Heather Derr-Smith

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

It’s worth mentioning that I don’t link to every post I liked from the past week—not by a long shot. Some may not fit with the other selections very well, and some are just tough to excerpt from. This week a lot of poets seemed to be in a contemplative mood, tackling the big subjects: hope and mortality, Kafka and Kate Bush…

Hope as phantom, hope as hive-mind drone, hope as marsh-gas…
Hope is, in truth, a tumour close to the heart, inaccessible
to the stoical surgeons with their probes and spatulas.
Dick Jones, Hope Springs

 

Let me just say that I had a rough year, along with the rest of the thinking world, in 2017, but with the added joylessness of feeling beleaguered at my workplace. Today, pulling clothes from the drier and rolling socks, I remembered a time period in my 40’s when I would roll socks with the image that someone was standing behind me with a gun pointed at my head, giving me a time deadline for getting the chore done, or be shot. It reminded me of how bad things can get emotionally, while still making the effort to go to work every day, and roll the socks every weekend at the laundromat. I had moments like that over this past year. And murderous dreams.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse on Saturday

 

It took me 20 years to get to Arthur W. Frank’s book The Wounded Storyteller, and I might not have found it so useful and illuminating if I’d read it twenty years ago. Now, however, the book’s insights are relevant to my life and to the current moment. Frank powerfully reminds us that as members of the human collective, we need to listen to people; that in time, all of us become wounded storytellers; and, therefore, each of us benefits by learning how to bear human living with a kind of “intransitive hope.” By intransitive hope, Frank means finding a way to be with our suffering in life, recognize that suffering happens, but also to recognize that there are ways to be human that do not end in miraculous cures–that may (and will, eventually) end in death.

And that’s okay. He suggests that healing is a project, not an outcome.

Kind of like writing, you know?
Ann E. Michael, Edges & outcomes

 

It is irresponsible to ignore the fact that we waged wars solely for the benefit of our corporations. We are still dealing with the ramifications of one of those in Iraq. Hell, we are dealing with the ramifications of the Banana Wars still, a hundred years later.

But, I have hope. I keep writing. I keep loving. I keep reading amazing poetry from ever-more diverse voices.

The faith that I have is in our fellow people in this country. So few of us are actually those assholes who march for white nationalism. My faith in my fellow Americans is that we will find a way forward, out of this mess. That we will continue to repudiate these shitheads and call our their racism directly, succinctly.
Eric M. R. Webb, Well it’s Alright…

 

But she wasn’t coming through, I was going in, my link to her a series of hot boxes where she would appear without warning over decades like the Virgin, her songs a catechism, her name a prayer I chanted at the backs of retreating lovers, divorcing parents and death, and even in her absence, the music never faltered like I did, songs willing pills back into bottles.
Collin Kelley, Kate Bush Appears on Night Flight, 1981

 

Looking back, I try to understand how people make simple rules, and routes of least resistance. I remember asking my Grandmother if she saw Goodnight and Good Luck when it came out. She said, “I don’t have to watch it, I lived through it.”

But she didn’t want to talk about it with me.

I’m sure she knew I thought I had something to “contribute to the discussion”. I really was young then. I hadn’t learned to listen — even if I’d known the right questions — the way in. It would have been a waste of time.

If she had opened up about the complexities of her experience, I might well have tried to solve them, simplify them with labels and analysis. I’d gone to college, after all. I would have made absurd parallels in an attempt to empathise.

I must have been an ass. If she hadn’t loved me, she wouldn’t have liked me. Looking back, I don’t like me.
Ren Powell, The Wisdom of Old Men, And

 

K knows you’re not supposed to say what’s true. He’s the only one who sees these systems and revolts. But he himself is missing the system that silences women’s voices. So, then, When I read Kafka, I become K. The whole Gare D’Orsay jam-packed with workers, typists, typing away at their desks, shoulder to shoulder, the din of their fingertips like locusts. There he is, scared and running, trying to figure out what’s going on and how to escape. He shouts, and I’m K now, shouting, saying things I’m not supposed to say.
Heather Derr-Smith, Dear K

 

Who the hell can’t dig a damn hole
by saving the eggs out one at a time?
none of us pure sane until the balance
on a high hill and me rolling the rocks down
too heavy for me, it went shut
a sad, steady sound
james w. moore, Shut Down (a sestina)

 

[Mary] Oliver states that she “…did find the entire world in looking for something. But I got saved by poetry. And I got saved by the beauty of the world.” I can identify with that in every part of my being. In 2004 several years before I retired from teaching and found myself pursuing poetry more passionately and with much more attention to craft, I wrote these lines: Some days / I am even/ saved by / beauty. Every minute part of nature, and particularly the botanical part of nature, draws me in. One photograph, just one, that pleases me to the point of elation is enough to change the tenor of the entire day for me. I commented to a friend just this week that when I go to the Chicago Botanic Garden I can feel even my breathing change, the tightness in my chest and shoulders loosen within minutes–I am being saved.
Gail Goepfert, Poetic Uber-ing

 

I spent a lot of 2017 thinking about what poetry can DO. I wish poems could stop inhumane deportations and government shutdowns, and I hope poets will keep trying to make the world more kind and fair. Mostly, though, my aims are smaller in scale: can writing this poem change ME for the better? The stories we tell about ourselves really matter, and I’ve been trying to tell hopeful ones. After all, that’s what I want to read–literature that acknowledges the complicated mess we live in but ultimately tilts towards love.

Now, two weeks into a new class on documentary poetics, I find myself thinking about poems, instead, as testimony, carrying some part of the past into our present attention. That’s not unrelated to poetry as spell, prayer, or action, but the emphasis is a little different. The poets we’ve been reading–Rukeyser and Forché at first, and a host of Katrina poets now, including Patricia Smith, Cynthia Hogue, and Nicole Cooley–are asking what we need to remember. Their poetries still look towards the future but are more explicitly grounded in history. We’ll be sailing even further in that direction soon with Kevin Young’s Ardency, a book I’ve never taught before.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry, pickled

 

I found myself experiencing this wonder even within the book’s title. The title itself is a poem, it creates a doubling: there is the wolf and the being that should be called—wolf. Once an expression is isolated and placed in a new context, here as the title of a book, it becomes symbolic and takes on a deeper meaning. Within these five words the poet is questioning himself, or rather the self that was being consumed by alcoholism. The phrase can also be seen as a kind of call and response, distinct rhythms divide the phrase into two: the call is trochaic, and the response is iambic. The response—a wolf a wolf—recalls howling not only within the image, but in the sound of wolf, which is repeated the way cries are repeated. And make no mistake Kaveh Akbar’s debut collection absolutely howls, howls from that deep intimate place of uncertainty where the body and spirit confront one another.
Anita Olivia Koester, New Ways to Howl: Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar

 

I would suggest that there is a place that is neither one of fear or one of hope. Sometimes I walk around the house, and I look at all the objects – the photographs, paintings, baskets, tables, sculptures, and I know the stories represented by each one, can recall the day when I bought it, who I was with, how many apartments and houses I’ve carried that object. I am surprised, each time, by the love that flows from each object and into me. That may seem corny, but it isn’t, because the objects we bring into our lives, especially those objects we spent money for, sometimes a lot more money than we had at that time but something inside us kept saying, “I have to have that. I have to have that,” and we bought it and never regretted doing so, because that particular object awakened a place of beauty in our souls, brought a sense of wellbeing to our bodies and spirits, a sense of order to the inner chaos, a cohesion to the fragments of selves and hurts that spun haphazardly within.

When I finally finish this tour of my life, this memory-trip of objects. I am smiling. Finally, I say quietly, “I’m going to miss me.”

And then, I laugh with mortal joy.
Julius Lester, notes on Atul Gawande’a Being Mortal, from JJS, January 20, 2018: an exchange of letters

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 Here are a few things that caught my eye this past week. If you’re new to the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, read Donna Vorreyer’s explanatory blog post with the official list of participants (expanded with a bunch of new bloggers on Friday). I may occasionally also include links from other poetry bloggers whom I’ve been following for years, and who may be too antisocial or commitment-averse to join the revival tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, a lot of poets have been blogging about books…

 

I have a little game I play in bookstores. First I find the poetry section. Then I run my eyes along the shelf, head cocked to the right so I can read the books’ skinny spines. I’m looking for a book I’ve never read by an author I’ve never heard of. I’m looking for something new and strange, for the experience that only poetry delivers. I want to be moved.

Yesterday in J. Michaels Bookstore which has a better-than-average poetry section, I scanned the shelves until I found City of Regret by Andrew Kozma. I pulled it from the shelf and held it in my hands. Yes, I felt it: the ripple of intuition informing me that I had found the book.

I tested my intuition a step further. Part of the game requires me to find a poem that is one or more of the following: a) deeply disturbing, but in a good way; b) weirdly provocative; or c) just weird. I opened the book to page 7 and read: […]
Erica Goss, The Bookstore Game

 

The books on the shelves
don’t prefer
one or the other

Their purpose
does not depend
on which words we choose

Their obsessions
and ours
sometimes align
in a game of Concentration
we don’t know
we are playing
[…]
Kevin J. O’Conner, Bookstore Poem #56. A few words about words

 

Recently, I spent awhile browsing the Walter Kerr collection of books in the library of the college that employs me. Kerr and his wife Jean were writers in New York in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s; he was best known as a theater critic and she as a playwright and essayist. His family donated his books to the school, and it occurred to me during my perusal that this section of the stacks seems more personal than the collection as a whole. Here are Kerr’s quirky book choices, his favored influences, his academic interests with a place among the trendier tomes on movies and Broadway.

A personal library acts as a unit, books that are kept together rather than disbursed upon the death (or before-death donation) of the book collector. It therefore parallels–and predates, of course–the social media concept of the curated self[.]
Ann E. Michael, Curation

 

I’ve done just enough archival work to be fascinated by poets’ commonplace books. It’s been more than a decade since I worked among Marianne Moore’s papers at the Rosenbach, but I was impressed by her fantastically crabbed hand in a series of tiny notebooks, recording quotations she liked. At the Library of Congress, you can leaf through Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sparser notes, mixing drafts, travel plans, and lists of poems that might go together in her next collection. And how I wish Anne Spencer had kept notebooks! Instead, I learned last summer how hard it is to date any of her drafts, many of which must be lost in any case, because she penciled ideas on any scrap of paper or cardboard within reach.
Lesley Wheeler, Twitter as commonplace book

 

When I went down to Los Angeles in November last year to empty my storage unit (and do some poetry readings), I discovered that at some point (probably during the terrible rain storms that hit in earlier in 2017), water had leaked from the roof and damaged some of boxes of books I had stored. In total, I lost around 30 books (out of 900) and 50% of a collection of sample issues from different literary journals (roughly 100 items ruined). While I wasn’t particularly attached to the literary journals (they were just representative samples I sometimes use in workshops), I did feel sad that they were all headed to the dump. So I decided to try to find a way to salvage them — then reclaim a line or two from different poems and weave them together into something new. In the end, I choose to use couplets rather than single lines (so these aren’t centos exactly — although you might argue they’re 2-per-centos (gah, I can’t believe I just wrote that!).
Neil Aitken, Project: Cut Up Poem #1

 

Ten years ago, I didn’t write many poems, and the ones I wrote were not worth anyone’s attention. Five years ago I put my mind to it and determined to do something about it. Don’t ask me why, because I’m not precisely sure, but the thing is that essentially, I followed the exhortation of that Nike advert. Just do it. Whatever it is, do it, as well as you can. Don’t put it off, don’t make excuses, don’t talk yourself out of it. Just do it. And then keep on doing it. It’s really that simple. […]

The thing is, you won’t get better if you keep mediocre company. You learn from the company you keep. […] When it comes to poetry, I’ve set myself an annual task/routine. I choose a poet who I like via a handful of poems. It has to be a poet who’s kept on writing and writing. Enough to have a big fat Collected Poems. And then I read X poems every day for a year till I get to the end. So far Ive read Charles Causley, Norman McCaig, and U A Fanthorpe like this, and on January 1st this year I started on David Constantine. 374 big fat pages.
John Foggin, Just do it

 

I received my contributor’s copy of what I suspect will be a very important book—for me, surely—and perhaps for others. How to be a Poet strikes me as not only “a twenty-first century guide to writing well”, but also a guide to living well as a writer.

I also quite like the alternative title proposed in the introduction: “A Poem-Writer’s Guide to the Galaxy.” After all, we contain multitudes.

It features the wisdom of two of my favourite poetry people: Jo Bell and Jane Commane, interspersed with excellent guest contributions by Mona Arshi, Jonathan Davidson, Clive Birnie, and many other well-known names in UK poetry. I thought I’d spend a moment or two thumbing through it on the couch when it arrived. I couldn’t put it down.
Robert Peake, How to be a Poet

 

As a teacher, whether or for a creative writing or literature course, I simply do not use anthologies, just for these very reasons. I also dislike anthologies because they amount to a goofy, disjointed “greatest hits,” reifying the idea that a poem is singular, discrete, and denuded construct. Most poems I know are in direct contact with the other works of the poet, finding some kind of home, some kind of deeper contextualization, in a book. Thus, I order individual books of poetry when I teach a class.

A literature syllabus is really not that much different than your typical anthology, but what I like about ordering individual books is that I end up covering fewer authors–this amplifies the absences, that my students understand that I’m casting a small, small net, and there’s no pretense of being comprehensive. We also get a chance to study the works in relation to other poems in the book, explore the conversations between very good and not-so-very good poems (but where the “mediocre” poems may be more impactful). We erase the editors of collections, the intermediaries, and all their credentials, all their impressive footnoting and bibliographies.
Jim Brock, De-canon, Irish Women Poets, and What I Do

 

I am working on being mindful in my actions and making better choices with my time, and it’s not always easy. I am trying to bring back my deep focus in life. I can be so distracted, so drawn into the shiny object, the quick fix, the impulse purchase, reaching for my phone when I should be reaching for a pen. […]

Technology is wonderful when it’s not zapping our time. I try to use it to my advantage when I can. I know I’ll still get sucked in to some sort of time waster (did you know my high-score on Tetris is 98,000?) but I find the more I care for my artistic pursuits, the less I want to eat the junk food of the internet, the more I reach for the healthy book option and the exercise of writing.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Strange Inspirations: Past Resolutions & Tools to Help You Stay Focused Today

 

Though Silent Anatomies hovers close to the women in the family, it also works to understand the silence of fathers and grandfathers, to understand what is beneath surface of a tongue. Many of the poems are arranged in series, in “Profunda Linguae” the poems are captions for diagrams that reveal the muscular structures of the tongue, these diagrams are arranged over the Chinese-Filipino recipes her mother typed on her father’s prescription pad when her mother first came to the United States. […]

It is a shame that so many book contests specifically state that if a manuscript has images, to leave them out; what a loss it would have been if a book as rich and complex as Silent Anatomies were never published due to such constraints. Fortunately, Ong’s marvelous collection does exist in the world and so our notions of gender, race, culture, and identity are further challenged with grace and precision. In Silent Anatomies Monica Ong has seamlessly woven a multilayered collection that in its form of combining images and text is in itself a revelation, these visual poems intimately reveal the ways in which our bodies are sewn to our families, and our tongues are sewn to our cultures, but also the way art can transcend any boundary.
Anita Olivia Koester, Diagram of a Tongue: Silent Anatomies by Monica Ong

 

Last semester, a visiting writer told the audience that “empathy is overrated.” As you can imagine, this bit of glib frosting wasn’t what I was expecting (read: immediate sinking feeling) because I believe in empathy, I promote empathy, and I knew my very literal students would take this young writer’s word as gospel, whereas I knew he was just being flip. You have to have life experience to be truly cynical, and I personally think that this young writer was given success on a platter. So his ennui was facade. I get it. We all wear masks. He even confessed to wishing he were marginalized. He felt he should be writing about that. But to write about that, I think you need to have lived the experience, right? Of course, all of this plays into stereotypes, which seems to be my battleground– to help my students, family, friends see that our culture reinforces stereotypes in our everyday life. Now, more than ever, we need to question authority. Authority. Just look at that word, with “author” big as life itself. Is the author reliable? Do we believe what we are reading, hearing? I think this is the challenge nowadays, trying to figure out what is the truth. To think we’re all living in a pop-up book.
M.J. Iuppa, Writing from Place

 

Now he’s bedridden and can barely speak. I went to see him for Christmas day. I lay on the bed beside him and held his hand and told him about my travels, about the town where I was teaching poetry in Estonia, where on the Russian side of the river there was a great castle facing another castle on the Estonian side. And how it had been bombed to smithereens during the Soviet occupation. Of course he’d been there. He’s been everywhere in the world. He tried to talk back, able only to say a few words which I pieced together into sentences, just like writing a poem.

I understood two stories, told in a string of words, that he’d once seen an abandoned church in Estonia and had carried a photograph of the ruins with him for a long time but had since lost the photograph. (ruins–church–Estonia–picture–lost) The other was that he’d wandered into the inner courtyard of a museum in St. Petersburg and to his amazement found eighty live bears gathered there. (St. Petersburg-Museum-Courtyard-Eighty Bears).
Heather Derr-Smith, Dear New Year

 

Corpse pose is a preparation for death, not a moment to fear, but rather a letting go. I slide into the velvety, warm blackness, this state of consciousness where poetry is born.
Christine Swint, What I Need Is More Yoga