Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 11

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 reality of the COVID-19 pandemic hit home for most Americans when almost all sports were cancelled, most schools and universities were closed, and everyone but the immortal youth began to practice “social distancing” in a desperate attempt to flatten the rate-of-infection curve and prevent our absurd, profit-driven healthcare system from being completely overwhelmed. I think we can expect all forms of online activity to blossom in the coming weeks, including literary blogging and all manner of social-media-enabled reading and writing exercises. (Scroll down a bit for an invitation to one promising, free daily workshop that Trish Hopkinson shared.) In the meantime, here’s how the Anglophone poetry blogosphere is adjusting to this new reality.


In the dream I stood facing a window in an empty house, arranging some plates that were not mine in an unfamiliar room. I turned, and saw our late friend Jenny, sitting on a couch or bench, dressed in white, her hair long and wavy as it was many years ago. She smiled her inimitable smile, and we talked, but I can’t remember our words or what they were about — what I remember are her face, the whiteness and emptiness of the room, and its calmness.

After I woke up, I knew this dream had something to do with the virus and our fears of death, but that it also had to do with the endurance of friendship and love. Today I called several friends and wrote to others; my father and another friend called us; I made soup and cornbread for lunch and sent some across the city to a dear friend who’s been sick with seasonal flu. I thought about our cathedral and its motto, “An Oasis in the Heart of Montreal,” and what that could mean not just to our community but to the city at large, if we can manage to be creative and innovative in our outreach even while regular services are suspended. It was a sunny day, a bit warmer than usual, and my husband and I went out for a long walk. This evening, in the new, longer-lasting light, we ventured out onto our nearly snowless terrace with our gin-and-tonics, and toasted each other and the coming spring before scooting back inside.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 2

Before sitting down to post today, I was struggling with how honest to be. I don’t want to add to the alarm and panic, and I don’t want anyone to feel that they should need to worry about me. But my work week last week was one of the hardest I have ever been through. Almost all of our volunteers have been furloughed or have left of their own accord, and my job, which I loved and and was good at, has morphed into something else entirely, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be coming back in any recognizable form any time soon. We are under the Emergency Command structure at the hospital, and all hands are on deck for dealing with the coming influx. There is a barrage of COVID-19 information coming at me all day, every day, and we are in constant reactive mode and working long hours. It’s extremely draining. I am fighting hard not to sink into a depression. I miss the familiar faces I’m used to seeing every day, and I miss the gym with a huge lump in my throat. I had no idea how much of a mental and emotional haven it had become for me, and not having it in my life during this time of extreme stress has made everything that much worse. I’m irritable and short-tempered, I’m drinking too much coffee because I want to sleep all of the time if I don’t, and I don’t have any appetite. I’m crying almost every day, and that’s normally rare for me.

The loss of the familiar is very real, and I am grieving. But I am pushing myself to adjust to this new normal, to keep going and to be strong because I love my community and I love my hospital, and I was put here to serve—and serve I will do. This not the only time in history that communities have gone through huge, reality-bending changes in their daily lives, and I take inspiration in the toughness of those who have gone before. Many have been through far worse throughout history, and when we’re on the other side of this, I will remain standing.

Kristen McHenry, Hard Times and Hard Honesty, Two-Fisted Escape Artist, Sweatin’ to the 80’s

As a poet, I’m used to being a little bit low-profile, but today I had a front-page story on Salon.com, “Marriage in the Time of Coronavirus,” a place I’ve wanted to publish in since its inception. The story in my perspective on living with my husband in a stressful quarantine situation, with several chronic illnesses, in the epicenter of the Coronavirus Pandemic. I’ve put some of the details of how it’s been coping with ER visits and empty shelves here right next to the hospital where the majority of the US deaths from Coronavirus have occurred on this blog, but this is in the form of a lyric essay hybridized with journalism. I hope it is helpful and gives you some perspective on how it may be in other US cities in the next weeks to come.

Just for some perspective, in my state, there have been 40 deaths and 642 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus, most of them in King County. Most of the deaths have happened in my neighborhood. It’s not an abstraction for us. This week, the zoo, the Japanese garden, and 50 restaurants closed, as well as the winery next to my house, the beautiful Chateau Ste Michelle. All public and private schools were closed, and universities, and churches. Meetings of over 250 are forbidden.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Love in the Time of Coronavirus on Salon, Two Poems in EcoTheo, and Getting an MRI with Flowers in the Epicenter

It was during evening drive time I was thinking what a hit culture in the country is taking. I know for example our symphony is canceling events. I assume theaters are as well. So too I would think that local poetry readings are being canceled. I certainly will not be making the rounds and this is sad but the right thing to do.

In an effort to keep poetry before the public during this dark period, I plan to share on social media some of my favorite poets and poems. The same with music.  It is at times like these we most need poems and music to speak to our soul. I hope others will do the same.

In closing I would encourage people to rely on the CDC as well as state and local health departments for information concerning issues related to your own health.  Please keep in mind it is important to consider your own health, but those you come in contact with.  Even if you have a mild case, realize you may be placing others with high risk factors in serious danger.

Michael Allyn Wells, Entering Culturally Dark Days Ahead.

When my students asked me last week–during our final in-person classes, as it turns out–how I thought the virus would develop or whether W&L would switch to online instruction soon, I offered guesses with the caveat, “But I’m not an authority on this. My thoughts about poetry are worth something; otherwise I’m just an average person who reads the news.”

These days I don’t feel like an authority on poetry, either–at least not about how to generate enthusiasm for poems when most-in person gatherings are canceled. My fifth full-length collection, The State She’s In, officially launches this week. I’m proud of this book and have been laboring hard to set up readings this spring, basically performing the job of a part-time publicist as well as full-time professor. They’re dropping away fast. Pre-launch copies have been available from the publisher, Tinderbox Editions, since AWP (I think the discount code AWP2020 still works), but I wasn’t able to sign it there, and I just postponed my local book party, too. These cancellations absolutely need to happen, never mind all that shopping I did for goody bags, stickers, chocolate eggs, and pink ribbon. Chris says don’t worry, it’s just a delay, I can still do those events latter. I hope he’s right, but in the meantime I’m trying to figure out what I CAN do.

I’d love your ideas, but what’s currently on my docket: I have a few guest-blog-type-things in the works as well as possible reviewers, and of course I’ll use social media (although I’m limiting my own time on FB and Twitter lately). I got some new author photos done, below. My copies of The State She’s In arrived a few days ago and this week I’ll be sending them where they need to go.

My latest brainstorm is to use my blog to promote other poetry collections launching into this virus-blasted landscape. Effort on behalf of others tends to boomerang, right? I’ll definitely focus on books from little presses, not the ones already attaining media spotlight. I’m currently thinking I’ll begin each post with my own micro-review, maybe just a few sentences describing what attracts me to the work, then ask three questions of the author. I’m pondering what might be good questions to ask, not too run-of-the-mill. If you have notions about how to do this, or you want to draw my attention to your OWN new book, I’d like to hear from you, so just reply below or on FB or by email (wheelerlm at wlu dot edu). Digital ARCs and review copies would be welcome, and I’ve already ordered and pre-ordered some books I’m interested in. My plan is to start off with The State She’s In then feature as many new books as I can, maybe one a week.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual launches and figuring out how to help

Sunday wears a beaky mask
stuffed with sweet herbs and flowers
meant to hide the smell of sickness
my son has the first apocalypse dream
we drive to the beach at dusk
and talk about ghosts
until I cry but I keep the tears
inside my eyelids
I dream a conga line of men
in my yard dancing their way into the ocean
dropping one by one
I am ripe and my blood is high

Rebecca Loudon, corona 2

The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by; have I come to threaten them? No? This is the anxiety of death that we all know. The burrowing owls, small, colored like the earth, like the cold ground, relax a little as I pass. I can see this. O cold night, let them know peace and comfort, these little beings who look at me and think of danger. 

James Lee Jobe, The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by

This morning I walked outside, and everything seemed so normal.  In South Florida, it’s neither warm nor cool, a lovely 71 degrees at 5:15 a.m. when I headed to spin class.  I heard crickets and not much traffic noise.  All of my neighbors were sleeping in their dark houses.

I thought about how it was like the days before a hurricane when we know something is happening, but we don’t know how big it will be or how much it will affect us.  And yet, everything seems so normal, so quiet.

Is it my animal sense telling me that something bad is coming our way or residue from reading too much news?  I don’t really think I have an internal barometer; I’ve been notably wrong in my premonitions too many times to think that I have much in the way of a sixth sense.

And yet, suddenly my brain shifts into poetry mode, and I find myself grateful because it’s been a few weeks.  I can always reassure myself about why I’m not writing poems (travel, work pace, tiredness), but I’m always glad when I start again.

I wrote a poem before I headed to spin class, and then on the way home, I realized that incantation rhymes with lamentation.  I was thinking about writers during past plague times, like Chaucer and Boccaccio.  My poem contains this line:  “Who will be our Chaucer now?”

As I write these blog posts, I think about historians and scholars hundreds of years from now–will they appreciate the work we all did recording life in these times?  Will they scroll through all of our tweets?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Journal of the Plague Year

My commute to my day job was effortless this morning. The roads were nearly clear and traffic was almost nonexistent. As someone who generally drives a minimum of two hours a day, this would normally be a cause of celebration. But these open roads are the result in numerous Silicon Valley folks working from home in the face of the corona virus — a reality that left me melancholy.

Turns out, nearly empty roads are a strange, haunting sight.

This month, I started a challenge to write 30 poem drafts in 30 days (a challenge I normally do in April during National Poetry Month, but I got confused and started it early, so here we are). I found a nice rhythm to the work at the start of the month, but have since fallen behind and am having to play catchup.

As more and more news flows in about all the messed up goings on in the world, the writing of poetry or fiction feels like a frivolous thing. How could putting words on a page possibly help anyone or anything?

Andrea Blythe, On Writing In Stressful Times

waiting in the rain
for virus number 19
wet graves are cold
[link]

*

coronavirus
the laying on of hands
postponed
[link]

*

coronavirus
underlying wealth problems
take stock
[link]

Jim Young, three posts from 9 March at haiku eye

Yesterday, I was happily puttering in the vegetable garden, prepping soil and setting up raised beds and sowing peas. We had a visitor who is 26 years old and not a gardener, so I teased her by saying, “If the Apocalypse happens, come to us–I’ll have food!”

“This is the Apocalypse,” she responded. Joking, sort of, not really. She’s anxious, and I understand. When I was between 21 and 26 years old (and living on almost no money in New York City), a virus swept through and rapidly killed some of my beautiful, talented, young friends–a virus about which medical science had no firm understanding and few ways to diagnose, screen, or treat. And no vaccine.

It was frightening. There were also the hostage crisis in Iran, gas shortages, and a rise in nationalist and fundamentalist/apocalyptic/anti-feminist rhetoric that led to a polarized presidential election and divisiveness among neighbors (all of which was partly the inspiration for Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale).

Am I less frightened now? Yes. Does that make me less cautious about “social distancing” and public gatherings? No–although I would say I am perhaps less freaked out than most people I know. We went to the local diner last evening; I met a friend at a coffee shop. My workplace has asked staff to go to our offices, so I’ll be there tomorrow even though the students will not. They are finishing the semester online, as are so many other university students.

Looking back at the past couple of years, it seems we live in a time of plague and fire and politically difficult situations; but that’s the way the world has ever been. Many times have felt like end times to those enduring the uncertainties that come with changed routines and dangerous events, natural and human-created. Here we are, raking the garden, hoping there’ll be harvest.

Ann E. Michael, Normality: it’s not a thing

During these days of self-imposed exile, be careful not to fall into fits of depression, don’t spend your time composing mood music for the dead.

Keep your mind clear, stay informed, don’t allow your thoughts to become a graveyard of propaganda.

Share song, wit, art & supplies. Be sure to wash your hands, but don’t whitewash your emotions.

Use this time for mindful self-reflection: connect with the tangibles & intangibles of your life, even if you have to wear a surgical mask in the process.

If you’re able to hug a loved one free of any sanitizers or barriers, do so. It’ll provide you with health & happiness beyond measure.

Offer compassion & understanding to those gripped by fear; these are strange days indeed.

Our bodies may be ill, but the potential for courage, reflection & realignment are alive & well.

Rich Ferguson, Strange Days Indeed

If I were flippant, I’d be suggesting that magazine editors should be bracing themselves for colossal numbers of virus-related poems heading for their inboxes over the next few months. The only advantage of this, of course, is that such an influx might at least make a change from the typical themes that follow a British winter: floods, storms, deluges and everything water-related.

However, if I were serious, I’d be mulling over the cancellation of Prowein, the major wine fair in Düsseldorf, thinking about my customers’ fears for their businesses and their health when I visited them last week, worrying myself about the vulnerability of people who are close to me.

Either way, poetry is a constant, reassuring companion, a counterpoint to rolling newsfeeds and social media, a bridge between our outer and inner worlds, emotional sustenance in these disturbing times…

Matthew Stewart, A bridge between worlds

I am trying to focus on the positives–various times when all I’ve wanted was a stretch of time when I had no plans and no need to leave the apartment (albeit it under ore desirable circumstances.)  The writing and art projects I’d be able to tend to.  Even if I’m spending part of my day working on library stuff, it’s cutting two hours of commuting out of my life that are ripe for more interesting things. We’ve also been trying to cordon off time to work on some A of R writing projects that never seems to happen in the chaos of our department daily. 

Instead of giving in to the panic that switches to B-roll of an apocalypse movie..I am going to think of it as pressing a pause button on real life.  As such, there are things that do not matter in pause time.   Everyone just needs to sit very still.  Sort of like when in elementary school, the teacher would force everyone to quiet the fuck down by putting their heads on their desks.  All of you, heads on your desks.  Stop hoarding more than you need. Help the elderly and compromised and check in to make sure they are okay.  Read a dam book or watch some Netflix.  Chill the fuck out.  The government, which locally is pretty sane, nationally a trash fire, needs to make it easier for people to feel secure and get what they need–food, supplies, medication…

Kristy Bowen, pressing pause

Below is the information from Marj Hahne for her upcoming 30-minute daily workshop, starting tomorrow!
__________

Are you socially distanced? Self-quarantined? Cabin-feverish? A little po-lonely?

“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life,” wrote poet Fernando Pessoa (The Book of Disquiet), so let’s ignore life and stay healthy by reading and writing poems alone together.

For FREE. For freedom.

POEMUNIZE: Your Daily Shot

Join in on any or all days.

30 minutes a day, 7 days a week

Monday, March 16 thru Sunday, April 5th

11:30 AM–12:00 PM (Eastern) / 10:30–11:00 AM (Central) / 9:30–10:00 AM (Mountain) / 8:30–9:00 AM (Pacific)

We’ll read & briefly discuss one poem, then write (verse or prose) from a prompt tailored from that poem.

REGISTER: anytime during the 3-week period:

https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Ud4enK9_Tz6FZwt9LLsKBg

*Your registration-confirmation email will contain an access URL, which is the same for all sessions.

*You’ll receive an automated reminder email an hour before each session, containing that access URL.

PLEASE feel free to share this with your writing peeps all around this toilet-paper-panicked nation!

Trish Hopkinson, Free workshop – “POEMUNIZE: Your Daily Shot” with Marj Hahne, Mar. 16 – April 5 @ 11:30 am EST

The Corona Virus is going to require a lot of change, compromise, innovative thinking. A lot of writers will be losing out on work and money because events like readings, workshops and book launches will be cancelled. The writing community on Twitter is trying to support each other, offering to post information on each other’s books and other threads to build camaraderie. Poetry Ireland is posting daily prompts, yeah! Bookshops are offering online sales, the Toledo Poetry Museum is doing an online open mic and I’ve even heard the suggestion of an online festival. Hopefully, by being isolated we can develop more connections.

This week, our writing group has moved online to avoid gathering in a very public venue. It was a fun change, but we all missed being together. I hope this is a short change and that those who are in self-isolation can find ways to get through. We’re in this together. 

Gerry Stewart, Interesting Times

I am filling myself
so full of poetry
in these last years

that when I die
it won’t matter
that I’m dead.

The hungry stars
will still get what
they need from me.

Tom Montag, I AM FILLING MYSELF

Mostly, it was heartening to realize that my feed was full of messages that all said some version of this: We need to do what we’re doing and bear the costs of these actions not to reduce our own risks, but to reduce the risks to others. The ratio of those messages to photos of empty toilet paper aisle shelves was about a million to one, and for the first time in a long time I’ve felt something I’d almost forgotten the feeling of: Hope.

As I’m watching the world around me shift to accommodate the shape of something we’ve never experienced here, there is something that feels almost holy in this moment. I have been thinking for a long time that it would probably take some kind of disaster to turn us around on the path we’ve been hurtling down. That is the opportunity inherent in this unfolding disaster that will touch all of us in some way, if it hasn’t already.

My deep, fervent hope today is that this will propel us to remember how inter-connected we all are, to reach out to each other rather than erect walls between us, to uphold ideas and ideals that have always been the best part of us, and to act more from love than from fear.

We’ll all have to figure out the best ways for us to do that. Right now, I’m focused on staying home as much as possible and supporting those in my personal circle without creating more risk for those outside it. I might write here more often, once I get a little equilibrium back. Mostly, though, you can probably find me (but please, don’t come too close looking) painting a wall or cleaning a garage or stabbing canvas with a needle or sharing something through Facebook–a tidbit of useful information or something funny to make you smile.

Because it has always been true that we also serve, who only stand and wait.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A post about the thing with feathers

Last night, after reading frightening coverage about this country’s abysmal preparation for Covid-19, with potential death tolls estimated to reach 1 to 1.5 million Americans, I dreamed about a family member just outside my window who couldn’t hear or see me calling him. Even in my dream I wondered which one of us wasn’t alive. I also dreamed about rotting food that grew into a malevolent presence. (And I dreamed about pastel-colored baby llamas…)

I woke up to cancel and respond to cancellation notices for all sorts of workshops, events, and get-togethers. Tentatively my classes for April are still a go-status, but I realize that may change. So much is changing.

Like nearly everyone else, I’m taking in more news than I normally do. I’ve heard experts say this pandemic is the event of a century. I’ve heard experts say this will be generation-defining. […]

The next few months will likely test us, maybe test us severely.  Through whatever we suffer, this pandemic may help us see we are interconnected beyond our own fingertips, beyond our own borders.  May we rise to our best selves, creative and caring, no matter what. May we keep up one another’s spirits as the people of  Siena, Italy do — singing from their homes and apartments during the mandated quarantine. 

Laura Grace Weldon, Mutual Aid In The Time Of Covid-19

even a pandemic
can’t make it stop!
the rising sun

Bill Waters, The rising sun

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 10

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. Major themes in the blogs I read this week were travel (especially to AWP), COVID-19, and the unruliness of language. If you only have time to click through and read one blog post, I recommend Chris Edgoose’s “White Poets & ‘Usefulness’“.


We were seeing ghost towns and big sky and lots of road.  Baby antelopes feasting on desert agave, on desert willow and scruff.

When the land gives way to settlements again, one wonders about pressures that shape the human.  We came to Roswell, a town where people swear UFOs landed.  Out of town, a scent rises over the plain — stockyards, cattle squeezed into small spaces, then oil rigs and pumps.  Then the relief of groves of pecan trees.  The peaceful desolation on the sage desert gives way to industrial ravage.  Boomtowns like Carlsbad sprout from the business of fracking, and people are slick and giddy with money.  I’ve never seen so many trucks or ads for liability lawyers (“Get burned in an oil rig?  Call the big guy.”)  

The faces, the drawl, the ten-gallon hats, the gang of four cheerful sheriffs coming into a wood-paneled joint for their breakfast of huevos rancheros; even Tony, the Trump enthusiast who wanted to buy me dinner — all make rich the human landscape along the strange road. 

Jill Pearlman, Amurika, the Open Road

Yesterday, I still had some time to explore San Antonio, especially after discovering that the AWP sessions I wanted to attend had been canceled. […]

Off I went, under Interstate 10 and other major highways.  I’ve now been on either side of I 10 (in Florida and in California) and now stood underneath the middle.  I walked by sports fields and people fishing and a funeral procession later on, as I hiked through city streets to get to the mission. […]

In a few hours, I’ll get on the plane and head back to Florida, home of similar missions, much of which have been obliterated by the pace of development.  I’ve enjoyed the time to get to a different part of the country, explore a different history.  I look forward to seeing what poems and other creative stuff might emerge.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Mission to Find the Mission

These days,

you gotta be equipped with the lowdown while traversing the high roads of chaos.

Gotta have cars with prayer wheels.

Gotta be drip-dry and permanent-pressed, ready for success while dwelling in the shadows of possible pandemics.

Gotta sport the kevlar of good karma, be Steve McQueen-cool while battling the reaper whose scythe is made of hate and ignorance.

These days you gotta refuse to be reduced to an illegible back-page obit.

Gotta count the seconds between lightning and thunder to gauge your distance from the divine.

These watermarks on our spine—

dreams still rising.

Rich Ferguson, Things I’ll Say to My Daughter When She’s Older

Later,  the upended flask.  The snake current.
The   tear  climbing   back  into  its  socket.   I
should have been there. Like an eye that  saw
and a hand  that  held.  Like  driftwood.  Like
hope.  Not stuck  in the after.  Not  where the
notes  shattered  air.  Not  with  that  muffled
song,  trapped inside a scream.  The one that
sings me,  still.

Romana Iorga, Silence at Dawn

I’m so sad about AWP. I decided to opt out for several reasons: I have a cold and didn’t want to expose people to it on the plane, nor deal with their alarm at my sniffles, nor pass through security wariness. Further, one of my panels got canceled, I knew attendance levels were crashing, and my press (very understandably) decided to not to come. Advance sales at AWP are a big deal for the success and visibility of a poetry collection, which is my best yet and which I’ve been hoping would make a tiny splash. If you’re interested in it, I hope you’ll consider ordering it at an excellent discount from the Tinderbox Editions website. Just use the discount code AWP2020. In fact, check out all your favorite small presses, many of which canceled and are giving similar #virtualbookfair deals. I’ve been buying a lot of books myself.

Lesley Wheeler, #Virtualbookfair, disappointment, little gifts

Since a lot of us couldn’t go to AWP this year for various reasons, (I personally think it should have been rescheduled for the safety of immuno-supporessed people and, because, you know, you don’t want to increase germ spreading during a pandemic) we’ve been having a Virtual AWP Bookfair and a faux-AWP. I ordered books from local poetry-only bookstore Open Books, because small businesses all around Seattle are hurting (they ship for free with over $25 purchases) and because a lot of small presses were financially harmed because they had to withdraw from AWP. I also signed up for a couple of new literary magazine subscriptions, including EcoTheo and A Public Space. (A Poetry Magazine subscription was a recent gift.) I was trying to spend the money I would have spent at the bookfair had I gone. My book purchases, you might notice, are apocalyptic in theme.

I’ve also been working on pitches for essays and reviews during this extremely down downtime. And I’ve got a suite of coronavirus poems now in case anyone needs them.

I would also encourage you to please purchase a copy of Field Guide to the End of the World directly from Moon City Press, because they could not go to AWP at the last minute, and support them.  Plus, I mean, I could not think of a more timely book to read right now. I mean, look at this cover! It’s all about survival in the face of all kinds of apocalypses.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Living, Loving, (and Going to the ER) in the Time of Coronavirus, Spring Continues in Seattle, Virtual or Faux AWP

Everything we touch
touches us with the

touch of everything
that ever touched it.

It is all too much
for us to know, so

we must ignore it.
We must turn and turn

away. The shock of
it, the wonder, would

put us on our knees.

Tom Montag, EVERYTHING WE TOUCH

I’ve done minor grouting before, but this bathroom’s major. I’ve been carefully scraping grout, this way and that, across the gaps between tiles to fill them. These gaps seem hungry, eager to eat the grout, and today I had to cycle to B and Q to get an extra tub. I appeared, from the lonely state of the bike rack, to be the only person who had arrived in this way.

It strikes me that grouting is more the work of a novelist than a poet. The gaps between the words are pretty much the point and attraction of poetry. So filling in gaps, making sense of the whole, making things watertight, seems, judging by my aching right hand, prosaic.

On the plus side, I reckon this venture into prose-style DIY justifies me eating the last of the ‘For when you’re writing your novel, Mum’ biscuits that my son gave me at Christmas, even though the novel still has plenty of gaps in it. Yum.

Liz Lefroy, I Grout My Tiles

Manuscript #3 is a finalist for the Paraclete book prize! Of course I’ve since done an edit on it that makes me feel the new revised manuscript is so much stronger than the old manuscript and wish I could switch them out. But so it is with editing–you enter something, then figure out the ending that Should Have Been.

I’m excited though to see it getting semi-finalist/finalist anywhere–I only sent my work out to 4 open reading periods (for free) and 3 contests. In the world of submitting-poetry-manuscripts, that is pretty paltry. So this means that the manuscript is at least close, very close.

So it is sometimes hard to explain the desire to get one of my manuscripts published because:

1. I don’t really want people to read it. I only really like other poets to read it because I feel like they are the only ones that speak that kind of language…I don’t know why I feel that way. I guess I feel sort of exposed when someone who isn’t a poet reads it?

2. I will not make any money or any fame from a poetry book. Not ever, ever, ever. If you are trying to publish poetry books to get rich and famous, this will never ever ever happen. EVER.

I guess the main reason I want to see it published is because it is finished. I’m done! And it looks unfinished in its loose-leaf printed out scribbled on draft. I’d like to see it all neatly bound and on the shelf.

Renee Emerson, finalist!

The book [Winter: Effulgences and Devotions, by Sarah Vap] is a curation of pieces written while trying, over years, to write a poem about winter. In this way, the book is a museum. The title of Donald Hall’s book, The Museum of Clear Ideas, comes to mind. Here, though is a museum of chaos and investigation and yes, clear ideas, and yes, those effulgences, those tendernesses, an ongoing devotion.

In the book, Vap sets up systems and smashes them. For example, Most of the poems are titled Winter, except when the pattern breaks by expanding (“Winter, my mind”; “Winter, the beginning”) or just breaks (“Sovereign Good”; “Christmas Eve, Miscarriage”).

In the book, every page is bordered, top and bottom, in tiny type, by the sentence “Drones are probably killing someone right now” with no end stop, so that the killing is as relentless as the reminder of it.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Winter: Effulgences and Devotions

Even feedback online is now diametrically polarised into two distinct bullshit camps – something is either irredeemably awful ‘1 star’ (‘if I could give zero stars I would’) or it’s the best thing since sliced bread (which is not that great). It’s the pubs that have walls all scrawled over with syrupy sentiments like ‘there are no strangers here, only friends you’ve not yet met’ that in actual fact come across like the tavern in Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Straw Dogs’. We watch TV shows (maybe not you though) where greedy property developers buy up houses at auction and instead of unashamedly admitting ‘we’re only in this for the money’ we instead get some sort of self-congratulating homily on how they are in fact saints who are helping to ‘remedy the housing shortage in this country’. On the news the other week I was told there are now over eight million ‘economically inactive’ people in the UK and the task of the current government is to ‘upskill’ these people to make them more attractive to employers. What about the economically inactive people who are perfectly skilled as it is, thank you very much?

In the poetry world, all poets are ‘critically acclaimed’ and ‘prizewinning’ and appearing in the ‘best poets of god-knows-what’ anthologies. They’re ‘brand-building’ and ‘networking’ and frittering away their energies on Twitter and Facebook feuds, or else writing blogs like this, hoping against hope that they’re not just talking to themselves in an echo chamber or rubber room.

We’re drowning in this morass of bullshit on a daily basis, and no area of life is safe from it. In fact, even the word itself ‘bullshit’ reeks decidedly of bullshit.

Richie McCaffery, Hear no bullshit, see no bullshit, speak no bullshit

Now, we are taught to ask,
“What happened to you?” That’s not what people
used to ask. Neighbors. Coworkers. We said,
“Why did you do that?” “Why do you do such
terrible/wonderful things?” What were you
thinking?” Or we asked nothing, just blamed. Or
praised. Either way, it was a fiction, and
it was real. As real as the comfort of
your daily rosary, the beads shifting
in your hands, over and over, the prayers
a shield and a gift. I light a candle
you would never have lit, and murmur prayers
you never learned, and remember you as
a puzzle, with pieces missing.

PF Anderson, On My Father’s Fifth Yahrzeit

I often wonder if those unloved poems are my favorites because I’ve taken more risks with them.  That they are somehow more raw and unruly, and therefore less palatable to editors.  But being an editor myself, I am looking for the raw and unruly, but maybe I am more alone in this than I think.  I wondered at first if it was more that my subject matter wasn’t striking a match with publications, so I went looking for mostly female ran pubs, but still no.  Maybe no one cares about poems about little fat girls, but I hope this is not the case.   I also think they are perfect as they are, so none of that “kill your darlings” nonsense rings true. So I’m not really sure what to do with them.

Kristy Bowen, unlovable darlings

Palimpsest: When you discover you are the writer of your story – part journalist/part poet – and your script is pulled, redacted, with a sloppy cut and paste job that leaves plot holes and a jarring lack of continuity. Overly-written, overwrought, suspicious amounts of detail inserted by unrecognizable voices from a shifting point of view.

Yeah. I’m gonna leave that paragraph there. No. Scratch that.

At some point palimpsests become illegible. There is nothing between the lines and everything between the lines, and when the lines are no longer there

everything is nothing.

Ren Powell, An Unreliable Narrator

There’s an American poet in my writing group, the first poet we’ve had besides myself in a while. Last week she read a poem and it was so American. I can’t explain why, the strong rhythm, the long line breaks, the subject, I don’t know.  I clumsily tried to explain to her after her reading that it was like being back in my creative writing classes in Idaho or out in nature there with my fellow Forestry students.

It’s odd, I liked the reading style, but again I didn’t. Like most of America, it doesn’t fit me anymore, but it’s familiar and slightly comforting. Maybe too much so, I knew that poem, that voice as soon as she started, it took me somewhere I’d been. It made me understand why I struggle to get accepted by American magazines, my poems don’t sound like that, don’t have that feeling anymore. I want to explore more, I don’t want to go back on that mountain path I’d walked before.

I also listened to some poems by Angela Carr on her website. She has a little Sound Cloud box at the bottom on the right hand side. Her style of reading also felt familiar, but more what I heard in university in Scotland where I really got into writing. Treading familiar boards of long halls rather than walking in the woods. 

Gerry Stewart, Wandering the Words

A blog is one of the magnets for spam. My blog host site reroutes spam messages almost daily, and periodically I view them, just to see what’s coming in. Amid the Viagra ads and other odd sales pitches are some bizarrely worded messages whose spam purpose I cannot begin to imagine, but which have a sweet funniness to them that makes me fond of them. There’s even some good advice offered, however ungainly the language. Here are some of my favorites over the years:

I admire your supply on time and exquisite flower.

Article writing is also a fun, if you be acquainted with afterward you can write otherwise it is complex to write.

Marilyn McCabe, You know, I took what I could get; or, On Spam

I am much more familiar, though not intelligently conversant with, Kant’s writings on art and aesthetics. It does cheer me that he posits poetry as the “greatest” art because it expands the human mind through reflection, stimulates the imagination [not that I am at all biased about poetry, myself].

Much of Kant’s thinking about what is provocative, expressive, and beautiful in art seems logical on the page but does not quite feel true to my experiences of art, however; except that it does feel true that creating art is an act of willing, not wishing, and that art emerges from the will to express.

Is what philosophers call “will” the same as what psychologists call “motivation”?

~

How about this statement, which I hear frequently from students and which I readily admit to having uttered: “I wish I were more motivated.” Is that wishing to have the will, but lacking the will to have the will?

(No wonder learning English is so difficult.)

Perhaps needless to say, these past few days I have been feeling a lack of motivation.

Ann E. Michael, Wish, will, motivation

the poem came home
to the forest be it
pulp fiction or even the bible
returned to mulch the same place
as the forebears of the words
in detritus dying to be free
of the canopy the panoply
of late poets the last train
of thought has pride open the
book of words and the fungi have
their sporangia nodding in slow motion

Jim Young, home came the poem

I’ve spent the last year and more attempting to write poems about race and the legacy of empire in the UK. Some of these have been okay, some pretty good, some terrible; all of them remain unpublished at the time of writing, and I’ve never posted any of them on my blog. Without looking for an “Aww, you poor lamb”, I must say, it’s not easy for a white person to write honestly about race and empire in the UK. I’m sure it’s not easy for anyone, but I’m white and so that is what I’m qualified to talk about. Why isn’t it easy? Well, on one level of course it’s obvious to say that published white poets, or white poets who want to get published, are nervous about saying the wrong thing and ending up actually getting something published which then prompts a career-ending twitterstorm and blaze of publicity. This is true – and I imagine editors have similar nerves around any white-written, race-based submissions they may have received (not all publicity is good publicity, if that myth was not debunked before social media came along, it surely is now) but it’s a bit poor, isn’t it? I mean, the nerves are understandable, there really is a lot of senstivity and anger around this issue, but let’s not be cowardly: white attitudes to race and empire matter, if only because those voices which represent and constitute the hegemon need to change if anything is going to change. There’s another obvious reason, too, this: white liberal/left poets (I’m not sure I need the slashed adjectives here – pretty much all UK poets fall somewhere on that spectrum, don’t they?) are likely to feel that white voices should not be cluttering up the spaces where voices of colour need to be heard more. They (I should say we) are quite right about this, but again I don’t think it will quite do. As Reni Eddo-Lodge pointed out in ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race’, white people will never be ready to talk to people of colour about race and ongoing structural racism – and therefore begin addressing social change – until they are able to talk to each other about it openly and honestly. It seems to me that poetry, with its capacity for concise and acute self-reflection is the ideal place to start doing this. A third reason might be that white poets genuinely don’t think we have anything to add on this issue, that we should step back and allow poets of colour to say what needs to be said because racism happens to them, not us. For a third time: this is not good enough. As DiAngelo says, thinking that racism is only an issue for people of colour is a classic internalised strategy for deflecting responsibilty. Beneficiaries of power rarely notice that they are beneficiaries at all, and those who have always stood at the podium cannot always see that they have been artificially elevated above the crowd. Until the present generation of black and Asian and mixed-race voices came of age and began speaking with clarity and strength, voices of colour, although they were there (and strong, clearly, you only need to think of Benjamin Zephaniah), they were relatively easy for the ‘85%’ to ignore, simply because they were not present in any numbers. This, I think, is no longer the case. Demographics are changing. We, white people, have to think through who we are and how we got here – and to talk it through.

Chris Edgoose, White Poets & ‘Usefulness’

At work I had a conversation with a colleague about the idea of decolonizing education, the topic of a workshop she recently attended. We explored what that might look like in practice and planned a research unit for her students with that idea as our foundation. We talked about what people who have endured colonization have done to endure it and, as much as possible, be OK in it. We talked about how, in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, so many white women were so freaked out. I shared that I was one of them, but that I have realized since then that the people of color I was talking with in those early days and weeks of the current administration were not freaking out.

My colleague, a woman of color, just smiled. “Yes,” she said.

“I realize now,” I said, “that for them, what was happening was bad, but also business as usual.”

“Yes,” she said, still smiling.

“And I think,” I said, “the problem for white people, maybe especially white women of my generation, is that we haven’t ever had to develop such coping mechanisms, not really. We don’t know how to be OK in the presence of truly knowing the ways in which we are powerless against forces that don’t care about us and are using their power against us. Because we haven’t really seen it until now.”

“Yes,” she said, still smiling. It was a kind smile. Maybe the kind you give a child, but maybe not. It’s hard for me to know.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I am returning to a craft of my childhood to help me cope with all kinds of things. Honestly, I don’t really care to explore that idea too deeply. It’s not a particularly interesting one and the answer to the question inherent in it doesn’t really matter.

My needlework doesn’t have to mean anything. It doesn’t have to be good (a good thing, because it’s not really) or do good in some way that extends beyond me. It is not going to be the beginning of some life- or world-altering something, and I’m not going to become a craftivist. Because I don’t think cross-stitching “fuck the patriarchy” on pillows and such is going to do much to end it. Although, maybe it’s activism if it helps others endure it. I dunno. I don’t think my embroidery is going to either heal anyone or inspire them to revolt, which is OK because that’s not what it has to do.

All the embroidery has to do is keep me going.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A post in which the F-word appears. Repeatedly.

This is how we line
the nest; feather, horse hair, cotton.
This is how we catch with our mouths
in midair. This is how we return time
after time, voices cracking winter’s
scab, voices humming, pitched
like warmed paraffin. I’m not afraid
to say it. I never wanted this great
distance, all those miles ringing out.
Darling, my desire sings from mudslide,
bees frozen in the comb, magnolia lifting
her stingy pink fingers to heaven.

Rebecca Loudon, Nest

In 2008 we went on holiday to Brittany and I took Angel by Elizabeth Taylor with me.  A book I’d bought in a charity shop and been carrying around with me without ever reading it. On holiday, I read the entire novel, the first novel I’d finished in years. Thinking about this now makes me tearful, remembering the feeling of returning to something I love after years away.  The poem ‘Ironing’ by Vicki Feaver (one of my teachers at Chichester by the way!) seems to express the return to life I experienced when I started writing again.  Not that I had felt dead! But, in a way, that creative side of me was pretty dead, when I think about it now.

I also think that it was the reading that came back first.  The reading and then the writing.  And helping students with the GCSE meant that I was reading poetry, more poetry than I’d ever read, and I began my first attempts at writing my own poems.

I told Andrew that I fancied writing again, giving it a go, focusing on writing and maybe giving up my daytime job.  Look, there’s this competition, the Bridport Prize, I said.  The money for the first prize is virtually what I make as a Teaching Assistant.  I’m going to enter this comp, win first prize, give up my day job.  OK, he said.

It took me 18 months to write my first poem, ‘Honeymoon’,  I sent it off to Bridport.

I didn’t win but I was a runner-up.  I won £50, not £5,000.  But Michael Laskey chose my poem, told me it was good.  It was enough encouragement for me to keep writing and to keep reading.  I did give up the day job but took on another, more part-time, more freelance.  I live simply, I don’t earn much money, I’m lucky to have a fantastically supportive husband and children who help me along the way.

And that was ten years ago!  One pamphlet, one full collection later, here I am, still gathering notebooks, accumulating books, and, for the first time in ten years, writing fiction again.  Who knows where that is going to take me…?  If you’re reading this and experiencing a dry spell, please don’t give up hope, please keep reading, please know that change happens.  Also, try on different genres – if you’re struggling with fiction, try poetry, try scriptwriting, and vice versa.  For me, long form writing became overwhelming once I became deeply preoccupied with children, perhaps if I’d started with poetry I would have never stopped.  But everyone’s experience is unique.  Whatever your situation, keep going.

Josephine Corcoran, Ten Years of Notebooks

I love these poems, even if no one else does; they live in the thick red book of my dreams. And I love my dreams, especially the ones that come just before morning. Those dreams wear rubber boots, and walk carefully through my late father’s garden. My father’s garden was huge, and to me, a city boy, it seemed like a farm. Dad would walk out among the tomatoes with a knife, a pail of water, and some salt. He would rinse a few tomatoes and eat them right there. He loved this so very much, more than he loved me, or so it often seemed. Really, who knows? Poems, dreams, gardens, love, doubt, memories; these things populate my inner world. It is sunrise as I write this, folk music is playing, and I feel rather good about the day.

James Lee Jobe, I love these poems, even if no one else does

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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 past week found poetry bloggers breathing, grieving, reading, dreaming, revising manuscripts, speaking for others, meeting with others, planning for AWP, planning for a possible pandemic, paying attention, feeling sorry, feeling out of step, shaping lines, and remembering to breathe.


Inhale. Pause. Exhale, slowly and deeply, as if you were sighing. Notice that pause at the end of the out-breath: That emptied-out moment, when you let go of everything just a little bit more, and the body settles into itself just a little bit deeper. That moment: A glimpse of the last breath, of the peace that might be possible when you let go with both hands.

And then: The in-breath, as natural as can be, filling the lungs again.

Dylan Tweney, Grief and gratitude.

Much as at the point when suddenly rain stops,
    or wind abates,
        or cloud obscures the sun,

there is a moment just between
    breathe in and breathe out
        when shock stops the spin and hum of it all

and in the silence and the stillness
    we are changed entirely.

Dick Jones, Fragile

I have taken the last few months off from the world for some internal reflection. The death of four people in my family in 12 months caused me to turn inward, to withdraw socially and surround myself with only my greatest loves: husband, family, books, poetry, home, open spaces, neighborhood walks, and yes, I will admit, binge watching High Fidelity and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Thank you Rob and Midge for making me laugh.

And now it is Spring and out my writing window I see yellow daffodils, orange pansies and purple hellebore. The 70 year-old camellia is laden in the softest of pink blooms and the neighbor’s cherry trees are ready to pop.

And for those of you who have followed my “car wash” photos, last week I took my car to get washed and began taking pictures for the 2020 series.

I submitted five new poems (the first submission in almost a year) and heard yesterday a journal in Galway, Ireland called Dodging the Rain will publish them in May and June.

By allowing myself permission to withdraw from the world for awhile, to grieve and acknowledge the losses, the color bursting before me is calling my name to rejoin the ranks.

Or it could have been the Prozac. Either way, I am doing just fine.

Carey Taylor, It’s Been Awhile

This book gripped me: Poets on Prozac, edited by Richard M. Berlin, a set of essays by various poets on Mental Illness, Treatment and the Creative Process. I checked it out of the library because it’s what came up when I searched for work by Denise Duhamel, who judged the 2019 Patricia Dobler Award. […]

I learned a lot about many things and was delighted to find in this book two of our Escape Into Life poets, Ren Powell and Martha Silano, as well as Chase Twichell, whose book The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach, co-edited with Robin Behn, sits on a shelf above my computer, ready to grab when I need a creative push. I used it when I was teaching, and I use it now.

I always love to read about a poet’s process, and Poets on Prozac has the added interest of how mental illness, whether temporary or permanent, chronic or intermittent, and the treatment or medication for it affects the writing. Excerpts and whole poems are provided in this context, and the authors include mental health professionals who write poems.

Kathleen Kirk, Poets on Prozac

In The Hidden Life of Trees, the author talks about how a woodpecker makes a wound in the bark of a tree, and then leaves to let fungus soften things before returning. The fungus keeps at it, even after the cavity is too large to serve the woodpecker. So another creature moves into the expanding space. Then another. And all the while, is the tree feeling this as pain? Like my reality of a tender hamstring and an arthritic toe joint?

*

I had a nightmare last night. I have them only rarely now. And not nearly as vividly as once. Though sometimes it takes me longer to reorient to the real world as I wake —

like turning over scattered puzzle pieces and fitting them together into a somewhat less frightening order.

It seems that, as I age, there is a shifting of the kind of pain I experience.

The cold hurts my bones more than it used to. But heartbreak hurts far less. I can only hope the latter is a matter of  it having already been cracked open once, and having adjusted to the openness, each new love moving into a growing spaciousness.

Ren Powell, Aches and Pains

I dreamed I watered my cactus. I dreamed a long scrolled piece of paper upon which my sins and good deeds were being accounted for were being shaded in by a lead pencil. The sins were shaded over and over until they were a black ribbon and the good deeds were erasing the black.

It’s so quiet this morning I hear the train whistle all the way from Mount Vernon. Sometimes sound carries weirdly over the water. There is something comforting about a train whistle. Something old fashioned and ghostly and solid and forsaken. I once rode a train from Spokane to Montana. It took several days. I was a girl. I read and rocked and read and rocked. I lived for a little while on Flathead Lake. I lived for a little while on a reservation in Havre where I chewed resin from the trees until it turned to gum and ate rosehips and sang church songs.

Mahler sings Kindertotenlieder tends the forest keeps an eye on the magnolias which is how I keep going forward. I don’t even touch them (only once forgive me) I just watch and keep track and wonder at all of it. It’s a still day. I listened to birdsong and the train and I am forgiven my sins. My trees lift up their hands.

Rebecca Loudon, On the anniversary of my mother’s birth

I’m working on revising my 3rd manuscript. Since Kit passed away, and even when she was still in the ICU—perhaps even since her diagnosis—I’ve had little passion for the project, but have instead used writing as a way to process grief. There have been good and bad, far more bad I suppose, poems come from this experiment. But I’m at a point now where I feel like it is time to revisit Church Ladies and see if it is still possibly a book.

One theme very clear in the book is suffering and fear of the death of my children; its what leads my family to sometimes say my poems are creepily prophetic. But I don’t think so—I just think losing my children is my very real, utmost fear.

So I’ve thought about including my poems where the Worst Fear actually happens—my poems about Kit—but I can’t bridge them in my own mind. I can see the bridge on paper, how it could work—but Kit is very separate to me. Eventually those poems might need to be included; or maybe they are a different book entirely.

The true problem is that I am not the person or writer that I was when I wrote Church Ladies. I can edit with an indifferent eye, but to add to it feels wrong somehow, just as I’d never add to another writer’s project.

Renee Emerson, Revising the Manuscript

The Big Smoke, [Adrian] Matejka’s book-length persona poem collection, explores the life and relationships of boxing legend Jack Johnson. Matejka writes in the voices of Jack Johnson and the women in Johnson’s life, an ambitious project that took eight years of research and writing. It wound up as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, a well-deserved honor.

In the workshop, he told us that the hardest poems for him to write were the ones in the voices of the women, and that he would never attempt to write in a woman’s voice again, not feeling able, artistically, to accurately portray a woman’s psyche in the first person.

Part of this discussion of whose voices to write in involved the subject of cultural appropriation. The week of the poetry festival, American Dirt launched, and with it, the controversy surrounding the white author’s choice to write in the first person about a migrant Latina woman and her struggles to cross into the US.

It was a timely example of the pitfalls of choosing to write in the voice of someone whose life is completely outside our own experiences.

Christine Swint, Persona Poems at Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Franny Choi’s book-length collection of poetry, Soft Science, explores queer, Asian American femininity through the lens of robots, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence. As she notes in this interview, “this book is a study of softness,” exploring feeling, vulnerability, and desire. How can you be tender and still survive in a hard and violent world? What does it mean to have desire when you yourself are made into an object of desire? What does it mean to have a body that bears the weight of history? Choi’s poetry contemplates such questions through the technology of poetic form.

Here is a little snippet from our discussion, in which Choi discusses the idea of speaking for the voiceless:

“Early in my writing career, I was really struck by the concept of being a voice for the voiceless. I think this has to do with being a young activist kid and realizing that having the ability to write and speak in a way that moved people was a privilege, and [I had] a desire to use that privledge for good. I think not that long after I encountered this concept it started to feel icky to want to speak for people that have mostly been called voiceless but aren’t — and [it became] much more important to highlight those voices rather than speaking for them.

“For someone who is politically minded and writer and is interested in the craft of persona work, I think it makes for a difficult space to know how to operate in, you know. So, I think that the ways I’ve tried to — at least in this book — manage that have been to kind of relocate the voiceless as a populace within myself, like what are the parts of me that feel unspoken for or unable to explain themselves through normal language. There’s a lot that is unspeakable within all of us. For me, I feel my job as a poet is to try to use poetry to navigate those spaces.”

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Soft Science by Franny Choi

We had started online with MacNeice – this largely elicited a negative response – form over content, too difficult… My attempts to argue for MacNeice were unsuccessful. People said they wanted something ‘lighter’ (undefined), and one or two people suggested John Betjeman, so we thought we’d give that a try.

In our comfortable-ish new meeting place, we started our discussion of Betjeman’s poems. It did not go as I expected. Each person had chosen a poem to talk about. What happened was that people talked about really personal and often moving experiences, none of them happy ones. When we talked more, people recognised that their responses were not always really related to the poems themselves, and that their experiences had very much coloured their view of the poems. 

It highlighted incredibly strongly how much we bring ourselves to every poem we read – the things that have happened in our lives, our beliefs, everything. This is not a revelation, of course, but I did find it surprising that this kind of discussion was in response to the poems of Betjeman, as did the others when I mentioned it. Everyone said they were happy with the meeting though, and felt that poetry had got them thinking, so that feels right and we’ll see how it progresses.

Sue Ibrahim, A surprising reaction to the poems of John Betjeman

AWP #20 will occur in San Antonio, starting on Wednesday the 4th. I can confirm that I have already experienced a bit of the typical anxiety associated with the pilgrimage.  Each year there are generally 12,000 or more in attendance. If I recall correctly there were like 14,000 last year in Portland.

I have somewhat introvert tendencies, although at times I may break free of the chains. As long as I am able to retreat and recharge from time to time, I can deal with it. For me the stressors are being away from home, being in the midst of a crushing mob (slight exaggeration),  meeting people I am in awe of and being fearful I appear to be a complete goofball, and meeting complete strangers and feeling my first impression (and lasting one) totally sucked.

WHY EVEN GO?  Good question.  I think it has to be personal for each attendee.  For some it is seeing friends that you may see only once or twice a year.  Or it could be meeting  publishers.  Crisscrossing the book fair (always enormous) in search of bargains, newly published material, author signings, or readings. Both onsite and offsite. It could be learning more about the craft at panel presentations, or ideas, learning about marketing or working with publishers, agents, etc.

This year, I am focusing  on a couple aspects of craft. Seeing some friends, attending some readings and doing a reading myself. I want to springboard from the conference into a greater energy in my writing. I have a manuscript I am trying to finish and this could help push me over the finish line.

Michael Allyn Wells, It’s Coming – AWP #20 blogging

It seems in times of crisis I want to spend more time in nature. This last week we had early cherry and plum trees starting to flower, and I spent a lot of time taking pictures of them. Plum blossoms in particular have a strong, beautiful scent, especially in a grove of trees, which along with a little more sunlight, increases your feelings of well-being no matter what the headlines. […]

Yes, I’ll be missing AWP this year. I’m supposed to get an emergency root canal tomorrow instead of flying into Texas. Much less glamorous. But AWP kind of has a pall over it this year, especially as it is happening just as more confirmed cases of COVID-19 are appearing all over the US. Hey, let’s all get together in one big room right as a highly communicable virus is hitting! Yikes. I have a genetic immune deficiency AND MS, so this is probably a more frightening prospect for me than most people. That estimated 2 percent death rate is higher for people with other health conditions, and much higher for the elderly – up to 15 percent.

We had the first US death from Coronavirus here yesterday, at a hospital about a mile from my house, and a small breakout (fifty people, both caregivers and patients) has happened in a long-term care home in Kirkland (and Kirkland and Redmond firefighters are in quarantine after reto an emergency there.) There is a lot of uncertainty right now – the doctors and systems here don’t have enough test kits or the capacity to test everyone, we don’t have enough masks even for medical personnel due to poor government planning, and we’re showing more community-acquired illness (two high school kids at opposite ends of town just this week.) In my local neighborhood stores, there’s been some panic-buying – shelves of masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, even in some places bottled water and toilet paper have all been cleaned out. My husband has been running most of the errands to keep me out of crowds, so I’m getting my reports second-hand. Going back to spending time outside, which can really help you not feel too house-bound when you’re mostly confined in your home, is really important. Hence my red-winged blackbird picture (photographed down the street from my house.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems in Cherry Tree and Split Rock Review, Early Spring Flowers, Missing AWP and the Coronovirus

It’s good to take notes on the details.

There is the spot in the sky
Where the first lip of night rubs the sunset raw.
Write that down.

Or the sound of the tire sliding across the asphalt
As the stink of the burning rubber fills the air.
Note that, too.

The looks a dog gives when it gets confused.
That’s a good one.

James Lee Jobe, It’s good to take notes on the details.

I’ll be honest here; I have little hope of being placed in this year’s competition. Ultimately, I felt my poems lacked the carefree openness that I value in a good poem; you know, that lack of awareness of it actually being a poem. This might sound like nonsense. After all, when you pick up the pen, you intend to write. Poetry or prose, you’ve no doubt decided, on some level, what it’s going to be, before you start writing. So how can a poem lack awareness that it is a poem? Well, I’ve recently returned to Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds. It’s full of beautifully rich language and imagery, but what I admire most of all is the sense of the writer allowing thoughts and images on the page without telling the reader what to think, allowing the reader to take part in the poem and run with it. So, in terms of a model of what poetry should be, for me, Vuong’s debut is it, because it’s full of poems that aren’t screaming, ‘Read me, I’m a poem. Look what tricks I can do.’

This is quite nebulous, and very subjective, I know. And being brutally honest and self-critical, my poems fall far short. So why the euphoria? Well, it’s that small but vital ‘hit’ of completing the work. The manuscript will sink or swim, but that’s out of my hands now. I’ve done my bit. I’ve turned up and done the work (see Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way – she’s big on this). There’s something satisfying about completing a task, so much so that I rewarded myself with a trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park today, to see Saad Qureshi’s Something About Paradise (photographs above and below). 

Maybe something about this exhibition will feed into my writing. Maybe it was just because it wasn’t raining this afternoon. Whatever the forces at work, underlying it all  was a feeling of satisfaction with life which was self-induced. I’d submitted 20 poems to a publisher whom I respect, and who has been totally supportive of my work so far. That submission depended on no one else. It was down to me. The judging is out of my hands. I can’t control or influence it. And what would be the job of a judge if no one submitted? You know the saying, ‘It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part.’ Well, there’s some truth in it.

Julie Mellor, Why it’s important to finish …

I started listening to this this week. It’s Helen Mort discussing her relationship with the word Sorry and apologies. I’ve only listened to the first ep so far, but I really enjoyed what I heard. I was at the end of a long week at work and on a bus ride home after a diverted train journey, so I apologise to Helen for needing to go back to it to fill in some gaps before finishing the series.

It did get me thinking back to a draft of a poem I wrote a couple of years ago called ‘Tiny Sorries’. I was looking at all the small apologies I find myself making. I often apologise, under my breath, if I make someone deviate from their course, even by an inch, when walking along the street, or for not holding a door open far enough, for not being fast enough at the water fountain at work, even when I can do nothing about it…

The idea was that it would start there, build up to taking responsibility for not doing enough to stop something we are all collectively responsible for and then…and then…Well, I didn’t know where to go with it, or if it was even worth trying to find out. I think the answer is that it isn’t worth pursuing. However, it was on my mind before seeing that the show was on air. I think it, the poem, pops back into my head daily because of something that happens when commuting or in the office, etc.

Thankfully, what I do know from listening to Helen’s show is that there are plenty of poems about saying sorry, apologising, contrition, etc, so perhaps I don’t need to worry about adding mine to the pile.

Sorry, you’ve been witness to me working stuff out as I go.

Mat Riches, Apologies for Noogies

Clare Pollard in an article pointed out how an interest in translation can lead to escaping the limitation of local trends. She admits to admiring Somali poems “which can seem clumsy … the politically charged rhetoric … the seeming bagginess, the extreme alliteration, the shifts in address, the digressions” thinking that “they just use techniques which are currently deemed ‘unfashionable’ on Creative Writing courses.

Literature has its fashions. The “From Apocalypse to The Movement” module at Warwick looks at one lurch in style. Of course there are many parallel tracks of development happening at different speeds, but if you’re the wrong type of writer for your era you’ll be fighting against the tide.

Because culture isn’t frozen in time, one option is to wait for it to change. I notice at local writing clubs that my conventions don’t always match those of other members. Sometimes mine are more literary – in particular I puncture the sense of immersion – but often I’m just out of step. My guess is that the literary styles that I employed years ago are now becoming mainstream, and the styles I currently use were popular 20 years ago, and may well be so again.

Tim Love, Ahead of my time? Or behind?

he’s the man who draws the white lines
on the pitches every Friday
ready for the games on Saturday
always straight
always the right length
with the leftover lime tipped
and running down the red brick wall
then he goes away
and comes back the next Friday
all through the winter

Jim Young, life’s a pitch

I’ve written the starts of two new poems this week. I haven’t finished any poems I’ve started this year and only finished 10 from last year. I feel like I’m writing in slow motion. After writing everyday for so much of last year and writing so many poems, it’s harder to get back into the flow. Once I actually clear my desk of work and admin, it’s difficult to turn my head towards writing. The less attention I give it, the more I have to work at making time for it, to remember to take out my notebook rather than my phone, to not give into the tiredness on Friday night after work and go to my writing group where I usually have a bit of time beforehand to write. 

I’m back to where I was a year and a half ago when writing was work. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it didn’t come naturally, each line had to be pulled from me and shaped, rather than just me falling into a rhythm of writing.

Difference is, I know what is possible now. I couldn’t believe then that I could write a draft of a poem daily, that it could be easy. Now, I need to make the effort to slot it in on days when I’m not teaching. I should try to adapt to writing in the evening when the kids are in bed, but it’s never been a natural time for me to work. But I’ve proven that this old horse can learn new tricks, so it won’t hurt to try. 

Gerry Stewart, Dipping Back into Poetry

When your heart’s piano tuner becomes tone-deaf;

when your soul’s window washer forgets to clean your eyes;

when the walls of your thoughts are painted beige and left taken for granted;

when a bird in the hand feels more like a nail in the foot;

when every sentence you speak feels more like a life sentence in Sing Sing;

when your lips feel like the zombie apocalypse;

when you wear your face like a pair of unpressed pants;

when your socks feel like Nagasaki;

when your heart’s drummer becomes a total bummer—

for goodness sake, don’t forget to breathe.

Rich Ferguson, When at the Borders of the Absurd

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 7

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’s theme: time. Plus a bit of advice on how to better spend it.


For years I have held February
answerable to many sorrows
as though the month itself
were responsible for its appearance:
the dour days too short, long nights
steeped in frosty bitterness.
Resigned to hibernation,
February made me sleepy.
Dulled my skin, sucked dream
into a cold vacuum
like a vacant acre of outer space,
a stone of ice upon my chest.

Ann E. Michael, Apology

I am profoundly lucky to do work I enjoy. It’s been a long haul to get here and I’m grateful to write, edit, and teach for a living. I don’t have much time for my own projects but know if I possessed greater focus I’d be making some progress on them.

I meant to write a paragraph or two here about getting beyond self-criticism and telling myself a more positive story. But you know that skittering mind I mentioned? Yeah, it’s skittering off in another direction.

Because it seems time has gotten more slippery of late. Morning somehow slides into afternoon’s lap or what feels like Thursday is actually Tuesday. A week takes forever but suddenly a month is gone. Time falls into a jumbled stew of our own crises heated up by the shock of each day’s news. It’s not just me. Friends and colleagues complain about this same problem.

On top of work and home pressures, I suspect the era we’re living in is so unexpected that it’s just too hard to concentrate on our own daily minutiae. Things like getting the laundry folded or the next big project done make less sense when each day overflows with startling political changes and new environmental outrages. Perhaps this swings our sense of time toward an altered trajectory.

Laura Grace Weldon, Overwhelmed

I’ve been doing a small project with a novella called Sleepless Night over the past week or two. As with Misery, the recto pages have the title at the top and I’m sticking with those for now. It is a good recurring title for a poem, I must say. The author’s writing is not particularly interesting linguistically and it’s short on good nouns. But I’m making the poems small, like aquariums, or dark little rooms where your thoughts or your grave concerns or all the things you are looking forward to keep you awake.

I’ve also been doing the Februllage collage-a-day challenge on Instagram, as I did last year. I’m not striving to do every day, though. I go back and forth on so many things . . . poetry, collage, myself. Some days we’re all ok and other days I think there is no reason to continue to engage with those three.

Sarah J Sloat, Those Three

My reading includes twelve finalist mss I’m musing over for a poetry prize as well as assignments for a course on documentary poetry: first Rukeyser’s sequence “The Book of the Dead,” then Forché’s The Country Between Us, then a sampling of poetic responses to Hurricane Katrina including some by Cynthia Hogue (interview poems), Raymond McDaniel (ethically problematic collage), and Patricia Smith (often persona poems). Most recently we finished Nicole Cooley’s Breach, a rewarding book to teach not least because it’s so various in forms and approaches. It was a student favorite and when I asked why, they said “authenticity.” When I asked what the signs or markers of authenticity were, the answers seem to boil down to vulnerability. Self-interrogation; courage; generosity; getting to the heart of things, even when exposure makes you look bad. In Cooley’s return to post-hurricane New Orleans, her childhood home, with her daughters, this sometimes means longing to be mothered rather than to mother, a taboo emotion for a woman to admit.

Extracurricularly, I just read Molly Spencer‘s recent If the House too, and it’s an open-hearted missive from the interior of a body, a marriage, and multiple houses. I love the porosity of Spencer’s containers, the flow of information inward and outward. You could call it circulation.

I’m in a receptive mode; I’m not writing much, except for an occasional blog post or tweet (and a bazillion emails). I often write little poetry in winter and then things turn in spring, partly because of the academic calendar and partly the natural one. My sweetheart and I just took a walk in the woods–every Saturday, we try to get out of our neighborhood, walk elsewhere, this time on trails a bit of a drive away–and it was so bright, cold, and still. Wild onions had sent up curling leaves and the moss was green, but otherwise it was just gray boles, brown mud, fallen branches, leaf duff. Inner and outer weather match.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and heart

He tells me snow
is a product of the air’s
despair.  Perhaps

he’s right: seedheads
of the tall grass are weighed
down, shawled in white.

Ellen Roberts Young, February Snow Times 2

We will soon leave the time of epiphany. We will trade the star and the angel messengers for ashes on our foreheads.

We may not have realized that the time of epiphany stretched on beyond January 6. We might not have recognized the wise ones and the gifts they would give us.

We may have already been living in the land of ash. We may feel that our frozen surfaces will never thaw.

We cannot fathom how we will stitch the fabric of society back together again. Our arthritic fingers throb with pain even before we have started.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Returning to Resurrection

There are life’s grinding engines driving us to madness:

fracked lands and hacked computers, illness and unwillingness, death too soon and freedom too late, the homeless and hopeless, crosstown traffic and trafficked humans.

Still, there’s the green grass beneath our feet bright as child laughter. Dependable cars and well-tuned guitars. Feasts and flowers. Warm bellies filled with luck. Pets that know us better than we know ourselves. Fresh curiosities making out in the backseat of our brain. The puzzles of our lives put back together after a hard come-apart.

The rise and fall and the rise again.

Rich Ferguson, What Doesn’t Kill Us Cures Us

While making dinner — or reflecting excitedly on the importance of making dinner while sipping wine — I began to shape ideas that have been pressing on me during the week.  What had been expected and feared to happen in bad faith presidential action was happening.  Many of us could see the vindictiveness coming; now it almost felt posthumous.  

My anger had been simmering into something else: into a rich, bittersweet sorrow for the “we” of country. How distant we are from our “exceptional” goals (hardly the first time, hardly the last).  What poor flawed creatures!  In my wash of compassion, I felt that old-style pity. Recognizing my pivot, my poetic turn and dance move, I saw, again, that we can open to the other, be medicine to counteract the poison.

So here’s to pounding the garlic cloves with thyme with mortar and pestle!  To sizzling onions in a pan over the flame, to share.  Here’s to winding up to the big question: Can everyday life be a moral response to political failure? 

Jill Pearlman, Everyday Life: Antidote to Political Poisons

One morning last week, as I was gathering my things for the day, there was something about the clutter on my kitchen table that stopped me. It struck me as beautiful, the arrangement of things I did not arrange. The unposed mix of textures, colors, and shapes so pleased me I reached for the camera, trying to capture how it looked for me.

Of course, I didn’t really.

The 17th century Dutch assigned layers of meanings to the objects in their still life paintings, which functioned almost like a code (mostly of judgement, it seems), but there’s nothing like that going on here. Each object is simply what it is: a beleaguered basil in a dull clay pot; an empty Ikea vase; a $3.00 bunch of chamomile from Trader Joe’s; a bowl of common fruit; a chipped Franciscan ware lid sitting on its matching bowl, protecting the salt within it. Apparently, still life paintings rank low on the painting hierarchy–or at least they did in 17th century France. Ordinary, inanimate subjects were deemed less worthy than living ones, but I rather like these things on my table that talk to me without words or movement.

I couldn’t quite catch through the camera how it felt to me, the cluster of objects in late winter’s early morning light, but I can look at the image and hear something of what they are saying: Here is a life with flavor. Some simplicity. Healthy sweetness, and a touch of ordinary pretty.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Late winter still life

You and your friends celebrated everything you could find. Not just birthdays and anniversaries and Jewish holidays, but Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Fiesta, Susan B. Anthony’s birthday… Once, before I was born, you and Dad held a campaign party celebrating an imaginary candidate. You made up the most ridiculous name you could think of. You printed elaborately designed invitations, and hung red, white, and blue bunting everywhere. There was always an excuse for a party, and I used to roll my eyes at that. It seemed over-the-top, even frivolous. I’m sorry about that now, Mom. Now that you’re gone, I understand your parties in a new way. No matter what we do, life will hand us sorrow. It’s life-affirming to choose to seek joy and togetherness in the face of that truth.  I don’t own a red Chanel suit, and I’m not attending a ladies’ lunch on February 14. But I’m wearing a string of your garnet beads, and my dress today is burgundy — a cousin to red, if you squint. And on this day of red and pink paper doilies, and flower arrangements, and boxes of chocolate, I am remembering you.

Rachel Barenblat, A reason to celebrate

Light up a cigarette
and watch

the smoke write
your thoughts in the air,

this valentine,
inhale     exhale.

Claudia Serea, V-Day

The time has come to stop keeping up appearances.
Let others mourn; I did my crying as a child.
I felt the sting & dreamed of death
both given & received.
I hid a mountain of dirt beneath my clothes.
Those who knew them less well
can toss handfuls into their darkness.

Jason Crane, POEM: Abstention

— It took me a long time to let all that go. I am in my sixties now, and only just beginning to write about it all, to tell the stories. 
— I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. At first I wrote in secret notebooks, by my late teens I was going to open mic poetry readings, but I didn’t tell my family. It would just caused me new abuse; mockery.
— I went outside just before sunrise today. It was windy, and the moon was setting in the west just as the first light of the dawn was glowing in the east. Very lovely. I went inside and wrote a prose poem about it.

James Lee Jobe, 10 Things. Journal notes. 10 Feb. 2020

in the downing days of heavy time
cadillac was as strange a meme
as winsome as the movie toffees
and the longing for the other side
of any walled hillside
or the veneered panelled walls
behind which the cockroaches slept
until the fire died and we were abed
and then they came over the coal-grit
floor to eat the crumbs of the crumbs
that our meagre dinners had left ledgered
here in this corner of a neglected village
in wales
a people tipped under slag tips and
toil so numbing that the sinews of life
crystallised in grime and death that never died
in relief of times best forgotten now
for when you think of it
we cried enough dryness
to last a lifetime

Jim Young, hearth and tired

I have a cough which entered my body the way a bird or small animal would enter it flew or crawled into my mouth and inside my chest when I was standing at the beach during a windstorm my head is happy maybe the cough is a diorama in the medicine chest of my imagined illness

I’m going to go stand in the garden and yell at my tulip bulbs for a bit

Rebecca Loudon, Waking up in spite of it all which feels like spring

Besides my group this week, sketching out the beginning of a poem in one of my breaks and submitting to one journal I haven’t managed much poetry related. Besides Twitter. I have filled my Twitter feed with a mix of magazines, established and emergent writers. Some just comment on the world, many promote their books and readings, some post snippets of their writing, some post poems written by others that they love. I enjoy the latter most. I don’t buy as many poetry collections as I should and getting them in the local libraries here is almost impossible if they were written after Shakespeare. So reading online journals and poems selected by other writers is my way of keeping in touch with the poetry world and the writers I enjoy. I can fit it into small pockets of time or scroll by if I don’t want to head down a specific rabbit hole. 

Gerry Stewart, Stepping Up

When I wrote PR for Poets,  I was grappling with a terminal cancer diagnosis (my tumors have since been classified as “stable” but I still have to get them scanned every six months). I was about to get a diagnosis of MS. These things have changed how I view book promotion in my own life and also how I might write about it next time.

Since I started promoting poetry books in 2006 (I’ve had five books published since), things have changed – the technology, the realities of travel, and in my case, my health has become a constraining factor. Last year, for instance, I was invited to read at a college for money – but ended up not being able to go for health reasons. I was also invited to be a featured speaker at a lovely-looking conference in Colorado – but given how difficult travel has been with a wheelchair, and the impact on my immune system, I had to turn it down. In both cases, I offered to appear virtually, but that offer was declined. AWP is coming up, and one reason (well, besides the money AND persistent accessibility problems at the conference itself) is that the travel is so hard on my system and the rewards don’t seem like enough to balance that out. The book addresses ways to reach new audiences that don’t involve physical travel – blog book tours, for instance, or virtual appearances at book groups or colleges, as well as social media outreach – but it could have gone further.

If you, as a healthy able-bodied writer in the world – an editor or a professor or someone who runs a conference –  want to support disabled or chronically ill writers, teach their books. Encourage your students to buy books, or request their books from libraries. Give disabled or chronically ill writers chances to do phone interviews, Skype sessions, radio appearances.

The reality is, my health and disability can limit my ability to have a writer’s life – the way traditionally the writers make money from books is being invited out to speak at colleges or at readings at conferences, so if you limit your travel to, for instance, locations you can drive to because the last two times you flew you caught pneumonia or the airlines lost your wheelchair (yup, both happened to me) – you’re also limiting how much you get paid, how many audiences you reach, how many copies of the book you sell.

Or…is that still true? I started thinking harder about this. When I started promoting my first poetry book, the number one way to sell copies was to travel to readings and people would buy books there. For my second book, the best way to sell was to send out paper postcards with buying information on them. By the time my last book came out, yes, I sold books through readings and postcards, but I sold the most copies through my blog and Facebook/Twitter announcements. If the world is really getting more technology oriented – working from home, virtual meetings – then maybe the way you sell poetry books has changed, too. I think about Instagram poets, who have a million followers and sell a million books – all without even making a personal appearance.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Valentine’s Day (and Day After) and a Discussion of Book Promotion and Maintaining the Writer’s Life with a Disability or Chronic Illness

Let’s get something out of the way right from the beginning. The odds of your winning a poetry competition are dramatically increased if you enter. Simultaneously, so are the chances of losing, but not by the same amount. And I guess most of us don’t buy a Lottery ticket expecting to win. If you’re like me, you buy yourself a dream.

In earlier posts on the cobweb, I’ve riffed on my own reasons for entering competitions. First comes the dream. What next? I look out for competitions run by small publishers, because when you pay for your entry, you’re in a win-win situation. Your entry fee is going to keep these small concerns alive…I’m thinking of ones like Prole and The interpreter’s house And, of course, Yaffle, and The Red Shed . Or you may be helping to promote a small festival, like Havant. The point is, you’re not wasting your money.

Next thing is: who’ll be judging the competition. With the small presses, I don’t mind, but when it comes to medium and high-profile affairs then what’s important to me is whether I like that poet’s work. Why? Because part of the dream is not anything to do with money (and there’s often not a lot of that involved) but the thought that my work is going to be read by someone I admire and from whom I’ve learned. If the judge’s work is not the sort of thing that floats my boat, then I don’t enter, because I guess it’s more likely than not to be mutual. For example, if Pascale Petit were to judge a competition I’d enter like a shot, but not if it was someone who went in for avant-garde shapes on the page. It’s just how I am. I certainly think twice about competitions where the work is filtered by a selection committee before it reaches the star judge….The Bridport comes to mind….but they’re likely to be the ones with big prize money. Take your choice.

Is there anything else? I’m personally attracted to competitions which offer publication of your work as a prize. Some will guarantee that runners-up will appear in their magazine (as in The Rialto/ RSPB), but I’m thinking particularly of Indigo Dreams, where the prize is publication of a full collection.

Finally, some poets I know will tell me they would rather submit to magazines. My answer is always that it’s not an either/or choice. I do both. But I know I’m always less disappointed by not winning a competition than getting ‘sorry, but no thank-you’ emails from magazine editors. I get a lot of those. I suppose it’s because I don’t expect to win a competition, but I’m absolutely convinced that Magma, The Rialto and the rest would be mad not to jump at the chance of publishing my poems.

John Foggin, Poetry competitions and small presses: it’s a win-win situation

But it did get me thinking about the half life of these popular culture references. How much distance is too much distance? Is it too obscure? Does that matter if it works for the poem? Can you cover it all off with notes? Should you need to use notes?

Is a reference to a Jewson’s ad from the 80s any better or worse than say a reference to an obscure character from The Iliad? I don’t know the answer here, I’m more thinking out loud. My degree taught me that a text was a text was a text and that a text could be anything really – a Britney Spears song, The Wasteland, a painting, a chocolate bar wrapper, and so on…

I came back to these questions when I had my first initial scan of the latest issue of Rialto. I found a reference to Dr Martens in the first poem, Hannah Lowe’s ‘Pink Hummingbird’ and old school rave events like “Rain Dance, World Party, Fantasia” in ‘ ’89’, and “Marlborough (SIC??) Lights” in ‘Love’.

Each of these references work as a way of dating the time they are evoking, elsewhere in the mag Tom Paine’s excellent ‘Harmonium’ contains the line

‘Give everyone an orange popsicle, an iPhone, a garden,
and let’s go shoot some hoops? You won monopoly, okay?’

You couldn’t ask for a more contemporary set of references…well, you could, but hopefully you see what I mean. While I’m still trying to work out what’s going on in the poem, the iPhone dates it to within the last decade or so and therefore gives me some frame of reference.

What am I saying here? I don’t think I’m saying anything, I’m asking something.

I guess I’m asking what we, as writers, are thinking when we include these contemporary references in poems? Do we have half an eye on the now and half an eye on the future—both near and more distant? What will readers in eg 2120 make of a reference to iPhones or Jewsons? Should we even care?

Mat Riches, The Jewson Lot

I must spend
more time
standing in
wind learning

to fly like
sky, grasses,
leaves, learning
to let go,

to go.

Tom Montag, I MUST SPEND

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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.

Some of these digests are pure miscellanies, but this week, I found a theme: possibilities, innovation, and reinvention. It might be a phase-of-the-moon thing, or a February thing, or an election-cycle thing; I’m not sure. But something was singing the poetry blogosphere electric.


The dark was not stitched with straight lines, a silvery web of dot-to-dot, but painted with shadow and scent and the whispers of snakes, sculpted with a nuance as rounded as the dunes and sanded smooth with echoes of a far away hunger.

Once she wore a hat of leaves and dreams, taller than a bishop’s mitre. Once she wore a dress of galaxies, having drawn across her body a map to the universe.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah Rents a TARDIS For Her Wedding, and Travels to Somewhere Near Now

I remember that you were supposed to smear them on your arms and face. I’m not sure I ever did that. It was another time, and the glowing death-smear war-paint of fireflies was a portal into a magic world: so very distant and misunderstood in large swathes of want. There was an element of fear in my hesitations.

Sometime the other is the object of a different kind of desire.

But I did watch them rise from the spongy ground. I came out of the trailer to watch them – the blades of grass cutting my bare feet, and the clammy evening pinching the skin on my arms.

Ren Powell, Fireflies and Real World Magic

Hi, I’m Rita, and I’m a librarioholic.

The past few months I’ve been checking out piles of library books that languish on my nightstand past their due dates only to be joined by more books before I’ve returned them, and I’m starting to think that I love something about the idea of books more than I love actually reading them. I fantasize about spending a whole Saturday curled up on the couch with a book, but I never turn that fantasy into reality. Perhaps what I love even more than reading a book is the search for it, the anticipation of it, the possibility within it, the comfort of it. Some thing a book represents, more than the thing it is.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Librarioholics. We’re a thing.

This collection [Quite Apart, by Krystal Languell] feels like a road trip into and a reckoning with the past. […] The book’s final section, “Little Runaway,” employs parentheses to replace initial capitals, commas, and periods. The result is a visual fragmentation, evoking the book’s title by setting each clause more visibly apart. It reminded me of the way Alice Notley uses quotation marks in The Descent of Alette, but the parentheses were harder for me to look past (and the nesting of clauses (nested parentheses) makes them easier to parse but more complicated). Also, the symbolism is devastating in that the information, and by association, the speaker, is now parenthetical.

I enjoyed the range and inventiveness of this book, and I look forward to reading more of Languell’s work.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Quite Apart

I took a bit of time to read another Hedgehog Poetry publication, The Legend of the Kettle Daughter by Amy Alexander. […] I was intrigued by these poems’ slow opening, like moving slowly through a dim lit room. They pulled me to follow the threads they lay through the rooms with words and images to better understand the stories. The fine webs between them caught me, but led me on carefully from one poem to the next. This is a collection I will have to reread several times to feel I’ve really followed everything, one that builds up in my mind as I traverse it again and again, but it’s definitely worth the time.

The various Hedgehog collections I’ve managed to read, and I have a good pile left from the two Cult deliveries I’ve received, have each been their own creature. I couldn’t put my finger on what kind of poem and poet Hedgehog prefers, no house style. Each book has their own appeal and strengths. I’ve found treasures in each pamphlet. As a future Hedgehog writer this is reassuring. Hopefully, I will fit because I have my own voice and my stories are strong enough to stand on their own.

Gerry Stewart, Slow Unwinding in February

I first read this pamphlet in 2017, not long after it came out, and I’ve returned to it several times since, much because it seems to me a model of how a pamphlet can be an intensely pleasurable reading experience without having to be wholly or mainly dominated by one thematic concern. It contains 25 compact poems (only one of which spills, and even then only just, onto a second page), and gives a really good flavour of Julie Mellor’s range and ability. Let’s face it, the average full collection from some big publishers often barely gets past 30 poems these days, so this pamphlet provides true value for money as well as excellent poetic fare. […]

Since the publication of this pamphlet, Mellor has headed in a more experimental direction, through the use of redaction of found textual matter to create powerful, committed poetry which works as much through what it redacts as what it leaves for the reader, as a good look at her tremendous blog shows. Her voice deserves to be heralded as distinctive and fine.

Matthew Paul, On Julie Mellor’s Out of the Weather

As in Skin Can Hold, there is in Odyssey Calling a prose section explaining a group project approaching poetry in an innovative way. This time (perhaps evolving the ‘syntax poem’ reworking of Martin Carter – although I don’t know which came first) the new approach, “Azure Noise and Kinetic Syntax” makes use of a performance space carefully to reduce the pressure of interpretation (especially academic interpretation) on the audience and even discourage any active search for meaning at all – instead creating what Capildeo calls an “active silence”. Layered recordings of contemporary texts contribute, we’re told, to a soundscape that interacts with an audience moving in and out of various zones and multiple performances in a room including “swathes of fabric”, mattresses and sheets and stalls of marbles and other “simple lustrous things”. At the same time Capildeo reads “water poems” (an example of which presumably is what follows the prose section, quoted earlier, the beautiful ‘Spindrift Silences’), they read “softly, so the audience could choose their level of engagement”. All of this reflects the pamphlet’s overall sense of togethering: the individual here (poet, audience) does not exist in isolation either from the poetry or from the rest of the world, poetry is not me and mine, but us and ours.

Chris Edgoose, The sea is like this: Odyssey Calling by Vahni Capildeo

Over the weekend, an excellent new poetry endeavour was launched online. ‘iamb’ is a website of poets reading their own work, and (at least so far) features 20 poets with three poems each – you can both read, and listen to, the poems.

I was delighted to be part of this first wave of poets, with representation not only from the UK but around the world. The website is the brainchild of Mark Antony Owen, an English poet who is also the author of the Subruria poetry website, featuring small, lyrical, incisive poems about the suburbs, family life and more. Mark is also a talented web designer, and both of these websites are beautifully presented.

I happen to know that there are some really exciting plans for ‘iamb’ later this year, so while there’s plenty to listen to and read right now, keep watching this space.

Clarissa Aykroyd, ‘iamb’: Poetry Seen and Heard

In April 2019, just in time for National Poetry Month, I started videotaping myself reading poems aloud while drinking beer in craft-brewery tasting rooms. I launched a YouTube series called MASH: Beer-&-Poem Pairings to—per my catchphrase—“make poetry hospitable for everyone.” Thanks to the boundless creativity of craft brewers, it’s pretty easy—and fun!—to find a poem that, language-wise, pairs with my chosen beer’s flavor components or quirky name. Despite the opportunity for deeper inquiry, my MASH videos do not include wonky descriptions of the poems or the beers. Instead, by design, each video is a low-key hit-and-run: Click the “play” arrow and three minutes later…A poem? Raise your glass! That wasn’t so bad!

A month later, May 2019, I launched a second video series, BARK & BARD: Poetry Readings for Dogs, in which I read to dogs a poem that pairs with their personality or name or breed. I’d been wondering, for quite a while, how to combine these two things I’m passionate about—dogs and poetry—and then I heard, like an oracle, Billy Collins say in a Masterclass ad on YouTube, “Dogs are very good to read poetry to; cats, not so much.”

How Is This Poem Like…a Beer? a Dog? a Spirit? – guest blog post by Marj Hahne (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I was given a directive from on high last week which, deliberately and with rebellion aforethought, I declined to follow. I had a litany of reasons why, but it mainly boiled down to the principle of “enough is enough.” I made a good friend of one of our building engineers when I confessed my insubordination to him on our way to a morning meeting. He was greatly impressed, and he looks at me with a new respect in his eyes now. I can tell he had me pegged as a goody-two-shoes rules-follower and an obedient drone. Which led me to ponder once again the question of whether or not I am actually a rules-follower. Although I generally do follow rules, I don’t think that I am in my heart of hearts a rule-follower. I am a workplace peacenik (the strike was extremely hard on me emotionally for all the rancor and ill-will it caused), so I will follow rules in the service of group harmony, but I’m generally rules-suspicious and am not above finding ways around the ones that I find senseless, or that cause me unreasonable inconvenience. However, although my act of defiance didn’t impact anyone negatively, or at all,I still felt weirdly guilty about it for a good portion of last week. So who knows. Maybe I am a rules-follower after all.

Speaking of rules, I recently received in my inbox the rules for the Annual Spirit First Meditation Poetry Contest, which has spurred me to put aside House Flipper for the time being to work on my new poetry series and get some poems polished and shined for contest entry. I will be writing about meditation in a very different way than I have before. We’ll see how it all pans out, or if it even will. I feel oddly insecure about the viability of this new venture and I’m not sure how any of it will go over. I just keep telling myself that the worst that will happen is that I will have written a bunch of poems that no one likes and everyone will think I’m weird, which is hardly the end of the world. 

Kristen McHenry, Missed Calling, Rebellion Aforethought, Poetry Spit-Shine

You turn away,
thinking the world

does not need
such cross-species

love. Then you turn
back, knowing

we can’t live
without it.

Tom Montag, Bark of the Tree

Some years, we have hellebore and dwarf irises in February–it isn’t entirely drab, grey, chilly, and wet for 29 days. Reminding myself of that helps a little. Why, we had one warm and sunny day earlier in the week! The flies and stinkbugs buzzed about drowsily, and the birds made a little more noise than usual.

But part of me says–oh, wait a bit. There could be plenty of snow in March.

Ann E. Michael, 29 days

In my yard, the first thing to bloom is usually our pink camellias, and they opened spectacularly yesterday, despite a week of hail, snow, flooding, wind, and other February nonsense. It makes me think spring might be around the corner – a cheering thought, after a terribly gloomy winter.

People all around us were flooded out of our homes – river trails and trees disappeared under water, cars were swallowed, people evacuated – we are lucky to live on top of a hill, and the river is a few miles away, but all week I’ve been watching the news every morning, flooding/road closures/power outages and coronavirus the two top stories, and then the politics, oy. So that put me in an apocalyptic mindset. Yesterday we went to the local gardening store to get a few sweet pea starts, which it might be a little early to plant, but we goofed around with the faux flower Valentine’s Day displays too, which was very cheering.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, February First Flowers, Floods, Supermoons, and Superbowls, plus Poetry Grant Writing

I start this day by painting myself sunflower yellow to feel what the world might have looked like to Van Gogh.

Rich Ferguson, Sunflower

“February is not my favorite month,” I told a kind person who is also my hairdresser. He answered, “Good title for a poem.” Maybe I’ll write it when I hatch. […]

What I’d like to do right now? A box of mss just came from Cider Review Press, because I’m serving as this year’s judge. I want to read read read–something I know for sure I’m good at. Pondering them will be good work for February’s closed-in evenings, when wind rattles the tin roof and poems are the only hubbub I feel drawn to.

Lesley Wheeler, Still at the Egg-life–

One advantage to being awake in the pre-sunrise hours is the view of the moon I often get.  Just now, I looked out my west facing kitchen window to see the full moon, mostly cloaked (but not concealed) by shreds of clouds, which makes the clouds interesting shades of purples, eggplants, lavenders, and grays. It’s like a Turner painting, if Turner had included palm trees in the foreground.

Once I wrote that, I had to go remind myself of the details of Turner’s life.  The Wikipedia entry includes this interesting nugget:  “He opened his own gallery in 1804 and became professor of perspective at the academy in 1807, where he lectured until 1828, although he was viewed as profoundly inarticulate.”

He taught for almost 20 years.  Did everyone view him as “profoundly inarticulate”?  Was he only inarticulate in his speech?  Did his students learn in other ways, non-lecture ways?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Painters of Sky, Painters of Walls

first movie!
their child talks
to the screen

Bill Waters, NaHaiWriMo 2020: week 1

I make another in a long series of bargains
as I lift myself out of the darkness:
For a moment I hear a familiar call
in the scripted homily of a TV nun.

Jason Crane, POEM: Faith

I spilled over my regulation Sunday horror spilled over I walked to the kitchen and heard Somewhere Over the Rainbow on a tinny childhood radio Sundays have a black resonance secrets hidden meanings my inner cake fell my heart tried to escape my chest I made a mess of my kitchen butter sugar flour yeast a single orange yolk from Jack the Egg Man cinnamon I sat on a kitchen chair taking my own blood pressure over and over and over every five minutes in fact there are no facts am I dying the doctor says my blood pressure is normal my blood is normal my glucose levels and cholesterol levels are all normal all of it normal and here is my heart bleeding for Seppuku my heart bleeding for Fridays at the Pearl Oyster Bar in New Orleans my heart bleeding for Henry’s dream horses my heart bleeding for coronavirus victims on a cruise ship my heart bleeding for Amerikkka I am coming down with a ragey case of insanity my heart bleeds for Dorothy Gale and Alice Liddell and Elsie Paroubek and Violet Vivian

A woman is born twice
once through blood
once through blood

A second time through the kitchen

Rebecca Loudon, A woman is born twice

Either I need to keep writing through, or I need to stop and take a breath and release the endorphins of thinking. There may be a deeper level I haven’t written to yet. I just happened to grab a poem along the way.

And don’t tell Poem Mind this, as she already can be rather insufferable, but the unsaid — the space and breaths of poetry — have the capacity to suggest so much more than the word-filled prose.

But she gets lazy, Poem Mind, and Prose Mind needs to push on, dig down, “read” the white space of the poem and write into it so Poem Mind can perhaps breathe deeper still. Even if Prose Mind repeats herself along the way. Sometimes even that can be revealing of something still unearthed.

Marilyn McCabe, Under pressure; or, Prose as a Pathway to Poetry

These poems are fairly worthless; a house
Made of twigs, mud, and thistles.

The good comes, perhaps, from building them,
More than from their use; an exercise for the spirit.

James Lee Jobe, What we have

I drive onto the highway and head downtown. The skyline like a prism reflecting the sunlight rising in the east. Glass panels, concrete, metal girders, reflective spires all twinkling ahead. Yes, man’s marvels. But, somewhere there is a strip mine. Somewhere, countless acres of forest have fallen in the name of progress. Paved streets and parking lots.

Gone are the Reunion Ibis, the the Black-Backed Bittern, Reunion Night-Heron and a slew of other bird species. In the past half-century there has been a 29% decline in birds in the U.S. and Candida. Once we lose birds, insects and other animals are impacted. So too is plant life. Some of this is not doubt related to climate change and migration disruption. 

Poets could do a whole anthology of elegies to birds who are no longer with us. 

Patiently, I await the sight of the owl that serenades me morning and night.

Michael Allyn Wells, The Order of Species and Poets

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Weeks 4-5

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 time, I am playing catch-up, which of course meant twice as much reading as usual, but I can’t say it hasn’t been a pleasant way to spend a lazy Sunday while recovering (I hope) from a mild virus. Poetry bloggers have been in fine form over the past two weeks.

Incidentally, for those craving a poem-a-day exercise this month, it’s not too late to join NaHaiWriMo or Post-It Note Poetry — or both!


I discovered wordpools in Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy. “I collect…hats, coins, cougars, old Studebakers,” she writes. “That is, I collect the words. Pith helmet, fragment, Frigidaire, quarrel, love seat, lily. I call gathering words this way creating a wordpool. This process helps free us to follow the words and write poems.”

When I read this, I’d been writing poems a long time, but the idea of collecting words to spark creativity was new to me. That a poem might be lurking in some random words—surge, hit, new, kiss, overallfork, innocence, bumblebee, fingers—was exhilarating.

Around this time, the late 1990s, Magnetic Poetry kits appeared. I received many as gifts. They came in sheets, requiring the recipient to detach the words from each other. I’ve lost count of how many kits I processed this way, only to find the words I’d carefully separated uninspiring. Staring at a refrigerator covered with words that someone else selected did little for my creativity.

Erica Goss, Dive Into the Wordpool

public library
the little girl skips
to the door

Bill Waters, Public library

Funny how, once a character is on the page, the author loses control.

Sometimes I stumble on my own writing – an old poem, or a bit of a journal entry – and it is completely foreign to me.

I wrote a draft of a novel once.
And realized that I am a poet: fragmented.

Shattered.

Ren Powell, Being Seen and the Value of Journaling

Maggie Smith talked about embracing brokenness and error in poems.  She talked about the kintsugi method of ceramics, where cracks and even broken pieces are filled in with metallic lacquer.  She talked about ways to use this technique in poetry through the things we mistype, the spelling errors, the things we hear wrong, and all the other ways we should embrace our mistakes.  If we’re open to our imperfections, the poems may take us to surprising places that a rigid poet would never discover.

My favorite quote of hers:  “I don’t got to poetry for comfort, as a reader or a writer, but to be changed.”

Her craft lecture was paired with Adrian Matejka, who talked about persona poetry and issues of history, culture and appropriation.  I wasn’t familiar with his work, but he was a dynamic, engaging speaker, and I enjoyed the topic.  How interesting to be talking about these issues during a week when the nation has been talking about these issues in the latest Oprah book pick, American Dirt.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Craft Talks at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Days like these, it’s hard to tell up from down. Days like these, when the flow and deluge of the cosmos rubs up against our flesh, the universe hymning and howling the joys and sorrows for which we struggle to find words.

Days when our hearts strain against the unknown until the pain becomes a part of us.

Days like these, when all we can do is put our shoulder to the wheel. Lean into love.

Rich Ferguson, Days Like These

And, of course, there are always the ‘let’s-all-spread-across-the-sidewalk-and-take-up-as-much-room-as-we-can’ walkers. And dog walkers. And a woman who must have splashed through the ocean’s shallows, standing one-legged at her open trunk wiping sand from her feet. And a man wandering the boardwalk with a phone in his hand, who could be waiting for someone. Or even for himself.

And here’s me, trying to remember to keep right not left but forgetting when I run back to the beach, and spit some water onto the rocks, which way the wind is blowing.

sunrise
all of us
in this
together

Lynne Rees, Deerfield Mile

I forget how much I enjoy the camaraderie of other writers, especially foreign writers here in Finland. We’re a good mix of nations, last night there were British, American, Hungarian, Romanian and Jamaican writers attending. We usually have a Finn or two as well. We went out for a drink afterwards, to talk shop, politics and just generally blether. We may not agree on everything politically and I was grateful the conversation did not turn to Brexit, but I feel we can actually debate and break open subjects that touch on writing, teaching, literature and being immigrants.

Though the other writers and I are on different paths in our writing careers, there are few poets in the group, it’s nice to have a small community to share worries, successes and struggles. If someone asks, how do you decide when a piece is finished, there are lots of different points of view and stories shared, poems that get rehashed to death, stories that never get finished. They understand. I’m so glad I’ve managed to find this in a place where I can’t properly engage with the local literature because my language skills just aren’t up to it. Even if I can’t make it every week, I know it’s there when I have time. 

Gerry Stewart, A Bright Light on a Dark Brexit Day

I often like to think that the paid employment I do on week-days gets in the way of my true vocation. Yes, I know that sounds pretentious, but how I envy those who can set aside time when they are fresh and alert to do some writing. Like many others, I mostly make do with writing on evenings and weekends when all I really want to do is slouch; and doing so is knackering. Lately, though, I seem to have snatched some decent writing time on bus journeys, from Hampton Court or Kingston to Twickenham, which has been a boon. My wife’s mantra is, “It’s later than you think” – wise words made wiser recently by news of the deaths of three friends and acquaintances of my age. So I’ve been trying to make the most of my time with a mantra of my own: “Get running, get writing, get the fuck on with it.”

Matthew Paul, Writing time

I like to write, but boy, do I have trouble at times settling down.  I love to write, even, but the other pole – the love of motion – makes it rough to sit at that desk.  I’ve got to keep moving.  I’m not the kind of writer to dictate into an IPhone as I’m walking, or as I’m doing spins on the dancefloor; so I do need my desk.  Once I re-discover my desk as a long-lost love, I start to wander in my head.  

I’ve paired up with a compatible subject for a poetry sequence — home/homelessness. It troubles the idea of home and explores the commonality of homelessness. Is it something about me, my tribe? Wandering Jews are well-known entity, starting with God ordering Abraham and Sarah to leave their home and get moving into the unknown.  In the current cyclical readings of Torah, we are in Exodus, wandering in the desert. 

My tribe as human?  Metaphorically we might now feel that we are all wandering in the desert.  The first thing my IPhone showed me this morning was a suggestion on the Home Screen: “It’s true that nothing makes sense.” What the —? 

Jill Pearlman, The New Vertigo

THIS is the best thing about this week: a stunning cover for my forthcoming poetry book, featuring a painting called “Censer” by Ida Floreak and designed by Nikkita Colhoon. Nikkita’s work was one of the draws, for me, in working with Tinderbox Editions–all her covers stop you in your tracks. I feel really lucky. I owe thanks, too, to Clover Archer for bringing Ida’s art to Staniar Gallery on campus, and to Kevin Remington for getting a high-quality photograph of the work. I went to Ida’s talk just as I was puzzling over possible covers, so there was something magical about the convergence.

Like Ida’s other work, “Censer” has a meditative quality I love. She’s arranged a shrine out of natural objects, highlighting their grace–and the cracking egg suggests rebirth (when am I being reborn again? I’m ready!). Ida says she’s influenced both by botanical drawings and religious art, and this book is full of plants, creatures, and spirit-questions. I had wondered what colors Nikkita would choose for the words on the cover; the pink is both surprising and right. The poems reference pink constantly, from pussy hats to magnolia blossoms to rose-tinted medicines. And somehow the pink lettering makes the shadows more striking, which feels appropriate to this collection, too. Yes, I know I’m close-reading my own cover at length, but I’m excited, dammit.

Lesley Wheeler, She’s in a state, all right

I’ve parked the hedgerow
where the bees might be

can’t find the way into my book
I don’t know where it will take me
it’s quite fugitive

oak-gall ink
copper pomegranate and avocado
I’ve never wanted to do this

the Red Dress is coming next weekend
a kitten is arriving on March 1st
I can’t stop drawing trees

Ama Bolton, ABCD: January 2020

[Colleen Anderson:] What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

[Jeannine Hall Gailey:] I think that definitely the mood of our current age is one of apocalypse–there’s a reason there are so many disaster movies and superhero movies. We look to the mythological and the epic to try to make our own stories make more sense.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I have two book manuscripts in circulation to publishers and I have a speculative poem coming up in the latest issue of Ploughshares called “Irradiate” and an upcoming poem in Poetry called “Calamity.”

Is there anything else you would like to say about horror and speculative poetry and fiction?

I am really glad the horror and speculative communities exist and I’ve made friends within the SFPA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association) and the HWA (Horror Writers Association) that are really important to me. Often, we can be treated as “outsiders” in the literary world, but we aren’t really outsiders–I guarantee there are more poetry fans of speculative and horror work than people think.

Colleen Anderson, Women in Horror: Jeannine Hall Gailey

Alice Oswald, who is definitely “the great Alice Oswald” and is also now the first woman Oxford Professor of Poetry (though not the first to be elected – that was Ruth Padel), performed at Kings Place on 17 January with live music by Ansuman Biswas. Oswald does specifically “perform” rather than “recite” or “read” – even her more conventional appearances involve her almost chanting her poems off by heart, unforgettable performances unlike anyone else’s. I have written about seeing her a couple of times before, and this was one of the less conventional appearances. It started with a “sound calendar” or seascape by Chris Watson, and the actual performance was mostly in total darkness, although there was partial lighting for sections of it.

Oswald was performing Nobody, her most recent book, based on stories of water, humans and gods from Greek mythology. I’m only superficially knowledgeable about the Odyssey and related works, so I appreciated Nobody more from a sea-perspective, but the tales that washed in and out sometimes had an odd familiarity. Ansuman Biswas performed on the aquaphone, which reminded me of sea sounds washing into a cave, and also an enormous gong, which was overwhelming to the point of being almost distressing at certain points. The whole performance was mesmerising, thrilling and absolutely haunting.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Alice Oswald’s Nobody at Kings Place, and Anselm Kiefer at White Cube

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but reading Sharon Olds’s Arias has released something in me, and I’ve been writing a lot of new poems! Olds writes about anything–troubled family relationships, her mother who beat her, sex, death, childbirth, the intense love of one’s children, scattering ashes, how California got made tectonically, etc.–so she probably gives me “permission” to write about anything, too! Or sing (in the shower, arias) about anything!! And I have to say I like the coincidence of how the black-and-white book cover matches that of Hope in the Dark!

Kathleen Kirk, Arias

We’re taken  through a series of good and bad days, self-obsession and tortured thoughts. The world through this person’s eyes is full of squirming creatures, human and otherwise, destined for the slaughterhouse, the dustbin, ‘squelching late-night screenings’, or just dead, fossilised, taken, ‘yawning for air in their anxious hell.’ The narrator saves his harshest criticism for himself, who he sees behaving badly in some scenarios, and victimised in others.  Catching the reflection of his face as he tortures a fish out of boredom ‘I hate myself, / loathing whatever thing is watching me.’ (‘Siamese Fighting Fish’). A game of pool is going well, and then: ‘He’s back, that version of me, / the choker who doesn’t deserve it. So I choke again’.

I found myself compelled onward through the sequence and really enjoyed the form – each poem just two stanzas of four lines each – there’s a loose narrative arc driving it and the sheer exuberance and creativity is wonderfully gripping. Not so much a romp as a yomp – there’s no missing the real anguish here, but it’s worked through with such wit and originality. Sin Cycle succeeds in being luscious, gruesome, poignant and hilarious somehow all at once.

Robin Houghton, Sin Cycle, a new poetry sequence from Peter Kenny

In Almost Famous, the fourth chapbook by the consummate literary citizen, Trish Hopkinson, we find powerful and painful coming-of-age stories crafted as poems. The book starts with a vivid depiction of her own birth, written from her perspective, and it carries forward into the childhood and teen years, and every poem packs a potent gut-punch. While there were parts of my own life that diverged widely from the childhood Hopkinson describes, there was enough here that was familiar and shared.

For me, the strongest parts of the book were the first and last poems. The first, “Third Day, Third Month, 1972,” describes Hopkinson’s birth, which included the use of forceps:
 
                 A doctor,
or a man rather, pressed
a tool inside her, like the back

of a soup spoon reaching in
to a bowl of cold grits,
fished around for my tender

skull, and excised me for comfort.


The image here — forceps in a birth canal as a spoon in cold grits — casts the birth scene into an otherworldly sphere, I think mainly because the grits are cold. What kind of birth is this? It’s such a small touch, but a smart poetic decision because of its perfect not-quite-rightness.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: “Almost Famous”­­ by Trish Hopkinson

I was captivated by the intersection of motherhood, self, and humanity—including the monsters. Remember when I was connecting not living on earth with death in the first poem? Shortly past the halfway point, the book embarks on a long poem called “Starship.” When I say long, I mean fifty pages—a book within a book. Each page consists of two poems, or scenes, that lead the reader on a journey through relationships, time travel, and the stars. [Sarah] Blake’s style in this collection is narrative—a stance I admire because I think it’s hard to do without drifting into prose. And “Starship” is narrative at its epic best, its story line opening questions of desire, abandonment, choice. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say anything about the last line–but if you read the book, let me know and we’ll talk!

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Let’s Not Live on Earth

Though it is not stated (it doesn’t need to be), the farmer in his wrangle with the earth ultimately produces food.  The poet of course produces poetry, and as a poet himself, Williams suggests poetry is on the level of food.  For Williams, poetry is just as much a necessary product of his artistic labor as edible crops are of a farmer’s sowing.  In this sense, “The Farmer” can be seen to anticipate WCW’s own more famous lines in the much later “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” (1955): “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”

Mike Begnal, William Carlos Williams’s “The Farmer”

Speaking of memory and observation, how much I wish that I had trained mine more. How I wish I had employed that excellent method of looking at an object, going into another room to draw it, returning to refresh my memory, and so on, until that drawing was completed without it and the object ever having met, as it were. What a training for an artist interested primarily in character, who sees for a minute a face which, if he cannot draw from memory, he will never draw at all!

I believe I am right in saying that, ages before such a thing as photography was even guessed at, this was the method by which Chinese artists were taught … So developed did their powers of observation and memory become by this training that by shutting their eyes, opening them for the fraction of a second, and shutting them again, they could keep in their minds the visual image of what they saw long enough to be able to transfer that visual image to paper. It was in this manner that they were enabled to draw insects and birds in flight, and it is an indubitable fact that, when the camera was invented and ‘instantaneous’ pictures were produced, it was proved by comparison that these artists’ memorisations were perfectly accurate.

Ann E. Michael, Observation, memory, & art

During my first semester of my MFA program, Karen Volkman, who was a visiting writer teaching a craft class I’ve forgotten the name of,  took us specifically to see the Cornell boxes at the Art Institute and I was hooked. I started writing about them, sneaking over to see them occasionally on my writing days (ie the days I had only classes and no library shifts).  It was a time when the museum allowed pay what you can, and since I usually was there in the afternoon, I felt confident paying a couple bucks and wandering through the museum’s wings, but mostly hanging out around the Cornell boxes. Years later, the Institute built a monolithic modern wing and shoved all the boxes in a big glass case all together and basically ruined everything, but at the time, they were strung through a series of small rooms, which allowed you to encounter each one singularly. To sit down in front of the tabled ones. I spent a lot of time there, working over the next few years on what would become at the hotel andromeda.

It was while working on those pieces that I filed away my encounter with Dali’s Invention of the Monsters, which was hung in a room I had to pass through to reach the Cornells and had a bench upon which I often sat to jot down notes.  While Cornell was icy blue and haunted, Dali was all wild and in flames, and just really weird in a way I appreciated.  It took me years to return to that painting as subject matter., and when I did, it turned into a sort of meditation on the ghostly little blue dog in the corner and Dali’s own wife, who occupies the painting with him.

Kristy Bowen, ekphrastic desires

Lately I’ve been exploring my emotional response to rocks.

Does that say something unfortunate about me? Shouldn’t I be exploring my relationship to my long-dead father, or my inner fears, or why I hate my neighbors, or my notions of gods and the spirit?

Or is it all the same thing? Am I on some spiritual trip, a connection with the ineffable, that thing we humans can’t seem to resist, finding something bigger than ourselves? And in my case at the moment, LITERALLY bigger than myself — this glacial erratic my forest trail has led me to.

This giant boulder takes up space, it has a relationship to time, albeit far different than mine. It is a natural history of which I am a moment, one hand on the cool side of the rock, a sinew in the grand continuity of matter and energy, as far as we know. We are briefly together, erratic and I.

Marilyn McCabe, Like a Southbound Train; or, Writing out of the Animated World

seeing the stream
i throw a stone
into the sky

Jim Young [no title]

These letters, kite-string
or umbilicus: do they
tether you? When I
stop writing will you
dissolve, a water droplet
rejoining the flowing stream?

Rachel Barenblat, Tether

I am learning to navigate the dreaded Disneyland of CostCo. First I park a billion miles away so I won’t get hit by a car or one of those huge fucking baskets careening wildly out of control. Once inside I keep to the left of the store so I won’t get lost in the labyrinth of cheese and meat and bread and cleaning products and screaming children and goats and booze and bales of hay and coffins. Then I get what I need which is usually cheese and butter and cleaning supplies and while I’m doing this I smile at everyone. Smiling at people in CostCo freaks them out. Bad. Seriously bad. They look at me like I’m going to steal their purses or rip their lungs out with my enormous teeth. When I get to the 15 mile long checkout line I lean my arms on my basket and continue to smile. Today my checker’s name was Falcon. I told him it was a beautiful name and asked if he knew the Robert Duncan poem My Mother Would Be A Falconress one of my most beloved poems of all time. The first time I read this poem I almost fell down. I worship this poem. I memorized it right after I read it which is an old fashioned thing I still do. The poem makes my head burn like a church on fire. The checker Falcon had not read or heard of the poem so I wrote Robert Duncanthen My Mother Would Be A Falconress on a slip of paper and told him to Google it when he got home. So I held up the line for almost an entire minute. Sometimes you have to do it.

Rebecca Loudon, Outing

I called to God in the night.
I knelt, I rose, I answered, I sang.
Beneath my shirt I hid my vow.
No one can say I didn’t try to keep it.

Jason Crane, POEM: Imbolc

In this cone of silence just
before the dawn, the shadow
world is palpable: gods

and monsters glide and crawl
by my garden gate. Half-dreams,
uncertain memories, dust devils rolling.

Here and now, I sense, is the pagan
junction where all things meet:
skeletons into flesh, ghosts

into plasma, rumours, fears, the whole
arcana hard wired into the dark.

Dick Jones, Insomnia.

I was sleeping in the recliner chair like my Uncle Richard used to do. I slept heavily and dreamed of words that were made from solid objects of various shapes and sizes, and of many different materials. Words built from metal, wood, concrete, plastic, and so on. I was using tools to assemble these words into poems; a hammer and nails, a handsaw, a drill, nuts and bolts, a sander, and wrenches. The poems I built were as large as a man and crazy looking, but they read beautifully. The poems I built were better than any I ever wrote, but that isn’t saying much.

James Lee Jobe, I was sleeping in the recliner chair like my Uncle Richard

Anyway, yay, I survived, and even though I was a weirdo dental patient  – a little out of the ordinary, the endodontist had to use a special filling, my root was shaped unusually, and all that no Novocain thing – everything was just fine. The funny thing was, they tell you not to sign any contracts or shop while you’re on the sedation drug, called Versed – but I submitted three book manuscripts that night, which I don’t remember, and bought two lipsticks and a shampoo – I guess it could have been worse! And a couple of days later, mostly sleeping I stumbled out into the rain…and found deer in the yard! They had munched on a bit of our camellias, but I guess that’s all right. And I’ve been trying to take advantage of all the sunbreaks and rainbows I can.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sunbreaks in the Rain, Surviving My First Root Canal, Finding Flowers in Our Darkest Winter Month

Who never tires of me?
This hermitage, my desk.

Tom Montag, Who Never

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week brings an extra long and meaty digest—with posts about making it big, careerism, “the internet with its weird prying snake eyes” (R. Loudon) and much, much more—because in all likelihood the digest will be MIA next week while I’m off doing this.


The new year has certainly begun with bangs and whimpers.

During the strangely mild weather, as snow geese and buzzards return but before the juncos leave us, I have been watching the flocking behavior of starlings.

For lack of anything more relevant to write at this time, I’m posting here my poem “Liturgy,” circa 2002 or 2003, from Small Things Rise and Go. […]

We will not know peace.
Here, the caterpillar
Tires chew fields into slog;
Here a child’s toy erupts
Into a village of amputees.
Sands shift under an abstraction,
The sea grows warm.

Ann E. Michael, Peace & starlings

Time grows, after New Years, like a cauliflower–
half handsome, half deformed, blooming
at its own isotropic rate. On the 3rd we skate
towards war; a plane of travelers crashes
in Iran; Down Under, animals, mostly sheep, burn.

Did the bubbly not last long? At midnight
we’d stomped and danced, undid ourselves
like Mandelstam shaking caraway seeds from a sack.

Jill Pearlman, A Poem for 19 Days into the New Year

The poems capture truths, experiences and feelings for which ordinary prose/description/definition would fail. See what [Mary] Biddinger does here [in Partial Genius] to depict something like the doldrums or stagnation: “I frequented a desolate pie shop. The drinks were lukewarm and all songs on the jukebox were about dying. I did not do this because I thought it would make me authentic. I was lukewarm about everything, often felt war was imminent. I lived in a neighborhood full of homeowners terrified of being first to roll the trash cans down to the curb.”

Carolee Bennett, “regardless of previous circus employment”

For all that I can sometimes add to a well-turned sentence a word too far, only to have it collapse in on itself like some poorly constructed architectural folly, I have problems with language on the fly.  Listening to cornered politicians turning on the tap and shamelessly letting it flow unchecked has me barracking from the sofa.  Hysterical Oscar winners in verbal free fall, pretentious artists endeavouring to translate piles of house bricks into meaningful messages, pop stars who read a book once and now imagine themselves to be sages – all who sling words around like frisbees – have me grinding my teeth down to stumps.  This is not language in search of light; it’s language whose sole context is sound.

Dick Jones, LINGUA FRANCA.

In a book about therapy I read about the technique of replacing “but” by the non-judgemental “and” – e.g. using “he’s cute and he’s a scientist” rather than “he’s cute but he’s a scientist”. This challenges the underlying thought-pattern – the root of my stylistic problem. The underlying thesis-antithesis rhythm’s ok for representing disappointment and dashed hopes (which is why [Margaret] Drabble uses it, I guess). It needn’t be used at the sentence level so often though, even if the piece as a whole is structured along thesis, antithesis, (then maybe synthesis) lines.

Using “and” instead of “but” reduces structural detail and contrast, but opposition is the most simplistic of structures. Using “and” to make lists lets the reader decide what the contrasts are.

Tim Love, But

Most of my personal journal writing, as well as many of my blog posts, tends to be self-reflective and self-referential, often musing on the nature and challenges of writing. It’s writing about writing, or, often, about being unable to write. Why do we write? Why do many of us feel like we need to write? What do we write about? Does it matter?

After more than two decades of blogging, I still believe I should blog more. I realise it’s perfectionism what often stops me from writing publicly more. I also know that becoming a full time academic also meant being in the crossfire between my ideals for the future of scholarly communications and the conventional expectations around academic “productivity”. When time is poor, it may seem as a waste of time and effort to spend time writing in a format that will not “count” nor satisfy others’ expectations.

However as I find some rare reflective time this Saturday I would like to say I still find it essential to be able to have different channels for expression, sandpits where ideas can be rehearsed and, why not, anxieties exorcised.

Ernesto Priego, Scraps- Quick Drafts

In his book, Fearless Creating, Eric Maisel talks about completing work for the purpose of showing: ‘It may mean rewriting the first chapter three times so that it is really strong’.  He says that work is not ready to be shown if you cannot speak about it clearly, and he also suggests that there is a period of transition between the ‘working stage’ and the ‘showing stage’. It makes me wonder if I’m stuck in the period of transition. I’m avoiding the redraft, perhaps because I’m scared the novel won’t be any good when I return to it. I tell myself that doesn’t matter. What’s important is to complete it, to complete a manuscript that is ready to be shown.

Julie Mellor, Making time …

Back in the summer I decided to read Dante’s Divine Comedy, in a Penguin parallel edition with the original Italian and Robert Kirkpatrick’s translation. Many decades ago I was an eighteen-year-old ingenue in Rome, arriving by train and taking up an au pair job while speaking no Italian. My host family were kind enough to enrol me in the Dante Alighieri School to learn the language. This was my first encounter with Dante, and I’m ashamed to say it took me all this time to decide to actually read his most famous work. It would have happened sooner if I hadn’t changed course at University and ditched Italian literature. So – I galloped through Hell (Inferno), then spent around two months in Purgatory. There was so much to process. When I reached the end, I felt I needed to re-read the introduction. But now I’ve just started Paradiso – although I’m still only on the introduction, which is itself daunting. Interestingly, Nick is conducting a performance of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in Brighton in March, which is basically a story about a soul’s journey after death through Purgatory and beyond. So we’re been comparing notes over dinner: is there actually a Lake in Purgatory, or two rivers (as Dante describes)? Is it possible to be regaled by Demons trying to lure you to Hell once you’re in Purgatory (Gerontius) or are you impervious to that? (Dante) I have to remind myself now and then that this is all pretty much theoretical.

Robin Houghton, A chilled start to the year

Anyway, there was a Titian, a Raphael, and several El Greco paintings, but that painting is one I had been obsessed with since I saw a slide of it in in Art Appreciation Class when I was 19 – a painting of Judith Beheading Holfernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. The painting itself is striking, the portrayal of the female body in struggle amazing,  but the story behind it even more so – Artemesia was seventeen and an apprentice to another painter who violently raped her. Her father, also a renowned artist, took the rapist artist to court, but it was a strung out procedure and Artemesia did not find justice. She did, however, find the inspiration to paint her new subject – female saints and Biblical figures, usually unfairly attacked or in the middle of attack.  My art history teacher said that Judith is modeled on Artemesia and Holfernes on her rapist. The dark and light, the shadow, the blood, and the odd muscularity of the action would all make this a fascinating piece even without the history. They recently discovered a self-portrait of the artist and she did, indeed, resemble this Judith very much. I just ordered a book about her history because it deserves more study, don’t you think?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Being Snowed In, Art Date at the SAM, and a Little Poetry Catchup

The tomb of the monastery’s founder, Luke (not the evangelist), was originally in the crypt, but his bones now lie in the tiny glass-topped coffin shown above, in a passage between the two churches on the site. Luke, known as a great healer, levitator, and worker of miracles, died in February 953, and for centuries afterward, pilgrims came to be healed by “incubation,” which meant that they slept in the main church building (katholikon) or in the crypt near his tomb, breathing the scent of the myrrh, being exposed to the oil from the lamp above, and experiencing dreams in which the saint would appear and tell them what they needed to do to be healed. I found this practice particularly fascinating, because earlier in the trip we had also been to the 5th century BC Shrine of Asclepias at Epidaurus, where pilgrims did pretty much the same thing — sleeping in the katholikon, among holy snakes that slithered on the floor, and experiencing dreams whose healing instructions were interpreted by pagan priests.

Beth Adams, A Byzantine angel, and where she came from

Countless poets imagine on a daily or nightly basis (or both!) just what it would be like to make it big in poetry. They’re convinced that they only need one major win or acceptance for their path to be cleared to stardom, for their arrival at some hidden inner sanctum to be declared. […]

[Christopher] James has gone through the process of winning and has come out the other side. He tells his story beautifully, with self-awareness in spades and zero narcissism. Making it big in poetry is a fantasy that blurs our focus on the most important things: the reading and writing process itself, followed by a search for readers. Even if we just find one, we’ve discovered real success.

Matthew Stewart, Making it big in poetry

I like the idea of traditional publishing in that it gives an editorial eye. I appreciate that extra once-over and perhaps a bit more publicity support and wider reach than doing it on your own. Also the camaraderie of fellow press-sibling authors and that feeling of belonging.  Editors work really hard, and obv. as an editor, I appreciate that.  But you could also have a friend edit your book.  You could pay a publicist yourself. (Literary presses in general are strapped–no one is doing this for fame or money.) There were a few models that were collective initially that I really liked the idea of–people chipping in to publish others’ books along with their own. So many ways of getting that work out there.  Which is why it makes me sad when I see writers who have really good books sinking money into contests they lose year after year that seem so much like lotteries.  Or worse, that they will never find their audience and give up.

You might look at instagram poets.  While I don’t necessarily like the work I see there sometimes, I also don’t like what I usually see in the The New Yorker, so there’s that.  Neither one more valid than the other, but I would argue that one is far more successful in its reach than the other.   I would take instagram fame in a heartbeat over a magazine geared toward the Lexus crowd. Someone like Rupi Kaur’s reach is enviable, if not for the work itself, but its audience scope. The academic may scoff and dismiss, but hopefully there is something we can learn there.

I do like books and presses and journals, but only moreso because they get things out there a little farther and engage me more with community.  I love my little zines & objects series, but I have only a handful of regular subscribers. yearly. I sell more online separately throughout the year and give many away and trade them at readings . I post a good amount of work on social media and submit/publish in journals, to generate interest.   But I also like putting pdf versions online to get more eyes on them eventually.  I feel like the most read thing I ever wrote my James Franco e-chap @ Sundress.   That and probably my poets zodiac poems–all of them published on instagram.  Poetry publishing feels like an experiment to find that sweet spot sometimes..and I’m not at all convinced it’s landing in the “right” journal or with the right press, but more catching an audiences eye at the perfect moment in the absolute perfect way.

Kristy Bowen, poetry and careerism revisited

this morning the wind is crawling up again so far it’s at an easy going 20 mph I’m still in bed with two cats rereading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential because I wanted to have his voice in my head I have not forgotten what a great writer he was before his television shows and that’s how I knew him first

“I’ve asked a lot what the best thing about cooking for a living is. And it’s this: to be a part of a subculture. To be part of a historical continuum, a secret society with its own language and customs. To enjoy the instant gratification of making something good with one’s hands—using all one’s senses.”

This is very much how I feel about being a musician that I am in a secret society a strange little aquarium of skilled obsessives closed to the outside world that the sound of rehearsals the guts of the music library their stacks ceiling high and valuable the after hour parties the competition and the ache that hours of practice brings the sharp emotional pain of having a student you’ve taught for eleven years go away to school the smell of rosin in a cold church on a Saturday morning are things that the world at large cannot gain admittance to not even the internet with its weird prying snake eyes can take it away I don’t feel that way about being a poet I never have perhaps because you can fake being a poet but you cannot fake playing a Mozart violin concerto but to be honest it’s probably because I’ve never felt like I belonged to poetryworld where having an MFA attached to your name or at least a college education is what allows you access to the top tier journals and conferences no matter the quality of your work no matter that I have published five books no matter that one of those books was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize I will never feel part of  but plop me down in any size group of musicians then I feel it always and immediately ahhhhh yes this is it this is home and I am so grateful for that strange eccentric family

Rebecca Loudon, Saturnday

Nevada sunrise
a hot-air balloon floats
above the brothel

Dylan Tweney [untitled]

As I drove, I was intrigued to watch my thoughts.  You would think I’d be having contemplative thoughts as I drove to the first of my onground intensives for my certificate program in spiritual direction.  Perhaps you imagine hour after hour of prayer.

Alas, no.  For much of the trip, I found my thoughts circling back to work.  I thought about creating some sort of poem that linked runaway slaves to how hard it is to get away from modern work, but I’m not sure I can pull that off.  I always have the history of the nation on my mind as I drive through the U.S. South, especially during foggy mornings like yesterday.

I listened to the radio for much of the trip.  When John Cougar Mellancamp’s “Jack and Diane” came on, I thought of Sandy Longhorn’s recent pair of poems that imagines both Diane and Beth (of the KISS song) grown up.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Journeys

Late at night I’d sometimes catch
the Jackson frequency, hear
“Born to Run”, feel a bright
cold jetstream run through my veins,
leather under my hands.
It was always about the leaving,
movement, knowing there was something
else out there –
something besides pine trees
and kudzu, besides cruising
Main Street and parking at The Lake.

I never thought of evolution as
a by-product of time passing – or
that the 70’s would become
the 80’s, 90’s, then 2000’s,
that my teenage yearnings
would turn into been there,
done that.
I never thought one day I’d
be homesick for those damn pine trees
and my recycled hometown.

Charlotte Hamrick, Seventies

I remember a coveted ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins in the shape of a train. And a fun fifth grade birthday party with a homemade yellow sheet cake from mom that my friends and I got to decorate ourselves, thanks to food coloring and different frostings.

I like how a celebratory cake shows up in poet Natalia Diaz’ poem No More Cake Here. The narrative turn she takes at the end is especially compelling. She is remembering a cake from a celebration (we can call it that) that possibly never happened.

Diaz holds the memory of her brother in two hands, with both a firm and a loose grasp. There lies love and anger side-by-side, at once asleep and blowing up balloons. Our families will celebrate and mourn, many times together. We hold each other loosely when we have to.

Lorena Parker Matejowsky, lovely lemon birthday cake

I have a hard time sitting in front of a puzzle without trying to solve it. Don’t we all mindlessly reach down to fit the shapes together? At the doctor’s office, I’ve seen 60 year-old men slide the wooden pieces of a children’s puzzle into place.

If I can solve the puzzle, I can pin down a truth. I can have expectations. I can expect other people to behave accordingly. Puzzle-solving as an act of prayer.

There’s nothing new here. I know that.

In school we line up after recess. We sit in assigned seats. We face each other in a pleasing circle, and sometimes we hold hands. We make adjustments. Palms facing forward or backward out of habit, are silently negotiated. We are laser-cut pieces that can flip and turn: even in our rigidness we can fit so neatly into one another’s hands.

But sometimes there is a painful beauty in risking it all, trusting ourselves to improvise: upright and unbalanced, throwing our arms around one another in praise of Chaos.

Ren Powell, Performative Existentialism

The owl
knows
the night.

Wisdom
is a
soft-

feathered
flight
through

darkness
to that
quietest

of moments,
a mouse.

Tom Montag, The Owl

Unrelenting. That’s a good word to describe Karen Neuberg’s chapbook the elephants are asking, a collection that sounds a clear alarm about the environmental catastrophe that some refer to as “looming,” but that is clearly happening all around us.

The title poem lays the responsibility for addressing the issue squarely at the feet of the reader. It states,

the elephants are asking—
and the bees and the bats, the prairie dogs, the lemurs, the dolphins—one in six species—asking!
And the coral reefs, the rivers & oceans, the islands & shorelines—asking!


The poem goes through a longer list before nothing that the baby, with wiggling toes and plump arms, is asking. “Even God is asking,” Neuberg writes. With urgent work to be done, these animals and babies are asking us what we plan to do about the situation, and maybe why it exists.

The poem I liked most in the collection is called “Information,” and it starts with an epigraph by Gertrude Stein: “Everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” It’s a powerful indictment, I can say after noting that I have been on phone or internet this entire day as I write this. It’s no wonder the environment has gone to hell; its caretakers are asleep at the wheel.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: “the elephants are asking” by Karen Neuberg

When I think of a chapbook, I think of a slim volume. But the poems in Katrina Roberts’s collection Lace are large—generous and wide-ranging. When I think of lace, I think mostly of the spaces, the air inside the shapes. But here, Roberts gives stitching a weight of strength and consequence, threads tightly woven, a density of images like swathes of lace, heavy bolts of it. These poems evoke the threads that hold us together, tether us to each other, tie us to the land. They speak to how life comes together and unravels, the knots that we embroider, the knots we pick apart like scabs.

In the poem “Threads,” she describes the yearning to both be free of wounds and to sustain them: “Index finger nattering a scab’s edge, lifting it to leave the hole gluey like meat,” and later in the same stanza, “As soon as it’s crusted, / it needs to be picked. Scars with scars under ooze.”

In “Ode to Absence,” Roberts evokes another kind of lace in “crackers, nets of meal, oats, and corn / moths have knit to lace, inedible.” There’s a tension between the decay, the waste, and the creation of those webs. Like the ephemeral shrouds of cobwebs, their constant haunting.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Lace

I’ve also received the new Hedgehog Poetry Press Cult bundle, a big pile of pamphlets that come with my subscription. I was especially looking forward to Raine Geoghegan’s new collection they lit fires: lenti hatch o yog, monologues, songs and haibun about her family’s Romany life. I had read her previous collection Apple Water: Povel Panni and was really taken by the mixture of poetry, culture and language woven into her writingIt was actually some of Raine’s poems on Chris Murray’s Poethead website that led me to Hedgehog. I was so taken by her writing and thought the house that published her would be worth looking into and it definitely was.

The new collection doesn’t disappoint. I love the colours, the sound of the Romany words her writing evokes. Each piece makes me feel as if I was by those fires listening to those stories, travelling down the roads with a warm, tight-knit family. Raine Geoghegan’s writing offers a different and welcome insight to the Romany culture than most popular media offers these days. 

Gerry Stewart, Too Tired to Think of a Title

You say tomato and I say there are far too many wine-stained pages in the book of this questionable existence. Still, one shouldn’t consider that tome a tomb. The book of life is still legible and well worth reading. 

Rich Ferguson, You Say Potato and I Say

i went for a swim
in a storm with no name
the waves were huge
there was no one to blame
no one in the sea but me
no one there but me and the sea

Jim Young, Storm swim

But what all this has brought out is this – when the news of the demise of someone culturally significant drops, why is there suddenly this frantic race to be the first to offer some sort of encomium? Alasdair Gray’s death generated a supra-tsunami of tweets and obituaries and tributes. You go on YouTube and like a rash, every video featuring the deceased is peppered with ‘RIP’ bromides. I remember as a child my father getting almost giddily excited when someone majorly famous died and being the first to announce it to us. I’m as guilty as anyone else – I mean, I wrote memorial blogs of a sort after the deaths of Marcus and Tom Leonard. But in most instances I managed to say to the face of the person / poet what their work meant to me (as if it ever mattered what I thought) while they still walked the earth.

Richie McCaffery, The RIP Race

They said that the wind would come today, son. It didn’t, but that’s alright. I have my grief and your ghost to keep me company. Who needs the wind?

James Lee Jobe, They said that the wind would come today, son.

Almost eleven months now I’ve been
writing to you, each line a monument

to memory. These poems,
the pebbles I leave on your stone.

Rachel Barenblat, Pebbles

Each street grows its people.
They ripen and wait to be picked up.

I fear that future in which I live
less than I die. Beyond the window

pregnant buildings
hide what they carry in their wombs.

Romana Iorga, On the Bus

Speaking of the weather, bitter winter has arrived! So has the first poem of the new year, which has a little snow in it. And a boombox. And Cole Porter. And that reminds me that I want to hear Harry Connick, Jr. sing the songs of Cole Porter on his new album, True Love. And to read Sontag, by Benjamin Moser, a new biography that awaits me at the library. So much to read, such a nice soft corner of the couch to read it in!

Kathleen Kirk, Right After the Weather

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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: fires and war, prayers and hope and other coping mechanisms. Books, bookstores, reading, writing. Burrowing in.


As fires continue to burn vast swathes of Australia and the Federal Government continues to insist that it’s nothing much out of the ordinary, I was reminded of my poem Firefront which was originally published in The Inflectionist Review and then selected for The Best Australian Science Writing 2014. Of course, nothing can compare with the lived experience of those dealing with the fires.

[…]

A final reminder To make a list. The items we must not forget. Ingredients we do not 
grow here: cinnamon, clove, cardamon, Indian tea, black currant, berries, blueberries.
 
Materials we must find time to mine: cobalt, nickel, molybdenum, opal, fully
oxidised zinc, diamond, tourmaline, malachite, crystalline quartz, pure and simple.
 
The direction of the wind. A return address. The passwords we require. The encryption 
keys that preserve our integrity, hold our neighbours to account, plot a pathway out.
 
To repeat: the direction of the wind. Disentangle arms from safety blankets, scarlet
across our backs. What else? Count the numbers that name exploding supernovae.

Ian Gibbins, Firefront

Amid the urban rubble, children play to the dark sounds of gunfire. I am watching them play while I draw the end of my life on scraps of paper that I picked up from the street. The color of my end, my last second, is yellow. Or red. I am not exactly sure now; I forget things all the time. The masters dole out the food, or don’t, as they will. The wealthy disguise themselves as human beings, with help from the police. Every so often I can heard a soft thud; that’s another body dropping. This seems to please both the wealthy and the crows. Welcome to America. If you’re the right color, speak the right language, and have some money, then maybe you can stay.

James Lee Jobe, Amid the urban rubble, children play to the dark sounds of gunfire.

I don’t think it was a conscious decision. Consciously, I was thinking: I brought dried limes home from a recent trip to one of the markets in Albany. What can I do with them? Oh, I know. Samin Nosrat talks about dried limes in Persian food; I’ll make something Persian! A few days of comparing recipes led me to this slow cooker Ghormeh Sabzi / Persian herb stew recipe.

But once I was cooking — inhaling the scent of onions and garlic and turmeric, and then leeks and bunches of parsley and cilantro and last summer’s frozen chives chopped and sautéed — it occurred to me that I was making Iranian food. And I wonder whether the pull toward this recipe came from somewhere deeper than just “what can I make with dried limes.”

There’s so little I can do about the actions of my nation’s government. I know that refreshing the New York Times and the Washington Post and my Twitter stream as often as I habitually do is probably not good for my mental or emotional or spiritual wellbeing, and yet… And yet I do those things anyway, on days that are not Shabbat, and therefore my heart keeps being broken.

Rachel Barenblat, Cooking Iranian food with a prayer in my heart

Last year, I substituted a mantra for a resolution: “breathe.” It helped a little. This New Year’s Eve I wrote up more resolutions, got upset about them, and then decided: to hell with self-improvement. I need fewer bullet points on my endlessly guilty, mildly self-loathing to-do lists. And better ones. In fact, let’s not even call them bullet points. They look like open pupils, too. Pencil points. Poppy seeds.

In considering what words I and others DO need to hear, I’ve been crafting a call for Shenandoah‘s next poetry submission period that will read something like this: “During our March 2020 reading period, please send us prayers, spells, charms, curses, blessings, invocations—poems that try to make change happen. All forms, styles, and procedures are welcome. A selection will appear in a special Shenandoah portfolio in the Spring 2021 issue.”

I know I’m not good about practicing self-care, but I want to keep asking for help this year, sending something like prayers or petitions outward and earthward. (I don’t believe there’s a god up in the sky, although it’s fine with me if you do; I do believe in a living earth that I can listen to and do better by.) I plan to mutter, be kind, pay attention, especially to myself. (And I will remind us to vote for kindness, too, whenever a crooked system gives you the chance. Fires blasting Australia, the U.S. president stirring up war to deflect attention from impeachment–I’m not sure we or the more-than-human-world can take much more of this.)

Lesley Wheeler, Not resolutions but invocations

Right now
I’m playing the Japanese punk band Chai at a volume
that can only be called inconsiderate. I know. But
there are times when four young women screaming
in unison in Japanese is the only thing that will
shove the darkness back a few steps so I can get
a full breath in.

Jason Crane, POEM: Japanese Punk On The Corporate Wheel

On New Year’s Day, the two of us put on our wellies and headed out for a stomp around the nearby woods and lanes, glad of each other’s company, grateful for all we have, hopeful for what the next decade might bring, even given the frightening state of affairs on the political scene.

In terms of goal-setting, I’m keener on vague notions of what I’m aiming for rather than laying out a strict time-table.  I like the idea of a New Year being a Fresh Start but I’m also aware that every morning is a fresh start and it’s always possible, and never too late, to try to change something you don’t like, or to try to achieve something you would like.

So we brought some mud back into the house after our walk and that felt like a good beginning to the year.  We were in each other’s company, in a beautiful part of the world, and we breathed some fresh air into our lungs.

Josephine Corcoran, Belatedly, Happy New Year

I’ve always needed some sense of direction for my life and I think last year was mostly about me getting my feet under me so I could make that decision. So now that I have decided I feel stronger and I can take a bad blow like my test results without totally giving in. One step back isn’t the end. 

I haven’t had much time for writing, but I’ve started a couple of poems that I want to work on. One is about wild skating, skating on lakes that are just frozen, from a video I saw. Yesterday I had a chance to visit such a lake, so I want to adapt the notes I’ve made to that experience. I wasn’t skating, but the sounds the ice made are amazing, so I want to try and capture that. I’m scribbling here and there still. 

Gerry Stewart, A New Direction for 2020

I am reading Falter, by Bill McKibben, at exactly the right time: right after Hope in the Dark and Men Explain Things to Me, both by Rebecca Solnit, who mentions him, as they are active together in trying to save the world…and, I hope, in time to save the world.

McKibben’s subtitle, Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, is an important question, and might mean there isn’t time, but, like Solnit, he approaches the complexity of climate change with great hope and as a realist, not an optimist or a pessimist. So I hope to learn a lot.

I am reading it on a Slattern Day (in the blog), after doing a lot of housework these past few days, post-holiday. My daughter and her boyfriend left last weekend, and my son left on Tuesday, and I took down the Christmas tree the very next day. A bit of a sentimental slattern, I should confess that this was the same Christmas tree that was up and decorated since the previous Christmas. It was my hope in the dark all last year. No doubt I will do a bit more housework yet today, rousing myself from rest and reading, because it’s still there to do. It has occurred to me that I should wear kneepads for cleaning the toilets. TMI?

Kathleen Kirk, Falter-ing

I usually have at least three books I’m reading at the same time. One is often either poetry or poetry craft or criticism, one is often science or some other kind of nonfiction, and one is what I keep by my bedside or read in the late afternoon when I’m tired of doing whatever I’ve been doing. In search of something for the latter category, I chose Pam Houston’s Deep Creek, just because I liked the cover — the viewpoint is looking up the back of a dog toward a meadow and mountain. Finding Hope in the High Country is its subtitle, and who doesn’t want a little hope nowadays? I expected, I don’t know, a nice meditation on what Gretel Ehrlich termed “the solace of open spaces.”

Well. I had never read anything by Pam Houston before, but certainly I had heard of her, but knew nothing about her. The book begins pastorally (or pasture-ly) enough but takes an abrupt turn into a horrifying chapter about her early life. Actually there is much harrowing in this book, as she has lived a life of much risk, some but certainly not all of her own making. She was verbally, psychologically, and physically abused by both parents. She lived a rough and rugged outdoor life — I’m still nightmaring from her tossed-off-in-one-sentence tale of backcountry skiing alone and breaking her leg.

But between these difficult chapters, including a nail-biter about fires ringing her Colorado ranch, is indeed a reach toward hope and the possibility of transcendence. She details the astonishing people she encountered throughout her life who saved her, both literally and figuratively — including a random other solo backcountry skier that day who, incredibly, happened by and was able to carry her out. And the amazing things that have happened to her along the way in her amazing life — including, and I’m so envious of this I could spit!, seeing narwhals in the Northwest Passage.

Marilyn McCabe, Cross over into campground; or, on Houston’s Deep Creek

These flat days of winter are never about a loss of hope. It’s a loss of desire.
These days where the edges lose shape, surfaces reflect dull surfaces and the pieces of the world are packed away bit by bit, wrapped in featureless swaddling and stacked in damp cardboard.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a kind of comfort in this.

The word hibernation takes effort. It’s a cold word whose syllables tick boxes on a paper pinned to clipboard, held awkwardly between the bend of an elbow and the clutching of fingers. It’s a word that tries to pull things together from the outside. It’s a word that stays on its toes, observing.

Ren Powell, Onomatopoeia 1

this is the same color crave I go through every winter but the difference between now and then is that I no longer feel trapped and dead ended I know I can walk for a few minutes and the entire graybluegreen world is at my feet […]

what my original thought was here is that maybe the previous owners of my house who gleefully painted the inside guts with so much unbogly oranges and reds knew what they were doing and no not even three years later have I begun the Herculean task of repainting I still feel barely moved in even though everything has a place and I’ve pared down to essentials and my closets are tidy my garden is in place my sour dough starter has taken on island flavors and I have finally grown into the pulses and beats of a weather driven and water surrounded life

Rebecca Loudon, Dog in possession of the last false smile

Sometimes my pulse just stops,
paused
like a dancer in mid-leap,
balanced
as if gravity
has lost
its grip. I open
my eyes
to see what happens next.

PF Anderson, My Pulse

For my money, Ramona Herdman is one of the best poets on the U.K. scene at reading her own work. I was lucky enough to see her read from her most recent pamphlet, A Warm and Snouting Thing(Emma Press, 2019) in London recently, and I was most struck by how she paced each line, each word to perfection, accelerating and then slowing down, as in the ending to No Better Than She Should Be Red…

…the garden tapestried
with shock-sweet little nippled sherbet candies
slug-beloved

vigorous  sprawling  decadent  shameless.


When seeing these lines on the page, I can physically feel Herdman lingering over those last four words, relishing the physical shape of their consonants and vowels, turning her poetry tactile.

Matthew Stewart, Turning tactile, Ramona Herdman’s A warm and snouting thing

Each line changes the way I perceive the previous line. The hidden caesuras and stops disappear and reappear, and yet [Chad] Sweeney is artfully teaching me how to read the book, and these shifts become natural.

In this mythic journey, Language is both honored and questioned, as in “Here / Language opens at the wound.” Words become malleable, as in “I begged this / Air to / Hundred me,” and transform: “killeachother,” “crowlight,” and “I was quickling.”

I’m including examples, but it seems unfair to pull out a few lines here and there, because everything is connected, both the lines to each other and the images across the poems.

Reading this book, I felt two journeys—the speaker’s and the survivor’s, the long trek to reckon with the grief of losing someone you love—that grief its own between space that you must carry through any number of doors, into any number of landscapes, still finding your way. In the pages of Little Million Doors, the strangeness becomes a kind of comfort.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Little Million Doors

Clayton Adam Clark writes beautifully about place, and I know this because I’ve been to many of the places this Missouri poet writes about in A Finitude of Skin, the winner of the 2018 Moon City Press Poetry Award.

I helped to choose Clark’s collection for the MCP prize, and I did so on the basis of his careful use of language — no extraneous words or syllables here — and his lush imagery. But I think I was most impressed by his keen understanding of the environment, which he describes in precise and scientific terms.

The tone of the book is set in the first three lines of “The River of Ugly Fishes,” the first poem in the book:

Blame it on the limestone—the sinkholes,
the speleological interest, an overwhelming
karstness here. People get lost.


I’ve lived in Missouri for eight years, and this seems true to me. The state has a way of taking us in, and it can also feel a little hard to get away from.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: Some thoughts, and an appreciation of “A Finitude of Skin” by Clayton Adam Clark

One of the pieces eventually accepted fell out my copy of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography when I preparing to return to Barcelona. It was nearly done, but I toyed with it and added a couple elements.It started as a drawing, became an embroidery then morphed into a collage. That piece—The Power—will be in Ghost Proposal sometime this year.

When I got back from an overnight trip to Girona with my son today I found the visual poetry recently accepted by The Rumpus was already online. They published seven pieces using pages from Eudora Welty, Stephen King and Ali Smith. 

Girona was also a wonderful experience. Beautiful old city with a medieval wall and towers, stairwells and alleys, churches and squares. Of course that’s the old city, where believe it or not there was nary a tourist (but for me & my son). Outside the old city, it’s just a exhaust-filled, drab European city.

But there was an amazing old book shop full of ephemera that I would like to get back to. I spent 15 euros there on a parcel of old letters, photos and a postcard. 

Sarah J Sloat, It pours

all the poets
in the secondhand book store
shelved A to Z

Jim Young [no title]

I was a poet first before I considered prose. Poetry is how I entered the world of creative writing and literature. And though these days I spend most of my time writing prose, my early years inform all of my writing. I lived for Boise’s late nineties’ poetry scene. Behind the scenes of the permanent open mic stalking I did, I was writing poetry in isolation, badly parroting the jazz of beatnik poets like Jack Kerouac, sharpening my words on punk rock poets like Henry Rollins, trying to slow down in order to understand vagabond prophets like Whitman, and being emotionally duped by Bill Shields, the liar. And always, always hearing the cadence, the rhythm, and rhymes of the hip-hop I grew up on. I learned how to write in a spiral notebook and read on stage. But I didn’t do it to be seen, as much as to see. My eyes were still opening. My tongue was still tied. I was learning how to carve out meaning in the world, how to speak, and how to be.

10 Crumbs for Budding Poets – guest blog by Josef Miyasato (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

January, usually a dismal month here (we have a week of snow coming up in the forecast, odd for us) was also the Seattle’s MLA Conference, and so I got the chance to visit with long-time friend (but seldom seen, as she lives in Virginia) Lesley Wheeler. We hung out and caught up at the Bookstore Bar at the Alexis (after being turned away from the Sorrento’s Fireplace Room because of “silent reading night.” That’s fine! We’ve got multiple great meeting places for writers in this time. But I will hold a grudge!) Then tonight we got together with another local speculative poet, Jessica Rae Bergamino, to do a Feminist Speculative Poetry night at the lovely local bookstore Open Books. (I came home with three books on top of Jessica’s terrific Unmanned – and I’m really looking forward to Lesley’s new book due out in two months.) I was worried people would stay away because of the unwelcoming weather, but we had a great crowd, not only a good sized crowd but a warm and appreciative crowd, and listening to Lesley and Jessica read was a real pleasure. There were poems about space, robots, foxes, Nancy Drew, apoclaypses, Princess Leia, David Bowie…let’s just say this was not your grandmother’s poetry night.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sharing a Little Good News, The First Reading of 2020, and Learning to Balance with MS

I’ve been writing an interesting series about Noah, about the ark, about Noah’s wife and Noah’s daughter and Noah’s offspring.  Sometimes the poems take place in the Biblical setting in which many of us first encountered Noah.  Some bring them up to modern times.

The poem I wrote this morning has Noah’s wife getting a job in the student advising department of the local community college and taking yoga classes to recover from her work day.  I LOVE the poem I wrote, even though it’s unfinished.

It’s been a good writing week.  I’ve returned to my apocalyptic novel and written enough to get excited about it again.  Yesterday I wrote a poem about taking a walk on the morning of Epiphany, before dawn, looking for holiday lights and looking for the wisdom of the stars.  That poem, too, made me happy.

Very few things make me as happy as a good writing session.  Even a bad writing session is better than no writing session.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writing Report for the Week so Far

I rather like the idea of the Muse, as myth and metaphor; sorry to report, though, that I cannot recall a time when I felt I actually had a Muse. For writer’s block, I might have turned to Lord Ganesha, Remover of All Obstacles–but as I age into confidence as a writer, I find more patience with myself when the words don’t flow as rapidly.

I seldom think of myself as “blocked” anymore. During the times I compose less poetry, I can revise and rework older poems. I can gather completed poems together and puzzle over making the next manuscript. Or I might be busy writing various genres of prose, such as this blog or work-related articles and proposals.

Writing, for me, requires constant practice. It has little foundation in inspired revelation or appearances of the Muse. I do like prompts and challenges, though, for motivation and to pique my curiosity. My latest challenge-to-self is to write a screenplay. It’s a new form for me and I have to learn how to write dialogue and setting and to think in scenes. The only past experience at all similar has been my work on opera libretti, fascinating and, for this particular writer, extremely hard to do at all–let alone to do well.

Ann E. Michael, Practice & Muse

I have always been the sort of writer who is in love with research .  There is something incredibly exhilarating in starting a project and seeking out every single detail and nuance. In immersing yourself in the process.   Perhaps it’s the librarian in me, but it started long before I started working in libraries. Through college and grad school, I would put off my paper writing exploits to the very last minute, but the research had always been started much earlier–usually manifested in a mess of notebook scribbles and ragged print-outs carried around in my backpack.  It speaks to certain obsessive tendencies that serve me both well and sometimes not so much, but when channeled toward creative things, it can actually be highly enjoyable. 

 Though the intervening years have made such research more accessible and my notetakings more digital than not., I still resort to paper, usually loose sheets grabbed and then folded into my project sketchbook, where they usually stay until I make something of them, or clean out the notebook and stash them elsewhere. It’s actually resulted in a weirdly specific knowledge about certain things–the Slender Man stabbling (necessary violence).  HH. Holmes’ murder castle ([licorice, laudanum]). urban legends (archer avenue) and taxidermy (unusual creatures.)  There are others that I delve into every once in a while–Hollywood ghost stories, roadside motels.

Kristy Bowen, on research and renaissance dog-girls

I’ve got a functional car but would rather travel at the speed of my dreams.

I have the apocalypse in my back pocket but want heaven on speed dial.

I’ve moshed to Gwar but much prefer dancing with my three-year-old daughter.

I’ve got GPS on my phone but desire the internal compass of a bird.

Rich Ferguson, The Grass is Always Greener

And when you think
the silence

has gone out
of you, cut

yourself open
and listen.

Tom Montag, LAST INSTRUCTIONS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

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

Speaking of the Poetry Blogging Network, just as in previous years (including 2018’s Poetry Blog Revival Tour), the new year brings with it a renewed opportunity to join the blog roll, hosted this year again by Kelli Russell Agodon. Kelli is currently off traveling, but told me that she’d be happy to add new people after she gets home on January 15. Leave a comment below her post with your blog URL.

This digest is my own labor of love and has no official connection with the network, which itself is obviously an informal grouping with no guiding committee or anything like that; it’s up to Kelli whether your blog qualifies or not. (And I don’t think frequency of posting is a condition for being listed, so even if you’re a once-in-a-blue-moon blogger, don’t be shy.) I do want to stress that I am not competitive about this, and would be frankly delighted if someone else decided to follow my lead and start their own weekly or monthly digest! I worry about my own biases, especially my preference for personal over informational blogging, exerting an influence over how people decide to blog. Regardless, please remember that the web is a community built and strengthened by links, so if you read a post by someone else in the Poetry Blogging Network that really resonates with you, consider linking to it from your own blog and not simply sharing the link on social media (though that’s important, too).


The freeze comes. We are buried in ice. An inescapable hardening takes
each one before we are ready: the fire of want our only remedy.

Dream: I worried about you on the roads, generously. Dream: you received it
with want, and gave it back. You knew what it meant. Why it mattered.

JJS, Travel Advisory

Something kind of magical is underway in my dining room. My husband, Michael Czyzniejewski, is putting the finishing touches on the first installment in the 2020 incarnation of Story366, the leap year blog where he reviews a different book of short stories every single day.

It was a big commitment when I witnessed it in 2016. Sometimes our family travel was interrupted by the need to stop at McDonald’s, with its reliable, password-free WiFi, and sit around eating ice cream while he finished a day’s installment. It was a whole-family commitment, and we are all proud of the fact that he never missed a day.

This year I thought I might try joining him with “Poem366”—not a blog of its own, but a feature within my existing blog. I don’t know if I’ll make it every day, and honestly, I don’t have quite as many recent poetry collections to choose from (feel free to send me an ARC for a recent poetry title—within 18 months—if you’d like to be considered, to karen.craigo@gmail.com). But as a sign of solidarity for Mike’s truly wonderful project, I’m going to give it a whirl.

One thing: I’m not aiming to do reviews. My plan is to offer appreciations—acknowledgements of what poets are doing well. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t own up to my sideways goal of finding some inspiration for my own work in the concerns and formal choices and imagery offered by other writers, so I’m looking for aspects of their work to love, rather than focusing on problems.

With all of that being said, here I go, but from the family room. You can hear a lot of tap-tap-tapping in my house right now, and since the younger kid is now able to amuse himself for an hour with a videogame, there’s a good bit of pew-pew-pewing as well.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: Bulletproof by Matthew Murrey

Happy New Year’s Day 2020! I decided to make a list of things I’d like to accomplish in my writing life this year. I’ll revisit the list in December and see how I did.

Erica’s 2020 New Year’s Resolutions:
[…]

4. Improve my vocabulary. I recently reviewed Michael Kriesel’s wonderful book of abecedarian poems, Zen Amen. This book introduced me to many strange and intriguing words, i.e., “Xenogenesis,” “apperception,” “tetragrammaton,” and “zygomancy.” I’m not sure any of these will work themselves into a poem of mine, but just reading them stimulated my brain. I’m glad I encountered them.
5. Explore poetic forms. I’ve written a few ghazals, one or two sestinas, many pantoums, a villanelle or two, even an abecedarian. I’m always gratified with how the limitation of forms increases creativity. Forms I’d like to try: the golden shovel, gnomic verse, and contrapuntal poems.
6. Explore essay forms. I greatly enjoyed Vivian Wagner’s article about the “hermit crab essay,” which, to quote from the article, “takes the form of something un-essay-like—such as a recipe, how-to manual, or marriage license—and use this form to tell a story or explore a topic.” […]

Erica Goss, New Year’s Resolutions

I am about to say farewell – for six months at least, and probably twelve if I have the courage – to my Facebook account. It’s been a blast, and I’ve enjoyed the playtime with y’all and at its best, it’s provided the much-enjoyed warmth and wit of human contact, but I’ve noticed that the habit of reading I’ve developed in the past couple of years is, well, excessively casual. I want to get back to it: to get further in to sustained reading.

Something about Facebook appeases my preference for the quick fix rather than the long haul. It’s like (how can I put it?) going for a milkshake rather than taking time out to cook the perfect risotto.

I want to get back into some sustained writing too, and I received the perfect gifts for this purpose at Christmas:

A. A long, warm cardigan
B. A book writing kit: [image]

Liz Lefroy, I Deactivate My Facebook Account

It’s 2020, and time for a New Year’s post, a post from Vienna where the sun has been shining and the air has been crisp and cold. As I wait here in the Vienna airport, I’m reflecting on the year ahead, specifically on my writing, which has faltered for the past few years while I’ve been living and working in Shanghai, China. I could say that the demands of the job at my highly selective private school keep me from writing, and there may be some small truth in that, but the reality is that to write so is an excuse.

And making excuses about not writing reminds of Elizabeth Cooper, a wonderful former Johns Hopkins instructor of mine who gave all of her students a parting gift — mine was a book — Sonnets edited by William Baer — and she inscribed it with “Just do it!” making it clear to me that she was sick of my excuses about how busy I was teaching, rearing children, etc. I think of that gift now while waiting here, having just learned that several days ago, our family drove right by the summer home of Auden without even knowing it.

Time. Not enough of it. Never enough of it.

Scot Slaby, A New Year’s 2020 Post from Vienna

The really beautiful things in life might be discovered only when we allow our focus to drift  – from what we thought we were here for.

Improvisation is saying yes. And then looking for the openings, escapes, alternatives out of the corners of our eyes. There is so much to be said for deviating from one’s own “yes” with a “this, too”. Doing it with ease – without an awkward pinch of panic –  takes practice.

In 2020 I wish to be immersed in my own life. And have the wisdom to recognize its potential as more than a curriculum vitae: My life’s work is not my life’s art. And, well, if work is for others, it would follow it would be for others to define from their own perspectives.

I ran an art gallery for a while and found that the work I liked immediately, was the work I quickly grew bored with. It was the work that sparked ambivalence in me that would fascinate me. Unresolved experiences provide a unique kind of satisfaction. It requires participation and a kind of dialogue with the bigger world.

So today, the beginning of an arbitrarily-defined new year, a new decade, I am fine.

Ren Powell, The Overview of Burning Hearts 2020

2019 was a good year for books but a weird year for reading. For pleasure, work, and mood-medicine, I read constantly, but it’s been different lately: my poetry rate is typical, but fiction and I have had some problems. I couldn’t finish things, or I read multiple books in alternating fragments, concentration flickering. I received less solace from them.

What worked best for me were predictable genres: mysteries, fantasy, historical fiction. I’ve heard others say that they’re overworking and sad about politics, so the more escapist a book turned out to be, the better. That’s true for me, too, but personal stresses have diluted my attention even further. On the happy side, reading Shenandoah subs takes time and energy I used to devote to reviewing. I’m also launching my fifth poetry collection and my debut novel next year, and an essay collection in 2021. Good LORD did I reread and revise those mss, over and over, and when you’re reading your own pages you have less time for others’.

I still read and admired lots of poetry collections–many of those listed in “best of 2019” articles, and also small-press volumes by Erin Hoover, January O’Neil, Kyle Dargan, Martha Silano, Amy Lemmon, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Ned Balbo, Jeanne Larsen, Niall Campbell, Hai-Dang Phan, Paisley Rekdal, and Oliver de la Paz. I reviewed Franny Choi’s Soft Sciencefor Strange Horizons.

Lesley Wheeler, Reading by the glow of a year on fire

As ever, I wish I had more to say for myself. I didn’t publish much in 2019, and submitting is time consuming so rather neglected. I read fewer books and few deeply impressed me. It could be the quality of my attention. More about that in a day or two (since I still have about 28 hours to add a book to my tally). Mostly I was working, or traveling or cleaning birdshit off my balcony.

Creatively, the biggest accomplishment of the year was finishing my book, Hotel Almighty, which is due next summer. I had a July deadline to have all the pieces finished so I had some intense months making or redoing poems. Nothing left but to be nervous about publication. […]

Now that I don’t have an overarching project in front of me, I want to be free to experiment with poetry, collage and embroidery and not feel like it all has to end up as some kind of Meisterwerk. My resolution is to get on with it and not be precious about things. Sometimes I won’t use an image in a collage because I’m ‘saving’ it for something stupendous! But when the stupendous thing is going to happen. . .

Sarah J Sloat, Where I was

The trick is
to let slip
the ladder

that brought you
climbing to this
point. Unknot it,

let it fall away.
Then reach up
through the half-

dark and flick
the latch and let
the shutter fall.

Dick Jones, The Trick

So, I did it. I retired at the end of November. I will turn 70 in February and would have waited until then, but I had a higher calling; I traveled to New York to spend a month with my niece who delivered a sweet baby boy on 12/5/19. I returned and worked 4 days last week, so retirement is somewhat of a misnomer. I have let go of my panel of patients but will still be working in the clinic from time to time as a per diem staff. If you’ve ever had a provider (I’m a nurse practitioner) leave you, think about it in reverse. It was hard, people. Hard, but it was time. Also, I got a haircut.

My writing life was active throughout 2019. I continued working as an editor of Headmistress Press; published poetry book reviews at The Rumpus and other venues; started a website for publishing reviews of poetry chapbooks; had a few poems published, and the usual amount of rejections. In January I took a workshop with Aracelis Girmay at the West Palm Beach Poetry Festival; took a workshop with Carl Phillips in July at the Port Townsend Writers Conference; and spent a weekend with friends at Poets on the Coast. I have a manuscript that I am shopping around.

Upon retirement, I immediately thought about publishing an anthology of work by retired women. Poetry and short prose. Will need a snappy name for that, if you have any suggestions. Tentatively, I’ve got: Tired and Retired: An anthology of writings by women over 65. I’m looking for a publisher.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse Checking In

I guess this was a success, since I’m already planning how to get more rejections in 2020. But as always, I was surprised during this year of rejections by the way some of them broke my heart and others rolled right off me. In general, the 100-rejections practice helped take the sting out of them; when collecting them was a goal, it changed my feelings about them a little. (“Rejection? Great! Put it on the list!”) That said, it didn’t mean I enjoyed getting rejecting any more than usual. This system is not a magic antidote; it’s more like desensitization. But, as I always tell young writers when I do presentations for them, this kind of desensitization is your friend. If you’re the kind who wants to rip up every rejection letter and mail it back to the editor in a Sharpie-scrawled envelope, you’re going to get very tired of doing that when they’re coming in at this rate. You log them in and move on and send out more, and that’s what takes up a lot of time in a writer’s daily life.

Which brings up the question: When do you have time to write when you’re beating your brains out sending out all those submissions? I didn’t actually find that to be a problem; I continued my usual practice of doing two month-long writing marathons in April and August, and I sent out fewer submissions during those months because I was concentrating on a lot of writing. Through the rest of the year, I wrote about the same number of poems as usual, as well as some essays. So I guess the answer is that the writing still takes first priority; the submitting time, for me, ended up pushing something else out of the way, like Netflix or yard work. Which reminds me, please steer clear of my yard. While I was sending out submissions, I think skunks moved in there.

Amy Miller, 100 Rejections: Pain or Gain?

I think it’s incumbent on all of us in any sort of leadership position to confront, understand, and manage our own anxiety, or we cannot be effective leaders for positive change, so that is one place to start. We need to form groups, both informal and formal, for discussion and action toward positive change in our institutions and communities — the places where we can make a difference. When we are actually doing something, instead feeling helpless, isolated, and afraid, life begins again, creativity begins again, renewal happens, hope is created, and people are attracted to join us.

And surely, there is a lot that urgently needs to be done and can be done by ordinary people, without the aid or interference of governments.

When I was traveling in Greece, I kept overhearing people at ancient sites saying things like, “Well, my friend likes this, but to me, it’s just a pile of rocks,” while others were avidly exploring and trying to understand what they were seeing. Life is always like that, I think. We can look out at the ancient agora — real or metaphoric — and see ruins built by dead people that are a mere backdrop for yet another selfie, or we can use our imaginations and see beauty, lessons from the past, and potential for the future, which is — I am quite certain — the desired legacy of the thinkers and creative people of previous, equally fraught times, who were human beings very much like ourselves.

What inspires you? What fills you with awe? What do you want to see preserved for the future? Where can you give hope, or lend a hand? Where do you need hope and encouragement yourself? How can we help each other in the coming year?

Beth Adams, Thoughts for the New Year

Russell Hoban changed the way I think about the world. It started when I met him at a NATE Conference some time in the 1970s. Breakfast. He was smoking roll-ups, Old Holborn, and eating All-Bran, was Mr Hoban. He was fulminating about the teachers in his writers workshop who had asked if they could have a coffee break. “What do they think writing’s about…a leisure pursuit?”…I’m paraphrasing. He was wonderful company.  […]

After I met him, I discovered The Mouse and his Child. I’ve read it dozens of times, often when life feels unbearably bleak. It never fails to relight your faith in the human condition and the power of hope combined with love and endurance. It’s a story of a quest for self-winding, undertaken by a clockwork mouse and his child. You’d think it would be twee and sentimental. It isn’t. It’s profound, layered. Magic realism doesn’t do it justice. It sits very comfortably (or uncomfortably) alongside Angela Carter’s The magic toyshop. Saved by a tramp from the dustbin (where they’ve been thrown after being broken by a cat) they’re sort-of-mended and wound up, set down on the road and left to find their destiny. Just buy it and read it. Your life will be better.

You may even find yourself, as we did, collecting wind-up toys and bringing them out every Christmas. You might even find yourself making special boxes for them. And writing poems. So here we are, taking down the Christmas tree and the angels and lights and tinsels, and maybe lighting a candle for Russell Hoban and for the Mouse and his Child. Happy New Year

John Foggin, Last post…..for a bit

yesterday the beginning of 2020 the power flickered on and off (54 mph winds most of the day) and I listened to the racket (and my house being pummeled and thumped by pine cones and tree branches)  (at one point an actual crack! signaling a large limb had broken off somewhere in my woods) and I wrote (a. poem.) and read (Dana Levin’s brutal and gorgeous Sky Burial) and showered (quickly) and ran the washing machine (also quickly) and ate (red beans dirty rice cornbread) and watched a series that came out in 2014 that I had downloaded onto my computer (The Leftovers and holy shit) I did not go outside (flying debris) and the wind continued into nightfall (bringing a thunderstorm to round things out) but I slept through until morning (with weirdo dreams) and today I made it to the beach to consider the destruction (and raw power and beauty) and now I am going out into the actual known world (mockingbird wish me luck)

Rebecca Loudon, The new

People say that Jesus is coming back,
But they don’t know when.
An owl lives in the stand of pines
Across the street from my house;
I hear her, but I never see her.
She blends in nicely.
If Jesus doesn’t tell anyone,
How will they know he is back?

James Lee Jobe, People say that Jesus is coming back

By 2019, I began to figure out that I just needed to pull back and to do so purposefully (i.e. let myself off the hook for all the things I wasn’t doing). And so I did. I managed, for almost a full year, to have nearly zero expectations for my creative life.

But as anyone who goes through these cycles knows, eventually some shiny object grabs your attention and warms you back up to the idea of jumping back in. For me, it was the 100-book poetry reading project I kicked off in late August. I told myself if I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) write, I could at least read. I wrote a little bit about how that began to open me back up here. I can also say it inspired me to return to blogging, which has always been part of my creative process.

Carolee Bennett, poetry goals for 2020

I think I always include that I want to blog more, but this past year, I actually hit this one out of the park.  I had upward of 250 posts–a high not seen since 2007 (and given, in those years, I used the blog much like I do social media now, this year’s crop are definitely more full-bodied content). I’d like to aim for blogging daily.  It’s probably not that tenable given general life things.  But it’s a noble endeavor.  It might be as simple as being a little more intentional in my content-planning and having a ready list of things to write about so that when I have time, it’s just a go.

Kristy Bowen, hello 2020 | writing goals

He [James Schuyler] had me at ‘Empathy’. That is my wish for 2020.

I went on a course about it, once. All I can remember is what they said at the beginning. Empathy costs a lot of time, but will save you so much more.

So that is my wish for myself, for 2020, that I can learn better to show it to others; for the managerial and political class of this country, that they might learn to listen better to the concerns of people’s lives and desist from othering those who are already vulnerable and marginalised; and to the barista where I buy my coffee I want to say thank you -because you are a living model to us all of what empathy is, daily, hidden in plain sight beneath your wonderful smile. I know it costs you. But I have noticed it.

Anthony Wilson, Empathy and New Year

On New Year Day, I always pick my favorite things to do, as a guarantee that I will do them all year long.  I was busy: revising, sending out manuscripts, eating healthy food choices; drinking 6-9 glasses of water per day;  received my first rejection; but, also 4  of my new 100 word stories were accepted; reading; watching a new TV shows, which will fall to the wayside as soon as the semester begins.  But Flirty Dancing was fun to watch.  Although, I did feel badly for the dance partners that didn’t get picked for a second date; and happened upon another show called Almost Family.  It’s complicated, nearly finished the scarf I have been knitting, using all leftover yarns from previous made scarves.  It’s fun and very warm, and I may keep it for myself. I did dishes and put things away, and took a warm shower. Tried to go see Little Women but the theater was sold out. I really want to see this film.  Maybe today, or tomorrow.

M. J. Iuppa, In the year 2020 . . .

new year
the wren as busy as ever
gone in an instant

Jim Young [no title]

There is a phrase I toyed with in French many years ago: “le ciel, c’est assis sur mes sourcils.” The sky is sitting on my brows. That famous gray Paris sky was hovering close to my head during winters when we lived there. I bemoaned the lack of sun which only appeared at the sunset in a slant flash at horizon’s edge.

The phrase sounds fine in English too, with a gentle tweak: “the sky is sitting on my eyelids.” The disillusion, the dark atmosphere of the US last year felt by far more oppressive than it did under the zinc roofs in Paris. The toxicity of news and social media made me want to retreat; the isolation made me wonder how to go out. The trapped feeling, the negative voice seeps into the bones.

Early 2020 extended its hand, asking to put me on its dance card. Mais oui! I danced like a fool, dipping, spinning and getting breathless with fancy footwork. Instead of gravity, more light! So here’s to releasing Dionysian energies. To staying in touch with the body, clearing the mind and welcoming whatever passes, bright, dark and otherwise. Here’s to sanity, my friends, and here’s to equal doses of delirium, to love, to dwelling in the crazy ether of being together.

Jill Pearlman, Dionysian 2020

Don’t be mislead by the cover – Swimming Home isn’t the ‘holiday read’ those yellow umbrellas might seem to imply. It’s a beautifully episodic book, placing a great deal of emphasis on imagery to build up an unsettling drama where so much of what’s going on is glimpsed below the surface. In the afterword, Tom McCarthy says: ‘her fiction seemed less concerned about the stories it narrated than about the interzone (to borrow Burroughs’s term) it set up in which desire and speculation, fantasy and symbols circulated’.

I think it’s fair to say the interzone is where a lot of poetry dwells too, which is perhaps why I was so taken with this novel. And that other interzone, of being abroad, in a half-familiar city, in a different frame of mind to the one I usually have when I’m in the 9-5 routine of work, that surely impacted on my reading of it as well. So, here’s to the interzone, and the hope that I can visit again soon.

Julie Mellor, Books and Bagels

Constructing stories of our days and lives is something we humans seem to do innately. It seems to be how we make sense of life and the passage of time, and how we connect to each other, each of us tumbling around in the tempests of our own teacups.

But we can also be stuck in a story. It’s fashionable nowadays to talk about a “narrative” and “changing the narrative,” and in many ways, it’s a wise realization — that what we believe transcribes what is possible. If our story of our own situation is limiting, it seems entirely possible that we are limiting our situation and story, that if we edited our story, we might shift our understanding, we might open up possibilities.

Marilyn McCabe, Sing it sing it; or, Telling the Daily Story

I tend to start off each year with high hopes for what I’ll be able to achieve — and 2019 was no different. But looking back, the first half of the year was a struggle for me. Having set myself a single goal for the year, I was pushing and punishing myself to finish a novel that wasn’t connecting for me. That frustration overshadowed a lot of my work and my perception of my value as a writer.

When people asked me what I was up to, I often answered that I was hermiting — which sounds like a purposeful withdrawal from word in order to delve into self reflection. However, in reality, I was hiding, too timid to come out of my shell.

But recent months have been more positive. Letting go of the need to finish the novel was the wisest decision I made, providing a huge sense of relief. Subsequently participating in National Novel Writing Month and allowing myself space to dive into a new story and just enjoy the process of writing was a giant boon for me. The work was no less difficult, but the joy of writing was more present.

Andrea Blythe, Reflecting on My Work in 2019

The session was a 90 minute combination of yoga, guided meditation and journaling exercises designed to lead each of us to what would become a personal guiding word for 2020. The logic was that we can easily shed a resolution by screwing up and then feeling we have failed move on leaving it behind.

Out of my session, there were a series of words that flowed out of my journaling and meditation and the more meaningful ones came down to fulfillment, focus, vision, and authentic.  I have not as of this moment centered in on one word. Kristin, our instructor said some people actually use a couple or three words to carry with them throughout the year. I would like to minimize this as much as possible. 

Michael Allyn Wells, 2020 BLUEPRINT

When I started the butterfly garden, I fully expected the plants to be dead by August.  I think of myself as not being good at keeping plants or any living things flourishing.  I need to change that inner narrative.  When I arrived at work yesterday, all the milkweed plants were in full bloom.  Some of the other plants are scraggly, but they may make a comeback.  Yesterday, a monarch butterfly flitted across the plants.

The butterfly garden has given me joy every day.  Setting out bread and treats for students has given me joy most days.  I love creating events and book displays for the library and bulletin boards.  The days when the writing goes well–sheer joy.  Sketching–also joy.  Having bread in the oven and coffee brewing makes me happy–as does a cup of tea at work when the work coast is calm.  Let me keep remembering these delights.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, 2019:  A Look Back

My Twitter feed usually has very little politics, a range of writing news and announcements, nature pictures, and definitely no hellscapes, but this week has been different. I must have a lot of friends in New Zealand and Australia, because pictures of Hell-colored red air and smoke have been prominent on my timeline, along with fights about Iran and war. I’ve been writing about apocalypses for a while (see: Field Guide to the End of the World) but it’s always surprising to see how fast the apocalypses might be approaching on the horizon.

So what do you write when WWIII is trending? It’s not wise to get your news solely from social media, so I’ve been avoiding social media for things like reading and I’ve been checking in with my mom and dad back in Ohio to. I’m tackling my reading stack from the books I got for the holidays. I’ve been writing poems that try to make sense of the chaos.  Which is impossible, of course.

I went back to some older books, books by older authors like Stella Gibbons and Karen Blixen, which helped me remember that in the 1920s, there was irrational exuberance in the stock market, decadence and flappers and a wonderful proliferation in the art and writing world, and they were about to face World War II and the Great Depression. I went back to some of the books that helped me become the writer I am today, fairy tale and mythology writings that talk about how we tell stories, and why they’re important. 

As writers, we can do one thing: we can document the world, our world, the specifics – the moods, the visuals, the attitudes. We can try to capture the moment, whatever that moment entails. That doesn’t mean we contain or control it – but at least we can offer perspective, a point-of-view, an account from the ground, so to speak.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Wishing for a Better 2020: a Death in the Family, What to Write When WWIII is Trending, and Speculative Poetry Reading This Saturday

For Oppen, as he continues in this poem, poetry begins “neither in word / nor meaning but the small / selves haunting // us in the stones…”  It is nothing more than that, but “is less / always than that…”  This “less” seems to deliberately undercut the mystique of the poetic process – it is not the grandiose, hieratic conception of the “Poet” put forth by the Romantics.  Poetry is something enacted within human society.  At the same time, there is certainly a relationship between man and the natural world, which we get in the ensuing words: “help me I am / of that people the grass // blades touch…”  Here there is a sense of the fragility of human life in the face of uncivilized nature, but also of a connection in that touching of the grass blades.  For Oppen, there is a dynamism in this relationship, a vitality important not only for life itself but which can also be a catalyst for poetry.  The conclusion of this piece – “and touch in their small // distances the poem / begins” – again implies this connection however “distant.”

Michael S. Begnal, George Oppen’s “if it all went up in smoke”

In these last few minutes of the first day of 2020, I took Ken’s suggestion to try magnetic poetry. It’s quite interesting what emerged. [image]

Here Together

I am luscious
like pink soaring seas
light as honey
drunk from raw language
frantic in sweet milk

Charlotte Hamrick, Magnetic Poem

May we raise parade floats of truth above the white noise.

Construct monuments to being and belief, reason and relief.

Build phone booths with a direct connection to introspection.

Press all the buttons on the elevator of presence, stop at every floor of enlightenment.

Elevation before degradation, solutions before contusions.

Joyously pulse the blood of song through our beings. And just like that: 1-2-3-4.

Make breath a beat, make breath a beat.

Happy New Year, everyone. 

Rich Ferguson, When Ringing in 2020

Evening. The moon
hovers. The blinds

are drawn. Still
the fallen petals,

their lingering
scent, this moment

to be kept.

Tom Montag, AFTER THE CHINESE MASTERS

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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. This week, bloggers were looking backward, forward, inward and outward. Like most weeks, really. Only with a bit more seemingly at stake.


The closet in my study
holds picture frames, half-empty
boxes of stationery, old books,

pillows and blankets
for the guest bed. And tucked in
amid all of these, a small box

emblazoned Priority Mail,
addressed in your handwriting,
postmarked two years ago.

It slipped behind the quilts
and the crates of journals,
unseen and forgotten.

As I slice open the packing tape
I can scarcely breathe.

Rachel Barenblat, Chanukah gift

It’s so easy now (spoken from the vantage point of a contentious political climate in the U.S. and from the utter devastation we continue to cause on our planet) to imagine that the only writing that could possibly carry weight is writing that challenges systems like government and capitalism. But Oceanic is a good reminder that it’s okay to write about love. (And honestly, what’s a better counter to greed than affection?) As Aimee Nezhukumatathil says in an interview in BookPage, the poems are her way of “following environmentalist Rachel Carson’s belief that the more attention we pay to the natural world around us, the less appetite we have for destruction.”

Also on that note, she tells Tin House, “I want readers to really sit, really think about words and beauty and what brings you joy and wonder and how you can also reflect on past hurts but use that as a strength in facing the future, especially when there are little ones like my son who are looking to me and my husband and others for how to interact in this wild and disappointing and confusing and buoyant world.”

The natural world is so carefully woven into these poems that the collection is a good reminder that we are not separate from the skies and oceans. We are part of one another.

Carolee Bennett, “every mighty beast”

–I have really enjoyed the ability to sit on a balcony and gaze at the ocean.  I’ve watched the sky change and the ocean change, and it’s been amazing–but in a different color palette than I’m used to.  Lots of grays and silvers and subdued blues–there’s a slate and flintiness that keeps the colors away from the Caribbean colors on my side of the Florida coast.

–One of the books I’ve been reading has been Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, the Booker Prize winner along with Margaret Atwood.  When I first picked it up and flipped through it, I thought I wouldn’t be able to make my way through it.  There’s a startling lack of punctuation and capital letters, except when there’s not, and that kind of inconsistency usually drives me nuts.  But the content is so good that I don’t even notice.

–Most of the people in my family are beyond the age of enchantment.  It’s been great being on vacation at a resort area where there are plenty of little ones who are still enchantable.  There’s a melancholy, too–missing the times when we had enchanted littles amongst us.  But enchantment can still be found, even if we must now try harder for ourselves.  And if we can’t manage it, we can smile at the wonder of others.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Vacation Snapshots in Words

There is a silent murmuration of starlings over the neighbor’s house. I’ve been wondering if the new bright red bird feeder has frightened the sparrows. I haven’t seen one in days.

The dog needs walking. And he’ll pull and pull on his harness. Like he knows where he is going.

I told E. today that I don’t want to know what the dog is thinking.
It might be a huge disappointment.

Ren Powell, Solstice

We cannot always get things right. We can be gentler with ourselves when we fall. Some years the frost kills the blossom, bees abandon the hive, a single swallow cuts the dusk for one evening and never returns. But here we are still looking up at the sky, grateful for what we saw, that one small bird found its way home.

Lynne Rees, New Year 2020

Who can summon the voice of the river weighed by slurry?
In my city even the crows have grown less clamorous.

It is left for someone to bring home what lies cold in unturned earth
that hasn’t known the warmth of a worm’s breath.

Uma Gowrishankar, Writing A Poem Through The Solar Eclipse

This morning we watched
four grebes float across rain-pocked water,

watched as one dropped from sight,
then another, then all, and all popping up again
in comic succession, lifting small white wings

and throwing back their heads as if to crow.
What draws us beneath the surface of our lives,
if not minnow or eelgrass, insight

braided, strong enough to pull us deeper?

Bethany Reid, The Pear Tree

Boxing Day. Traditionally, this has been a day of curling up on the couch with a new Christmas book, but for the first time I can remember, I didn’t receive a single one! I wonder if this is a trend among readers of this blog too. We don’t buy or receive as many physical books, and maybe our friends and families are less likely to give them to us. I wonder, and, as a publisher, I worry. No matter — trends haven’t affected my reading patterns very much, except for the change to reading e-books borrowed from the Overdrive service at my library, or purchased on Kindle. I read almost exclusively on my phone, unless I’ve borrowed a physical book from the library. And though I did buy myself a couple of books about Greece that haven’t arrived yet, I’m trying not to acquire too many these days — the shelves are already overburdened. But read, I do.

Beth Adams, Books of 2019: eclectic as usual

I don’t make resolutions or choose a word for the coming year, valuable as those traditions may be for others. But I do have a ritual for the end of the year. I take down my old wall calendar (where a Luddite like me keeps track of life) and refer to it as I enter birthdays and anniversaries into the new calendar. There are plenty of digital solutions that would relieve me of this task, but I like going back over the last 12 months. Each day is scribbled with names, places, and events. As I write important dates in next year’s calendar, here are some of  my 2019’s most memorable contents, randomly ordered. […]

Vigils, rallies, marches. Fewer this year than last because I simply feel broken by all that’s going on, although what needs to change is ever more urgent. And I am ever more likely to cry at these things. Tears are not a useful measure because I also tear up at musical performances, fire trucks hurtling by, and any act of kindness.

Wonderful opportunities to read poetry at Loganberry Books, Wm. Skirball Writing Center, Lit Youngstown, Visible Voice Books, Wick Poetry Center, Ohio Poetry Day Association, Second Sunday Poets, and Literary Cleveland.

The incredible honor of having an excerpt from one of my poems stamped in a public sidewalk, thanks to Lit Youngstown. […]

A poetry appreciation group called Flat Tire Poetry Society, so-named because the idea for the group came about when four of us were stranded late at night somewhere in Cleveland on our way home from a poetry workshop. In the hour it took for a tow truck to arrive we talked about poetry that had changed our lives and decided we wanted to do this more often. Not the stranded part but the poetry discussion part. Now we meet seasonally with whoever of 20-some members can make it.

Laura Grace Weldon, 2019: What A Year

It always good to get new year plans ready in the the week before New Year’s Day. This week has been luxurious and slow moving, and I have had time to write without interruption, which feels very serious and determined, but I hope as the days move on in the break, I will find another rhythm, something that is a bit less serious, yet still mine. Hopefully, I will be able to carry this through the Spring semester.  Again, six courses. But, at the end of this semester, the Earth will be green and ready to encourage us to take off our sensible shoes.  I will be listening. I know I am in a position to make each day significant in big and small ways, and like a cat I will see what I will see. I will nap, purr, hiss, mess around, ignore, annoy, hide all the day long.  It will be quite a year.  Hope it is for you, too.

M. J. Iuppa, Not Chinese Calendar, but this Year, 2020, is self-declared The Year of the Cat.

As we inch closer to 2020, we also inch closer to the impending release of sex & violence from Black Lawrence and some attendant festivities..I am determined to make a book trailer in the next few weeks, and get a start on planning some sort of release party in early summer. I’ve talked a bit about the genesis and nature of the entire book before here, where I wrote:

It was on the heels of some weird and troubling times for women in general, during which I’d been working on some prose poem series centered on some of my favorite things—Plath, horror movies, the work of Salvador Dali, while also working on a series of pieces about relationships and how difficult it is to reconcile love as a straight woman with male privilege and violence. I started to notice threads of ideas connecting all these disparate bits and suddenly had a manuscript that made sense thematically as an encapsulation of all sorts of anxieties that I foster as a woman in the world-about love, about violence and fear, about artmaking itself. 

And it’s true—so much of this book and pulling it together was shaped by a few things that were coinciding in 2017 as I was finishing it– our visit to the Death Museum in New Orleans (very much a church to the terrible things men do (usually to women), the Me Too movement, mass shootings, my own relationship and anxieties (all of these explored in the how to write a love poem in a time of war pieces).  The dirty blonde section, which is older,  is about uncomfortableness with female sexuality and agency.  The Plath centos in honey machine are about domestic routine and the idea of “the wife.” The Dali poems are told from the point of view largely of Dali’s wife in the guise of the ghostly little blue dog.

Kristy Bowen, love and fear

Sometimes I write.‬
‪Sometimes I don’t.‬
‪If it never came back – so what?‬
‪I’ll read what I have already written, ‬
‪and maybe I’ll write about that,‬
‪maybe not.‬
‪Who cares?‬
‪There are many acorns but‬
‪not many trees.‬
‪From a chopped tree make a coffin‬
‪and fill it with acorns.‬

Jim Young, Acorn I can’t

Like an old shirt or nightgown lost in the attic, sometimes the dark needs to hold onto a little piece of us for comfort. And certain nights, a lonesome wind will blow our way, write its legends of wreckage across our skin. Nothing in this life is as solid as love and trust. But sometimes those things break. Sometimes they slip away. There are times the songs of sorrow need our voices more than those of joy.

Rich Ferguson, Sometimes the Dark

the wrecking ball swoops past textile warehouses
skims the metaphors of decline: buckled street signs
an abandoned car      the grainy image of a bird
which must be a crumpled piece of newspaper
blown on the stateless wind

not one scrap of nature here
unless you count the man behind the camera
or the woman on the swing

Julie Mellor, What does time mean to you?

A poet friend and I often talk about how writing poetry gets harder to write, not easier. The voice in my head that chides, you’ve spent decades of your life on this and where has it gotten you? seems to grow louder with each passing year. And yes, I’ve been writing and publishing poems since my late twenties, the voice has a point.

I am not the next Shakespeare.

And yet. Now in the last day of my stay I can see the clipboards lined-up on the countertop with poems I’ve completed, poems I’ve begun, poems in that sweet spot in the middle—the space when I know that they will actually be completed but aren’t completed yet.

I’ve generated new work with the help of the Two Sylvias Advent Calendar (it has a gorgeous design and presentation) and scoured my writing notebooks for drafts written over the past 12 months. And although no one would accuse me of being especially woo-woo, I’ve been faithfully pulling Poet Tarot cards each day and for the last three days, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath have all showed up. I don’t know how many cards a tarot deck has (a lot) but statistically speaking, these three favorite poets visiting here everyday is against the odds. 

And along with my poets, I’ve had visits from a family of deer, a gang of bald eagles and many birds I cannot identify but they certainly know how to sing. And I bet they aren’t concerned with how good their voice sounds or if the chickadee or nuthatch in the next tree sound better.

If there is one thing I’ve learned is that writing poems is not a sprint but a marathon, it’s a relationship developed over a lifetime with words like samovar and seesaw, atlas and archipelago. The writing of poems has made me live more intensely, persist even when there’s a 1001 reasons not to, and brought incredible people into my life. And so yes, I’ll be back next year. And hopefully, the next.

Susan Rich, The Christmas Eve and Hanukah Edition 2019

I know that for most people, the ability to set a physical goal and execute on it is a normal, non-earth shattering experience, but for me it’s been huge. I literally didn’t know I was capable of it. I am stunned to find that I enjoy the physical sensation of pushing myself hard, overcoming my physical fatigue and my mental self-doubt, and seeing progress. It’s strengthening me both in body and mind. In essence, I am finding the spiritual through the physical, which is the last place I ever would have looked. In all honestly, I always had a slight contempt for people who I deemed “too into” their physicality. I made the incorrect assumption that they didn’t have anything going on in their brains and that they didn’t have very much depth as people. I was wrong to let my bitterness blind me in that way, but I’ve turned over a new barbell and shall move forward all the wiser for my mistakes. This new series will be an evolution of my poems on The Body. I don’t know where it will take me, but I’m interested to see what emerges.

Kristen McHenry, Body Verses Body, Lessons in Strength, My Date with Kahlil Gibran

I walk a circular path among the oaks,
listening to the news of the world.
Not to brag, but I’m quite skilled
at going in circles. In fact it may be
the only pursuit to which I’ve devoted
ten thousand hours.

Jason Crane, POEM: Lederer Park

Today, at almost the end of the year, I’m trying to stay healthy, battling off various bugs, worried about my father in the hospital for pneumonia (a lot of bad germs going around this year, folks, so be careful!) and still awaiting my first root canal, it’s easy to feel anxious about what the next year will bring. My manuscripts are making the rounds. I have 45 active poetry submissions out right now. I’m trying not to worry about what kind of havoc multiple sclerosis might wreak in the coming years, on my life, my body, my work, my marriage, given that we don’t have a lot of good treatment options or a cure. But I try to continue to have hope.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Last Days of the Decade, Post-Christmas, What to Do with Long Cold Nights, Looking Forward to 2020, and Grateful for Artist Friends

I’m still trying to edit my collection, I have a pile of forms I need to fill out for my son’s therapy support and I need to go over my numbers for my submissions and publications as I sometimes log things wrong, have to chase up long-held submissions or miss publications like my two poems recently published at Nine Muses Poetry. There’s more application forms waiting in the wings. […]

Every year for Christmas I make a photo book of favourite pictures of the kids and our year, so I can be reminded of the good things, the fun we had. As soon as I click print, I come across another memory I want to add or I take photos that should be there. I will add them to next year’s book, but it’s a nice reminder that things keep moving on and that there will always be something more.

Gerry Stewart, A Messy End to 2019

While re-reading May Sarton’s At Seventy: A Journal, I recalled reading this essay about the book, by Jeffrey Levine, in June. I first read At Seventy when I was, I think, 40 years old…I recommended it to my mother-in-law, who–like Sarton–lived alone and loved to garden. I now recognize in Sarton’s journal aspects of life and aging and creativity that I had not thought much of when I was younger–at 40, I felt envious of her freedom as a single woman. I was raising young teens, managing a busy household, working on a master’s degree, feeling I had no time to myself.

One thing that interests me about Sarton is her decision to keep journals intended for publication, beginning I think with her journal about recovering from cancer, though she had written at least one memoir before that journal. […]

The concept of writing a daily journal intended to be read seems either brave or a bit dishonest, like a persona. Then again–many early weblogs were exactly that: daily public journals read by whatever online audience stumbled upon them. And perhaps this blog acts as my public journal, mostly about what I read, what’s in the garden, and what I’m teaching. Those pursuits, made public, do not mask who I am. They are the things I choose to reveal.

Ann E. Michael, Journals

I believe and have believed for years that Christmas would be much improved if it occurred in February in that long bleak stretch of unbroken winter where nothing is green and the sky and water jostle for a bit of blue I could really bring the joy in February now of course we are in that liminal space between Christmas and New Year’s day where everything seems to stop completely except the eating of cheese and chocolates of course 

yesterday I drove to Mount Vernon to look at the snow geese and the trumpeter swans and hawks and eagles that live there in abundance in the now abandoned cornfields that drive along Old Pioneer Highway is gorgeous to me and absolutely teeming with Animal Gods three times now I have seen red foxes standing alert in those cornfields I stopped and looked at the Skagit River of course I got out of my car and slid down the muddy bank and just stood there breathing

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

It was in part that tendency I had anyway of sitting and watching and taking note that had attracted me to animal behavior studies in the first place. And, as it has turned out, is the skill I use most as a writer of poetry. Thanks to my anthropology studies, I can understand what I’m up to as I sit in whatever milieu, observing, and trying to look like I belong there.

I was reminded of all this recently as I have been reading Akiko Busch’s How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. The book is Busch’s extended meditation on the powers and prisons of invisibility. I’m not entirely sure what the takeaway is from this book as a whole, but each chapter provided an interesting set of thoughts ranging from the deliberate invisibility of some species’ adaptations to the imposed invisibility of homeless people on busy streets.

She talks in one chapter of Keats’s assertion that the poet specializes in being a chameleon: of becoming a planet, a creature, another person. Busch was moved to write the book, she says, by the vehemence with which society insists on flouting the self, branding the self, identifying the self as a political act. Maybe, she suggests, a little wallflowering isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe if we keep still, we can see more clearly.

Marilyn McCabe, Somebody was watchin’; or, On Participant Observation and the Artistic Urge to Tell

The cook is
frying a ham steak.

The sear of it,
the aroma.

The waitress is
pouring coffee,

hot and black
and slightly burned.

Somewhere
in the distance,

a siren.
There are stories

you can tell and
stories you can’t.

Tom Montag, ANOTHER MORNING

The most profound experience for me as a human being so far has been parenthood. It’s testing one’s greatnesses and inner devils everyday. It trully means sacrifice and everyday self-restriction. Of course there is a chance that when children become adults everything will get easier and their lives will run fine and thus the work you’ve done will be rewarded with gratitude and obvious results. But the reward is much more immediate, though not obvious, and already there. For this kind of love you grow a prophet everyday, if lucky, if strong enough. You go to the desert every morning and come back to the well at night. Circle after circle your heart gets stronger.

Last but not least: Our body. Our body will, as a friend put it in his wonderful essay about his battle with his own once female body, finally betray us at some point, but it won’t ever go down silently. Our body doesn’t care about others. It exists on its own terms. It won’t care about motherhood or marriage or age, won’t care about your female or male strangles, won’t care about distances or time. The body won’t care because its mind is the sensual touch. Your body will always seek the tasty food, the good light, the warm water, the other skin, this earth itself. For most of us it is the only mythical relationship we’ll have, and the one we must constantly manage with all its dramatic ups and downs. We’re animal and human, we live in reality and in our physically real at the same time. We’re centaurs, we are minotaurs, we are wanderers between Olympus and Hades. Decade after decade.

Magda Kapa, Decade after Decade

Let me be a weed in the river, let me be one speck of dust in the desert. A thought that came and went. Let me be the dream that could not be remembered upon awakening. That’s for me. Let me be small, the universe is so large. Inhale, exhale. Life is what is happening right now.

James Lee Jobe, Let me be a weed in the river, let me be one speck of dust in the desert.