Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, we’re a month and a half into 2021 and years into an endless, if somehow also endangered, winter. But today, reading the poetry blogs, I found valentines. Not the mushy, sentimental kind, of course. These were stronger, darker, riskier—like love itself.


On this Valentine’s Day I’m thinking about all the people who’ve lost their lover, their husband or wife, their child or parent — especially those losses that have occurred during the past year. It’s an astronomical number. A mind-boggling number. A river of tears stretching around the world. For many of us, there may not have been an actual death of someone we loved deeply, but days and months when we feared it more than anything we’ve ever feared.

Why do we take the risk? Why do we love, if we know we’re either opening ourselves, or the ones we love, to inevitable, eventual pain?

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 56. Eros and his bow

Finally the mug, lovely gift from Mike. Last night, I wondered darkly how long I have to go without writing a poem before I stop being a poet. This morning, preparing a Valentine’s breakfast for one, this was the obvious mug to choose. 

I sat in bed this morning in the company of crockery, eating toast, drinking orange juice. Three times, I poured milk from the tiny jug into the mug-of-affirmation, before pouring on the English Breakfast / Earl Grey mix. With each mugful, I felt the warmth of love, in all its richness and many forms, grow stronger.  

Liz Lefroy, I Set A Breakfast Tray

We do have the privilege of a garden.
It’s all relatively new to us. A blessing just in time
before the world got stopped.
We established our very own animal pub there-
it’s called The Grain & Shell.
Birds & squirrels
feed & drink
& fight &
dance & mate,
but this Winter the water in the shell freezes
first a below-zero ice-skating rink, then a small mountain of hard snow.
Thirsty squeaking little birds cannot break through it;
squirrels lick the frozen surface
then leave in clear disappointment.
Every morning after tea & coffee
we now put another kettle on & melt
the glacial, hazy and rigid mirror
& watch the lot steam up in the cold air.

Ernesto Priego, The Shell

You ask, can music do that – curl the tongue around the stitch of ache –
when the note touches the ceiling of the hospital room as you take
your walk and the night sky rotting green burns at edges with city lights.

You wear black, rest like fractured old wood on the migraine flare
that flames your body. I gather your feet to trace the rings of age, sluices
of calcium whorled in volcanic blooms.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Journey

Here’s me on my bicycle, with the long shadows of a bright February evening. Better to head into the shadows than cycle with the sun in my eyes – and in the eyes of the drivers behind me. Lockdown has brought my bicycle and me even closer together. I really should oil it soon.

Tim Love, Long shadows

Don’t tell me how to lose someone.
I’ve earned this experience.
Some knitting, a watch, a photograph:
through these things I remember.
The blood rises to my cheeks, already red
from genes I no longer trust.
I’m like the ship of Theseus.
How much can I cast away & still be myself?
I try to identify my face in the bathroom mirror
at the grocery store. Those are my eyes,
there’s my crooked nose, that’s the gap between my teeth.
Every seven years all the cells in my body renew.
I set the boat on the water, push it out to sea.

Jason Crane, POEM: Hello sailor

This Valentine’s Day, my object of love is the world, and what kind of a clear manageable object is that?  

I could narrow it down, focus, make it a simple object, like an oyster, and use all of my five senses to explore its delicate being, its opalescent color, its sand and pearly shell  

I might complicate things by thinking about the ocean, and how many people die in it every year, and how many sailors and fishermen have perished over centuries, how many in the Middle Passage, and wonder if I can still love the ocean

or that oyster that is its product and essence of the ocean itself

and I might be eating the oyster as I am listening to a roll call, to documentation of a country falling apart

Jill Pearlman, World Valentine

For this poetry prompt for Valentine’s Day, start by reading “Untitled [Do you still remember: falling stars]” by Rainer Maria Rilke (as translated by Edward Snow) and give some thought to what you like/admire.

For me, it’s that Rilke captures the delusions of grandeur being in love can inspire. And instead of poking fun at us (or at himself), he embraces the phenomenon as a shared human experience. How silly (and necessary!) for us to feel as though our current romance is the biggest love that’s ever existed in all of the universe and surely will transcend time itself! And although he acknowledges the absurdity of that in the poem’s final line, he does it gently, via a kind of nostalgia for this collective culpability.

I also appreciate that the poem avoids being overly sentimental. Tricky for a love poem to do! This is accomplished by incorporating words that offer a glimpse into the imperfections of romantic love: words like “hurdles,” “hazards” and “disintegration.” These are not typical love poem words and may seem in opposition to what the poem is saying about love being grand and lasting forever. Instead, they’re subtle reminders that love encompasses risk and a fair amount of disappointment, including paling in comparison to what “forever” actually is in the context of the cosmos. Risk is just part of it — “wedded to the swift hazard of their play” — and unlikely to deter us.

Note that word, too: “wedded.”

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt for valentine’s day

breaking boughs
bent live oak branches
the weight of ice

today this mask
feels good

James Brush, 02.12.21

I’ve been sending missives from menopause and perimenopause over the last few years, and sometimes they feel like dead letters. Well, almost all poems land softly–but the so-called change of life feels so BIG to me that it feels like there ought to be a much larger body of literature about it. So I was really happy when “Oxidation Story” was accepted by Kenyon Review Online this fall, and even happier to receive lots of positive responses when they published it yesterday. I’d worked on this one for years. Maybe I got the words right, or the subject matter called to people, or the prestige of the venue attracted attention? In any case, it made me feel seen for a shining moment, for the writer in me.

That’s one of the weird side effects of crossing over to this side of 50: you’re catcalled, harassed, and menaced for most of your life, then you become invisible. I prefer invisibility on the whole, but it would be even better to become, say, “distinguished.” Most TV shows and movies provide illustrations of how impossible that seems to be. As my spouse and I burn through all the shows streaming services have to offer, we just tried “The Undoing,” which pairs Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman as high-powered professionals in unholy matrimony. Kidman is ultra-fit and facelifted and bewigged into a simulacrum of Pre-Raphaelite maidenhood; Grant is carrying more pounds than in his lean thirties, hair grayed and face a little jowly, but he remains very much the leading man. It’s not that I’d put Grant on a diet; I’d rather see Kidman, or any older woman, allowed to wrinkle and accumulate a spare tire and still play a complicated, vital main character. The disparity gets old. (As does the effort to discern facial expressions in an actor post-botox.)

Even in the underresourced world of literary publishing, most successful women-identified authors are glamorously slim and able-bodied. I sometimes wonder if the best thing I could do for my career would be to go paleo and get my eyebrows done, but I’d rather jump my game-token right to witchy croneland.

Lesley Wheeler, Report from hagdom

slid into a place where
long worn grooves of
deep body habit
flourish in the dirt
making mud pies in
a hot back yard the
taste is bitter.

loving the ugliness
of the deep body its
sweat and grease and
pungency its freely
unwashed hair and
legs of fur its
old Lilith.

Marie Craven, Slid

Meet my new friend, the viscacha. He’s got a look that is simultaneously wise, weary, and worked-over. While I can’t claim to be wise, I am definitely feeling weary and worked over by the world. Introduced this friend to my students this week and one responded with: “What does he hear that we don’t that he needs ears so big?”

José Angel Araguz, viscacha vibes, recent pubs, & upcoming virtual event

I had a rough week of not being able to do or say anything right 1) in Zoom meetings 2) in general. People sometimes disappear in Zoom if someone is screen sharing, and it’s getting harder and harder for me to connect, engage in true communication, and feel like myself. Also, it’s so very cold outside, and I’d rather sit on the couch reading books, wrapped up in a soft blue fleece blanket, than do anything else. 

Today I gave in to the couch, and that produced 4 poem drafts, a healing calm, and restored my sense of who I really am. Sigh… It helped this past week to call up some friends up spontaneously on the phone. Thank you, friends! It’s been almost a year of isolation, and maybe I hadn’t felt it as intensely till now. I know I’ve had it easier than many, as a shy person and an introvert and someone with a safe, masked, part-time job. Feeling for all the rest of you, you can be sure.

Kathleen Kirk, Rough Week

We ended the day on the porch with our mandolins trying to pick out the melody of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (a Leadbelly tune also known as “In the Pines” perhaps made famous most recently by Nirvana).  It’s not a very hard tune, so we also had time to talk some music theory, about key signatures and sharps and flats, theory that my spouse has internalized but astonishes me.  It reminds me of when my beloved undergrad English professor Dr. Swanson told me that all fiction must have conflict, and I ascertained that it did not, and she challenged me to give her one example.

Literary theory, music theory, political theory–why is my initial response to ascertain that the theory is wrong?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days Off, Days on My Feet

is awakened the word
for a seed that dies, then is sown

when i believe in what wind listens for
why does my nest unravel

can anyone else open a poem
to the fate of its reader

Grant Hackett [no title]

Somewhere in my drawers is a tape I made circa 1995.  I was coming off my first poetry workshop in the spring and was writing and submitting work at a rate I hadn’t been in a while. .  I would take my small black boombox out to the dining room table of my parent’s house where I would write in the afternoons and record myself reading the poems.  Mostly, to see if the sounded good when read aloud, since so much of poetry depends on the auditory. I saved the tape and traveled with me from apartment to apartment since , though I don’t even have a tape deck to play it these days.  Besides I am not sure I could handle hearing 21 year old Kristy and her terrible poems from this distance.  I do like the fact that it exists, along with cd recordings of several other radio readings preceding the rise of digital files. I also have a taped version of a reading we wound up recording in a bustling diner near Northeastern U. complete with dishes clattering and secret slot machine noise from the back. 

I have a strange relationship with the sound of my own voice, which of course does not sound anything like it does in my head when I hear it played back. Too childlike, too formal  I sometimes struggle with this when it comes to the video poems.  I remarked to a friend recently about the delight and surrealness of hearing other people’s voices read your work. Hearing your words in other people’s mouths and I remember the shock of the first time. Someone once told me at AWP that she had had her students read all the poems in a chapbook of mine, one poem per student, all in a circle and this felt like a ritual.  I wanted to see it and hear it all. This along with a local poet who once told me my work reminded her of a hybrid between Plath and a Davis Lynch film is one of the coolest things and highest compliments anyone has ever said about my writing. .  I want to put his on my tombstone. 

Kristy Bowen, voice and the spaces between

The body is always talking to us. 

This week, for me, included a recurring cricopharyngeal spasm – or in other words, a cramp in one of the muscles of my pharynx, typified in my case by the feeling of a painful lump in my throat and the sensation that something is stuck that cannot be swallowed down. 

Doctors aren’t quite sure what causes these spasms, but of course, anxiety is indicated. Anxiety, oh my faithful companion since childhood. Anxiety, gift-wrapped and presented to me by my mother who suffered mightily under its influence.

And of course, there’s plenty to be anxious about. No need to list here as I’m sure you have your own list which likely shares several items with mine. I wonder though if this week’s cricopharyngeal spasm might be my body manifesting what I feel so acutely – that I cannot get the words on the page – that I am choking on unwritten poems. 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Listening to the body

Having just finished “The Secret of the Old Clock” I have learned many astonishing things, among them that cinnamon cake topped with hot apple sauce is a thing that exists. Another is that we were once brave and hardy and healthy and wholesome. We knew how to do basic things like a change a tire, operate a motor boat and alter a garment. (Nancy does all three in the first few chapters alone.) I won’t go too far down the “we were better people then” rabbit hole, but it was a bit of a culture shock. The early Nancy Drew books were published in the 1930’s, and obviously it’s a whole other world now. We have lost a lot of competencies that used to be a given part of adulthood. Speaking of adulthood, it never occurred to me reading the books as a kid that Nancy is eighteen years old and living at home with her father with seemingly no plans for college or getting a job. For someone with nothing to do, she certainly manages to keep busy. And her Dad…can we just talk about her dad for a minute? I guess it must have been lost on me as a kid because I didn’t recall much about him, but Carson Drew is the best dad ever. He’s a kind and indulgent father, but he’s always pushing Nancy to think logically and to be courageous and make bold moves. And he raised Nancy as a single dad when her mother died.

Along those lines, I found it interesting how many of the characters in “Clock” had alternative living arrangements to the nuclear family. There were two cousins who lived together on a farm and made their living selling crops, sisters who were raising an orphaned child together, and Nancy herself, who lives with her father and his housekeeper. In fact, I don’t believe there was a single character in a nuclear family in the entire book. Most of the characters were struggling financially to some degree or another but they were getting by and they embodied stoicism. I can feel another bout of “we were better then” nostalgia coming on so I better wrap this up. The bottom line is, I have a Nancy Drew box set and I highly encourage you to obtain a box set as well…any box set. They are a thing of joy, no matter what your reading preference.

Kristen McHenry, Box Set Bonanza

One important factor when approaching poetry collections is their attitude to the reader. Some seem intent on talking to themselves in an echo chamber, while others generate an implicit dialogue with anyone who opens them. However, a select few establish their own interior dialogue, before offering the reader a role as observer and even as an additional participant.

If Jonathan Davidson’s new book, A Commonplace (Smith-Doorstep, 2020) achieves the unusual feat of belonging to this final category, it’s primarily because his method when assembling the manuscript also deviated from the norm. Not an anthology, not a single-author collection, Davidson’s book is a unique combination of his own poetry with work by others, all interwoven through snippets of prose that comment on, complement and join up the poems themselves. In itself, his breaking with convention is already a statement of intent.

Matthew Stewart, Challenging our preconceptions, Jonathan Davidson’s A Commonplace

One of the pleasing things about an anthology site like And Other Poems is the variety of themes, styles, and voices available.  Heidi Beck’s ecopoem ‘I Write to You from a Tree Museum’ takes as its starting point, lines from a Joni Mitchell song “‘They took all the trees / And put ’em in a tree museum” – the poem then makes real the grim possibility of earth’s great diversity of trees existing only within the confines of such a ‘museum’.
 
Caleb Parkin also imagines a world of species extinction, and draws attention to the climate emergency with the use of humour in his poem  ‘Please Do Not Touch the Walrus or Sit on the Iceberg’.  The speaker of the poem exuberantly ignores this instruction, an actual sign on an exhibit in London’s Horniman Museum, bringing to the foreground a reality which is all too easy to ignore.

Josephine Corcoran, January 2021 at And Other Poems

All cups of tea are generally amazing, but I’m thinking at the moment one of those cups you have when you have to say aloud “Ooh, that’s a good cup of tea”. The kind that usually only happen either at the start of the day or outside on a cold day, the kind that goes down in three to four boiling hot mouthfuls, but somehow doesn’t cause you third-degree burns of the gullet. You know the type.

This week my pre-bedtime reading has mainly been the latest copy of The North, #65.

The North is usually a great read and remains high on my list of magazines I’d love to be featured in. NB I have poems out for reading at The North at present, but I’m not writing this as an attempt to blow smoke up any arses, I am writing this because I am half-tempted to burn this copy. Not because it’s bad, quite the opposite. This issue is one of those cups of tea. I’ve come away from it with a long list of poets to investigate further—I suspect this means some of the folks who had found themselves close to the top of the TBR pile may find themselves nudged back down again.

I’ve turned over so many pages to come back to, to look up poets, etc that I probably should have just folded the mag in half when I’d finished.

Mat Riches, Bang To Rights

I’m absolutely floored to realize I’ve been missing out on a whole series of critical publications on small press endeavors (Derek Beaulieu did bring it up a while back, but I hadn’t gone to explore any of it), the “Among the Neighbors” chapbook series curated by Edric Mesmer, “a pamphlet series for the study of Little Magazines,” run through The Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo. The chapbooks that Mesmer was good enough to send along include Derek Beaulieu’s “TISH – Another ‘Sense of Things’” (#3, 2017), Tim Wright’s “Migrating Ears: Kris Hemensley’s The Merri Creek, Or, Neroand H/EAR, with some brief comments on the earlier publications Our Glass, Earth Ship, and The Ear in a Wheatfield” (#7, 2019), Tina Darragh’s“Washington, DC Poetry—Mass Transit and Folio Books Reading Series” (#11, 2020), Catherine Noske’s “Reading Piglets: Westerly Magazine, metadata, and the play of digital access to literary publication” (#12, 2020) and Adeena Karasick and Kedrick James’ “To Breathe Poetry Among the Neighbors: Two Essays on Anerca, a Journal of Experimental Writing (1985-1990)” (#13, 2020). What appeals in these publications is not simply the critical and conversational exploration of small press, but a recording and documentation of journals that might otherwise have simply disappeared into the ether of history—I’m struck, for example, to learn that Adeena Karasick and Kedrick James produced a small journal for half a decade, and I hadn’t heard a peep about it prior to this. It reminds of when I was gifted various bins of the late Ottawa poet Jane Jordan’s extensive librarya few years back, and discovered numerous Ottawa-based literary journals and presses from the 1970s and 80s I had never even heard of [see my post on such here].

rob mclennan, Among the Neighbors: a pamphlet series for the study of Little Magazines : #3, 7, 11-13

My second manuscript, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, was alphabetical by title. Because I wanted certain poems to appear earlier in the collection, this constraint of alphabetizing made me have to be more inventive with my titles, which ultimately strengthened my books. (One of these blog posts, I’m going to have to talk about constraints in our work as I feel it’s one of the most powerful tools for artists, poets, and writers for inventiveness, imagination, and getting out of our own ways…) 

But back to this manuscript stuff, my new book (which is currently heading to the printers as I type this!), Dialogues with Rising Tides is in sections, and it’s the most sections I’ve ever had in a book. Seven! 7 freakin’ sections! I would have never thought I’d write a book full of sections, but I realized for this book, for me to weave together the different themes (environmental collapse, suicide, relationships, love/desire, melancholy, anxiety, cruel politics), I needed the reader to have more pauses in the book so they could have space to take it all in. 

Because the ocean plays such a big role in my book, my section titles are named after lightvessels (also called lightships). These are huge ships that act as floating lighthouses to keep people away from hazards. There’s a section called Break Sea (ways the world tries to break us), Black Deep (lots of melancholy themed poems in here), Shambles (poems about America and getting an IUD during 45s inauguration!) My hope was also the poems would be lightvessels for readers–even while they explore some tougher subjects. 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Thoughts on Putting Together a Poetry Manuscript

So, as we watch old movies, and watch the snow come down, I’m tentatively thinking about the future. Have you started doing that yet? I’m thinking about my birthday, April 30, and daring to hope I will have the vaccine by then so I can safely go to, for instance, the bookstore or the dentist. Things I’ve been putting off – like going to the gardening store I love, or schedule an appointment to go into Open Books again to browse poetry. I hope to have a celebration, even if it’s just a small one.

And I’m scheduling some medical appointments I’ve been putting off. I’m getting my MRI of my liver  – which I haven’t had for a year – next week, and hoping for good news (or no news) there, and soon I’ll be getting my brain MRI for my MS. Health care does feel a little safer now that health care workers, at least, have been vaccinated, even if I haven’t.

And looking at book publishers and imagining which I would like to have publish one of my book manuscripts. There are great established publishers I love – like Copper Canyon, or BOA, or Graywolf – and some great newer ones, like Acre Books or Yes Yes Books. I’ve even started thinking about book covers…I’m hoping that the acceptance of one of the books isn’t too far off now. Is this unfounded optimism? I don’t know. I’m even working on a third manuscript – which seems like the height of nuttiness, but I think I’ve written another book after the second one, all about the pandemic. I’ve also reached out to a couple of poets that I’ve been online friends with for a long time to talk about publication, and it turns out, it’s a great idea to talk on the phone to people instead of just social media. It reminds me of the eighties, when you’d write letters to your friends and sometimes call them, but it was probably too expensive to do often. I’m realizing I have a poetry friends I’ve known for years all over the US, and talking to them reminds me we are all in this together – whether you’re in upstate New York, rural Virginia, or like me, in a far-out suburb of Seattle. Everyone has struggles and doubts, and talking about them seems to make them lessen, and encouraging friends make everything a little better.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Valentine’s Day (during a Pandemic and a Snowstorm!), Tentatively Thinking About the Future, and Adventures in Japanese and Plath

The 40 days of Lent — which comes from an Anglo Saxon word meaning lengthen, as in days lengthening into Spring — are just around the corner. They begin February 17 this year, and continue (with Sundays off, as a day of rest) until April 3, the day before Easter. Traditionally, many Christians give something up for Lent: chocolate or plastics or red meat. I encourage whatever giving-up you feel will help you confront yourself this season.

But what if you also gave up “not writing” for Lent this year? […]

I have so many irons in the fire right now, that it’s probably a little crazy to add one more thing. Even so, I’ve been really really procrastinating on getting my next poetry manuscript together — making excuses not to start it — so that’s what I’m going to give up “not working on.”

Bethany Reid, So, What Will You Give Up for Lent?

Feeding the horse there’s extra hay, a carrot
            & my own body offered up for science, they study

my fires. I immolate 5, 6 times a night, you know
            how it is, or you don’t, quantitative now this heart

rate tachycardic still 11 months later. 5 degrees outside,
            1000 in (or plummet, depending). One time a fragment

burned so hot it turned obsidian then cracked heart-shaped:
            millennia later, you found it on a beach & pocketed

hope, a thing with feathers, metaphor.

JJS, Valentine with death and life

You did leave, she was right. The odds she had given me – 83%, she said, not 80 or 85, I always loved the precision of that – turned out well. And though I have been certain at least twice that you were returning, still you have not come back. I am amazed by that, and grateful. Most days I do not even think about you.

Only, I do. I think about you a lot. I have written two books about you (possibly three). You are in everything I do, because I am still being touched by what you did (are doing) to me, even though you have left and are no longer in my body. Those ghost-pains down my right side, just above my kidneys (we thought it was stones). The hours I still lose wondering if you are there and if you were there, how would I live my life then, having been known by you already?

For someone with no presence, you have a long shadow. In my life, my body, my mind, and in the lives of those I love whose bodies you also seem to need. People used to ask me, was I angry that I had you. No, I said. But I was sad that my children had to know about you at such a young age. I am angry, though. I am angry that you took away my friends and are trying to take away others. I am angry that we still talk about fighting you, as though we have individual responsibility for making ourselves better. Tomorrow, next week, next month, a person we all love will die having fought a ‘battle’ with you. For one so common, you have so much power. We can be cured from having you, but we cannot cure our addiction to needing to talk about you as a battle to the death.

At least we no longer refer to you by your initial. At least we now say cancer. A doctor friend of mine says the next word we need to deal with is depression. (I know about that too, thanks in part to you.) I am no expert, but think he may be right. When I was ill with you I talked about you all the time. Then wrote about you all the time. Writing and talking about depression is much harder for me. (We can maybe talk about the reasons another time.) But you, cancer, you were the one who changed everything. You were the one, you see. You changed the way I read, the way I believe, the way I am in my body, my family. I still stand by what I said: you made me pay attention. Though you taught me more than I ever want to know, I still don’t think I can say thank you.

Anthony Wilson, Dear Cancer

dreams passed through me like miracles
is it still the same life

James Lee Jobe, is it still the same life

infinite nightmare storage system
to make space in my life
for the ancestor

cola-pen calligraphy
tiny little pamphlet books
close to our hearts

Ama Bolton, ABCD late January 2021

Given my inclination towards the ruthless, I’d imagine the answer to that question would have been – chuck them straight into the recycling bin. As for reading them, just don’t go there.

And so, why, when I did find a small clutch of loose pages of poems under old papers at the bottom of a drawer unexplored for years a few days ago, did I find myself flicking through them and then settling down to read? A self-indulgent, weak moment, certainly. What did I hope to find or learn? I didn’t know. It was eerie, looking at things typed out more than forty, in some cases almost fifty years ago. Who was this person? Not me, surely. And what, after the reading of them, made me think about, not only keeping them, but putting some of them up here for public consumption? Perhaps because it’s what this blog should be about – a writing life, to include the naive, potentially embarrassing attempts, as well as those you believe might have a little more value.

Bob Mee, WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU FIND OLD POEMS YOU THOUGHT WERE LONG THROWN OUT?

the sargasso sea 

the words that are becalmed
the plastic words
the slippery elver words
the journeys ahead for them 
even
the ones that slowly sink longingly

Jim Young, see

I want at last to be honored,
not for me, but for the work

I’ve done, for the moments I have
recorded, for the light I have

praised, the trees I have sung of,
the birds, oh, yes, the birds. That these

least small things shall not be lost,
I want at last to be honored.

Tom Montag, I WANT AT LAST TO BE HONORED

The woman gestures, one hand

near her lips and the other as if drawing
a curtain aside. That’s all we can really do

until the rider looms closer on the plain.
We can see the sparks from his horse’s hooves;

then there’s no mistaking his cloak of bitumen
or his slate, marked with names and numbers.

Luisa A. Igloria, We Don’t See Death Until After it Arrives

Still life has been referred to as a world on a table, planet on a table, and that seems to help me sort out my thoughts. There’s so much chaos. At least on the table of things, order can be found or made or at least composed temporarily. […]

So yes, I keep thinking about how everything in our lives is getting arranged and rearranged on the regular. We get laid off from our jobs, we’re called back, only to be laid off again. Or we’re kept on, in my case, but the job is radically different. The numbers are high and we’re told to stay home, then they drop and guidelines are relaxed, then it’s all reversed. You all know how it goes by now. You had one plan, and now you have another. You looked forward to this thing, and now you tend to look forward to other smaller things, closer to home.

In a still life, you move one object, and three more slide off the table. A glass gets broken occasionally, or the unwinding rind of the lemon becomes detached from the fruit and you stick it back on with a toothpick. Scotch tape is hauled out. A dish is propped up from behind by a couple of walnuts. Everything is too much. You start to subtract. You go minimalist, and that’s fine for a bit too.

Shawna Lemay, Rearranging Things

Things I cannot fix,
an incomplete list:

armed militias.
Global pandemic.

The grief of staying apart
and unbearable yearning.

Rage at insurrectionists
and anti-maskers.

Things I can fix:
lunch for my child.

This winter stew, meat
from the freezer

and dried mushrooms
plumping in hot broth.

Warm speckled rye dough
pliant beneath my hands.

Rachel Barenblat, Fix

I haven’t been able to write this week.
I’ve been unraveling from the edges that brush against the world.
The softness falls away, and I am a skeleton of splintered glass.
Balancing fractured surfaces upright.

I took a course once on trauma and movement and the instructor said something that shifted my perspective. Drama teachers I’ve had, and have worked with use a standard image during warm-up sequences: “Now roll up: one vertebra at a time. Stacking one on top of the other.”

An upright stack of bones being pulled toward the earth.

But the body doesn’t work that way. You cannot stack a skeleton. Not in death. Not in life.

We are suspension bridges.

I think about this image a lot. I come back to it when I feel heavy in the world. We are animated by opposing tensions. Naturally pulled in varying directions as we go about our days. It opens us. Our ribs open and lift like wings when we breathe.

Ren Powell, Suspension

When I say I hear your voice across the miles, what I mean is river, moon, sage, sermon, orchard, wish, and wilderness.

In other words, simply knowing there is room in our beings for the ethical and ethereal, the earthbound and unimaginable, is all I need right now.

Put another way, knowing we wander this earth together at this time in history might not be the inoculation I need for a pandemic,

but it is the perfect medicine for my heart.

Rich Ferguson, Heart Medicine

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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. This week: moments of insight, lessons in forbearance, the good news found in new books, and much more.


Vials, frozen. Chest-freezers, full.
She’s not using her wheelchair today,
she’s walking. Slow, but walking. Good,
I answer, that will help. Too late, we give
consent. Ashambles, the whole ward now.

JJS, Protection

Mary is delighted to live in the moment of what she currently sees, despite knowing that the star is dying. A similar sentiment to the earlier poem “A Fire” where the narrator wants to stay in the process of losing a friend, not yet ready to acknowledge the loss. Mary’s voice seems childlike, but Mary is the also name of Jesus’ mother. God, naturally, is paternal. The reader is left not sure who Mary is or who she represents.

“You Do Not Have To Be Good” leaves an opaqueness at the heart of each poem, inviting readers to speculate and try to figure out the narrator’s relationship with others in the poems. That said, the poems do explore trauma effectively, particularly losses that come from being unable to fully reveal a self to a listener or someone who might be of help. They come from a place of affirmation and healing.

Emma Lee, “You Do Not Have to Be Good” Madeleine Barnes (Trio House Press) – book review

What a lucky chance, then, that Dr Zhivago is currently on iPlayer, and that after forty years of adventures I have 1) A TV, 2) A TV licence, 3) A range of techniques learnt in psychotherapy enabling me to side-step any feelings of guilt incurred by watching a film whilst it’s still light outside. We all need doctors more than ever these days, so maybe it was this that prompted me, finally, to satisfy my curiosity, watch the film. 

As it turns out, Dr Zhivago is more like early 2021 Shropshire than you’d think, filled as it is with snow, difficult decisions, furs, untimely deaths, beautiful vistas, confusion, heroes, quiet resolve, and drumbeats. And with trains (although ours are largely empty). We also lack a famous, but strangely irritating as the hours ticked by, theme tune.

Liz Lefroy, I Relax With Dr Zhivago

staying up most of the night working on poems 
oh lonely bones – can’t you rest 
why should i 
even now a strong wind carries 
some pine seeds to the earth 
even now the boats slide 
down the long sacramento river to the bay 
a new day begins and i am alive

James Lee Jobe, on the nose of the puppy

At about the same time, the house began hollowing out, it shed plaster – chunks of them. They were getting old – both her father and her house. Cracks bisected diagonally a wall in the storeroom; timber room, part of the study upstairs, wooden steps leading to the terrace were advised not to be used, and they became nesting places for scorpions. Saferoom remained safe with its iron vault which was for the most part empty but for my grandfather’s silver plate. The vault was weighed in rupees and sold as scrap when the house fell after my grandfather died. The money that came from selling the land and the strong wooden doors were shared between my mother and her siblings. My uncle’s share was put away in a bank and used for his medicines and stay as a life-long resident in a home. My mother used her share to re-lay the floor in our house, the cement floor was replaced with mosaic tiles. Houses are not meant to speak and care must be taken to keep them mute.

Uma Gowrishankar, laid to rest

For years my partner and I cared for elderly parents, one way and another, and I watched as their worlds shrank, physically, as did their curiosity. Slowly and inevitably they stopped taking any notice, stopped listening, stopped reading, being interested, talking. They were just busy dying. 

I’ve decided I want none of it. I can learn from Solzhenitsyn and his take on Epicureanism, especially in One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch. The idea that happiness lies, at least in part, in taking inventory of the day and identifying how it could have been much worse if X or Y had not happened or didn’t exist. And then focussing on X or Y. Things that made life better. An extra bowl of kasha. A bit of hacksaw blade. Building a wall. 

What did I do in 2020? I have a house, I have a garden, a field beyond the garden, a view beyond the field. I have a garage full of bits of timber and power tools. In February three days of incessant horizontal rain worked through the gable end and round the kitchen window and poured in. So when the rain stopped, I got out the gear and repointed all the damage, and replastered and painted inside. I enjoyed it. Most of it. 

The weather was nice this summer. I repainted a lot of the outside woodwork; when it rained I decorated indoors or resprayed picture frames.

On a whim, via the cobweb and Facebook I invited folk to send me poems inspired by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s wonderful, artful poem Swineherd. Scores of people sent me poems, and then Bob Horne of Calder Valley Poetry suggested that we make a book of them, which involved asking Kim Moore to select the 26 best ones in an alphabet of occupations we’d leave When all this is over.  

It’s only just struck me that probably every single submission involved a future of being left alone. You’d have thought that lockdown might have inspired dreams of crowds, of festivals of concerts. What most folk seemed to dream of was travelling alone, and almost invariably, in wild places or on the sea. Yes. My dreams too, I realise. But there you are. A book out.

I missed physical poetry courses, but I’ve been, virtually, to Garsdale Head with Kim Moore, to Sneaton Castle with the Poetry Business; I’ve joined in Joe Bell’s project To heal the mutilated world …and that was terrific…as well as Winston Plowes’ and Gaia Holmes’ Muse-li courses. And every Monday night, via Zoom, there was the Albert Poets’ Workshop. What else…oh yes. Tom Weir and I will be zoom-workshopping together, hopefully right through 2021. A lot of extra bowls of Kasha.

John Foggin, Busy being born

Let people be divided over and over and over again
till they fit in tiny spreadsheet cells.
Let me be gathered as a data point by a factory of
algorithms that build a bubble around me.
Wasn’t it the scriptures that said that the world is just
perception. (And that was before Facebook.)
What do you want to resist most, today?
What outrage fills your coffee cup this morning?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, RIP

It’s cold and dark, friends. Not my favorite time of year. (I am not happy with the weather unless it’s July.) When we say in Upstate NY that it’s cold for six months a year, we aren’t exaggerating; it may even be seven. And I wonder each year how I’ll get through it. I’ve been trying (recently) to get outside for a walk every day, but I’m not really happy about it. I’ve been listening to books on Audible as a way to tempt myself and get out the door. So far, I’ve listened in full to Convenience Store Woman, a novel by Sayaka Murata, and started The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, a true story written by Michael Finkel.

What intrigues me most in each is that the central figures make a conscious choice about who they’re going to be — and then they play it out turn after turn. They double down, repeatedly, and in doing so, forego much of what the rest of us call “normal” parts of life. And though the natural assumption may be that they’re renegades of some kind, both rely heavily on following strict — almost clichéd — rules of specific “character” types: store clerk (Keiko Furukura) and hermit (Christopher Knight).

Encountering these stories back-to-back has me thinking about who makes the rules and why we follow them and how expectations (our own and those from others) have so much power. If you can believe this story in The Onion (lol) — “‘I Can’t Do This Anymore,’ Think 320 Million Americans Quietly Going About Their Day” — we even abide by the self-imposed rules of inertia and accept, not just the need to work, but most painfully, its drudgery. The truth hurts.

It makes me wish to be the heroic figure in a story like Furukura’s or Knight’s. Admittedly, they’re tragic figures, as well, but allow me to indulge in oversimplifying a bit; let me romanticize breaking free of Undesirable Things without having to trade them for Different Things That Are Also Undesirable. Who would I become if I could take on any type/character? What kind of world would that create for myself?

Carolee Bennett, on showing up and setting poetry goals

Late on a pale afternoon in January,
sitting, unmoving, the puff-chested blackbird.
She has been there for a while now,
just under the reflection of my reading lamp;
just the odd stretch of a wing and the thought
of preening the day down.
You cannot see it from there; don’t move!
It will scare her. We are sharing this
moment? Call it what you will.
Soon, too soon, she will be gone. Around, yes,
but busy nesting. Just like the pecking dunnock,
the darty robin, the acrobat tits.
But now, twelve lines written, and she is still there.
The pallor of the day ivory poached; a north breeze
stirring; tea and scones have jammed the day.
She is still there, a sparrow riding shotgun.
Sonny Rollins on the radio.
Whoops!
She’s gone now.
She’s gone.

Jim Young, The sitting

I’ve been trying to keep my mind off troubling FBI reports of white nationalist terrorist threats leading up the the inauguration, and focusing on the cheerful fact that the youngest poet ever chosen will be reading at the inauguration, and soon Trump won’t be able to hurt us anymore. One hopes. I’ve been noticing strangely unseasonable things, like the first bloom on my camellia, long before it should be blooming. We’ve been having wet, cold winter, so it’s very odd but I will take an out-of-season flower where I can.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Blooms, New Poems in Gargoyle, Hoping for Better Days Ahead

Somewhere
an old silence
waits for me

to enter
the emptiness.
It is like

swimming naked–
the knowledge
you are

who you are
when you walk in-
to cold water.

It is not like
light piercing
a dark room.

Tom Montag, SOMEWHERE

The morning her veterinarian woke in her bed he fed her spaghetti smashed the noodles into her mouth lit a candy cigarette after sauce on her white coverlet the vinegar-bleached sheets. There wasn’t a fight. She simply wished him empty of music. He was not allowed to tell her how his feet burned how bright steam rose from the dog’s bowl. He held her head under water and sang Mahler Saint John has let his little lamb go to the butcher Herod. They watched TV at night drowning. It felt like progress. Life was good under the ginger bell the animal hospital’s glowing blue cross.

Rebecca Loudon, And angels bake the bread

There it is, sketched in red-
ochre, head lifted and watching.
Broad strokes of its rounded back
and short legs, found on a karst
wall in Leang Tedongnge. Now
it’s the oldest-known animal
cave painting. But why,
as I read about it, does my brain
think party pig? Perhaps it reminds
me of Andy Warhol’s Fiesta Pig:
ballet-slipper-pink, nosing around
in the excess of some post-bacchanalian
frenzy. Migration in packs, in the wild,
through curtains of berries and matted
roots. They’re mostly feral, but sometimes
give in.

Luisa A. Igloria, Brief History of the Sulawesi Warty Pig

I’ve always been a little fascinated by conspiracy theories, by the stories that take shape to impose order on the world and make it feel like net of carefully placed happenings and facts and not a chaotic swirling mass of randomness and chance  Alien autopsies, for example. Explanations for strange phenomena.  Untimely deaths and crazy historical coincidences.  They are fun to look at, less because I am seeking a pattern of order or cause/effect, but more that they are a way of understanding things, or at least the obsessions behind them.  A couple semesters ago, our Strange Fevers  Mass Delusions, Illusions, and Obsessions programming delved into this a little bit. 

I often think about how they go wrong.  Obviously the events of this past Weds. are a perfect example.  In my own work, the necessary violence series and the girls who tried to stab their friend based on Slenderman lore.  I think about these girls a lot when I think about politics. The mental illness in one girl who influenced another, and it’s not hard to make the jump to political conspiracies and the inevitable bad outcomes.  These are everywhere and inscribed in our history long before the current ones–McCarthyism, the Satanic Panic of the 80’s. All usually fueled by someone’s agenda–the goverments, men who wanted working women to stay home and keep an eye on their kids. .  A lot of the mythmaking of these was believable..communist infiltrations of Hollywood and the media, missing housepets,  the rise of latch key kids getting up to god knows what in the off hours. Most not things one had to stretch their imagination too far into the absurd to get to, which made things all the more believable.

At some point, contemporary conspiracies got crazier.  Even alien abduction lore is easier to believe than a lot of what is floating out there.

Kristy Bowen, absurdities and atrocities

One does not realize, until one does it, how heavy the burden of all those opinions is, how anxiously they must be defended, how vulnerable they make you to every passing stranger. I practice not having opinions about other drivers, when I’m on the freeway. What do I know of what they are rushing toward, and what they are fending off? “No one made me a traffic cop,” I murmur. Thank God. I am so grateful that no one made me a traffic cop. And I am correspondingly grateful for the people who undertake that burden, leaving me to float, irresponsible and free, in the flow of traffic. If someone’s driving strikes me as aggressive or erratic, I simply drop back in the current till I’m well away from them. 

Dale Favier, Opinions: Throwing Rocks: Being a Traffic Cop

In November I took a Hugo House class on “writing angry poems,” taught by the poet Sharon Bryan. One of my discoveries was that it is freaking hard for me to express anger. Feel it, yes; turn it loose in poem: no. So I struggled. “This is like a poem about repressing anger,” was one of the comments I received. Another: “This poem doesn’t seem to be about anger, but maybe mild annoyance.”

One of Bryan’s recommendations was to read Deaf Republic: Poems, by Ilya Kamnisky. I dutifully ordered a copy and have been avoiding it ever since. This week, I read it. It could not have been more timely for me. In the 1960s people used to say, “the personal is political.” Over the last ten days, we have seen how true that still is.

Deaf Republic is profoundly personal. It struck me as being less a collection of poems than one poem, or a play-in-verse perhaps. Tracy K. Smith writes that what she finds here is “conscience, terror, silence, and rage made to coexist alongside moments of tenderness, piercing beauty, and emphatic lyricism.” Kaminsky’s story opens when a young, deaf boy is shot down by soldiers in an occupied town, and then it winds through the perspectives of other characters in the town, which is struck deaf by the violence, introducing a couple expecting a child, then Momma Galya, the puppeteer who rescues their infant. But the poems transcend their place of “otherness.” As Smith, who has served as the United States Poet Laureate, continues in her cover blurb: “It hurts to read these poems. It hurts to read them and find the world I belong to stricken by a contagion of silence.”

Bethany Reid, Writing the Political Poem

Uncertainty has a daughter whose body is smoke and mirrors. Her eyes, numb and numberless. Her mouth, covered by a mask.

In her more sober moments, she tells me, the heart is no place for a graveyard. Barbed wire, no place for a bed.

She smells like wilted flowers and the whiskey of cold contrition.

I whisper in her ear, let us hope this winter doesn’t last forever.

Rich Ferguson, The Graveyard Bed Where the Heart Says I Love You

Apathy is a kind of cruelness, and denial is a tricky thing. More and more, I look back at the pre-2016 me and feel shame and disgust at all I didn’t see and know that I now do. The information about who and what we are was there all along. I saw much of it a long time ago and turned away from it and then forgot it. I told myself that things were not really as bad as some said. I cautioned myself against over-reacting. I know that denial is a protective mechanism we employ without awareness to protect ourselves from truth we aren’t yet equipped to manage, and in my good moments I can feel empathy for my pre-2016 self. I suppose she was doing the best she could with what she had. In my bad moments, I want to shake her and yell at her to wake the fuck up. I want to hide her in a closet and pretend she was never me.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On vertigo, normalcy, and light: revisiting Sarah Kendzior

when we turn against the sea
how many deserts appear

when the poem sheds its final skin
why does one still have to wait for dawn

for how many lives after i am gone
will my heart come searching for me

Grant Hackett [no title]

Back in April 2020, in the first lockdown, my collection, The Unmapped Woman was launched by Nine Arches Press on Zoom with great support from the fab poets Katie Griffith and Robert Peake. I didn’t know at the time that Jane Commane was in conversation with Helen Dewberry about a variety of film poems including one for a poem of mine. Helen is an Associate member of the Royal Photographic Society and has worked with a variety of poets on film poems which have screened at festivals. You can find a number of them at Elephant’s Footprint Film Verse. I have my favourites, but dip in and see what appeals to you.

It was later in the year that Helen and I had a chat on Zoom to discuss which poem had all those visual qualities just crying out to be shown in another medium. It was interesting that both Helen and Jane had selected Neap Tide as one of their favourites and it is one, which when Helen ask me questions about, I realised, as I unpicked the poem line by line, I had a very clear image of place and people without having made that conscious decision when writing it. I am hoping to catch up with Helen later for an interview, so will keep details of the process for that post, but working with her on this collaboration renewed my interest in my work during what had felt like a very fallow furlough.

Abegail Morely, Creativity in Lockdown – A Film Poem by Helen Dewberry

They’re dwindling,
those who might turn up to mourn,
and some of those are just in tow.
Some went before –
the ones you mourned the most
the ones that would have
mourned you most –
to be expected.

Some you lose through death,
some fade away,
some are blocked,
some block you,
some you knew well,
some just slightly,
the rest you didn’t know at all –
to be expected.

Sue Ibrahim, Expectations

I must confess, though, this interests me intellectually, but it’s the other book I happened to grab in quick Covid-breathing-down-my-neck visit to the library that grabs my poetry heart. It too takes its cues from something concrete, in this case a video clip and some photographs. Ross Gay seems to be attaining incadescence in front of my very eyes with each new book. Be Holding is magnificent, as it achingly slowly tells of the fleet seconds details of an improbable dunk, a “baseline scoop,” by Dr. J during a 1980 NBA finals game, interspersed with curling and twining tendrils of sidebars and meditations on holding, on flying and falling, on love. This is poetry that truly engages me as a reader, a writer, and as a human bean.

This is news of the finest kind. Oh, boy.

Marilyn McCabe, I heard the news today; or, On Poetry Making Use of Non-poetic Texts

The latest from American poet and translator Joshua Beckman is Animal Days (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2021). As the back cover offers: “Written from inside of illness and gathered over several years, these fragments or moments invite readers to contemplate how the compromised body transforms our conceptions of selfhood and our sense of the world.” Animal Days is composed via six extended poem sequences, each threading together an accumulation of short fragments: “IT SEEMED TOO MUCH,” “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “THE GLACIAL TRIP,” “DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE,” “AUGUST” and “ANIMAL DAYS.” Beckman writes from the inside of an awareness of the frailty of the human body, even from the first page of the opening poem: “the pursing / and bursting / of cells / blood / in the skin / in the face / blood exploding / inside us / like that [.]” There is such a slowness etched into the lines and fragments of these accumulations, extended stretches of thought that sit perfectly against each other. There is such a slowness etched into every word—a slowness that coheres and allows for simultaneous pause and quick thought—and one that is remarkably physical. Honestly, for anyone who is attracted to slow, thoughtful work with remarkable speed—one could think, also, of Cameron Anstee, Michael e. Casteels, Jack Davis and the late Nelson Ball—Beckman’s dual essay collections The Lives of the Poems and Three Talks (Wave Books, 2018) are perhaps the finest collections of critical prose I’ve read (so much so that I’ve been completely unable to articulate how good they are).

There are moments when his sketched-out fragments give an epistolary sense, as though he is writing from his kitchen table, perhaps, out to someone (whether generally or specifically) in the wider world: “reading it / even as I / got reading / it even as / I write you / this letter” (“DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE”). Throughout the six threads of Animal Days, Beckman’s lines adhere to a particular minimalism, but one that furthers the line of thought as far as might be possible, stretching out across the lyric. “a sheet / of it / held,” he writes, as part of “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “constellation-like / in the back yard / responding / to wind // clothespins for / fingers // houses / blown down the road / through the town // like a toy [.]”

rob mclennan, Joshua Beckman, Animal Days

There was a real nip in the air on Wednesday afternoon which created frost ferns on the Velux windows in our kitchen. I stood underneath and took some photos, and although it wasn’t dark outside and there was plenty of light, the flash kept going off, so I assumed all I’d get was a blur. In fact, I got these finely beaded images, frost ferns pearled with light from the flash, almost like underwater photos of coral. It was the sub-aqua atmosphere that gave me the word ‘surfacing’, and originally I had ‘frost ferns’ in the poem, but that seemed too obvious, so I was left with what appears above.

Julie Mellor, night frost

winter night
— from out of our wreath
a wren

Bill Waters, Winter night

Yesterday’s later part of the onground intensive revolved around silence, and the leader of the last session offered us an extensive guided meditation.  I tried so hard to follow the directions.  I sat in my desk chair and closed my eyes.  I visualized energy moving through my body.  After what felt like an endless journey from head to toe, we got to a space where God was waiting for us.  We visualized the space.  We visualized God.  Then the leader said, “God has a special word or phrase for you. Let’s sit in silence and wait for that word or phrase to emerge.”

It didn’t take long for my word to emerge:  patient.  Not patience, but patient.  I thought about the difference between the two.  I sat resisting the urge to open my eyes and flip through other online sites.  I was not concentrating on God or my word.

I opened my eyes and reached for my sketchbook.  I decided to write the word across the page, and then I wrote it on other parts of the page in different ways (all capital letters, block print, cursive).  I turned the page around.  I wrote patience instead of patient, but I turned that word back to patient.  I revolved my sketchbook again.

Then I wrote Pain. I only realized what I wrote when I paused to think, how do I spell patient again? Then I looked down and realized that I wasn’t just a letter or two off. I looked at the word.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Unsettling Mystical Experiences and a Special Word from God

This year seems to be taking its toll on me more than all of last year did. I don’t know why, although I suspect I could hazard a few guesses. All of them would be different and all of them would likely be correct (I suspect insider trading).

I am certainly losing track of the days as I could have sworn today was the TS Eliot prizegiving. It isn’t – I think it’s next week. I guess as long as the poets, the judges, and Ian McMillan all know, then the rest is irrelevant. That said, I do enjoy following along on Twitter, although one year I’d like to actually go. Maybe next year.

I think I’d got my wires all crossed about dates as I finished J.O. Morgan’s ‘A Martian’s Regress‘ this week. It’s the only one of the books on the list for this year that I’ve read. I will eventually remedy this, and while I loved it I can’t say whether I want it to win or not because I have nothing to balance it against. I’ve read poems by most of the authors on the list and enjoyed them, so come join me on the fence; it’s comfy.

Mat Riches, Gravy Reservoir

Many thanks to They Call Us for publishing my poem “All Words for a Woman” in their most recent issue. I love the aesthetic and artwork in this feminist zine! Make sure to check out the entire zine while you listen to the corresponding curated playlist.

They Call Us is a new  online, feminist literary magazine publishing a themed issue every three months. Past themes include They Call Us Flawed and They Call Us Theirs. They seek “to showcase the talents of writers, designers, and artists. However, our goal first and foremost is to tell the stories of people who feel like they often don’t have a voice.”

You can read more about what they are up to in my interview with them from last year here.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “All Words for a Woman” published by They Call Us “Bossy” zine + list of Feminist Lit Mags

First things first, I do understand and respect that prompts and exercises help certain poets unblock ideas at specific difficult points in their writing lives.

However, as a poet, I personally find that my own poetry is best served when I get on with my daily business, making sure I read, read, read in the gaps between the stuff I’m doing, thus allowing poems to ripen in my mind before putting pen to paper. As mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, sometimes it’s better to wait rather than forcing work to come out.

As a reader, meanwhile, I get the impression that certain collections seem to use prompts and exercises as a systematic method of writing. I’m afraid I have to admit these are books I don’t tend to enjoy because I find it extremely hard to connect with the poems in question…

Matthew Stewart, Prompts and exercises

Richard Nicholson (aka the singer-songwriter Billy Penn’s Brother) burst into my life towards the end of the 80’s when he invited the band I was in to play at Harry, a tiny festival of faith, arts and politics in Harrogate (get it?), North Yorkshire. Way ahead of its time, and therefore tiny and fleeting, Harry attracted a loving mixture of what Theodore Roethke called the ‘innocent, hapless, [and] forsaken’: misfits, visionaries, burnt-out charismatics, and house church and acid house refugees. Such was the size of the crowd, you felt by the time you went home that you had encountered everyone present: road crew, singers, and punters alike. It was heady and intoxicating and beautiful. In the sense that I met people there who seemed to think, question, doubt, pray and haphazardly pretend they were artists while doing other things (and that this was fine, normal, even), I do think it changed my life.

Around the same time, Richard became a mainstay of a writers’ and artists’ group I used to host in my kitchen. Without the resources of the internet we now take for granted, it was a word of mouth affair, friends of friends of dubious friends pitching up with their entry fee of Bulgarian red, to read, pontificate or argue about their latest masterwork. Naturally Richard came and held forth with the best of them, making lugubrious wisecracks in his deep Geordie voice while sipping Oolong tea through his pipe smoke. One week he would bring a painting, the next a new song, another a manifesto in reply to Marshall McLuhan.

Then, one week, he brought a little sequence of poems which stunned me with their brevity, mordant humour and precision. I think there were no more than half a dozen of them, but each seemed to carry the freight of a lifetime’s reading, study, reflection and rage. I told him at the time I thought they were as good as Ivor Cutler, one of our shared heroes. I still think this today. I saw him perform the poems once, in the basement of Holy Joe’s, the Harry crew’s London base, below Brixton’s Acre Lane. He declaimed them without introduction sitting upright in bed wearing striped pyjamas and a Scrooge nightcap. The effect was charming and unsettling in equal measure.

Anthony Wilson, Intense

The lake has frozen.
Ice fishermen scatter,
tiny dark figures

making their way
across its flat
white expanse.

My heart pounds
gunfire
in my chest.

If the ice breaks
there is no one
to call.

Rachel Barenblat, Watching armed insurrection from afar

I haven’t been sleeping well. Though I suspect few of us are these days. This weekend several of the local lakes were declared to be “safe”, then on Sunday two men fell through the ice of two different lakes. On the other side of the country, an environmental activist fell through and died.

I know that “liminal” has become one of those overused words, but the truth is these liminal spaces are dangerous. The in-betweens and the uncertainties and this continual sense of being on the edge.

Flight, freeze, fight, faint or f#%&. But before that, the suspense, the suspension of our own unconscious flow. Heightened awareness is exhausting.

Even with the yaktrax this morning, the asphalt is dangerous. There’s a light dusting of snow over the ice. The small plow pushes snow into the street and spreads sand on the sidewalk. I want to run this morning, but don’t dare. I’m too unstable, too tired. I won’t be able to catch myself and find my balance if I slip.

A time-out would be nice. Is nice, when I allow myself this. Last week my youngest son visited and told me there is another possibility to the “Flight, freeze…” scenario: submit. Startled and frighten dogs sometimes do it. It’s not the same as playing dead. There’s no deception involved. It’s a matter of softening.

We are so sure that surrender is a bad thing. I’ve been thinking that there is a reason so many religions demand it. We need a time-out from our own will. A reality-check in the midst of all the prophets. Surrender to, acknowledge this moment and its omnipotence. And the next.

Ren Powell, Playground with Dreamcatcher

Finally, I identified with the problems of writing itself: “You write a thing down because you’re hoping to get a hold on it. You write about experiences partly to understand what they mean…. But there’s always the danger of the opposite happening. Losing the memory of the experience to the memory of writing about it.” [Sigrid] Nunez makes that connection to people who realize some of their memories arise not so much from events themselves but from photographs of these events.

I know I sometimes lose track of what really happened if I make a poem of my own experience, or base a story on observed life and behaviors. I often write to better understand something or someone, to expand my compassion for someone who hurt me or behaved badly or inexplicably. What would make someone do that? I ask, and then try to answer that question in a story that loves the character who did it, in part by exploring the character’s motivation, as I would as an actor…  By the time the story is finished, my compassion is expanded, yes, but my imagination has already taken over, and my fiction-writing self has mixed and matched details as needed, and who knows what the “facts” were on the way to the new truth? That’s why it’s fiction.

Kathleen Kirk, Still the Right Book at the Right Time

This year, I intend to make more collages and poem collages to add to those I made in 2020, and previously, which I’ve shown you in several posts, such as Collage Poems (from 2017); Once Upon a Lockdown (sequence of nine prose poems/collages from 2020); Collages of Exasperation (also from 2020).  In my collage work, I’m inspired by poet, writer, artist, and teacher Sophie Herxheimer.

I’m mentioning my collage project now as a means of recording my intention to do the work, and in an attempt to avoid procrastination. I would love to set myself a target of at least two pieces a month but I am going to say at least one piece a month, to be less demanding on myself.  Having said that, I have in January 2021 made two pieces so far.  Hurray!

For my first 2021 piece, I’ve used a cut-up calendar from last year, headlines from The Guardian newspaper (which I tend to buy on a Saturday) and flowers and foliage from my garden.  I’ve made another piece in tandem, without any foliage, so that I can retain this month’s collage.  I plan on doing this with every piece I make from now on (as much as possible).  Last year, I used a lot of natural materials (flowers and foliage) in my collages which meant that I couldn’t physically save them – I only photographed them.  I set up a separate Instagram account for my visual pieces last year – @andothermakings.  I recycled and composted all unsaved materials, by the way!

Josephine Corcoran, Collages for 2021

Traveling to an alternate universe of thinking and writing has been helpful lately given an attempted coup, and racist police response, AND the apocalyptic daily death count and a catastrophically lame vaccine rollout. I don’t manage the leap into literary concentration every day, but that’s actually what my next book is about: what helps us slip into the reading trance, where poetry is concerned, and what that border-crossing does for a reader.

I’m polishing and updating my forthcoming essay collection, to be called Poetry’s Possible Worlds or Taking Poetry Personally depending on what my editor says. It requires reading and rereading widely and wildly to make sure my thinking and research are up-to-date: Carolyn Dinshaw’s exhilarating How Soon Is Now, Nicole Seymour’s Bad Environmentalism, and essays on narrative theory, deep attention, presentism, poetry of witness, and much more. New to me is Brian Attebery’s Stories About Stories, of interest partly because I’m thinking about story in poetry but also because of my investment in speculative fiction. Attebery argues that the cultural importance of literary fantasy as a genre lies in how it “redefine[s] the relationship between contemporary readers and mythic texts.” I’m not wholly satisfied with that as a definition, yet the book is useful and interesting. He describes genre, for instance, as “fuzzy sets”: “the question of what genre a particular text belongs to will never be resolved, nor need it be. The interesting question about any given story is not whether it is fantasy or science fiction or realistic novel, but rather what happens when we read it as one of those things.”

In the larger sense, I write in many genres–poetry, fiction, criticism, reviews, literary nonfiction–but I also think of myself as operating in the borderlands between smaller categories. My poetry has appeared and been reviewed in both “mainstream” and sf venues; it’s been called lyric, political, formalist, fabulist, and more, to which I say, cool. My forthcoming hybrid essay collection (blending criticism, theory, and personal narrative) argues that most poetry is not just fiction but fantasy. It’s fiction because framing it on a page as literary art sets it apart from truth and lies; it’s fantasy because, notwithstanding, it’s obsessed with what’s true. I define fantasy in a way that’s tangential to Attebery’s idea; I think of it as fiction exploring questions of what’s real, what matters.

Lesley Wheeler, Multiple worlds in poetry, fiction, and politics

I’m not gonna sugar coat it. We are in the rubble.

This blog has more or less been built around the idea that we are all required to make something beautiful. But it’s been a long time since I’ve quoted the passage from which the line is taken. Here it is:

“The barrenness of the poetic task: as if every day we look out at a courtyard of rubble and from this are required to make something beautiful. ”

— Theodore Roethke from Straw for the Fire

Well, we have no shortage of rubble at present. No shortage of barrenness, if that’s even a possibility.

I’ve read a lot of advice about how to continue to get through this time and probably I’ve thrown out some of my own. But honestly whenever I read anything in the realm of “thou shalt” my brain just turns off. The best tips seem to come from previous times, for me, anyway. Fernando Pessoa, for example, said this in 1931: “Don’t squander yourself, giving what you don’t have.” And, “Enjoy being the little you are. The hovel you’re given is a better shelter than the palace you’re owed.”

Shawna Lemay, Don’t Squander

How does the writer’s brain work? It is a bewilderment to me, why it must be this particular word, or that particular image. How is it that now, in this time of several national and global crises, I emerge from sleep holding to this juxtaposition: 

    i wake 

    my face is wet 

        the blue heron stands 

        one foot 

        on a slate roof 

Sharon Brogan, questions

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 52

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.

One thing I’ve re-learned this year from doing this digest is the truth of the old Pennsylvania Dutch saying, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” But the more slowly and thoroughly I go though my poetry blog feeds, the sooner things fall into place. Writing poetry, or making any kind of art, is that way too, I think. It’s serious play, with the kind of mental muscle tone one expects from athletes. One has to keep to a schedule, which is a very domesticated form of time, but it helps us relate to its wilder cousin. And making my (almost) daily erasure poems from the Diary of Samuel Pepys, I’m reminded just how much poetry can be submerged in the dailiness of our lives.

Anyway, this week found poets blogging about slowing down, taking stock, re-engaging or disengaging. Floral metaphors cropped up in several posts. Old holiday traditions took on new meanings. The dead were missed and mourned. The end of the year can be an unsettling time even in the most normal of years…


This is what I have always desired above all else: that this day should a day like all others, a day with a morning, an afternoon, and a night, any of which might be made into anything. 

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always disliked holidays: days that absolutely must be one thing and no other. They seem to me a disrespect to the world, an imposition on it that we have no right to make. Who are we to call this day Christmas, as if days were a thing to be ordered and sorted and classified by human beings? Who knows what we’ve lost, over the years, how many days born in the tenderest part of winter, that might have been days of learning or of loss, that have been made by brute force into days of festivity? It’s hard for me to see this act of coercion as homage to Jesus of Nazareth, who came to make everything uncertain and raw-skinned and new. 

Dale Favier, Christmas Day, 2020

how much earth must i lose
to wear the moon’s white shoe

Grant Hackett [no title]

Dawn dreams: finding my mother dead in the middle of the living room floor, near the Christmas tree, and in some worst horror of it, knowing exactly what to do and doing it, competent and calm as only trauma people can be in crisis; of chasing after someone else’s Christmas family, ignored, utterly baffled by ritual I could not even recognize and that had no place for me, and yet expected to make it work for everyone else; cruelty, contempt, violence, severance, loss—all home, hopes, plans, commitments shattered and ground underfoot, followed eventually by careful, careful reach toward something better, followed by the expectation of all the benefits he used to have plus sympathy for how victimized he was that I forced him to do what he did to me; of my own heart, in the small hours of the morning, tachycardic, rising, rising, to the covid 155 and beyond, sharp and tightening pain, intercostals shrinking, shrinking, ribs cracking from the inside, hammering volume rising and then: nothing.

JJS, Christmas, 2020

Even the solstice is a trick, using its promise of light 
as a Trojan horse to sneak in winter. My own belly is full 
of potatoes. In quarantine, I’ve been perfecting 
home fries and counting blessings: 

Bless the skillet and its good sizzle. 
Bless the butter and the russet. 
Bless its wobble and its imperfect axis. 

At least the Earth’s is more stable. Cue the ominous 
growl of the furnace, which runs day and night 
in these temperatures. 

Bless its grumbling.

Carolee Bennett, winter solstice poem with potatoes and pandemic

I’ve grieved this year. I know you have too. I lost a dear mentor. The program in which I taught closed down. I came close to getting a dream job–but did not. Another opportunity required weeks of fraught negotiation. My city’s streets were invaded, helicopters a constant presence overhead. Tyrannical subversion of the law has felt like a very real possibility at every turn. A pandemic has attacked friends, family, whole communities, killed thousands, and shut down local institutions that long anchored my understanding of what it meant to live as a writer in DC. Last night, as I opened my laptop and first sat down to write this blog post, brought the news that musician Tony Rice, who shaped my understanding of bluegrass, passed away on Christmas day. 

I’m grateful to all the writer-friends who have stayed active on social media, who have given us dialogue beyond the latest doom-scrolling (a word I did not need before 2020); I simply found it difficult to be one of them. If you’re seeing this it means you didn’t give up on the possibility of my posting here. I’m grateful for that, too.

Sandra Beasley, 2020

I think you’ll all agree that 2020 was an unrelenting bitch of a bad year, and despite the fact that a vaccine is on the way, it’s going to be many more months of staying home and wearing a mask until everyone gets inoculated. Which is to say, the first half of 2021 isn’t looking too rosy either, but I’m hopeful. At least Trump will be gone as of Jan. 20.

I had COVID-19 back in March, although I wasn’t sure if it was actually the virus. It was confirmed in May by an antibodies test. The illness itself never advanced into my lungs, but lingered for several weeks with fever, congestion, no taste or smell, and weird back and hip pain. I also had an accompanying eye infection, which I’ve now learned is a symptom. Although I recovered, I’ve had odd lingering ailments, some of which my doctor said might be side-effects: Bell’s Palsy, continuing pain in my hips and legs,  recurring eye infection, and cellulitis. I’m feeling better now, and hoping to get back on my diet/exercise routine after putting on 25 pounds. Sigh.

There was some fear that the magazine I’ve edited for the past 18 years might not survive the pandemic, but it did, and now we have a new owner going into the new year. Covering the pandemic and the summer of demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd was exhausting, consuming work. Which meant I did almost zero writing of my own. I managed to write one pandemic-related poem (one was enough), submitted older work to a few journals, and I’m currently working on a themed-poem I’m hoping will have a home in the new year. 

The most significant literary work I did in 2020 was getting the Mother Mary Comes To Me anthology into the world with my BFF and co-editor Karen Head. We virtually edited and ushered the antholgy into being with Madville Publishing and, to quote Karen, “it’s a shit-hot book.” Editing the anthology was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my nearly 30 years as a poet. Then we tested the limits of Zoom by holding two giant readings featuring 40 poets from the book. More are planned in the new year. 

Collin Kelley, Looking back at a miserable, no good, very bad year and ahead at what comes next

We are nearing the day of making resolutions and setting intentions, of saying good-bye to one year and hello to another. Many are ready to turn away from this year, as if it has somehow been the source of our suffering and our pain will end when the year does, but when the clock strikes midnight on December 31 and we leave 2020 to memory, neither we nor the world will be magically transformed. We are who we are, and that is who we will still be on January 1. But think of it–how changed the world and each of us is, right now, from what and who we were a year ago at this time, even as we are, simultaneously, exactly who and what we have always been. Isn’t our hike through time, in some ways, like walking a Möbius strip?

Thirty-five years ago, when I was an undergrad, a writing instructor asked me what I wanted to do with my life.

“I want to be a writer,” I answered.

“What does that mean to you?” she asked.

I didn’t know. “It means, I want to write,” I said. The details of my grown-up life as a writer had always been fuzzy to me. As a young teen I hoped it might involve working in a solitary cabin on a beach, with perhaps a dog I could take for long walks when I needed a break, and a quiet sort of fame in which others knew my name but not my face. That vision hadn’t evolved much. She pushed me to define what type of writing I wanted to do, how I planned to make a living at it, what I wanted to write about, and I didn’t know how to answer her questions. I hadn’t yet gone out enough into the world to know at all who I was, what I was, and what I wanted to be. I wanted to write in the way I once created dramas for my ceramic animals and stitched together bits of cloth for my dolls: freely, playfully, with no agenda other than delight. I knew there was a living that needed to be made, and I had vague notions of children and a family, but I didn’t know how my desire to write could or might intertwine with other wants and needs.

In recent years I’ve talked with people about the shapes my life might take after teaching. “Maybe you can write now,” I’ve heard more than once, and I’ve nodded agreement, not knowing any more clearly than I did decades ago what that might mean. But as this annus horribilis draws to a close and possibilities for a different kind of life come closer, I’ve realized something important: I already am writing. I have written here, at least once a week, for the entirety of this year, the longest stretch of regular writing I’ve ever managed. As Sharon gently reminded me, there are many ways in which we might all tell our stories. For the first time ever, I have no regret about how I’ve been telling mine.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The doors to the temple

robin song
the mystery of boats
berthed for winter

Matthew Paul, ‘robin song’

Last week was Episode 5 of Planet Poetry, in which I interviewed Jack Underwood and Peter and I talked about some of the poetry collections we’ve enjoyed this year. We’re having a few weeks off now so the next episode will be on January 7th. It’s been hard work getting ‘the Planet’ off the ground, but so stimulating and great fun to work with Peter on it.

I’ve not submitted a great many poems this year, in fact nothing in the last six months. Alongside the usual rejections it’s been super to have work published in Stand, The Frogmore Papers, The North, and I do have two poems forthcoming in Prole. But then… nothing. I hope I can get something out soon, or in 2021 I might vanish.

On a more positive note, I’m going to be taking part in an online reading for the Mary Evans Picture Library in January, and Chichester poetry are going to have me as their ‘featured poet’ in February/March. Come on Robin, write some bloody new poems why don’t you.

Meanwhile my wee group the Lewes Singers have had a quiet year, but a few of us got together for a very small, socially-distanced concert last weekend. It was so wonderful to sing with others again, if a bit tricky having to stand so far apart. And emotional. I felt myself welling up during a couple of the carols. I know there’s a lot of discussion about how to take care of our mental health at the moment, but the subtext I always hear is ‘yes but of course physical health is much more important.’ I do wonder if it shouldn’t be a more equal balance.

Robin Houghton, What I’ve been doing (and While you were Sleeping)

These poems hit urgently then and now, and I hope they bring something to your life. I think the carrying forth of words that brought these here parallels a life of poetry. Sometimes we carry the words, sometimes they carry us. After a year of so much unnecessary death, oppression, injustice, fear, stress, and upheaval, the words that matter now have to surprise us, connect in ways that make themselves known within. Which is to say that the words have to be poetry.

If you are reading this, be kind to yourselves. We have survived. It doesn’t have to mean happiness. It just means that we’re here. Your presence today is another word toward the rest of your life.

5 by Ikkyu

this ink painting of wind blowing through pines
who hears it?

*

it’s logical; if you’re not going anywhere
any road is the right one

*

ten years of brothel joy I’m alone in the mountains
the pines are like a jail the wind scratches my skin

*

your name Mori means forest like the infinite fresh
green distances of your blindness

*

my monk friend has a weird and endearing habit
he weaves sandals and leaves them secretly by the roadside

José Angel Araguz, surviving & Ikkyū

As the season turns to lengthening daylight which is also the start of a long winter, my equilibrium is shaky. I had a challenging year; I had a lucky year and should never complain about anything. It’s all true.

My fifth poetry collection The State She’s In, seems to be doing well. But, and this won’t shock anyone who knows that 2020 has been a bad year for publishing, I just learned that my first novel, Unbecoming, isn’t selling much despite good reviews. I am heartsore. I’ve seen my spouse go through this; in 2011 he published a novel in stories with a university press that immediately went under and eventually learned that the marketing person, last woman standing on the sinking ship, never sent out the review copies or publicity she’d promised. He wrote a couple of great novel mss after that and just couldn’t sell them, because the publishers’ marketing people looked at those numbers and said “bad risk.” This happens in poetry, too–the best way to jump to a press with a big presence is to sell the hell out of your small-indie collection–but the effect is stronger in novel-publishing, probably because poetry has so little money in it anyway. I had felt excited about the new novel I’m drafting but pivoted immediately to fear that no matter how good it is, it might get stuck in limbo. What I care about here isn’t advances or royalties–I have a day job–but to keep writing books, publish them when they’re good and ready, and find appreciative readers.

I’m sad but not paralyzed. On the practical side, I’m making to-do lists for post-publication prize entries and other ways 2021 can be an occasion for a second push. On the emotional side, I’m reminding myself how many literary gifts I’ve received in 2020: generous reviews, reading opportunities, and a LOT of nice notes from friends and strangers praising one book or the other. I am truly, wildly grateful, even when so much about the publishing landscape is dispiriting or just plain pisses me off. I’m also trying to pay back the love.

Lesley Wheeler, cats : making a ruckus :: poets : blogging

At some point years ago, I became hyper-aware of my work keys. How I would actually cling tightly to them when I felt a class of 30 restless students taking control of a situation that should have been under my control. Weirdly, my noticing this – stepping back and taking on the role of the director in relationship with my “character” – I was able to access when control was necessary and when it wasn’t. I could make more conscious choices about my “role” as an instructor. These days, half the time I have no idea where my keys are – which I’m certain is not something my boss wants to know.

Yesterday finding myself in the bathtub without my mobile phone, I had the same kind of epiphany. We read and talk a lot about social media and how we can passively allow it to define us. But the phone itself – the device – has come to partially define me. My mindless connection to this object, and its ability to connect me to a world of ideas to occupy my thoughts every moment, is shaping my behavior. It is determining how I move in the world. Literally: in the bath, one elbow propped on the edge of the tub to hold the phone dry. My shoulder twisted slightly. My neck under stress.

I’ve believed for a long time that we are nothing more than what we do: what we think and how we interact with the world. And that thinking and interacting with the world are interconnected in such a way that one defines the other – reinforcing or challenging who are “are” at any moment. I believe this is how we can change. How we do change.

I’m going to stop grasping at my mobile phone. Stop clinging to my sense of self: the productivity shoulds and ought-tos.

I’m going to dare to be truly naked in the bathtub.

Ren Powell, Dropping Character

TB: My close friend died of her addiction in her beautiful home a few blocks away from me, and the pain of her loss sat beside me when I wrote much of this book. I suppose while I was at it, I also thought of the other great death of my life, my father’s. After both of their deaths, I felt close to that W. H. Auden poem, “Stop all the clocks.” People were mowing their lawns like nothing happened, going in and out of Superstore like zombies. I thought, How dare you carry on?! I went for a lot of walks and the same blank eyes of windows never blinked. The hurricane inside one household, inside one mind, doesn’t show. There’s no real “street life” here, other than dogs walking owners and the power-washer obsessed.

RT: Does a direct current run between “Death” and “The Suburbs”?

TB: Alcohol and death in the suburbs did become a concept for this book, but only after I’d written hundreds of poems first, and this cluster formed. What eats away at you is unavoidable; you can’t help but return to certain ideas and subjects. (Dear reader, most of my poems are death-free!!)

RT: Ha! Death is inescapable in poetry, as in life. An increasingly less common theme in poetry today, though, is religion. It jumped out at me, then, when two poems in Everyone at This Party riffed on the existential questioning of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. What draws you to Ecclesiastes, and does it connect in some way to your thinking about the suburbs (“there is nothing new under the sun”)?

TB: I’m drawn to the Book of Ecclesiastes for its straight goods. It says bluntly, “Look, we’re dying here so don’t get your hopes up—and don’t get all attached. All your hard work will amount to dust, and even if you’re successful, a fool will inherit your money and squander it. Life is arbitrary and people don’t get what they deserve.” Whereas most books of the New Testament come down to love, hope, and purpose, Ecclesiastes dares to hammer throughout, “Everything is meaningless” and “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Maybe I’m weird but this is comforting to me, kind of the opposite of toxic positivity. I like the acknowledgement that horrible things happen to good people and the undeserving win; this is what we all see happening anyway. It doesn’t pretend to make us feel better. I know people who’ve spent years quietly helping others without fanfare, and then fall on hard times, yet a cruel impeached president plays on, enjoying unmerited attention, wealth, and power.

Rob Taylor, The Hurricane Inside One Household: An Interview with Tanja Bartel

They begin in the dark alleyways of the mind; acts of intentional violence begin in the dark alleyways of the mind.

There, they extend beyond the body and breed in the streets with no regard for innocent bystanders.

It’s like a tombstone that wishes it had been born a bird, so it drags others down to bear its heavy weight.

This land, these people stalked by bullets and bad thoughts. A society divided, derided, sucker-punched, and sold to the highest bidder.

We live in this world for a while, turning over stones, seeking out love and luck, laying out a trail of bright and glittery things to lead us from the beast within.

This world of banality and fatalities, saints and civility, broken mirrors and little pity for the aging.

Listen for the living breath that leaves roses along the boulevard of the weary and defeated.

Listen for the flower asking the mad bomber, “Why?“

Rich Ferguson, In the Season of Flowers and Mad Bombers

crow jane lady
in your house
in the wind
flying still

Dick Jones, DOG SUTRAS

At some point in junior high, when I would have been 12 or 13, I read The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. My memory of that first reading, or at least a part of it, is extraordinarily vivid. I was sitting outside at lunchtime, on a sunny and quiet staircase round the back of the school, and riveted to the book. What I remember is reading this passage:

“As he stood there peering into the room, surprised to find it empty, the door behind him closed. Perhaps by itself, but Leamas made no attempt to open it. It was pitch dark. No sound accompanied the closing of the door, no click nor footstep. To Leamas, his instinct suddenly alert, it was as if the sound-track had stopped.”

My reaction to this was absolutely visceral. I remember feeling frozen to the spot – somewhat like Leamas himself. At the moment when the door closed I am pretty sure that the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. In my memory, this is when I knew that I would go on reading this author. 

There is a way in which memory flows in all directions, in time or in our lives (and I am not sure that time is linear, although we perceive it as such). What I don’t know is whether I remember such moments so clearly because they pointed the way forward, or whether they have later taken on a greater significance. I’m not sure it matters. […]

In the past ten years, I engaged with le Carré’s work more intensely than I had previously done. I have joked that moving to south London and, for a while, having a view of MI6 from my window had an effect, but it’s actually possible; geographic locations have quite an powerful effect on me. Although I had been writing poetry for about as long as I’d been a le Carré fan, I also started writing poetry more intensely in the past ten years, and publishing. Here and there, I also found his influence creeping into my work, whether in the occasional poem actually about spies, or in some acerbic tone or wry observation. Le Carré loved poetry, too. In The Russia House, he quotes Stevie Smith and Theodore Roethke in the space of one page. Our Game references Osip Mandelstam. The Honourable Schoolboy opens with Auden’s famous lines: “I and the public know/What all schoolchildren learn,/Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return.” Perhaps most tellingly, George Smiley loved “the lesser German poets”. 

I have realised that we create a kind of internal genealogy for ourselves. We find the things that matter and they become linked together into a system or a map, and that is who we are, at least in part. The lamplight falls especially brightly, or at least with a particular light, on certain people, places, beliefs, concepts and artistic works on our map. John le Carré’s works reside in one of those pools of light, for me. It is very hard to now say goodbye. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, In memory of John le Carré, 1931-2020

River. Trees.
Cold blue sky.

The ice knew
where I was

going, when
I was

coming back.

Tom Montag, Skating the Floyd

I hope this old grandmother/grandfather oak doesn’t mind me sharing this image where their roots are showing. It’s such a perfect illustration that, for trees, as much is going on belowground as above… more, actually, for the roots are where the tree does their thinking.

deep ::
the roots I touch
when I am alone

Dylan Tweney [untitled photo post]

I remember all the clever remarks at the beginning of 2020 about vision, about clarity, about hindsight, looking backward looking forward. Actually, I can’t remember them at all right now, just that they were a thing. I wanted to write a blog post without referencing the pandemic even once, but that can’t really happen. We’re deep in it at present. Can photographs help us see what life is like now? Will they mean something more or different later? Will they record things that we can’t even really see right now because we’re steeped in what’s going on? We’re bone tired, we’re hanging on, with luck. It’s not easy.

Shawna Lemay, Seeing Our Way Forward

I had a little surprise good news on Christmas Eve (see previous post) that one of my personal essays that I published this year – the first year I’ve tried to publish personal essays, really – was chosen as one of Salon’s “Best of 2020.” “Marriage in the Time of Coronavirus” was the first that I wrote and sent out, and Salon was the second place I queried. It felt like a little encouragement from the universe to continue to try genres outside of poetry, especially as I am still trying to place my two poetry manuscripts in the new year. This is also a good time to remind you that even if you are in middle age (say, ahem, 47) it’s not too late to try out new forms and experiment a little. […]

It can be hard, after the sort of year we’ve had in 2020, to make sense of it, much less process it enough to think about next year. It’s hard to make goals or set intentions knowing that even our biggest hopes might be thwarted by unforeseen intervention from a sometimes chaotic universe. Maybe we need to heal a bit before jumping into the next thing. We need to mourn losses, acknowledge hard facts, come to terms with the fact that sometimes things are out of our control.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Post Christmas Haze, Looking to the New Year

Christmas in my house would hardly be Christmas without a paper project or some sort of ornament-making, and this bizarre year is no exception. A while back, I became fascinated by mathematical origami models which are constructed using identical folded units that then are assembled into a shape, and over the years I’ve made a number of stellated octahedrons using Japanese papers in various combination of prints and solids.

This year, though, seemed like a good time to tackle the Bascetta Star, a model created by an Italian mathematician, Paolo Bascetta. The repetitive folding and concentration of origami are calming and meditative for me, and the process of making this star was a perfect antidote to the news.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 49. Star

I heard that President Obama’s memoir had to be printed in Germany because there is a paper shortage in the United States. The paper shortage is because we’ve been using so much cardboard to make so many more shipping boxes since the pandemic obligated us to stay home. I don’t know if any of that is true, though it seems plausible. A parable about unintended consequences. I thought of it often in the days after Crossing the Sea launched, because I didn’t yet have a copy in my hands.

Then I started getting photos from friends and family who had pre-ordered the book from Amazon or from the publisher. I was starting to wonder whether my copies were uniquely held up somewhere when the box landed on my doorstep. It’s a cliché to say that my heart rate quickened as I cut the packing tape and lifted the first copies out of the wrapping, but it’s also true. I’d seen the manuscript in PDF form many times, but there’s something fundamentally different about a paper book.

The poems have a realness now that they exist in the tangible world. The collection is no longer the proverbial tree falling with no one to hear it.  The journey it chronicles feels so far away now — evidence that “doing the grief work” actually does work, I guess. I remember what it was like in those early days and weeks, but I remember it at a remove. Through a glass darkly. Like rereading my poems from my son’s infancy. I know that was me, but I can’t inhabit that space anymore. 

A few of Mom’s friends have written to say that they see her in this book, and a few people who are grieving now have written to say that their own journey feels mirrored here. There’s no higher praise. I hope that Mom would be honored by the existence of this book. (I hope that, “wherever” she is, she approves.) And I hope other mourners will find comfort and consolation here. That’s why I write. It’s always why I write: not for solipsism’s sake, but to shine a light for others in the darkness.

Available at Phoenicia, on Amazon, or wherever books are sold. 

Rachel Barenblat, On the far shore

a break from the winter rains
perhaps a few days of sunshine
it is sunrise and i sip coffee
watching through a window
as wild finches peck in my yard
and on the patio
making small sounds that please me

in my imagination I took a long walk
as my body was too weak to do so
and in my mind I found a world
of fields and woods with no footprints
in all directions this world was new and clean
my body is weak but my world is still wild
and absolutely free

James Lee Jobe, my world is still wild

warm tea inside me:
“Let’s all go to Narnia!”
(rain drums on the roof)

Jason Crane, haiku: 24 December 2020

One of the gifts I splurged on for myself recently was to sign up for BookFox’s “Master Your Writing Time” course. I’m dawdling my way through it, but finding–despite my best efforts, or the opposite–that it has helped. Some of the lessons are action tips, and adopting the Pomodoro method has worked beautifully for me. Sitting for very long makes me feel achy and stiff. But working for just 25 minutes, then spending 5 minutes moving around, doing a few chores (avoiding my phone & computer), has been pretty amazing.

Bethany Reid, My Slow Christmas

Remember: look for the shine and sheer away what’s getting in the way, or carve it so that the light and shadow work how you want them to.

Remember: it’s a spiral process. Start anywhere. You’ll be back there again eventually, but hopefully from a slightly different vantage point.

Remember: time is the best editor.

Marilyn McCabe, Notes on Revision: A Megablog

A writer friend posted, “I went back through a folder tonight and found stories from 1999-2005. It’s so wild because all were fiction, some were written as part of Kristin Berkey-Abbott’s classes, and I can tell exactly what I was reading and what I was trying to make happen in those stories.”

I thought of my own experience, as I choose poems to send out in packets to journals that might accept them.  It’s a mix of memories of where I was when I wrote the poem and what I was trying to do with the poem.  Occasionally, enough time has gone so that I can be struck anew with wonder at the poem, as if I’m reading a poem written by someone else.

Like my writer friend, my memories are strong even with much older work, and I remember much more than just the writing of the poem.  I remember the other circumstances of my life too–where I was living, what I was teaching, the friends I was meeting, the other creative work I was doing.

Reading her post, I got nostalgic for my teaching days, the days when I taught more literature.  I’ve had more than one teacher friend tell me that they miss reading poetry out loud in front of a class of students.  I miss that too.  I was always inspired by the literature I was reading, in a way that I am not inspired by the administrator documents I’m writing and reading.

I miss the communal nature of studying literature together.  I don’t feel the same about writing, the teaching of how to write a piece, whether it be a poem, a 5 paragraph essay, or a resume.  But reading a poem or a short story and analyzing what works or doesn’t–yes, I miss that.  I miss having the language of good literature echoing in my head all day.

There are all sorts of communal things I miss these days, like singing Advent songs together in church, watching similar TV shows all at the same time (well, some of you are still doing that, but I’m not), holiday travel (maybe not).  I was delighted all week to see people’s photos of Jupiter and Saturn coming closer together before the Great Conjunction last night.  We’ve been going out to look when the evenings are clear. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Communal Life and the Literature We Read and Teach (and Write)

I love it when I read the right book at the right time…and when it automatically renews itself at the library for me! Right now that book is The Art of the Wasted Day, by Patricia Hampl. I’m reading it as I waste this particular day, the day after Christmas, which feels meandering and slow compared to yesterday (cooking the dinner) and the days before (preparations, small as they were, for this year’s holiday). It’s the right time in the sense of following upon my Laziness vs. Diligence blog entry, comforting me by affirming me in my “laziness” that is not quite that, and in my slatternly ways on a Slattern Day in the blog.

In her Prelude (brief introduction), Hampl is speaking of Michel de Montaigne, creator/practitioner of the personal essay, whose father engaged a lute player to follow him around the house as a child, encouraging his son’s imagination, daydreaming, indolence. “There was fugitive genius in this indolence,” says Hampl, ultimately praising Montaigne as “the first modern daydreamer.” […]

I’m comforted, too, by Montaigne’s own thoughts on essayistic writing, liberally quoted by Hampl: “If it doesn’t go along gaily and freely, it goes nowhere worth going.” This is how I feel about my ephemeral blog writing–it goes along gaily and freely, usually composed on the spot, though sometimes I take notes–say, in my reading journal, if I want to quote something (as I have done here), and both Hampl and Montaigne are/were note takers! The spontaneity of blog writing is good because (Montaigne again) “the anxiety to do well, and the tension of straining too intently on one’s work, put the soul on the rack, break it, and make it impotent.” So far, my soul is not on the rack, it is not broken!

Kathleen Kirk, Right Book at the Right Time

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. “

All I could think of was the number of deaths from COVID, especially among those who are poor.

Scrooge gets visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley and three other ghosts.  

“Mankind was my business!” Marley’s ghost tells Scrooge.

It’s the final ghost, the ghost of Christmas yet to come, clinches it for the terrified Scrooge.

The ghost story becomes a conversion story.

This Christmas, I look on COVID 19 as a ghostly visitation in many ways.  How we all respond to its demands –  especially the wealthy, and those in political and economic power,  will determine our future.

Anne Higgins, God bless us, everyone!

heron tides its broken boats,
words left tidelined, stranded,
picked over, kicked over,
over-collected here in laugharne.
castellated over cottaged lanes
as we thought it should be;
but here it is, as it was when he wrote,
candled in spindrift wince,
all alone,
high and dry,
and ever so bloody mighty.

Jim Young, laugharne

We are at the end of an arbitrary, chronological year but still in the midst of a pandemic that will not be going away miraculously when the new calendar begins.

To what must we devote ourselves? I think, for now, just getting by and living through; we can learn much from solving the everyday puzzles life pitches at us. A friend counsels that having a project to do can help–something a bit thorny that offers a challenge but that is not a priority. For now, I am cutting vines–the ones that threaten to strangle the remaining trees in the windbreaks on either side of our narrow property.

Trees that have been weakened by too little and then too much rain, by warmer temperatures and crown die-back that encourage lichen, by insects and the viruses they carry, and by a lack of native undergrowth. The ash trees that ringed the meadow are all dead now, victims of fungus and stress-related illnesses caused by infestations of emerald ash borers.

It’s an ongoing effort for which there won’t be much reward, but it feels a bit like tending something in the dead of winter.

Ann E. Michael, Until…

When I started bloom in the spring, I was in that stalled out period of writing.  I had managed to muddle through The Shining inspired poems, and actually liked what I was getting by the end, but I suppose, like everyone, I felt I needed to also be writing about what was happening in the world–about anxiety and fear and upheaval.  Mind you, I’ve no doubt we are still there..I finished that series of poems in late summer, after I had gone back to work and the world felt more stable.  In the time since, we’ve fallen to more darkness and uncertainty and it looks like we live there now. Another series of poems, still in the revision phase, the plague letters, is a little less about corona specifically and more generally about society and connectedness, but I don’t know if I really have any more corona-inspired poems in me. I feel like bloom captures the moment, or at least that moment in a nutshell…a time when we were still feeling out quarantine in the spring and what a disease that severs the human connection as we know it, could mean. Also, how nature just goes on without us, while simultaneously undoing us. You can read read the entire project here.

Kristy Bowen, poems as snapshot and document

Unexpected abundance, even
if not a windfall. A torrent
at midnight, or a heavy snowfall.

The world looks pristine
before we start again

to make tracks in it.

Luisa A. Igloria, Imagined, Undying Flower

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 42

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

Some weeks, these digests reach a kind of critical mass where I hate to stop compiling, like a long walk or run when the endorphins urge you on. This was one of those. I found posts on family and politics, including the politics of academia and publishing, posts about self-care and overwhelm, some fascinating new-to-me poets, and plenty of humor along with the expected angst (sometimes in the same post). I was also pleased to see evidence that poetry bloggers are reading and responding to each other more than ever. After a week in which Facebook and Twitter demonstrated a stark new willingness to stifle wrongthink, it’s comforting to know that we might still have at least the foundations for an alternative, non-corporate, online community in the blogosphere. Anyway, enjoy!


Why is a graveyard called a burning forest?
When I married into the family I learned
to discern the depth of sorrow in the way
dust swirled into a hurricane under chairs.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Pity

I was a refugee from Hungary in 1956 and have been a UK citizen since 1964. Becoming a British citizen however did not mean becoming English. I have long recognised the fact that it was easier to be officially British than to be unofficially English.  Having worked as an English language writer and translator from Hungarian for about forty years I now think it is even possible to become part of English literature without ever being quite English. Could I become Hungarian and start again after 64 years? I really don’t think so. That’s two close communities dispensed with. […]

One of the reasons I voted against Brexit was because I felt Europe was stronger and less vulnerable as a single body rather than as a set of disparate nations. Now, even more,I fear the various schisms that are developing. I suspect the UK itself is falling apart partly, at least, because of terrible nostalgias about its imperial and military past. There are people here who are so much in love with a vanished past that they will do anything to preserve its attitudes at the cost of present unities. They depend on making enemies out of friends.

I am not entirely out of sympathy with them. There are many values bound up in language and nationhood and I fully understand that it is very painful to lose them. But modern Britain increasingly depends on those who are not intrinsically part of it. People like you and I in fact. More you than I at my age. I am a minor cultural figure with various prizes for writing and translation but I am of negligible economic or social use. You are not.  You – and all those moving round Europe – are literally the moving parts of the engine.

George Szirtes, SETTLED STATUS: WINDRUSH ON STEROIDS

7 – My Dad abandoned us when I was seven. He left my sister, my mother, and me in a bus station in a strange city to shack with a barroom pick-up. A relative took us in, thank goodness, but it was hard, and I didn’t really understand what was happening. That is, I knew he was gone, and where he went, but I couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t see him at all for two years. Not a card, not a call. I used to pray at night, in bed, to die. I would pray for Jesus to come and get me, take me to heaven. Yeah. I lost a lot of faith in Jesus at seven. What? Heaven didn’t have room for one small kid? Maybe the depression started then. My memory for that era isn’t that clear. I do remember that bus station, though. I can see it clear as day.

8 – I am the Poet Laureate for the city where I live, and I have no idea what to do with that. It’s a pandemic; what can I do? Zoom readings? Ugh. I am writing and editing more than ever. I must have over thirty coronavirus poems, and maybe eight thousand poems in total. The idea of counting them is rather depressing, and I am depressed enough already.

9 – With Dad gone, Mom got violent. She had always spanked the hell out of us, afterward crying and saying that we made her do it, but with Dad gone, it was belts and hairbrushes and spatulas, not her hand. It was hard slaps across the face for great offences like eating with an elbow on the table. In my forties, with Dad long dead, I confronted her about it. She denied it totally. She said I got away with murder. Both parents are dead now. I do love them, but I do not miss them. Not ever. My wife and I never struck our kids.

James Lee Jobe, TEN THINGS – the list

My spouse’s picture is now up on the FB site of a local self-styled “militia,” the GOP is in voter-suppression overdrive, and people are hunkered in their homes, if they have them, fearing increasing right-wing violence and, oh yeah, contagion. Even if a miracle Biden landslide happens, Trump concedes without a fight, and domestic terrorist groups keep their anger to a low grumble (all of which strike me as big ifs), poets and everyone else in the US are going to continue to have a LOT to protest about, including police violence against Black Americans, deep economic injustice, catastrophic environmental damage, and a Supreme Court banking hard to the right.

I’ve felt cheered by the upswell of political poetry these last few years, and wretched as 2020 has been, it seemed right for my book to come out in March (I just wish I’d been able to read from it more). As the next collection brews, though, I’m wondering what kind of poetry I and others will need three to four years from now, which is how long the process takes, if you’re lucky. I’m now sending poems to magazines, trying to catch fall submission windows that are often quite brief, and some of them will surely go in the next ms., although I’m getting more rejections than acceptances at the moment. I tend to draft, forget, revise, forget, revise again, then send, so I didn’t know what I’d find when I reopened my 2019-2020 folders. I had been consciously working on poems with spell-like qualities meant to transform anger, and I discovered some of those, but I unearthed many more poems than I expected about mental health struggles (2019 was rough–better now). I’ve been using poetry to explore some of the hardest episodes from my past and have no idea why now. I’ve also been writing more ecologically than ever, looking for hope in natural processes.

Lesley Wheeler, Imagining poetry after the election

October’s precision.  Everything under the sun is sharp, preening with the ethic of freshly waxed cars, buffed and shined.  It is as nails made brilliant, as hard bright vernis.  Brushed wire.  It is shadow or it is not.  It is bursting pods.  It is golden rust, rods, pods.  A leaf falls into a pile of stiff percussion.  Rustling.  Crouching leaf, crouching skeleton.  Wine veined, ochre colored.  Same conversation with variation.  The earth is calling in echoes to other years.  I hear those long corridors of open Os, speaking the language of color. 

No more summer sonata, no more crickets.  Other beings supply the current of high-wire urgency.  Anxiety in the air, human panic.  Mud flats of nation and politics.  There is no joy in mudsville.  No joy in being Cassandra, having watched the hard-muscled tide of the courts over 20 years.  It’s all happening – decay.  

Americans are tuned to our tale of woe, and I’m one of them.  It’s hard to turn away, to oscillate, to equate that with care.  The next two weeks – oh, the indignity, and oh, the dignity required to be a bystander on this earth. 

Jill Pearlman, October Blues (and other shades)

This morning
I steal away
a moment.
I hold it tight

in my palm,
as it stretches
its limbs

into my flesh —
a sleepy rabbit.

Romana Iorga, Thief

A pause for thought, or not even thought, this week. Not even reflection. Not even crying -though that would be good. A pause for space. For doodling on it, staring into it. As a friend once said to me, a space, a moment, of ‘ungiving’. Which, apart from other things, will mean an absence from screens.

Anthony Wilson, You’ve got to write it all down

Did you hear about the tractor
trailer driver who quit his job,
maxxed out all his credit cards
and took his family on a long
cross-country trip a week before
the world was predicted to end?
He said The rapture would have been
a relief: meaning, when the magic
moment came, all believers
would just be spirited away
in a flash of blinding
light to the afterlife. Credit
collectors would only hear
a strange, electric absence
at the other end of the line.

Luisa A. Igloria, Absolute Debt

Been missing posting, but also been exhausted, so will be here in shorter posts as a compromise. On that note, here’s the last poem I recommend, Garrett Hongo’s “The Legend.” It’s a powerful elegy that in its scope pays tribute to the memory of Jay Kashiwamura, managing the humanity of the life lost against references to Descartes and Rembrandt.

It’s the latter, the line “There’s a Rembrandt glow on his face,” that guided my recommendation–specifically to my poetry workshop students. The ability to borrow this aspect of Rembrandt’s work and connect it across time and space in this poem is powerful. May we all be able to find some of this glow in our lives.

José Angel Araguz, exhausted seltzer

Patricia Beer’s poem grew in my esteem, from initial bewilderment and annoyance at its bold stanza-to-stanza leaps to total admiration. It is an Imagist-ish depiction of autumn; almost the most autumn-y of autumn poems. Unfortunately, it’s not available on the web, but I thought I’d share another of her poems which is: ‘The Conjuror’. From that ‘last sparks of other people’s grief’ onwards, you know you’re reading a poet of genius. That the top hat is ‘made of blossoms’ is itself a trompe l’oeil, and the sentence beginning ‘We sensed’, with those two words teetering beautifully at the end of the second stanza, is perfect. The change then to the second-person address to the departed conjuror is beautifully achieved. It’s a poem which could easily have been over-egged, but manages in its four quirky yet wholly believable quatrains to conjure (yes!) a life out of death; and it’s worth listening to Patricia Beer herself introducing and reading the poem, in her Devonian tones.

Matthew Paul, Beer o’clock

When I first encountered Louise Glück’s poetry, I was trying very hard to make a garden out of an overgrown and neglected patch of forest behind my house. Redwoods shaded the area for most of the year, and when the sun finally rose high enough to shine over the trees in summer, its heat dried the soil to a fine powder. It took me years to understand how this piece of forest functioned, and that my efforts were not only futile, but harmful.

During this time in my life, I found Glück’s poem “Daisies” in Writing Poems, a poetry-writing textbook by Robert Wallace and Michelle Boisseau. When I read the first lines, “Go ahead: say what you’re thinking. The garden / is not the real world. Machines / are the real world,” I felt as if I’d received advice from a wise, acerbic and difficult friend, one whose presence I could tolerate only once or twice a year—not because we didn’t get along but because spending time with her affected me so profoundly that I needed a long time to recover. 

Erica Goss, The Paradox of “Daisies” by Louise Glück

I listened to the wind howling and the rain spattering against the windows yesterday morning, and I realized that the internet connection wasn’t likely to just pop back on.  So I settled in with Carolyn Forche’s What You Have Heard Is True:  A Memoir of Witness and Resistance.  I had been reading it a few pages at a time just before I fell asleep, but I could see that it was heading into dark territory, so I was glad that I had a chance to finish it all in one fell swoop.  What an amazing story.  I knew bits and pieces of it, but it was great to get more details and new information.  I hope someone makes it into a movie.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilt Camp Update

The latest from Beirut-born Parisian (having relocated to France after decades living in California) poet and painter Etel Adnan is Shifting the Silence (Brooklyn NY: Nightboat Books, 2020). Shifting the Silence is an extended lyric meditation composed, the press release offers, as “Adnan grapples with the breadth of her life at ninety-five, the process of aging, and the knowledge of her own approaching death.” It is interesting how Adnan’s approach isn’t to write against silence, but, perhaps, instead, through those same silences, attempting to articulate what those silences provide, and everything she has accumulated along the way, as she rises to meet it. She writes of her own silences, and the silences of history, and of war. She writes of trauma and tragedies overlooked, and some forgotten, some deliberately so. Early on in the book, she writes: “And having more memories than yearnings, searching in unnameable spaces, Sicily’s orchards or Lebanon’s thinning waters, I reach a land between borders, unclaimed, and stand there, as if I were alone, but the rhythm is missing.” She writes of silences that cause damage, and others meant to heal. She writes of the silences that death might bring, which is itself, a method of forgetting.

Composed in English, Shifting the Silence is her first book since the publication of Time (Nightboat, 2019), a volume of her poems translated from French into English by Sarah Riggs, a book that won the 2020 International Griffin Poetry Prize [see my review of such here]. Admittedly only the second title by Adnan I’ve read, the sense I have from these two works is her engagement with the lyric sentence, composing meditations and commentary on writing, war, geopolitical and social histories and the ongoing the beauty of physical landscapes. She writes of contemporary and ongoing wars in the Middle East, climate change, ancient histories and the view from her window. Shifting the Silence, structured as a sequence of prose lyrics, is composed as both meditation and, as she writes, an “incantation,” on living and a life lived; a series of lives lived. She offers: “We have to reconnect what words separated.”

rob mclennan, Etel Adnan, Shifting the Silence

In September 2017, Helen Calcutt’s brother, Matthew, took his own life. He was 40 years old.

‘… the phone rang / and when I answered it / you’d killed / yourself, and that was the start / of you being dead.’

In October 2018 I responded to a call for poems for Eighty Four: Poems on Male Suicide, Vulnerability, Grief and Hope from Verve Poetry Press – an anthology that Helen curated. It is described by Verve as “ both an uncensored exposure of truths, as well as a celebration of the strength and courage of those willing to write and talk about their experiences, using the power of language to openly address and tackle an issue that directly affects a million people every year” and one of its aims is to get people talking about suicide.

Somehow, Helen’s latest pamphlet continues this conversation, exposing the affects a suicide has on others, approaching it head on. At times devastating, at other times she sews a seed of hope and always written with clarity and beauty.

Abegail Morely, Somehow by Helen Calcutt

In 2013, I set out to write a poetry book that raged against the poetry MFA machine within the corporate-modeled university system. At that time, it was clear that, over the decade previous, universities, which employed most of the poets and writers whom I knew, were looking to level any sense of artistic freedom and turn colleges—places of education—into lucrative assembly lines—created to “churn out” ready-made writer-bots modeled after their “mentors”—and most importantly, to rob them of a fair living wage and and benefits.

I created a series of poems that were each dedicated to a profession—from working class to white collar jobs. The poems were also for those whom I knew at the time who were struggling to balance work “by day” and write/create art “by night”. At the time, I worked as a writer and editor for a major university in their advancement division, so I saw first-hand the emphasis the school placed upon making millions of dollars from donors to puff endowments and funnel $ to high-ranking administrators’ salaries—versus ensuring that part-time and adjunct faculty received fair, living wages and health benefits.

The entire collection, called “Professional Poetry” was meant to pay homage to a wide variety of different professions and/also to mock the commodification/capitalist push within arts organizations and universities to homogenize poetry and relegate anything “experimental” or “controversial” to unseen corners. The flattening of creativity—dictated by rich, white, old men, specifically bankers and/or “executives” who were beholden to pharma mega-corporations—forcefully swept into funding decisions for the arts. If a poet didn’t fit their dictated/defined “category”, or if a poet didn’t subserviently oblige and change their work to suit their framework, then it was deemed unclassifiable and therefore “not fundable”, “not publishable” or “un-useful” to the professional world of poetry that they dominated. [Click through to watch the cinepoem.]

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Poets • (New Cinepoem, 2020)

This week, I did the final proofing and design finishing for FEED, which I will be releasing as both an e-book and print book via Amazon at the end of this year.  It’s a decision I’ve been mulling over–was mulling over, even pre-pandemic, and covid sealed the deal.  Part of me says maybe it’s just a feeling that the world is going to fuck and if I get sick and die (or mauled by rabid nazi hoards of incels)  at least the book will be out in the world. To seize whatever opportunities come along because you could be gone tomorrow.   It’s not all so dire as those thoughts, but one thing living in this world in these times has told me is that a lot of the arbitrary shit that used to matter seems to matter less and less., And you can apply this across everything, not just the literary world. (Might I remind you of Sabrina Orah Mark’s essay in The Paris Review.)

I came into the poetry world as we know it in a strange way–a novice, which is not unusual, but I always felt like I slipped in some back door and didn’t really belong in some po-biz spaces. And maybe I do, or maybe I don’t.  I came to the academic poetry world kind of late, already nearing thirty, with a lot of publications under my belt and a familiarity with the open mic scene in Chicago (or I should say A open mic scene, as there are many?)  When I listened to the folks there–classmates, teachers, visiting artists talking about the insularity of certain journals, presses, awards, and tenure tracks, how certain things mattered more than others,  I called bullshit more than once, but I also bought into to a degree. That couple years when I was trying to place my first book, more often than once, I though about self-publishing it. The contest circuit seemed insurmountable, and it still is, a formidable bottleneck that has broken some of the best poets I know.  I wanted a book in the world.  I wanted a shiny spine on the shelf in the Barnes & Noble.   I wanted readers. I wanted to belong, to have a feeling that yes, I was legitimate poet, whatever that meant.  This need for legitimacy pushed me through an MFA program I only sometimes liked.  It had me sending that book out and paying up to $30 a pop. 

And I was lucky enough that a small press that no longer exists , but that I owe a great debt to, loved my manuscript and decided to publish it in the very old fashioned way of me having queried and then sent the manuscript at precisely the right time. And having a book of course was amazing, what I dreamed of, and while it felt really good, it didn’t change much for me as a writer because outside of having a pretty bound volume of my work. I was still hustling–to do readings, to get people interested, to sell copies.  A book is a lot of labor, no matter how it comes into the world  And of course, more books followed, some via pure serendipity, others via open reading periods.  One press folded, then another.  Others continued to flourish and I still occasionally publish with them today. I am absolutely luckier than I probably should be, to have found such presses & editors who believed in my work, when it’s very hard to publish that first book, and sometimes, even harder to publish the second or the third.   

I think over the years, I’ve refocused my mind not on presses and journals as a goal, but more on communities they reinforce.  Which of course, is bolstered by presses and journals and awards circuits, but also just by sharing work, being with other writers (in real-life or virtually) .  So much of my experience is rooted not only in my early poetry-related experiences, but also zine culture and visual arts, which seem a little less beholden to structures that don’t really serve them well.  As such the stigma of releasing your own work has lost its power over the years, as I’ve released as many projects into the wild as small limited editions or e-chaps as I have via journals and traditional presses. I once had a lively (I say discussion, some may say argument) during a panel over the merits of self-publishing. I’ve watched a lot of writers, really good writers, give up because the path to publishing books of poetry via the sanctioned paths, gets narrower and narrower, more closed off as presses struggle economically, operations fold, and there are just a lot of poets vying for room. Every other minute, the attention shifts, and the person who may be the talk of the town, in a year or two, is completely forgotten. 

Kristy Bowen, thoughts on manuscripts, the bottleneck, and self-publishing

I help run the poetry workshop group of Cambridge Writers. Anybody can attend provided they’re a Cambridge Writers member. People can try us free for one session. […] Below are the sort of things I sometimes say when new people attend.

Suppose we weren’t a poetry group. Suppose we were a music group instead. We might get Jungle House DJs, players of authentic instruments, people from oil-drum groups, buskers, opera singers and brass band fans. They might not have much in common. They might not even consider each other’s work music.

Poetry has as much variety, and poets may have as little in common. What makes poetry more confusing is that it’s easy for poets to mix and sample styles. You might not even notice when they’re doing the verbal equivalent of combining synths, ukuleles and oboes. So don’t worry if you can make no sense of someone else’s work. When I’m in that situation I often find that by the end of the discussion I know a lot more than I did at the start. So hang on in there!

It works both ways – you may need to develop a thick skin when people comment on your work. Don’t be surprised if when you pour your heart into a poem, people comment mostly about the spelling and line-breaks. Just try to extract whatever you find useful from the comments and ignore the rest. If you’re writing for a particular audience (kids say) it might be worth telling the group first, but we don’t want a poet to preface their poem with an explanation of what the poem’s REALLY about. The poem itself should do that, and our format is designed accordingly.

The group discussion may come as a culture shock. A lot of what goes on in the poetry world never reaches the mass media. The members of the group might not be able to claim many Eng-Lit degrees, and they have many blind-spots, but several of them have lurked for years in the hidden underworld of magazines, networks, and small presses where poetry changes fast. We may mention magazines and poets you’ve never heard of. Don’t worry – hardly anyone else has heard of them either.

So whether you’re a head-banger or a serialist you should come away with something of use.

Tim Love, Introduction for poetry group members

I do love a collaboration!
About the time of the Summer Solstice, Linda France invited poets to contribute a few lines to a collaborative work called Murmuration. There were 500 responses. Linda skilfully edited them into a long poem in two parts, which formed the basis of a beautiful film that was premiered last night at the Durham Book Festival. You can watch it, read about the making of it, and read the complete text here. I have a line in part one and a line in part two.

My life seems to be all about birds just now. Partly because I’m taking an online poetry course, The Avian Eye, with Anne-Marie Fyfe, and partly because I have a Significant Hen. Anne-Marie is a great workshop leader, generous with ideas and well-chosen course materials.

I missed last night’s premiere because it clashed with a Zoom workshop with six other members of Bath Writers and Artists, facilitated by Graeme Ryan. Birds featured in all seven pieces of writing: in some they played fly-on bit-parts, and in others they held centre stage. Even an otherwise bird-free mixed-genre memoir included a poem called “Ducks in Space”!

Ama Bolton, Murmuration

I’m trying to write a poem about skiing the Jackrabbit Trail and although I now have a poem about skiing the Jackrabbit Trail it seems to be just a poem about skiing the Jackrabbit Trail instead of what I really want to talk about which is that something about the experience feels more like the trail is skiing me or I am the terrain being skied on.

I am both the dip in the land where a small stream moves through and the bend in my knees that takes me down and up. I’m the curve around the glacial erratic and how I curve around the erratic and yes some part of me is the erratic, this one, furred with moss and lichen, dripping some days like I’m my own little microclimate, my own world, rock and sediment and weepy. How is that? What is that? Do you know this feeling too? But the poem does not capture that.

So I take things out, leave half-sentences and space the wind blows through, leave some parallel tracks of where I’ve been, how I go, but still I’ve said nothing of this ownership, terrain of me, me of terrain, meandering through the great hummocks of rockmass, stringing marsh to marsh. I fail to mention how I stand in the bowl of one marsh, often in snowfall as if a globe’s been shaken, and I’m the small plastic form inside, or I’m the bowl, or the shaker.

I want to say something about finitude. I want to say something about endurance. Rock and water. The deceptions of snow. Something about my body in motion, the land at rest; the land in motion, body at rest. The poem utters, mutters, but in the end fails.

Marilyn McCabe, Into the mystic; or, On the Limitations of Words as an Artistic Medium

I am always pleased with the woman I write into being.

It is easier for me to make changes in my life when there are large shifts in circumstances. Two weeks ago I committed to a new and specific practice. Practice is something that reinforces itself. The psychological power of cycles: a day, a week, a season. A foot pushing the bicycle pedal down on the way up a hill. Momentum isn’t enough, but it still matters.

As a teacher, one of the first things I do – looking over my student’s shoulder at their screen – is scan their document and hit return again and again, separating the thoughts into paragraphs so I can take in their ideas in at a pace that allows me to find meaning. There are days when I wonder if my doing so – my providing white space – is actually imposing my meaning on their lives.

I guess this is what makes me a writer. This need to use writing as a tool for understanding the world. It has nothing to do with producing texts, or thinking deeply about everyday matters. It’s not about a gift at all, it’s simple a matter of which vehicle I require to navigate the world.

When one meditates, one experiences the consciousness that watches and interprets the “I” who is in a mood, whose knee aches, whose mind wanders. The “I outside the I” narrating an ego into existence.

New paragraph. Here is a transition. Here, something changes.

Ren Powell, Practice

A rabbinic friend of mine just had a baby, so I am sending her a copy of Waiting to Unfold, the volume of poems I wrote during my son’s first year of life, published in 2013 by Phoenicia Publishing. I had a few quiet minutes before an appointment, so after I inscribed the book to my friend, I started reading it, and I read the whole thing. 

Reading it felt like opening a time capsule: inhabiting a reality that is no longer mine, a strange world I had almost forgotten. Pregnancy and nursing and colic and postpartum depression and emerging into hope again… I’m not sure how clearly I would remember any of those things, if I hadn’t written these poems while they were happening. 

It’s not just that the poems open a window to then. They temporarily cloak me in then, like a shimmering holographic overlay. Rereading them, I feel grief and joy and most of all compassion and tenderness. For myself, back then. For everyone who’s experiencing those realities now. For all of us, fragile and breakable and strong.

It makes me wonder what it will be like in ten years to reread Crossing the Sea, forthcoming from Phoenicia. Those poems were written as I walked the mourner’s path between my mother’s death and her unveiling. It wasn’t written as systematically as Waiting to Unfold, but both volumes chronicle a kind of metamorphosis.

Rachel Barenblat, And everything in between

It’s been raining on and off for weeks. My back garden is a bog, studded with windfall apples that I need to pick up before the birds, hares and insects hollow them out. I bought a fruit dryer to keep up with them. The kids eat each batch immediately, so there’s no keeping up. With anything, the unmown grass, the fallen leaves, the red pile of apples beneath the tree, the kids and their hunger. 

Last week the scary, big question was ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’. Again. I feel like I did 23 years ago when I finished my last degree. It doesn’t help that my course has set an assignment of basically ‘what’s next?’ in terms of professional development and I don’t have an answer. So I’ve had a fretful couple of weeks of worry and stress and questioning what my priorities are. 

I am unfortunately a Jill of all literary trades, but master of none.

Gerry Stewart, Little Steps Through the Mire

I’m trying to fight a sense of overwhelm at the moment even though it’s all good things that are overwhelming me. Keeping my weekly work commitments going and doing all the reading and cogitating required for my course, which this term is a whistle-stop tour of the English Lit canon (week 3: Virgil & Ovid, Week 4: Chaucer and Dante, etc), plus thinking up a topic for my first essay. Finishing up the updated version of my 2018 ‘Guide’ – see below – I KNOW, why do that now? But there you are, it’s done. And of course the Planet Poetry podcast (see below) about to launch on the apparently auspicious date of October 21. Help!

Robin Houghton, New podcast, plus new updated ‘Guide to getting published in UK poetry mags’

In a normal world with the company of friends (and strangers, and acquaintances), in the normal world of to- and -fro conversations, and chats, and arguments, at some point someone’s bound to say ‘So, what you’re saying is…..’ and you’ll say, ‘no, that’s not it at all; what I’m saying is….’ and so it goes.

In my current world, where we’re now in our eighth month of 99% lockdown, where I’ve been shielding, and then (officially) not shielding, and puzzled to know whether I am, or I should be; when face-to-face conversation is a brief chat over the garden wall to our lovely neighbour who nips up to Lidl for us every few days, or a visit to the surgery or the hospital, gloved and masked, for an injection, or a CT scan or to see a consultant -when the conversation is not-exactly to-and-fro; when this morning I was suddenly impelled to get in the car and just drive for 30 minutes, just to see something slightly different…..

What am I saying? No-one’s said, what are you on about, or jeez…..just get to the point. No-one’s around to keep me on track or up to scratch, and the only feedback I’ll get is that of one of the several versions of me that live in my head, like disgruntled squatters who are clamouring for better conditions, or room service.

The other thing is that the various changes to my programme of meds have come with the advice that side-effects may include low-level anxiety, mild depression, loss of concentration and joint pain. What that actually means in practice is tetchiness, irritability, intolerance and a tendency to swear even more. On Facebook, this manifests itself as a kind of keyboard Tourettes. So bear that in mind as this post progresses.

John Foggin, What am I saying?

As previously mentioned, I recently started a new ‘toon in Stardew Valley in order to redeem myself and actually do the daunting work of rebuilding the town Community Center instead of immediately selling out to the Big Corporation. Well that’s done, and it was all very satisfying and morally uplifting and then I was bored again. So now I am going to make a huge mistake and court Elliot for marriage, because things are too dull and I need some trouble. Elliot is the town “novelist” who lives in a cabin on the beach and has hair that looks exactly like Fabio’s. His hair is pretty much his defining feature. There’s nothing else going on with Elliot. He stands on the shore a lot and stares into space, his thick mane blowing in the wind. And he’s very withholding. I bought him four really nice gifts before I even scored one heart, and when I complained to Mr. Typist about it, he just shrugged and said, “Now you know how guys feel.” Then when I tried to make small talk with Elliot in the town pub, he had the nerve to humble-brag about his hair: “It’s so long and thick that it’s always getting in my eyes. I should just cut it all off.” On top of that, apparently in order to get a proposal, I have to attend one of his book readings. He is poor marriage material and I am on the highway to hell, folks. I’ll keep you posted on how this impending fiasco plays out.

Kristen McHenry, Hair Humble Brag, Bro Nod, Finding My Fall

I’m tired of only being able to embrace my pillow or safely kiss my shadow.

Tired of having to socially distance myself from everyone but my inner-self.

Tired of writing love letters to left-turn-only signs, foolishly believing they’ll turn right around and write me back.

I’m tired of getting late-night drunk dials from a bleak future, and not enough return text messages from optimism.

Tired of reading the online dating profiles of hate speech and a diminishing democracy.

I’m considering dating a lamp post.

Something sleek, sturdy, and can cast some light on our situation when the rest of the world grows dark.

Rich Ferguson, Adventures in Offline Dating

the rings of life are squared 
and weathered here where
the fields posts are sledged edges
barbed wire and the do not enter signs
but of course we do
putting up our own one finger sign
always the squeezing what could have been
into what has been
is 

Jim Young, fence posts

I wake too chilly
at my usual hour
forsake my habit of rising

listen to the nuthatch
and house sparrow
mourning dove croon

give me another minute
beside you in bed
shivering yet shimmering

Ann E. Michael, First frost

Our interactions are small, now. You can hardly see them. And sometimes we disappear. It feels like a lot of the work we’re doing behind our masks isn’t noted. But also, perhaps, it’s there and will be felt long after. It’s moving into the ether the way poetry does.

When it comes to writing a thing, or making a still life, I’m often thinking of the line by the artist Jasper Johns: “Take something. Change it. Change it again.” We’re looking for the poetic possibility, in art and in life. We’re trying some things out, then turning them a few degrees, shifting this here, and then that. We’re adding this and taking out that.

The simplest interactions now are layered with complex meanings, the sediment and swirl of recent and long past encounters. And at the same time our fears are dancing with our hopes, our exhaustion is mingling with our exhilaration, our hardships and our disappointments are anyone’s guess, and it’s all a smoky haze that no one is capturing on celluloid. We want to appear and to disappear, simultaneously. The poetry of the ordinary is muddier and deeper in places. We’re in the shallows at the same time as we are deep in the historical moment. It ain’t easy, being a leaf. It ain’t easy being poetry in a non-fiction town. It ain’t easy being an actor in a movie with no script.

The first step babies, is to show yourself some love.

Shawna Lemay, On Being Seen

standing falling naked without speaking without hearing the whisper

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 41

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week the poetry blogosphere was a bit quieter that it had been the preceding week, but Louise Glück’s selection for the Nobel Prize certainly created a stir. I’ve scattered reactions to her win throughout what I’d hoped might seem a rather miscellaneous gathering, trying for once just to post things at random and not impose too much order. Of course I failed miserably.


where will they scatter the blue dust of earth

Grant Hackett [no title]

These days I’ve no interest in writing memoir. I have kept a journal since I was ten years old, and that constitutes enough self-indulgent scribbling on its own. I treasure, however, the practice all that writing gave me: practice in constructing sentences, employing vocabulary words, creating metaphors, using punctuation in various ways, expressing abstract ideas and describing concrete objects. Writing, learning to write, critique, and revision have been immensely valuable to me.

I’m not sure who I would be if I hadn’t been constantly writing (and reading). Maybe I’d have been a contemplative.

~~

All of which is to report to my readers, who may be experiencing their own obstacles to their art, that –yes– the writing continues in the face of loss and grief, anxiety, and the work of the body in the world, in the mundane spaces of daily grind and in the wakeful hours, and in the containers of dreamwork and consciousness. Right now, the writing is not “good,” not crafted, aware of itself, ready to speak to others than the self. It is, at present, more akin to what the Buddhists call practice.

Ann E. Michael, Practicing

Gluck was something from the past, and definitely an influence on the work I was writing then and probably for the next four years.   It was unfashionable to say, particularly in my program, that you loved Gluck, and yet, I regularly found poets out in the wild who professed their love for her work and would continue to. I feel like, stylistics aside, the experimental poetry world (i.e. the male poetry world if we’re getting specific) has a particular vitriol toward Gluck, which I never really understood, and now, as the news spreads of the Nobel, are rustling restlessly with their keyboards.  Admittedly, I was surprised they’d chosen a poet so very white in the current world where everyone else is making strides in recognizing POC, but I don’t think that’s the angle these criticisms stem from.  I once heard a male poet dismiss Gluck as a “flower poet” and fumed for days. My chief criticism is the poems are a little too tidy and heavy handed.  Constantly moving the reader toward epiphany tied neatly with a bow. She wields this more adeptly than other poets of her generation (particularly male) but she still wields it. 

I do not write those sorts of poems–not anymore–but I can see the value in work–the strands that are still woven in how I learned to make poems.  

Kristy Bowen, not the moon | gluck and poetic foremothers

squirrels in the roof
sloe gin in my cupboard
the most terrible quarrels

a cull of the poets
we are drowning
in the quagmire of online art

Ama Bolton, ABCD October 2020

My new chapbook, Tropospheric Clouds is now out from Adjunct Press, of Milwaukee (who have done a wonderful job of it).

Info: Tropospheric Clouds gives fragmented images that seem to be dispatched from a larger and elaborate narrative world. The poet is a multiplied character separated from the world. Rather than being presented in the Romantic cringe mysticism, here the separation of the poet is seen as a cloistering or perhaps a sense of imprisonment by vocation. The poet-as-seer image is cut again when the legitimacy-creating obscurity is saved only by publication. Tropospheric Clouds uses the unseen narrative to show the idea of the poet vocation within the reality of profession.

Michael Begnal, New Chapbook: Tropospheric Clouds

I go further and further into it, broken and silent, ‘struggling to keep hold’ of memories, words, phrases from the funeral. Did we do a good job, did I do a good job? Was she pleased with what I said?

The new term hurtles on. Already we have finished week 3, week 4 comes crashing towards us like a train. Where is the breathing space? Where can I find a moment to sit and just be?

My desk looks like a bomb site. There are at least four important letters I need to reply to. I sit down to make a list of what needs remembering for the but my mind just blinks at the page.

No one warned me that grief would be like this, its lonely lack of focus. Its unmemory. I think ‘How can a body withstand this?’ I cup her face between my hands. Her laughter. Her smile. I will love again.

Anthony Wilson, The Thing Is

The calendar I picked for 2020 offers beautiful tree-themed art for each month. And like everyone else’s calendar, it lies. I no longer even cross off what’s cancelled. Why bother, when there’s nothing to add in its place? Looking at it I imagine another me, in a parallel universe, doing those scheduled things. My other self doesn’t appreciate them nearly enough. She complains about being rushed, about traffic, about long lines. She vows to slow down and appreciate the moment. When she does she notices new things while stuck in traffic, enjoys the faces of people standing in line, savors more fully the pleasure of a porch chair after a long day. But she’s not always so mindful.

None of us could have imagined the year we’re in. Time takes on a different dimension when so many people have died and so many are suffering. We can’t help but sink more deeply into these hours of ours.

My calendar hangs by my desk, beautiful and useless. Time’s measure no longer fits on its pages. 

Laura Grace Weldon, Empty Calendar

conflagration 
the promises of summer
in falling leaves

Jim Young [no title]

I was up at 5:30 this morning, fretting about the political scene, finally getting out of bed and stumbling to my writing desk.

I finished the review I’ve been trying to write for months, revised a poem, and queried one more agent, regarding my mystery novel. I was typing today’s date, 10.8.20, when I remembered that today is my mother’s birthday. Or, as we say when someone has passed, today is the anniversary of her birth.

Since Mom’s death, on October 12, 2018, I’ve written a lot of poems that seem to be about her. Even this week, writing about two great blue herons on a dock, I was drawing from the memory of a walk I took after visiting Mom at her skilled-nursing facility. The poem felt shot-through with her presence.

Mom and I had a lot of differences. Setting up her apartment after she moved from the farmhouse, I would set out her knick knacks and pictures so they were asymmetrical. I like triangles, staggered lines, angles. She would come behind me and straighten everything to be evenly balanced and straight across.

Mom was proud of  me, I think, but she didn’t understand my choice to become educated and we could never talk about it. She thought being a teacher was a good thing. But I had overdone it, getting a Ph.D. in literature. It seemed like a waste of money to her that we were saving for our daughters’ higher education. “College has ruined your mind,” she said to me once.

Bethany Reid, Happy Birthday, Mom

–We had a debate with vice presidential candidates, a debate which was better than the presidential debate, but many of us will most remember that fly on Mike Pence’s head.  I will remember Kamala Harris saying variations of this phrase, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”  It made me want to assemble a directory of womanist separatist communes–or maybe start such a commune.  And you might think it’s abnormal for a woman happily married to a man to feel that way, but I am fairly sure it isn’t.

–When I create my ideal womanist/feminist separatist commune, will I allow men?  Perhaps.  I’m using separatist fairly generally–I want to separate from many things in our patriarchal culture.  But that’s a subject for another day.

–It’s been a week of good news when it comes to recognizing women.  The Nobel Prizes went to women:  for Chemistry, for Physics, for Literature.  The MacArthur Fellows were announced, and I was so happy to see Tressie McMillan Cottom, N. K. Jemisin, and Jacqueline Woodson on the list.  You can “meet” all the Fellows here.

–I’ve also been happy to see attention given to Maggie Smith’s new book Keep Moving (see NPR radio interview here and Slate article here).  I keep expecting to feel jealous, but I don’t.  On the contrary, I’m happy to see a poet like her succeed.  I am also not jealous of Louise Gluck, our newest Nobel Laureate.  Both women have been more focused than I have of late.  Both women write poetry I love–so I’m happy to see them get success.  And even if Maggie Smith is getting publicity for her newest book, which is not a poetry book, I’m happy.  I like to see the many ways we could succeed as writers.  I like the reminder that all is not lost.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Week of Womanist/Feminist Challenges and Triumphs

I was interested to read Jonathan Jones’s Guardian review of the Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition at the National Gallery. It’s an important show, which rightly seeks to claim Gentileschi’s ‘greatness’, as Jones calls it, as a woman artist among the traditional pantheon of almost exclusively male painters.

The physicality of her painting of ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ reminds me of another rendering of the same story, by another great artist, the poet Vicki Feaver: her Forward-Prize-winning poem ‘Judith’, from her essential 1994 collection The Handless Maiden, which strikes a perfect balance between the sensuality and calculated violence of this tale from the Apocrypha.

As a poet, Feaver has the advantage of including a back-story of motive for the murder; Gentileschi, of course, is unable to do that, but her own motivation, outlined by Jones, clearly informs the unflinching manner of her depiction. Ultimately, the result is more-or-less the same: Gentileschi shows us blood dripping from Holofernes’s neck and a look of terror on his face, and Feaver likewise ends her poem, in an half-rhymed couplet, with the brutal truth:

                      And I bring my blade
down on his neck – and it’s easy
like slicing through fish.
And I bring it down again,
cleaving the bone.

Matthew Paul, Judith

I can’t leave Montreal, at least until the end of the month, because a new lockdown was imposed on October 1, so there is no question of driving out into the country to see the fall foliage, visiting a natural area, or going apple picking, let alone visiting Vermont or the Adirondacks. I’m fortunate to be able to see trees and fall color from my window, and to have begonias, geraniums, nasturtiums and sweet peas blooming on our terrace, but I still have a persistent sense of being trapped — as so many of us do.

It helps to turn to images of places I love. A couple of weeks ago I re-explored a garden we visited at the Ex Convento del Carmen (former Carmelite convent) in the Mexico City suburb of San Angel, and made a few drawings and watercolor sketches. […]

As you can probably see, these watercolors are getting looser, less realistic, and more expressive — but often I still do a fairly realistic black-and-white drawing first to work out the shapes and compositional relationships — plus, I just like to draw. There are few activities that feel more absorbing, and even though I’ve done it all my life, it always feels like magic to start with a blank sheet of paper and end up with a representation of something observed and a record of that particular time and place and state of mind.

Drawing, more than any other art activity, also connects me to all the artists who’ve filled sketchbooks and made drawings. I feel my eyes travel from the object to the paper and back again, without much conscious thinking, as my hand somehow — I don’t pretend to understand it — translates that seeing into lines and forms. Even when the drawing doesn’t come out particularly well, it still seems like a little quiet miracle that human beings try to do this, and have always done it: “I sat here, I was still, I looked, I used my hands and eyes and made this.” Maybe there’s some hope for us after all.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 41. Searching the Landscape

I think my cat was perplexed. He has grown accustomed to me leading services from the dining room table: the laptop, my microphone, perhaps a pair of Shabbat or festival candles lit on the table beside me, lots of singing.

These days when I daven from the table, he looks up briefly from his favorite perch on the cat tree and then returns to napping. But he has never seen me dance around the room holding a big metal-bound Tanakh encrusted with gems. 

I don’t have a Torah scroll at home, so I danced with the big metal-bound Tanakh that used to belong to my parents. I waltzed with it; I spun around in circles with it; I danced with it in a circumnambulation of the room; I cradled it like a baby in my arms. 

Seven songs, seven poems, seven hakafot. Evoking the seven days of the first week, and the seven “lower sefirot” or qualities that we share with our Creator from lovingkindness to boundaries and strength all the way to presence and Shechinah.

I thrilled to the secret heart revealed when we go from the end of Torah directly to her beginning, from loss to starting over, from lamed to bet. I opened my Tanakh to a random word and from that word I gave myself a blessing.

And then I went to bed, and I slept the sleep of the overtired rabbi and elementary school parent who could finally relax into knowing that the work of this long, challenging (and this year, pandemic-unprecedented) holy season was done.

Rachel Barenblat, A Simchat Torah like no other

I have an uneasy relationship with prompts. I can’t trust the whole set-up, because sometimes they work: I drop into some strange space of utterance and up bubbles things strange and fantastic; and sometimes they don’t, and I’m clutching my pen and strangling the empty page with grabby fingers of text.

It has something to do with breathing. No. It has something to do with attention. No. Is it in the set of my jaw? Should I squint my eyes? The whole enterprise seems impossible. Except when it’s glorious.

If the effort toward writing from a prompt seems too effort-full, the only thing to do is walk away. Go yank weeds or walk or lately I’ve been taking objects and slathering them with blue paint and dragging them across paper. A bottle cap. The red mesh that onions come in. A stick. Good fun.

Marilyn McCabe, All the noise noise noise; or, On Writing from Prompts

There is an interview on On Being with Jericho Brown where he says, “Poems have to make our lives clear. Poems have to make our lives real on the page. And nobody’s living an easy life. Nobody’s living a life that is anything other than complex. And there are things about our lives that TV’s not going to give us, that movies, even, are not going to give us. And poems are where I go for that. That’s where I go for the complexity, the thing in us that we don’t really understand.” What I want is the complexity and powerful possibilities that a poem or poetic language can give us. What we know right now is as Brown says, “Nobody’s living a life that is anything other than complex.” So I want to give thanks for that thought, and acknowledge how complex life is for so many people. And I also want to give thanks for the space of a poem, how full it can be, even when it seems thinned out, spare, careful. How wild a poem can be in and of itself, and how it can surprise us and delight us and guide us to a wholeness in ourselves.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, and it feels more important than ever to acknowledge the complicated history of the holiday. A lot of us have cancelled get-togethers due to Covid-19 concerns which feels like a small sacrifice. I’m asking myself, what do I have to share, who can I donate to, since we won’t be spending money making a big meal. So that’s one place to start on a day where we give thanks.

Shawna Lemay, Poems for Giving Thanks, Praise, and Comfort

Los Angeles poet Tanya Holtland’s stunning full-length poetry debut is Requisite (England: Platypus Press, 2020), a lyric suite constructed as a quartet on, as she writes in her preface, “spiritual ecology,” and the ways in which we are interconnected to the physical and natural world. There is a meditative precision to Holtland’s lyrics, finely-honed with the ease of a quick sketch, but one that also knows how to pull apart the minutae of an idea, to stretch it across an expansive canvas. There are elements of Holtland’s ability to accumulate poems into sections and sections into a full-length whole that provide comparisons to the work of her partner, the poet Hailey Higdon. In Holtland’s 2019 essay for “my (small press) writing day,” she hinted at such a cross-influence between the two, a pair of writers occupying similar physical and emotional space: “To say that we influence each other as writers is understated only by what we influence in the larger field of each other’s lives.” Whereas I’ve long understood Higdon’s poems to exist in groupings that slowly reveal their interconnectedness (such as through the publication of her 2019 debut full-length collection Hard Some [see my review of such here]), Holtland’s work through this collection, as well, exists as a detailed suite of individual poems that, together, pattern to reveal their larger coherence. […]

Holtland’s ecopoetic exists in start contrast to many other examples I’ve seen in the same vein: there is a reverence, but her lyric exists simultaneously at the level of the sequence, the fragment, the word. Even the smallest unit contains the whole in a way that is reminiscent of, say, Fanny Howe or Sylvia Legris. Her poems fragment and fractal, and accumulate in a singular direction. “If the impulse to expand comes to fight a hard rain,” she writes, as part of “Fated,” “remember // the curve of the earth / comes to meet you, / to the smallest / portion of the soul.” 

There is such a wonderful, careful complexity to Holtland’s lyric meditations, setting pause against pause. She holds, she halts, she slowly pieces together. For Holtland, place is not simply being or landscape but an all-encompassing entity of which we are an important part, and even moreso, given the incredible amount of damage we have inflicted upon it. Holtland holds her distances against ours, and our distances against the ether.

rob mclennan, Tanya Holtland, Requisite

I was pleased to hear that Louise Glück has won the Nobel Prize, as the championing of her work can only encourage non-readers of contemporary poetry to realise that the genre offers multiple interpretations beyond their preconceived expectations. However, I was struck by a quote from Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel committee, which read as follows:

Even if her autobiographical background is significant in her works, she is not to be regarded as a confessional poet. She seeks universality…

The above statement is unfortunate, to say the least. It perpetuates numerous fallacies. For a start, no poem can ever be fully defined as autobiographical or confessional, even if the poet in question were to claim such a status or label. This is because role playing always becomes a factor once the creative process is set in motion.

And then there’s the absurd implication (beyond reference to Glück herself) that a poet is somehow barred from universal appeal if their poetry is also partly autobiographical or confessional in its point of departure. How many of the greats would that rule out? Such a claim would definitely cast aspersions over certain previous winners of the same award!

All in all, Glúck’s win is excellent news, but its annoucement was couched in terms that could at the very least be interpreted as critical shortcuts. Her poetry and the genre in general both deserve a more nuanced understanding of the role of autobiography in any and every poem.

Matthew Stewart, Universality (on Louise Glück and the Nobel Prize)

The pure clarity of certain dreams, how they drive us across night’s dark distances, change fury into feathers, the unbloomed into overbrimming wonder.

Myrrh, melody, wings, waterwheels.

Those dreams carousel and uncrush, motor and unmurder.

They crystallize doubt into diamond, leave our fingerprints on the wind as we drift down highways of after-midnight sleep.

Rich Ferguson, When Hitchhiking Dream’s Highway

The pine smelled so sweet and sharp this morning. Somewhere near my solar plexus I felt a heaviness like guilt. I know it must smell this pronounced because the trees have been freshly cut. It’s not the smell of death – but of wounds. I’ve had wounds myself before that have wept, clear and sticky. I should have enough compassion for the trees not to be drawn to this smell. But I inhaled so deeply I had to stop running.

I exhale melancholy.

Someone had raked together all the long, dead branches and placed them around the bases of individual trees. E. told me that it’s a kind of slow fertilizing process. But I think the trees look as vulnerable as martyrs waiting for the flames.

I exhale anxiety.

My mind wanders on these forest runs and it isn’t always easy to sort what to take, and what to leave in the forest. Today I took home four fallen leaves home to make paste paper for chapbook covers. I took home a photo of an abandoned boot someone placed on a tree stump. I took home the reminder that this body is aging and mortal, that each day is made more precious with that knowledge.

I wonder what I leave after these runs? Footprints, certainly. Carbon dioxide.

I wonder if we shed dark matter in our wake, just as we shed bits of DNA.

I wonder if the blackbirds that overwinter here are disturbed by my having been present with them.

*

We talk about breath being life: inhaling, exhaling. But the pauses between – the effortless moments of waiting – without a glottal stop – are as integral to the flow of life, as death. Or is death, rather, is the hum of existence beyond this constellation of atoms.

These breathless, lifeless pauses are where we touch the dark matter of the universe – these are what is expressed in the leaps in our poetry.

Ren Powell, What You Find in the Forest

Don’t think I don’t
see you, trees,

talking with the stars
all night, the stars

telling you how to
say steady

against this
sadness. The wind

has nothing
it wishes to add.

Tom Montag, DON’T THINK I DON’T

I never put my hoses away, lazy man,
They lay wherever I drop them.
I never bother to remember where either.
I have spent my life walking around
Looking for the far end of hoses.
I imagine finches watching me, or raccoons,
All of them thinking me a fool —
Stupid man! He should put the hoses away!
Well, to hell with them all.
I don’t have feathers or fur,
And I don’t go around judging people
With poems on their minds.

James Lee Jobe, Looking for the far end of hoses.

Only the 16th woman EVER to win the Nobel in Literature, and an American Poet at that, this can be nothing but good news for American Poetry. Of course, I’ve been a fan every since I saw her read in my twenties in Cincinnati from Meadowlands. I took my little brother, then 17, and a few of his scruffier friends to the reading, and to my surprise, they all enjoyed it. My little brother went up to her after the reading and complimented her shoes. She must have been about the age I am now, 47, at the time, and she just lit up.

Also, think of this what you will, but Louise Glück taught me, along with Margaret Atwood and Lucille Clifton, what it meant to write the villainess. I will always owe them a debt, in my writing and my life.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Good News: A Poem in Boulevard, Louise Glück Wins the Nobel Prize, Our Book Giveaway Winner, and an October of Uncertainty

Before she dies, her offerings
slip into pockets called galls.
When it’s time,

these pods will release
her children so they can start
the cycle all over again: the males,
wingless and blind, will mate with
their sisters before carving for them

a path out of the garden. Most males
die before they themselves reach the gate.
But the females who make it out follow
the wind’s warm scent, tracking down
the next tree with fruit

that must be nudged to full ripeness
by these small offerings of death.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Apple May Not Have Been the Forbidden Fruit

I’ve been learning that grieving can be a long time coming. Or maybe that it’s a thing that’s never really done.

I have a recurring dream in which I’ve lost a season. It’s usually a spring dream, and–somehow, impossibly–it’s the end of summer. But, wait, I’ll think in the dream. It can’t be time to go back to school. Where did the summer go? I’ll think of all the things I wanted and didn’t get to do, and I feel panicky and cheated. Then I’ll realize I’m dreaming, and that I have not, in fact, lost the summer, and relief washes over me. One day in Grace’s last week here, I got disoriented about where I was in time, the way I do in the dream. For a moment, I lost what season we are in. Something made me feel like it was still summer, and I had to tell myself: No, it’s October. It’s not summer any more. But then it felt like it couldn’t be October, because I hadn’t really had summer, just like in the dream.

I understand my confusion. The whole summer felt like a bubble in which we were all suspended in some time out of time. Having my daughter back in the ways I did, after having earlier let her go, while we both prepared ourselves for what’s coming next, felt like simultaneously living in the past, present, and future. Where were we in time? Who were we? Everywhere and nowhere. Everyone we’ve ever been and no one we’ve ever been and everyone we’ll someday be.

The day she left was unseasonably warm. After returning from the airport, I pulled spent tomato plants from their box and filled the compost bin with cedar branches Cane had trimmed from the tree that overhangs my shed, sweating in the sun. That evening, I sat on a front porch with friends and we talked how we might continue to safely meet when the nights turn cold. It felt like a summer night.

But, the next morning I woke to rain and dark skies. The patio furniture was soaked when I put the dogs out to pee, and they stepped gingerly on the wet pavement. The power flickered off and then on again, while I worked on these words, and just like that, the season had undeniably changed.

I hated to let it go. I knew I had no choice.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A rambling meditation on time, grief, impermanence, children, love, etc.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 39

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week brought the equinox, and with it, undeniable autumn to the northern hemisphere. We saw the death of a liberal lion on the US Supreme Court, and a spoken-word poet named Brandon Leake won Season 15 of America’s Got Talent. (I learned this latter fact from James Lee Jobe’s blog.) It’s a strange and perilous time, but it’s also autumn, and therefore still full of tantalizing possibilities. One’s nostrils may prickle. Things are in a literal as well as figurative ferment.


You look outside. From across the city a train makes its train noise, simultaneously sounding alluring and distant. I wonder how many people are on it. I look outside. It is Autumn. The dog is happy, madly chasing around the garden after an apple leaf. She is only a puppy, at the start of everything. A car slides by the house on the wet road. The dog yaps after it, chases another leaf, then growls for no reason under her breath at something only she can see in the gathering gloom. I go outside to find her. Already it is autumn, just past five o’clock. Time to feed her, I think. I pick her up, cuddle her close in the stiffening breeze. Let’s do this together, I say, to myself or her, I am not sure. Let’s go into this together, this grief, this house, this beautiful space, where the lights are on, where it is warm, where we are safe in the black panes, our lives reflected back to us.

Anthony Wilson, Autumn

I have been trying, not entirely successfully, to wrap my head around all that’s swirling around us in 2020. There’s the pandemic, of course, and there’s the resurgence of Black Lives Matter–both, to my mind, more than worthy of our attention. Then wildfires, extreme weather, climate change hit the news headlines, and the furor over the coming election becomes even more heated.

With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death, the political turmoil that our country is going through seems even more exaggerated, and more divided. Because many people in my family of origin are on the opposite side of this divide from me, all of it is a source of deep, personal anguish.

I try to read widely and deeply, to think my own thoughts and be clear about what I believe. But, under these circumstances, it gets murky and I am as apt as anyone to lose my way.

“Why be a poet now?” I asked a friend. “What’s the point?” She said, “If RBG were a poet, she’d be the best damn poet. That’s what you should do.”

This morning I read this tribute in The Seattle Times, “Clerking for Justice Ginsberg We Learned about Law–and Love,” by Miriam Seifter and Robert Yablon. It says it all:

“The justice kept up her relentless pace because she believed in her work and in doing the job right.”

Bethany Reid, #notoriousrbg

word sews my eyes shut
swollen, water cannot escape
fast enough it backs up in flood
an ice-dam broken in fire & light
sears, migraine blowing apart
the seams of sleep & day the body
entirely unclear how to traverse
such chasms & the crazy & the true

JJS, (the until now avoided)

should i delight in the occasion or search for another chaos

should i feed the mist

should i flood

Grant Hackett [no title]

The first leaves are beginning to turn here in Montreal, though it will be another month before they’ve fallen. The air and especially the nights are chilly, but the sun is bright and warm. Spending some time with these nasturtiums cheered me up. I look at my cat and realize she is just living in each moment; the nasturtiums, like the lilies of the field, “neither toil nor spin”, and they certainly have way less awareness than the cat, but are simply beautiful for their brief lives. The other day, during a visit to a national park near the city, we had an encounter with a doe grazing in the forest: she reminded me of the deer on this little Greek pot.

Obviously we must try to protect the life on our planet, and each other, and work toward governmental responsibility and change, but we also need to take care of ourselves and find ways to take breaks from the spinning, obsessive anxiety that is so pervasive right now. No one can live, and certainly not contribute to solutions, within a constant barrage of negativity and anxiety. So I need these moments, which remind me how much of life is still beautiful, graceful, and quiet.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 39. Deer and Nasturtiums

Fall again, and even in this strange year, I am still  delighting in the work that I am just now digging into from this year’s submissions pool. Since I haven’t been able to read much at all with pandemic brain, I am moving slowly, but still moving nonetheless. Sometimes I feel capable and productive.  Sometimes I feel like I am drowning.  That it is all too much.  Not the work or the press, but more the mental real estate I feel is crushing me sometimes. How can I think about this and this when there is that, and oh god, now THAT?  But from everyone I talk to, it’s a common feeling, so I sit tight and wait until it passes.  And it usually does. 

I’ve spent a considerable part of this summer holding off new releases in order to wrangle the orders from the earlier part of the year into something manageable. Since I can’t keep much inventory in the small space I now work in since leaving the studio, most books, except very new ones are print-on-demand, so the lags were getting to be a bit unruly, especially for older material. Thankfully, a slightly lighter schedule this year has been a godsend during the pandemic, since I’m not sure I’d be able to function to keep things going at their usual pace, which was always hectic, even when my mind was better capable of dealing with it. 

But then again, I remind myself the import of the work in this world.  Especially now, when it seems least important while everything is chaos and sadness. It is just poetry and poetry is a very little fish in a sea.  But when you are in the fish, it feels gigantic.  Or something like that. This was not the year I planned so hopefully in my little planner so smugly organized  in January, but it is the year we got nevertheless. I am still going to try to salvage or savor as much of it as I can. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | september 2020

During lockdown, I started a new Instagram account called andothermakings where I’ve posted some of my visual poems, experiments with collage and assemblage, and various dabblings with word and image.

Last week, I was provoked to add new pieces to the account, mainly because I didn’t know how else to express my exasperation with the incompetence, duplicity and shamelessness of the current UK government […]

I’m still developing and experimenting with my collage work. I use natural materials when possible as a means of connection with the natural world and as a memo to myself about its vulnerability. Everything is connected.

Josephine Corcoran, Collages of Exasperation

Sometimes I have to search
out life amongst the loss:
the shattered trunk slowly
returning to its source; the scent
of moss; what persists
in these fallen branches.
Because what is hollow
can always be filled.
Today that will be enough.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Enough

You couldn’t ask for a more socially distanced, more star-studded venue in which to view art than Storm King, the famous sculpture park in New York’s Hudson Valley. You can wander the 500 acres – 500! – of this pastoral estate, see milkweed pods caught in sharp points of grass, grand allées of arbres, watch circling hawks – and boom, before you is a grand Calder, posing all kinds of questions, in its kinetic poise, about human possibility. I always feel the big heart of a circus performer in Calder’s sculpture, which is one reason why I love him.

Storm King puts a lot on the platter: in its early incarnation, the question might have been how do industrial “waste” and manly engineering coexist in the natural environment. Now, in the Anthropocene, we might ask if a “natural” environment even exists without its man-made face.

Such is sculpture that exists in space, in time. Are heroics poignantly passé? Is the immense piece of Alexander Liberman called “Adonai,” made of on- and off-again balanced gas cannisters, arrogant, the title a touch dismissive, though he insists it was random? After all, this is an era where an invisible virus has changed our entire landscape. Is a Lichtenstein mermaid against a blue-draped mountainscape worth seeing? Absolutely.

Jill Pearlman, Storm King (Art in the Time of Covid)

I was out walking the dog this evening, clear blue skies, still warm enough to be wearing a t-shirt, when I came across this cobweb, tatted with thistle and rosebay willow herb seeds. It felt like I’d stumbled on a miniature piece by Andy Goldsworthy. Early this morning there was so much mist across the fields I would hardly have seen it. Of course, tomorrow is the Autumn Equinox, and the weather is set to turn colder by the middle of the week. This was part of the reason I took my camera with me today. I wanted to capture a few images before the weather changes. Hopefully they give a sense of the summer’s end.

crossing the brook
lark song seeding
the fallow field

Julie Mellor, Equinox

Online at YourDictionary.com, I found the most concise definition of crickets:

(US slang, humorous or derisive) Absolute silence; no communication. Derived from the cinematic metaphor of chirping crickets at night, signaling (otherwise) complete quiet. May be used alone or in metaphorically descriptive phrases.

I love that this definition suggests the term derives from movies! I love that it’s a metaphor! And, of course, I love that crickets make sounds–so in actuality the analogy stems not from absolute silence but from the absence of, I suppose, a human-language response.

This time of year at my meadow, the crickets still thrive and make noise even as the cooler nights begin to slow their calls. I hear the order Oecanthinae (tree crickets) from on high in the tree canopy and the order Gryllus (field crickets)–slightly lower in pitch–creak-cricking amid the goldenrod and sedge.

Then I stop and consider all the thrumming, crashing, screaming, irritating, beeping, blasting, babbling noise humans make in the world. Even when we feel joyful, words and enough noise to make the head spin. A great din?

I think I choose crickets, for now.

Ann E. Michael, Crickets

An even tighter variation on the sonnet exists. Seymour Mayne calls it the “word sonnet”, but while I think they’re lovely, his work just isn’t in conversation with the sonnet form the way [Adrienne] Su and [Elizabeth] Bishop are (Mayne’s word sonnets feel much more like haiku). I wrote my own sonnet with one-word lines, after many tries, but keeping the rhyme scheme; it’s in The State She’s In and also included below. I ended up calling the form “occluded” because I wanted to draw attention to what was missing. Being so looked at as a young woman made me intensely uncomfortable, but the way middle age brings invisibility wasn’t entirely welcome either. Maybe that’s a turn behind rather than within the poem.

I write sonnets so often that I joke about having a sonnet problem; my words will suddenly start slant-rhyming on me then I’m riding the volta and grabbing at closure perhaps sooner than is always good for the work. But it’s fun to experiment with a form that so many people recognize because of all the conversations it raises, AND the rebellions it makes possible (and visible). It’s also fun to turn my mind to a small critical problem like this one after swimming in a novel draft all summer. Smallness can be a respite, a way of organizing attention that otherwise keeps wandering toward the political horrorshow.

I voted early at the local registrar’s office the other day, another small good thing. Writing prompt: vote (if you’re in the U.S.), then compose a fourteen-line poem about voting. It doesn’t have to use meter or rhyme, but make sure it contains a volta around line nine, a turn toward something better.

Occulted Sonnet

You
look,
crook
head
awry
to
elude
my

gaze.
Nobody
sees
me,
these
days.

Lesley Wheeler, Short-lined sonnets

~ after Lesley Wheeler

Is
it
one
syllable
or
two?
When
did

I (you)
last
really
speak
to
you (me)?

Luisa A. Igloria, Distilled Sonnet: Longing

I’m still trying to piece it together: to get it down in diagrammed sentences.
“I’ve always loved diagramming sentences.”
Dissecting thoughts.
Making them real.

It makes them comprehensible for a tender bit of heart
muscle that already accepts that everything falls
to pieces, then gathers like so many fishbones
and flows to the sea.

Ren Powell, An Anatomy of Grief

My garden is a gold splash of autumn, my favourite season. Apples thudding onto the unmowed grass, the buttery sun catching the red leaves of the maples. I have an urge to tidy and gather in supplies, inside and out, to finish harvesting my allotment and ready it for winter, to clear the flower beds of debris, to pack away tools for my winter hibernation. 

With words, I’ve been kicking through my poems like fallen leaves, noticing a gem here, a spoiled windfall there. I edit a line, I submit a few poems, slowly. There is no urgency with my work, though I know time is running short there as well. My course starts up again tomorrow, I have a book review due in a few days, but I layer words a few at a time, waiting for them to build up into some rich mélange. 

Gerry Stewart, Seasonal Changes

The autumn equinox came and went in a deluge of rain, bringing with it the anxiety of a fall with an important and scary election, doomscrolling, the increasing cold and dark, and for me, a bunch of rejections (because why not?)

Now I have decided to embrace fall, with its waning daylight, and increased need for sleep or hot chocolate and cider. I have embraced doing the things I can to decrease dread and panic. (Donations to political causes? Yes! Phone calls to friends who live across country? Yes! Reading books to increase empathy and resilience? Absolutely!) […]

Speaking of things that keep you sane…I saw a brand new bird here – a pair of scrub jays! They usually are up in mountains or farther away to the north, so I felt very lucky. I think the pair was a mother and juvenile because one kept begging to be fed! I also have some pictures of hummingbirds in the rain. We’ve had a lot of rainy days since the smoke, but we’re supposed to get some pleasant fall weather coming up this week. I think weather does affect my mood more than I like to think, though I’m hardly what you’d call the “outdoorsy” type. I’ve noticed my garden starting to wane, only dahlias and sunflowers and a few late roses left.

Last night our Ring camera captured a pair of black-tailed coyotes in the back yard. It’s not quite a bobcat, but a reminder that we live in a semi-wild place here. I’m going to make an effort this year to stay connected to nature even when the temptation is to stay inside.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Stepping into Fall (with Anxiety,) What Are You Reading, and New Bird Sightings

Yesterday, as I looked at a display of pumpkins in a supermarket endcap that had once held watermelons, I thought about the passage of seasons.  I thought about my response to fall, my yearning for an autumn that soon may only exist in old pictures:  hay rides, bonfires, cinnamon donuts, apple orchards, changing leaf colors.  

The King Tides are just as seasonal a marker, but it’s hard to imagine people feeling nostalgia for them when they leave or yearning for their return.  They seem much more menacing, as water swirls up from storm drains to flood the streets, a potent reminder of the planetary changes that we can often forget.

I say it’s tough to imagine nostalgia, but a child growing up who had a parent pull a kayak full of children through flooded streets, that child will certainly have a different set of memories.  I’m nostalgic for hay rides I rarely had–that child when grown may remember the King Tides fondly, the way that I have fondness for snow days.

Many of the children being born right now will have no first hand experience with snow.  That’s sobering to me, but only because I have a certain bias.    I view rising sea levels and raging wildfires as a symptom of planetary brokenness, but generations after me may not. I see apocalypse, but we’ll adapt, and future generations will have a different set of apocalyptic markers.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Seasonal Markers, Planetary Brokenness

All these parts of me: maybe when they yearn to be inside out, it’s more like they want you to be closer to me.

Oh, the many untraveled boulevards of us across which we seek safe passage.

Even if home is where you fake it until you make it your own,

I’ll always leave a welcome mat for you at the door of my breath.

Rich Ferguson, Does the Home Away From Home Know Its Way Home?

Where would we be without libraries? I know that just the very idea of the library being there, being open again, being active, gives people hope and comfort. So it is a big deal that amid everything the main library in my hometown opened their reimagined, revitalized, and stunningly beautiful downtown building. […]

Maybe I love these books because they remind me of the work of photographer Mickey Smith, and I own one of her small prints that I bought a thousand years ago titled “More Books.”

One thing I know is that I want to go back and sit with these books, the hum of them, the breathing of them. I want to try again to take their likeness, their ordinary bookish beauty. A portrait of a row of books can say so much about us all.

Shawna Lemay, Drifting Toward the Details

I’m a gobbler. I vacuum my meals, I gobble the pavement under my quick step, I whip-read such that I’m always having to reread because I went too fast to remember what I read. But I’ve had this book of poems now for several months and I love it so much I can only bear to read a few poems at a time. This rarely happens to me, and I’m so thrilled to have the experience, especially during the pandemic, when everything seems to have slowed down around me, and my brain too, stumbling and bleary.

The poems are imaginative, beautiful in all the ways of beauty, sometimes funny, always poignant, almost unbearably so — but in a very good way. Indeed Phil was filled with some holy spirit with these poems, so full are they of wild winds and homely wonder.

Every poem is entitled by the name of the god who is speaking: The God of Wisdom, The God of Snow, The God of Driving Alone in the Middle of the Night. And each god reveals itself in tercets of its thoughts in the form of epistles to a “you” who is we, we who are staggering in the created world.

Marilyn McCabe, There’s always something happening there; or, On Reading Phil Memmer’s Pantheon

I was stunned this week to find Hotel Almighty on The New York Times’ list of ‘New and Noteworthy’ poetry releases. I thought I was looking at a fake page. But there it was between Marge Piercy and Billy Collins. It’s particularly astounding considering the doomsday articles I have been reading about the overwhelming raft of books being published this month, which is dismaying for anyone with a new book. I was happy to have any attention at all.

Mostly I’ve been happy for the support of other poets buying and reading and posting about my book. That makes me glad. Much of the book’s appeal is that it’s different. And colorful.

Sarah J Sloat, New & Noteworthy

There’s nothing to say this week. I’ve continued my pre-work schedule of writing for about 30 – 45 minutes before switching to day job mode and I think it’s helping. I’ve made some progress on a couple of longer poems that have been hanging about for a while. I think the idea of the graft required to get them anywhere was subconsciously putting me off working on them, but nibbling away at them over the last two weeks has been quite restorative.

It’s interesting that it’s longer stuff that’s being worked on. I didn’t think I was a long poem kind of poet at all. The sustained level of thought didn’t seem like me at all, and perhaps it isn’t. The poems may well be shite, but I like the idea of a concise idea being spread out—if that’s not an oxymoron.

It’s also interesting in these times that it’s taken so long to get into a routine for myself; the work routine happened pretty much straightaway.

I think, for me, the end of summer and the return to school has shaken me out of the stupor a bit, made me accept the long haul of it all. There was a lovely quote from someone on an online research community for work that said something like, “At least if you’re in prison you know when you’re getting out pretty much to the day. Lockdown, etc isn’t like that – it’s the not knowing.”

Mat Riches, Where Eagles Beware

if i said sunflower
might you say vangough or
describe at length the fields at sunset
the ones that sell calendars

turn your head with the sun
raise this late september garden
when the sedum sighs in the downing

look me in the eye sunflower bach
turn this burning summer into
a quilt of gold
the days of a child’s sherbet

Jim Young, the sunflower

Through more than a dozen trade poetry collections, [Phil] Hall has mined further and deeper into the complexities of language, his histories of abuse, addiction and recovery, and his attentiveness to mentors, contemporaries, tokens and folk art. As he writes in the sequence “Stan Dragland’s Wall”: “So folk art   & fine art   are one // folk   in its shed materials / fine   in its poetics of   amodal   disrepair // as with the first papier collés  by Braque 1912 / we must bring to this wall   a multiple perspective [.]” He stitches together a whole cloth out of scraps, and something valuable out of what others might easily discard, or overlook, allowing for a perspective more humble, and more democratic in scope. He writes Roy Kiyooka, Dolly Parton, Stan Dragland, Nudie Cohn, Lorine Niedecker, Emily Dickinson, Robert Duncan and Eugene Mcnamara. He writes of “the legendary Joe Junkin,” “the goalie for the Bobcaygeon Ti-Cats [.]” He writes of rude songs, typos and the bottom of the seemingly bottomless bottom. 

Increasingly, Hall writes an unbroken, elegiac line composed of lyric fragments, cadence and the pregnant pause, moving further along a path he constructs as he walks, following bpNichol’s “poem as long as a life.” In NIAGARA & GOVERNMENT, more than he has done with his other recent works—including Conjugation(Toronto ON: BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here] and My Banjo & Tiny Drawings (Toronto ON: Flat Singles Press, 2015) [see my review of such here]—he writes as though his life depends upon it; how recovery is a process not a goal-post. He writes with the perspective that the true way, or at least his way, through and potentially past the far end of trauma is through language: “without a mask I am no past / without a past I am an amalgam devoid of loyalty // except to the presenting moment / its deep accordion sigh // the next word has / my true ancestors within it [.]” (“Bottom”).

rob mclennan, Phil Hall, NIAGARA & GOVERNMENT

Poems where far too much happens.

Poems where nothing happens at all.

I’m just an old man with a pencil and paper 

Waiting for the coffee to brew.

James Lee Jobe, Poems where nothing happens at all.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

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


can you recall the first poem to see you

why is a luna moth in eclipse
beyond my grasp

how did the smell of rain arrive on earth

Grant Hackett [no title]

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

Charlotte Hamrick, Worry

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

Jason Crane, POEM: the dharma according to Norman

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

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

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

JJS, (Sometimes, it’s a sharpening.)

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

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

A fellow-creature came into our lives on Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandra Beasley, Necessity Is the Mother of New Poems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, A Positive Voice

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

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

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | august 2020

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

Luisa A. Igloria, America

This is the Mississippi Goddamn Nina Simone moon

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

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

Rebecca Loudon, 100% full

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

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

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

Ren Powell, A Story Written in Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are all connected, my drought contributing to its.

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Let the rain come down

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

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

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

Everywhere I look,

small businesses burning from no customers.

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

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

Oblivion scribed on the voided noise of lost neighborhood hubbub.

Each night before sleep,

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

Rich Ferguson, The Wonderings of Phantom-Limbed Days

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Transfiguring Atoms

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

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

deconsecrating 
the concrete of the altar
ego

Jim Young [no title]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, #TheSealeyChallenge & #TinyBookFair

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

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

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

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

Sarah J Sloat, Sultry with occasional thunder

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, The Next Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, New Rituals for New Griefs

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

What descends in the coolness
is the darkness of knowing.

From here to the horizon
anything you touch will

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

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

Tom Montag, THE LONG SUN AT EVENING

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 18

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

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


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

Rich Ferguson, All the Bright and Battered Places

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, World Labyrinth Day 2020

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

Rebecca Loudon, corona 17.

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

R.M. Haines, Poem After May Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True and true.

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

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Whole enough

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

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

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

Courtney LeBlanc, Sometimes it Rains

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

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, Why Still Life Might Speak to You Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolee Bennett, “ocean’s stomach of inevitability”

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

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

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

Matthew Stewart, Our first walk

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

Kristy Bowen, may

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collin Kelley, I’m still here…

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

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

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

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

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

Sandra Beasley, What Breaks Through: Poetry Book Contests

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

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

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

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

Josephine Corcoran, Discover Prompts: Focus

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

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

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

Tim Love, Visibility in the literary scene

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

Time passes — quick, quick, slow.

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

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

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

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

Andrea Blythe, A Bit of Good News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown

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

Jason Crane, haiku: 28 April 2020

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

Grant Hackett [no title]

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

PF Anderson, Shekhinah, Immortal

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

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

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

before one must speak.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time (April – Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, Struggling

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

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

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

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Pandemic Wonder, for Andy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bethany Reid, Holly J. Hughes

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

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, SloPo

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

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

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

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

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – How Are You?

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, With both eyes open

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, Letting Go of The Facade

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

Jim Young, anti-social distancing

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 9

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week found a lot of poetry bloggers writing about self-definition, belonging, identity, embodiment, and political engagement. It was a rich haul.


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

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

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, likes/som’er

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

My days are delayed orgasms that will never climax..

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

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

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

Dylan Tweney (untitled post)

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

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

This desire than needs an object.

I should have been a dancer.

Ren Powell, March 1, 2019

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

Grant Hackett (untitled)

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

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

Sandra Beasley, The Road to Cork

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

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

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

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

Carey Taylor, Home By Another Road

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

the trash on the beach was pink & sparkly

driftwood like a pile of slingshots

her eye is a storm that rages from sea to sea

Erica Goss, Writing at a Non-Writers’ Retreat

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

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

Kristy Bowen, russian doll

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

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

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

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

Starting out from here
Any direction is the right direction,

And turning about from any direction
Takes me back home.

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

I ate too much salt.

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

A flawed translation turned me into a lawyer.

Sarah J. Sloat, Tuesday minutiae

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

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

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

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

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

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Fog

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Anticipation

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

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

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

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

James Brush, Air Mail

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

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

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

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

Bethany Reid, What I’m Reading Now

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Poet in the Body

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Teaching poetry activism

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, Love, Our Inalienable Right

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

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

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

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: February 2019

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

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

Romana Iorga, Spring Inspection

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 25

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

 

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

*

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

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

So let’s watch that film poem Jayne mentioned:

*

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

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

[…]

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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What I am reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Paternity suit