Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 14

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: just a lot of poems, poetry reviews, and posts about poetry. I mean, you’d think that would be the case here every week, but as regular readers know, I’m fond of quoting poets (or poetry publishers) musing about all manner of things. But for once, I stayed on task. Almost.


It was a long hard March, and now evidently it’s April, as the poems and flowers prove. On March 6, my mother fell down the (carpeted!) stairs—we hope only 2 or 3 of them—and broke several bones in “non-displaced” ways. That, and the fact that both parents were already fully vaccinated, was the lucky part! She is making a steady and remarkable recovery, with good days and bad days, and great home health care, plus lots of family and local support. Our fragility and resilience continue to amaze me. 

During this time, I participated in an outdoor event on the steps of the history museum, a Remembrance of those lost to Covid-19 in the past year. Candace Summers, Education Director at the McLean County Museum of History, had arranged it, bringing speakers, a singer, young dancers, and me. “I’m no Amanda Gorman,” I had warned her, but I was honored to be asked. My inspiration came from our shared experiences over the last year, plus words from the community, offered in the 12 Months in 6 Words project, and I used many of the shared words, ideas, feelings I found there, creating a poem of 6 stanzas of 6 lines each of 6 words each. (The 666 association was, sadly, not lost on me.) My sister, who had come from Nebraska to help, set it up on her laptop for my parents to watch as it streamed live, and the audience sat or stood in the blocked-off street at safe social distances, bundled against the March chill. Candace had placed 175 small white flags on the museum lawn, one for each of our community’s residents who died; later, updated statistics raised that number to 200+. It was good to come together, safely, solemn and amazed. 

Kathleen Kirk, Long Hard March

I managed to draft a sonnet in 15 minutes, thanks to Molly Peacock, and heard some new-to-me voices in poetry, and listened to poets who are deeply engaged in the work and art of poetry discuss their processes, enthuse over their influences, and say what drives their curiosity. I found kindred writers who are, like me, endeavoring to put voice to people with dementia and express the grief we experience as our Best Beloveds lose personality, language, ego-consciousness.

Lesley Wheeler shared the writing prompts her panel put together on her blog, here; she and her four co-panelists (see blog) reflected on feeling across distance, another apropos topic in the current times. It seems we can and do find methods to be human together, even when we are apart. I think of all the letters I wrote when I was in college, and afterward, as I moved around the eastern USA, changed addresses, and tried to keep my friends and family informed as to who I was and what my interests were. In my attic, there are boxes of correspondence written in the days before email. Many of them are now letters from ghosts. Words I will never hear again from living mouths, but a way we kept “in touch” despite, and over, distance. And still do.

Ann E. Michael, Conferencing, distance

Swinburne is bemused as Betjeman wins at whist yet again
and scoops the coins off the formica. Anybody would think
you knew what cards I’d got
, Swinburne says. Betjeman smiles.

Holub selects Tonight At Noon on the jukebox
and stands looking confused as it spews out Adrian Henri
Live In Liverpool ’69 instead of Charlie Mingus.

There’s a collective shout of Switch It Off!
Holub kicks the machine, pulls the plug from the wall.
Coleridge runs from the kitchen with a kitchen-knife, screams

Holub when are you going to get it through your thick skull?
This is a poetry cafe. The jukebox plays poetry, not jazz.
And none of us like the bloody stuff, so nobody plays it. OK?

Dryden is mumbling, trying to make his laptop work. It won’t.

Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING AFTER MY 68TH BIRTHDAY

Another influence is John Wills’ wonderful haiku:

going
where the river goes
first day of spring

(taken from Allan Burns’ Where the River Goes, Snapshot Press 2013).

I love the spare use of language in this poem, the plain-spoken and utterly clear image of following the river’s path, the sense of freedom it suggests, but also the possibility that we’re not free, that the river must take the course dictated by the lie of the land, and therefore we can only take certain paths as circumstances allow. There’s a sense of adventure too – rivers are beautiful to follow, and yet they can be difficult as well. Sometimes the river bank has eroded and the path falls away. We turn back, or we scramble on. Either way, it’s spring and there’s that feeling of optimism that comes with longer daylight, birdsong, milder weather. Wills’ haiku opens with a single verb; it’s hard to pare writing back further than this. By leaving out the subject, we can place ourselves in the poem (I am going) although it’s equally possible to read the haiku as ‘the river is going’. Either way, the journey this poem evokes is at once truthful and metaphorical, as much about stillness and contemplation as it is about movement. For me, this is one of those poems that stays with you. I often hear it in my head when I’m out walking. I don’t walk by the river much, but when I do, it’s the River Don, which starts its course just a few miles up the valley from where I live. The photographs, above and below, were taken further downriver near Deepcar, where the river widens and the remains of old iron works can be seen along the way.

Julie Mellor, following the river

“and moonlight on naked skin.”
– even one more word
could be too much for a poem

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Moon Poetry

I’ve been thinking about the poetic breath this week, how poets use punctuation and line breaks to direct the reader. I’ve been reading my own collection out-loud, listening for mistakes and difficult phrasing, but also how the speed of the poem is directed by these little internal controls. I’ve also recorded a couple of poems recently which requires you to slow them down even more for clarity. 

A poet in my writing group said he uses line breaks like punctuation, but then we noticed he used both randomly in his poem we were discussing and when he didn’t pay attention to it, it lead to confusion for me. I’m not sure if he’ll change it, but it was good to discuss.

Some poets are hyper-aware of how they use punctuation and line breaks to add emphasis and control how the poem is read. I enjoy this, read their work out-loud, measuring how I read to their layout. Short or long lines, big pauses and smaller intakes of breath, commas, full stops, line ends, it lends life to the poem that isn’t always felt on the page.

I’m wary when reading other poets’ work of placing my values on how they create pauses for breath in a poem. I read a poem this week that seemed so badly broken up for no reason that it made it painful to follow, sentences broken repeatedly across stanzas it seemed just to keep the two stanza format going. It made me wish to hear the poet read his own poem, so I could understand how he envisioned the poem. 

Gerry Stewart, Breath and the Poet

I call out to you when I run through the underpass,
my words echoing back from the walls in the cold, still air.
And when I pass the quarry, I throw the same words
across the excavated chasm into a towering wall of layered sand.
And again, as I cross the motorway, high above the traffic.
I let them ride the bitter wind rushing from the North Downs.

Lynne Rees, Poem: wherever you are … For Mammy

This week I am proud to feature the work of Quintin Collins whose debut collection The Dandelion Speaks of Survival arrives this month from Cherry Castle Publishing. I have been admirer of Collins’ work both on and off the page for a few years now. As an activist and organizer, Collins has helped foster a dynamic community as assistant director of the Solstice Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program.

On the page, Collins’ work is marked by a direct engagement with the physical world, lingering over it with a curious attention that pays off in nuanced and fateful meaning. In his poem, “Exegesis On a Chicken Wing,” the act of eating is given space so that it is honored but also meditated on in a way that gives over its essential stakes. That to be human is survival and celebration–this is a key message in Collins’ work.

In “This is Where You Belong” (below) one encounters a similar engagement with the physical world. Through a catalogue of a neighborhood, the poem ruminates over the coming and going of many lives with such clarity that nothing feels ephemeral despite its fleeting nature. Like Galway Kinnell, Collins writes of place with a gravity that is accessible and essential. One feels the weight of “The American flag, / two hundred fifty pounds of polyester” flapping over the life the speaker is witness to, but also feels the horizon it flaps against, made up of human life and sky.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Quintin Collins

my head is full of oceans
full of plastic

sea foam memories
pass for wisdom

sea green trees
whisper like grey waves

come home come home

trickle down through chest
and lungs and drown and drown
where plastic bits break down

where seabirds soar
and drift beneath the sea-
glass shards of stars

James Brush, Oceans

I was listening to the January 25 The Poet Salon podcast with hosts Gabrielle Bates, Luther Hughes, and Dujie Tahat and their guest Ada Limón. They discussed the virtues of poetic “play,” among other wonderful topics. The play topic stuck out for me because the craft talk I did for my final residency of my MFA was on just that. 

Since the subject popped up two more times that week on Twitter and somewhere else, I decided to post the video of my craft talk, “Play: the Craft that Turns Words Into Poetry.” Unfortunately, the quality of the original talk wasn’t great so I used Zoom to record my voice over the stop-motion video I had used for my presentation. The result isn’t perfect: the sound cuts out in parts. The closed captioning should suffice to fix this problem. 

If you too are interested in the subject of play and poetry, check my talk out on YouTube:  https://youtu.be/KaVITYEojGI (don’t forget to turn CC on).

Cathy Wittmeyer, April 2021

it was my understanding there would be no math on this

a vi-
gin-
tillion
is a

one

with
s i x t y – t h r e e
zeroes

you can
look it up

Jason Crane, POEM: it was my understanding there would be no math on this

I am delighted to welcome Sue Wallace-Shaddad as my guest poet for this mini-series of posts. Sue and I both live in Suffolk and have known each other for nearly a decade. Sue is Secretary of Suffolk Poetry Society.

Following the publication of Sue’s poetry pamphlet, A Working Life, Sue had her first short collection, A City Waking Up, published last year by Dempsey & Windle. The book costs £8.00 and can be purchased here by PayPal (UK) or by contacting the poet (international and other orders).

Sue has been visiting Khartoum since the 1970s, and has recently begun to draw her poetic inspiration from the city itself. Khartoum is not only the place at which the Blue and White Nile converge; but also, as Paul Stephenson points out, the ‘Meeting Point’ (the title of Sue’s opening poem) at which so many aspects of Sudanese life, not least ‘city and countryside’, come together against a backdrop of tradition and fast-moving political change.

First impressions are important, and the glossy cover photograph, taken by the poet herself, invites the reader into this sun-baked land as day begins. Sue’s poems are often tight, and not infrequently short in length, which means that each piece has been given what I might call its own space in which to breathe. The glossary of Arabic words at the back of the book is brief and helpful. The Arabic words for food items in the poem Al fatur – Breakfast add a sense of the exotic to a piece that is almost a list poem.

Sue’s palette is a colourful one. In a few deft strokes, she conjures up cameo after cameo before the eyes of her readers; take for example her vision of Sudan in the early morning. Pastel-green houses, we discover, dot the khaki landscape, scattered like fresh mint. I am drawn to the poet’s description of pyramids of cucumber, tomatoes ready to be sold (A City Waking Up, p.10). Sue’s images are crisp and visual, but we are also invited to experience Khartoum via the senses of hearing (‘unseen ghosts screech into life’), touch (‘the desert smothers us in its sticky embrace’), smell (‘the scent of pink grapefruit lingering in the air’) and taste (‘Feta, hard squares, salt to the tongue’).

Caroline Gill, ‘A City Waking Up’ by Sue Wallace-Shaddad (Post 1: Mini-Review)

In some language
the word for language
also means stumble.

Tom Montag, IN SOME LANGUAGE (31)

Dhaliwal’s relationship with languages finds its way into most of the poems in the collection, but nowhere more beautifully and poignantly than in the brilliant villanelle ‘Migrant Words’ where she expresses “a vain hope” that the “buried…words” of her ancestral tongue “will grow / into a dialect of some hybrid descent” and that her Punjabi vowels “will plough / a cadence that my anglophone tongue could not invent”. It could not be a lovelier, sadder poem, which I think could stand as a fine representative of the collection as a whole.

On the evidence of this work, we have in Supriya Kaur Dhaliwal a poet who sees complexity with great clarity, and who does not allow her sadness to turn to rage. She writes with genuine lyrical beauty and while she has surely benefited from the several top-level Irish lyric poet teachers and mentors she lists in the acknowledgements, there is a sure-footed handling of cadence and rhyme, and a fluidity to both the stricter closed forms and the prose poems, which indicates that the heart of a natural poet beats inside her. As with much diasporic poetry (that I have read anyway), the work itself seems to become something not entirely unlike the hoped-for, intangible and perhaps impossible home whose absence drives the lyric – and this prompts me to ask the question (it seems appropriate to end this review on a question): where, I wonder, will this remarkable poet’s journey lead her next?

Chris Edgoose, The Wisdom of Questions – The Yak Dilemma by Supriya Kaur Dhaliwal

It is not enough to write our feelings down on paper. Write them on flesh. Better yet, go deeper.

Scribe them on bones, commit them to memory, to bloodflow.

Give those feelings a home on the tongue, in the heart and soul, so that everything that is said and done comes from the beginning and end of everything wondrous inside us.

So that all those feelings can lead to something pure and true; meaning even blindfolded, we can find one another during rupture or rapture.

Meaning when we catch sunlight in our hands, we choose to caress it, not crush it.

Rich Ferguson, It is Not Enough

It’s coming up on a year now since I printed out Derek Mahon’s ‘Everything Is Going To Be Alright’ and Blu-Tacked it to the wall near the skylight in the home office I made for myself when it looked like this was going on for a bit longer than a month. […]

On Tuesday this week, the printout finally fell off the wall, and while it’s now up on the pinboard I put on the wall the day before, it felt like something of a sign. Something to pay attention to, that perhaps the ghost of Derek had chosen to tell me something.

That sign from beyond had me starting to think that the last line might be right, that things are starting to recover, that it is all going to be ok or alright; but perhaps that’s very naive and very foolish of me. Am I placing too much focus on the powerful last line, and not enough on what gets us to it…not enough on the “There will be dying, there will be dying”? Arguably, there very much is the need to ” go into that”, Del…!

However, that does feel a bit like being one of those Whataboutery-wankers…You know the kind, the type that finds it impossible to believe you can hold different concepts together in your head at the same time. It is possible to be happy about one thing, and then sad about another at the same time.

So, I’m choosing to focus on the sense of some relief that is coming down the line, the sense of things opening up again – in a literal and metaphorical sense. That may come to bite us on the literal and or metaphorical arse further down the line, but in a week where I’ve seen more people in one place (well-spaced out gardens, of course) than in the last year, and in the week where things in our garden have started turning green (as they should), and in the week we have wifi back, there’s some cause to focus on Mahon’s last line.

Mat Riches, Derek Mahon’s Toilet Roll Holder

“Life could not better be,” my song today.
I’ll let Danny belt it out, and whisper
along in the background. “Luckiest girl
on the planet” to follow. What went right?
A day almost like beforetime, when I
could walk if I wanted and still breathe, twirl
as if music is lilting or play twister
and not fall. The luxury of an airway
uncluttered, muscles not withered, and hey,
look at me: hefting cast iron when Mister
Ladyhands feels unwell, lays down, and curls
on the couch, leaving the food prep to blue skies
and me, suddenly able and headstrong,
making noodles with grins and a singalong.

PF Anderson, Singing

The last year of suffering and doom in this flesh sets my self-image low: my body is changing so fast I can’t even keep up. Pants are slipping, hips emerging from pandemic and cruelty-padding, my swimmer-triangle shape uncovering itself by the day with all its utility of lats and pecs and steel-cable hip flexors; muscle – more than anything, muscle – is growing back with the speed of sudden green in the forest in April: wasn’t this laurel dry and dead half an hour ago? Solid wall of luscious green, reaching visibly for sky. My god, I can SEE it GROWING, we say, every year, amazed. Wreaths of entwined green extending, extending, right before our eyes.

I’m whiplashed from the speed of change, of return: new body who dis my fleshly answer to every call.

JJS, Day 5: 2×800, a DRAMEDY

When a butterfly
When a bird of a different color
When a residue of ash forms the hand-
drawn shapes of your names

When a pattern of lifted fish scales
makes a trellis on the body—

Memory makes a silk knot
in the vein.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem for Making our Dead Visible

I had such a wonderful experience working with Moment Poetry on this unique poetry format! Special thanks to Berenika Polomová for the lovely artwork made just to go along with my poem “Ode to a Young Screech Owl.” You can read more about the story behind this poem here.

Trish Hopkinson, the author of Moment Poetry poem #7, is one of the few poetry bloggers we followed even before launching our own project. We find the energy and enthusiasm with which she provides her readers with valuable information from the literary world truly inspirational.”

They are a new poetry press publishing poems in a printed visual format similar to a small vinyl record with an exterior sleeve with beautiful artwork and the poem slipped inside, signed by the author. Each poem is a limited edition of 100 prints, so don’t wait too long before ordering! Their “ultimate goal is to help spread good poetry and support aspiring poets. That is why 25% of the sale price (€ 8.50) of each sold poem goes directly to its author.”

You can check out their store to see what type of work they publish and support this unique press. They are always open to submissions of previously unpublished poems to feature in this print-run series. Read my interview with founders Ivan and Sonja.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “Ode to a Young Screech Owl” published by Moment Poetry

a cold snap
is that snow or plum blossom
blowing around

Jim Young [no title]

I purchased a copy of Julio Cortázar’s Save Twilight (City Lights Books, 1984) years and years ago. I remember that I was trying not to spend any money at the time, but I told myself I would give the book to my friend Paul as a birthday gift. Almost every year, I think, “Aren’t you going to give this to Paul?” And then I reread it. And I keep it.

Cortázar was born in 1914, to Argentinian parents, and spent his childhood and youth in Argentina. He is primarily known as a novelist and was a revered and early influencer among Spanish-speaking writers. He died in 1984, and if I had known he was buried in Montparnasse, I would have visited in 2019 when I was in Paris. Once again, I pick up the book and it works its magic (“my loves, my drinks, my smokes….little black book for the late hours” [87]).

Bethany Reid, Julio Cortázar

I think periods & semicolons, I think language
bleeding from imaginary mouths like meager
light. I think parentheses where words are
insufficient & I fill them with silence.
I think musk & deer & secretion & how certain
shapes are drawn in the mind for pleasure
& can only be conjured in certain moods.

Roman Iorga, NaPoWriMo, Day 8

In years past, as I read past blog posts for April, I noticed I would attend about three readings a week, give a couple of readings, attend a conference or a ‘con, get together with friends for their book launches. It was so much it was overwhelming even to read about!

This year feels quieter and more muted. So how are you still celebrating Poetry Month during the pandemic? I managed to squeeze in a couple of Zoom talks this week, one by Dana Levin (who talked about strangeness in poetry) and C. Dale Young (who talked about rhetoric vs the image among other things) – two poets who would be hard for me to see in person, so that was cool.

I’m giving a Zoom reading on April 18th (I’ll post more when I have the link) and I’ve been reading more and trying to write more (although I haven’t been able to do a poem a day this year.) Too many in-person re-entry things to do! It takes more energy than it used to to do simple things, like go a store or the doctor, in person. This is part of the re-entry pains. My favorite all-poetry bookstore hasn’t re-opened yet for shopping in person, but soon, and I’ll enjoy browsing there again – it’s a great place to run into poets books you might not have heard about anyplace else.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, On Re-Entry, MRIs and Tulip Fields, National Poetry Month – What Are You Doing?

So much gets buried. The song,
The worm. The soft feathered
spring. We all lose our innocence

as soon as the ground goes soft.
Its muck and tumble. I was looking
away when the nest unraveled

and out fell a half dozen eggs,
blue as the ocean. Before long the earth
devoured them—little shell, little yolk.

I broke my wing thrashing into
the same window, the same time
every March.

Kristy Bowen, napwrimo day no 8

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

To answer this question from the isolation of COVID-19 is to become flagrantly nostalgic for a “before time” that involved impossibly cold winter walks to Librairie Drawn & Quarterly to stand at the back of a sweating, snow-damp crowd, as well as long and humid summer nights in green-lit bars on Saint-Laurent with a troupe of poets or performance artists or both. Sometimes I was invited on stage or to the head of a friend’s charmed living room to partake in the reading and I have always felt so terribly honoured by this opportunity. It is also with a sepia sort of longing that I think of the person-to-person readings I will not host as my first book enters the world.

6 – Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I’m having a difficult time answering this question because I am equally provoked to say yes and no. Yes, every syllable of my writing is engaged in the feminist project of redefining experience and personhood, as inspired by the uncanny language of the French thinkers Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva and the re-visionary citational praxis of Ahmed. It’s also sparking up against the minor-becomings of Deleuze and Guattari and circling back (with the modernist poet H. D.) to the foundational mistakes by Freud. But no, when the poem comes out, the thought is not theory-inflected. Not in an explicit way. It’s a far too elemental struggle to say anything at all that I’m engaged in when pencil lead is hovering over the notebook page.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I believe there are too many types of writing and too many types of writers for there to one role for the writer in culture. I can say, however, that my greatest service to the public at large, as a writer, was as the teenage author of erotic Harry Potter fanfiction. A service I may never surpass.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jessi MacEachern

Words growing like fresh whiskers, no shave lasts forever. If I write long enough this beard might someday reach the floor. 

James Lee Jobe, watching the heron wade

This extract contains a pivotal, beautiful turn of phrase, the archaeology of home, that very much encapsulates the drive behind The Marks on the Map. Moreover, Johnstone’s tracing of the gradual loss of the souvenirs plays a pivotal role in pitching his own ageing process against that of the building. Of course, the evocation of autumn in the last line invites connection with the four seasons of life, human beings, nature and buildings all coming together. There’s no instruction to the reader, just juxtapositions that allow implicit connections to be made.

Brian Johnstone’s interpretation of the role of maps, landmarks and buildings in our lives is not only skilled and infused with experience, but it also provides a personal perspective that encourages us to view those roles afresh, leaving us to ponder the marks on our own maps. It might be time to stow our Sat Nav and dig out those old Ordnance Surveys once more.

Matthew Stewart, The archaeology of home, Brian Johnstone’s The Marks on the Map

This evening I’m going to dive back into Rachel Barenblat’s book Crossing the Sea. […] I’m halfway through and incredibly moved. I’ve been thinking of Dave (at The Skeptic’s Kaddish) who set up a blog as a way to grieve his father. Barenblat is a rabbi and this collection is about her mother’s death.

People say that everyone goes through this, but I never will. I say that to point out how powerful these poems are. The speaker draws me into her relationship with her mother and her grief. Her poem “Mother’s Day” begins with: It’s a year of firsts/and most of them hurt.

In “Pedicure”, she talks about the simple thing of removing the nail polish that she had on for the funeral: […] replaced with periwinkle, luminous and bright/like your big string of pearls you do not know/are mine now that you’re gone.

There’s a reason why I couldn’t read this book in one day. It’s like trying to eat a whole mayonnaise cake in one sitting. But I’m looking forward to picking it up again.

But first, there’s housework. And some yoga. Trying to get back into – oh, I don’t know, integrated with the rest of the world here: friends I haven’t seen or spoken with in nearly two months. And then there is work later this week. Students. There’s clothing that isn’t loungewear. Make-up. Shoes.

In some ways I’ve been
in a womb, cocoon, nestled
with the dull sounds of
blunted percussives, every
thing in the world – swaddled

Ren Powell, Imagining the Real World

“A Woven Rope” is a lyrical exploration of maternal lineage through transitional roles of daughter becoming mother, mother becoming granddaughter and the potential for the line to continue through the new daughter. Jenna Plowes’ attention to details, whether marks that create a watercolour, phrases used by a mother realising she’s quoting her own mother, the tension in a high wire, let the reader admire the intricacy and feel their deceptive strength.

Emma Lee, “A Woven Rope” Jenna Plewes (V. Press) – book review

The relationship with [Elie] Wiesel that Ariel Burger describes is enviable. He says that his professor “didn’t respond to my struggles with answers. Rather, he saw what I actually needed was someone with whom to share my questions, someone who would be with me without trying to fix things.” He describes Wiesel’s teachings in the classroom as a “methodology of wonder” which “has the potential to awaken students’ ethical and moral powers.”

At an earlier point in the book, the author comes to the professor with questions and is given this:

“We all ask questions, and we should. It is more dangerous if we do not. But perhaps you are not looking for answers. You are looking for responses to your questions, to your life, for ways to live rather than ideas to espouse. Answers close things down; responses do not.”

Shawna Lemay, Methodologies of Wonder

out in the rain
that girl who twirls
her umbrella

Bill Waters, Haiku about things that make us happy

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 8

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: signs of spring, political and philosophical reflections, loves and deaths.


There’s an air of spring
examining the frozen
earth by touch, shyly.

We’re not ready yet
for happiness, the heavy
curtains are still closed.

At least the winter
would not lie to us, would not
say all will be good.

One doesn’t know now.

Magda Kapa, February 2021

A teetering peregrine at the pinnacle of an iced tree. But chickadees. Orioles? Nuthatches. Voices changing. “I can smell the leaves under the water, under the ice,” I say. “Not spring, but evidence of it. Can you?” Amazed, he cannot. The infinite distance. Animal. 

He says please don’t give up on me. The time of ice shatter and mud seems never to end, is always beginning and beginning: it’s nearly March again. “The sap is up in your willow, did you see?” I mention. He hadn’t, but now that I point it out, he can.

The horse is mad at me for being away. He shoves me pointedly, eats his apology carrots refusing to meet my eye, then caves and kisses me profusely. I laugh. The birds’ voices are new. Spring is just there, just outside the frame, in their tiny lungs and mouths.

I am lost, confused, clear, present, gone, awake, asleep, disoriented, alert. Loss is permanent, but it has no end, and mind doesn’t change the shape of it. Animal loyal. To faultlines. I saw a plain moth tonight,

her gray drab elation—

JJS, spring

because the existential subtraction of the past year laid bare the excesses of my carefully contrived alignments,
because the new minimalist right angles of being are putting to shame the cursive blooms of February after a summer, a monsoon, a winter, of letting go,
because so much was so unnecessary, so exhausting, so mindless that turning away was turning inward, hearing myself, allowing the words to come when they were ready — like rain, like a storm, like the night — filling the spaces between here and sky, between me and myself, becoming a bridge that leads to another chance,
because when this stillness has passed, the chaos will come rushing back but there will be a memory of this time when so much nothing happened that it was still a little something,
because sometimes, something is more than enough

then the sky looked down
at the sea, and asked—
what is that strange colour?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Because February 2021

around the headstone
of one who died at twenty:
wind-puffed primroses

This haiku of mine, published in Presence 56, resulted from a trip a couple of late-Februarys ago to Sheepleas, a nature reserve maintained by Surrey Wildlife Trust between West Horsley and East Horsley. […]

In his magnum opus Flora Britannica (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996), Richard Mabey, the doyen of British nature writing who’s just turned 80, reminds us that the word ‘primrose’ derives from ‘prima rosa’, i.e. that it – Primula vulgaris – is the first flower of spring. […]

In my poem, I went for ‘first thought, best thought’ in describing the impact of the wind on the flowers. Sometimes, one can over-complicate a haiku by thinking too much about whether an adjective (or a verb) is the best fit. In this instance, it was definitely a case of following Roy Walker’s advice. But in one of those nice incidences of synchronicity (or deeply-buried unconscious association), a beautifully illustrated book, Shakespeare’s Flowers by Jessica Kerr (Longman, 1969), which I bought in Warwick on a visit there with John Barlow about 10 years ago, has jogged my memory of a famous quotation from Act 1, Scene iii of Hamlet: ‘Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine, / Himself the primrose path of dalliance / treads.’ Despite having studied Hamlet in depth several times in days gone by, I can’t claim that the allusion in my poem was deliberate. Pleasingly, the book lists several other mentions of the primrose in Shakespeare’s oeuvre, including the Porter’s line in Act 2, Scene iii of Macbeth, about ‘the primrose / way to the everlasting bon-fire.’ In The Two Noble Kinsmen, listed as a joint work between Shakespeare and John Fletcher, the primrose is described as ‘first-born child of Ver / Merry spring-time’s harbinger.’

Matthew Paul, Sheepleas

second dose
winter rages deep
inside me

James Brush, 02.26.21

There are days in the circle of the year that carry an emotional weight. Children’s birthdays, parents’ death-days, anniversaries of weddings and disasters. I didn’t know the reason for my heavy heart last Sunday until I remembered that it was the day my father died 41 years ago, much younger than I am now.

On Monday, Lawrence Ferlinghetti died aged 101. One of the most influential poets of his generation. I saw his spellbinding performance at the International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall in London. June 11th 1965. Keele to London and back the same night by thumb. Does anyone hitch-hike nowadays? 

John Keats died 200 years ago on Tuesday, aged 25. His poetry is still resonant and memorable, still popular, still on the GCSE curriculum, still being learnt by heart as I did many years ago.

By heart

Imagine – I am sixteen
and suffering my first heartbreak.
English homework this week:

learn a stanza from Keats’s
Ode to a Nightingale. In class
Miss Wilson asks me to recite.

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
to cease upon the midnight with no pain …
Someone giggles. Someone guffaws.

To thy high requiem become a sod.
An explosion of mirth.
Miss Wilson tries to hide a smile.

Did I get it wrong?
No, says Miss Wilson,
you said it as if you meant it.

Next Friday will be the fourteenth anniversary of the car-bombing of the booksellers’ quarter in Baghdad. Commemorative readings have been held around the world every year since then.

Ama Bolton, Anniversaries

Every time I write 2021, it seems like an impossibility.  Still, the latter part of this week, the very last of February, has been warmer and the snow in its enormous drifts, slowly whittling away.  I watched a video of the ice breaking up on the lake, which is a good sign (I know she’s over there, but the mounds of snow and sand make it hard to see her from the bus in daytime, and it’s all blackness on my way home in any season.)  March is technically the beginning of spring according to meteorologists, but we have at least a few weeks where anything at all can happen. Still, I am in better sorts this weekend, even though it’s been a long grindy week that began with webpage building for a fairly large faculty publication showcase and ended with meetings and zooms and a backlog of ILL shipments needing to go out. Still I can walk freely on the sidewalks without dodging slush and ice, so it’s much better than even a week ago. 

Today, I’ve been getting poems ready for my Pretty Owl Poetry reading this evening, the first I’ve done from home (the Poetry Foundation one I did in the library)   I will likely shut the cats in the bedroom to stop them from interrupting as they occasionally do for most work-related meetings. I’m reading some of the tabloid poems, including the one in the journal (“Dick Cheney is a Robot”), as well as some of the conspiracy theory pieces that I’ve been working on this year. On one hand, virtual readings are nice since they let me read for things I would not have before due to location and with an unlimited audience to boot.  I also do not have to spend 45 to an hour on public trans getting to readings in seeming every part of the city but my own.  Also, my social awkwardness feels less acute via zoom in some ways, but more in others. We’ll see how it goes.  I also need to keep reminding myself of time zone variations in the virtual world. It’s still strange to think that even a year ago, we’d never have dreamed the norm of reading to web cams instead of real people in a real room. That I’d even be doing a reading from my living room on a random Saturday night.  What’s been lost, what’s been gained.  

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 2/27/2021

I’m writing, here and there, editing pieces that have been hanging around ‘in progress’ for the last year or longer. My Scottish collection is up in the air. The publisher is struggling with the changes Brexit has brought to the publishing industry as well as personal issues and everything has been delayed and delayed again. I’m just trying not to think about it because I’m sure my living in the EU is going to throw up new problems when my book is considered. 

My writing group went through a rough patch and has re-emerged a bit bruised, but hopefully stronger. I am grateful that we’re managing to reshape the group into something of which we can be proud. They have been a lifeline over the past year, even if only virtual and I would have hated if it broke apart.

Spring is coming, I’m sure. I can see it, patches of dead grass reappearing in the garden, but find it hard to put much faith in its promise. Covid is getting a stronger foothold here in Finland and while we’re trying to get the vaccine out, it’s a slow, painful wait. There is that chink of light slowing expanding.

I’ve had a few poems published while I’ve been dormant here. I’m very grateful to all the time and hard work all these editors and their staff have put in to produce these issues. I know it’s not easy. I’ve been wallowing in memories of my experiences in publishing in Edinburgh and though it’s very rose-coloured at the moment, I do remember it being very difficult and rarely rewarding from the day-to-day perspective.

Gerry Stewart, The Light is Starting to Return

Like a sad dragon, I’m currently sitting on a diminishing hoard of potential poems for future issues of ShenandoahFall ’21 and Spring ’22, presuming we get there–knowing I can’t keep ALL the gold. I’m already rejecting good poems, trying to get down to 20-ish from more than 700 batches. The last couple of weeks have been largely a sifting process: holding each poem against the light, seeing how pieces might fit together.

One issue I’ve been pondering, in part triggered by a tweet from Kelli Russell Agodon: how are the poems I’m reading manifesting the extraordinary pressures of a global pandemic? The answer I gave Kelli is that the poetic worlds seem a notch smaller: I’m getting more poems about the flora and fauna close to hand, fewer about conversation and art and the randomness of being a human walking around in the built world. That’s not a bad thing, but it can make the submission pile less various. I’m certainly coming across references to Covid-19, too, as well as elegies and poems about anxiety, depression, and isolation, but not as many as I expected. This may be because poetry has such a slow burn that we won’t really see the literary results of any crisis for a few years. It may also be because a lot of people just can’t write lately–their lives are busier and their brains can’t rev down enough for reflection. I’m interested to see how things shake out in the literary world and otherwise.

Lesley Wheeler, The present and future of pandemic poetry

This is the second in my mini-series on UK & Irish poetry magazines. The three featured today are all long-standing publications.

Stand started up in 1954, when, according to the website,  “Jon Silkin used his £5 redundancy money, received after trying to organise some of his fellow manual workers, to found a magazine which would ‘stand’ against injustice and oppression, and ‘stand’ for the role that the arts, poetry and fiction in particular, could and should play in that fight.”

What a brilliant story. Jon Silkin died in 1997 and the magazine has had a number of editors over the years, and a long association with the University of Leeds that continues to this day. John Whale is the current managing editor, and each edition seems to include a nice mix of both well-established and newer poets. It runs to around 150 pages and the landscape layout, while interesting, offers I suspect some challenges. The name of every contributor since 1999 appears on the website!

Robin Houghton, On poetry magazines: Stand, Agenda, The Dark Horse

I’m startled by the poems that make up Denver, Colorado poet Wayne Miller’s fifth full-length poetry title, We the Jury (Minneapolis MN: Milkweed Editions, 2021), a collection of lyrics on public executions, American justice, family and what we fail to understand. In an array of simultaneously devastating and stunningly beautiful lyrics, Miller writes on culture, class and race, and the implications of how America has arrived at this particular point in time; poems on trauma, death and violence, hidden beauty and America’s uneasy ease with what people are willing to endure, and willing to impart. There is an unerring lightness to his lyrics; a remarkable precision, as an arrow piercing the reeds to reach an impossible target. As he writes at the end of the short sequence “RAIN STUDY,” one of multiple poems that write on and around the subject of rain: “On the undersurface / of a raindrop / as it falls: // a fisheyed reflection / of the ground / rising at tremendous speed // and that’s it—” Or how he writes of a bird at the airport at the opening of “THE FUTURE,” “A bird in the airport / hopping among our feet— // dun puffed chest, / a sparrow I think— // collecting bits of popcorn / beside the luggage // while invisible speakers / fill the air with names // of cities irrelevant / to the air outside // from which this bird / has become mysteriously // separated.” Miller strikes at the intimate heart of so many subjects, and it is the intimacy through which he attends that provide these pieces with so much power. His is an unflinching, steady gaze, and he clearly feels and sees deeply, attending to the world around him through a lyric that manages to unpack complex ideas across a handful of carved, crafted lines. The poem “ON PROGRESS,” for example, “PARABLE OF CHILDHOOD” or “ON HISTORY” providing, in their own ways, master classes in how one writes out such complexity and contradiction of ideas and emotion; how to pack into a small space that which can’t be easily explained or described. In Miller’s poems, he knows that judgement is not the same as comprehension, and rarely synonymous with justice, healing or absolution; he knows his country, and his culture, has much to atone, and even more to acknowledge, so willing to pass over events for the next one, fully ignoring the implications, the trauma or the patterns.

rob mclennan, Wayne Miller, We the Jury

It’s been wild y’all. Some minor emergencies. Some heavy conversations in and out of the classroom and mentoring spaces that I work in. The thread continues to be survival and understanding, in that order.

These themes run through Dash Harris’ “No, I’m Not a Proud Latina” which I taught this week. This article, which calls out issues of anti-Blackness in the Latinx community, stirred up a number of reactions which had me lecturing on speaking truth to power, how marginalized writers are often necessarily making decisions at the intersection of politics, culture, and experience in order to survive and understand this world. I also spoke about how community should hold space for the positive while also acknowledging and working through the negative. That for community to matter it must be an inclusive practice, not just an ideal or romanticized gesture. At one point, I found myself talking about identity, how in the U.S. we often discuss it in terms of a possession or territory. The trope is how we have to “find ourselves” before we can be ourselves. What else can it be beyond this? What if identity, or really identities, are sides of the self we’re privileged to be able to honor and exist in, however briefly?

José Angel Araguz, survival & understanding

The World Health Organization reports 2,462, 911 souls have been taken by Covid-19 so far. WorldoMeter reports 2,479, 882. By some accounts we have already passed a half million deaths in the U.S. Each death the loss of a uniquely precious being.

There are many, this last pandemic year, who have fervently pushed for life to “return to normal.” Under that noise is another sound, the human community wailing. Each new grief amplifies our losses. Everywhere, keening.   

The largest share of deaths, here and around the world, are our elders. What has been taken cannot be fathomed. A proverb from Mali reminds us, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.”

We haven’t yet begun to address what brought us such a toll, including the greed underlying disinformation, mismanagement, and structural inequality. I hope, as we do, we center on regenerative justice for people and for all living systems.

We haven’t yet begun to fathom our losses, let alone how to honor those lives. I hope, as we do, we tell stories, we create, we cherish. I hope we, in the end, make this about peace.  

Re-member us,
you who are living,
restore us, renew us.
Speak for our silence.
Continue our work.
Bless the breath of life.
Sing of the hidden patterns.
Weave the web of peace.

Judith Anderson   

Laura Grace Weldon, Under The Noise

Today many people will be writing tributes to Lawrence Ferlinghetti and with good reason.  He was an amazing poet, founder of the Beat movement, founder of City Lights bookstore, publisher.  What an amazing life, and how fortunate that he lived to be 101.

But today I am feeling the deep loss of Octavia Butler, who died 15 years ago today.  I’ve written about her often, it feels like.  But there’s a reason for that–she wrote her most important work decades ago, and it feels more relevant now than it did when I first read it, decades ago.

Consider this passage from Parable of the Talents, published in 1998:”Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.” (p. 167)

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Octavia Butler and All the Realities

If I am told one more time by a newsperson or magazine article that I need to build more “resilience,” I will scream. It has been a year since the pandemic was recognized here in the states, a year in which we lost 500,000 people in our country and 5,000 in our state. I am still waiting to hear when Washington State will start vaccinating people like me – disabled, chronically ill types who would certainly be at risk of death if they caught covid – but alas, they are only focusing on age as a risk factor, so I guess I’ll be waiting forever? It’s enough to give a girl a nervous breakdown, especially with the news that more contagious, more deadly variants of covid-19 are developing in CA and NY.

Add on top of that, the writer’s life that is mostly rejection, rejection, rejection, and the advice to build resilience can get really old. I did get an acceptance today, and I have some poems coming out soon in “dream journals” of mine, journals I have been loving for years, like Fairy Tale Review and Image, among others. So I am thankful for that.

But as I as listening to hail hit our roof and windows the other night, I was wondering if one of my three manuscripts I’ve been sending out will get taken soon, or at least before I die. I’m not kidding about that, and I’m not being melodramatic. Everything feels dangerous right now – I have to go to the dentist for a broken tooth this week, and get an MRI for my liver tumors which could kill me if we don’t keep a close eye on them- and without a vaccine it literally feels like I’m risking my life. And let’s not even talk about how impatient my neurologists are being for me to get brain MRIs and other MS tests I have to do in person. I can’t imagine how it feels for my friends who are young but have cancer and are going to regular treatments – and I have several – and be unable to get a vaccine while constantly being in a dangerous hospital environment. Much worse than me, probably. In the meantime, I’m happy for friends in other states who are able to get the vaccine, but I wish my own state would start acting like it values the lives of people like me. I’m happy the third vaccine, Johnson & Johnson, has been approved, but no word on rollout yet. No amount of resilience is going to make up for the tension, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, danger and strain of the last year, and platitudes do not make things better. My usual coping mechanisms- spending time in nature, reading and writing, and connecting with friends (these days, mostly by phone) – may not be adequate to what we are facing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Almost Spring, Tired of Resilience, and Contemplating Ten Years Ago

Well, how about that February, huh?

Seems like more than a few of us have had ourselves quite a month. Sometimes, when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed or worn out, I like to go back through my camera roll to see what sense it can give me of a time. Often, it helps me see that my feeling about a time isn’t the whole picture of it. Because I often take photos of what delights me, it can be an exercise in reminding myself of the small moments that don’t (but probably should) carry as much weight as some of the larger ones.

Oh, bollocks!

(I’ve been listening to Tana French audiobooks for a few months now, and there are some Irish words seeping into my thoughts.)

Look at me up there in that last full paragraph, sounding so wise and grounded. Cue the montage of lovely little life vignettes: flowers on the table, a stack of good books, snow sparkling under the rising sun. Oh, I meant every word as each came through my fingers (and I could easily create such a montage), but re-reading them as a whole I could feel my whole being rise up in resistance to such facile positivity–which is probably evidence of how easily inspirational Insta quotes can seep into a person if she’s not careful.

Attaining peace and contentment is not necessarily about finding delight, or about making sure you put every little thing on some balance scale, so that a multitude of small good things somehow mitigate or outweigh a fewer number of heavier bad things.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Goodbye to you, February

I mention this playlist because a song from it came up during my run on Tuesday morning that got me thinking.

The song is called Made Up Love Song #43 by The Guillemots. […]

It’s a lovely pop song that I think should be more widely known, but there are plenty of those around. A couple of things struck me as I was hyperventilating my way up a hill towards Crystal Palace when I heard the lyric “there’s poetry in an empty coke can”.

Firstly, I haven’t really written a new poem for a while (not worried about that, there are notes and drafts aplenty), but the other thing was how might I respond to what is essentially a creative prompt from the singer, Fyfe Dangerfield. I know folks have mixed feelings about prompts, and I do too. I am generally ok with them, but not when they are your sole source of inspiration.

However, I got to thinking about how I might respond to the prompt. I’ve not gone anywhere near writing it yet, but here are the thoughts I have for exploring it…perhaps these even count as my own prompts…

How did the can get there? Was it thrown away, left there by someone? Is it in a bin? Has it fallen from a lorry on a way to a recycling plant? Is it still awaiting recycling because its owner is next to it?

Who is the owner? Is it someone on a picnic, are they alone or part of a group? A runner (them again) gasping on a hot day?

Where is it? On that picnic? Outside a pub, inside a pub (Oh god, I’d love to be doing that right now), left after a dad took his kids to the pub on his day with them.

Is it in the street being kicked about by kids, or grown-ups, is it being blown about by the wind?

Who is near it? Is there a wasp hovering around the ring pull?

Is it cold or warm?

Is there any liquid left in the can at all? 

Is this just an excuse to post this song because it mentions poetry?

Who knows?

Mat Riches, I Can, I can’t…

When I was in art school, I once had a poetry professor who, on the first day of class, introduced himself as a failed painter. Immediately, that proclamation (and others) rubbed me the wrong way and I ended up dropping the class in favor of a film course instead. A year prior to that, I had taken a course entitled “Word & Image” that spoke to impulses I’d had since childhood: pairing words and images together and understanding how they co-exist. One of the main questions was, Why can’t you make words and images? As someone who studied both art and literature as an undergraduate and went on to earn an MFA in interdisciplinary art practice, I embrace the notion that you can write and make images for your writings. William Blake, Beatrix Potter, Shel Silverstein, Kurt Vonnegut, and Faith Ringgold all did it. And plenty of other authors, too! There are also image-makers who, while better known for their visuals, write splendidly for their books. Take Sally Mann’s prose for her photography books, for instance.

A few of my published books combine my words and images and I have titles with  “illustrative” and “disruptive” approaches, which I will explain in later in this post. My poetry books, Water for the Cactus Woman (Spuyten Duyvil) and Belladonna Magic: Spells in the Form of Poetry & Photography, feature “disruptive” photographs, whereas the poetry collection Heaven Is a Photograph features “illustrative” photographs. I have also created the covers for a few of my books and chapbooks, but that’s really a separate topic from interior artwork. Book covers largely serve to market a book, whereas interior artwork is part of the book itself.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of incorporating photography into your poetry manuscript, read on. But, first, a note: I am using photography as the visual art example here because the barrier to creation is lower than it is for other media. However, you can just as easily apply these two approaches to other types of visual art, including drawing and painting.

Weaving Your Photographs Into Your Poetry Manuscript – guest post by Christine Sloan Stoddard (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

True to my word, I made some new collages for February, which I’ve posted on Instagram.  My collage work is growing and I’m going to have to find a folder to keep the work safe from coffee spills and creases.

My poetry collection What Are You After? was published by Nine Arches Press in 2018, which means that I now have nearly three year’s worth of uncollected poems which I need to give my attention to.  Some of have been published in various places, some are yet to find a home.  I’m keeping an eye on the poetry, in between the plays and the collages.  As well as my own work, I have some poetry reviews to write for The North and I must choose three poems from And Other Poems to nominate to the Forward Prizes, Best Single Poem. The deadline for nominations is fast approaching.  I’m also gradually adding links to recordings of poems already published at And Other Poems, from SoundCloud, Vimeo or YouTube, so that the poems can be experienced by more readers in different ways.  If you have any poems at And Other Poems, do please send me a link to a recording and I will add it to the site.

I’ve gone for walks outside without a coat for the first time in a while, making the most of the mild, gently sunny weather that we’re currently enjoying in west Wiltshire and elsewhere in the UK.  Lots of crocuses out in our local park.  Spring is coming.

Josephine Corcoran, No Big Leaps in February

A friend said I seem lighter these days.
It’s true I’m shedding the ballast of memory;
at times I float high enough to see.
I see the Hoover Dam rise from the desert floor.
I see the waxing moon set the cacti alight.
I see a woman laugh in a YouTube video.
I see a dog watching from down the hallway.
These things too I add to my memory;
in the spaces made by what I’ve left.

Jason Crane, The Accidental Balloonist

Last night, many of us gathered for a YouTube watch party for the virtual premiere of Tasty Other: A Dramatic Song Cycle. What a gift to have Victor Labenske compose this song cycle from nine of my poems! Elda McGinty Peralta and Judith Spaite Labenske brought so much humor, skill, beauty, and brilliance to the vocals, and Victor’s playing and back-up vocals were gorgeous too. The YouTube video will remain available to view; it includes the audio track and the sheet music, which is also available for purchase here.

When I wrote poems based on anxiety dreams during my pregnancy ten years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that some of them would become a song cycle, but last night I got to watch and listen with my nine-year-old son eagerly watching and listening with me, and that was such a joy.

Katie Manning, Tasty Other Song Cycle Premiere

In January, it was 130 years since the birth of the great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam. Mandelstam is widely translated and read in the English-speaking world, but unsurprisingly, his influence is greater in Russian-speaking countries. A victim of state persecution and of the efforts of other literary figures who opposed his subversive views, Mandelstam is as readable and relevant as ever today.

This year, a group of popular musicians have released a tribute album which sets Mandelstam’s words to music. The album is called Сохрани мою речь насегда (in English, Keep My Words Forever) and can be found on streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Music and others. […]

I have listened to the album and was very moved by it. My own grasp of Russian is still nascent and as a result, I’m obviously missing some of the impact of the words. The musical styles featured include jazz, 80s-style pop, rap and more, and the poems include works such as ‘I despise the light’, ‘This night is irredeemable’ and ‘I returned to my city, familiar to tears’. Personally, I definitely liked some tracks better than others. But above all, this project reveals the extreme vitality of Mandelstam’s work in our time, and a desire to bring him closer to new audiences, many of which I am sure will embrace his poems if they haven’t already. I love to see that Mandelstam is still loved so much.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Keep My Words Forever: a tribute album for Osip Mandelstam

In 2010, Terrance Hayes published Lighthead, his third collection, which would go on to win the National Book Award. In the notes at the back, he spends the most time defining the pecha kucha, a mode based on the format of Japanese business presentations. But he also acknowledges that his poem “The Golden Shovel” “is, as the end words suggest, after Gwendolyn Brooks’ ‘We Real Cool.'” A few entries later, he notes, “‘The Last Train to Africa’ is after Elizabeth Alexander’s poem ‘Ladders.’ Like the form used in ‘The Golden Shovel,’ the end words come from her poem.” Hayes would later elaborate on the backstory, which involved asking his two children to memorize poems–one by Langston Hughes, the other by Gwendolyn Brooks–and, after becoming preoccupied with their nightly attempts at recitation, deciding to “string the whole poem down the page and write into it.” Multiple drafts resulted, two of which made it into the collection. 

“The Golden Shovel” would be a striking, classroom-friendly poem under any circumstances, because it showcases Hayes’ gift for the heightened lyric vernacular, his disciplined and yet playful lineation (sometimes enjambing mid-word), and an ongoing thematic concern with the father figure. But something caught afire about this “nonce form”–a term I assign because it’s invention that can be credited to a particular poet, in a particular moment, that may or may not carry forward. What fueled interest is both excitement for Hayes’ work and shared reverence for the figure of Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), an incredibly brilliant poet–the first Black poet to win the Pulitzer Prize, the first Black woman to act as poetry consultant for the Library of Congress. The opportunity to teach these two important voices in conversation helped move the form from the realm of “nonce” to “contemporary form,”  as multiple poets began engaging the mode at the same time. 

The chief engineer of this initiative is Peter Kahn, himself a noted slam poet with an MFA from Fairfield University who, as a Visiting Fellow at Goldsmiths-University of London, founded the Spoken Word Education Training Programme. Kahn has taught in Chicago’s high schools since 1994, and his investment in distilling and assigning the Golden Shovel to students seeded a cohort of young poets. He co-edited, with Ravi Shankar and Patricia Smith, The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks, which came out in 2017 from the University of Arkansas Press. The anthology’s intent, which Kahn described in an interview, was the place student work alongside that of more established poets, all of whom would constitute a “second generation” to Hayes’ original experiment. Hayes’ blessing, in the form of introducing the anthology, offers the clear dictate that “the ‘Golden Shovel’ form belongs to no one so much as Ms. Brooks. Peter Kahn, a citizen of Brooks’ Chicago understands as much.”

Sandra Beasley, The Golden Shovel: On the Legacy of Ms. Brooks and the Future of the Form

Welcome to the Dionysian spring holidays — Mardi Gras, Carnivale, Purim, falling in love — that turn things upside down during a year in which everything has been turned upside down.  It makes for fascinating spatial — and metaspatial — thinking.  If I turn upside down while I’m standing on my head, am I right side up?

No, but it opens the imagination up to all kinds of interesting propositions! What kind of reversals or forays into chaos would you induce to find some new stability, some reemergence of order?  The rabbis back in the day allowed all kinds of forbidden habits to happpen, even commanded them. The faithful get dead drunk, so that their utterance is completely and totally confused.  Up is down, he is she, heavy is light, mourning is celebration.  Surprise breaks into the expected to shatter fixed concepts of reality.  Inside that reality was a little miracle lurking all the time, another divine reality, a seeming opposite joined by a hinge to a larger unity.  

What seems like happy confusion is a whole field of philosophy, naturally, with twists and turns through the nonduality of mysticism and literature. Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, illustrates simultaneous difference and sameness with the famous aphorism: 

“The road up and the road down are the same thing.”  It’s a succinct vision to hold as we approach the anniversary of the pandemic. 

I’m rarely so clear-sighted. I’m in the camp of Artsi Ifrach, an Israeli-Moroccan fashion designer who said, “All those phantasmagorical connections might seem odd to certain people, but for me they create an inner, quiet logic.”

Jill Pearlman, Topsy Turvy Holidays during an Inverted Year

I think I’m perceiving that at certain stages in the development of a poem, the poet needs to move at first without much conscious thought, much the way I just laid water and color down on my paper, and then turned the paper around and around. What I intended was that somehow the colors would create some shape that would allow me to find something on the page to make a picture of. That didn’t happen. In the absence of that intended result, the absence of a discernible object or presence, I had to find another way. The frustration of my intent turned out to be a freedom and a way to discover something new.

The word intend is from Latin meaning stretching toward something. Sometimes in the writing of something, the process of writing itself causes the thing to stretch toward something unexpected. And it might take a clear-eyed view, probably after some time away from the poem, for me to be able to see what my own poem is saying, what it’s claiming as its own intentions or my own subconscious ones.

I’ve got a few poems in my holding cell at the moment, and keep revisiting them. They’re not bad. They’re not good. One in particular came out of an art exhibit the details of which I can no longer remember, but I know I wanted to write something out of the experience of that exhibit. I’m wondering now if I need to leave the exhibit behind, and see if the poem is actually reaching toward something entirely different. But no! That’s not what I intended! Plus if it goes in an entirely different direction then it won’t fit in with this manuscript I’m developing!

Tough luck, kid. Is this an adventure, or ain’t it?

Marilyn McCabe, I was gambling in Havana; or, On Creativity and Intent

My life revolves around lists. As soon as I arrive at my desk in the morning, I check the list I made at the beginning of the week. If it’s Friday, I hope to see a bunch of completed tasks which I’ve been able to check off: “prep for tutoring,” “write review,” “what the heck’s wrong with my website,” “submit.” I write my lists in a 200-page, 99-cent, wide-ruled composition book, which usually lasts about a year. I save my list books and occasionally go through them, noticing that, for example, tasks from 2017 have still not been checked off or that a certain task—i.e., “make new lead magnet”—remains, from week to week, undone.

A list is not just a way to manage your life. It’s also a way to write poems. I use list-making often; in fact, at least half of my poems started as lists. Writing lists is a great way to wake up a sluggish brain, especially one that seems resistant to sudden inspiration (mid-winter doldrums, anyone?) You can make lists of literally anything: words, sounds, flavors, colors, things that make you happy, sad, or angry, seasons, planets, places you’ve visited, places you’d like to visit, and on and on and on.

Making lists is an effective way to break out of writer’s block. One of my tried-and-true methods is to go through the work of a poet I admire and make lists of random lines from their poems.

Erica Goss, The Power of the List

For this poetry prompt for the dead or wounded, start by reading “Fall” by Didi Jackson and give some thought to what you like/admire.

Quite simply, I’m in love with Jackson’s poem. The tenderness in it, not only for the injured bird but also for the little girls as they learn about death, is just lovely. And isn’t it paced perfectly? Its short lines — along with the space between the couplets — allows the moment to unfold slowly. It eases us into the ceremony of caring for our dead and makes room for us to feel the loss. We’re also given space to wonder along with the narrator how we may be teaching children (or others) how to grieve. The narrator is aware of the weight of her words. She is careful with what she shares and what she withholds.

Ultimately, as is so often true, we carry on for the dead, make their work our own. In this case the girls “pick the song // and sing it / over and over again.” And somehow the poem’s form — a long string of short couplets — contributes to the sense that we, in tribute to what we’ve lost, carry on… even if that itself is a sense of falling, stumbling forward as if drawn there (down the page, perhaps inevitably, by a certain kind of gravity).

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt for the dead or wounded

After my father’s
funeral, she stayed in bed for weeks—
En esta tierra, tan solo a mi, all alone
in the land of her living. I don’t know
why the bars of this song have come back
to her now; but she is smiling even in
the parts with yo te quiero and que
me muero. Of course we understand
that to love is to die a little until the end;
even as the throat holds onto that small
tremolo for as long as it can.

Luisa A. Igloria, Tremolando

Love
in the moment of

falling from,
letting go,

is love, as when
the skin

does not know
what the skin

knows.

Tom Montag, LOVE

Be the mirror your lover longs to encounter first thing in the morning.

Dare to let your words go without makeup; those thoughts can often reveal the rawest beauty.

When reading between the lines, make sure you can interpret the syllables of secrets.

From your deepest, most daring and adored dreams, discover a new penpal and write daily.

Know that Van Gogh’s ear hears all the colors of your heart.

Rich Ferguson, Abyss / A Bliss

Today, in another part of the park, I heard someone whistling in the distance, as if calling a dog, but when I got closer I saw it was a man with a bag of seed or breadcrumbs, whistling to call the squirrels, and sure enough, there were dozens around him on the snow and climbing down out of the trees.

And I admit I wondered: if I still lived here when I was really elderly, or really alone, would I turn into an old lady who wanders through the park, feeding the squirrels?

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 57. Winter Scenes in the Park

At this point in the pandemic, a year-ish in now, it’s safe to say the disappointments will be piling up. Maybe there has even been a time or two where you have been disappointed in yourself. I know I have been. It’s easy, as they say, to be a buddhist at the top of a mountain or in a cave, but it’s trickier to practice buddhism among non-buddhists.

By now you’ll have lost loved ones, attended a Zoom funeral, had fallings out with people you thought were friends, gotten hate mail, and you’ve also had to confront the fact that we live in a time where a great many people think it’s okay to just sacrifice old people, people with health conditions, people living in poverty, houseless people. A great many people think it’s okay to be racist. And so it’s not surprising that a lot of people have been talking about hitting yet another wall. Or is it just the same wall we’re bashing into again? For me, it’s not the isolation, or the taking care, or the mask wearing that’s getting to me, it’s all the people who are blatantly not.

I’ve read articles and listened to talks on finding the courage to have nuanced conversations in these difficult times and in all honesty I’m so down with that from an academic stance. But in reality, I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve spent the last decade seriously engaged in all sorts of conversations with all sorts of people, and also writing about these things here and in my novels, and yet here we are. It’s like having all our work erased and then asked to do it all over again, with angrier, more careless, more entitled, more ill-intentioned, and more misinformed people than before. Like, okay, sure, I can do that. After I nap for a thousand years.

Shawna Lemay, The Disappointments Will Be Piling Up

During the last general election campaign, my attention was drawn to several articles that described the echo chamber effect of social media.  In other words, supporters of a party tended to follow people of their own political persuasion. Their timelines and newsfeeds were consequently stuffed full of views that reflected theirs, which led to a misguided belief that everyone was of a similar mindset. Of course, many disappointments on polling days were colossal.

Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about the parallels that exist between the above-mentioned scenario and poetry on social media. These parallels have several manifestations.

First off, there are poets who only surround themselves with others who write within their same aesthetic, thus encouraging them to look inwards, feeling they’re the only true believers. This is very much along the lines of political beliefs, as per my previous anecdote.

Then there’s the bubble, the misguided belief that Twitter or Facebook make up the only poetry world that remains, when huge numbers of poets and readers actually don’t have social media accounts. Moreover, this sensation has grown during the pandemic. Physical contact has been stunted, so there are no opportunities to have conversations with people at readings who’ve never heard of supposed big fish from Twitter, for instance.

And to top it off, there’s a shrinking of the world on social media, as poets only look in on themselves, using their own jargon, their own frames of reference, their own allusions, their own entrenched positions and axes to grind, all going round in ever-decreasing circles. I often think that any non-poets who might venture onto many poetry threads would be scared off for life.

All of the above forms part of my concern that poets tend to cut themselves off from wider society. Social media, while providing excellent chances for people to feel less alone, is unfortunately adept at developing echo chambers. As poets, I feel we should use such platforms to reach out to readers, to share work, to show that we’re inclusive. That way, we might earn ourselves a few votes at the next literary genre elections and at least keep our deposit…!

Matthew Stewart, The echo chamber

There are halls of
mirrors, sometimes

people are like
paper dolls.

The ones that played
with me in childhood,

careful shapes
with scissors,

and coloured
in dresses.

Nor I in 3D, in my
mind sometimes.

One theory of existence is
we are holograms.

Or maybe life is a
blinking in and out,

as with breathing,
but faster than

the speed of light.

Marie Craven, Infinity

These poems are like a dog’s dirty footprint in the middle of the kitchen floor, or like a traffic signal that has gone dark; someone is always right there to complain. If you can get beyond complaint and praise, there is a river. Did you know that? It is always summer there under the shade trees, and the trout are biting.

James Lee Jobe, the early blossoms on my peach tree

The scent
of this covid year:
sour scallion-water
in the kitchen window,

the tail-ends
of green onions
trying to miracle
fresh green from

tap water and sun.
When it catches
in my throat
I choke, then

remember
if my sense of smell
still works,
how lucky

I am.

Rachel Barenblat, Scallions

Last March you became seriously ill with Covid and the recovery time is long and slow. How did this experience change the way you perceived things in general, and creativity in particular?

Yes, it was a rough time. I was hospitalised on oxygen for six days, and although luckily I didn’t get Long Covid, I have noticed differences. I think I’m fully recovered now (touch wood) but I got so tired for a long time and also had such bad brain fog that I couldn’t remember even basic words, not ideal for a writer!

I’ve had a lot of help – my local hospital, Pembury, have been brilliant, and the respiratory physio there actually told me to read as a way of regaining concentration which was interesting. I can see the benefits, reading stops me doomscrolling on social media – doomscrolling, there’s another word I hadn’t heard before this  year.

When I got ill, I’d been working on a novel about an 18th century gardener, but it seemed ridiculous to be writing about the past when what was happening right now was actually where my heart was. I started writing blog posts as a way of helping other people, but also making sense for myself about my experiences.

And then I felt a real urge to write poems. I think this was because the shape worked as a container for a lot of difficult emotions, and also because it helped to lose myself in choosing the exact right word, line break, and even rhythm for what I wanted to say. There was an element of organisation in the writing that I wasn’t finding in my life!

Recently though I’ve been loving reading and watching TV for escapism, and I keep finding myself thinking about my handsome Georgian gardener so who knows! To go back to  your original question, maybe this is the answer – to let ourselves follow what we need to do right now.

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Sarah Salway

the tidelines of the mind
no one’s asphalt 
in everyone’s visual field
the paths are cross
one grows
one erodes
life is a boundary state

Jim Young, insteps

It’s the last day of February.

The sky still glows now past seven in the evening. A few impatient primroses are up, and there are bird calls I haven’t heard since fall. We sputter towards the summer. A day of snow, a day of hail, a day of blue-blue sky, and a south-westerly wind. Snow again. E. is pulling up the cobblestones in the drive, filling in the hollows with sand, and laying them again. Between the weather systems.

Walking Leonard I have an eye out for the lapwing’s return. I listen for the squeeze-toy call. I thought I heard it last night, but E. said I was mistaken. Anticipation, uncertainty. And the funny thing is, I have no idea why it matters to me. I grip onto this though — the lapwing — like gripping onto a handrail to hoist myself up the next step when I am too tired to just let my body move of its own will. Somewhere in me outside of logic, it means something.

About all I know of the lapwing is that it nests in the fields and is vulnerable to the tractors that drive through them.

If winter’s darkness is difficult, spring’s prodding and unpredictability are a trial to endure. Nothing returning from the dead comes back easily. The rearranging of matter causes morning sickness.

Persephone comes
& spring, her colicky infant
cannot fix his gaze
on the world – sleeps & shudders
– no idea what lies in store

Ren Powell, Persephone’s Ambivalence

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

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

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 56. Eros and his bow

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

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

Liz Lefroy, I Set A Breakfast Tray

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

Ernesto Priego, The Shell

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

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

Uma Gowrishankar, The Journey

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

Tim Love, Long shadows

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

Jason Crane, POEM: Hello sailor

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

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

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, World Valentine

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

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

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

Note that word, too: “wedded.”

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt for valentine’s day

breaking boughs
bent live oak branches
the weight of ice

today this mask
feels good

James Brush, 02.12.21

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Report from hagdom

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

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

Marie Craven, Slid

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, Rough Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grant Hackett [no title]

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

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

Kristy Bowen, voice and the spaces between

The body is always talking to us. 

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

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

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

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Listening to the body

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

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

Kristen McHenry, Box Set Bonanza

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

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

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

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

Josephine Corcoran, January 2021 at And Other Poems

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

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

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

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

Mat Riches, Bang To Rights

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

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

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

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

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

Kelli Russell Agodon, Thoughts on Putting Together a Poetry Manuscript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hope, a thing with feathers, metaphor.

JJS, Valentine with death and life

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

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, Dear Cancer

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

James Lee Jobe, is it still the same life

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

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

Ama Bolton, ABCD late January 2021

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

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

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

the sargasso sea 

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

Jim Young, see

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

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

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

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

Tom Montag, I WANT AT LAST TO BE HONORED

The woman gestures, one hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, Rearranging Things

Things I cannot fix,
an incomplete list:

armed militias.
Global pandemic.

The grief of staying apart
and unbearable yearning.

Rage at insurrectionists
and anti-maskers.

Things I can fix:
lunch for my child.

This winter stew, meat
from the freezer

and dried mushrooms
plumping in hot broth.

Warm speckled rye dough
pliant beneath my hands.

Rachel Barenblat, Fix

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

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

An upright stack of bones being pulled toward the earth.

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

We are suspension bridges.

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

Ren Powell, Suspension

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

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

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

but it is the perfect medicine for my heart.

Rich Ferguson, Heart Medicine

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 4

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.

It’s been a rough month for many, and a rough year for a world suffering through a pandemic. All is not gloom in the poetry blogs, though, and the winter darkness throws flashes of humor or insight into sharp relief. Like so many, I was cheered this week to hear that the inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman, will be reading at the Superbowl. It feels as if poetry is finally going somewhere, even if most poets are still stuck at home.


Lay down the aphorisms, brick by brick. Play word-
tricks: the awkward juggler has to catch all the

balls tossed in the air, here homonyms fall neatly,
at their pleasure. Isn’t war, unwarranted? Isn’t man,

manipulated? Was there a poet present when light
emerged to rhyme with night?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Poetricks

Little B still wakes up 2-4 times a night so my sleep sucks.

As a writer, it is so hard for me to go to bed when B does and to not get up until everyone does. If I stay up an extra hour, I can write in the still darkness of the sleeping house! If I get up an hour early, I can write as the sun breaks open the day! I love writing when the family is asleep – no interruptions or competition for my time.

But this year I am committing to sleep first, write second. When B starts sleeping through the night, I can take up my writing in those odd hours again, but for now, I need to not treat my body like crap.

Renee Emerson, Zzzzzs

That night, I fell asleep in front of Netflix’s The Minimalists, but not before hearing and thinking about its primary message: We are so consumed with having physical things that we forfeit the intangible ones that make us truly happy–time, community, creativity, meaningful accomplishment, rest, health (personal and global). There are some things in my life that are hugely challenging–more challenging than they’ve ever been, maybe–but my friend was seeing something true: I am less stressed. I have fewer obligations and fewer life chores and more time than I’ve ever had for long conversations, leisurely meals, neighborhood walks, and serious contemplation. I’ve begun moving through my days at a slower pace, doing what I reasonably can rather than what some unreasonable voice is telling me I should. (No one seems to have noticed or, if they have noticed, to have cared.) That voice has gone mostly silent.

My life–not unlike the Roses’–is much smaller than it once was. There are people and places I deeply miss, but most of what has fallen away I do not. My connections to what and who remains are deeper. I don’t know that I am happier; the departure of Busyness made it easier for Hard Things to come in. But on the whole, I am calmer. I am finding that letting some of those hard things claim space has been easier than fighting to hold the door against them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of stories and self-care

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had Covid dreams. Logically, I should be more concerned, considering the increase in local cases of the new mutation. I don’t know. Maybe my subconscious has played out the scenario so many times it has soothed itself. Or simply resigned.

It’s been below freezing for a couple of weeks. The house is a little cold, which means the bedroom is especially chilly – and that’s good for sleep.

I doubt the dreams are gone for good. But I’ll enjoy these deep-sleep nights for now.

I’ve only rarely gone outside this week. But enough to see the full moon begin to sag just a little. I’ve stood on the deck to watch – and hear – the sparks flying from the contact cables when the freight train passes. It frightens Leonard, who otherwise loves the cold weather. I wonder if the smell of the hares in the area sits in relief above the smell of the clean snow.

Ren Powell, Warm Bodies in Cold Rooms

But over the last two years, as I’ve been getting ready for this book to come out, I have woken up in the middle of the night anxious about my poems–not the craft of them, that I have worked on endlessly, but that some deal with some very personal topics. As I received my final edits this week, I found myself waking up at 3 am with a “what have I done?” feeling. Along with the gratitude and thankfulness of this book, I’ve been hit with the classic–Omg, people are actually going to read this! 

Talking with other women poets, I realize many have also had this fear or concern as their books and poems come out into the world. It comes down to risk, we need to write what scares us.

I took a class with Brenda Hillman and after we shared a poem, she would ask us, “What did you risk?” Some people would say, “I’m writing in a new form” or “I risked sentimentality” but some would say, “I’m writing about something that makes me feel shameful” or “I’m writing about a topic I have been afraid to share.” Every time we risk or write about the things we are afraid to or think we shouldn’t, we open doors for other poets to do the same thing. 

In a world of filters and photoshop, it can be hard to be real and vulnerable. Sometimes we want to put on a lot of concealer and cover what we consider are our flaws. I want to consider that word “flaw”–maybe what we consider our “flaws” are us just being human. Maybe when we are able to say “this happened to me” or “this was very hard to write about and equally hard to publish,” we are finding ways for others to feel less alone in the world. 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Feel the Fear and Write It Anyway

One comes away feeling that Dillard is struggling, hard, with the aftereffects of some kind of deeply traumatic experience, of which the frog being sucked dry by a giant water bug — the book’s most disturbing, recurring motif — is just a pale reflection. Sometimes I felt her angst was arising only because she had her framing wrong and was looking at the situation backward, leading her to anguished conclusions (the chapter on “Fecundity” for instance: “Evolution loves death more than it loves you or me.”). Other times I was grateful and amazed for her ability to describe transcendent/immanent experiences in which the self disappears and life shines forth in all its blinding presence (the chapters on “Presence” and “Stalking” for instance).

Overall, an undeniable classic of nature literature, of course, but also a reading experience I wouldn’t recommend to just anyone. Don’t come here unless you like having your hair set aflame.

Dylan Tweney, The tree with the lights in it

I didn’t get a “hit of sun” this morning, but those few extra minutes of light, even from behind thick clouds, made a difference. Checking the sunrise/sunset times for today, I see that the sun came up at 7:33 am and will go down at 5:17 pm. That’s forty-one more minutes of light since December 21, 2020. Not that I’m counting.

The thing about SAD, at least for me, is that I don’t really notice it until it starts to recede. Then I realize that the darkness did affect my mood, dulling it just enough for me to observe the change when the light starts to return. 

Light affects my hens too. During the Fall, they lay fewer and fewer eggs. Commercial egg producers address this by adding artificial light to their chicken coops, which explains why we can buy eggs year-round. 

I prefer to let my hens have a rest, knowing they’ll start laying again as soon as the light returns. During the dark months, I feed them extra-choice tidbits, add apple cider vinegar to their water, and make sure they have dry bedding. I watch for signs of stress, which include poor appetite, aggression, and pulling each other’s feathers. Every once in a while, I let them out of their pen to explore the larger backyard.

On December 31, 2020, I wrote this haiku:

                           every day
                           another morsel of light
                           in spite of everything

I hope the returning light inspires your writing.

Erica Goss, I’m a SAP: A Seasonally Affected Poet

It’s currently snowing and they are daring to call it a blizzard, but it at least worked out to be happening over the weekend, when I am tucked inside safely until Monday afternoon.  I’ve been cleaning a little, drafting the latest Paper Boat, drinking tea, and making chicken soup. All very relaxing after a long week, that began with the cats trying to kill us by turning on the stove last Sunday morning (just a lot of smoke and a very badly damaged stir-fry pan that happened to be on the burner), and ended with a Friday that felt like I was chasing my tail at work and not getting all that much accomplished besides answering and sending faculty e-mails and lib answer queries in the hours I was there.  It was also just cold and snowed a lot.  I slept really late this morning covered in cats (who cannot kill me now that I have child protectors on the stove knobs) and buried beneath the covers to escape the chill. Lately, with everything else going on, it being winter feels like a personal affront that is not really personal at all. 

Thursday, I spent some time choosing work for reading in a week or so for the Poetry Foundation, and decided to go with a batch of the tabloid poems, mostly because they are humorous and a lot less dark than most of what I’ve been writing lately and since last year.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 1/30/2021

Groceries unpacked, my feet are frozen in leaking drifts of winter. Someone posts Pema Chodron droning on about seeking meaning in the presence of death as though this is a novel idea, as though some of our bodies don’t have to live there all the time: what did I do with my hours, they ask. Did I value what I value? What is a day for when we are all soon to die?

To love, and be loved, I snap at the screen, obviously, and scroll on looking for something not obvious, for something to surprise me: spend years in death’s talons and you know there is nothing else but this body and the way it loves and is loved, by every measure of that foolish word.

Sure, talk to me about checking accounts and free gifts so I can notice your laughlines and try to remember what a landscape unfrozen looks like, what love is when it is not scrapped. All else is waste. The chasing of money in freezing drifts. So much of this just obvious noise. People post about astrology. Aliens. Ferfuckssake, I think, and click away, exhausted by the endless reaching for fantasy when the real, the wondrous, is right here, you just have to see it, then nurture it. Maybe I should have just given him my phone number.

Mom still isn’t really waking, or eating, or sleeping. Except sometimes she does: it’s not low oxygen causing it, just covid, just death’s talons, just her decision in her animal body whether to beat it or be beaten. I don’t know whether it’s beating me or I’m beating it, she says, and I tell her I’m so sorry I can’t be there with her. Her floor quarantined, her memory an Escher hallway, her existential end a solitary conflict between animal body and remaining cognition that knows she does not want to live like this. I negotiate with her lack of appetite: what about grapes? Mashed potatoes? A brownie? Her dehydration: not even ginger ale. What about a Coke?

JJS, Wolf Moon

Whisper it quietly, but I think that January might just be over. I’m not 100% convinced, but early indications are that February will commence as of tomorrow.

This is good as it means I can a) stop running every day and b) drink again. I could, of course, have started/stopped (delete as applicable) either of these things at any time, but I chose to persevere with them and I wanted to stick to them. Just to prove that I can make my own choices I am now going to open a beer. I think I’ve earned it for the running part.

In media-type Twitter circles whenever you see a brand or person/both go viral (whatever that means), either for good work or a faux pas, you will often hear someone say I bet that makes it into a deck* by a planner. Essentially, it will be quickly subsumed into being used as an example of what works (usually without any proof it works or any definition of what works actually means).

However, I was reminded of this briefly during the week when I walked past Flo’s room and heard her English teacher talking to the class via Teams about Amanda Gorman’s poem from the Biden/Harris inauguration. I was amazed to hear that Gorman’s poem had made it to the curriculum so quickly. It hasn’t, but it was wonderful to hear the poem being used to hopefully make poetry seem relevant to Flo’s class.

I’m not 100% sure where I stand on the poem myself, but I can totally see how it can help to get poetry out to people and pique interest. I hope that her being the first poet to read at the Superbowl and her subsequent modeling contract bring her all the right attention, and also that if even one person picks up a pen as a result then it’s all good.

Mat Riches, Gardiner At Night

Poetry is in the news these days. Not just the luminous performance of Amanda Gorman at the Biden Inauguration, but tweets that are snapshots of poems and articles that extol the benefits of pandemic poetry processing. Poems like whales in the bay, rise to the surface with a gust of sound and then sinking gracefully only to rise again twenty feet away. 

After Gorman’s recitation, I received more than a handful of emails and private messages on various social media platforms asking, “Was that a good poem?” I saw the bitter sniping by some of the academic establishment. I saw enjoyment, even amazement, by folks that probably thought that poetry was “too hard” or not for them, and here they were loving a poem and its graceful and gracious presentation.

My response to their questions about Gorman’s poem on Facebook: 

Did it touch you? Did it resonate with you?  These are the questions you must answer to understand if it was a good poem FOR YOU. The days of the gatekeepers are over, especially for the older, white, cis-het university crowd.  I find myself going back to something W.S. Merwin wrote: If you find you no longer believe, enlarge the temple. Let’s let the temple of poetry be as large as the whole world. Read poetry. Write it. Talk about it. Love it. Share it. Enlarge the temple.

The past few evenings, I’ve been reading the poetry of Rebecca Elson, who was primarily an astronomer but who wrote breathtakingly beautiful poems in her scant 39 years of life. I’ve been sharing them on social media because I want other people to learn about her work, to be nourished by her poems. Poetry as part of the gift culture, not the capitalist culture. I’ll never make my living writing poetry (something my father was quick to point out to me when I was fifteen), but it will be the way that I make my life. 

Whatever your gift is, I hope that today you will have the pleasure of sharing it.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Gift culture

I have to admit I’m not keen on references to gatekeepers in poetry, as the term implies that poets might somehow find favour with people who could grant them access to a supposed citadel or inner sanctum, at which point they’ll have arrived and somehow made it to the top. This mistaken belief inevitably leads to continual and continuous frustration for the poets in question.

Of course, there’s always a social establishment in the poetry world (as in many others), which is successively replaced by new establishments, all with their own prejudices, favourites and friends. However, I personally find that the key as an individual is to focus efforts on living, reading, writing, finding readers who are already out there and generating new ones for the genre rather than wasting precious energy on the pursuit of a non-existent Holy Grail…

Matthew Stewart, Poetry’s inner sanctum

My goal to keep learning about women writers and their lives continues, this week with the second season of Dickinson, the Apple series on Emily Dickinson, reading Red Comet, the latest biography of Sylvia Plath, and also research on Stella Gibbons, a curiously undercelebrated early-twentieth century English novelist and poet, who wrote Cold Comfort Farm, the satiric novel she’s best known for, but also 22 other books, including a couple of books of poetry and many short stories and the book I’m reading now, My American. Stella was, like me, was a journalist before she was a poet and fiction writer. Many of her books are out of print and unavailable in America, but she won a bunch of awards in her day, and held literary salons into the 1970s. When I read about the lives of successful women writers, I’m always curious about their similarities – for instance, women writers like Atwood, Gluck, and Plath (and me) were all the daughters of scientists – Gibbons’ father was a doctor (“a good doctor,” his daughter would say, “but a terrible father” – he was often violent at home but charitable at work). Otto Plath was one of the leading experts on bumblebees in his time – he began his PhD at Harvard at age 40 before he met Plath’s mother, so he was a very old father – but not, by all accounts, much fun to be around. (Coincidentally, Plath’s son, Nicholas, kind of followed in his grandfather’s footsteps – became a leading expert in the Northwest on salmon and orca patterns, before taking his own life in his early forties.)  Sylvia had a kind of extreme ambition and broke 50s modes by being a woman who wanted to work and have children at the same time (gasp), while Stella Gibbons poked fun at the literary community and often refused to follow convention of what women writers were supposed to be like. Being different – standing out – and rebelling against current modes.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Learning from Women Writers, Under a Wolf Moon, Looking at Book Publishers During Submission Season, and Waiting (and Waiting) for the Vaccine

Mingus! Dolphy!
Elderly people doing yoga!
Park pavilions full of
downward dogs & the upper class.
The Buick owners realigning their chakras
before heading off to brunch.
Everyone has a dog or else no one does.
There’s ozone in the air but the sun is out.
Where’s the promised thunder?
The desert is a dirty liar.
The bass clarinet will have to do.

Jason Crane, POEM: Revenge!

If a clonk on the head with a coconut could dispel my problems I’d line up for a whap. And if the people I love asked, I’d cure their worst troubles with a coconut whap too. This contradicts what I’m beginning to understand about the powerful lessons embedded in mistakes and suffering. But as I get older I get more impatient. The coconut option just seems a hell of a lot easier.

I imagine ridiculous, Gilligan’s Island-worthy scenarios where a mass coconut drop on our country erases racism, sexism, inequality, greed, heck, all our major problems. I imagine us rubbing our heads with peaceful, bemused expressions as we gather up the coconuts and make each other inventive, delicious meals out of all that bounty.

Until I remember, on Gilligan’s Island, whatever problems were solved by a sudden coconut hit were always cancelled out by an inevitable follow-up coconut hit. The professor forgets his brilliant insight, Mary Ann again judges her looks by impossible standards, Gilligan transforms back into a clueless underling. Getting that second hit is pretty much what happens to most of us when epiphanies slide from memory, when awe fades, when the weight of consumer culture drags us back into ruts.  

Laura Grace Weldon, Clonk

We’ve looked for that fabled
plant of many colors, the bird

whose song grows a canopy of grace
over the blighted land. We’ve pushed

our stone-heavy hearts into the wood,
afraid to return without remedy,

without salve. We would lie
down with each other if we knew

we could send strong
new roots into the earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Anti-Elegy

I got the first dose of the vaccine, last Wednesday. As a massage therapist, I count as a health care worker, so I’m in the first wave. It’s a relief to know that, even as I dawdle and second guess and hang about, my body is busily manufacturing antibodies. In one way, nothing changes: none of my behaviors will change, for a while yet. But it feels totally different. We will win this thing, eventually.

Also: I am very, very tired.

Dale Favier, Things Taking Shape

Last spring the shelves of grocery stores were often bare. No toilet paper, no flour, no Clorox wipes. Fruits and vegetables were hard to find, for a while. We haven’t returned to those levels of privation (yet) this winter, but there are ingredients I can’t find. I think of previous generations cooking during wartime, or in the shtetl, or in the Warsaw Ghetto. (I don’t want to think of subsisting on what food was available in the camps.) This isn’t like that, but that’s the narrative frame that comes to mind. 

When I read about people who refuse to wear masks or maintain social distancing, I think: would you have turned on your lights during the Blitz? It’s not a kind thought, but I struggle to feel kindness toward those whose actions put others at risk. Much about this pandemic year feels like a discipline: staying apart, staying masked, staying alone, cooking with what I can get. The hardest discipline is maintaining a healthy balance between facing reality, and not perseverating about the reality we face.

The hardest discipline is cultivating hope. This week on the Jewish calendar we mark the New Year of the Trees. Symbolically, spiritually, the sap of the coming spring and summer is beginning to rise. The potential for flower and fruit lies coiled in every seed. The days will lengthen. The vaccine will become available to everyone. The branches that are now bare will carry a profusion of fruit. Can I hold the experience of January’s bitter cold alongside the certainty that in its time spring will come? 

Rachel Barenblat, Discipline

Scrolling through Twitter one morning, as one does, I saw that someone posted a video with the caption, “turn up your sound” but I mis-read it as turn up your soul. We see what we need to see sometimes.

Maybe it’s nearly time to reconstitute the world:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

—Adrienne Rich

Maybe it’s time for poems to fill with light again, for poets. Which is to say, all of us.

A poetry of the meaning of words
And a bond with the universe

I think there is no light in the world
but the world

And I think there is light

— George Oppen

In my study, as shown above, there are most likely a lot of conversations taking place. Between Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Mrs. Dalloway, a cloud. Who knows what they’re talking about? On the bookshelves as well. As it turns out I file Anne Sexton beside Hermann Hesse.

Sexton: “I am not lazy. / I am on the amphetamine of the soul.”

She also said, “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”

I’m not one of these people who is going to tell you everything will be alright. For many it simply won’t be. Or hasn’t been.

Shawna Lemay, Turn Up Your Soul

Back to teaching full time this week. Been exciting and inspiring, while at the same time very real. What I mean is that the more I teach, the more I feel myself be more myself. And it’s not a thing I can summon or call forth. The space held in shared open questioning and conversation calls it forth.

Tangentially connected, at one point this week I watched this interview and supplemental writing “exercise” clips between Trevor Noah and Amanda Gorman that are illuminating. In the interview, Gorman speaks of poetry as water, a way to “re-sanctify, re-purify, and reclaim” the world around us. Her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” and its consequent impact on our American conscience at this moment in time are a solid gesture and step in the direction of this work.

In the second clip, Noah and Gorman engage in a predictive text writing exercise. It’s the kind of thing I see on Twitter sometimes and can’t help but join in on. Engaging directly and purposefully with predictive text can at times feel like having an echo of your latest obsessions as well as the way you articulate yourself in daily life cast back at you. Sometimes the screens in our hands look back, yo.

José Angel Araguz, writing prompt: predictive text

I’ve been trying to draw and paint more regularly. It’s therapy, and it’s a joy, and it’s a way to remember who I am — as well as, I suppose, record who I was. My sketchbooks are just as much a diary as a written one, but that reminds me of my recurrent dream where I’m seated at the piano and required to play, except that what’s on the music stand isn’t a musical score but a painting. Somehow, I start playing what I see, and in the dream, it seems to make sense…

For someone who works in both words and in images, as well as being a musician, that dream feels all too real, and it makes me ask the question of whether a diary of one’s days isn’t just as valid if it is drawn as when it is written. Of course, the two can be merged together, as I guess I sometimes do here on my blog. But because I often find words (and especially, my own words) tedious, I like the idea of “reading” a sketchbook in order to discern something about a person’s life.

When I look through my drawings of the past year, however, I don’t think anyone else could tell we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Taken in the context of all the other sketchbooks from other years, it’s clear that the artist often goes other places, and hasn’t in a long while. But otherwise, except for a couple of pages at the beginning where the chaotic state of my mind was evident, all I can detect is a turn toward more color, the same objects appearing repeatedly, and occasional forays into places I’ve visited, mainly Mexico City, Sicily, and Greece.

As we near the one-year mark of isolation, in another month, in the middle of yet another winter, I can tell you that I am intensely tired of these walls and these two rooms. I’ve been going up to my studio a couple of afternoons a week, and managed to do a painting of Sicily this week.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 55. Inside, Outside, and Elsewhere

My poem “After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night” has been published in Kahini Quarterly.

I’m especially glad that this deeply personal poem found a home in Kahini Quarterly, which is the most selective and highest paying literary journal I know. I was so shocked when I got this acceptance last week; I responded by going to sleep for 12 hours! I’m grateful to the editors for choosing my work and for placing such value on writing, and I’m overwhelmed by the messages of affirmation and solidarity I’ve received.

Kate Manning, “After an Older Man…” in Kahini Quarterly

In poetry news, I’m waiting to hear about a few submissions (just had a big rejection) and I’m toying with the idea of a pamphlet submission.  I’m not sure I’m ready for another collection yet.  I’m a bit stuck with poetry at the moment, and I’ve been reading prose and scripts because I’m finding poetry difficult to access.  Perhaps a break from poetry will cleanse my palate. I’m re-reading The Great Gatsby after listening to a superb episode of In Our Time in which the book was discussed.  I’ve always loved Fitzgerald’s prose and revisiting feels like calling in to see an old friend.

Josephine Corcoran, Two Chopsticks and a Pencil for the Hyacinths

Canadian poet Christopher Patton’s latest title is Dumuzi (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2020), a a poetry collection that follows his poetry debut, Ox(Montreal QC: Vehicule Press, 2007), as well as his Medieval translations Curious Masonry (Gaspereau Press, 2011) and Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book (Gaspereau Press, 2018). Having established himself as having an interest in exploring and reworking older source texts, Patton’s Dumuzi appears a blend of those two earlier threads of his publishing history, composing a translation inasmuch as Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? can be seen as a translation of The Odyssey; both rework from the bones of their original sources, and through the creation of a new and original work, uncover previously unseen meaning and depth from such ancient texts. Dumuzi tears apart and reworks old Sumerian myths into an assemblage of lyric fragments and sketches, as he explains as part of his essay “THE GOD DUMUZI AND THE POLICE FORCE INSIDE”: “I see now that my pleasure in pattern for its own sake, there on the signal-noise threshold, was an approach to translation. I was working with the Sumerian myths of Inanna and Dumuzi. Their stories are liturgically redundant, enough so to alter your time-sense, when you’re inside them. And a persistent theme of the poems is the agon, if you like, of form and formlessless.” Dumuzi reworks an ancient tale through the building-blocks of language itself, opening with a short suite of establishing poems to set the foundation of his narrative before the narrative fractures and fractals out in multiple directions. It is as though Patton works translation, mistranslation and misheard translation, utilizing the loose structure of the ancient Sumerian stories and utilizing his play from those ancient bones.

rob mclennan, Christopher Patton, Dumuzi

Philip Hoare is another writer whom I admire. His Risingtidefallingstar (2017) is Sebaldian in many ways: its episodic mixture of what appears to be autobiography – though Hoare doesn’t, fictionalise it like Sebald did – and potted accounts of incidents from the lives of literary and other figures of historical importance. Risingtidefallingstar includes chapters on gay and bisexual writers – Wilde and Stephen Tennant (about both of whom he has previously written at length), Wilfred Owen (about whose life I hitherto knew little bar the Craiglockhart interlude and the agonising futility of his death so close to the Armistice) and Virginia Woolf. But Hoare also recounts biographical details from the lives of others intimately connected with water: Melville, Nelson, Thoreau, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Shelley and Byron.

I know its details well, but the story of Shelley’s end resounds with me whenever I read it. In June 2017, Lyn and I holidayed in Viareggio, where Edward Trelawney, Byron and co. ceremonially burnt Shelley’s corpse on the beach, fifteen days after the fatal boat trip and five after the body had washed up. A year later, we took the train north from Pisa to La Spezia, and then a taxi, whose driver initially dropped us at the wrong place in Lerici, before dropping us at Casa Magni itself, where Shelley and his family and friends were staying when he died. Hoare’s account, like others I’ve read (including that of Richard Holmes), states that the house is in Lerici, but it’s actually couple of miles along the coast, in San Terenzo, with a lovely beach and bay of its own. When we arrived, we found the house, now a hotel, locked up and there was no answer when we rang the bell. After a while, we were admitted and shown to what was Shelley’s bedroom. For several days we were the only guests, and the staff were absent to the point of invisibility, as if it were our own house. When two other (English) guests appeared at breakfast, it felt like a gross intrusion.

As one would expect from someone who grew up and still lives in the great port city of Southampton, whence the Titanic began its voyage, the book is dominated by the coastline – e.g. the pretext for Barrett Browning’s inclusion is her sojourn in Torquay – and oceans and the peril they bring. In that, it reminded me of Anne-Marie Fyfe’s equally restless mixture of memoir, biography and travelogue, No Far Shore, with which it shares some concerns. Followers of Hoare on Twitter will be well aware of his daily swim in the sea and how it’s an essential part of his life. As the cetacean-obsessed writer of Leviathan, he is, or would love to be, half-man–half-dolphin, meeting jellyfish and a singing whale. At New Networks for Nature a few years ago, Hoare enthralled me and the rest of the audience with his tales of close encounters with sperm whales off the coasts of the Azores. As I read his book, I heard and felt his enthusiasm and learning.

Matthew Paul, January Reading

winter swimming
my fingers are sausages
my toes are white

Jim Young [no title]

holding my breath
the dragonfly’s
stilled wings

I’ve not been particularly poetic, or productive, this week. Tired from work, tired from the cold weather, maybe tired of the gloom that surrounds us mid-pandemic. But January’s like that sometimes. I keep telling myself spring is just around the corner. The days are lengthening a little, and I hear the birds singing when I go out with the dog. I’ve done the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend – 2 male blackbirds, a pair of collared doves and a scattering of house sparrows. I was hoping for more variety as we often have goldfinches and blue tits, and now and again the trauma of a sparrow hawk. Anyway, I had to be content with what I saw.

The colouring/ collage above is from a mindfulness colouring book someone bought me for Christmas. I had more time over the Christmas holiday, and rather than just colour, I also used collage techniques to fill some of the pages (see below). Anyway, the dragonfly page lent itself to a haiku.

Julie Mellor, holding my breath

As poets, I don’t believe we ever ‘start from nothing’. Or rather – I think that there’s a huge potential in every nothing we encounter. Our lives and lived experiences – although rich and vital components of our work – are also only one approach to writing.

My little bureau under the stairs is dedicated to what Don Paterson calls the ‘wild red eye’ stage of writing: where you play, experiment, set out to see how you might surprise yourself. (I edit upstairs at my desk, where I welcome the ‘cold blue eye’ of my Inner Editor).

Some mornings, the Muse rings the doorbell and leaves a parcel – or pops in for a cup of tea (they’re non-corporeal, so we don’t need to socially distance). Other mornings, there are no deliveries: I am there, with a notebook and a desk. But that desk is covered in decks of cards – including Fashion and Art Oracles, some home-printed ‘Oblique Strategies’, some new ‘votive cards’ which encourage embodied writing, the ‘Don’t/Do This Game’ of ‘thought experiments for creative people’.

There are fridge poetry words, and shelves of books of prompts. I’ve also got the Parrot Random Word generator app and several sets of story dice – real and digital (my favourite are the actions Story Cubes, which are great for getting writers to consider their verbs…). Sometimes, I’ll explore news articles – especially around environment – and then muddle up some phrases with found words to invite my response. You get the idea.

An aside: my late Granny Joy was a toy collector and serious hoarder (she actually had a box labelled ‘Bits of string too short to be useful’) and my late Granddad Eric, a toy designer and maker: I’m in a lineage of tinkerers and gatherers. All this creative ‘stuff’ is my way of embracing that inheritance. You might be an aesthetic anti-clutter minimalist – but keeping in mind that we can always ‘invoke the Muse’ is, I think, helpful for everyone. Which toys, games, ways of reinstating your playfulness, might work for you?

Unlocking Creativity with Caleb Parkin (at Abegail Morley’s blog The Poetry Shed)

I type “helpful” notes on my phone in the middle of the night when “inspiration” hits. Two recent entries include “I say potato, you say roboto” and “donut shop awnings, orange & pink.” So clearly, writing in 2021 is going swimmingly.

Here’s my prayer to the weather gods: May this coming week-long deep freeze be the only one of the season.

I miss date nights shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar leaning even closer for deep conversation. It’s one of my favorite forms of intimacy. Pillow talk in public places.

Carolee Bennett, pillow talk in public places

there are people who say
that only humans have souls
others say that everything has a soul
or is a part of a great over-soul
and yet there are others
who don’t believe in souls at all
last night a hard storm came
and knocked out the electricity for hours
i didn’t light a candle
i sat in the total darkness
listening to the rain and wind
wrapped in an old blanket

James Lee Jobe, a part of a great over-soul

I gave myself some time this week to write and revise, and it reminded me how happy that makes me, to concentrate on one kind of work at a time. Instead of hurting like a warehouse (I love that simile), my brain shifts into a mode of focused exploration; I can fall asleep all right, and I wake up almost cheerful. It’s amazing to me how even sabbatical, a time supposedly dedicated to focused reading and writing, gets fractured into a million tasks. Or, I mean, I fracture it; there is a world of need out there, but there’s also my guilt and, often, restless energy. The problem with the writing-dream being my salve is that it eventually begets more busy-work: submissions, proofs, getting word out on social media even when I know social media makes me unhappy (oh, FB)… Again I think of Bowie, whose 1970s diet allegedly oscillated between cocaine and milk.

My endless little post-writing tasks bore sweet fruit this week. Last winter, I thought about who shine a light on The State She’s In: my small press sends out copies but doesn’t have a publicist, so I was telling myself I needed to make my own luck. I sent out a ton of applications for festivals, reading series, conferences, etc., but I also tried something I hadn’t before: I studied the reviews in The Rumpus, found someone who writes really great ones and seems to be interested in books like mine, and wrote to her out of the blue to ask if she’d like to see my digital ARCs or receive a copy of the published book. Yes, she said, although no promises; even if she got to it, it would be a while. And here it is, an extraordinarily long, thoughtful, generous dream of a review by Julie Marie Wade in The Rumpus.

Lesley Wheeler, My brain hurt like a warehouse

Cloud faces floating, a slow-mo swirling through earth’s sky rivers.

Those faces fade, reappear as others’ faces, then reappear as your own face looking down at you.

You reach up to touch your cloud-self, but heartworn concertos sing the sky asunder.

You are here, you are gone, then you’re here again as the ghostly hems of sky’s river clothes mend,

and you are dressed in the most beautiful blue.

Rich Ferguson, Cloud faces floating

Crisp air, fragile sun,
soft frozen white on the roofs.
January leaves

questions unanswered.
How much longer till, when, where,
can we meet again?

Magda Kapa, January 2021

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 52

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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

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


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

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

Dale Favier, Christmas Day, 2020

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

Grant Hackett [no title]

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

JJS, Christmas, 2020

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

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

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

Bless its grumbling.

Carolee Bennett, winter solstice poem with potatoes and pandemic

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

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

Sandra Beasley, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to be a writer,” I answered.

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, The doors to the temple

robin song
the mystery of boats
berthed for winter

Matthew Paul, ‘robin song’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 by Ikkyu

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

José Angel Araguz, surviving & Ikkyū

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, Dropping Character

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Ferguson, In the Season of Flowers and Mad Bombers

crow jane lady
in your house
in the wind
flying still

Dick Jones, DOG SUTRAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

River. Trees.
Cold blue sky.

The ice knew
where I was

going, when
I was

coming back.

Tom Montag, Skating the Floyd

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

deep ::
the roots I touch
when I am alone

Dylan Tweney [untitled photo post]

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

Shawna Lemay, Seeing Our Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 49. Star

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, On the far shore

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

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

James Lee Jobe, my world is still wild

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

Jason Crane, haiku: 24 December 2020

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

Bethany Reid, My Slow Christmas

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

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

Remember: time is the best editor.

Marilyn McCabe, Notes on Revision: A Megablog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, Right Book at the Right Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ghost story becomes a conversion story.

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

Anne Higgins, God bless us, everyone!

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

Jim Young, laugharne

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

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Until…

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

Kristy Bowen, poems as snapshot and document

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

The world looks pristine
before we start again

to make tracks in it.

Luisa A. Igloria, Imagined, Undying Flower

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 50

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week found poets looking forward and back, celebrating and mourning, reading, reflecting, raging and reminiscing. Some exciting new publications make an appearance. The solstice approaches.


For over a decade now the Christmas season has been marked for me by a party a friend and her partner host this time of year. It isn’t your typical holiday gathering of interlocked friends: there is a brilliance to their tradition of inviting a core group of weak ties, and each year a few new faces. It’s positively “urban” in its inclusiveness. And as someone who borders on recluse, I find it relaxing.

The food follows in a similar vein: familiar (though hardly “traditional”) dishes and deliberately introduced new recipes. Near the end of the evening every year, M. plays the lacquered white piano and we sing carols.

These parties may be the only parties I have ever attended without feeling a pressure to secure my belonging, or wriggle into tightly-knit cliques by way of an interesting anecdote, or tactical compliment/question. I still don’t know how to do that, and am comfortably past trying, actually.

But this year there’ll be no seasonal gathering around dinner table and the piano. I feel the loss, and am trying to re-frame the fact. I am pulling back to identify the loss, and to appreciate exactly what was so very pleasant.

We aren’t supposed to cling to the pleasant, but I don’t think that precludes seeking to experience it. And maybe for the first time I am observing my passive social life, not in terms of an area for self-improvement, but as a potential for creativity.

I suppose in the self-help jargon the word is “agency”, but oh what connotations come with that: productiveness and goals. Not for me.

When the world pulls apart as it has, I am noticing the spaces between. The loose ties, the fluidity of interactions. My perspective has shifted.

Loosening the weave
potential in every thread
ever-new garments

Ren Powell, Perspective in the Time of Covid

How to make something true? How to slow down that endless flow that we find ourselves participating in, the big scroll….? I keep returning to the line by C.D. Wright on trees, when she says, “The trees true me.” What is it that trues me? What trues you? How to make things that ring true as trees?

Shawna Lemay, Dwelling on Images

It was the persimmons clinging to the leafless branches of a modest sized tree that first made me fall in love with this house. Now, 23 years later, I’m still no closer to getting used to their exuberant abundance.

early sunset
a flock of crows winging homeward

Dylan Tweney [untitled photo post]

People used to ask “what’s new?” or “how’s work?” or “what’s the family up to?” but this year’s standard inquiry seems to be “how are you holding up?”

I don’t know about you, but the holding and the up both are pretty tenuous. Every day seems to pose a more serious threat to democracy, the environment, to justice. This week we are breaking records for Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths, with experts warning of a “dire winter.” I know people who are currently suffering with Covid-19. I know people who have died. I also know people who say concern over the virus is “overblown” and continue to go to the gym and to large gatherings although we’ve now hit daily death tolls exceeding those on 9/11.

Sometimes it feels like I’m polishing every splinter of hope I can find. But when I pay closer attention to what’s holding me up, I find a vast scaffolding. Here are a few rungs on this month’s ladder.

An ash tree in our yard continues to thrive despite invasive ash borers. I greet this tree every time I walk past. Like the sycamore, dogwood, hawthorn, and maple trees around our house I consider this tree a friend. It’s the first tree I see when I look out our back windows, its branches almost always full of twittering birds. I know ash trees are in serious decline. Millions of U.S. ash trees have already died due to the invasive ash borer, including hundreds of trees in the woodland part of our property. But some trees continue to thrive. They’re called “lingering ash.” Somehow these trees, untreated by insecticides, carry on. Their genes seem to resist predation. Science hopes resistant ash can perpetuate the species. This tree’s resistance to annihilation can’t help but inspire me. Let’s hope we can be the lingering best versions of our own species.

Laura Grace Weldon, Holding Up

who are you digging for          sweetheart?
              what scrap
                                      of your life
have you stashed
                            in the ground?           whose
              memories
                                      have replenished
the soil?             how I wish
              it were mine                this
                                      single-minded
joy
              for digging

Romana Iorga, exhumation

The cute Anne Taylor pink coat, waist-tailored with the velvet collar, and matching lipstick behind the mask, because this time, I am not sick, see? Hi, I’m still alive, hospital where I have been so many times in the last eight months, from first wave panic of not enough PPE to now second, or third: ain’t dead yet, say the rose quartz earrings, matching coat, and devotional mouth;

valiant front, isn’t it, all this, until the lady at check in says, at the end of the usual exchange, rote for all of us now, all of us who know it, anyway, who have had to, “…oh, and we call Michael, right, if anything happens?” and the blade of foot kicks me in the stomach, and even strong as this core has become I can see my own soul shoot out backwards from my body, hit the wall behind me, crumple to the floor,

still, I say calmly, politely, “No, absolutely not, please remove him from my file,” and I look away, because if she looks at me I will cry, and in peripheral vision I see her note the brittle ice shatter sound at the edges of my voice and she hits delete, and asks “Do you want to add someone else honey,” and I answer “No thank you not at this time,” and it’s sort of amazing that I haven’t been to the hospital in that long for once, and still I wonder how many more ambushes with this there will be,

and then the rest of my energy, the entirety of my physical being is occupied, waiting, dodging (the shakes) (the needy invasive chatty creeps) (the screaming snot-flinging children) (the waiting room chairs marked for distancing) (the pain) (god damn this pain) (you stupid, stupid bastard what you have wasted how dare you be so stupid at such cost how could you my god look at all you have destroyed for us both)

JJS, labs

you listen to the Blues
straight-up, all-American
lugging lowdown bad news
you moan and groan

knowing reality is your dance partner
not asking who leads 

you begin to play with woe
compete, restate, elaborate,
find the slinky horn, mockery, 
human pulse in the drum beat

tragedy to be stuck in a single mode

and joy is improvisational — all elegance,
meditation, intentional 

Jill Pearlman, Red, White and Blues

No one went anywhere very much
anymore. Parked cars sat
idle on each street. All summer,
windshields gathered fallen
crepe myrtles. In fall, a thick
sifting of dry pine needles.
In kitchen drawers we found
soup spoons that needed
polishing, a blue-green
teapot that was a gift
years ago; a pair of glass
candlesticks, handpainted,
never used. As if it were
Christmas, we took them out
and marveled; finally
we lay them on the table,
poured tea, lit tapers.
We wouldn’t run out of books
yet, though as the year
dwindled down, there wasn’t
much light to read by.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Aftertime

A dear friend still wants me to tell her the time I was born so that she can do my reading. I hate to avoid the question, but I avoid all things hocus-pocus. This is weird for a life-long relatively devout Catholic to say, I know. Hocus-pocus is essential to our storytelling. At the same time, the Christmas season is approaching and I’m feeling like a doubter more than ever before. My husband’s journey through diagnosis to first treatment took up our last 8 weeks and involved planning for the worst-case-scenario and many days and weeks of waiting for pictures of treatment and possible outcomes. It was heart-wrenching and the planning for the end made the end seem inevitable. I wrote some poems.

I shared our story with few at first, making the circle larger as we learned more and could answer difficult questions about the prognosis. We received an overwhelming outpouring of support in the form of thoughts and prayers and anything to be done. I wrote some poems.

I started to think about the prayers. In the first round of letting our closest family and friends know that it was something and something bad, they prayed. I wondered what the prayers would do to the blood already sampled and the tests already running and the analysis about to be completed. I don’t believe God works that way, in any form of the Trinity. This repeated in the second and third rounds of testing. Nothing was going to do magic on what already was set in motion. They prayed for our strength. I wrote some poems.

Okay, I said, I can use some strength. I was waffling among ledges of anger and fear and grief, each adjusting higher and lower from moment to moment like a scissor-lift. I was driving my lovely family crazy, while they remained steadfast. The prayers were working on them. I wrote some poems especially now that we had entered Advent and a friend challenged me to write one a day. I signed up for a prompt-a-day-Advent-calendar and wrote to that. (www.twosylviaspress.com)

Then, all-of-a-sudden, things started lining up. All the bad luck seemed to reverse: of course, we are lucky to have a hematologist/oncologist in the family treating my husband; he is fair enough to give us the honest frightful truth; and kind enough to look for the next-best-option to prolong my husband’s life; he found it just two days before my husband would start therapy; and the numbers look good and we couldn’t be more relieved; and the planning for future inevitabilities is done for whenever we will need it. I wrote some poems.

Tonight, celebrating our luck and practicing gratitude and praying those thanks, I wonder: are we lucky to be in this situation, fortunate to have found the problem at this time, happy to be young(ish) and healthy, blessed to be in this particular family, and/or unlucky to have this cancer at all? I have some poems to write.

Thanks for the thoughts and prayers. They help.

Cathy Wittmeyer, Poetry & Timing & Luck & Stars & Gratitude

spent much of this afternoon walking in the rain – trying to accept the weather, rather than rail against it! In fact, I’ve been trying to accept quite a few things that don’t sit well with me lately, attempting not to let the relentlessly bleak news get in the way of poetry, and life. Easier said than done.

The haiku above doesn’t please me as much as it should – the pun on ‘greens’ seems a bit slight, and I also have a vague feeling that I’ve read a similar poem elsewhere, although I can’t remember where. If so, many apologies to the writer. Haiku may be short, but they’re of infinite variety, so there’s no excuse for not being original. However, sometimes lines come to me and I’m really not sure if I’ve invented them, or whether they seeped into my brain after reading something. And what I’ve been reading over the last couple of weeks is Presence magazine, trying to whittle down a list of favourite poems so I can cast my vote in the ‘best of issue’ award. I really like the idea of a reader’s vote. It means I read the poems a whole lot closer and in doing so, new meanings and resonances surface. So, more reading this week, and hopefully a bit of editing so I can send a few haiku out over the Christmas break. In between, there’s cards to write, presents to wrap, the post office queue to join … Oh well, at least the rain seems to have eased!

Julie Mellor, rain-washed fields

early twilight
snow enters a barn
on the backs of cows


This haiku by the great American haiku poet, Christopher Herold, was the winning poem for ‘December’ in the Snapshot Press Haiku Calendar competition 2019. It was a very worthy winner.

The first line enables the reader to see that beautiful, colourful light at the start of the ‘magic hour’. The mention of the word ‘snow’ in conjunction with ‘twilight’ naturally makes the reader feel the coldness. But, above all, how brilliantly the poem captures a momentary movement in time by attributing the verb not directly to the cows but to the snow, and does so by putting the focus so specifically onto the backs of the cows. There isn’t a need for high-register language. It’s a timeless winterscape, perfectly rendered, like a painting by Brueghel the Elder.

The 2021 Haiku Calendar is available for order now and is unmissable.

Matthew Paul, On a haiku by Christopher Herold

From deepest Somerset, Krakow, Edinburgh, and Wem they logged in to wish the book well on its journey into the world, and what is more, they brought their own drinks. I told you they were a generous crowd. For Penny in Western Australia, it was 4.30 am the next day. My editor Ross Donlon (Mark Time Books) was even further ahead — 7.30 am in Castlemaine, Victoria. This skillful display of time and distance travel was all part of the ride.

Although moving from the digital (this blog) to the page (that book) may seem counter-cultural, for me it’s been necessary at a time when so much of my time is spent staring at a screen a couple of feet away from my varifocals. The book weighs in at 210g. I know this because I’ve weighed it (plus packaging) in order to post it out to readers. 

If you would like to buy a copy of your very own, they cost £10 each including second class UK postage. If you want to get a first class postal service, add 50 pence. Email me at liz.lefroy@btinternet.com to let me know your requirements. If it’s a gift, I can giftwrap and add a card for another £1 and post it straight to the recipient. If you live outside the UK, I can work out the postage rates. 

You can also find I Buy A New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence) in the Poetry Pharmacy in Bishops Castle, and Pengwern Books, Shrewsbury. And there is a lending copy at Shrewsbury Library, (although the librarian I’ve been dealing with has taken it home for the weekend, so you may have to wait your turn). I will sort out a wider means of distribution in the new year. 

I’m deeply grateful to those who suggested this project to me, in particular Ross Donlon and Anna Dreda. I am so grateful to you, my readers. Some of you — Peter, Kev, Anna, Graham, Helen, Morar, Mike (and it turns out, Zoe!) — have been reading diligently for years. 

When I started this blog in 2014, I thought it would be a playground in which I could practise my poetry writing skills. What I’ve discovered is that playfulness / mucking about / having fun / being spontaneous (and moderately independent) suits me. 

Liz Lefroy, I Commit To Paper

Sent From Elsewhere is a major collaboration with Swedish/French musician/ artist Frédéric Iriarte that we have been working on for most of 2020. When we started this, we decided to make tracks that sounded different from anything we’d do by ourselves. So here are complex improvisations, radical remixes, and strange texts, using vocal effects that I’d been thinking about for ages… We are both very happy with the result!!

The album consists of 9 tracks, featuring Frédéric on guitars, basses, saxophones, keyboard, piano, flute, Jew’s harp, harmonica, vibraphone, FX and percussion. I did the vocal performances, played a few bits, and put the lot together in sometimes major remixes. [Listen on Bandcamp]

Ian Gibbins, Sent From Elsewhere: poetry and music with Frédéric Iriarte now out on Bandcamp

[Rob Taylor:] Speaking of points of connection, a number of the poems in Mythical Man involve, or take place on, dating apps (two of the poems in Mythical Man contain quotes from Grindr). Did it feel at all strange or anachronistic to write about a digital space in a print book? Does writing in a more “traditional” way about a very modern form of communication allow you a different perspective on it? Do I sound one-hundred years old for even wondering over these questions?

[David Ly:] You only sound roughly 78 for even wondering over these questions. It definitely did not feel anachronistic to write about digital spaces in a print book because I write from my experiences and being who I am, the digital space(s) where I exist are just an integral part of my existence whether I like it or not, but I also am very much a print book reader. So putting the two together wasn’t strange at all. I do feel it strange that people find it a talking point that my poems are drawn from things like dating apps and other digital things. It’s just the world I/we exist in! So it feels right and comfortable to write about them in my poems. 

I don’t know if writing about modern forms of communication in a more “traditional” way gives me a different perspective on it. If anything, writing poetry about digital spaces and how we exist in them makes me slow my thinking down more and reflect more on how I (and others) exist in places like Twitter, Instagram, Grindr, etc. And I think that slow-thinking about this allows me to write sharper poems.

Rob Taylor, Old Stories Made New: An Interview with David Ly

Being on sabbatical puts a insulating layer between me and the academic seasons, but I can still sense the weather shifting via publication cycles. Even for magazines and presses without university affiliations, there are year-in-review lists and columns: Aqueduct Press just published one of mine, and I’ve just submitted another to Strange Horizons for early January publication. I’ve been reading proofs for December issues. Rejections are souring my inbox. I also received three delicious acceptances from magazines I’ve never cracked: I’ll have poems in Smartish Pace and Kenyon Review Online next year, plus an essay that’s central to my forthcoming book, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, will be in American Poetry Review. I’m freaked out, sad, tired, and feeling like a shut-in, yet that is some serious holiday cheer.

I’m rarely in a good mood, honestly, when I’m processing publication’s endless clerical business, even the wins. Being immersed in writing and reading feels better. Yet there are payoffs. A big one today is getting to celebrate the just-published issue of Shenandoah. I’ve been proofing the fiction, nonfiction, comics, and translations sections, which I otherwise have almost nothing to do with, although I love what the other editors have selected. The poetry section, though, is full of my babies. I recruited a few of the authors; most are people whose work I didn’t know before last year, when I sifted their beautiful poems out of the hundreds and hundreds submitted during our brief reading period. I can’t play favorites, loving them all equally, but here’s a tasting menu, each chosen because it will make you feel replete:

Samyak Shertok, “The Last Beekeeper”

Stephanie Rogers, “Fat Girl LaCharta”

Diane Seuss, “[To say that I’m a witch makes me feel better all-around]”

Ashley M. Jones, “I Find the Earring That Broke Lose From My Ear the Night a White Woman Told Me the World Would Always Save Her”

Emily Franklin, “Tell Me How You Got Here”

There’s a wide range of other feelings and experiences represented in this suite of poems, but for now: honey, rhubarb, persimmons.

Lesley Wheeler, What’s cooking and what’s already on the table

Later in the week the publishing gods kept on giving, as the Winter issue of The High Window was published, featuring two poems of mine: ‘Selling The Trampoline’, and ‘A Short Survey’. I’m still working my way through it at present, but there are some wonderful poets surrounding me. Simon Richey is one – I have his collection ‘Naming The Tree’ on my shelves, and there’s a poem of his that caused me to buy it. I wish I could remember what it was, but I loved it and it wasn’t in the book, so I hope he gets a new collection out so I can hopefully be reminded.

Both of the poems of mine are ones I really like, Trampoline feels like more of a summer poem to me, but A Short Survey is one I wanted to get right, somehow combining the day job with my writing. I think it’s a vein to explore further, but I’m not going to force it. Both these poems took several drafts and rethinkings to get to this stage.

As ever, come for my poems and stay for the others.

The final gift from the poetry gods this week has been what I think is the fastest ever move from a first draft to final draft to acceptance. I finished the second draft of a poem last week, and after running it by a voice I trust, I sent it off yesterday for consideration towards a chapbook/anthology. I woke up to the acceptance email this morning. While the idea for the poem came in the middle of this summer, I didn’t write anything until two weeks ago, so that’s positively sprinter-level stuff for me.

Mat Riches, It’s (almost) the End of the (working)Year (as I know it) and I feel finest

I’m fascinated by the third issue of the Hazelton, British Columbia journal Partial Zine (described as “an offline journal of poetry, notebooks, and emails”), the first issue I’ve seen, produced by Adam Katz (formerly of Toronto; formerly of Buffalo) and Vera Maurina Press. This issue includes an array of some fascinating visual and text work by a range of poets, with only half the names I’m familiar with: Andy Gricevich, Raymond de Borja, reck bell, Ellen Dillon, Chris Macalino, Pansy Wright-Simms, Jordan Abel, Robert Jackson, Sila Katz-Kuperman, Woogee Bae, Ava Hofmann, Kristian Enright, Dennis Teichman, Ted Byrne and Michael Simard. There is something really vibrant, nearly explosive, in the works collected here. The issue opens with nearly a dozen pages by American poet Andy Gricevich (does anyone remember the publications he used to produce as CANNOT EXIST?), an array of il/legibilities he describes in a brief afterword: “Later I started to think of them as ‘songs’ (at least sometimes), where greater legibility=’lyrics’ over the ‘background music’ or harmonies of the other marks. // Still later I started thinking a lot (and still haven’t really followed this out consciously) of illegibility as a sociopolitical issue—rendering ourselves unreadable to state, medical, corporate, social media and technocratic attempts to comprehend and anticipate our desires and needs.” Between dense visuals of collaged images set upon a background of crinkled grey, set as a field of tricks with light, Raymond de Borja includes the short piece “The Given is What Accident Refracts to a Gift,” that reads: “Set where various cities touch without tremor—the timbre of a tear—offered—in the fabric of—to a listening where—when straining for—there—when towards—disambiguation—an attentive ear—understands—that it cannot understand—the impulse towards—what we feel we mean—when saying here.” As part of Woogee Bae’s addendum to her own handwritten piece reads:

the idea circulating in my head kind of frustrated me as I put it to paper, so that’s not what this is.
a rough breakdown of the word “mung” (like mung beans).
my current obsession.
several definitions, different uses of the word throughout history
data manipulation
ruins
here

There is such a wealth of work here, from handwritten to straight text, from visual collage to designed and modified text, all in their own way utilizing the page as field and the text as building-block (the only structures missing might be the physical, modified text itself, a la Kate Siklosi, Gary Barwin, Amanda Earland Derek Beaulieu, etcetera). This is clearly a journal worth paying attention to. To order copies, check out the link here; to submit (“Special consideration will be given to submissions to Partial Zine 4 that are in some way based on pieces in Partial Zine 3”) email: adam.robert.katz (at) gmail.com

rob mclennan, Partial Zine 3 :

Is 2020 a lost year? I’ve seen this mournful term on several occasions recently in the media and even being invoked by poets. However, I’m convinced it’s a misnomer and can only lead us down a dead end.

Of course, my above comment isn’t intended to trivialise the fact that countless people have lost everything in 2020, while it’s also clear we’ve all missed out on experiences this year. Nevertheless, one of the things that poetry teaches us is that time is never lost or wasted. 

Fallow periods in our poetry lives are necessary. Through our writing, we soon learn that the genre doesn’t require or even benefit from our spending eight hours a day sitting at a desk. In fact, it encourages us to live and let ideas percolate through our subconscious in the meantime.

Beyond our writing, it’s worth adopting a similar approach to our days, using the patience that poetry given us. As a consequence of having pressed the pause button these past few months, certain projects will have lost significance. Others, on the other hand, will have unexpectedly become crucial. Our priorities will have shifted and we’ll be in a better position to face the rest of our lives. In other words, however we view it, 2020 is in no shape or form a lost year.

Matthew Stewart, A lost year…?

Last week as I was going over proofs, I was thinking about work and progression and how well some things come or hang together.  Much of feed was written in 2018 as a kind of therapy, though the title and my notes for the hunger palace, or parts of it, existed earlier, though it took Christmas break that year to come together.  2018 was a productive year in general, that writing out of grief, so of course, those projects would wind up speaking to each other.  I had just come off writing the love poems from sex & violence, and that book was coming together in November 2017 , so I was ready to dive in on something new anyway.   Since daily writing was happening much of the year, there was a lot of other projects mixed in as well, other manuscripts that were started.  Some are finished mostly (dark country & animal vegetable monster).  Others, not so much (automagic).  Either way, it’s just a lot of output, some of it still living in a weird formless stack of random poems.  While 2019 was slightly less so, amazingly 2020 has been a productive year, though it has felt like pulling teeth sometimes.  While I can’t say I’ve had the focus for actually reading or making much art, I’ve been writing, which may be the only thing saving my mental state. As such, I find I have almost the whole of an entirely new manuscript (collapsologies). I look at the poems in one slant of light and hate them, but in another, they feel like the most interesting, important thing s I’ve written.  It goes back and forth.  

I also feel like different projects speak to different poetry concerns.  feed is far more personal, while something like animal, vegetable, monster and collapsologies are more externally oriented. I sometimes feel like each new thing brings out a different poet in me, but at her core, she is still the same. Every once a while, I bring out old poems in the files I keep in the bureau next to my desk for a giggle at how awful they really were, but how i took them so seriously. If I say my real pursuit of writing (anything decent anyway) began in  1998, it’s been over 20 years at all this.  If I start at the very beginning, freshman year of high school, it’s been far longer. 

Kristy Bowen, book notes

Unusually for me, I find myself 8 handwritten pages into…well, what it is I can’t yet say, but I’ll loosely term it at this point an essay. I decided to start with a geographic point and then try to get myself to spin out from there, writing in whatever direction consciousness, or subconsciousness, or unconsciousness took me. I’m bemused at this, and am trying to still the anxiety I always feel to conclude a piece of writing, to tie it off, like a scarf from a knitting needle.

The urge to end is, well, urgent. What more could I have to say? How will I ever make all this work together? I’m trying just to keep knitting. What if it never ends? Well, won’t that be something?

Marilyn McCabe, I wish I had a river; or, On Letting Writing Flow

one foot after the other foot after the other on
the steel-frosted sleepers parsing dawn’s progress
to the vale works smoking sedately in the distance
on a sunday morning after a statuary night out with the boys
so cold and overhung in step after step into the warm
innards of the work’s entrails of hot pipes and
furnaces and catalytic converters
vanadium pentoxide tasting of stale beer to
my bleary mind’s eye rehydrated by canteen tea
and a corned beef sarni half now half later

Jim Young, on route to the swansea vale on a sunday morning

There’ve been times I drank so much I drowned in the hundred-proof truth of sorrows and joys.

If you’re quiet enough, you can hear the calendar disintegrate, build itself up from dust, then count backward from your last brightest moment.

In the dive bar of memories, toppling off the barstool can make falling feel like flying in the body of a beautiful bird circling a cemetery where blue is the color of love-cried eyes.

No need to fear the shadows lurking in the darker corners of these days.

They, too, carry miracles in their pockets.

That and enough quarters to play your favorite jukebox songs until the full moon comes home.

Rich Ferguson, In the Dive Bar of Memories

The fat candle fizzled out in the hot wax just as the fresh sunrise began to color the morning sky. Timing is an interesting thing, isn’t it? The length of a coincidence. How does one measure things that are random?  Look, jobe, you old white-beard, all night you sat in that chair and now it is time to get up and greet yet another day of living. What time is it? The same time as always; now.

James Lee Jobe, hot water in a tub never felt better

There is no wisdom
in the grey silence.

Fifty-one years
we’ve been married,

wondering Are we
good for another one?

The sun will break through.
The moon this evening.

We know what we have
We have what we want.

Tom Montag, ANNIVERSARY

I’m still in a writer’s block, hemmed in by depression.  I feel that I have nothing left to say, and yet I have very much left to say.

I am so worried about our country. Trump has done serious damage in so many ways, and I will not live long enough to see it repaired.  

I don’t expect to live past 85; that’s just 13 more years.  Both of my parents lived into their 90’s but with terrible diminishment which began in their early 80’s.  I don’t want to live that long.

As of today, we have a vaccine for COVID 19 which is beginning distribution.  So I hope that by the summer, I will be able to visit my friends and go to Cape May again.

In the meantime,  I look forward to teaching Modernity in Literature again, starting in late January.

In the meantime, I look at the growing dark, waiting for the Solstice.

Anne Higgins, In the last week before the Solstice, in the forty-first week of the Quarantine

I think about giving up on my dream of being a writer, sometimes, honestly. This year especially. I was good at my job as a tech writing manager, I liked advertising writing and working in publishing as an acquisitions editor for technical books. I liked getting a steady paycheck and the nice feeling of people praising you for a job well done – very absent in the poetry world, you may notice, except for a chosen few. I liked feeling useful instead of useless. When I was healthier and younger, I spent almost as much time volunteering as I did working – and I was sort of a workaholic. I miss being able to “do things” for people, physically, that I used to be able to do. I resent my disability, honestly, my immune system’s weakness and the symptoms of MS – vertigo, nausea, muscle weakness at odd times – and the feeling of a shrinking life those things can bring. I love my husband, who has always been very supportive of my writing career, and I’m happy he’s embarking on his own adventure, getting his first Master’s Degree, but I wonder: what’s next for me?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Discouragement During the Holidays, 2020 Edition

Once I compared daily prayer
to a chat window open with God
all the time. That was before.
Now the chat windows where I text,
the Zoom windows where we meet,
are as fervent as prayer:

the only way we can be together
anymore. The digital windows open
between my home (my heart) and yours —
they’re what link us, together apart
like lovers with hands pressed
to far sides of thick glass.

Rachel Barenblat, Windows

I wrote the first draft of this post in a way I rarely write anymore: On paper, with a pen. When I began writing, as a girl, that was the way of all first drafts; through my childhood and teen years I had a large, hard, permanently red bump on the first knuckle of the finger my pen pressed against; a remnant of it remains, a permanent disfigurement that is evidence of something I’ve always been compelled to do.

I picked up a pen because I was on a third day of avoiding screens, a third day of trying to muddle through work with a multiple-day migraine. In my migraine, there are various factors always at play: work, screens, stress, meds, sleep, rest, hydration, exercise, food. Trying to figure out exactly how to put these together is like trying to solve a Sudoku puzzle. Maybe I can get one line to work, but I can never get the whole box to add up correctly. If I take off work to avoid screens, I increase stress from falling further behind. If I exercise when fatigued, I can trigger an episode, but if I don’t exercise I don’t sleep well, which can also trigger an episode. If I spend Sunday in food prep for the week I know I will eat well on work days, but I might end Sunday fatigued rather than rested, and stressed about other things I didn’t get to do.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Begin again

Today I pause from giving you updates from grief’s front line and take a leaf from the blogs of Karen Walrond and Simon Parke.

From Karen I borrow her line of hope and choose to say into the darkness ‘This was a good week’ and from Simon I am reminded to practice gratitude, even if I can muster it only for my kettle.

For Peter, who sent me links to two beautiful poems, one by Clive Wilmer, the other by John Freeman.

For my friend Martin, who rings to say hi.

For Greg, who texts the same.

For my activist friend Roger quoting Ghandi and Dr Martin Luther King Jr on an Advent WhatsApp group.

For my theologian friend Luke reminding me that the world is dark, but that the light always wins.

For my friend Cock.

For the lifesaving blog of Shawna Lemay, whose posts always leave me feeling more human, less alone and a little more sane. Like this one on Anna Kamienska.

For the Amos Trust, whose Seeds of Hope anthology is out now.

For my dad, who is still modelling everything I need to know.

For my colleagues.

For my students.

For this, by Anna Kamienska (please read it slowly).

For nattering with Jan in the health food shop.

For Shim being home.

For Millie, who takes me out of the house and ‘clear of the wheel of myself’.

For Harold Budd.

Anthony Wilson, This was a good week

The heat has rumbled off and on through the night.  It’s the earliest we’ve ever had the heat on down here in the southeast tip of Florida.  Our low yesterday morning was 48 degrees, which I know will sound balmy to people in the northern part of the continent.

I’m thinking of the first days of the furnace of my childhood in Montgomery, Alabama.  We usually had warm Septembers, but there would be one night in October when it would get chilly, and my dad would turn on the furnace.  I have nostalgic feelings about that scent:  waking up to the whiff of natural gas that fueled the furnace, the smell of summer’s dust incinerating.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Comfort Smells, Comfort Food

warm December day;
a puff of white ash
as I seal the incense jar

Jason Crane, haiku: 11 December 2020

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: grief and horror, wanderlust and staying put, soft joys and tough political questions.


It’s been a rough week. It started with me staying up all night with kitten Sylvia that required the emergency vet (okay now, but gave us quite a scare), continued with me being too sick (not covid, but a stomach and sinus infection) to get much work reading or writing done, and ended with the news that my maternal grandmother, after surviving covid-19 for two weeks, passed away today, just a few days short of her 96th birthday. This was my last surviving grandparent, and one who shared with me a love of literature – Poe, Hemingway and Faulkner were a few of her favorites, and in her youth she read voraciously. She lived in Missouri, which has some of the highest covid rates, and no one was able to visit her the last weeks of her life, because of covid.

I know people are chafing under travel restrictions during Thanksgiving, but remember that people like me – and my grandmother – are the people that need protection. Wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and stay home. Having to miss a Thanksgiving with family is much better than having to mourn a family member you can’t even have a funeral for, which is what I’m doing this week. No amount of pumpkin pie is worth that.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Doldrums, Grieving a Loss and Moments of Light

Yesterday, someone bought a pocket watch that would have been mine at an auction. I will not know the name of the person who now owns it but our fates are now forever intertwined. On the English Crown rests the mountain of light. The fundamental principle of the world is the same as that of love: what is mine today will be yours tomorrow. Yesterday, someone bought a heart that would have been mine at an auction. I will not know the name of the person who now owns it but our fates are now forever intertwined.

I am sharpening my pen like an ancient knife. Tell me your name, you, on whose slender swan neck shines the sapphire that will be mine tomorrow. I will mount it in gold.

Saudamini Deo, Omnes una manet nox

let’s stop all this
        clearly it’s not working

no one can say
                we didn’t try

                        but it collapsed under its own wait (sic)

instead let’s make ready the soil

        plant seeds & care for them                tenderly

                until something (new) & (better)

springs wildly toward the sun

Jason Crane, POEM: wildly toward the sun

The feathered chonk plomps on my shoulder. “Bonjourno!” My funny, gray angster.

She laughs and explains the situation.
“Good girl!”

Only two words, but I catch her meaning. She has indeed been well behaved today and deserves a reward.

I hold a slice of Lite-Brite pink grapefruit out on my palm.

Dancing excitedly, my ersatz child digs her black beak into the acidic flesh.

In an instant, her reward becomes my regret as it squirts to land in my eye.

Life. It would be nothing without these bad surprises from good decisions.

Allyson Whipple, November Poetry Contest Winner

We stop to look upon the corpse in the snow. Blue skin and an open mouth. Open eyes. Moonlight across the frozen face. Moonlight that plays a soft music that entertains the snow. We say a prayer for the deceased. We say a prayer for the ones who grieve. And we say a prayer for ourselves, for our lives. We stop to look upon the corpse in the snow. And around us gather the ghosts of many others who died alone, without even their names. We stop. We speak the words. And we move on. But before we move on, we cover the body with snow, using our cold and wet hands like shovels.

James Lee Jobe, We say a prayer for the ones who grieve.

As I move further away from her death she appears to me more clearly. Not as she was in her last months, but as she was when I was young, when she was just going around gobbling up life with wit and humour and grace. The tables groaning with food, the house a constant stream of guests. Her laughter. Her elegance.

I have lived long enough to look back and beg for it again. I am begging for it again, even those moments when I knew I disappointed her, when we were not really talking. When I am out walking the dog. When I look through old photographs. Th autumn rain. Her fry-ups before Saturday school. I meet all of it.

I had no idea I would miss it.

Anthony Wilson, Before

black dress gloves on a polished table
black lace veils on hats laid aside
the tide of conversation turns
around hat pins and other things
no one is the first to go as the clock chimes
silence leads the way as sadness falls
upon the thought that soon
soon maybe
perhaps
another cup of tea and a cake

Jim Young, heirloom in the room

No, I’m not crying because I’m waiting for my own spinal tap results. I don’t cling to life that much. But I know he does. Most people I know have a Velcro-like attraction to life as if we didn’t know this is all temporary. Maybe we didn’t at first, not until that first goldfish died–or grandparent. The results aren’t even here yet and I’m thinking about him letting go of us, of us letting go of him. That’s different from clinging to one’s own life—clinging to others. We like having them around while we’re still here and it won’t be the same without them. So, the goldfish died and Mom helped with the funeral and the note you wrote for the coffin in crayon and she said, “That’s life,” and only now you know she meant that life is a bunch of comings and goings. Here I am talking about my life again and I don’t want it to be about mine, but his—that’s what we’re talking about: why it matters that his could be ending if the tests say so. It matters because it’s ending within my life span and that’s not fair and that’s just selfish. I always want to go first. I’ll still be here missing him and the kids will be torn up with grief. Their eyes are puffy just imagining what’s coming and I can’t bear to see them cry like this, and here we are talking about me again. It hurts you know. You know we are talking about putting our beloved bunny down? The results aren’t here yet, so we’ll worry about those later.

Cathy Wittmeyer, That’s Life

No NEH grant again, a magazine acceptance, a solicitation of poems from a magazine I’d never cracked (!), several poem rejections, some drafting and revising, lots of Shenandoah work, a vague but persistent headache, short days and blustery cold–hello from a mixed-blessing November in Sabbatical Land. I hereby mark the sixth-month birthday of my novel Unbecoming, and remind you that you can message me if you want a signed bookplate for that OR The State She’s In. (Here, by the way, is a new and very lovely review of the latter by Luisa Igloria in RHINO.) I can’t say I’m in much of a mood for hustle, though; it feels like crawling-under-a-rock season. I’m not doing a ton of writing, nor am I experiencing that burst of energy I’d hoped for after the election, but maybe that’s because there’s no “after”? It’s more like an intensification of suspense, a “now” that just keeps spreading its tentacles.

Lesley Wheeler, Future schmuture

Twelve: Poems Inspired by the Brother’s Grimm Fairy Tale is officially available from Interstellar Flight Press. 

I mean . . ., okay, technically, it’s been out in the world since September. I just haven’t got around to saying it until now.

You may as well as me, Why? Aren’t you excited?

And the answer is yes, I’m very excited. Yet, somehow I’m having a hard time sharing that excitement with people.

Maybe it’s just the general 2020 vibes and all the anxiety and weirdness that comes with it. I’m sure that’s at least a part of it — however, another part is some strange block I have about promoting and celebrating my own work.

Example One. Sitting around a campfire with my aunt, cousins, and sister, we were taking turns saying the things we felt most proud off this year. When it was my turn, I rattled off a few things (of which I don’t remember). When I finished, my sister was flabbergasted. “I thought you were going talk about your book coming out. How could you not talk about your book coming out?”

“Oh, yeaaaah,” I said. “Yes, yeah, of course, I’m super proud of that, too.”

Example Two. Shortly after my book came out, I was hanging out with my brother. He turns to me and says, “I’m really enjoying your book.”

“Oh, yeah, which one?” I ask, thinking he’s talking about one of the books I’d loaned him recently.

He gives me a funny look. “You know, your book. Twelve?”

“Oh, yeaaaah” I start laughing, finding myself embarrassed for forgetting I published a book. It’s out in the world. People are reading it.

2020 is indeed a strange year, rife with intense extremes of emotion. Sometimes I don’t know how to process those emotions or even how to move through my day, shifting from the living room to the dinning room to the bedroom as I push through the tasks of my day job and squeeze in space for the writing and work I’m passionate about.

I want to be excited about Twelve. I’m proud of my little collection of prose poems. I’m proud of the work I did.

I want to be better about celebrating my own work, about following through with the business of promoting it, and with sharing it with others who might fall in love with it.

To that end, I can say, Twelve is officially out. People have been buying it, and you can buy it, too.

Andrea Blythe, TWELVE is Available & Other Goings On

I’ve had trouble sharing this because I get too excited about it, but here goes: Victor Labenske has made a song cycle from poems in my book Tasty Other

In May, we met via Zoom so we could talk through poems and plans.

In June, we met again so Victor could show me his first complete draft, and he sang through the whole thing for me, which was amusing and wonderful!

This past Friday, Victor recorded the song cycle with two sopranos, Elda Peralta McGinty and Judi Labenske. I can’t wait to hear the final version! Having my poems turned into a song cycle is such a dream for this choir girl for life.

Katie Manning, Tasty Other: A Dramatic Song Cycle!

unvoiced is made from the text of Articles 18 – 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, having removed all the vowels, rendering the text unvoiced. 

This is a form of redaction, whereby ruling bodies erase portions of publicly available text deemed to be against national interest or community standards or the well-being of holders of high office or whatever. Yet this reduced, redacted text can still be spoken, albeit by a computer algorithm that does its best to articulate what remains, to give some kind of voice to the unvoiced. 

Visualising the outcome of this process employs the imagery of video streaming and surveillance in a world where bandwidth and access can be reduced or cut off at a mere flick of a switch.

After being initially published in non-compliant 01: censorship (2019), unvoiced was an Offical Selection at FILE Electronic Language International Festival (Sao Paolo, August, 2020), and 2020 Newlyn Short Film Festival (UK, April, 2020). Now it is Official Selection for 2020 Film and Video Poetry Symposium (Los Angeles, which is streaming in full during November and December. You can watch the Symposium via the stream below.

Ian Gibbins, unvoiced at the 2020 Film and Video Poetry Symposium

Mother Mary Comes To Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology is out now from Madville Publishing. On Nov. 16, we held a launch event via Zoom in conjunction with Poetry Atlanta and Georgia Center for the Book. You can watch it above. On Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m., we’ll have a second reading event hosted by the Wild & Precious Life Series

Karen Head and I are thrilled that this project we dreamed up seven years ago has finally come to fruition and we think you’ll agree this is a stellar lineup of poets paying homage to Mary. 

Collin Kelley, Mother Mary Comes To Me out now!

Who knew the apocalypse could be so cozy? So teaming with contagion and my own tiny paper tigers. let one by one out of cages? One disaster movie after another playing out in my dreams where the pipes bleed and water sprouts from all the sockets.” 

Back in the spring, as it dragged into summer, I had a hard time writing at all. What eventually happened in June & July was a short series somewhat related to lockdown and somewhat not. Since coronapoems are everywhere, and indeed, corona everywhere, they seem a dime a dozen right now, but I made a little zine with them because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them but they seem ripe for sharing right now, if anything as a snapshot of a moment.

You can read it here: https://issuu.com/aestheticsofresearch/docs/bloomzineelectronic

Kristy Bowen, bloom

Being a poet during a pandemic is a test of brevity. How best can the endless void, the featureless grey wrapped sky, the road that bends into the horizon, the distance that is measured in everything other than distance — how best can the infinite be compressed into neat lines that in the seventh reading still make some sense.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, 2020: Outro

So why have I been thinking about the sea so much? I’m not sure. Some is wistfulness about not being able to travel, and wondering if I’ll ever go back to some of the places I love, but I think it’s more elemental than that. Maybe it’s just a desire to sit and watch the waves crashing on the rocks, taking away my thoughts as I follow each wave like a breath, and then another: a desire for that renewal coming from somewhere I can’t see, imagine, or understand.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 46. Missing the Sea

The stories for our leavings. It’s funny that I am never asked about those – but for the stories of my destinations. “Why did you come here?”

Why not? It could have been anywhere unknown. Anywhere that smelled of strangers. Anywhere that would allow memories to lie still. Still enough for reflection.

I’ve noticed how the sea smells different everywhere it touches land. In winter sometimes, along Stavanger’s quayside it smells of watermelon. Orre strand smells dark as the rot that brings new life. Along the Canaries, the shore is jagged to inhale. Up north near the North Cape, it’s razor sharp.

I’ve been landlocked before, and lakes don’t breathe on their own. I’ve read that everything depends on the birds that come and go with the seasons, and on storms temperamental enough to drag bits of the world around with them. Transgressions like those of traveling merchants. Or militias.

I’m still pulled to wander, but I’m also learning now how porous the borders are. How even still waters will swell imperceptibly and spill into your path. How storms will drop fish and lizards from another county into your lap. No bridges necessary.

In Norway the name for hopscotch is å hoppe paradis. I have no idea why paradise. But hopping from square to square – chasing small stones, turn and return – does good to me right now. Simple. A little naive.

And meditative.

Ren Powell, Accidental Immigrant

And everyone comes from imagined
origins: land of dark sugar hills, land

of multiplying gravestones. You can clean
windowpanes with balled-up newsprint

and their shine will be like cathedral
glass dipped in milk. This is your

history, and you bind it in ink and crosses.
You were born in its shed but left for an

unholy land. Whatever you erect in its image
becomes an orchard where you will spend

the rest of your days like a bride who can’t
return until every fruit is charred or picked

clean. Who has decided to live in the present.
That is, between the crescent’s horns.

Luisa A. Igloria, Last Telegram

I’ve been slowly moving through Kingston poet Sadiqa de Meijer’s utterly fascinating alfabet/ alphabet: a memoir of a first language (Windsor ON: Palimpsest Press, 2020), composed as an exploration of how language thinks and swims, through her ongoing experience with moving physically from one language, culture and country into another. In a suite of short essays arranged alphabetically by title, she narrates and explores the shifts between the Dutch language, from her origins in the Netherlands, to English-speaking Canada, working her way through multiple implied and inherent differences, many of which she has only begun to fathom. She writes of the alphabet, the bare bones of the language itself, one against another. As she writes of the openings of that lengthy transition: “In Canada, my clothes were odd, and I had no idea what malls or Cabbage Patch Kids or gimp bracelets were, and when I tried to be funny with my peers the silences were awkward and prolonged. I felt an urgent wish to restore my own significance. I read everything I could—flyers, packaging, signs—and listening to the mumblings of my classmates and teachers. Willing myself to make the same sounds, I strove to regain a sense of fluency, of language as my element. That was all I had in my sights; it didn’t occur to me that this was also the start of a slow and nebulous loss.”

The author of two full-length poetry collections—Leaving Howe Island (Fernie BC: Oolichan Books, 2013) [see my review of such here] and The Outer Wards(Montreal QC: Signal Editions/Vehicule Press, 2020) [see my review of such here]—de Meijer’s biography at the back of the collection offers that she “was born in Amsterdam to a Dutch-Kenyan-Pakistani-Afghani family, and moved to Canada as a child.” There is a lot of geography to unpack in that simple array of words, and a complicated sequence, well before the dislocation of arriving into Canada. The effect of her shift from one cultural space into another reveals itself to be deeply felt, and lifelong. This is in part, no doubt, due to the fact that it was not a journey precipitated as an adult, but one made when she was twelve years old; during such a formative period, felt down to the foundation of how she speaks, thinks and breathes, and interacts with herself and with the world beyond. Particularly curious is how her migration into English allowed her new pathways back into certain of the dialects of her native language  “English was both a dominant and an eccentric language,” she writes, as part of the “verzen / verses” section, “no wonder that it had been adapted and interpreted by various groups to make its own local sense. Even in the culture of three that comprised my brothers and I, we improvised on its strangeness, usually while we played with LEGO in our basement.”

rob mclennan, Sadiqa de Meijer, alfabet/ alphabet: a memoir of a first language

This poem offers us a tremendous example of Hilary Menos’ gift for using physical, often everyday detail, layering it and accumulating its effect, so as to reach out towards a vision that reflects back on to its readers. It doesn’t just evoke the process of giving a kidney, but speaks to anyone who’s been alone, afraid, in hospital and missing their loved ones.  In other words, while we might not have gone through this specific experience, we are so moved by its poetic transformation that we are invited to ruminate on our own versions and visions of love.

Such a ravaging context, however, never leads Menos down the path of melodrama. Instead, it enables her to delve deeply into another of her concerns, one that runs through all her collections: the strained yet vital relationship between the human and natural worlds, If this theme was already present in the pamphlet’s first piece, it culminates in the closing lines to its final poem, Sloe Gin, as follows…

…Time matures the thing. At least, adds distance.
I sit at the kitchen table, trying to make sense

and pouring a shot of sweet liquor into a glass.
The filtered magenta, sharp and unctuous,

reminds me of sour plum, of undergrowth,
the scrub, the blackthorn and the hard path.

In this poem, perfectly cadenced metre is set against unsettling doubts, while the transformative quality of human hand is present via the liquor that has been created from fruit and undeniably changed. Nevertheless, it’s then undercut by the realisation that the darker side of nature can never be ignored and forms an inevitable part of our journey through life.

Matthew Stewart, For us all, Hilary Menos’ Human Tissue

Manuscript #4 is my manuscript of lament. It’s my bleeding heart on a page. It may be altogether too sad for anyone to want to read–very sad, and very honest. I feel a little protective of it, a little afraid to put it in anyone’s hands. At the same time, I want it published–I’d like to mail a copy to a few of Kit’s doctors and nurses. Not a thank you exactly–I’ve written them that–but just so they can Know..so they can Know what it was like for me.

As far as individual poem writing is going–well it isn’t. I’ve written four of five false-start drafts, not much coming of them. I’m kind of stalled out. You know what I need? To read a really good poetry book (feel free to recommend). It will wake me up, and I’ll write some good poems then. Also, we’re moving house–and a new, settled spot is always inspiring.

Renee Emerson, poem & manuscript updates

Mid-morning at work, I saw the email showing a picture of (individually-wrapped) goodies and little Starbuck’s iced coffee bottles! So I had some! Then home to a Honeycrisp apple, and the Governor, live, telling us we are back in Tier 3, to please stay home, starting Friday, to keep us all alive. I am glad that my little chalkboard poems are “soft joys” for those who see them here, or on Facebook or Instagram. I’m grateful they are hitting the spot.

Likewise, I was delighted with the response to my story, “A Retiring Woman,” and grateful to Calyx for publishing it online. My daughter and her boyfriend were gripped by it, and she quoted a passage on integrity of voice. My son said he laughed out loud! Yay! It’s a long story, and so many people read it and responded. I am wowed. 

Those are big things in my life, but the little, goofy things help, too. One day, I found myself gardening in pearls. Ah, it was Election Day, a lovely warm day, and I was wearing (fake) pearls to honor RBG, and there was yard work to be done. Another day, I was dusting in earrings, post Zoom, which is the only time I put on drop earrings. It felt good to dust, and to re-stack my stacks of books awaiting the second lockdown, as I sometimes think of it, but nobody likes the word “lockdown,” and the Governor is just announcing a return to Tier 3, for all of Illinois, to help avoid a firmer stay-at-home order. This is a stay-at-home-as-much-as-you-can situation. Till then…(on a Fat Tuesday in the blog) I’ve got candy.

Kathleen Kirk, Soft Joys

When I think about yesterday, a Saturday in late November in 2020, I will remember that phone conversation.  It wasn’t particularly traumatic.  I think we all knew we were headed to that decision.  But it does feel significant.

It was a bit surreal to have that conversation and then to watch several hours of Thanksgiving cooking shows on the PBS Create channel.  I took a long nap and woke up and wondered if we’d really had that conversation.  Had we really canceled our Christmas get together?

It’s a shame that we didn’t have this epiphany a week ago, before my mom snagged the extra villa.  It’s interesting to track these epiphanies.  On Tuesday, my mom had called to tell me the good news of the extra villa.  By Saturday, we were canceling.

It seems like a metaphor for the entire year.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Metaphors in Cancellations

I have declared myself Boss of Grocery Stores Elect and now pronounce that unless absolutely necessary, couples may no longer shop together. Restrictions have been put in place and yet there remain scofflaws aplenty who swan into the store as a couple, sharing one tiny basket between them and lingering over the oranges. Grocery shopping is not a recreational activity, folks. It’s business. You get in and you get out. You don’t bring your girlfriend and five of your closest cousins to pick up a loaf of bread and some Twizzlers. You don’t wander the aisles in a slow daze touching everything like a ballerina with Alzheimer’s. You make a list, you follow an orderly trajectory through the store at a brisk clip and for God’s sake, you get your bagging game together before you check out. I don’t want my radishes getting all mixed up with your diet ice cream at the check stand because you can’t quickly and competently put your items into a bag. Yes, I fully realize that these demands are coming from a projection of my anxiety around The Surge, but there have been a lot of dire meetings at the hospital of late and I’m getting very nervous. Also, they closed my gym again so I can no longer work off my excess adrenaline in the squat rack. So please everyone, just follow my simple grocery store prescriptions so I don’t end up on the wrong end of a viral YouTube video as the latest ranting Karen.

Kristen McHenry, Future Karen, Cohesive Horror, Marriage Update

I’m hoping to start a new feature here on the blog. So many people have started baking again since the pandemic, including me, and I thought it would be fun to share recipes. Since this is primarily a writing blog I thought I’d put out a call to writers who bake that would be into sharing a recipe. Holidays are fast approaching with so many who won’t be traveling or spending them with family so I’m hoping this might be a good (small) project for the writing community and give all of us new recipes to try.

Along with your recipe, I’d want to post your bio and a link to your latest book or publication. My last post involving writers has 80 shares on Facebook,so far, so chances are you’d get some good exposure for your work – and your recipe! (Only 8 shares on Twitter – what’s up with that, #writingcommunity?!)

I’ll be posting first in the next couple of days. Whoever is interested can email me at charlotteham504 at gmail with “Writers Who Bake” in the subject line. I can’t wait to see who shows up. Inundate me!

Charlotte Hamrick, Calling Writers Who Bake!

Of course our stories and poems won’t change the world, but I’m interested in them nevertheless. I’m interested in how you are, how you’re holding up. What edges are frayed? Where are you feeling strong? What and who have you lost? What have you gained? What’s good, what’s terrible, what makes your heart hurt, and what joys are you also experiencing? When we first start talking about how we are, I’ve found that it starts off in ways that aren’t surprising. But the longer we stay with the subject the more is revealed. I know there are a lot of stories we’re not going to be able to talk about right now and that’s okay too.

Whatever stories we tell, it’s also true that only so much will fit in the frame. In distilling our story into a narrative or into the lines of a poem, a lot will be left out. One thing that I think it’s safe to assume, is that everyone has a lot of stuff just outside the frame.

What would happen if we told our everyday stories, the happy ones along with the sad ones, and everything in between? This doesn’t feel wrong to me. How important will all these stories be when we emerge from this time? How will they help us reconsider? I’m drawn to re-read Susan Griffin’s book, The Eros of Everyday. She says, “To change how we see involves some loss, certainly the death of habitual metaphors for order. And the changes needed are great as well as small. It is not only philosophy as it is written in books, but philosophies written into our lives, in institutions, social systems, economies, and governments which need to be reconsidered. For it is by and through these living structures that communities think and perceive. If we could change a habit of mind that has become destructive we must revise the social architecture of our thought.”

The other things that keeps popping into my head are lines by Emily Dickinson, “I dwell in possibility” and “Hope is the thing with feathers.” I keep wondering what is it that we can do with what we have, rather than bemoaning what once was. I say to myself, though perhaps it’s too macabre for some, that if I’m going down, I’m going down with as much joy as I can muster and with as much beauty as I can glean every day.

Shawna Lemay, Behind the Scenes

Of the many things I admire in this quote, the core one is how Lucier posits the work to be done as both outer and inner, social and personal. This multiplicity of stakes, awareness, and investment is something that as a marginalized person I have always lived with. It is something marginalized folks are born into having to reckon with. Political conversations–however formal or informal, in person or online–are never theory, but rather grounded in experiences. That the election was as close as it was means few marginalized folks are breathing easier.

I encourage y’all to read these materials and also to check out The Offing. Also, take time to reflect. Are you taking time to consider the welfare of others? To learn about them? To connect, we need to see each other as well as see ourselves, know their stories as we know our own.

I’ll leave you with two poems to check out. In working with a student on an essay about the Black Lives Matter movement, I shared these poems and spoke of poetry as a space of presence. Words, inside of us as outside of us, are where we can be present with others. Thank you for taking the time to be present here.

José Angel Araguz, community feature: The Offing

When Isaac’s servants, digging in the wadi
found a spring, the herdsmen quarreled: “This is ours.”

Frustrated, they named that place Contention.
He dug another, they fought again: Dispute.

How different are things now? Today, who drills
— and who drinks only the infrequent rains?

What new name might we choose if we could build
a world where everyone gets enough water?

Rachel Barenblat, Looking for Water

Modalities of mortality play out in different ways—

the song of Lady Day blows sweetly on a blues breeze as the tropics of hate continue to rage beyond boiling.

Good-hearted people still find reasons to sing in the rain as this ongoing reign of annihilation pummels us with injustices forged from stone-blind stone.

Every day, “Amazing Grace” plays on a humble record player refusing to skip over the scratches in our collective psyche.

And while the rhythms sound extremely warped and one-sided at times,

there’s still beauty to be found in the song of who we are.

Rich Ferguson, Down at the Junction of Rhythm and Ruin

So, yes, the
universe
hums

an E-flat
thousands of
octaves

below what
we can
hear,

a jazz
trumpet or
sax

wailing
the only
note

that matters.

Tom Montag, SO, YES, THE

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

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


can you recall the first poem to see you

why is a luna moth in eclipse
beyond my grasp

how did the smell of rain arrive on earth

Grant Hackett [no title]

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

Charlotte Hamrick, Worry

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

Jason Crane, POEM: the dharma according to Norman

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

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

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

JJS, (Sometimes, it’s a sharpening.)

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

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

A fellow-creature came into our lives on Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandra Beasley, Necessity Is the Mother of New Poems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, A Positive Voice

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

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

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | august 2020

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

Luisa A. Igloria, America

This is the Mississippi Goddamn Nina Simone moon

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

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

Rebecca Loudon, 100% full

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

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

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

Ren Powell, A Story Written in Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are all connected, my drought contributing to its.

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Let the rain come down

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

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

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

Everywhere I look,

small businesses burning from no customers.

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

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

Oblivion scribed on the voided noise of lost neighborhood hubbub.

Each night before sleep,

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

Rich Ferguson, The Wonderings of Phantom-Limbed Days

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Transfiguring Atoms

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

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

deconsecrating 
the concrete of the altar
ego

Jim Young [no title]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, #TheSealeyChallenge & #TinyBookFair

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

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

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

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

Sarah J Sloat, Sultry with occasional thunder

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, The Next Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, New Rituals for New Griefs

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

What descends in the coolness
is the darkness of knowing.

From here to the horizon
anything you touch will

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

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

Tom Montag, THE LONG SUN AT EVENING

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 24

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.

It was easy to feel a little gaslit this week by politicians and an increasing percentage of the public acting like the need for social distancing and other safety measures is over; in the US and the UK, at any rate, the covid infection rate shows little sign of slowing. Many in the poetry blogging community shared this unease, as well as cautious optimism on social justice issues. Writing continued to be elusive for some and a lifeline for others. Mostly, I was just pleased to find so many like-minded souls. La lucha continua!


I said to some friends: it is like playing Monopoly. You pick up a Chance card which tells you to go to Mayfair. (At which moment, you may win or lose the game.) ‘Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200.’

You have to go straight there. You cannot delay. You cannot take anything with you. There is no time to say goodbye.

You have to leave right that second.

There is no time for sitting with the trauma and the loss and the grief of the moment because what is needed right now is a solution for how we are going to [insert your own thing in here] and plan for [insert] and cope with [insert].

There is no time.

No time for grieving. No time for sitting with it, for preparing to bleed.

Anthony Wilson, Do not pass go, do not collect £200

Fool if you expected silence,
or thought that the trees would be empty.

But the contrails have gone and the big roads
are all but deserted. I don’t hear the kids
with their acrobat bikes and clattering skateboards.
And no Mr. Singh (“Call me Ajay”) with his deep,
deep voice over the parcels and stamps. All the buses
are empty when they stop at the curbs.
Are they discharging ghosts?

Dick Jones, LOCKDOWN

One of my daily chalkboard poems was about masks. So was another, one I chose not to put up, as it seemed too harsh and might upset the mail carrier. But you can probably handle it:

Unmasked

If you don’t wear a mask         
you reveal who you are

in more ways than one.

It is a little mean and glib. (And, oddly, it reminds me of a line from one of the Batman movies.) But, really, that’s what’s going on around here, out there, many people not wearing masks, thinking it’s all over, we’re all OK. Friends and co-workers are experiencing it out in the world and are worried. My parents decided not to go to an outdoor restaurant with friends when they saw how crowded it was, how few people were wearing masks, how some were sitting indoors… I’ve only seen my parents four times since March 13, in their back yard or their huge great room, six feet apart. A friend from Chicago came to town, and I visited with him outdoors and at the proper distance, no hugging. […]

Sigh… Yes, constant chalk revisions of our very lives. Chalk circles now on park greens to designate areas to sit in the sun. But don’t be fooled, the virus hasn’t been erased.

Kathleen Kirk, Chalk Revisions

I seem to be having lots of conversations about how the world is changing as we emerge from lockdown, about how our lives will never be the same and yet at the same time we are supposed to carry on as ‘normal’. Of course, many people are still isolated, cut off from friends and family, the wider community. My experience of lockdown has been much easier. In fact, now I’m back at work I’m missing all the free time I had.

Then there are those conversations I only have with other writers, about what poetry can and can’t do, about how we should respond to current events. In terms of creativity, I tend to try and carry on regardless. The world is a fascinating place, even in times of hardship, even in times of great trauma. It will always provoke a creative response in me, although the form of that response is ever-changing. I have a second draft of a novel that still needs more work, I have a short story that I know I must go back to, if only to satisfy myself that it can be finished, and a file of haiku of which a handful are probably good enough to send out. Oh, I also have a few sketches that are embarrassingly bad and are unlikely to ever see the light of day! What I’m getting round to is that being creative has helped me through lockdown. It’s given me a purpose. I like to be active, to be doing something. Writing is a great way of ‘doing’ because it doesn’t require much space or many resources. A pen and a piece of paper and you’re away. It’s affordable and portable. It does, however, make demands on your time. You have to commit. And there’s no guarantee of success. Time. Commitment. Failure and rejection. Small moments of success. These are constants.

We are living in a very unsettling period. There’s a general feeling of apprehension. And yet the impulse to write is still there. And for that, I’m grateful.

Julie Mellor, A changing world

–It’s very strange to have spent the months of March, April, and May reading about disease in general, COVID-19 in specifics, and some general apocalyptic works of fiction, and then to see states re-open and people gather with and without masks, with seemingly no care in the world. I’m still asking myself if any gathering is worth the risk. Grocery stores–yes. Spin class–still feels dangerous to me, since my spin class is held in a gym that’s in a hospital. Protest marches–much too dangerous, all the chanting and yelling in close proximity. Of course, that’s all from an epidemiology point of view–there are other points of view, like the need to demand social justice, the need to be with humans, the need to restock, the need to take care of oneself.

–I am also struck by how our students are responding. Everyone complies with the rule that masks must be worn, but many of them can’t seem to keep them on properly. And then there are a few students who have not only a mask but a face shield and gloves.

–NASCAR has banned Confederate flags and imagery. This moment seems like a real turning point somehow, even as I realize it won’t be a teaching moment for many NASCAR fans (either because they already understand the importance of it, or they will never understand).

–These types of shifts on race make my head spin. The polls that show a huge shift in attitudes towards racism and policing–it’s a shift that seems similar to the shift towards approval of gay marriage almost a decade ago. It feels like it happens overnight, but I know it’s because of years and decades and centuries of hard work, shifting those attitudes one by one.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days of Cognitive Dissonance

Beyond where I live, two (invisible) pandemics become visible. Daily, I am distraught by what is happening. I wish for a cure, and know that a cure comes about when we care for each other.

I listen to the news, like three doses a day. In between, I am outside working in our three gardens, or preparing reports, or courses, or writing to keep me centered and calm, because I feel overwhelmed by the hardships people are facing daily, in cities and small towns, across our country. Reports are saying the death toll from Covid-19 will reach 170,000 by October, 2020. That number is staggering and frightening, knowing the cruel way this virus work. Equally, moving into 18th day of protest in some cities means “Enough is enough.” Things have to change. Things are changing.

I had no idea, (truly) no idea, that the Army bases in the United States were named after Confederate Generals. I was stunned by that revelation this week. Why would the Army honor the Confederate Generals? It’s a strange contradiction, seemingly supporting a Confederate mindset; and, it’s been an “under-telling” narrative for years.

M.J. Iuppa, Vistations and Dreams, June 12, 2020

No baseball has been played. I filled my gas tank once, I watch thousands of protesters on TV. I saw too many fires and broken windows. I watched too many incidents of police swinging clubs at people, pushing to the ground, spraying chemicals at protesters, I grieved for people hurt and those killed. I grieved for families that lost loved ones. I wrote most nights. Failed to get enough walking in, thought about yoga but did none. Grilled BBQ stake. Had a root bear float at work. Wore mask up in public, washed and rewashed my hands too many fucking times. All this and more since my last confession a week ago.

I confess that I do not know what day of the Covid-19 pandemic it is, I just know we are no where near the end. Last I saw there were 786 related deaths in Missouri. Nationwide deaths exceed 114,000. I saw today that there are flair ups in Texas and Mexico. People aren’t exercising social distancing very well and I totally expect that we will have to go through another shut down.

Baseball is my go-to to pull me out of the winder doldrums and into the spring then summer and it just makes life remind me of poetry and brings comfort. I confess I am struggling for this comfort.

I’m awaiting some poetry books and I’m really bad at waiting for books to arrive. Amazon has spoiled me, but. I do order elsewhere and I still want them yesterday. Is this impatience a sign of a character flaw?

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday Spontaneous Combustion Edition

I was initially afraid that we were all just shouting booklists at each other, but it turns out books related to BLM are selling out. That’s reassuring.

I keep thinking of this Tweet by Charles Blow: “Anti-racism is so hip right now. Yay! But, don’t let it be a fad; make it forever.” It should be just the basic level of what being a human is but we know that IRL it’s otherwise.

Of course, if as a white person you’re finding all of this wildly stressful, then you are feeling only a tiny fraction of what BIPOC feel all the time. So I keep thinking, let us not tire, let us not let up, and let us pledge to be in this for the long haul.

I was pretty exhausted by the Covid-19 situation. And I’m not any less so now. But I’m trying to keep alert, too. I think if we just each quietly did something positive, whether that’s buying a book and learning more about anti-racism, to donating money, even a small amount to a good cause, this can be something. If you live in Edmonton and want to support an Indigenous organization, I’m very fond of the Edmonton Native Healing Center and here is their donation page.

Thanks for reading, and looking at the photos from my backyard (which have nothing whatsoever to do with this post!), but where I’m spending a fair bit of time thinking things through these days.

Shawna Lemay, Let Us Not Tire

In these lengthening days
it’s easy to feel that we
are past any danger. The idea
of crowded hospital beds
and makeshift isolation tents inside
stadiums sounds like a bad fairy tale,
until the angel of sickness walks
across your threshold and sets down
his luggage. When he hangs up a towel,
sets a worn toothbrush on the sink.
you know he’s there to stay
a little while longer.
Even so, he is not the enemy.
Without any special malice,
he is only doing what’s in his nature.
But the enemy took ships across the water
and returned with shackled bodies
loaded in the hold. The enemy
cracked a whip across the fields
where our people bent over beds
of garlic and strawberries.
The enemy is a bullet
that will take out your eye
or stop your heart even when you’ve
knelt on the ground as instructed.
The enemy is a god unto himself.
It shows no mercy but fears
every dusky body running
and playing in sunlight,
numbers of them walking now
with a single purpose across the land.

Luisa A. Igloria, Enemy

erect a statue 
to the statue topplers
and topple it

Jim Young [no title]

You may or may not, if you live somewhere far away from Seattle, have been getting reports – mostly false – of chaos and crime and uproar in Seattle. But for the most part, we are all fine here. Hearing that Fox News doctored photos from Capital Hill’s protest zone (See: WA Post’s story here) didn’t surprise me, but I had to reassure people who don’t live here that things were mostly operating as normal, that I had friends going to the protest zone where people were sharing food and doing poetry readings, you know, truly revolutionary behaviors. Artists drew a beautiful mural spelling out “Black Lives Matter” on the street. Ah! Chaos! So you don’t need to worry about us here, and you definitely shouldn’t support sending in the military. As Han Solo said, “Everything’s fine, we’re all fine here. How are you?” […]

I’ve been talking about the defunding the police all week, and this made me think about other corrupt systems, and how we correct them, and if necessary, dismantle them. Does this make me a revolutionary? I think few people would consider me a radical, but the corruption and bias of the police is a big problem, and I don’t think “reform” is enough. At least it hasn’t been enough over the last, oh, I don’t know, 100 years. Besides racism and sexism (talk to me about how the police handle rape and domestic violence cases, in case you want some horror stories), corruption of power, problematic protections by a corrupt police union, the militarization against citizenry, and questionable immunity status…how do you reform the system of policing? Judges, sheriffs, mayors…we vote for them all. Are we holding the people we vote for accountable enough?

And there were aftershocks even in the poetry community. The Poetry Foundation had two resignations. Outrage against editors and publishers bloomed all over social media for offenses minor and major. The discussion of how much writers get paid was also a hot topic – of course, for poets, all mostly a theoretical discussion, getting paid, but interesting to see the disparities nonetheless. Do we hold non-profits and groups who support the arts to the same standards we hold, say, corporations or government entities? Is the literary publishing world as messed up as, say, the educational system (which many would say also needs a little dismantling at this point for its inequities)? Who are we holding accountable, and why? How do we build a better world, the world we say we want? A world that treats people equally regardless of race or gender or (dis)ability? How does that begin? The status quo does not seem to be working for the vast majority.

I often feel like an outsider here in America. After all, I’m disabled and chronically ill (which numerous Americans lately have been indicating makes my life worthless, in the face of the coronavirus) and a woman. I’m white, but I’ve witnessed enough racism to believe that yeah, it’s still a problem that did not magically get erased somehow in the last fifty years. Then there’s the issue of social and economic disparities that appear to be getting worse, not better. So how do we make America better, fairer, a place where everyone can actually have a chance at the American dream even without being born a healthy white heterosexual male?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The 13th of Juneuary, Seattle is Probably More Peaceful Than You Think, Being Sick and Considering the Dismantling of Corrupt Systems

It’s useful to remember that when people like me call for the abolition of the police, our proposal is not “leave the world exactly as it is except without the police.” The idea of police abolition goes hand in hand with the idea of communities taking care of the basic needs of their people. No baby is born to a life of crime. Instead, babies are born into a world without adequate shelter, food, education, leisure time, arts, communal structures, play, and all the other things that make life worth living or even possible in terms other than mere existence. As long as we continue to allow our society to work at the whim of corporations and the wealthy and the powerful, there will always be a need for an armed force to enforce those whims. When I say “get rid of cops,” I also mean “take the money we use on cops – whether here inside our borders or via our armed forces – and use it to build a better world.”

Jason Crane, What I Mean When I Say “Get Rid Of Cops”

When I decided to go quiet,
was the time I should have been speaking out.
When the screens started going dark,
black voices said to offer lifelines.
When I wanted to write,
I knew my voice wasn’t one that needed to be heard.
I couldn’t watch the violence any more,
but can’t turn away any longer.

Gerry Stewart, Apologies for My Lack of Response to Current Events

It’s easy to understand why people would want to avoid the topics of privilege and of systemic racism. We are taught to be polite; one of the social contracts I was urged to respect was to keep conversation friendly, to avoid religion, politics, and other hot topics in order to get along with my neighbors and coworkers–to maintain friendships with people whose perspectives are different from my own. This approach does work, to a degree. Politeness, though, is not the same as compassionate interest and doesn’t always encourage listening and reflecting.

So it stops the conversation just when the conversation might be getting interesting. Or difficult. I have seen this play out in the course I teach time and again. Some students try to mediate as soon as a disagreement starts. Some tune out; some get embarrassed; some shut it down. Some talk to me after class, individually. Only a few times are my freshmen confident and mature enough to speak up assertively but in a way that admits of, and permits, other points of view.

That behavior is what I try to teach and to encourage. We need to admit of other perspectives rather than keep comparing this with that or bring up side arguments or shut people down with ad hominem attacks. That means ideologically “liberal” people also have to listen and to allow opposition, by the way. I teach in a fairly conservative university; and as a rather unconventional thinker in that environment, it can be a challenge for me to let students express views with which I disagree. But that’s the point: to listen and try to understand, and then to show where the argument goes awry–if it does–and acknowledge the validity of the stance, as there often is some.

Ann E. Michael, Just speak

I’ve been extraordinary fortunate with [dancing girl press] in that, with such a large number of submissions, I have a healthy number of manuscripts coming across the desk–a variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, gender/sexual orientations, subject matter, experiences. Others come to me through recommendations of other writers or happenstance. I can usually find a decent percentage of writers of color whose work I want to publish, but of course, there is always more work to be done if you truly want to reflect the breadth of work and decenter the glaring whiteness of the publishing world. And these are what I’ve been thinking about in the past couple weeks as this is on everyone’s mind and publishers are examining how to do things better in the future–how to welcome more writers of color, particularly BIPOC into publications and presses. How to find those authors, because they are out there, and how to bring them to the forefront of publishing efforts as an industry (which includes the biggest of the large publishers down to the tiniest of the indies). And specifically, how I can make those things manifest through dgp, where while we do get to publish a somewhat diverse list, it seems like there is still more work to be done to have a chapbook series that truly reflects population percentages in general. I’d like to do a bit more soliciting and maybe pushing POC authors to the front of queue and making them a priority this summer. In the meantime, also championing and promoting the work of writers we have published is a useful thing as well. More soon on this as I mull it around…

Kristy Bowen, decentering and publishing in the era of #blacklivesmatter

protest hate / love peace—

this battle waged on bloodied american soil / countless bodies converging in cities all across the country / human spirit refusing to become collateral damage amidst systemic brutality and oppression / see the courageous display what happens to equality long-deferred / it doesn’t go quietly to the back of the bus / it explodes out onto the streets / enduring bullets, brawls & pepper-spray halos to get its message heard

do not / protest love / hate peace

Rich Ferguson, It’s All in the Way the Words are Arranged

I’ve never had much talent for hope, and what hope I’ve managed to summon tends to get squashed. It’s a feeling I’ve learned to distrust. Yet widespread public outrage at police assaults to Black lives and dignity: it springs from that four-letter-word. Protests and anger, imply at least some tiny spark of faith that the world can change.

I’ve been trying to write more poetry from and about hope during the past couple of years, and one of those pieces, “We Could Be,” appeared recently in About Place: Practices of Hope. I’ll be reading it–and listening to some of the other fabulous contributors–in a group reading today, Friday 6/12, at 7pm EST on YouTube Live (details above). I find poems of joy, hope, gratitude, and love hard to generate. For me, poems grow more readily from complex, often negative, emotions and situations: conflict often powers the turn or volta that makes a poem surprising; ambivalence and ambiguity somehow sharpen the language (I’m not sure how that last process works, but I certainly feel it). “Unsonnet,” a poem of mine recently published by Ecotone and reprinted by Verse Daily, operates in the latter mode of darkness and uncertainty. It comes from grief about my son growing up and getting ready to leave for college, and it ends not with optimism but denial and a wish to turn back the clock. I like the vivid language of “Unsonnet,” a poem that came relatively easily last spring; I started “We Could Be” four years ago and revising it was monstrously difficult. I don’t know if one is aesthetically better than the other. But the way the latter poem puts hope out there does seem ethically better. (Those are fighting words, I know, that poetry can have an ethics, but I think it can. It’s just slippery, as language itself is.)

Lesley Wheeler, Practicing Hope

For the last two days I’ve been reading Koon Woon‘s Water Chasing Water (Kaya Press, 2013) and feeling my own heart swell upwards as if on a rising tide. Other reviewers have described him as a “writer of solitudes,” but I love the community Koon Woon invokes in almost every poem. I love his poems for his father, poems about sleeping under bridges, about the Chinese waiter reading Nietzsche and dreaming a writing life into being. In this time of madness and isolation, he gives me hope.

Bethany Reid, A Poem and a Writing Prompt

You might hear them before
you see them, the sign says
but we still look up

a little like the way we hear
the voice of our own conscience
or our fears, and look around

for a sign that might convince us
to take that first step forward.

Lynne Rees, Skylarks ~ a poem

I had a lovely phone conversation yesterday with my long-time writing mentor. We mostly communicate via e-mail, so it was great to connect over the phone. We chatted about a lot of things, but a great deal of it was about literature, which was a treat for me. This person is extremely knowledgeable and passionate, and the conversation transported me back to feeling like I was in college again and listening to a professor wax poetic about the beauty of language. I realized that I just don’t have those kinds of conversations anymore. I haven’t in years, and it’s really a shame. I didn’t realize how hungry I was for it. I don’t have anyone in my day-to-day life to talk to literature about on that level. And my reading habits have gotten very lazy. Reading for me has become just a way to unwind before bed, rather than an experience of delving deep into a rich work of art. I’ve read a few heavy novels here and there, but it’s mostly been literary junk food. I made a semi-resolution on this very blog several years ago to read one classic a month, and I never followed through. I think it’s time to dust that resolution off and give it an honest try this time.

Kristen McHenry, Poor Soup Outcome, Literary Hunger, Plug-and-Play Genius

I’ve made a poem collage for  the Begin Afresh Campaign for Poets for the Planet  following their open call for poems which reads as follows:

Poets for the Planet warmly invite you to join us in writing poems on the theme of ‘beginning afresh’.

We are calling for poems that respond to the need for change. How must the world change as we come out of lockdown? Is there anything we’ve gained from lockdown that we should hang onto? What do we need to let go of? We’d love you to share your poems of no going back, starting again, turning over a new leaf, letting go.

My contribution includes daisies, buttercups, common knapweed and yellow hawkweed – wildflowers which have grown in our back garden since we stopped mowing it.  The #NoMowMay and #NoMowJune campaigns encourage people to leave their lawns alone, so encouraging weeds to flower and provide a greater source of pollen for bees and other pollinators, and habitats for more insects and other garden wildlife. This is one small change I’ve made with my family  – not just in the lockdown because we also did this last year, influenced by this article by Alys Fowler in The Guardian – but the lockdown has made me even more aware of my desire to do more to care for our planet.  Not mowing the lawn is my very small gesture of starting afresh.

Josephine Corcoran, We found the O My! in No Mow May

I played her the song on the way home and then promptly forgot about it..until earlier today when I heard it coming from her room. I was pleased, checked my dad privilege and then got on with enjoying it as a moment. As is often the wont, that’s a poem, I thought. There’s an idea there, however shite, it’s an idea, but how to get anywhere near writing down the history of how we got to that moment (especially without referring to Beckenham Tescos) and without making it sound like I’d made her listen to it. It felt like a tall order (even once I’d navigated the internal monologue about whether it was a shit idea). And to be honest with you, I’ve got this far into this post without really knowing what my point is other than thinking that I see lots of posts about the poems we have written, the poems we didn’t write, how to write the poem we didn’t know we wanted to write (via prompts), how to edit the poem we have written (for example this great one from today by Natalie), but I can’t recall seeing one that talks about something from the moment of conception, how it got that far and whether it should then carry on.

To be fair this isn’t that post either, but it’s potentially a marker in the sand (another Pearl Jam song, as it happens) for the future. If I get beyond my internal wrangling about how to even start it and if I should start it I’ll let you know. In the mean time, I’ve linked to a few great songs on the way.

Mat Riches, Is Whilst

The farm-cabin is not for everyone–the closest any kind of restaurant is 20 minutes of driving through fields, there’s only phone /internet signal if you sit on the porch at the right time of day, and the view is fields and more fields. But for us this is perfect–we’ll only be a couple of hours away from our girls (and my generous mother who will be caring for them) so we could get home in a hurry if need-be, we’re not too far away from the hospital if I went into surprise early labor, and we actually enjoy quiet isolation and have our own writing projects that we’ve been slogging away on inch by inch. […]

I wonder too how with the state of the world if it is the right time for either of my areas of interest in my manuscripts–what do poetry readers need and want to read right now? The oppression of nuns and the mourning of a baby? I don’t know. I suppose I can’t help but write what feels important and alive to me. Perhaps these are questions to ask myself during the weekend at the cabin.

Renee Emerson, Preparing for a DIY Writing Retreat

I grieve for my finished unfinished manuscript. Ten years worth of research and scrawl that feels stillborn now even though it is still alive still kicking dust from the molding with its tiny shoes in the office of a publisher. I feel guilty for my grief for giving into it in such a powerful historic moment decade.

I stack my unread copies of the Paris Review in numerical order on the child sized roll top desk from which I used to teach pretend school as a small girl believing that one day I would actually be a true student. I’m afraid of opening them. The smell of fresh ink makes me high. Mimeograph ink was my first drug. I would shake when I held the damp slick test paper gentian letters swimming into my malleable brain.

Since the plague I’ve been afraid to turn on my pc where my manuscript lives. I tell myself the boxy computer is going to be dead or the monitor ultra bright wavy constant updates whirling away the white mesmerizing circle on the blue field Word won’t allow me access my pages will come up as Read Only and I won’t know how to fix it my story will be broken even though I have four copies maybe more in my email. It feels like sickness.

Rebecca Loudon,  Sarah Manguso wrote in the Paris Review “ How far along are you? people will ask of your book

Here I am, showing up, doing the thing I’ve assigned myself to do.

I feel a little hollow, scraped out. Writer’s block is when you have the words but can’t release them. They’re trapped behind a wall. I think I’ve got writer’s drought. Lots of arid sky in my head, dendrites dry as August dirt.

Tears came easily this week. Thursday, I had a panting, sweaty meltdown: droplets spattered everywhere. I thought some physical work would make me feel better, but instead of dissipating a persistent ennui it activated a wet rage. (At least my garage and yard look better.)

I have nothing worth saying today. Feel as if I have been swimming and swimming in everyone’s torrent of words for weeks now, and all I want to do is lie still on some shore and dry out a bit.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Showing up

In the end, COVID-19 covered the earth like a blanket covering a small and trembling child. This virus filled the sky as if it were smoke from a tremendous fire, a fire that burned for a thousand years. It flowed with swift rivers and filled the oceans. Entire oceans of COVID-19. We are simple people. We touch the virus, we breathe the virus, we wear the virus like a suit of the finest silk, perfectly cut to fit. And so now we embrace COVID-19. We embrace death. We are Little Red Ridinghood embracing the wolf at last. Come. Let me hold you. Die with me tonight.

James Lee Jobe, In the end, COVID-19 covered the earth like a blanket covering a small and trembling child.

We get to wholeness and peace both by pursuing justice with all that we are, and by surrendering to everything we can’t know about how we’re going to get there from here. It’s not an either/or: it’s a both/and. If we wait until we feel fully ready we might never act at all, and, if we imagine we know all the answers we’re guaranteed to be wrong. We need humility and chutzpah.

“Not by might and not by power, but by spirit.” The Hebrew word for “spirit” here, ruach, can also be translated as breath. I find a message in that for our current moment too. We reach wholeness not through pursuing power, but through ensuring that everyone can breathe freely. When all of God’s children can breathe, that’s wholeness and peace. 

Eric Garner’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” Racism, like coronavirus, steals the breath. Just this morning we sang nishmat kol chai — “Breath of Life, the breath of all that lives praises Your name.” We name God as the Breath of Life. When a human breath is diminished, it’s as though God were diminished. 

We don’t know when the cloud will lift — when justice will roll like thunder and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Amos 5:24) We don’t know when the cloud will lift — when the pandemic will end and it will be safe to return to the world again. We only know that right now, we’re in the cloud. It’s hard to see how we get there from here. But that doesn’t exempt us from trying.

Our task is to protect ourselves and each other during these pandemic times. To end racism in all its forms. To cultivate the chutzpah of believing we can make the world a better place alongside the humility of knowing that we don’t have all the answers. When the cloud lifts, we move forward. When the cloud doesn’t lift, we do what we can to build justice right here where we are.

Rachel Barenblat, In the cloud

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 18

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

Rich Ferguson, All the Bright and Battered Places

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, World Labyrinth Day 2020

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

Rebecca Loudon, corona 17.

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

R.M. Haines, Poem After May Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True and true.

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

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Whole enough

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

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

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

Courtney LeBlanc, Sometimes it Rains

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

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, Why Still Life Might Speak to You Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolee Bennett, “ocean’s stomach of inevitability”

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

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

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

Matthew Stewart, Our first walk

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

Kristy Bowen, may

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collin Kelley, I’m still here…

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

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

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

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

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

Sandra Beasley, What Breaks Through: Poetry Book Contests

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

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

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

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

Josephine Corcoran, Discover Prompts: Focus

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

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

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

Tim Love, Visibility in the literary scene

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

Time passes — quick, quick, slow.

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

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

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

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

Andrea Blythe, A Bit of Good News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown

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

Jason Crane, haiku: 28 April 2020

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

Grant Hackett [no title]

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

PF Anderson, Shekhinah, Immortal

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

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

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

before one must speak.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time (April – Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, Struggling

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

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

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

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Pandemic Wonder, for Andy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bethany Reid, Holly J. Hughes

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

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, SloPo

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

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

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

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

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – How Are You?

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, With both eyes open

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, Letting Go of The Facade

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

Jim Young, anti-social distancing