. “I am awarded the chance to die / smiling,” he writes, to close the short poem, “Capitalist Mysticism,” “clapping my hands [.]” Prime writes a fog of perception, of homelessness and eventual factory work, and an ongoing process of working through trauma as a way to return to feeling fully human. “I died a few years ago / since then,” he writes, to begin the opening poem, “Working Class,” “I’ve been / smoking cheaper cigarettes // I like to imagine I’m still alive / I can smoke, get drunk / do things living people do // the other ghosts think I’m strange / they busy themselves bothering people [.]” Or, as the last stanza of the poem “Golden Apples,” that reads: “if I loved you, it was / then, your pea-green coat and / fucked-up hair—staring out of nowhere / your cold October hands [.]”

Through the worst of what he describes, there remains an ongoing acknowledgment of beauty, however hallucinatory or surreal, and one that eventually becomes a tether, allowing him the wherewithal to eventually lift above and beyond the worst of these experiences. “we trudge across fields of hornet tails,” he writes, as part of the sequence “Glass Angels,” “planted by hyper-intelligent computer processors— / the moon, a Las Vegas in the sky // glow-worm light synthesized with the reflective / sub-surface of cats’ eyes [.]” Despite the layers and levels of trauma, there is a fearlessness to these poems, and some stunning lines and images, writing his way back into being. “life is a ship that fell / off the earth and now // floats silently in space,” he writes, to close the poem “Addictionary.” Or, towards the end, the poem “Immurement,” that begins: “I’m a large Tupperware container filled with bones [.]” The narrator of these poems has been through hell, but he does not describe hell; one could almost see these poems as a sequence of movements, one foot perpetually placed ahead of another. These are poems that manage that most difficult of possibilities: the ability to continue forward.

rob mclennan, Tom Prime, Mouthfuls of Space

[Matsuki Masutani]: When I was told I had cancer, I panicked. I had no idea what it was like to be a cancer patient. I thought I could avoid cancer by avoiding the word cancer. So I wrote chemo poems to show what it is like to have cancer for people like me. That was a new beginning for my poetry writing. I was seventy-three. 

[Rob Taylor]:  Has Parkinson’s changed what you want to write about in your poems?

MM: After my cancer treatment, I thought I would go back to normal, but Parkinson’s changed all that. I felt it wasn’t fair. Once I’d adjusted to it, I noticed that the world had changed. There is a lot of sickness, suffering and death in the world. This is depressing, but I found it made life somehow more real and sacred. This is the world where angels appear and miracles happen.

Rob Taylor, Salvaging My Old Dream: An interview with Matsuki Masutani

We don’t typically imagine having to perform acts of intimate care for another, yet, when put in that position for someone we most love, we get on with it as if we’d forgotten we couldn’t imagine doing it. There’s a tenderness here, undermined by the pulsing cut where the imagery is more of passion and desire.

“a single window” is a generous opening into a confined world of disability and chronic pain and pain management. Through it, Daniel Sluman demonstrates that this small world is still full of complexity, love, compassion and tenderness as well as sadness and the trials of managing the side-effects of drugs and lack of outside care. He shows that intimacy and love are still possible in the bleakest of moments and the will to survive can renew. “a single window” is not a polemic or a rant. The poems are closely observed and crafted reflecting the isolation and resourcefulness central to the lives of too many disabled people.

Emma Lee, “A Single Window” Daniel Sluman (Nine Arches Press) – book review

So in ‘The Informer’ the narrator (in a Kafkaesque sort of world) has been invited to attend a ceremony to select the ‘finest informer’. There appears to be a confident pride in the way he dresses up for the occasion. In the hall, the candidates (those you expect to be on the ‘inside’) are in fact excluded. It turns out, in a detail suggestive of the elusive nature of truth and the levels on levels of surveillance in such a repressive society, that all the seats are to be taken ‘by the officers responsible for informing on the ceremony’. There is a calculated bewilderment to all this as is also revealed in the oxymoronic title of the eponymous poem, ‘The Kindly Interrogator’. Nothing so simple as a caricatured ‘bad cop’ here:

He’s interested in philosophy and free verse.
He admires Churchill and drinks green tea.
He is delicate and bespectacled.

He employs no violence, demands no confession, simply urging the narrator to ‘write the truth’. The narrator’s reply to this epitomises the uncertainties a whole society may come to labour under. He cries, ‘on my life!’. Is this the ‘I will obey’ of capitulation or the ‘kill me first’ of continued resistance? Is this the repressed and persecuted ‘life’ of what is, of what is the case, or an expression of the inalienable freedom of the inner ‘life’? [Alireza] Abiz is very good at exploring such complex moral quandaries and boldly warns those of us, proud and self-satisfied in our liberal democracies, not to imagine ourselves ‘immune from [the] temptation towards unequivocality’. Fenced round with doubt, with a recognition of the need for continual watchfulness, with a suspicion of the surface of things, perhaps these poems never really take off into the kind of liberated insightfulness or expression of freedom gained that the Introduction suggests a reader might find here. Abiz – the ‘melancholic scribbler of these lines’ – is the voice of a haunted and anxious conscience, a thorn in the side of repressive authorities, as much as a monitory voice for those of us easily tempted to take our eye off the ball of moral and political life nearer home.

Martyn Crucefix, The Kindly Interrogator – the poems of Alireza Abiz

I’ve been intrigued of late by the increased incidence in magazines, and also in workshops, of prosepoems (which is sometimes indistinguishable from flash fiction), and also the business of playing with white space, breaking up lines, making apparently abitrary line-breaks. I’m happy to accept that rules are there to be tested and stretched and broken, if only to see ‘what happens’, though less happy to see an accompanying tendency to view regularity, orderliness, evident craft and form as a bit passé. I guess my ‘rule’ is simply to ask: does it work? I’m spectacularly conscious that at the moment a lot of what I’m trying to write doesn’t work. I didn’t set out to do it, but a lot of what I write has ditched the word play, the allusiveness, the obvious rhythms and the imagery that I used to enjoy. It’s gone more reflective/introspective/personal/conversational but that’s a lot harder to do than the complicated stuff. It always was.

Whatever. I’m a regular reader of Julie Mellor’s poetry blog, and also of Anthony Wilson’s latest Life-saving lines after his welcome return to blogging. I learn a lot from their willingness to share their struggles to find new directions and forms, whether it’s haiku or finding a language that will share the experience of depression. It’s humbling.

John Foggin, Breaking the rules…harder than it looks

The full haiku was going to read:

the neighbour’s pine
wreathed in sky
snowswirl

However, too much text made the photo very busy so I plumped simply for snowswirl (with more than a nod to John Wills’ iconic poem:

rain in gusts
below the deadhead
troutswirl

(in Where the River Goes, edited by Alan Burns, Snapshot Press 2013).

I’m now hoping for a quick thaw – it’s been so cold this weekend!

Julie Mellor, snowswirl

I have been thinking a lot about the poetry of Julia Darling this week. Her work became essential to me a year before I had cancer, when a friend introduced me to her first book of poems Sudden Collapses in Public Places. And when I entered remission, hers was the first poetry I read with my rediscovered concentration.

Lately, I’ve been rereading her posthumously published collected poems Indelible, Miraculous, which is as accurate a title of self-description as I have come across. As the Arc Publications website says, her later poems are about her experience of breast cancer but are not morbid and not only aimed at women. If you do not know her work, it’s time you did.

In particular I’ve been thinking of a line towards the end of that collection’s title poem. It’s a poem of ‘early morning’ virgin spaces: a ‘cold’ pane of glass; an ‘untouched’ patch of grass; a ‘deep pool of silver water’; a beach swept clean after a storm, ready for new footprints. The poem is one of direct address, to the ‘indelible, miraculous’ friend of the title. While never less than affirming of the Psalmist’s knowledge that ‘joy comes with the morning’, it is also a poem of sending out, of encouragement to keep living, even though that will mean ‘danc[ing] alone’.

The poem is able to assert that ‘we all matter’ and ‘we are all/ indelible, miraculous’ because it has successfully persuaded us, via its gorgeous language, of the never-ending tension between celebration and lament. This is what I go to poetry for: an awareness that affirms life in all of its complexity.

Anthony Wilson, We all matter

One of the beauties of my pandemic-long poetry practice has been finding a poem by a different poet each week to use as a model—sometimes more of a jumping-off point—for my own work. This week it’s a poem by Gregory Pardlo who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for his book, Digest. After reading this NYTimes piece, and having a look at him at Poetry Foundation—“The Pulitzer judges cited Pardlo’s ‘clear-voiced poems that bring readers the news from 21st Century America, rich with thought, ideas and histories public and private’”—I’d like to read more. […]

I admit that I’m struggling with what I’ll write in response to this assignment. I mean, how do you follow, “I was born in minutes in a roadside skillet,” or “I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry”? How about “I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves”?

But I’m about to open my notebook and see what will happen.

Bethany Reid, Written by Himself

In some ways, spending a Thanksgiving where sickness and death keep intruding is a potent reminder to be grateful for the time we are given and to keep trying to make the most of it.  Small children do that too, and I confess that I prefer the small child to deliver the message that time is fleeting.

As I’m writing, I’m thinking of other messages that came our way during the day.  I’m thinking of Shanghai Rummy, and the message that even if you’re winning or losing, one decisive round can change the outcome; it’s a hopeful message or a sobering one, depending on which hand you held.  I’m thinking of the minimalist fire pit my spouse made and the fire that refused to catch flame.  I’m thinking of the bird that baked for hours but the juices still didn’t run clear at meal time; however, fifteen more minutes at higher heat made for a cooked turkey that was still tender. 

I suspect that every day is full of these kinds of reminders and metaphors, if only we had the eyes to see.  When people wonder why I continue to write long blog posts, that’s one reason, that it helps me to pay attention.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Important Reminders from a Stranger Thanksgiving

My old dog whimpers when we come in the door on Friday after two nights gone. She’s too fragile to travel now, and she stayed home with my son, who spent the holiday with his dad and his siblings who have a different mother. I have to hold her for a good long time before her body stops trembling. I wonder what she felt while I was gone, if she wondered if I’d return. I hope not.

That night we watch Ted Lasso who says, about parents, that he has learned to love them for what they are and forgive them for what they’re not, and I wonder how things might be if more of us could do that about all kinds of things. I wonder if we could, or should. (I wonder if my children will do that for me.)

Maybe that’s an idea that makes it easier for those with relative comfort to remain comfortable.

Maybe not.

I don’t know.

My son sits down on the couch next to me, to check in with his old dog who isn’t leaving my side. I’m so grateful he was able to care for her while I was gone. I’m so grateful he’s here.

I think about the year he was in second grade, when, the week before Thanksgiving, I read him a story about Natives and Pilgrims and the origins of the holiday, and he told me it made him sad, that he didn’t feel good about the holiday. As his nose touches our old girl who now, like a baby, wakes mostly just to eat and poop, I remember all the versions of boy and dog each of them has been, and I want the moment to last forever, even as I know that all I might hope to hold onto is an image of it, and that the wanting has turned the moment to memory before it is even over.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Why I celebrate holidays I no longer believe in

Speaking of thanks, Jia and I were also extremely grateful for this amazing review of Gravity & Spectacle from Shannon Wolf at the Sundress Blog:

“There is something both cheeky and somber about Baker and Orion’s united perspective. 

 Orion’s poems are as close to punk rock as we can get in 2021.” 

You can read the full review at https://sundressblog.com/2021/02/08/sundress-reads-gravity-spectacle-by-shawnte-orion-and-jia-oak-baker/

Wolf mentions that a few of the poems reference legendary skateboarder Rodney Mullen, so here is some of that backstory: The central art piece in all of Jia’s photographs was made by artist JJ Horner. Since JJ co-founded the skate company Pyramid Country. We wanted to make sure to pay some homage to those roots, through our photos and poems. So we made a few trips to the skatepark next to Cowtown Skateboards.

Since Rodney Mullen is brilliant on a skateboard and in conversation, I tried to cut-up some fragments of language and phrasesfrom his interviews and biography “The Mutt: How to Skateboard and Not Kill Yourself” and shape them into new out-of-context found poems… the same way skateboarders use his techniques as building blocks for new tricks.

Shawnte Orion, Thankful for this Book Review from Sundress and some Rodney Mullen clips

Much to my delight, the video I made with Tasos Sagris and Whodoes, The Life We Live Is Not Life Itself won the Avant-Garde prize for the top film in Fotogenia 3 international festival of video poetry and divergent narratives, held in Mexico City 24-27 over November 2021. The whole festival was a magnificent feast of diverse forms and voices. The finalist list included some of the best videos I’ve ever seen. So to come out on top is incredibly humbling. Massive thanks to Tasos Sagris and Whodoes for entrusting me with their fantastic words and music and the Institute for Experimental Arts in Athens for supporting the project.

The video was a major technical challenge that developed out of the collaborative nature of the work. Capturing the feeling of Tasos’ poem and the mood of Whodoes’ music required careful scripting. Nearly all of the footage was taken specifically for this project. An important part of the video includes a series of animated faces that were derived from a library of source images generated by artificial intelligence. Nearly every scene is composited from multiple sources – with a few exceptions, none of the scenes exists at they look here in real life. The irony is that the real people, observed going about their business, often appear twice in the same scene, side by side, or following themselves. The AI generated faces watch on from window and picture frames. Is this the life we live? Are these the people we meet again and again? Who can decide between the imaginary and the real as we traverse a world full of conflicting desires, politics, dreams?

Ian Gibbins, The Life We Live Is Not Life Itself wins Festival Fotogenia 3!

We took the endless road,
no signs, no map, not a single soul.
The winter around us
grinding his teeth to the unlucky ones,
the ones with no caravan.

Magda Kapa, Caravan

We had a mild autumn that seemed to stretch longer than usual. Today, a dusting of snow and temperatures not much above freezing, gray sky, a meadow in beige-brown hues and the trees mostly leafless. According to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, the next few weeks are 小雪 xiǎoxuě, or “minor snow;” it is already winter. The jiéqì seasons follow the agriculture of northern China’s plains, and it’s striking to me how closely they resemble the agricultural seasons here in eastern Pennsylvania.

Lately, I feel the seasonal transitions physically. My body responds to the changing weather–not always a good thing, but not necessarily a bad thing, either. It connects me with the environment, reminds me of my necessary relationship with the world and its many beings and aspects: seasons, weather, water, plants, insects, bacteria, trees, other humans…

More than ever, I recognize the value in those relationships and treasure how varied they are. And I am just another part of the things I love and experience.

Ann E. Michael, Minor snow

we need witnesses for our being
for our enduring
not for the parts we share but
for what we speak with the moon at
two in the morning
for what has broken and healed and
broken and healed
scar tissue plump with unwritten stories
for the falling, for the failing,
for the days we built ourselves
calloused hands shoring up our souls
an old sweater stuffed into the hollow
left by a missing brick
#RIP my friend

Rajani Radhakrishnan, #RIP – my friend

At the intersection of Bull and Rutledge,
a woman stepped off the curb
on her way to the river.
At the intersection of Franklin and Center hill,
the sirens met the soldiers.
At the intersection of Laurel and Eastern,
I fell in love with geography.

At the intersection of sense and syntax,
I visit the house of silence.
Where paradox crosses paraphrase,
I write.

Anne Higgins, First Boy I Loved

In the middle of all of this I went in for my now standard one day a week in the office with a view to bringing home some of the stuff I’ve accumulated over years. Our floor is being closed down as work wind down our occupancy of our current building, and so I looked a bit like I’d been made redundant as I lugged a cardboard box of rangham* home.

The box mostly contained work-related books (Statistics for Dummies, etc), pens, mugs and the like. But I also remembered to rescue the poem that I had pinned to the divider.

Contingencies – Aidan Coleman

Your
sentiment

tangles
with data

where
analysts

covering
bases

uncover
fresh

affronts
A well

rounded
baby

wakes
assuming

parents

I don’t know or remember how I first found this poem, but it fits perfectly with my day job – where sentiment tangles with data. I know nothing about Aidan Coleman, but I now discover he has a wikipedia page that I’m sure wasn’t there when I first found this poem (about 5 years ago, I think). It looks like I shall be working out how to buy books in Australia.

* I’m not sure I’ve spelled this right, but it’s a word my wife taught me that means detritus and accumulated dreck.

Mat Riches, Why MBA…

Over my own life, writing these journals (especially the blog) has changed and helped me, and the bonus is that through the blog, I’ve met you. For although I value and crave solitude and contemplation, I’m not a hermit by nature, but someone who needs and loves other people, and wants to talk, interact, and share. I also have a degree of healthy skepticism about my own thoughts; it’s through reading and conversation and argument, as well as reflection, that we’re able to sharpen our ideas and come to a greater understanding of what it means to be human, and also how to be a human in this ever-more-complicated world.

Where to find that balance and space is a question for all of us to ask, and the answers will differ. I do see that, for me, a withdrawal has been necessary, partly because too much noise and too many words dissipate my reserves of creative energy and positive thought, and partly because the companies that control those spaces have become increasingly predatory and toxic; I can’t continue to participate and hold onto my integrity. That means accepting less interaction in a quantitative sense, but nurturing and being grateful for higher-quality interaction here, or in letters, calls, or in person.

But there’s more to it than that. To be honest, this period of time has been one of the hardest in my entire life. I was OK for the first year, and then things started to feel much more difficult — though they are now feeling less so. At times I’ve felt despair about both the present and the future, as have most of us — but I haven’t wanted to write about that here, where I know people often come to feel a little better, or to see something beautiful, or to be encouraged. And also, in real life, I’ve been responsible for other people and groups, and that has taken precedence. I simply haven’t had much creative time or energy, or anything extra to give. Is that an apology? Yes…but it’s also a statement about the reality in which many of us have been living. Things changed for almost all of us, and they may not be going back to the way they were. Loss, grief, letting go, and acceptance are all part of that, even as the world seems hell-bent on returning to “normalcy”.

Looking back ten years into that old computer was instructive, as I consider the next decade. For me, it comes down to this: if I’m fortunate enough to still be here, ten unpredictable years from now, I don’t want to look back and realize I wasted whatever precious time I had, either for myself, or for the people and purposes that go beyond me and give life meaning — of which this blog and its readers have been one. That means making decisions, setting clear priorities, and cleaning out my spaces so that there is room, both figuratively and literally, to grow and change, and — one hopes — to have something to say.

Beth Adams, Looking Back at Ten Years Ago, and Facing Forward

E. is putting in a new ventilation system in the house, which means he has taken down some of my bookshelves in the little library. Books are piled on my desk. The little rug is folded and laid on my chair. And the floor is littered with power tools and bits of shiny who-knows-what.

And it has been an excuse for me not to write in the mornings.

Now I find we are well-past the midpoint of November and my mind is months behind in terms of getting myself together. Leonard is still struggling with the fact that E. and I are back at work most days. He’s still having accidents if we leave the house in the evening, or – weirdly – when I am gone for days and then return. He’s taken to pinning me down on the couch and refusing to let me even look up.

I get it.

I pull the thunder-shirt tight across his belly. Then I wrap myself in a huge sweater and sit down in the office to try to write. The walls are white, not the deep green of my library. I hear the traffic, not the blackbirds. And I tell myself that this is okay. I tell myself to take a deep breath. I inhale the damp from the rosemary oil. What are the morning requirements, really?

Ren Powell, Clinging to The Good Life

But despite all this bad news and dismal cold wet weather, I feel…cautiously optimistic about next year. It is a fact that most viruses evolve towards becoming more transmissible and less deadly.  Pfizer has an anti-viral pill I’m feeling positive about with good data, even though the FDA hasn’t approved it YET. (Faster, FDA!) Scientists are continuing to figure out what works and what doesn’t with this coronavirus thing. It has been two years since I first read headlines about China putting a doctor in prison for talking about a strange new virus (and I wrote the poem “Calamity.”) Vaccine makers are already looking at updating the vaccines.

We’re spending the holidays in a pretty isolated manner again this year, which is not ideal. I have an inkling, however, of hope, of light at the end of the tunnel. I have a new book, Fireproof, coming out with Alternating Current Press after my birthday in 2022, which will be almost five years exactly since the release of Field Guide to the End of the World. I know in a poet’s life a new book is a big deal, but especially during the pandemic, not a big deal to the larger world, but still, I feel a little excitement. I don’t know if my readings will be in person or on the dreaded (but now normal) Zoom. Will I be able to celebrate with friends and family in person in late spring? I don’t know if the “roaring twenties” of our century will ever actually roar. But I hope so.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Holiday Weekend, Sign Up for a Speculative Poetry Class, Interview with Jason Mott at The Rumpus, New Poem in Los Angeles Review, Pushcart Nomination at Fairy Tale Review, and Feeling Hopeful Despite

Some magic in the landscape has put me under a spell. I see your face on the tip of a bare, winter tree branch; an oak tree that is full of faces, and every one is different! There is a magic in this valley that captures me. The midwinter Tule fog on the marshes and the rivers is an old friend come to call. We pour the tea and sip together, friends under the same spell. Yes, I love the valley, and I love the cool winters that we have here, and I have seen many of them.

James Lee Jobe, magic in this valley

the man
with a book on his face
has rich dreams

Jim Young [no title]

I will take all the pages from my books and build trees—

abundant trees, robust trees, indomitable trees.

No winds can move these trees because they’ve been made mightier by Corso, Vollmann, and Joyce Carol Oates.

When birds build nests in these trees their young will be well nourished by Neruda, Audre Lorde, and Langston Hughes.

And when axemen try chopping down these trees, they’ll be obliterated by Burroughs, Bukowski, and Zora Neale Hurston

before they can even swing their axes and yell:

“Timber!”

Rich Ferguson, These Trees

Allen Ginsberg into
Charlie Parker into
snow against the windshield

Jason Crane, haiku: 26 November 2021

Three books that are really hitting the spot for me of late are The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters by Priya Parker, The Lightmaker’s Manifesto by Karen Walrond, and a book I’ve mentioned several times before here on TwB, On Art and Mindfulness by Enrique Martinez Celaya. What they all have in common is that they question the way we always do things and ask us to re-imagine our practices, whether in life, art, or work (and don’t those three things often overlap anyway?).

In a recent conversation with Kerry Clare about my own book, Everything Affects Everyone, we talk about something I’ve often said here which is, what happens when we consider the opposite? It’s a bit of a mantra I have for myself: “Consider the opposite.” It’s a phrase that helps me get out of the mud sometimes, and has helped me conceive of and form a lot of my writing. These three books have me looking at things from a fresh angle.

Shawna Lemay, On Gathering, Making Light, and, On Doubting Your Integrity — 3 Books to Light the Way

Unbearable things: how a voice can speak

into your ear about where its mind has gone,

how its body was left behind. How sunlight

passes through a prism and breaks.

And still we call it beautiful.

Luisa A. Igloria, Prism

Walking through Paris in the (imagined) aftermath of a pandemic, I had the uncanny feelings of déjà vu, that things had disappeared and been replaced, leaving behind a residue of scented melancholy.  The gap between then and now ignited a play of imagination, of desire.  I had the sense that a great poet had walked this terrain before….voilà Baudelaire!

Baudelaire, delicate but so durably modern, was a visionary of things shadowy, emotionally complex and fugitive, errant.  He was a vagabond in the city he inhabited, an internal exile as he moved roughly every two years due to poor finances. An exhibition, “Baudelaire, la Modernité Mélancolique” at Bibliothèque Nationale lists some 20 of his addresses all over the city.  More trenchant, he retained memory of Paris as it was cut asunder by Baron Haussmann and remade for a new world.  The poet was brilliant at giving presence to things absent.  He created images that were less precise rendering than color of a memory. 

Baudelaire sang.  One of the youthful letters in the show, he complained to his mother that erased his primacy in favor of her new husband.  The calligraphy of “à moi, à moi” — what about me! — soars with doubled underlining and accents graves that fly like the crescendo of musical notations.  The emotion is real, the emotion is all.  

Jill Pearlman, Baudelaire Walks Pandemic Paris

A shed, far back in the wood, with doorhandle hardware as elegant as utilitarian New England always is, and extra-braced with a stick as New England sheds must be: inside, water. Risen above the stones of the stone well walls. Deep, dark, green; coolness rising with that cleanest scent of what sustains us most essentially.

The color here—especially now, in late November, when color is merging into itself to become one single ochre, then russet, then brown, then greyish sludge—does something to me. The waters rushing belowground, too.

I am steeply affected by reminder of thriving land, wild and alive, and what it is to be rooted in it, making art. By reminder of color palettes unlikely and yet truer than reality, more the thing than the thing itself: a soul rendering of what it feels like, that light, that tree, that slant of earth, that red, that death, that falling ecstasy.

JJS, paint, water, well

won’t we sleep every night of our death :: one stone away from the moon

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 45

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, though I tried to avoid finding common themes, they found me nonetheless—a recurring focus on time, several posts on Covid poetry, and a lot of wrestling with writerly dilemmas such as “Why write?” and “How do we survive?”


I have so much to say on days I can’t make time to sit here in front of the computer. So much to say while I’m running on the beach or sitting on the train. All these thoughts pressing to be sorted and seen. And most days if I can’t catch them, sort them, form them and pin them down in a way that later will seem both true and strange, I worry that I will never have really existed. I will have let myself slip through my own fingers. Wasted time.

Ren Powell, Following a Lead

What is it that peeps from the book at the shelf?
A slip of the sky to mark the page: a day in early
November, winter dormant between sepia covers.

Uma Gowrishankar, A Window

Reader, I have contracted it. All for a few luscious days away on my birthday, not a moment of which I regret. We went to Bristol on the train, revisited Nick’s old university haunts, explored the Georgian terraces and the harbourside, had a lovely day in Bath, ate and drank well. We’re now two days off finishing our ten-day quarantine. We’re both feeling tons better than this time last week, even the sense of smell is gradually creeping back (starting with smells I’m not keen on, like coffee, maddeningly!)

Someone on Twitter commented that ten days enforced isolation gives you all the time in the world to write – but frankly I haven’t really felt like it. I have done some reading and research in preparation for the forthcoming collection. At the moment the difference between a planning a pamphlet and planning/producing a full collection feels like the proverbial yawning chasm. I can do this! And yet I keep printing off my notes, usually with headings that might motivate me, like ‘Why I’m interested in writing about X’, and ‘Key themes and identifying the gaps’, then staring at them with nothing to add. Meanwhile all the new poems sit there looking up at me like baleful dogs desperate for a walk. I try to tell myself they have promise, even though they seem tired or lacking in originality. And then I go back to reading, avoiding Twitter or wondering if I need to just do a bit of yoga.

Robin Houghton, Notes from the sick bay

[Rob Taylor]: Writers seemed to divide into two camps during the first year of COVID-19. One group wrote prodigiously while the other wrote little or nothing. You’re certainly in the former group, writing all these new poems (especially, of course, your thirteen-part crown sonnet, “Corona”). What drew you to writing about COVID-19 head-on and with such energy? 

[Barbara Nickel]: The “Corona” sequence was the main work I completed during the first part of the pandemic. With the exception of four other poems written in 2020, most of the book had been written years before.

Maybe I was poetically prepared for the series when COVID-19 came along because I’d already written a sonnet corona for Domain; the “room” sonnets you’ve mentioned formed a sort of circular foundation to my book about the reach of my childhood home. Like so many households across the planet at the start of the pandemic, ours was stressful and chaotic. Suddenly everyone was home at the same time and space felt limited. Computers (including mine) were in high demand. I was constantly washing my hands and reading the news and stressing about it.

The idea of writing a “corona for the Corona” had been simmering for a little while. Looking at images of the spherical virus with its spiky crown, I knew that these physical and poetic shapes would need to merge; how couldn’t they? Then late one night I couldn’t sleep for desperately itchy hands (from all that washing), and I decided enough is enough, this project needs to begin.

Rob Taylor, That Prism of Perspectives: An Interview with Barbara Nickel

Rather than worry about all the inevitable books about the pandemic, it might be worth thinking about the books which won’t be written, because nothing else is on people’s mind, or because what they had been going to write doesn’t make sense to them any more, or even because their whole life has changed and writing doesn’t seem a priority right now.

To put things very crudely, again, we are good at remembering wars, but perhaps less good at remembering their aftermaths. We see the casualties, but we don’t always see the long-term impact on the people left behind. I don’t think Britain likes to see itself as a war-torn nation: war is something that happens only to soldiers, and only in other places.

I don’t think we like to see literature as circumstantial, either. It is more gratifying to talk of stories or poems as things which change lives, rather than something made by them: it gives both the writer and the reader more freedom. Think of all the Covid books implies a kind of (understandable) despair that the pandemic ever happened. It did. But we can still chose how to respond.

Jeremy Wikeley, What’s next?

I find myself captivated by Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm: Poems and Essays (New York NY: Astra House Publishing, 2021) by Chinese poet Yu Xiuhua, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. Born with cerebral palsy in 1976 in Hengdian village, Hubei Province, China, Yu Xiuhua was, as the book copy offers, “Unable to attend college, travel, or work the land with her parents, she remained home. In defiance of the stigma attached to her disability, her status as a divorced single mother, and as a peasant in rural China, Yu found her voice in poetry.” The collection opens with the now-infamous poem “Crossing Half of China to Fuck You,” a poem that became an “online sensation” in 2014, and thus launched Yu’s career as a published writer. “Fucking you and being fucked by you are quite the same,” the poem begins, “no more / than the force of two colliding bodies, a flower coaxed into blossom [.]” I’m fascinated, as well, by how this book is structured, offering, after the opening poem, essays by the author as section-openers, which allow the possibility for more of the author’s own thinking around history, language, morality, suffering, disability, politics and poetry, and of exploring the possibilities therein. I don’t know if this was structured by the poet herself or her editor, but it allows for a collection built as a singular unit, incorporating the essays in conversation with the poems; as an essential part of the text, instead of the usual offering of including them at the end, almost as afterthought.

Set as eight essays, six of which open sections of poems composed as abstracts through direct statement, as the author writes her own way into being. “Yes, it can’t stand on its own,” she writes, to open the poem “Dust,” “so it leans west in the wind [.]” There is a meditative and even wistful clarity through these poems, as well as a self-deprecating humour, through a poet who writes of the erotic, of love and the land, and of her immediate and imagined landscapes. She writes with a clarity and a humility, offering her meditations in line with the nature poets, attentive to the movements and shifts of the world around her. There is something quite compelling in the way Yu writes, through Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s attentive translation, against such forces that would erase her voice, whether through her disability, her poverty, her gender or as a divorced, single mother. Through these poems and essays, she claims her own space in the world with an openness that refuses to be contained, while remaining a humble and quietly attentive observer, even of her own life, thoughts and experiences. As she writes to close the essay “I Live to Reject Lofty Words”: “I am desperately in love with this inexplicable and obscure life. I love its conceit, and the haze that surfaces at low points in my life. I am grateful for being well and alive, and all because of my lowly existence.”

rob mclennan, Yu Xiuhua, Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm: Poems and Essays, trans. Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Loneliness
and its blessings
so fill my hut
I can barely
move around,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (58)

I’m not going to lie: this has been a tough week. The weather has been a series of emergency alerts: wind storms that knock out power, rain that brings flooding and mudslides. Absolutely no outdoor time for me this week, even on my deck or to get mail. My computer (six months old, too expensive) is on the fritz and looks like it needs replacing already. I’m worried about my parents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, many of whom had health crises this week: falls, hospital trips, illnesses, house problems. The news isn’t so cheery these days either. Three snow leopards at a Nebraska zoo died of covid. Damn it covid, stay away from our snow leopards! A GOP school district in Kansas banned books by Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Alice Walter, among others. Book burnings next? Yikes.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Gloom: Too Many Storms and Rejections

Today the skies are heavy. Rains come and go, as do high winds. I suspect the autumn leaves we marveled at yesterday are on the ground now, beginning their journey toward becoming mulch. Challah dough is rising, soon to be shaped into a spiraling six-pointed sun or Jewish star.

I wonder whether we will look back on these years as the end of something, or the end of many things. The end of when we could have stopped the global warming juggernaut, the end of the myth that “red” and “blue” America actually understand each other — or even want to try.

I think about climate grief and rising authoritarianism and mistrust. I’m so ready for Shabbat, for 25 hours of setting worries aside. All I can do is trust that when I make havdalah, I’ll be ready to pick up the work again. That the fallen leaves will sustain growth I can’t yet know.

Rachel Barenblat, Leaves

Tell them that the winter is here.
If they want to visit,
they must wear their thick skin,
forget about the virtues of the sea,
and wait until the fog clears
for the surprised birds to sing.
Tell them we are here.

Magda Kapa, Windows

As we consider Climate Crisis and other world issues, such as Covid-19, we become acutely aware that it is in many senses only now that we have the opportunity to make things change. The past has happened. Tomorrow is uncharted territory.

Caroline Gill, Thoughts on conferences, COP26 … and birds

I have been thinking a lot this week about a line from Tomas Tranströmer’s masterpiece, ‘Alone’. (I have also blogged about it here.) Driving alone at night, the speaker’s car spins out across the ice and into the path of oncoming traffic, with its ‘huge lights’:

They shone on me while I pulled at the wheel
in a transparent terror that floated like egg white.
The seconds grew – there was space in them –
they grew as big as hospital buildings.

Just as everything slows down and sound goes missing from the action, as in a film, ‘something caught: a helping grain of sand/ a wonderful gust of wind’, and the car breaks free.

I have been trying to practice gratitude this week for the helping grains of sand in my life: the kindness of a colleague talking me down from the tree when I fail to understand the new digital platform we have started using; the kindness of a poetry editor friend for helping me make my work half-way presentable; another poetry friend getting in touch with an encouraging email; an old school friend writing to update me with his news; a meal with friends; Simon Parke’s blog; a blogger from the other side of the world writing to say hi; the colleague who listens to and sees me; The Joy of Small Things, by Hannah Jane Parkinson.

There are other perhaps more famous grains of sand, William Blake’s or Wislawa Szymborska’s for instance, but the helping kind is what I am reaching for this week, behind the wheel or not.

Anthony Wilson, A helping grain of sand

A book with a thousand minds. Counting backwards through a thousand dreams. Why are you crying? I don’t want to tell you. You won’t have me around if I show you the teeth of the dog. A thousand dogs, hermanas y hermanos, and each dog has a thousand teeth. Growling and howling. A poem with a thousand hard lines. The most cruel blows on the flesh of the most quiet child. Why are you running? I have to run. Something is after me. Music that brings death. Not joy. Death. The face of the priest that melts into the face of the devil. Do you pray? God isn’t watching the sin as it happens. Just after. When it is far too late. We all have free will. Then what do you do? I run, I cry. The dreams are sometimes ugly, and I record them all in this book.

James Lee Jobe, a thousand minds

My editor helped me locate and rewrite the crisis moment Susan Forest describes. At the outset of Unbecoming, the main character, Cyn, refuses to recognize her own strength, magical and otherwise. And when you don’t admit the power you have, others get harmed in ways you could have mitigated, or maybe even headed off, if you had your wits about you. Cyn does come to terms with power and its consequences by the end, but the choices she makes about how to use her magic are problematic: some good, for sure, but some ethically questionable, to put it mildly. The problem she faces lies in the nature of magic–by definition, power is inequity, right? The MOST ethical thing is to give up your magic/ privilege, to redistribute it, but that’s ALSO hard, for a million different reasons. In short, I’m sympathetic to Cyn, but I don’t entirely like her.

A book of poems creates characters, too, some of whom are strong or strongly-written. Eric Tran visited campus this week, and while his poems seem intensely autobiographical, he emphasized their fictionality, how many of them rely on invention rather than personal history. One of my favorite’s of his is “I Tell My Mother About My Depression” (scroll down at the link and you’ll find it), and, interestingly, that was the one he chose as an example of writing in persona–not what I would have expected. Yet all poems fictionalize, even when they hew closely to fact. How you experience your life, after all, changes all the time; the you who writes the poem won’t exist in the same exact way tomorrow. I often feel distant from and critical of earlier poetic selves. Some of the poems in my most recent collection, The State She’s In, like “The South,” involve a version of me looking back at an earlier mindset and telling Former Lesley off.

Lesley Wheeler, Writing/ being a “strong female character”

Time, you beckon. Before
you were a proliferation of billboards;
double-armed streetlights rising
                        from a continuous median,
evenly spaced parade of réverbères
going down a crowded avenue.
Checkerboards of light fell
                        out of buildings where, in each
square someone was working
or doing sums at a table, someone
was reading a book or ironing
                        a shirt, washing potatoes
in a colander, or singing
a child to bed. Today, I watched
a neighbor load bag after bag
                        into a van, and still
there was more—a lifetime’s
accumulation of things.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with a Line from Neruda

Sometimes that heady frenzy is the point, and it’s enough just as it is. Maybe you’ll walk away from it, grateful for some thing it helped you see or know or remember. Maybe it was just an itch you needed to scratch. Maybe it was nothing, and you can see that and it’s fine, just fine. It was what it is. You go back to walking the dog and buying groceries and picking up library books, perhaps more primed to notice the world’s glances that come your way, that spark that could turn into a real poem.

Sometimes, though, you know it’s the beginning of something more than words scrawled through some feeling’s heat. It’s something you could sustain, that could sustain you. So you turn toward it and hold on.

Rita Ott Ramstad, How to write a poem

I am starting to write again, after losing our unborn son Shepherd a few months ago. It has been slow going–a few minutes here and there, a long, very long, time spent on a single poem. Writing has always been a helpful way for me to process and take note of my emotions, to process what happened, to understand it. But I have found myself avoiding it for a few months, not ready to get back into it again. I didn’t actually–it came back to me in the waiting room for a follow up appointment. There have been so many times I have said, Well, now is the time I will stop writing, but it does always come back.

Renee Emerson, writing while grieving

The birds gossip to the breeze.

The breeze buzzes to the trees.

Tree roots chitchat to the earth.

Earth’s deep dirt talks to coffins.

Coffins, in their quiet way, discourse with the great unknown.

And well before we’re born, the great unknown whispers into our seed of an ear.

Sing a song for the living, it tells us. Sing a song for the dead.

Rich Ferguson, Hum

My grandma, Ethel, who went deaf, who sat
with her head in the swelling horn
of the wind-up gramophone.

Listened to the scratchy tinnitus
of brittle shellac records until
they hissed like the sea on a shingly shore.

Who drowned herself, a poor Ophelia,
in the beck that ran hot from dyehouses,
than ran blue and plum and crimson red.

John Foggin, Armistice Day

Veterans Day 2021, the second year of a pandemic, when I can feel case numbers ticking up, as surely we all knew they would once colder weather arrived and people went indoors to breathe on each other.  I think about the forces that shape society:  disease and war and random terrorism that catapults a culture onto a different trajectory.

Before Veterans Day was Veterans Day it was Armistice Day which celebrated World War I, the war to end all wars.  Except it didn’t.  Research the amount of death in World War II and try to process that many humans gone in just a few years.

Will we some day say the same thing about these pandemic years?  Which is the more efficient killing machine, war or disease?  They so often go hand in hand, so it’s hard for me to know.  And I know it depends on the war or the disease.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Veterans Day in the Second Year of a Global Pandemic

Your ceramic bird fell and shattered like our dreams of a long, shared life. I didn’t mean to drop it – my fingers went numb. As numb as I’ve felt since you announced you were leaving. You opened the bedroom door and I quickly shoved a few pieces under the sideboard, fluttering wings beating in my chest. I am exhausted after hours of my tears and your tantrums, your shrill recriminations keening through the house. I am bombarded yet I stand here clutching a ceramic shard in my palm. As you brush past, I grab your arm and raise mine. A sharp blue feather flies to your heart.

Charlotte Hamrick, Clipped Wings

If you’re a writer, artist, musician or other creative, how do you get noticed? Is it enough to be good? How will people find you?

One way that’s become popular in the age of the Internet is to send out bits and pieces of your creative process, sharing the project as you work on it. This approach claims to be an alternative to the more direct forms of self-promotion, and even has the potential to help the viewer, or reader, or listener with their own artistic projects. (Austin Kleon wrote a delightful book about it called Show Your Work.)

With this method, you give others access to your process with the aim of building a following of fans who are just dying for the next sketch, chord, or draft.

I used to think this was completely fine, even innovative, but lately I’ve changed my mind.

This sharing/showing, meant to create a group or fan base, is still a lonely and energy-draining endeavor. You, the creative person, must constantly curate what you’ll share with the world, which not only adds to your workload, it drains your creative energy. It obliges you to explain and answer questions about what you shared. It gives the impression that you’re available for discussions about what you’ve shared, especially if you’re posting about your process on social media.

Not only is it harmful to you, the creative person, in terms of time and concentration, to share these tidbits with others, it might even be harmful to those who come across your shares.

Erica Goss, Should You Show Your Work?

falling
into a bed of emojis 
forty winks 😉

Jim Young [no title]

In my efforts to rekindle my enthusiasm for just about everything in life, I often find myself sometimes thinking about 2001.  I was 27 and had been living back in the city for a year. Why this year as opposed to others?   Why then and not, say 2002? Or 2003? When things really began to happen in terms of publishing and doing readings, and starting my MFA studies?  2001 was sort of this strange calm before the storm, a period of time when I was just discovering online publications and starting one of my own.  A time when I was creating my very first websites and learning about design while working the night shift at the circ desk.  A time when, having no internet at home, I was still mostly offline much of my life otherwise. At home, I’d read and journal and write late into the night. I still drafted every poem by hand on yellow legal pads or spiral steno notebooks then typed them into my e-mail at work. 

It was also the first rush of excitement to be connecting with people through poems.  Those online publications–the really nice fan letters that sometimes appeared in my inbox. Every online journal publication would find me printing out the pages and tucking them carefully between plastic sheets in a binder for safekeeping (a practice I eventually stopped.) I didn’t start a blog til 2003, so my journaling happened in more private spaces. Since we were years before even MySpace, most of my interactions with writers happened on discussion boards and listservs. Later on blogs.  

It feels a little more pure though, since it was very much a space unpolluted by some of things  that later muddied my waters. Mostly, I thrived on writing and sharing.  On finding readers and placing poems in journals. I’m not sure I would have persevered or written half as much as I did in the vacuum of print journal culture, which seemed to put so much distance between writer and editor, and even more between writer and reader.

Kristy Bowen, twenty year itch | 2001

Thanks to the Madwomen in the Attic (out of Pittsburgh), I recently had the opportunity to hear Denise Duhamel read from Second Story (her newest collection) and to participate in a craft talk/Q&A with her. As a result, I took a walk down memory lane to 2009 when I was still a baby poet attending a generative workshop Duhamel led through Louder Arts in New York City.

The hope I tended back then about who I may become as a writer and what I may accomplish is a sure cousin to the self I pictured in Tucson and BFF to the writer who opened this blog post with a question about why we keep writing.

I haven’t achieved half of what I imagined back in 2009, and that’s ok. I still hold a flame for that earnest girl. The self I love now is the self who creates for its own sake. I still want to publish book after book after book, but for me, in this dreary world, it’s enough to make things new — to discover new selves and new worlds in which she may live. The self I’m constantly chasing is intoxicated by wonder and tension, by words and bodies, by questions and heat. That self can’t contain curiosity and passion. They spill onto the page.

Like you were being saved.

Carolee Bennett, why do you keep writing?

Raindark woods and the step of deer. Coyote arias. There has to be a way forwards but I can’t find it: all I know to do is tell the truth, if I can find that. It sits, I guess, at the center always, but sometimes even Cassandra can’t read, even peregrine can’t see, even jaguar can’t feel: I’m scoured, food makes me sick, I cannot swim or smile, there is no thirst, no light. I ask for compassion, not instruction: just let me fail to be a superhero for a minute, I say. Trauma stacked so deep I can’t see over the boxes full, piled too high and I’m stuck in the center. Hopeless, I scour: am extracted, everything used, for no hope of reciprocity. Somehow stacked so deep I don’t care anymore: I try to, I say it’s wrong, state what is right, but I need the paychecks. After they strip me, I expect to be discarded now. Everywhere I look I’m a temp. Clouds of anger form, dissipate rapidly into grief again, cirrus wisps over yellow November moon. There must be a way but I do not know what it is. There isn’t even silence. Just a cold snap, bone and branch fallen underfoot.

JJS, pit

We sat in her apartment in the assisted-living wing and arranged the flowers I’d brought. Then we spent 20 minutes in a kind of conversation, to which I’ve become accustomed, during which she tries to convey information about something she needs to have done. In this case, after much of the usual (really, rather humorous at times) confusion, I deciphered that she wanted some sweaters taken to the dry cleaner.

Such minutia. And yet, so difficult to get across, across that divide of language and cognition. The incredible concentration and effort it takes her just to dial a phone number to call her ailing sister. To tell the nurse aide that she needs more yogurt. Anything.

Then she surprised me. She pointed to my forehead and then to her own. “This,” she said. “Is wrong. For you. What?”

Was she reading a crease in my brow? I told her I had not been feeling great. She wanted to know, so I told her details, the way one tells one’s mother. Even though I am never sure quite how much gets through.

“Lie down. Take off the peaks.” By which she meant shoes. Why not comply? We both took off our shoes and spent the visit relaxing. We even indulged in a glass of wine because she loves to offer wine to her guests. Never mind it was 11 am. My mother has lost that rigid cognitive sense of time that the rest of us spend our lives obsessing over. There’s something valuable in that loss, though it is a loss.

She’s still teaching me things. Other ways to live with loss (my dad, her “normal” brain, mobility, words…).

Ann E. Michael, Getting through somehow

where is the grave of the autumn :: from which i never returned

Grant Hackett [no title]

they come to the flower bazaar

for jasmine, for marigolds, for roses —
for funerals, for weddings, for worship —

at night, the unsold flowers
become this city’s story
of all that did not happen

Rajani Radhakrishnan, City Cherita – XII

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 44

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, I found a number of posts touching on the relationship between art and poetry, as well as seasonal meditations, considerations of politics in poetry, musings on mid-20th-century poets (Eliot, Larkin, Dylan Thomas), and more. Enjoy.


The coleus plants that have overflown our window box since August withered in days, and the pumpkins on our front porch seem suddenly garish. One afternoon I stepped outside to carry our old Daisy down the steps she now too often stumbles upon and was surprised by the cold that bit me right through my sweater. In just a week our corner of the world went from glorious to grubby and grim.

So now we turn inward, toward candlelight, simmering soups, woolly socks, and soft blankets. These are the weeks–this short lull between holidays–for sitting away a whole afternoon in a cafe with an old friend. For playing a game in front of a fire, and clearing a table to hold the pieces of a puzzle. It’s the beginning of wondering where another year has gone and of pondering what we’ll make of the next. Tonight darkness will descend before we’re ready for it, and we’ll feel something inside ourselves hunkering down for the long haul of winter, even though its supposed beginning is still weeks away.

I’m more than a little sorry to let go of what feels like true autumn, those afternoons of kicking crisp leaves with boots that feel new simply because it’s been so long since we’ve worn them. But this late stage is just a different kind of true, one that tests our loves in ways that easy days never do.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Hello darkness my old friend

These are the days of Cat’s Cradle: Darkness will come earlier now. The air feels significantly cooler. Time to bank fires in the wood stove. Only 4 weeks left in the Fall Semester. Everything is starting to pick up and slow down at the same time. I feel caught in this warp speed. Held still in the commotion that circles me constantly. I am suspended in this hour that promises me a bit more time. To accomplish what eludes me daily.

M.J. Iuppa, November: Time to Fall Back!

The mirrors are still at last, and you are so tired. You are listening to the wheezing breaths of the smokers. Even your mind is tired, and you don’t really want to think anymore, but you don’t know how to stop. From a dark corner of your consciousness you sense that the animals are slowly returning to the forest, and you wish that you could join them. You will die one day and until then you will never be free of this reality. Yes, there are cracks in time, you’ve seen them, but they are too small to slip through and escape. Your life is a slender being, moving from shadow to shadow, slinking in memory and loneliness. The room smells of disinfectant and the nurse with the cart is bringing the medication. You check the mirror one more time and then look up at the plain-faced clock and see that three minutes have passed since the last time you looked.

James Lee Jobe, the mirrors are still at last

Outside every
door, oil lamps burn. The wind holds its
hands around them like safe parentheses. I
search for spaces. The space you occupied.

The space between your arms. The space
between possibility and semicolon. Between
being and full stop. Where does the
emptiness end? Where does the next sky

begin?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, This city as punctuation

Today it was so bright and sharp and autumnal I decided to down tools (working the weekend, again) and take him down to Filey bay. We’ve not been down to the beach together for over a year as I wasn’t sure his back legs could cope with the hill. I keep him on an extended lead these days because he’d run off if I let him, and not being able to see me or hear me calling him back would be a problem. His recall was never great, now it is non existent. On this cool autumn day with the sand blowing up the beach and the light landing pink on the waves he was reborn, as a young dog, prancing and galloping and into everything. When I was crouched looking for fossils he came and knocked me over, snuffling into my hand to see what I had. He played with other dogs, said hello to children, snuffled at pockets and dug in the sand. He had a good day. Only one time did I feel we might have walked too far, and that was when he fell backwards trying to jump out of a stream, his back legs failing him at the crucial moment, and then he simply stood looking confused, waiting to be rescued. We made it back up the hill slowly and he was still able to get back into the car. He’s absolutely wiped out downstairs now, fast asleep on the sofa.

Wendy Pratt, Beach Walking with Toby

Yesterday was All Saints’ Day, and, in Mexico, the Day of the Dead. A few days before, we made our annual ofrenda in our home, and each evening, we’ve lit the candles, eaten our dinner, and sat with our dear departed ones. I’m surprised how comforting and welcome this ritual has become, connecting us both to our friends and family, and to Mexico, which we miss very much too. The tradition is to put little offerings of favorite foods or drinks or pastimes in front of the photos of each person to encourage them to return to be with the living for the evening, so the whole thing ends up becoming poignant, quirky, and personal. I didn’t have marigolds, which are a traditional part of everyone’s altar in Mexico: the color and pungent scent are supposed to help guide the dead on their journey. But we did have orange zinnias, sunflowers, dahlias, cacti and herbs, copal incense, Mexican pottery and textiles, and small reminders of each person.

And because my sketchbooks are becoming a visual diary of my life that feel more and more significant to me, I decided to do a drawing of the central section of the ofrenda too. What a complicated and busy sketch it turned out to be! I liked the black-and-white drawing, but the color made it all make more sense, and the process of doing it was one more way of connecting to the people and the tableau we had made.

Beth Adams, All the Beloveds

The brain wants to get all up in art’s business.

I would start drawing, and my brain was clicking away. I could feel it, trying to control my hand. Careful. Don’t be derivative. That’s too Miro; people will notice. Don’t try that again—you’ve drawn so many bad horses! And then, without my noticing, that language center would shut off. Things got very quiet, and for a while I was all body—my hand scratching at the wet ink, flicking grass or branches onto the paper, my face contorted, my voice whispering to itself—rounder, darker, right here. I would sit back and see the balance of the scene, see what it still needed. It felt just like I was playing deep into a tennis match—all motion, intent, instinct, the body doing what it knows how to do. It was also just like being in the middle of writing a poem—the editor had fled and the subconscious was now driving; that’s always the interesting part. Oh, the brain came back later to criticize what I’d drawn, and sometimes it hurt me. This is a place where art and poetry differ: A poem can always be changed, but ink is pretty much forever and leaves an ugly stain when you try to fix it.

Amy Miller, Inktober: Shut Up and Draw

I had a lovely weeklong writing retreat which encouraged me to again, for the millionth time, start a daily practice — of some kind of making. Anything. Just do any freaking thing for a little tiny bit each day. So every day for that week I did a quick sketch self-portrait, and a quick writing exercise. See? How hard was that? And I’ve been able to sustain it…mostly…now that I’ve been home for a couple of weeks.

The self-portraits are pen sketches or watercolors, and they’ve been hugely fun. But then I saw a Facebook post (you know about the research that shows reading Facebook can leaving you feeling wretched about your life?) that undermined my pleasure. Some chick had posted a wonderful watercolor self-portrait and talked about how a weekly painting session she’d been involved with had really helped her handle some technical issues in her work. And I thought, oh, is that what I’m supposed to be doing, actively trying to get BETTER at this stuff? Consciously seeking to address technique? Uh-oh.

And then I realized, calm down calm down for crying out loud, technique is only one aspect of any kind of making. What I’m trying to do with these daily selfies is play, to remind myself every day that making is playing. Every day I try a different approach to the portrait — ink and wash, crazy colors, different angles. They’re rapidly becoming a collection of what I think of as demented self-portraits. And gloriously so. I’ll work on technique some other time. Right now the focus is on doing and playing. Phew. Off the hook again. Perfection be damned. All work and no play… well, we know how THAT turns out.

But…all play and no work…? Hm. I’ll have to think about this.

Marilyn McCabe, Shine a light on me; or, On Practice Makes…Practice

Louth argues Rilke’s journey towards the poetics of the New Poems began in the period he resided in the artists’ community in Germany at Worpswede. A lot of his thinking there concerned images of man and landscape. For the majority of the time, humans and nature live “side-by-side with hardly any knowledge of one another” and it is in the ‘as if’ of the work of art that they can be brought closer, into a more conscious relation. These are the thoughts that preoccupied Rilke when he moved, in 1902, to Paris, in part to observe Rodin at work. Louth is right that the poet’s move towards a poetry that cultivated the “earthly”, the world of “things”, was already well under way. He then looked to Rodin’s methods for “dependability, concentration and craft” and in a poem like ‘The Panther’ the fruits of more compactness of diction, a more supple articulation of syntax, a lexis of more precise, everyday words and an increased emphasis on the visual are clearly seen.

Here is my translation of ‘The Panther’:

The Panther

in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

With this pacing the bars’ back and forth, his gaze
grows so weary there is nothing it can hold.
To him, there appears to be a thousand bars
and beyond the thousand bars, no world.

The lithe, smooth steps of his powerful gait
(in the narrowest of circles he spins round)
is like a dance of power around a point
at which an immense will stands, stunned.

In moments only does the pupil’s curtain
sway noiselessly open – an image enters
and drives through the mute tension of each limb
into the heart, where it disappears.

Under Rodin’s influence, Rilke became a more self-conscious labourer in language. These are the poems that are held up as examples of ‘Kunst-Ding’ (art-thing). In August 1903, Rilke wrote to Lou: “The thing is definite, the art-thing must be even more definite; taken out of the realm of chance, removed from every unclarity, relieved of time and given to space.”

Martyn Crucefix, Charlie Louth’s Rilke + new Rilke Translations (Part II)

“The public does not realize, perhaps, the amount of work that goes into one painting before I begin to set it down on canvas. In my last picture, I spent two months–fourteen hours a day, including Sundays–sketching, making notes, rejecting ideas.” –Grant Wood

It’s all very wise and was meant to encourage me to push through a rough patch. But it really just made me feel  the complete opposite of encouraged. I wanted to go back to bed.

On a whim I googled “DELIGHT,” and it took me straight to J. B. Priestley’s book Delight, published in 1949. Not long ago my husband and I watched the 2018 film of Priestley’s play, An Inspector Calls, so this seemed like one of those synchronicities that we ought to pay attention to. I bought the book, downloaded it, and, well, was delighted.

In the preface, Priestley begins, “I have always been a grumbler.” He goes on to explain the benefits (the delights?) of a good grumble. But then we get 114 short chapters on what delights him: reading detective stories in bed, lighthouses, waking to the smell of bacon, the ironic principle, orchestras tuning up, making stew, departing guests. Some of it is a little dated (the stereoscope, wearing long trousers, and several chapters about the delights of smoking). But it’s also a window into Priestley’s time (1894-1984), bits of a lost world.

Bethany Reid, Writing from a Place of Delight

I’d liked to have written about the talk I heard this week by Lavinia Greenlaw and Neil McGregor, and their discussion about vision. I had hoped to throw my twopenneth, for what it’s worth, in about the article this week written by Rory Waterman about “Good Person Poems“, published at Poetry London, and I largely agree with Rory and also some of Jon Stone’s response. Some of the responses to Rory’s article have, to me, been unnecessary, misinterpretation (wilful or otherwise) or just odd. Others carry a grain of truth, but I am not clever enough to get into it. I think it also over-shadowed Camille Ralph’s two-part essay. I am working my way through that, but anything else to day is a case of: Nope, too hungover this week. Damn the fireworks party.

Today is not a day for achievement. It’s something of a miracle that I woke up today.

At present I am just venerating water, which puts me in mind of this Larkin poem. I could be all fancy and get into the questioning of religion or look at the beauty of “any-angled light”, but I shall just settle for making a god of water

Water

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

Phillip Larkin, Collected Poems

Mat Riches, Water thing to do to yourself

In a reissue of his first collection, The North Ship, Philip Larkin says that after the book was published he threw off the influence of W. B. Yeats’s symbolism in favour of Hardy’s more plain style, paving the way for the ‘mature’ voice of The Less Deceived and The Whitsun Weddings.

Critics have by and large gone along with this dichotomy, only suggesting Yeats’s influence might have been stronger, and continued longer, than Larkin himself let on. But you don’t, I think, seriously admire a writer, to the extent of identifying yourself with them as Larkin did with Hardy, without also engaging with their broader vision. Which makes the differences to their pessimism particularly telling.  

Two key themes that Larkin and Hardy have in common is their attentiveness to suffering, and their tendency to attack the sexual morality of their day. Hardy is in some ways a good Victorian liberal, holding out for ways of alleviating pain and for a time when people can love according to their true selves.

For Larkin, on the other hand, suffering and sexual privation (for him the two are usually associated with one another) are not problems to be resolved, but states which offers insight into the true nature of life, and provide the starting point for his poetry. Larkin takes Hardy’s qualified hope back into the realms of mysticism.

Jeremy Wikeley, Two Types of Pessimism

Today’s (returning) guest is someone I first met about eight years ago at the Monday night workshops of The Albert Poets in Huddersfield. Like another poet at these workshops, the much-missed Mark Hinchcliffe, she has a unique voice, and one that I didn’t quite tune into until I heard her do a full guest reading a year or so later. You may have had moments like this, when you suddenly hear what you’ve been missing, when you hear the tune that brings the meaning and the passion along with it. She’s a poet who has the quality of what Keats called negative capability, that ability to en-chant a place or a moment that bypasses the writer’s personality. It’s a voice that takes you on walks into, along and out of the imbricated valleys of the West Yorkshire Pennine, and along moorland tops; on walks at the edge of things by seashores and dunescapes; on walks through the thin places of the world, across thresholds. It’s the kind of quality that’s hinted at by the layered, ambiguous title of her latest cornucopia of a collection On the way to Jerusalem Farm.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Carola Luther’s “On the way to Jerusalem Farm”

[Rob Taylor]: The limitations of what language can and can’t accomplish is certainly another theme in the book. One of the (darkly) funniest lines in CREELAND comes in “Entry Four”: “Every time I write “kôhkom,” / some settler, somewhere, / cums.” We’re in a time where there is a desire among many settlers to understand and “consume” Indigenous culture, but this engagement happens under the consumer’s terms. Certain subjects/words are fetishized, others ignored (your poem “Curriculum of the Wait” explores how “every ndn poem / is about residential schools” – alongside every novel, play, memoir, etc.). All writers face the mixed blessing that their words will go out in the world, unchaperoned, to be used and interpreted as the reader sees fit, but in your case this process seems particularly fraught. 

Could you talk a little about how you would ideally like the Cree language, as presented in CREELAND, to be engaged with by settler readers?

[Dallas Hunt]: The language is going to be engaged with however the reader sees fit. One thing I do like, though, is that more people appear to be seeing Cree as a “living language,” so I guess in the grand scheme of things, as long as people see our languages (and us) as alive, there really isn’t much more I could hope for. I do think that there are “particular” forms in which Indigenous peoples are legible (like through language), so that’s something I do try to complicate in the collection. If people take notice of that, great, but I do have a bit of an ambivalence toward it, too (not to be overly obscure or combative!).

RT: Fair enough! Could you talk a little more about complicating the ways Indigenous people are “legible”? 

DH: I think that non-Indigenous peoples are more than willing to interpret us through particular lenses (e.g., language, residential schools, “culture”) but are far less willing to take our political assertions seriously. I think whether we’re in rural, reserve, or urban environments, Indigenous peoples are constantly asserting a politics that is so summarily dismissed, sometimes in favour of something as capacious as “culture,” that we’re not being really heard or engaged with. Engage with us—our politics, our assertions, our communities. We’re not going anywhere, so it might be prudent to do so.

RT: What do you hope for Cree speakers to find in these poems?

DH: The collection is about everyday Cree economies of care. I hope there is some recognition there, disagreement, even contention—we are vast, complex and varying communities, so I hope some Cree people (and other Indigenous peoples) appreciate the writing. But I also hope that, if I were there, Cree and Indigenous peoples would argue with me about some of the articulations or interpretations of things in the collection. That’s what being in community or visiting as a method is all about.

Rob Taylor, Gesturing Out to Different Horizons: An Interview with Dallas Hunt

It is tornado season again in the South. This year the storms blow in alongside a pandemic. I call my mother in Clearwater, Florida, among the palm trees, from my home in North Carolina, among the Loblolly Pines. In the early morning, my family slept through a tornado warning in Durham County—my spouse and I waking as the loudspeaker blared its warning announcement from the nearby high school. The winds and rains pass us by, bringing cooler weather behind them. We bring our potted vegetables into the garage at night.

My mother and I talk tornados and storms. We measure our life by storms in the South—by the names of storms that share their names with us as women: Fran, Katrina, Isabel, Florence.

My mother says: “You have never seen a tree as evil as a palm tree looks in a storm—like black fingers against the sky.” And I laugh at my mother’s Southern-Gothic-meets-New-England-Complaint description. A dramatization—who knows why.

But when I go to write down her words—a hazard of having a writer in the family—I pay more attention to the color black, the personification of the palm trees as a Black body. I start to write a poem about the storms as a marker of days in my life—“This calendar of water / and wind, bent trees”—but I circle back to my mother’s words about the palm trees. “Like black fingers,” sits at the end of a poem like a lead weight. The poem cracks under it.

Han VanderHart, Storm Season, or White Supremacy and Imagery

It’s a gorgeous autumn day. Leaves are at their peak and stand out against vivid blue skies. Temperatures are an unseasonable 67 degrees. Even my light sweater is too warm.

On my left I pass a place that still yanks at my feels. For years an old house with a rotting roof stood there, surrounded by weeds and junk cars. Despite its decay, this was a home. It lifted my spirits to see laundry on the line and light in the window. That house surely survives in the memories of those who lived there. It also hangs on in a poem I titled, unimaginatively, “House On Smith Road.” Here are a few of its lines:

There are people who keep going
past all predictions,
chewed up by cancer
or rattling with emphysema.
They hold things together
for the daughter struggling
with heroin, the spouse
wandering through dementia.
I think of them as this house
slides ever closer to the ground,
plastic flowers still blooming 
on that brave tilting porch.

The old house was knocked down a few years ago and another home stands there now. I wonder if the new residents sense the energy fingerprint left by everyone who ever lived there – the old farmhouse most recently but also all who came before, back to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and back before them to the earliest peoples.  

Hills I drive over were carved by glaciers thousands of feet thick. The ice sheet was so heavy that earth’s surface is still rebounding from that long-ago weight. Between these gentle slopes lie fields of dry soybeans and baled hay brilliant in the sunlight.

Laura Grace Weldon, Contemplative Errands

Do not carry your remembrance.
Instead, cut it into pieces for the wind,
or surrender it to the crepe myrtle tree.
Give it to the poets stenciling their words
onto sidewalk squares, then return to see
what paint colors they’ve used. Do you
wonder how the sky’s chalkboard bears
all manner of equations? There are rumors
some of them have been solved.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with a Line from Lorca

I first encountered Arne Naess’ work in 2012 (see this post), and I regret that I failed to follow up by reading more of his “ecosophy T” (deep ecology) and philosophy. I am finally getting around to his very late book Life’s Philosophy, and I love how it speaks to me on many levels. His claim that human emotions can and should be components of human reason makes so much sense that I wonder why so few researchers look into it; some folks on the edges of neuroscience and psychology seem to venture there, but few others. The concept of “relationism” resonates for me, too. It reminds me of the Dali Lama’s teachings that all things in the world are intertwined and valuable, even non-sentient beings.

Relationism, as Naess uses it, acknowledges the vast and impossibly infinite complexity of the universe, more strictly life on earth, and–can I use the word “celebrates”?–the interwoven strands of animal, vegetable, mineral, bacterial, cosmological, emotional, rational aspects of a life in the world: ecology on steroids (he would not have phrased it like that). My urge for balance in my own life makes this philosophy relevant: the opportunities for play and for imagination as well as for seriously abstract concepts, for the importance of emotions as felt in the human body and as interpreted or contained in the human intellect; the necessity of listening to even the tiniest sounds, of savoring the small moments, of not needing to be big or grand or successful but to be mature in how one feels with the world.

The incredible difficulty of saying any of this. Which Naess also acknowledges, saying the difficult job of conveying being felt in the world leads to music, to art, to sitting with the natural and sensing beauty. I might add: Poetry. Though poems are made of words, they often operate through images and felt moments rather than intellectual logic.

Ann E. Michael, Norway’s Philosopher

As she packs up her office,
she thinks about habitat loss,
those orphaned animals stranded
in a world of heat and pavement.
She wishes she had saved
more money while she had a job.
She knows she will lose the house.
She wonders what possessions
will fit into her car.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Resources for the First Days of Climate Talks

will mice come to live in every room of my death

Grant Hackett [no title]

California-based “conceptual and experimental artist working in photography, writing, and hybrid forms” Robin Myrick’s debut full-length poetry title is I Am This State Of Emergency (Dallas TX: Surveyor Books, 2020), a project shaped through interviews and conversations with friends, acquaintances and eventually strangers across a wide political spectrum. As she writes as part of her “Author’s Statement” to open the collection, I Am This State Of Emergency is, first and foremost, a listening project, one that attempts to articulate how conversations and thinking around politics have shifted into a discourse that is far less civil than it had been, at least in recent years. “Cite your sources,” she writes, to open “67,” “please / and thank you / and fuck you [.]” She records conversations, arguments, beliefs and consequences, and the ideological distances that exist, whether newly formed or long-held, between individuals and communities. “The problem is now you see yourself,” she writes, to open “11,” “not how we see you / On an unrelated topic, someone’s been eating our porridge / On an unrelated topic, someone’s been gaining weight [.]” Her project shapes these conversations into poem-shapes, narrative sketches collaged into a numbered (and not titled) sequence slightly out of order: the collection opens with “19,” and then to “36,” “50,” “8,” “14” and so on. Some of the declarations made are quite terrible, and others enlightening: “I’m terrified of being outnumbered [.]”

I’ve long been fascinated by conceptual projects, especially those that include some kind of human component; one that allows for the ways in which words interact with each other and provide meaning, however stripped of context. After all, as Meredith Quartermain once wrote: words can’t help but mean. Through I Am This State Of Emergency, Myrick offers a poetry based on response and belief in an effort to, I would presume, understand just how vast the distances have become, whether as long-held considerations or newly-formed. “I am so tired / of this anger / it isn’t me / I tell myself / but when it happens / it is,” she writes, to open “99.” And as anyone might imagine, it is impossible to approach such a breach in civil discourse without careful study; without, first, admitting how deep the distances might be.

rob mclennan, Robin Myrick, I Am This State Of Emergency

was it then and was it just there
that he saw the colour of saying
and in its saying laid the windless nights
wrenched the candle’s songs
down the laboured layers of his poems
flooding estuarine
saturnine watered
beer-soaked
milky-breaded to sleep
was it just for us that he wrought alone
i thought the thought
that he might have done

Jim Young, dylan’s writing shed

Dear Tom. 

I’ve thought about it and you’re right, April is the cruelest month. I think of you all afternoon at the bank, the sleeves of your dress shirt rolled just above your wrists, holding the short stub of a pencil bent over the massive wooden desk, wiping your forehead and beginning again to write. Oh Tom, my nerves are bad tonight. What are you thinking? When summer came it wrecked me. I dreamed of clairvoyantes and tiny pearl eyes for weeks. Your voice a yellow fog that licked its way up and down my spine. I wrote poems about coffee spoons and clties crumbling around me. I imagine you the calmness surrounded by tempestuous women and hundreds of unruly cats. I have known the hours, known them all. But really, that is not what I meant. Not at all. 

Kristy Bowen, back to the source

Years ago I started imagining a saffron harvest, conjuring up the process of hundreds of humans, with their hands, turning fields of flowers into an essence, a spice, dried stigma so concentrated it’s almost like a drug. Time passed.  As I let it float, it took on disorienting dimensions.  I imagined it as a Dionysian foray into color, or a metaphoric turning of one matter — flower — into another — a spice.  Or one color — violet — into another — deeply inbued red-yellow. An ever-expanding chain of one sense – color – becoming another — scent — and another — flavor.

Someow I found myself in Consuegra, a small town in La Mancha, Spain, for the celebration of this year’s saffron harvest.  It was mysterious.  It rained.  We sat in an activity hall while children competed in saffron plucking contests, as if a spelling bee or lego competition.  The elder women peered over shoulders of the children — the spectacled, the quick, the chubby — until the first jumped up, having separated the pale violet petals of the autumn crocus, picked that morning, into a pile of zingy red threads.  Did the girls know these were the female organs of the flower?  

Probably as we are in the world of the farm, field and deep senses (and windmills — Cervantes set Don Quixote in this wonderfully stalwart land).  How arresting to see the old women sitting with meditative patience and impeccable eyesight extracting the silky threads.  Color becomes the sound of a talking drum, something tribal communicated across time and space for tradition has run in these towns for centuries.  That evening, as in the past, women toasted red threads in their kitchens to take away moisture, then packaged and sold as the world’s most expensive spice.  Alchemy! Red gold. A Dionysian foray into color? We’ll have to wait for the poem.  

Jill Pearlman, The Alchemical Saffron Harvest

We gather bushels of blue into breath. Song breath. Breathsong.

If you lend your name to the air, it comes back to you far brighter, like an open heart and all the light it offers.

The beauty of it all is enough to recall those darker, riskier times when we traveled through night on just the moon’s siphoned kisses.

Times when hitchhiking ghosts took the shape of our wildest dreams.

Renewal is sweet. So is a baptism in pools of hallelujahs.

Song breath. Breathsong.

Carry one another skyward on each breath of hellos.

Rich Ferguson, So bountiful the sky

Over the last few days, I have been unwittingly pelted with poetry. I received two books of poems from an old friend of mine in Ireland, and I also revived my temporarily-slumped role reading submissions for the upcoming Fall issue of the travel-themed literary magazine I volunteer for. I had almost forty submissions to catch up on, so it was a marathon few days of being inundated with poems. I was ignoring poetry in my deep preoccupation with untenable work stress and other issues, and it flew into my world like that scene in Harry Potter where thousands of letters pour into his house notifying him that he is accepted into Hogwart’s. Poetry is not just inviting itself into my life, it’s full-on invading, which is a very good thing indeed.

Kristen McHenry, 70’s Theme Song Jubilee, Pelted with Poetry, A Rose Alone

You can read my poem Night Vigil in the latest issue of Cumberland River Review; this poem is about the last night I spent with my daughter Kit before she was removed from life support (about two years ago exactly). It is an intensely emotional and personal poem for me–it touches on but can’t completely tell you what that experience was like. Some things are beyond poetry.

Renee Emerson, new poem in Cumberland River Review

The pain
comes to you

because it has
nowhere

else to go,
the old monk says.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (39)

There’s a spot on the grounds of the Columbia Winery near my house where I can reliably find Fairy Tale mushrooms (or Amanita muscaria) every year, but not until the flowers are nearly done and it’s started to feel like winter. It seems like a metaphor for the hidden beauties of this time of year; sometimes they take a little seeking out.

There was a meme going around on social media, something like, “This month I’m doing a challenge called November. It’s where I try to make it through every day of November.” That feels very true this year, in which we find ourselves confronting the end of the second year of the pandemic, getting booster shots, still unsure of whether it’s safe or not to…travel? see loved ones? have an indoor holiday dinner? It’s deflating to think that we are still dealing with the uncertainty and misery of the pandemic even after vaccines, plus now empty shelves at the stores (supply chain issues,) and a general feeling of malaise that’s hitting everyone from doctors (my brilliant hematology specialist of 18 years is going on “unlimited sabbatical” and my ER doctor friend from Alaska has moved to New Zealand) to mailpeople and retail workers. Don’t feel bad – this is hard. It is not your imagination. Do what it takes to survive this winter, and don’t feel like you have to be your usual ambitious, sparkling, driven self. I know I am casting around, looking for escape – should I move again? Get a job in a different city? Should I just decorate for the holidays way early, put on pajamas for the whole month and constantly stream Christmas specials?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Time Change, A Poem in Waterstone Review, Surviving November in the Second Year of the Plague

I am letting go of the anxiety. The state of “braced for bad news”. Too rigid, I broke under the strain. And that is okay. We break. And we heal. Again and again. Not always stronger. But who said strong was the goal? Supple is an odd word. I don’t care for the sound of it, but it is the right word. Perhaps trying to use physical metaphors to describe the psyche is all wrong anyway.

The wind is blowing this morning. The clouds are lit by the greenhouses. Light pollution, yes, but it means I can see the wind in the sky. I can see the great burlesque of stars covered and dis-covered. Just a bit of the old Hunter’s Moon visible in the dark. Fully present, regardless.

The real world outside ourselves is both ephemeral and eternal. If not the world, than the universe. If not the universe, then whatever it is that has no need to be “strong”. No need to measure existence in successes and failures.

A colleague’s toddler has Covid. And we are scrambling to find the latest guidelines. National. Local. I pull the box of masks out of the cupboard again. But this is no longer exceptional. It is no longer a state of emergency. It is.

These days are passing. From my perspective. The constellations moving. From my perspective. Leaves falling – fallen. Darkness closing in from both ends of each day. A space for deep work.

And it is time to stop thinking about all of this uncertainty, this grief, these fears as a kind of time-out.

Ren Powell, The End of Exceptional Days

The line that’s been buzzing round my head this week is the final phrase from Michael Laskey’s miracle poem of self-care, ‘The Day After’. Though I have blogged about it before, it has struck me with fresh force this week.

In particular, I have been noticing how the poem’s verbs (‘prompted’, ‘argued’, ‘added’, ‘slicing’, ‘came clean’, ‘simmering’, ‘thickened’, ‘startled’, ‘heated through’, ‘notice’, ‘speak’) and nouns and noun phrases (‘raw morning air’, ‘nod of the knife’, ‘wrapped up in themeselves’) combine to talk of food not only as recipe but as therapeutic practice.

The Swiss side of my family (my mother’s) are slow eaters. The other, my father’s (English, boarding school – though not my father himself), tend to eat very fast. I know which I inherited from the most. It is not a habit I am proud of, and one I am working hard to change. Each time I find myself gorging on houmus and cheese straight from the fridge or standing to consume half my body weight in toast after a walk with the dog, I have to remind myself out loud that it is not only ok but important to slow down, or even to let it fall sometimes. ”You’ve got to eat’, Anthony,’ I say, ‘but the how is more important than the how much or how fast.’

Anthony Wilson, The day after

I wish you a beautiful week ahead. I wish that the inner voice no longer tells you you’re fucking up. I wish for you like minds to convene with. I wish for you to intuit what others need before they need it. May your typing devices be beautiful and full of soul. May you have the energy to be generous. May your generosity be well received. May you have the patience and fortitude you require. May your days hold the proper balance of silence and music.

Shawna Lemay, As a Hobby

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 40

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, the cast of the sea, the happy accident, living down the road from Wendell Berry, Lear’s shadow, the possessions of the dead, secreting a minuscule rainbow, spiders on skis, and more.


It’s a sunny day in a quaint Ohio town. I’ve taken up a position on the sidewalk under a blue tent. Most people going by avert their eyes.

I’m here because, nearly two years ago, I agreed to do a book signing at an independent bookshop so adorable it could easily serve as the setting for a novel. The pandemic postponed this signing so long that I’m sitting here with the title that came out before my most recent book.

Although I’ve had four books published, I’ve never done an individual bookstore event before. Readings, yes. Workshops, yes. Group signings like the annual fabulous Author Alley at Loganberry Books, yes. This is a fresh experience for me. Other writers have told me bookstore signings can be excruciating. Often the only people who stop by are those asking if there’s a public bathroom or where the horror section is located. Today I’ll discover what it’s like for myself. Except I’m not inside, I’m out on the sidewalk. The open-sided tent blocks the pavement, meaning passersby must walk under it. This forces them to decide whether to look or not look at the strange woman sitting a few hopeful feet away.

I brought a basket of wrapped chocolates, a pen, bookmarks, and a little poster noting that a portion of each book sale goes to support the work of Medina Raptor Center. I brought what I hope is enough curiosity about this experience to tamp down my ongoing urge to hide in the stacks of the bookstore behind me. I tell myself I will savor the face of every person going by. I will spend by two whole hours being fully present.

Laura Grace Weldon, Experiment In Savoring

looking out of the glass doors of the foyer
he thought the afternoon light had taken on the cast of the sea
the car park a washed out watercolour

he was silent all the way home

Paul Tobin, THE CAST OF THE SEA

I had made an effort. I had put on a jacket. I had prepared. The words of my first poetry mentor Stewart Henderson came back to me in the half-dark: ‘It doesn’t matter if you are only reading to your mother, a cat and two children, you still honour the text of your words and knock it out of the park.’ So I did.

I read and read and read about death, my-not-quite-my-own, and others’, what that does to you, your body, your mind, your capacity to live in the fullness of life having not-died even though sometimes you think you might have.

As it grew darker, another voice from the beginning-of-things came back to me, this time in the form of a poem: Brendan Kennelly’s magnicifent ‘The Gift’, specifically his line about ‘places that were badly-lit’.

About ten seconds before going on, the organiser had asked me if it was light enough to read by. I replied that it was. But by the time I was half-way through I felt as though I was lancing my words into the outer darkness, a strange sensation for a thing that was at once so grand and intimate. (This reminds me of certain books I have written, still available here and here.) I could not see a soul. I found the experience bizarrely comforting. The universe seemed to be saying: poetry has always been like this. You want to play at Wembley? Do something else.

Anthony Wilson, Badly-lit

I’ve been thinking about the happy accident, the thing that sometimes happens in creative work where two or three things come together in an unexpectedly useful way. I’ve been working on some videopoems, and I find the happy accident is one of the delights of making work in that genre.

When I put together a videopoem, I’m usually working with text I’ve already created, and then either creating my own visuals or using visuals someone else created. I usually record myself speaking my text in Garageband, dump it into iMovie, develop a library of potential images, and then start flinging them into the layout to see what I can make of it all.

And in this way, there’s always some unplanned and surprising moment or two — the text is saying something compelling just as an image appears that resonates with it. I find those moments and work outward from there. Then if I add another layer of sound, for example, more correspondences can happen…along with other more chaotic effects that have to be reined in.

Marilyn McCabe, Oye como va; or, On Creative Happenstance

I have often envied writers who have or have had a ‘shed’ at their disposal for writing, reading and contemplation, whether the structure has been a driftwood hut, a remote bothy or a garden gazebo. Dylan Thomas and the Reverend R.S. Hawker both had writing huts with coastal views. I would definitely opt for one of these.  

Of course, it isn’t only writers who have huts. The photograph below shows a hut on Romney Marsh in Kent, provided for the ‘lookers’, folk who were asked to care for huge flocks of sheep on behalf of the land owners, who considered the marsh an unhealthy place in which to live. 

Unlike the shepherds, who only minded a single flock, lookers were responsible for sheep belonging to more than one owner. The workers were based at their huts by day, and at lambing times found themselves camping out in them overnight. 

It seems ironic to me that the hut in the photo below, designed for these lookers, seems so devoid of windows.

Caroline Gill, National Poetry Day 2021, Theme of ‘Choice’

There’s nothing like asking for blurbs that reminds me that I am probably the least glamorous of poets.

Wendell Berry can isolate on his farm, and everything thinks it’s cool. No big readings or university gig or living in the big city or editing the big magazine? Just out in the fields? It’s cool. It’s romantic.

But what about the stay-at-home homeschooling mom of six? Why is changing diapers just less romantic than shoveling manure?

Take the author photo for example–Wendell Berry could do a nice right-in-front-of-a-barn photo.

If we are being completely honest here, I should probably be pictured in front of a sinkload of dirty dishes, or maybe sitting on the floor next to a pile of laundry.

Renee Emerson, why can’t I be cute like Wendell Berry?

Growing up, I wasn’t ever interested in poetry. I only learned about “dead poets” in middle school and early high school, so I gathered that poets were extinct, much like dinosaurs. Then I changed schools and I just so happened to end up in classes with one of Wendell Berry’s grandchildren. Turns out Wendell Berry even taught at the school! (One English class, every other week, if I remember correctly.) While I never had him in class, my brother did—for which I will always be envious.

Being in the same building as Wendell Berry, seeing him in the lobby waiting to take his grandkids home for the day…it really put poetry on the map for me, but I thought Wendell was an anomaly at the time. His farm, as it turned out, was just down the road from my family’s farm, so I viewed him more as a neighbor rather than a monumental figure. But in college, when I attended an English class with the prose poet David Shumate, that all changed. In his course, I was introduced to contemporary poetry. I noticed a poem by Wendell in the assigned anthology, which (I think, ashamedly) was the first time I ever read his poetry. Among Wendell were poets like Rita Dove, W.S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, Ted Kooser, Elizabeth Bishop, etc. There was poetry written, at that time, within the last few years! Not centuries ago. It was poetry that didn’t rhyme. Poetry that referenced cars, computers, cell phones…the technology of my modern experience. These poems spoke to me as no other poem had up until that point. As a result, I was finally able to look back at the poets I’d learned in high school, those poets of centuries ago, with appreciation. The rest, as they say, is history.

Daniel Lassel, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Daniel Lassell (rob mclennan)

When my parents moved to a senior-living campus about 10 years ago, one of the hardest aspects of downsizing was what to do with the books. My dad’s bookshelves were full of texts that he found meaningful, valuable, inspirational, informational, necessary; he loved to read. Choosing which books to give away and which to keep was agonizing for him. And then he faced the task again when he and my mother moved to a smaller, assisted-living apartment. That time, he donated many of his books to the facility’s library, so he could “visit” them if he needed them. There remained one large bookcase. Because you can’t live a happy life without books!

Then he died; and my mother, who also loved to read, developed such aphasia that she could no longer decipher sentences. Now, every time I visit, she gestures at the books and urges me to take some of them. It’s hard to explain the response I have to taking home my dad’s books–a mixture of tenderness and discomfort, nostalgia and pain. Sometimes I end up giving the books away, but usually I read them first. Because they are books and deserve to be read, somehow, just by virtue of existing. No–by virtue of their having been significant to my dad. That is why I feel compelled to read them.

Ann E. Michael, Being receptive

What happens to someone’s life –not the body or the soul but the million pieces one leaves in the world.   Where does it go?  Who does it belong to?  The saddest and most interesting things at thrift stores are the caches of random photos and ephemera, no doubt rescued from someone’s house.  These cabinet cards felt like that.  My aunt told me there were mine and to do with them what I would, but I could not bring myself to wreck them, so carefully scanned each one and tucked the originals away.  A few weeks ago I came across them straightening my studio area at home and was tempted to toss them again.  I did not. But then I wondered why not? Some day, when I am dead, because I have no children, someone will find them and throw them away. 

Stuff makes me anxious..even more personal stuff.  While the thought of someone one day packing up clothes and books for donation is less frightening, I think of my photo albums. My journals. Yearbooks from middle school and junior high. Several scrapbooks–writing related, theatre related. My folders full of poem drafts. Where does this go/  Who owns it when i am gone??  Who even wants it? Will those same victorian photos of people somehow distantly related to me wind up in the hand of another artist like me. A collector of odd random things. 

Which of course, brings us back to the project.  The letters (fictional) from one sister to another across time and distance. Somewhere I have a few odd letters from high school penpals.  Some notes from friends in the years before e-mail.  Letters sent from family when I was living in North Carolina and badly wanted mail. There were some love letters I once kept– From an ex who spent time incarcerated for the better part of a year and wrote often. (though I briefly and unwisely  revived this entanglement a couple years later, the letters I tossed in 2013.)  As e-mails and text became the prime ways to communicate, the paper trail has dwindled. Thankfully, no one will read my letters when they are gone.  As a writer who wonders how much of famous authors writings they actually would shiver to see published now, this is a big relief.  

Kristy Bowen, the things we leave behind

i folded the sheet of newspaper into a hat
the way my mother did when I was a child
if i made two more folds
it would have become a boat
but i stop at the hat and i place it on my head
once upon a time i did this to please my mother
so she would know that i learned from her
years later i wore the hat to make my children laugh
now my mother is gone and so are the children
in the silence of the house i wear the foolish hat
a hat made of folded newspaper.
no one sees
no one laughs
from outside
i hear the sound of a blue jay.
it is a lonely sound

James Lee Jobe, i wear the foolish hat

Calling my front yard a “lawn” is a bit of a stretch, because it’s mostly weeds. My main strategy has been to plant different ground cover that will reduce the need to mow, but I’ll still have to find a way to remove the leaves from the beds in November/December. I loathe leaf blowers, but at least I have an electric one that isn’t too loud.

My mom also gave me some tiny purple and green leafy plants that I identified as common bugle. In the spring it grows tiny purple flowers. I have some cultivated bugle whose leaves are shiny and lush, and it has grown into enormous clusters.

But since I’ve transplanted my mom’s shoots, I’ve seen tiny bugles dotting the neighborhood, growing like little wildflowers weeds do, freely and with abandon.

I suppose you could say my writing life is like the common bugle or a humble wildflower weed. I plant my little fragments of poetry that live in tattered notebooks until I take notice of them and marvel at a flash of color that deserves some cultivation.

Christine Swint, Gardening and Poetry

The month one of my daughters stopped
speaking to me I’d step out of the door after rain
and see a proliferation of spores across the yard:
jack-o-lanterns, burnt matches, false morels
issuing from deep in the earth where a chain
of changes is always fluctuating like tectonic
plates. I didn’t know how the slightest nudge
could tear a stalk from loam, a colony
from a shingle of bark; and yet they always
came back. I didn’t know how long
I could hold a grief like that.

Luisa A. Igloria, Spores

Lear.  …who is that can tell me who I am?

Fool.  Lear’s shadow.

Lear’s mistake is to try to lay down his burden. He thinks that he has earned a rest. Nobody earns a rest. We just go to our rest, when we are called. All that trying to lay your burden down ahead of time does, is deliver you to the mercy of hellkites, and take your true and loyal daughter away from you.  You may not understand it, but you are holding something together. It is not your job to second-guess the future. It is your job to pay attention to your nearest and dearest, and use whatever meager discernment the years may have given you.

Dale Favier, The Quiet and Dark of Winter

These are ways maps are drawn, routes
The city bus takes in the grooves of the brain
Filled with buckets of tar: everything real
Duplicates by dubious recurrence— déjà vu.

Uma Gowrishankar, Mitya

On the trail, I wrote another tiny poem, having brought clipboard, paper, and pencil along. On the road back, I noted the irony of the road sign: pictorial leaping deer + “next 2 miles.” My heart split, sending out the warning, Stay where you are! to the deer in the preserve, and wishing for Bill his last venison sausage. Alas, we did see a small deer dead by the side of the road.

Kathleen Kirk, Deer Blind

[…]
extra slices of bread after dinner
and soft butter in the dish

the infant asleep
in five minutes

asleep again in two
__________

I have an unpublished chapbook called m(other), and this is a poem in it that I think about a lot–I did this morning, when there was soft butter on the counter. Postpartum depression can make the smallest acts monumental, overwhelming–even something little like setting out butter, washing a dish, picking up a sock. I struggled mightily with any sense of self during my first postpartum experience–and this poem is a ledger of remembering some of the graces in life, despite a deep soul-body weariness.

Han VanderHart, a counting list : postpartum depression

I had hopes of working on a new poem during Shabbat, but my body had other plans. I spent most of Shabbat lying on a heating pad, remembering that when the sciatica flares up, poetry is hard to come by.

The world becomes very immediate. Past and future both recede. I’m firmly in the now of pressing into the heating pad in hopes that spasming muscles and pinched nerve will yield into release.

Rachel Barenblat, Stillness

Last weekend I ran along the shore and the air was still. But the sea was still churning from the storm that had passed through. Tall waves, dark and edged with a white so opaque I could imagine I was running through an oil painting.

Sometimes writing is like wading into a stream where others have left all the stories to flow together, to flow through your hands, around your waist and into new ribbons of currents of hot and cold shining with the tiny creatures that give the world life, that take the world’s life. There’s nothing to claim here. Not really. It all runs to the ocean.

I miss writing.

Ren Powell, The Opposite of Disassociation

School summer holidays are a dream come true. 6 weeks paid leave; the pay for a teaching assistant is miserably low, but all the same, time verses money – there’s no contest. Anyway, this summer I went back to the music shop where I bought my first instrument, booked a private appointment for an hour and ended up staying three, and came home with the most gorgeous, deep-toned instrument that should keep me going for a few years to come. I realise that I’m becoming a guitar geek but I can live with that. I’ll never be a great player but I can live with that too because like most things I get involved with, it’s the ‘doing’ that I enjoy most. And I still enjoy ‘doing’ poetry, but when you give your time to one thing, something else has to give. So recently, the new guitar has been taking up most of my time. I’ve not abandoned haiku, but having prioritised my interests, the blog has suffered a bit. So, this post is just to say that I’m still here, and I’m still writing, but I’m also enjoying the sound of my new guitar (and in case you were wondering what has happened to the old one, it’s now in a different tuning so I have some new tunes and techniques to learn).

And I’m still enjoying reading whatever Snapshot Press publishes (John Barlow is not only an accomplished haiku poet but an influential figure in UK publishing). I can highly recommend his book (below) and I’ll leave you with the title poem:

evening surf …
sandpipers waiting
for the seventh wave

Julie Mellor, Playing the acoustic

[Rob Taylor]: I’ve always felt like there are two types of poets: those who want to write and write and write until the moment the universe stops them, and those whose writing is a means toward reaching an eventual silence (even if they never fully arrive). Funnily, considering you’ve published eighteen books of poetry (in addition to plays, essays, translations…), I’ve long thought of you as the second type. Your poems are filled with words, but your longing for “the clearing” (in the breath you take from the lord), for the impossible “pure concept” of home (in A Ragged Pen), for religious peace (“The Church of Critical Mass”), and for Buson’s butterfly, all speak to a reaching beyond words, towards a silent place.

Would you say the path you’re walking is one toward (voluntary) silence? If so, has it been a smooth one? (I note that you write elsewhere “rising to speechlessness, that ladder of desire… how many times you’ve fallen.”) What role does poetry play, for you, in walking that path?

[Patrick Friesen]: I don’t have a clear answer for you here. I’m just walking the path, no goal in sight. Not aiming for silence or for more noise. Just moving along. There are points where I become “speechless,” whether because of events in my life or because I’ve reached some kind of impasse, or point of boredom, in my writing. This just happens quite naturally. Then, after a pause, it continues. Perhaps one of these days that pause will become permanent, but it’s not something I’m aiming for. I have a friend who wrote every day, published a lot, much more than I have, but he reached a point where he said he suddenly couldn’t write anymore. That was it. He thought he might write again, but it’s been a couple of years. How to explain that? In my life I arrive at times where I am silent, need to be silent, and sometimes I think this is the way it should be from then on. I have great admiration for those mystics who achieved silence. But how does that happen? Would I run out of words? Get tired of putting them on the page? Would the words feel so empty finally that silence already existed, only I had to recognize it? I’ll be vague here and say it’s a process of spirit.

Rob Taylor, One Foot In, One Foot Out: An Interview with Patrick Friesen

I’m a dedicated freewriter. I especially like that freewriting has roots in poet Jack Kerouac’s stream of consciousness, “spontaneous prose,” the Surrealist Movement’s “automatic writing,” and in Yeat’s “trance-writing.” (Check out this videopoem by Helena Postigo, “I Think of Dean Moriarity.”)

My first introduction to freewriting was in a college English class in 1980. At first, I simply hated it. I stopped often, stumbled, stared at the clock, felt awkward, and concluded that freewriting was a huge waste of time. However, I had to turn in my daily freewrites as part of my grade, so, in spite of my resentment, I kept at it.

It got easier, and eventually I saw the value of this exercise: getting unfiltered, unedited and unpredictable ideas onto a piece of paper as fast as possible, before your left brain can take over and squelch your spontaneity. 

Many, if not most, of my completed poems, essays, reviews and articles started as freewrites. Sometimes I’m not even aware that’s I’m doing; I might open my journal up to a blank page and start making lists of words, which become sentences and phrases.

Erica Goss, Generating New Poems from Freewrites

Pamela Hobart Carter’s new poetry book, Held Together with Tape and Glue is a collection of gentle meditations, mostly on ordinary topics.  Some of the poems are erasure poems, but I couldn’t tell which if I hadn’t read the acknowledgements in the front of the book.  There’s no flaunting of technique here, but the poems are very assured.

Consider the opening of “Relined”:

Look at the world
as if for the first time

Beside us
rivers
A sense of passage

to carry your self
into its next version.

Or “On the Word”:

Here we are.  On the page.  On the word.
On the dot or the hook or the serif.

Here we are.  In the big city. In this house.
In this room or the kitchen.  Here lies truth.

Truth lies, here on the sofa, with us,
with our feet are up, stocking-footed,

shoes tidily stowed in the closet
when we came in from clearing dead leaves.
. . .

One of the longer poems, this one ends: “How did we get so good at calendars and clocks, /still ignorant of true passage.”

One of my favorites is “Bed” which goes through the making of a bed in detail: tug the corners, match the sides, use your hand like an iron to flatten the sheet.  It ends “smooth/as. smooth/ the mind. /done said/done, and day/is readymade.” 

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Held Together with Tape and Glue by Pamela Hobart Carter

This Wednesday, 13th October, at 7.30pm British Summer Time, I’ll be one of the two guest readers (the other is Maggie Sawkins) at the launch of Greg Freeman’s collection, Marples Must Go!, published by Dempsey and Windle.

I admire Greg’s poetry very much, and admire him as someone who does a great deal of good for the poetry community. His poetic and geographical milieu is similar to mine – he grew up in a road where my dad and grandparents also lived for a few years, near Surbiton Lagoon, and he went to the secondary school opposite the one I went to, a few years apart!

I wrote an endorsement for Greg’s book, as follows:

“The sharp, entertaining poems in Marples Must Go! encompass a cornucopia of themes – first love, music, the newspaper trade, cycling, am-dram and holidays – but also the corruption, pigheadedness and racism of politicians, past and present, intent on ‘making mugs of us all’. In this richly enjoyable collection, Greg Freeman celebrates the best – and skewers the worst – of England.”

If you would like the Zoom link for the treading, please message Greg via Twitter – @gregfreempoet.

Matthew Paul, Reading this Wednesday

There was an article in the New York Times that had everyone buzzing, a mean-spirited article about writers being bad to each other. (If you want to read it, just google “bad art friend.” You’ll probably also get some hot takes on the article.)

But what I want to say is that in twenty years as a reviewer, volunteer, writer, editor, MFA student, and MFA instructor, I have experienced and witnessed so much kindness and generosity among writers. Maybe good art friends make for less scintillating reading, but I feel if you’re going to shine a light on a community in the art world, it should be on the wonderful, supportive, encouraging things they do for each other. I include artists and musicians in this because we all make so little money and work so hard but still what I’ve seen is artists helping each other, letting each other know about opportunities, writing blurbs, recommendations, giving each other advice…this, in my experience, has been more the norm than the opposite.

Are there mean, terrible, miserably-hearted people in the art world? Of course, like everywhere else. But I am so happy to say that most of the community supports each other. When a writer or artist gets sick, they send a care package or note; when they’re looking for work, people try to steer them towards open positions; when they’re feeling depressed about a rejection, they get encouragement; when they get good news, friends celebrate. Maybe I’m not cynical enough, or I’ve been surrounded by a lot of super-nice people by accident, but I think that good art friends are more the rule than bad art friends.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Book Announcement, Bad and Good Art Friends, a New Poem in Image, and a Rough Week (with Fall Colors!)

Something shimmers, the length of a necklace,
flecks of silver, of pink, of blue almost tinsel
on the lawn like living breathing Mylar
delicately held by every blade of grass.
What could be more humble than the slug?
A snail without home on its back.
Secreting a minuscule rainbow
to grease its wayward path.

Jill Pearlman, In the Beginning, the Slug

The spider spent most of the time just telling us to stop mucking about and just get on with it. And she— I think it’s a she—was absolutely correct. We’ve been putting these jobs off for a while, waiting for the right moment, etc and lo and behold that moment never came, or something else got in the way, but now the jobs are done and we can move on.

The same thing happened this week with a poem. I have actually written one and finished it for the first time since August. It’s not actually that long, but it’s felt like forever. However, amazingly, if you sit down and stop prevaricating, it’s weird, but the work gets done. I can’t say for definite the poem is my best yet, but it does feel like it’s a progression of some kind. If nothing else, I think the first draft started from a stronger place than some of the final drafts of older work. I will take that. And so, now the work begins on the next one.

National Poetry Day came and went again this week. As ever, I applaud the intentions of it. I’m never sure if it leads to much, but anything that makes some noise about poetry can’t be a bad thing. I note, for instance, there was nothing about it at my daughter’s school this week.

My concessions to it were the aforementioned poem being worked on. I don’t think the celebration was for that though. I also made vague allusions to the classics in an email for work where I referenced “Project Persephone”. This was a potential project name, but it was discarded as we a) felt there was a better option and b) felt that the referencing the borders between life and death was a bit much for a brand tracking project.

Mat Riches, Spiders on Skis….

Drum skins storm the air with thrumder.

Rhythm hymns of pulse and pattern, syncopation and sway.

When you caress a drum, soul does the speaking through fingers.

Leave your fears and defeats in alleyways, hop the train steaming towards liberation.

Sing your animals and angels, your mantras and malevolence as hands conjure spirits of new beat happenings.

Rich Ferguson, Drumspeak

falling down
the stone steps
a brook

Jason Crane, haiku: 6 October 2021

there is in my baptism a stone that i bathe

Grant Hackett [no title]

a poem written 
splashed on a pebble 
thrown in the sea

Jim Young [no title]

It is here always where I recall the imperative.
Where I re-learn the lesson of my divine
irrelevance. Where I receive full clemency, where there is
only fervor for my blemished soul, where there is room for nothing
but the grand helpless lungs of the sea, the sandpipers
free on the brine of its draft, all things found and all forgotten.

Kristen McHenry, A Poem!

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Weeks 37-38

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. I’ve spent all afternoon and evening catching up on two weeks’ worth of poetry blogs — an embarrassment of riches. I found posts about the changing seasons, poetry and music, diversity and the immigrant experience, and much more.


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

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ All that matters

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

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

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

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

Dale Favier, Equinox

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

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

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Fall Equinox

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, Acknowledging Medusa

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

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

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

Collin Kelley, Self-portrait at 52

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

Jill Pearlman, Games of Shadow and Being

all morning
the shadow of a birdcage
moves across the wall

Jim Young [no title]

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, This is the Story

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

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

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

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

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [8] On prohibitions

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

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, Trying to write the next poem

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

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

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

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

Anyway, change isn’t always a bad thing.

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

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

Romana Iorga, astronomy 101

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

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Why don’t you write?

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

Jason Crane, phantoms

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

Luisa A. Igloria, Post-

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

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

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

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

Matthew Paul, Autumn almanac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, Take One: Recording Poetry

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

It came to her naturally as breathing.

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

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

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

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

My daughter continues singing.

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

Rich Ferguson, At the store of perpetual optimism

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

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, notes from the submission wilds

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

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

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

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

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

Mat Riches, Review, review…electric blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two poems per month.

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

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

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

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

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

So, two poems a month.

Better than none.

Renee Emerson, slow & steady

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Pratt, A Teaching Prep Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Free Time and Fun

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

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

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

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

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

Bethany Reid, The Autumn Equinox

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, What endures

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

James Lee Jobe, just fine poetry?

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

In the powerline cut, a raptor cry.

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

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

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

JJS, attendance

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

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 34

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: the changing season, remembering and dismembering, bibliophilia, obsolete office equipment, mountains, labyrinths, pedagogy, and more.


Besides gardening, I gave myself a writing challenge. To write every morning, which I did faithfully at the start of summer, and was successful in completing poems, 100 word stories, lyric essays. As the summer progressed, I had to divide my attention. Big garden commitment. Of course, the gardens need the care of small children. I mean things can get out of control pretty fast. So I fussed over everything every day. You guessed it, in the morning, before the sun got too hot. A chunk of writing time spent in the garden. But not lost time, I think I was writing in the garden. Loose thoughts coming together in my head. Lines repeating as I weeded. It was good work. I am grateful for this life on the farm. How it restores me. […]

I wanted to create several manuscripts this summer, and I was successful. I have a micro-chapbook of prose (lyric essays and a prose poem) called In a Silent Way; a chapbook of  twenty-four 100 word stories called Rock. Paper. Scissors.; andmy fifth full-length poetry collection called The Weight of Air. I have submitted these manuscripts to chapbook competitions and presses. 

On 8/6/2021, I submitted The Weight of Air to Kelsay Books for possible publication.  It was accepted on 8/19/2021, with publication scheduled for May, 2022.  I am thrilled by this good news. 

Soon, the air will change, and shadows will grow longer, and autumn with be upon us. Another change of season.

M.J. Iuppa, Last Days of August: Looking Back on Summer

The rasp of my knife
against charcoal, smell of fire:
an autumn hunger.

Liz Lefroy, I Scrape My Toast

A few days in London was a real tonic. And it’s still pretty quiet and tourist-free. We visited some more of the fascinating City churches, also the much-revamped Museum of the Home, and just enjoyed exploring London on foot.

We also went to the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy, The Arrival of Spring. It’s two (or three?) rooms of the paintings Hockney did in France during Spring 2020, recording the same trees, plants and landscapes as they transitioned from bare and cold to full greenery and colour. I was quite taken aback – the colours are just indescribably beautiful, and the whole idea of Spring and how it always comes back, no matter what… I don’t know why but I started welling up and before I knew it I was standing in the middle of the room completely in tears. I’ve never had that kind of reaction to any art, so it rather took me aback. I guess the last 18 months have been harder than I thought. […]

[M]y bedside reading is currently A Length of Road by Robert Hamberger. It’s an utterly absorbing and very personal account of Rob’s walk in the footsteps of John Clare. It’s a meditation on Clare’s poetry, and also nature writing but mostly a beautiful and honest memoir, and perfect reading for the quiet night time journey down into sleep.

Robin Houghton, Meet-ups, currently reading & other distractions

Fewer people come to the cemetery service each year. When I began serving this community, ten years ago, we would have at least a dozen. We’d set up a circle of folding chairs and pray the afternoon service. And then people would take pebbles and quietly walk through the cemetery, leaving stones to mark their visits to parents or grandparents or great-grandparents. Some members of my shul are fourth or fifth generation; they have ancestors to visit here.

These days only a few people come. Many of those who used to attend the cemetery service each year are now buried in that same cemetery. I like to think that I am still davening with them each year when we convene on a Sunday before Rosh Hashanah. There was one gentleman who always used to come to the cemetery service and then quip, “Rabbi, don’t forget, you’re doing my funeral!” And I’d always say, “No time soon, please.”

The custom of visiting our ancestors at the cemetery before the new year feels old-fashioned. It comes from a time when people didn’t migrate much. Today most of the members of my small shul are not fourth- or fifth-generation members. They’re transplants, like me. I’ve been here now for almost thirty years (and have served as the rabbi here for a decade.) This is my home, and my son’s home. But our beloved dead aren’t here.

Rachel Barenblat, Paying respects

Second: when we ask “where is everybody?” we assume that everyone will be interested in space travel. But here again, we are the odd man out among the intelligent species we know. We are colonists. Other intelligent animals, except possibly corvids, show no interest in moving into other ecological niches. They want to stay where they are. We have the odd notion of going outside our biome: to other creatures I’m guessing that this will be a very weird idea. Possible? Maybe. It might also be possible to take our brains and nervous systems, flay off everything else, put them into tanks, and take them to places our bodies couldn’t go… but why would you want to do such a thing? To more sophisticated creatures, I suspect that’s how leaving their ancestral biomes may strike them. We have no idea if we can create an off-world human biome, over the long term. Maybe we will be able to eventually. But maybe the idea is just plain nuts: biological nonsense. Maybe no one is visiting because no one wants to scrape the brains out of their bodies and fling them somewhere else. Maybe everyone else has a clear picture of how miserable a creature would be, outside its biome, and we haven’t quite figured it out yet.

Dale Favier, A Lonelier Thought

in those days he was expected to wear a suit and tie   over time the act of knotting his tie became a measure   for the thickness   the weave   the stiffness of the silk presented unique challenges   if it knotted easily then it would be plain sailing   if repeated attempts were required to achieve the desired effect then the day lay in ambush

but that was then

that job does not exist any more and he only needs one tie   black   like his suit for funerals

Paul Tobin, THE DAY LAY IN AMBUSH

A present memory and a much older re-memory are bleeding from a nightmare into my days. I suppose this is where the idea of repressed memories comes from? As though the present sends a hook down into the past and pulls up a fragment of a story along with the will to make sense of it.

This dark and stormy night. Fill in the blanks. But I know that – I believe that – there will never be a way to know the objective truth of a re-constructed memory. So I let it be. I admit I am tempted to try to name the atmosphere, a bit like recollecting a taste – the sweet, the umami, the mouthfeel – to shape it into something that can be put safely in a box. Identified and controlled. Like an ingredient in the recipe that makes us who we are. In this case: This darkness. This ambivalence. This vague childhood fascination of knowing there is an unknown something present in the energy that is as explosive, rich, and mesmerizing as death.

Is this a wisdom that only exists in the lifetime before rationalization becomes a habit? A trigger for sense that ushers us to a different kind of innocence/ignorance? A mature and willful distance. The illusion of control that we are so afraid to lose.

If this atmosphere of my memory is real, maybe it has no name because I had no name for it: for a sense memory connected to a psychological process but not to language. So it slips around the traps in my mind and flows into moments of my day, unexpectedly. Darkly.

And I am still fascinated. Like touching a wound. Like sticking a finger deep into the bloody gash to expose the mystery as… mystery.

Here is something as dark and textured as mushrooms. As sickness and birth and sex. Something true that cannot be contained.

Ren Powell, Trying Not to Dismember the Present

We got back from our camping trip last week and I’ve been busy ever since, not in a bad way, but busy all the same. My holiday read was The Essential Haiku – versions of Basho, Buson and Issa by Robert Hass (Bloodaxe Books 2013, f. pub. 1994). It’s a very readable book and Hass offers some clear and concise versions/ translations. Here’s one by Buson, picked at random:

Calligraphy of geese
against the sky –
the moon seals it.

Of course, one poem can’t represent the whole book, but I don’t want this post to be a review, so I’ll move on to my main point, which is that it’s been wonderful to be able to borrow this from the local library. As the ticket on the front cover says, ‘Borrowing from your library is the greener alternative to buying and you’ll be amazed by the selection.’ I’ve been trying to thin out the amount of books on my shelves over the last few months and the last thing I want to do is fill them up again, so for me, borrowing is a good way of saving space. It’s also a great way of trying a book without the commitment of purchasing it. […]

In terms of my own writing, I’ve found some inspiration in the Hass versions and if time allows, I’ll go back to his book and reread some of the poems. The books are on loan until the end of this week, so I’m relying on being able to renew them. I suppose this is the slight drawback to borrowing, although the plus side is that it does give you a gentle push to read them within a time frame, rather than putting them on a book pile (as I’m prone to do) and then taking months to get round to them.

Julie Mellor, Reader’s request

summer
through the two doors
one breeze

Jim Young [no title]

I’ve been listening to a lot of Ricki Lee Jones lately. God, I love her music. I’ve seen her in concert twice, both fantastic performances, if tinged occasionally with bad behavior. (To an accompanist who had apparently missed a cue: “Are you gonna play or not?”) I, who can’t remember the words to songs I memorized in order to sing myself in my own concerts, can remember every word of her songs, so often did I sing along in all those years of my fandom. I’m amazed at my recall. She’s got it all, as far as I’m concerned, jazz, soul, r&b, blues, all wrapped up in great stories. She’s always her own unique self. She’s so freaking cool. She’s got style, man.

And I thought about this when I read this quote somewhere or other from letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Here’s something Woolf wrote: “Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here I am sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it.”

Isn’t that interesting? And it seems true that I can have vague ideas about what to write, but it’s when words form with a certain order and beat, then I feel like I’ve got something started. It may not come to anything in the end, but I’ve got a start. With some words and a rhythm I’ve got a pathway, a cadence to get me moving along it. But then there’s the rest of the time, “crammed with ideas and visions” or just, as now, lax and languid, empty of words and music. Come on, Cecil. Gimme a dollar.

Marilyn McCabe, I’m in a halfway house on a one way street and I’m a quarter passed alive; or, On Style

Feeling guilty at the continued failure to Catch Up as planned. I went to see a doctor last week, and discussing after-effects of chemotherapy, and the business of withdrawal from steroids. We talked about the downsides of continuous low-level pain/discomfort. One of them is that to various degrees, you can’t concentrate; in my case it includes not being able to read for any length of time before it all becomes meaningless. Writing is a frustrating slow business…the words simply don’t line up and fall into place. But I’m heartened to find that it’s not just me, and that my doctor has a blanket term for it. She calls it ‘brain fog’. That’ll do for me. It explains why the collections waiting for me to write about (one in particular) are piling up, but it explains why I can do little about it for the time being.

What I CAN do is to keep the Cobweb ticking over.

I just stopped and stared at what I’d written. Can a cobweb tick? I think not. Mixed metaphors? Jeez. Possibly I meant to say that I’d keep on spinning. I’ll settle for that.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [6 ]: Birds of the air

This fall, I return to school as a student.  I’ll be an MDiv student at Wesley Theological Seminary.  […]

I’m intrigued at my responses to the course requirements.  Once I got the textbooks for the classes, I wasn’t as worried about the readings.  And I have continued to write in a variety of ways in the years since I graduated from college, so I’m not worried about that.

I am relieved that the course papers don’t seem to require access to a research library, but I’m also relieved that the Wesley library will ship books to me, at least according to the new student orientation course materials.

In fact, what’s strange for me is that I’m looking at the page requirements and worrying about my ability to be concise.  When I was in grad school for my advanced degrees in English, I fretted the other direction:  how would I ever write 10-20 pages?  Now I think, hmm, only 4 pages required?  Can I really develop these ideas in just 4 pages?

I feel fortunate that I’ve been writing daily during all the years between undergraduate classes and now.  Not everyone will have that part come so naturally to them.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A First Look at Seminary Classes

A grasshopper jumps through the window into the van, drawn by the lantern. He isn’t the only jumpy one. I’ve been having a mild but persistent panic attack since I picked up the Vandura on Sunday. My minivan slinked across the landscape like a cat in your peripheral vision. This big beast roars like a lion. You’d think more room would be better, but the minivan wrapped me like a cozy blanket, kept me safe, and gave me only as much space as I was comfortable controlling. There’s probably a question for a therapist in here somewhere. For now I’m going to trust my gut.

Jason Crane, Grasshopper

It is work to write, and to write your best work, and it is a different kind of work to send that work out into the world, maybe to be rejected and forgotten. This all while trying not to worry about the world, dying of covid right outside your door, or how to pay your bills, or why you are writing in the first place and not doing something to fix all the problems of that world outside your door. And yet, a butterfly outside your door appears, and momentarily, help and hope. And you feel you can write, and send out your work, again. […]

My husband is recovering from a paralyzed vocal cord, a fairly serious and maybe permanent problem. We are planning to take some time off and spend nearby in nature, unplugged from the internet and work and news. It is part of a life, a marriage, to being a good writer or a good employee, to take time off, to rest. Especially if you’re in the middle of year two of the plague, if you have immune system problems that make the plague more dangerous that it would be to others, if you feel that you are trembling on the verge of quitting something, if you have become depressed, hopeless, unable to sleep because of anxiety, short-tempered, too angry. It might be good to spend some time with trees in a forest, with waves of a sea bigger than you, to spend time noticing the end of summer blooms, and animal life, around you. In a whirlwind of tragedies, each tragedy might become less real to you, and we lose a bit of our humanity, our empathy, especially when we are stressed and tired and have already felt enough tragedy has happened. (Unfortunately we do not get to control this.) Does the world need you to fix it right this second? Or do you need time to heal yourself before you can do any good in the world? Listen to your self – what do you truly need? And go spend some time listening to the hummingbirds, the dahlias, whatever they’re saying.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Don’t Do Their Job for Them – More Breadloaf Thoughts and Rejections, Recovery, Rest, and Dahlias

Old, obsolete office equipment is a fascinating subject to me, since I’ve spent almost all my working life in offices (including my own; well it’s more of a room with a PC in it, but hey ho). When I first started in local government in Kingston in 1992, there were cupboards still full of weird gadgets which looked like instruments of torture: Gestetner duplicators, comb binding machines, gigantic hole-punchers, etc. As I may have related before, there was one word processor between 11 of us and it broke down regularly; and for the processing of many millions of pounds of student grants and fees per year, we used an old and creaking mainframe computer which churned out reams of print-outs. […]

Obsolete office equipment is also an excellent subject for poetry. I’ve written previously about Emma Simon’s delightful poem, ‘In the Museum of Antiquated Offices: Exhibit C, Fax Machine’, and have just come upon another, ‘Elonex Word Processor Circa 1998’ by Kath McKay, from her fine collection, Collision Forces, Wrecking Ball Press, 2015. As I’ve experienced at first hand, from Saturday writing sessions with the Poetry Business in Sheffield, Kath is a very perceptive and articulate poet who tells it how it is. This particular poem opens pricelessly:

Boxy as a Soviet car, it took up two thirds of my desk,
while others slimmed down, became pencil like.
This bod had to warm up. Every day rebooted seven
or eight times.

I’m sure many readers can empathise with that. The opening simile is perfectly judged, comically conveying a sense of this piece of hardware being innately behind the times. I like too the dry humour in that exaggerated second line and of that ‘bod’.

The poem goes on to encompass a search for her partner’s personal details following his sudden death, an event which understandably dominates the middle of the book:

Later I scoured the hard drive for your bank statements, spread sheets,
calendars: something of you coiled deep.

The last seven lines of the poem consist of a litany of old machines. As I implied when I wrote about Emma Simon’s poem, this obsolescence has a poignancy to it, and, of course, an ecological cost too, both to the extraction of the raw materials required for new products and to the waste of the old: about 10 years ago or more, an article in the Richmond and Twickenham Times, back when it still contained some proper-ish local journalism, revealed that hundreds of knackered computers from the local FE college had shamefully ended up dumped on a beach in Ghana.

Matthew Paul, On office machinery and Kath McKay

Over the years, and across more than a dozen poetry collections—including a volume of collected poems and a selected poems—since Air Occupies Space (Sesame Press, 1973), Canadian poet Don McKay’s poems seem to have become quieter. They were never exactly “loud,” I suppose, but there’s a level of quietude, almost zen-like, that his work has achieved over the past few years. To paraphrase McKay himself, he’s been composing poems enough that any bird would trust to light upon. His latest collection is Lurch (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021), a collection of lyrics that write of what we are in severe danger of losing entirely: of rhizomes, fungi and birds, examining a landscape that begins just there, at the edge of the bush, at the edge of the water. “Let’s pause and listen for what’s happening / underground,” he writes, to open the poem “RHIZOSPHERE,” “with the roots, the rhizomes, and / their close associates, the fungi and the worms.” There is an attention he puts enormous energy into, seeking clarifications on geologic time and the mechanics of birds. His interest in birding is well-established, going back to Birding, or Desire (McClelland and Stewart, 1983), with the evolution of attending the earth’s geologic shifts and consciousness within a decade or two, such as Another Gravity(McClelland and Stewart, 2000) and Strike/Slip (McClelland and Stewart, 2006). I mention all of this because of how the poems in Lurch extend everything he’s done prior, furthering conversations and concerns around nature’s frailty, both human and environmental, concerns around ecological disaster and the length and breath of the earth’s own history, even well before the emergence of human civilization. As he offers to close the poem “PROBLEMS IN TRANSLATION #23: BACK DRAG,” writing: “the back drag at my feet will not translate / as either fate or misery but / chuckles to itself—mountain / to boulder to cobble to / sand, affable and unhuman, the ancient / geologic joke I almost always / not quite but very nearly get.” He writes for the extinct, including the Passenger Pigeon and the Eskimo Curlew. He writes out the losses and those still to come, as he explores his certainties and uncertainties, and the long, slow process towards a particular kind of enlightenment that might never emerge. As he writes to close the poem “WIND’S INSTRUMENTS”: “Until here’s a little skirmish / come to ruffle your hair and lift / the fireweed fluff, to loft a pair of ravens / into aerial duet and hang plastic bags / in trees like shredded / non-biodegradable ghosts.”

rob mclennan, Don McKay, Lurch

In some language
the word for mountain
also means library.

Tom Montag, IN SOME LANGUAGE (67)

And then, thanks to one of [Victoria] Chang’s Notes at the back of the book [Salvinia Molesta], I assigned myself a little compare-contrast homework. Chang says her poem “‘Ars Poetica as Birdfeeder and Humingbird’ is conversing with Louise Gluck’s poem ‘Witchgrass’ in Wild Iris, in particular, her lines: ‘I don’t need your praise / to survive’ and ‘I will constitute the field.'” So I pulled out The Wild Iris, possibly my favorite book of poems ever, and re-read it, starting with “Witchgrass” before going back to the beginning. It hits me every time, that last line. And here’s the last stanza before it, too:

     I don’t need your praise 
     to survive. I was here first,
     before you were here, before
     you ever planted a garden.
     And I’ll be here when only the sun and moon
     are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

     I will constitute the field.

And in Chang’s poem, “I am not

     a weed, I need your praise to survive.
     The field will consume me.

     The field has chosen sides. The field is
     not hungry for the middling.

     How I hate the field and what it sees, its
     teeth digging out the ochre

     of mediocre….

Ah, the poet’s worst fear! Being mediocre. And how wordplay partly disperses it! This and the other ars poetica poems in Salvinia Molesta are bracing, honest, inspiring. It feels good to be schooled so.

And it was frequently August in The Wild Iris.

Kathleen Kirk, Salvinia Molesta

Consider this ending of “Did You Fail Lithium or Did Lithium Fail You?”

. . . . . The inevitable ditch
into which everything falls is filled
with dank water, toads, milfoil.
Word is sent for some desiccant.
Word is sent for a sump pump.
Word returns empty handed.

And the reader is left thinking of all the ways words are unable to make things better.

The poet lives in a world where even such things as stones and tomatoes have personality.

Or even cancer cells.  “Girls Gone Wild” is about breast cancer cells who “want/to take a road trip, reach/the lymph highway ASAP,/spend spring break travelling or/ beached somewhere warm like her liver.”

After describing treatment, the poem ends with acceptance:

She came back with a scar her oncologist called
disfiguring but she figured
it was healthy scar tissue, more bonded
than the sorority sisters that hung out there before.

The poet has strong political opinions which she expresses briefly in the voice of an alter ego called The Deaf Woman, avoiding dogmatism, concealing anger. 

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Risking It by Sylvia Byrne Pollack

“What to Expect” [by Katie Manning] is one of my new favorite list poems (you can read it in full in the podcast transcript).

First, I love that it calls What to Expect When You’re Expecting on its shit. (If I remember correctly, there’s a section on poop.) And yet — I also identify so clearly with the poem’s (and the book’s) anxious hopscotching.

Second, I admire the texture and sounds Manning achieves with the repetition of the directive “Expect” and the alliterative quality of the listed items (arranged alphabetically like the book’s index). There’s also lots of assonance throughout, and I particularly love how the long “i” interrupts a pair of short “i” sounds here: “Expect ribs, ripening and risk.” The effect is a ripple I process like notes on a scale.

A “do, RE, do.”

A down, UP, down.

A wave I ride.

The sensation matches the content of the poem.

Its surprises bob up like rubber duckies released from a small fist at the bottom of the tub.

Carolee Bennett, “expect ribs, ripening and risk”

 I keep stalling and starting on the spell poems. There are days when I open the page and something appears miraculously from my fingers tapping across the keyboard and others when I immediately close the file and do something less interesting, but more productive–post to Twitter, read e-mails, check submittable.  Since it is August and I am prone to distraction and waiting to buckle down more seriously in the fall, I am less worried about my languor than I would be other times of year. That it could turn into months of writing nothing, which still could happen, though not recently.  After all, I will be getting my glorious long mornings back with the library being open later during the term, which gives me nothing but time to write in the mornings if I want it since i do most of my press work these days in evenings and midnights. In summer, if I linger too long in bed, I am mad dashing into shower and out the door, but during regular semesters, I have several hours to dally over poems if desired. To approach the day as if my time were, at least for a little while, my own. 

I may also be stalling since the spell poems I feel are the last segment of the collapsologies manuscript I started during lockdown.  Finally. It actually hasn’t been that long in book writing time, but still it feels like forever. Life in general feels like it has been forever, but also like I snapped my fingers and nearly two years passed. While I was not really present and while I was acutely, anxiously very present.

Kristy Bowen, writing things loose

Every labyrinth hides
in the ordinary.

A letter in faded script on brown
paper, folded three times, precisely.

The kitchen drawer that leads
to a case of unused cutlery.

A birdcage with rusted perches
that held pairs of blue-feathered birds.

Luisa A. Igloria, All the Days Behind This One

When I began teaching, there was a paradigmatic war raging in English departments between traditionalists and those who believed in the kind of teaching [William] Stafford espoused. I was wounded in more than one skirmish in my first years of teaching. From my (admittedly limited) vantage point, I’d say that the movement toward standards and accountability ushered in by 2001’s No Child Left Behind legislation gave the win to the traditionalists and killed Stafford’s kind of pedagogy.

When I read [in You Must Revise Your Life], “The student should not worry about standards. I won’t. And I will never try to make the student either complacent or panicked about external obligation. Never. That kind of measuring is not what art, what writing, is about,” I sighed (page 94). Equating writing with art ignores the writing that is done not to create art but to gain admittance through gates; that’s a kind of ignoring I once did but now can’t do. I’ve come to understand the privilege inherent in such a position, and the disservice I might do by not being explicit with students about what they need to be able to do to pass through barriers to schools, scholarships, and jobs. But I sighed also because in the schools I’ve known, writing has become a thing so broken down into its concrete, measurable parts that we’ve lost sight of the whole; we’ve turned process into something nearly void of space for discovery or wonder–something essential to all kinds of writing, even the gate-keeping kind. I might argue that the same has been true of how we view and work with students. There was a lot of talk of “the whole student” in my early years of teaching, but that’s not terminology I’ve heard for years. I suppose we are turning back to that now, with understanding borne of the pandemic and our recent emphasis on social and emotional learning, but our high school students have spent their entire eduction in a system driven by data, test scores, and the attainment of discrete skills and bites of knowledge. The reasons for this are myriad and complex and not really germane to my main point, which is that the students I will be meeting in a little more than a week are going to be different in important ways from those I once taught, as will the context in which I’ll be teaching.

And that’s OK. I am different, too. I need to revise my practice as I have been revising my life.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Some thoughts on revision

I know that these are not easy times and that the disasters are piling up. There is the feeling of a culmination of grief, which then rolls into another seeming culmination. I’ve been listening obsessively again to Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker. It plays in my head and I wake up and it’s there. So it seems strange to not just put it on. “Steer your heart,” my man sings, “past the truth that you believed in yesterday / such as fundamental goodness and the wisdom of the way.”

Some days I think I no longer believe in fundamental goodness. We’ve seen so much otherwise. So. Freaking. Much.

But. On numerous occasions lately I’ve also found myself extending my hand involuntarily. Maybe the trick is not to go looking for goodness elsewhere until we’ve re-located it in ourselves. Let us get back to flying; let’s steer our way at least in small patches and pockets and patches of time away from heaviness. It’s okay to take a flying break.

Shawna Lemay, Look at the Flowers

when the world is asleep
I eat mountains and drink rivers
the mountain bones are sweet with meat
and the rivers are cool and delicious wine
when the world awakens again
I feign innocence
as though nothing has happened
o I am a clever boy
I am a brazen man

James Lee Jobe, cool and delicious wine

a sun comes up where no sun existed :: that morning is not to be solved

Grant Hackett [no title]