A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: mindlessness, writing routines, poetry and psychology, fierce women, and more. Enjoy.
That was a different kind ofPF Anderson, Bathrobe
love. That was a love of something beautiful
simply because it was. It was violet,
supple, thick, luscious, soft. It was everything
I ever wanted in a bathrobe. It hangs,
right now, on a hook in my bathroom, stretching
and fading in the morning sun, years after
the man himself has gone to ashes, decades
and decades after he gifted it to me.
It was the first gift he gave me, and the last.
I had to nudge myself into another poetry submission and discovered it was a full two months since the last. Sigh… Busy, stressful times continue, but with beauty, joy, and moments of sweet downtime, plus, alas, dangerous heat. But the heat has lifted, and I am soon to volunteer at two tables for our annual downtown Pridefest, itself delayed by a full month but now fully supported by the city. I’ve got my Pride hat, my Pride flags, and two shirts–one for each organization, plus a water bottle, travel tissue, a cell phone for a ride home, and a Walt Whitman tote bag. I feel strangely well prepared! I hope I am coherent, as I had a little anesthesia yesterday. Nasturtiums I planted from seed, and the above marigold, are blooming! There was welcome rain and, sadly, some unwelcome damage from recent storms. Let’s hope we all repair.Kathleen Kirk, Nudge
She sits by my neighbour’s front window, sometimes tries to wander into the house and she has a face I want to look into all day, to absorb that moment’s contentment. She’s about the same size as a young fox that wanders across mum’s terrace and when the back door’s open nips in to take out the red slippers I keep there. I side with the myths of fox as messenger of the gods. I don’t like the anthropomorphic characteristic of cunning. A fox walking down mum’s road the other evening with a rabbit hanging out of its mouth was a reminder of truth. It went up to the Tye and waited near one of the many warrens. I could not disparage a fox for that. Humans, on the other hand, put words on the walls of art galleries and ignite fields, forests, mountains and valleys.Jackie Wills, The vixen’s stare
The French existentialists — I barely read them, but what a baneful influence they had on me! — thought of life as a thing to be invented; made up, out of some primal creative fire, and then committed to, in an act of bold self-assertion. I don’t think this conception stands up well under examination. Who, after all, does the creating? Where did *that* self come from, the one who makes the choices? Why, the self before the choices, of course, and you get a regress that’s either infinite, or ends up in Mama and Papa and your kindergarten peers. This is noble independence? I don’t think so. The thing doesn’t make any sense: and anyway it doesn’t correspond to anything I know or remember about myself. I didn’t invent myself. I’ve gradually and painfully discovered myself.Dale Favier, Flowering
The wildfires are spreading like wars. We need to get out.
Airports have closed.
People walk the roads with suitcases.
We get into the car and drive into history,
using a map of Europe from before the meteor.
We give the kids an I-Spy Book of Dinosaurs
to keep them quiet for an hour or so.
They look hopefully out of the windows.
You’re wearing that light yellow shirt,Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING AFTER PAINTING A GHOST THAT RETURNED FROM THE END OF THE MIND
the top two buttons undone because of the heat.
Your silver crucifix shines as the sun diffuses
through the windscreen dirty with bugs.
There’s a difference between the mindless and the tedious. I don’t care for tedium; but a task I can mindlessly manage–something physical, but not too demanding, without a lot of surprises I need to problem-solve–those projects can be almost relaxing. When weeding, my thoughts can wander. The job is so familiar and repetitive that there is no need to devote much brainpower to it. Ideas, reflections, observations, images can float aimlessly in my mind. I can think about poems while weeding. Taking a walk in a woods or quiet countryside offers me the same sort of internal/external environment.
Proofreading was like that for me, back when I was a proofreader (when there were such things as proofreaders in every newspaper, type or print shop, publishing house, ad agency, and legal department). Editing takes some thought; but the less engaged a proofreader is with the text, the better. I was employed as a proofreader when I first recognized that I was truly serious about writing poetry, and I found value in the ’empty mind’ that my workaday job fostered. There was a bonus in that sometimes I did glean new information from the materials I read.
Composing this post, it strikes me that “mindless” is the wrong word, or not an accurate word to convey what it’s like to feel internally occupied while the physical body’s doing something else. “Reflection” implies more stillness. Something more akin to walking meditation?
At any rate, I can hope that the weeding and staple-removing might eventually get my poetry mojo re-booted. I have to work on my next manuscript and continue to promote my latest book, too. In the meantime at least I’m accomplishing something.Ann E. Michael, Mindlessly
I finished this 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a Van Gogh painting, and it only took 2 1/2 years! Seriously, my family started it on Thanksgiving 2020, stalled out, rolled it up on one of those felt contraptions, bagged it, and threw it in a corner of the living room. This week was quiet with Chris away, so on a whim I pulled it out. I quickly became obsessed, for reasons I didn’t understand. I don’t want to tell you how many hours I spent sorting and fitting the little streaky pastel pieces. (P.S.: I eventually found the final missing shape, after I broke the puzzle up and reboxed it, of course.)
As soon as I did, I was able to return to some difficult work that was stalled: making a near-last revision to my next poetry book, Mycocosmic, and working on the elaborate author questionnaire I mentioned last week. These tasks have similarities to finishing a jigsaw puzzle: for instance, both involve sifting through patterns, although a puzzle has one solution and a book many possible good shapes. But working on one cleared my head for the other, I think, oddly enough in the way Ann E. Michael describes low-cognition chores in her recent blog post. Maybe there are a lot of poets out there taking breaks from mental work in this extreme July heat.Lesley Wheeler, Jigsawing together a poetry ms
Some days are bad writing days. Some weeks are bad writing weeks. It’s possible to meet a word count and have no clue what the words were. It’s possible to feel like a robot, mechanically working, without feeling or connection. It’s possible to hate every minute of it.
It’s possible to go on like this for a very long time.
But if you keep working, eventually something will click.
What is it that clicks? A door? A master lock? A vault in the Sistine Chapel? The snap of the lid of a pickle jar?
Who knows. But something opens up.
Those bad writing days are all part of the work, it turns out. We can accept them. Tolerate them. Maybe even appreciate them.
They are like the abrasive relative at holiday dinners. Difficult to love, but still part of the family. […]
Sometimes the click happens when you least expect it.
In the supermarket, at a playground playdate, on your way to class, in the middle of an argument with your best friend.
Suddenly, you realize, you’ve been working this entire time. You’ve kept going, even without fully knowing it.
It’s like trying to stand still in the ocean—impossible. Just being in the water, the current pushes you along.Becky Tuch, Monday Motivation! With Thoughts on Craft!
I’m a great believer in the satisfaction that comes from making and doing things yourself, and find this an antidote to so much of what feels wrong about our disposable, ever-faster, highly commercial, media-driven culture. It’s a great feeling to create something from scratch that is uniquely yours, to use it and enjoy it, and to learn from the project so that you are inspired for the next one. The biggest key to success is to start simply, and find some helpful friends or resource people who can advise you about your choices and your process when you’re having difficulties. Nobody is born knowing how to do these things! Just as in cooking, we all have to learn, we all get better at it gradually, and there is always something cool and exciting to aspire to in the future.Beth Adams, A Report on my Summer Sewing Binge – Part 2
It’s my own fault, I hadn’t planned properly. The things that I thought would take minimal work, didn’t. I’d broken my own cardinal rule and planned for time (off) that I wanted, rather than time (off) that I had. Although I’d taken no new work on, work that was rolling on still existed. I am the founder and editor of a literary magazine, Spelt, a magazine that seeks to validate and celebrate the rural experience through creative non fiction and poetry. We feature interviews with authors and have four creative non fiction columnists and the magazine is a print magazine, which means a lot of work needs to go into it. I work with two other editors, but really, this is my project, my baby and so I tend to take on the lion’s share of the work. No one gets paid, we all do it for the love of being a part of a system that creates platforms for writers who we feel need more recognition and a place to show how nature writing can be something other than a practice of romanticised observation. We recently suffered a set back financially and we’ve been limping on with the magazine while we try to raise some funds through the annual competition. Because I was writing the book, issue nine was behind, is behind. Because I was writing the book the competition wasn’t getting the promotion it needed to be successful. I realised I needed to catch up on those commitments before I could really take time off. My compromise was three hours work between 6 and 9 am, in the hope that after that I’d be able to take time off, but what happened was that the lovely, elderly dog needed his daily care – the glacial pace slow walks that keep him happy and healthy, the attention to his coat (he’s long haired, and I can’t get him to the groomer anymore as he gets too upset and stressed) in the heat of summer, his occasional incontinence and his need to be with me, the reassurance that he needs. If you’ve ever lived with an elderly dog, you’ll know that at this stage of their lives, they need a lot of care giving. I don’t imagine we have a long time left with him, and I want to make sure that every one of those days is of gentle happiness and companionship. By the time I’d be done and got him settled it would be lunch time, and I’d be exhausted because I was up early every day to work, and I just wanted to sleep. And then, because of the monster anxiety – because I knew that I would need to jump back onto work and be prepared to, like a Flintstone car, run as soon as my feet touched the ground, after my ‘time off’; making space to work on the edits of the book when it’s returned, setting up work around it to enable me to continue to pay my mortgage and bills while I do, meant some planning and prep work. And then the day was over and the elderly dog needed his glacial evening walk and then it was bed time. Reader, there was no walks on the beach, and the weather has been very rainy anyway, so that put paid to even simply sitting in the garden. I even lost most of my usual sacred morning space to write and reflect because I was filling that space with work to allow me some time off. […]
Yesterday I did the thing that I said I was going to do and, after I had dealt with the old dog, my husband and I left the house and went to be tourists at Burton Agness Hall.
As soon as we were out of the village and crossing the Wolds I felt better. As soon as we were pouring ourselves through the fields of wheat and barley, the golden summer landscape, I felt better. We saw a stoat cross the road like a small fire burning and my heart expanded, loosening all the tense muscles around it. We spent hours walking the grounds of the hall, being moved by the stories of people long since dead, soaking up the extraordinary art on display, walking thorough the gardens lulled by the hum of bees, the scent of flowers, then dinner at the pub, then home. When I walked the dog that evening I felt grounded. I wasn’t thinking about what was next on the list. I was communing with the place that I live, connecting to the ground beneath my feet, the breeze, the prickle of rain. Two roe deer were in th top field as I passed. We stopped to watch each other, then carried on with our lives. I felt like I had come home, not just physically, but mentally. This morning, i am up and at my desk to write. The world will not end if I don’t answer my emails. Today I am giving myself over to writing time. I don’t know what I shall write, it doesn’t matter. Maybe an essay, maybe a poem or a flash fiction or the start of something bigger. It doesn’t matter. It starts here, with this essay, with these words. Thankyou for bearing witness to it.Wendy Pratt, Allowing the Creative Well to Refill
After book club on Wednesday where we discussed the poetry book Our Dark Academia (in case you’re following along with the book club) among other things, I remember feeling a moment thinking about taking joy in talking about books and just writing for fun, not worrying about publishing or marketing or any of that stuff.
I think I got exhausted from the first few months of my sixth book coming out, plus AWP and all that accompanies that, and it was nice to remember that appreciating poetry is kind of its own reward, and that there are simple things that give us joy: visiting with family and friends, walking through a field of lavender, watching butterflies, and writing poetry among them. I’m not particularly good at slowing down and having moments of peace and joy, I actually had a book as a teen called When I Relax I Feel Guilty, so this week was a bit of a revelation. Then I wrote two poems (I hadn’t written in a little while) and didn’t worry about updating any spreadsheets or submitting or rejection—I just enjoyed writing them.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Back Into Routines, Finding Joy in Writing and Talking Books, and Looking Forward to Fall (Readings?)
Rob Taylor: The back jacket copy of If It Gets Quiet Later On, I Will Make a Display bills it as “a volume of essays, stories and poems… on a life of reading, writing and bookselling.” And yet, smack in the middle we find “Collected Trout,” a 24-page essay on Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop. Like in a wide-ranging display at a bookstore, your reader is left to make the connections between this disparate part and the others. A few other pieces, too, seem only loosely tethered to the book’s central concerns.
“I love making the themed / (albeit only broadly associative) tabletop / displays,” you write in an early poem in the book. Later, you refer to this type of curation as “a form of poetry.” Could you talk about your approach to the curation of this book, which ranges so widely in both form and content?
Nick Thran: I find I am focused, energized, and un-self-conscious when I’m gathering books together for display. One afternoon, immersed in this activity, I paused, looked out the window, and thought to myself, this feels so good. Then I began to think about display-making in the context of the writing I’d been doing over the last few years.
After Mayor Snow, I wanted to write a book that didn’t rely too heavily on well-paved neural pathways towards anxiety and fear. Those things could be there in the new work, would be there, because that’s a part of my makeup. But the central mode of the new book, whatever it looked like, would be that E.M. Forster quote from Howards End “Only connect!” I also wanted to stay with things longer than I was in a lot of my poems. I liked the challenge of extending looks, in prose, while also accommodating diversions, digressions, associative thought.
But I’d hit a wall in a book of essays I was working on. The essays I’d already written were interesting to me. A lot of them, “Collected Trout” included, are in this book. But I’d developed an impossible set of constraints for myself. I was also running into that difficulty most every non-fiction writer, writing about the work of others, runs into: am I really the person to be speaking on behalf of some of the artists I’m writing about? Especially if I’m trying to make these essays, in some way, personal? Fiction gave me some freedom from those constraints, to remove the names, to veer off in wildly imaginative or speculative directions, but keep the essence.Rob Taylor, On Display in my Mind: An Interview with Nick Thran
Jonathan Totman has recently started a new poetry blog and it looks like becoming an top-notch addition to the scene. Using his expertise in clinical psychology as a point of departure, his posts provide a focus on poetry and mental health, offering selected poems by the likes of Ramona Herdman alongside reflections that are informed by his counselling work.
There are already five excellent posts awaiting you, though I’d especially recommend the latest one on loss and fearing joy, which also features an excellent poem by Sue Rose. You can read it here.Matthew Stewart, Jonathan Totman’s new poetry blog
Dunn and colleagues are looking into ways in which therapists can help people with persistent depression tone up their capacity for joy. Often, a lot of our focus in therapy is on dealing with the difficult stuff. Rightly so, of course, but it seems there is increasing attention in the research literature (and the therapy room) being given to the idea that some people might benefit from more help in moving towards positive emotions and overcoming blocks and fears that might be getting in the way. (I’m conscious as I write that I’m sort of skirting round the question of what “joy” and “happiness” actually mean. I don’t think I want to open that particular can of worms right now(!) but will just acknowledge my own perspective here, and the fact that what happiness means and how we relate to it is of course personal, variable and influenced by social, cultural and religious factors; Joshaloo et al., 2014).
I’m speaking only from personal experience here but, for me, poetry can be one avenue through which to enrich and amplify joyfulness. Poems can often surprise us, lift us out of auto-pilot, shine a light on the textures of sensory and emotional experience. This idea of “seeing things afresh”, which is part of mindfulness-based approaches, very much chimes with the poetical ambition to describe experiences in new ways. And if this brings with it sadness, and fear, then perhaps poetry can, in a small way, help us to feel less alone with these feelings. For me, a poem offers a kind of container for complex feelings, much like a therapy hour. I’m sure it’s partly why I write. Of course I also hope that at least some poems will also reach out, speak to others. But it would be wrong to pretend there isn’t a personal and emotional investment, and part of that – I think inevitably – stems from a need to feel my way towards and into loss. I’m not fond of the word “processing” – loss and grief, in particular, are deeply personal and often far from linear journeys – but it’s something approaching that. Perhaps part of it is simply listening – to the rumble in the dark, the ache and the fear. But it’s something more active too, something closer to reconnection or assimilation – a making room for those most awkward of companions, pain and joy.Jonathan Totman, “Taking Flight”: On Loss and Fearing Joy
“Phantom Pain Wings” is a journey through grief, an attempt to render the complex emotions tied up with bereavement on a page. The bird-like language, imagery and motifs allow the poet to investigate the unfamiliar, the physical and psychosocial struggles that grief brings. It widens beyond the personal to a universal journal of the disassociative states, the birds offering a freedom to probe things usually left undisturbed. Choi’s translation encompasses Kim’s word play and visual puns, brings the poems alive, enabling English readers to share in rich, multi-layers of Kim’s imagination.
The collection also includes a translation diary from Choi, detailing some of the discussion between translator and poet and choices made.Emma Lee, “Phantom Pain Wings” Kim Hyesoon translated by Don Mee Choi (New Directions) – book review
When I saw a post by ‘Albert’ on Twitter with this quote by L S Lowry: Had I not been lonely I would not have seen what I did, it reminded me of this poem by Matthew Sweeney. A fine ekphrastic poem that moves beyond description, as it enters into dialogue with the artist about their work.
I have a few ekphrastic poems that need expanding in some way, so I’m going to do some research and explore how I could incorporate the artist’s own words into those poem. Is this something you might do with your own writing? If you’re a painter, photographer, sculptor, do poems inspire you? [Click through to read “Dialogue With an Artist”]Fokkina McDonnell, Had I not been lonely …
SALA, the South Australian Living Arts Festival, is a statewide festival of visual art, spanning the entire month of August, and involving over 700 venues across the state with nearly 11,000 participating artists. SALA is Australia’s largest and most inclusive visual arts festival, and takes place in galleries and non-traditional arts spaces across South Australia, featuring visual artists working at every level, in any medium, from all backgrounds and all parts of the state. Indeed, there are few if any festivals of this nature anywhere in the world.
I have enjoyed participating in SALA in different ways over the years. For SALA this year, I am excited to present Beyond the Floodtide… a sequence of mostly new video works with environmental themes, at The Joinery in the Adelaide CBD, in collaboration with the Conservation Council of South Australia and coordinated by Sally Francis.
Faced with accelerating anthropogenic climate change, how will life on earth cope with global warming and rising sea levels? Plants, animals, humans, forms yet to evolve: all will need to adapt to challenging new environments. This video sequence imagines how we and the biosphere around us might deal with the consequences of our effects on the planet.
In addition to screening the videos at The Joinery on each Friday afternoon in August, I will be giving an artist talk, explaining some of the processes that went into making the videos. Together with acclaimed local poets Matthew Pankhurst and Shaine Melrose, I will present a reading of original poetry addressing environmental themes.Ian Gibbins, Beyond the Floodtide… SALA 2023 at The Joinery
Peter Riley’s sequence of 27 short poems opens with words “Proof that the world exists.” What is this proof? The irreducible figure of the refugee, that human in motion who surrounds us every day, invisible but insistent:
that the world is, but unstable: the Refugee’s story.
The second poem introduces a counterpoint; birdsong. The birds are also migrants, and their song tells “the tale of the Refugee’s journey across Europe,/a sonorous black hole day after day”.
The birds and the figure of the Refugee are intimately interwoven in the poems that follow. We are reminded gently that the figure in the steel container is a dweller on the earth whose existence requires proof:
did he remember before he left to visit
the old holm oak up in the fields , to hold
its spiked leaf in his hands and listen
to what it said?
It’s not without significance, I think, that while the native oak is a symbol of Britain, the holm is viewed as an invasive species. A little later, birds, tree and the Refugee are drawn against a background of ongoing ecological catastrophe framed by the central concern of proof:
There may well be a world
but there is probably no future. Earth’s
moisture sucked into the blue sky,
lost rhymes fallen into dry ditches.
The last line in this extract draws us towards another central question; what is the role of poetry in the face of loss of hope? The answer, tentative as it is, is to hold on, to persist:
Thursday, market-day and again a bird sang.
across the canal, not a wren.
By Sunday there were three or four. Is this a turn
of the tide, is there a hope of something more
than a stray pheromone riding the breeze?
And we are reminded in other sections that we are all refugees in a world that, despite all its provisional flux, fully is. And that we must, against all the odds, sing:
Robin, fill your little lungs,
and blow your meaning over the fields
fortissimo for the new year.
Peter Riley is one of our great singers, and here he is, full fortissimo. We’re lucky to have him.Billy Mills, Recent Reading: July 2023
How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I’m kind of a slow learner and my process tends to reflect that. It feels like I’ve been working on Age of Forgiveness for the last ten years or so. Probably I have been, in some ways. A few of the poems in the book are from early on in my writing life, but I didn’t start working on it as a book until 2019, and it won’t become one until September 2023.
So, between 4 and ten years. […]
Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Probably not? I think I’m mostly interested in all the first-year-poetry-student stuff still. I think a lot about form and voice, repetition, order, metaphor. Other stuff, too, but those are the main ones. My main question always seems to be, how am I supposed to write this poem that my brain is trying to make me write? […]
When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I play pickup basketball and then stretch for six hours afterwards. That usually gets me to where I need to be. Sometimes pickle ball helps. […]
I’m inspired by visual art. I seek it out, hang it on my walls, think about it, and write about it, too. A few years back I became a little bit obsessed with this visual essay called First Adventures in Beauty by Lia Purpura. Technically a book, I guess. Books that are art interest me a lot. I’m thinking of Book of No Ledge by Nance Van Winckel, Mary Reufle’s erasure books, both of Karen Green’s books and a handful of other Siglio titles.rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Caleb Curtiss
the sad spectacle of sun glasses in an airport loungeJim Young, vacant vacation
life in lateral inversion
a mind full of sunshine
up through the clouds
down with a bumpy landing
reality in the arrival lounge
my name written on a card
i remember who i am
Cycladic villages – how is it that they never get dirty? In Athens, age drips rustily down the walls; on a Cycladic island, the white of village houses is brighter than white, beyond pigment, beyond age. They are like sugar cubes divided by a wet knife. Some islands are ringed by fire but not on fire; they are both dazzling and cooling. White doves tiptoe on the ledge of a white houses. Villages wind mazelike with steep stairs and plastered passages, bursts of bougainvillea and jasmine.
Then there is the blue. If Homer were to describe it now, he might still say that wine-dark sea is agitated, full of shifting, intertwined patterns. Underwater you can see the chain of sailors’ shaped phrases, one hooked to the next. Blue that dissolves as if in a dream and blue as solid as heaven. If Homer were writing now, he might be sending postcards or texts about Ulysses’ long travels. Saw the blue – unfenced. Full of monsters and simmering grudges. Blue – to die for.Jill Pearlman, Homer texting from the islands
many afternoons later, what I remember is
the song of invisible cicadas on the trail up
to the Parthenon, the pink glow of sunsets
painting lesser hilltops, the silence of Sounion,
even the sea only a whisper, and all those
pillars standing in the ruins like broken arms
reaching for the blue stillness. Because memoryRajani Radhakrishnan, Part 57
resides in the ordinary. Little things. That were.
Little things. That weren’t. What I never saw.
He was always there. Entering the darkening theater as the lights went down. He was too tall to miss. Then steel drums and a stage of gorgeous men would bring the Caribbean sea to the shores of Harvard Square. How could I not fall for the color and spectacle, the wildness? The Trinidad Theater Workshop was founded with Walcott’s twin brother in 1959, in the 1990’s plays would travel up to Massachusetts for US premieres such as Dream on Monkey Mountain, the one that I loved most.
It amazed me that a poet could also be a playwright. But Walcott was also a watercolor painter, he was a genius who defied category.
That doesn’t mean that Walcott was well-liked or even deeply respected in the 1990’s before all the awards. I don’t know that Cambridge doyennes knew what to do with him. He was most infamous for the rumors that surrounded his movement across the river—and enough rumors become taken as fact. Story was that Walcott had been asked to leave Harvard due to an affair with a student. The student was of age but had second thoughts when the affair ended. And of course it was more complicated than that—but again—rumor. These were the waters surrounding him when I first met him on the page.
What stays true is his work.
Love after Love
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread, Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
This poem is not typical of his work, but it is one that I return to again and again—as do so many others in the aftermath of love. The sparse language, the sense of a self lost and then the step-by-step struggle to find it again. Can’t you relate?
But the book that convinced me that he was our 20th century Shakespeare (and more) is The Star-Apple Kingdom. I’ve read and re-read it—-first being introduced to the lyrical patterns and cadences in grad school when Garrett Hongo read much of it aloud to our class. “I had no nation now but the imagination,” Shabine states as he leaves home. I had been rootless for years: Scotland, Niger, South Africa, Bosnia, all in quick succession. Here was a poet who claimed his rootlessness—did more than claim it; Walcott elevated rootlessness to epic poetry.Susan Rich, In the Theater with Derek Walcott
My dear friend and colleague, the poet, teacher and academic Sue Dymoke has died.
Though she had been ill for some time, the news came to me (comes to me) as a great shock. I cannot get used to talking about her in the past tense.
We first met, at the turn of the millennium, at the Royal Festival Hall. Jean Sprackland had gathered a group of poet-educators to put some teaching materials together for the nascent Poetry Archive. I knew immediately that I had found someone on my wavelength, whose poetic, pedagogic and academic identities were fully blurred. I went home knowing I had finally met another unicorn.
Sue and I worked on several projects together: the ESRC-funded Poetry Matter series and subsequent books, both with Andrew Lambirth and Myra Barrs; a poetry pedagogy symposium in Porto, also with Andrew, as well as Janine Certo and Laura Apol; a poetry anthology with Unbound, the not-quite-funded (but still amazing) No One You Know, featuring poets talking about their ‘secret- weapon-poems’; and latterly Young Poets’ Stories, funded by the Foyle Foundation, on the writing lives of prizewinning young poets.
It was Sue’s energy and attention to detail that got these projects going and over the line.
Young Poets’ Stories coincided, almost to the day, with the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, which meant that we conducted nearly the entire project online. Coming from different corners of the country, we had previously met up at the British Library, queuing in its chilly courtyard before bagging one of the cafe tables where we took it upon ourselves to compare stationery and cake products, accompanied by more than the legally safe limit of flat whites.Anthony Wilson, In memory of Sue Dymoke
This month has seen the deaths of fierce women. In some ways, that’s true of every month; fierce women often meet fiery ends, and much too soon. This morning, I was sad to hear of the death of Sinead O’Connor, and earlier this month, sad to hear of the death of Minnie Bruce Pratt. Both women faced life circumstances, particularly around motherhood, that I will never have to face; I can make this claim as a post-menopausal woman. Both highlighted the hazards that come from living life on one’s own terms.
O’Connor’s battles were much more public than Pratt’s, who was one of the first to write about the sacrifices that she made when she decided to pay attention to her desires for other women; she lost custody of her sons because of that choice.
I only bought one of O’Connor’s albums, or maybe two. I loved I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, but by the time later work came out, I wasn’t as interested for reasons I no longer remember. I always cheered for her as she took on various causes, even as I wondered if less confrontational tactics might win more believers for those causes. It’s a question I often have–what means justify what ends?
I had some of Pratt’s books, back in the days when I was buying any feminist work I could find, back when more of it was published, back when there were more small presses. I have likely let a lot of that work go, and I do wonder if I’ll regret it, in later days, when books may be harder to find and the power that fuels online collections dwindles/becomes ghastly expensive. I wonder the same thing about all the music that has come through my hands.
If that end time comes, and I’ve read all my books, I’ll just read them again. If I can’t play the music of others, I’ll finally have time to teach myself all the instruments that has been waiting for me. I will be a fierce woman, trying to avoid a fiery end.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Fierce Women, Fiery Ends
Until a couple of years ago I knew little about the singer-songwriter Tori Amos. She’s now responsible for more of my earworms than any other performer. I watch her often on YouTube, comparing performances.
People used to tell me she was like Kate Bush. My favourite Kate Bush song is “Under the Ivy”, which is one of her more Amosish pieces. I think that she has the artistic aspirations of Amos. Bush is less confessional though, and sexuality isn’t her topic or vehicle. Janis Ian in “Watercolors” has some of Amos’ anger, self-criticism, and social awareness. Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album (perhaps still my favourite record) has the reflection and self-questioning that Amos displays. Amos has more control over her voice than all of them. […]
All of the pieces I like are over 25 years old. More recent songs like “Speaking with Trees” sound like re-hashes. I’d rather have a new rendering of “Precious things”. Writers who use their early life as source material can run out of inspiration. Some other writers, even if they’re not always autobiographical, get their best ideas early and spend the rest of their lives raiding their early notebooks – I think Dylan Thomas did that. Such artists in their later years sometimes produce themed, committed work (concept albums, etc) to compensate for their lack of inspiration, it seems to me.Tim Love, Tori Amos
“Enough is so vast a sweetness, I suppose it never occurs, only pathetic counterfeits,” Emily Dickinson lamented in a love letter. In his splendid short poem about the secret of happiness, Kurt Vonnegut exposed the taproot of our modern suffering as the gnawing sense that what we have is not enough, that what we are is not enough.
This is our modern curse: A century of conspicuous consumption has trained us to be dutiful citizens of the Republic of Not Enough, swearing allegiance to the marketable myth of scarcity, hoarding toilet paper for the apocalypse. Along the way, we have unlearned how to live wide-eyed with wonder at what Hermann Hesse called “the little joys” — those unpurchasable, unstorable emblems of aliveness that abound the moment we look up from our ledger of lack.
The poet and etymologist John Ciardi (June 24, 1916–March 30, 1986) offers an uncommonly wonderful wakeup call for this civilizational trance in the out-of-print 1963 gem John J. Plenty and Fiddler Dan (public library) — part fable, part poem, part prayer for happiness.
Written as a long lyric and illustrated with gentle charcoal sketches by the artist and experimental filmmaker Madeliene Gekiere, the story is a soulful — spiritual, even — modern take on Aesop’s famed tale of the grasshopper and the ant, radiating a countercultural invitation to rediscover life’s true priorities amid our confused maelstrom of materialism and compulsive productivity.Maria Popova, The Ant, the Grasshopper, and the Antidote to the Cult of More: A Lovely Vintage Illustrated Poem About the Meaning and Measure of Enough
My recent poetry residency was at a seminary, so the symbols of Christianity were all around me, the Christs and the crosses, the benevolent and grieving Marys, as was nature — trees and flowering bushes and moss. And poison ivy. But I got thinking a lot about this quote I passed every day on my way to the dining hall. It’s from the book of Micah, a book I had never heard of.
Micah (or Mi-ca-yahoo — “who is like Yahweh”) was a prophet from 8thC BCE. The quote on the stone says: “What is required of us? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
As a poet, of course, I want to ask: which translation? And as a poet too, I’ve been given to contemplating those words, individually. […]
And finally this “humbly” thing. I’ve spoken of this word before. It is from words meaning lowly, or, literally on the ground or from the Earth. Which we are, I guess, we beings: a bit of earth, a bit of star, some spit, and these minds, so cunning, so easily scarred with memory and pain, and joy. And setting aside the comic image that arises when I think of “walk” and “on the ground” together, although I guess, in the human body, the act of walking is a constant falling and catching-of-a-fall, this idea is nice: of walking humbly alongside the divine, just listening rather than prattling along trying to impress or curry favor. Being companionable with the divine on an amble through the trees. Just listening.Marilyn McCabe, Hash browns over easy; or, On Chewing Over Words
I am very little.
My arm is upraised
because we are holding hands,
as if I’m asking to be noticed.
When we arrive at the ice cream shop,
the glass brick fills my field of vision.
It is both mundane and magical,
like the wall of a ruined castle.
This memory contains no ice cream.Jason Crane, POEM: No Ice Cream
I recently spoke to a group of MA students at Oxford University. The event was called “The Writer’s Life.” Presumably, I was there to provide insight into the arc of my career 10 years after my own graduation from Oxford. I had given a similar talk for Poets & Writers’ “Mapping the Maze” in the spring, and in both cases, recognized that this wasn’t the moment for my usual glib extempore or self-deprecating humor. Or, rather—since there was still plenty of that—I knew I needed to write out my remarks, because the truth is that what has made the greatest difference in my own journey, and the reason I’ve sustained my practice at all, has nothing to do with the occasional signposts of career success and everything to do with having a strong why.
Readers, you may already recognize the truth in this. That for all the grit, stamina, and sheer effort you exert, nothing is as sustaining as a strong why. That why is a safeguard against everything from existential despair to bitterness to paralyzing self-doubt when faced with the blank page. It is the energetic vein binding the essential you—not the ego you—to the task at hand. It is what makes the process—not just the product—rewarding, which ensures continuity and true purpose.Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday
I am still caught in a strange place with the new poems, unsure of what direction, if any, they want to go. There are about a dozen, but I haven’t decided what sort of animal they will eventually be. Without daily writing exploits most of July, I have been directing more efforts toward the visual side of things most days, including just making random collage animations for IG in addition to more series-based projects (see above.). I will be working this month on recording and making video poems for the VILLAINS series, so keep an eye out for that in September, as well as an impending zine for that batch of HOME IMPROVEMENTS collages and poems, probably coming toward the end of this month. I have more diversions planned for fall, including another haunted dollhouse advent project, the Henry James-inspired governess zine, and more in the works over the next two months.
As we enter back-to-school season, once again the month of August feels disorienting, disconnected as I am to an academic calendar after decades of being firmly entrenched. My own nearly 20 years of schooling, then the library job at the elementary school, then over two decades at Columbia and an MFA program nested inside it. It’s hard not to see September as a new beginning and August as an ending of sorts. It is perhaps why most of my autumn endeavors seem more serious than the writing I do in the spring or summer. How it feels like a time that calls for weightier projects.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 7/31/2023
I wish we hadLuisa A. Igloria, Abundance
a story of abundance as point of origin, but without
anyone having to steal fire or be muted into a statue
or a bird. We remember to skim pearls from the froth
of rice wine, decanting a sacrament for wonder.
Before lowering our heads to drink, we hang
cuts of meat in the branches for the ravenous birds
of death or uncertain fortune— You hear them stab
the water, beings that can swallow a thing whole.
I want to return to innocence & from innocence to shadow. I want to return to shadow & from shadow to river. I want to return to river & from river to the crossroads. I want to return to the crossroads & from the crossroads to song. I want to return to song & from song to your heart. I want to return to your heart & from your heart to a home.Rich Ferguson, What the river-voiced hallelujah sings
is it true that earth has never uttered a word
that silence and stone make soul
in the clear mind of rain
aren’t we randomGrant Hackett [no title]