A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: old books and libraries, echo salesmen, mouths and spectacles, catastrophes and the delights of life. Enjoy!Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 48”
A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: secondhand books, Hafez divination, translating Villon, devil riffs, encounters with bulls, and much more. Enjoy.
All night the wind, the muffled bark of a dog-fox
All night the clatter of branches, the shuffling of a badger
All night the shared memory of screams burrows us into our blanketsBob Mee, IT’S TOO LATE
Rather than await an “eagerly anticipated” book, why not rummage on secondhand shelves?
Many of the books I buy are years old, found by chance in charity shops. Charity bookshops nowadays even have sections for “Short stories”, which is more than some high street bookshops can manage. The books below aren’t really neglected masterpieces, but they’ve stuck in my memory longer than the more recently published books I’ve read. Many of them are the author’s first books, which may explain why I was impressed by them – they lack padding, and even the pieces that don’t work for me have interesting parts.
Tim Love, Some books
- “The weather in Kansas: short stories” by Crista Ermiya (Red Squirrel Press, 2015) – short stories. One was in “Best British short stories”. There’s a Borgesian piece. Most involve marginal people who are as likely to look from a distance at normal people as to look for ghosts or Self.
- “all the beloved ghosts” by Alison MacLeod (Bloomsbury, 2017) – short stories. A wide variety of types, though many are based on real people. One story (the least meta/essay one) was in “Best British short stories”.
- “Basic Nest Architecture” by Polly Atkin (Seren, 2017) – Poems from Magma, from her prizewinning MsLexia pamphlet, etc. 3 1st prize winners, 2 2nd prize winners, 3 3rd prizewinners and many shortlisted poems.
- “So many ways to begin”, Jon McGregor (Bloomsbury, 2006) – a novel. I prefer this to anything else he’s written. I’ve read it 3 times.
- “Truffle Beds” by Katherine Pierpoint (Faber and Faber, 1995) – poetry. Having been published by Faber, she became Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year in 1996. I’ve hardly seen her name mentioned since. A shame.
I have to stop and run back to take a second look
at what I think I’ve seen through the trees –
the horns of some monster, a bouldered head
and shoulders of beaten silver. And there he is
grasping a spear and a blade, Defender of
the post and rail fence, fields and house beyond,
Guardian of the small metal pig at his feet.Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Saving ourselves
Courtney LeBLanc came to town in September, and I got to read with her at the CHE Cafe! What a brilliant poet, and what a wonderful space!
At the end of September, I hosted PLNU’s 25th Annual Poetry Day. I had the idea to have an ensemble reading of 25 poets for this special occasion, and we pulled it off! San Diego poets and a few guests from LA turned out for this incredible event, and we filled the auditorium. People stayed around talking for a long time afterwards too, and that’s how I know it was a good time. The whole evening felt magical.
In October I was a featured reader for Hafez Day in San Diego alongside some incredible poets. I chose the poems I read that night using Hafez divination: I opened the book of poems and let the lines I landed on point me toward which of my poems I should read. (I loved this! I need to let Hafez choose poems for me more often). This was such a beautiful night of poetry by a gorgeous variety of people.Katie Manning, Publications & Reviews & Readings… Oh My!
To the creaking of deck boards underfoot,
I hear heaven’s prayer: Earth, earth.
The muscles of awe flex, and I stand
as still as the empty sky.
That is my closest name.
Soon I’m pulled back to tasks and lists.Rachel Dacus, Thankfulness and Seasonal Gratitude
Yet the grind of trucks outside
on rattling roadways
carries hints of That grateful silence.
For her fifth full-length poetry title, Vixen (Toronto ON: Book*Hug Press, 2023), Ottawa poet and editor Sandra Ridley blends medieval language around women, foxes and the fox hunt alongside ecological collapse, intimate partner violence and stalking into a book-length lyric that swirls around and across first-person fable, chance encounter and an ever-present brutality. Following her collections Fallout (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2009) [see my review of such here], Post-Apothecary (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2011) [see my review of such here], The Counting House (BookThug, 2013) [see my review of such here] and the Griffin Prize-shortlisted Silvija (BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here], the language of Vixen is visceral, lyric and loaded with compassion and violence, offering both a languid beauty and an underlying urgency. “If he has a love for such,” she writes, as part of the second poem-section, “or if loathing did not prevent him. // A curse shall be in his mouth as sweet as honey as it was in our mouths, our mouths as / sweet as honey. Revulsive as a flux of foxbane, as offal—and he will seem a lostling. // He came for blood and it will cover him.”
Set in six extended poem-sections—“THICKET,” “TWITCHCRAFT,” “THE SEASON OF THE HAUNT,” “THE BEASTS OF SIMPLE CHACE,” “TORCHLIGHT” and “STRICKEN”—Ridley’s poems are comparable to some of the work of Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy for their shared use of medieval language, weaving vintage language and consideration across book-length structures into a way through to speak to something highly contemporary. As such, Vixen’s acknowledgments offer a wealth of medieval sources on hunting, and language on and around foxes and against women, much of which blends the two. A line she incorporates from Robert Burton (1621), for example: “She is a foole, a nasty queane, a slut, a fixin, a scolde [.]” From Francis Quarles (1644), she borrows: “She’s a pestilent vixen when she’s angry, and as proud as Lucifer [.]”rob mclennan, Sandra Ridley, Vixen
Weather throbs and sunshine appears, warms the skunk’s foreparts. A patrolman on an off-day partakes in wink and simulation, then parked cars dissolve. An airship, low above the night table, fills with rivers, accepts me as a discoverer.Gary Barwin, Breathe Moss and a video for my new book, Imagining Imagining: Essays on Language, Identity and Infinity.
Folks, I am so, so excited to announce that I have two poems published in “Purr and Yowl,” an anthology about cats! I am super-stoked about this, not only because the editor is one of my favorite people, David D. Horowitz, but because it’s an excellent anthology, and I’m published along with some true literary heavy-weights, which makes me feel both proud and humbled. The publisher, World Enough Writers, put together a beautiful publication, full of humor and horror and joy and anguish–all things associated with owning a psychopathic furball. I received my contributor’s copy a few days ago, and I have been reading it with awe and delight ever since. Hint, hint: It would make a great Christmas present for those cat lovers in your life. You can order your copy here:Toxic Waspulinity, Bread Fail, I’m Published in “Purr and Yowl”!
if you haven’t been laying on a roofRobin Gow, 11/25
at some point we have nothing in common.
i would pluck stars & put them
in my ears to hear something good.
i try to inhale & i breathe in
coal perfume & boyhood. don’t get me wrong.
there are worse things than
Some days I don’t want to go into life,
though the alarm is insistent,
it’s easier to stay outside,
close the eye-blinds,
turn off the ears,
stopper the scream,
don’t smell the smoke,
don’t touch the flame,
don’t taste the ash.
Some days I don’t want to go into life,Sue Ibrahim, Some days
but I write my name on my helmet,
and I go in anyway.
One is a beekeeper.Jason Crane, POEM: Palestine Corner
One is barefoot.
One is from the Bay Area.
One is Kuwaiti.
One is a daycare worker.
One is from Iraq.
One is a boxer.
One is a nurse.
One is a newbie.
One is an old head.
One is a singer.
One is a guitarist.
One is trans.
One is bi.
One is a dad.
One is a mom.
One brings coffee.
One brings honey.
They hold signs.
The cars pass.
In Khan Younis, beyond the border fence,
no one dances dabka. In Nablus, a farmer
hugs her tree, and cries; another watches,
his grape vines crushed, his fingers broken.
A city center’s oil spills. A boy’s toyMaureen Doallas, Uprootings (Poem)
plane soars from a concrete balcony
just seconds before the blast
of a white phosphorus bomb.
The afterlife the Witnesses sell is eternity on earth in Eden conditions, no want, no pain, no death or sickness. In the years since I’ve left I’ve thought that it would be a much more successful pitch if they didn’t demand so much of their followers in return, in time, in fealty. It’s more concrete than the heaven of their Christian brethren, after all.
But the fundamental problem of any afterlife is the question of what you do with all that time when there are none of the things that help us make time pass for better or worse. What does happiness mean when that’s all there is?
But heaven allows only jubilance
Possibly the angel needed to return
Human: with feelings, tears and laughter
Or find a way to shape the sadness into
A moment of beauty when the angel’s wings
Spread and flight moves to breathing
Full of vision. There the angel’s tears bond
With the visitor’s fear, awe.
It feels a bit like Spears Jones could be referencing a piece of art, which she does in other poems in this collection, but my internet search skills couldn’t narrow down a specific piece, even with the mention of Berlin a couple of lines later. But I want to focus on the seraphim, the feeling of needing to replace perfection with the broken and then create beauty from that. It’s a very human need, to transform moments and objects from one emotional state to another and to live in a state where that transformation can’t happen would be hollow. Maybe we want perfection because we haven’t really thought about what it would do to us to have it, about what we would lose in gaining it.Brian Spears, Search for community, search for beauty
Thank you to Ailsa Holland for contributing this first blog post in honour of James Schuyler’s centenary.
James Schuyler’s ‘The Bluet’
‘The Bluet’ has changed for me this year. I used to see in it a recognition of the transformative magic of blue. It made me think of the best blues of my life — the precious lapis of the medieval manuscripts I fell in love with as a student; the shining silk handkerchief a young man wrapped round a milk bottle filled with daffodils; a blue gate with a silver-green pear tree in front of it, which I used to gaze at in perfect contentment; Patrick Heron’s window for the Tate on my daughter’s first visit to St Ives, the day she first said ‘blue’. And of course all those skies and seas of sunny days. I still wonder whether blue in itself can make a moment happy, or whether blue has a special power on memory, making those incidents shine out from the general murkiness of the past like Schuyler’s bluet in the Autumn wood.
In February of this year my mother died. She was a Quaker. We buried her in one of her favourite t-shirts, covered in small blue flowers. Now when I read ‘The Bluet’ I see her, a small woman with a stamina I only began to understand long after I left home. A woman who stubbornly refused to let the brown-grey of the world stop her joy, even though she felt her own and others’ suffering and grief so keenly. She knew that we are always in a season of dying, that we can still, freakishly, be ‘a drop of sky’, whether by marching, by baking scones or by writing poems. To be a Flower, as Emily Dickinson said, is profound Responsibility. And I see my mother on her last Christmas Day, watching my kids play rather unrehearsed carols in her room, her blue eyes bright as springtime.Anthony Wilson, James Schuyler at 100: The Bluet, by Ailsa Holland
I came of age in the era when nearly every high school girl I knew read The Bell Jar and claimed it as her own story. Weren’t we all disaffected? On the edge of a mental breakdown? How could any young woman be “okay” in a social climate designed to keep women down?
We felt so much and could express so little. This novel allowed for points of connection, for a sense that we (okay—young, white women) had been seen. Strange sidebar: Plath wrote this under a very English pseudonym, Victoria Lucas, in 1963 (published unfinished in the UK, the year she died) and it arrived without fanfare. In 1973, it was republished under Plath’s name in the States. I read it in 1975, perhaps that’s the reason it felt so immediate. So palpable.
And although Sylvia Plath lived her first years in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts then Winthrop, and eventually attended Smith College, there is more than a generation between us. We never physically met. Yet her beautiful ghost followed me everywhere I went. In every poem I wrote, her genius mocked me. I wonder how many Massachusetts young women chose not to be poets? The fear of ending up a suicide felt all too real. Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton committed suicide just a little over 10 years apart — years that bookended my youth.Susan Rich, And let us not forget Sylvia Plath:
The weird thing about this part of the book writing process, the part at which your manuscript has been handed gently over to the professionals for their guidance and advice, is the strange nothingness of it, which is interspersed with EXTREME EXCITEMENT, followed again by complete normality and quiet living. One day I am walking my dog down the lane in ten year old leggings, a too big coat, bobble hat and wellies, like the crazy village eccentric I am, the next I’m being invited to a swanky author party at the Ivy in London. I can’t go to the party, sadly, due to distance, trains, money and the elderly dog needing so much care and attention. But I have printed the invite out as a small career marker and I shall put it in my scrapbook to mark this place in my author journey. It is thrilling. I have to stop myself from saying “who, Me?!” when something like this happens.
This week double book excitement – firstly, the design for the map that will go in the front of The Ghost Lake arrived so that I can see if everything is in the right place. It’s beautiful. The map was a complex concept as it is a map of several layers of time in the same place, so needed to cover geographical, historical and personal places of note. It’s so beautiful that I think I will get the map printed up and framed to hang on my office wall. The second big thing was that we – myself and my brilliant editor – moved onto the next set of edits, which means I get to see a ‘clean’ copy of the manuscript. What does that mean? It means a copy of the manuscript with all edits so far, with the layout as it will be. There is still work to do on the book, but by reading a clean copy I get a feel of how it will read, without the clutter of a million suggestions in the margins, or highlights by me or the little reminders to myself where I have forgotten what it was that I was talking about and have instead, helpfully, left a series of ???? in a comment box. This is the closest it has been to an actual physical book so far. It also means that I’m at the stage where I will need to allow my mum to read it, and my husband, who both feature in it. I will also be sending chapters to people who have been interviewed for the book, and experts who I have talked to. In short, this is the first time the book creeps out from the safety of the publisher’s office, into the hands of people who have never seen it.Wendy Pratt, Ghost Lake Rising
The Worlds End of rob mclennan’s title is, we are told in an epigraph, a ‘pub on the outskirts of a town, especially if on or beyond the protective city wall’; a space that is both convivial and liminal and a tone-setter for the book.
As a poet, editor, publisher and blogger, mclennan is a key figure in a world of poets, and this community is reflected in the fact that most of the poems that make up this book have individual epigraphs from writers, the regulars in the World’s End. A sense of poetry as being intrinsic to the world weaves through the book right from the opening section, ‘A Glossary of Musical Terms’:
The Key of S
Hymn, antiphonal. Response, response. A trace of fruit-flies, wind. And from this lyric, amplified. This earth. Project, bond. So we might see. Easy. Poem, poem, tumble. Sea, to see. Divergent, sky. Deer, a drop of wax. Design, a slip-track.
This melding of the natural and domestic worlds (hinted at by the slip-track) with the world of poetry and language is characteristic of mclennan’s work here, with frequent pivots on words that can be read as noun or verb (project). The carefully disrupted syntax calls out the sense of observing from the margins. This can lend a sense of Zen-like simple complexity, a tendency towards silence:Billy Mills, Recent Reading November 2023
Present, present, present. Nothing in particular.
I’m enthralled by this book of poems by Oregon poet Debra Elisa. My first impression was that her poems made a good contrast to mine, choreographed differently, her language distinct and pocked with color. But as I read more deeply, I began to see how our subjects and themes overlap: childhood songs, mothers and grandmothers, kitchens, birds, dogs, backyard gardens.
We also—if I can extend my interests beyond my new book—share a fascination with Emily Dickinson, as this cover blurb written by Allen Braden makes clear, calling Debra’s style “as idiosyncratic as Emily Dickinson’s with poems flaunting ‘breath and tiptoe glory and Clover.’”
And so much more, poems about social justice, poems about peace. Consider these lines:
You write often of Trees Dogs Birds
she says and I feel disappointed because I wish
her to tell me You challenge us to consider justice(“Dear Friend”)
and love in all sorts of ways.
In short, this is an eclectic, surprising collection of poems.
What makes You Can Call It Beautiful a coherent collection (too) is the way Debra weaves her themes throughout, and unites all of it with her gift for sound and color.Bethany Reid, Debra Elisa: YOU CAN CALL IT BEAUTIFUL
Selima Hill’s Women in Comfortable Shoes is different again [to O’Brien’s Embark and Gross’s The Thirteenth Angel]. The poems are all short – many if not most six or fewer lines. They’re grouped into sequences but even within these I think they largely work as separate units. They have the punchiness of epigrams but unlike epigrams what most offer is not pithy reflections on life in general but flashes of extremely subjective response to another person or to the speaker’s immediate circumstances. She appears at different ages, as a child at home or a girl in a boarding school at one end of the book and as an old woman at the other. She comes across as highly intelligent and observant, vividly imaginative, prickly, rebellious and uncompromising, perpetually embattled with others and often conflicted in herself, bewildered by other people’s feelings and behaviour and sometimes almost as much so by her own. In some ways this collection is like Hill’s previous one – Men Who Feed Pigeons – but I felt that in Men the accumulation of impressions emerging between the lines of a given sequence encouraged me to achieve a sense of what the other characters in a relationship were like in themselves, independently of the poet-persona’s reactions to them, and to ‘read’ her and their reactions in that wider context. I feel that much less in this collection.
Although their economy and clarity suggests the application of deliberate art, in other ways most of the very short poems have the air of immediate releases of thought, lightning flash spontaneity and truth to the impulse of the moment. This gives a sense of honesty and makes us – or made me – feel very close to the poet. It goes with a willingness to express unworthy feelings without shame or apparent self-consciousness.Edmund Prestwich, Selima Hill, Women in Comfortable Shoes – review
Perhaps merely writing poems isn’t enough? What does it achieve after all? “Fate”, the final poem has an answer as the poet visits a dollar store and gets shoved to the back of the shelf where no one will see her. However, her poems,
“slip themselves into various
I trust them to start
singing at the perfect,
most inopportune moments.
This is how, they assure me,
new poets are born.”
Change can happen, one poem and one shopper at a time. Poetry is thought-provoking, a sly vehicle of change. And that’s what Kyla Houbolt has achieved: a set of cerebral poems designed to get the reader thinking and responding to the questions raised without being dictated to or guided towards a specific conclusion. “Surviving Death” is quietly generous in spirit.Emma Lee, “Surviving Death” Kyla Houbolt (Broken Spine) – book review
It was actually a rather beautiful house, in a very beautiful setting, and I can at least say that I loved the hills and the sky. I knew the dirt roads and the trails intimately, I would like to live somewhere beautiful again, before I die, though it seems increasingly unlikely that I will. I’m glad I knew the night sky before it was littered with satellites, and glad that I learned black oaks by climbing them and griming my hands on their rugged pelts. That much of the lost world I do have in my blood.
Hush, now, and listen for the breeze that comes up at first light: watch for the bloody sun to spill over the hill crest and make the oaks into calligraphy against the pink sky. Not much longer now. There are not many threads to pick up, but I’ll gather what I can.Dale Favier, The House my Stepfather Built
Rob Taylor: François Villon was, to say the least, a character. A criminal and cheat, both his poems and life story are filled with misdirection, subterfuge and gaps. In the acknowledgments to After Villon, you write that you began translating Villon shortly after first encountering his work in 2009. What was it about Villon that drew you in so quickly and so fully?
Roger Farr: It was precisely those things you mention. That and the fact that Villon, a medieval poet, was the first to erase the separation between his art and his life, which arguably makes him the first avant-garde writer. But for some time before I read Villon, I had been interested in political and aesthetic discussions about visibility, readability, and clandestinity, topics I wrote about for anarchist publications. When I was working on a piece for Fifth Estate about the work of the Situationist Alice Becker-Ho, who introduced me to Villon, I learned about his poetic use of coded language, deceit, and slang, and I became deeply intrigued.
RT: Villon’s influence on After Villon is obvious, but as I read your book I started to think of the title as being composed of two parts, with the “After” actually pointing to Jack Spicer, whose After Lorca—with its loose translations and “correspondences” from Spicer to Lorca—served as a template of sorts for your book. Did you ever feel tension in trying to honour all three “contributors” (Villon, Spicer, you) in one book? If so, how did you manage that?
RF: As soon as I started to see my accumulating translations as a book, I knew I would use After Lorca as a template. I have always found Spicer’s poetics difficult to comprehend, which is no doubt part of my attraction to his work. But I thought the correspondences he writes to Lorca were a brilliant way to elaborate a poetics of translation without resorting to overly expository prose. So he was mostly a formal influence, at the level of the book. Ultimately, my eyes and ears were always attuned to Villon.Rob Taylor, The Poem’s Hum: An Interview with Roger Farr
What am I without the shroud of poetry that covers my nakedness. It is the only way you could have known me: translated into a poem. Into a shroud. Some verses, some lines, some words are lost. Replaced by spaces. A person, a part, a poem, a word, in the end, becomes a space. Space something else will occupy. Loss is white. The colour of erasure. The colour of forgetting.Rajani Radhakrishnan, Weariness has the same texture as cloud
I have been reading novels, which affects my state of mind, makes me dreamy and distracted, foggy-headed, and full of the conflicts in their plots. Or maybe the weather is what does it–too much lovely late autumn sun and not enough rain, which feels “off” for our region; and once the rain finally arrives, it is a dour and chilly dousing I have to convince myself to feel grateful for. Likely the news cycle has not helped my mood. My nine-year-old self emerges from a distant past, crying, “People are so mean!” My parents can no longer sit down beside me and offer comfort.
Time to switch to the poets. I’m finally getting around to reading Ocean Vuong’s Time Is a Mother, a collection that’s been on my to-read list for far too long. The very first poem, “The Bull,” startled me into reading it twice. “I reached–not the bull–/but the depths. Not an answer but/an entrance the shape of/an animal. Like me.” Enough to jolt me out of my fiction-induced haze, especially on a day like this one when I feel the anxious dreamy child in me more than I wish. The prose poems later in the book intrigue me, as well: a very different prose than is found in most novels.Ann E. Michael, Practice
The first stop on the river cruise I took this month was Arles. Arles makes a very big deal of the time Vincent Van Gogh spent there, with placards set up around the city. It does indeed have wonderful light, and the white stone of its monuments adds to the effect. I, however, was more interested in the Roman ruins, ancient walls and other buildings. The amphitheater is quite grand.
In the old hospital in which Van Gogh lived after his ear episode, the garden is maintained to match his paintings. But it was November, so the appearance was a bit drab. I took this picture because I felt like I should.Ellen Roberts Young, Visit to Arles
I just got back to chilly Ohio after a couple of days at the Miami Book Fair. Sunshine, palm trees, tostones, mojitos, energizing conversations with writers, and so many books, books, books. Plenty of joys, even in harrowing times.
In Miami I had a panel discussion with Hannah Pittard and a powerful conversation with Dani Shapiro for her podcast Family Secrets. If you’re in the mood to listen to a podcast this week, I especially loved this incredibly moving episode of Family Secrets, and I had a terrific conversation about ambiguity and “grounded hope” with organizational psychologist and NYT bestselling author Adam Grant recently for ReThinking. (I even forgive Adam for being a Michigan wolverine.)
Grounded hope. Yes, please!Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff
I have just spent much of a week in a house with no internet access–no, not mine, but the ramshackle house that my family rents each year. In the past, we’ve been given a hotspot from the camp that rents the house, but last year, we discovered that they no longer provide that service. We used our smart phones as hotspots, and I had the highest mobile phone bill I’ve ever had, since I don’t have unlimited data.
Last year I learned how much data gets used when the phone is a hotspot, so this year I was more careful and intentional. No more mindless scrolling of sites in the morning before everyone else work up–I read a book! No more checking various sites in the afternoon because I was bored–I went for a walk or started up a conversation.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Low Tech Thanksgiving
And it’s not over. This is the peripeteia. The point in the story where everything turns. It is the apex of the drama, where things slide towards a new kind of normal. What follows is all denouement. A theater lecturer once described it as the part after the final commercial break of a sitcom. The reassuring little bit to let us know life goes on.
I know it may not be that easy. The side effects of radiation aren’t predictable. I see already that, while I thought my nails had made it through chemo, my toenails are now falling off. Surprises keep coming.
But in terms of symmetry: there were the retrospective cancer-free 57 years, the breast cancer (1 known and 2 stealth buggers), and this is the new cancer-free part of the story it resolves at least one theme of the bigger story.
A few months ago I heard a podcast about narrative psychology. They talked about how it matters where you start and end a story. Where we choose to do that, how we frame our experiences, makes a big difference in how we handle the potential trauma, and how we create meaning in (and I would say with) our lives.
As always I retain the right to change to reframe all of this.Ren Powell, “Paripeteia” & In Praise of Partners
I was glad to be asked to write an essay on a new biography of Jane Kenyon (and Donald Hall ) for The Poetry Foundation. The two are a legendary pair; they loved each other, period, and that love, like all love, was as messy as they each were, and exercised as purely and gently as they could bear it. You can read the full essay here, but below is an excerpt that will help set up my next two points:
The many pains of Kenyon’s life had the effect that fog does on light. As a fog refracts and lifts, it catches impossible variations; as it clears, what’s there to be glimpsed is seen with a clarity whose insight is hard-earned (“The soul’s bliss and suffering are bound together,” Kenyon wrote in “Twilight: After Haying”). She believed in—embodied—a spirit of resurrection and regeneration, having so often experienced a miraculous return to sanity and ease. Her fiercest rejections of dogma and her own discomforts led to her greatest gentleness on the page, deepening that inner resilience and vision, giving a shape and a reprieve to suffering through writing. Her desire for repute—“I can’t die until I have a reputation,” she insisted—was paired with a profound spiritual selflessness. “To love and work and to cause no harm” was her motto. Her attention was brilliantly suited for the focused, idiosyncratic attention needed to filter a large world through a narrow aperture, making her short lyric poems containers for what she called “the luminous particular.” She saw poetry as a vehicle for reporting on the inner life, and she delivered that vital news.
Something strikes me about the way that Jane Kenyon metabolized her hardships and gifts, as all poets must finally do. She suffered from severe, often debilitating depression, feeling angry and isolated throughout the majority of her childhood.
And yet, Kenyon had a rich and varied romantic life, one that, despite its early moralistic indoctrination (a widowed grandmother who espoused apocalyptic Christianity), repression, and her own unyielding psychic anguish, proved companied, exciting, and sensual. Despite her early experiences—and perhaps as a result of them—she developed a capacity, willingness, and appetite for the opposite: tenderness, flexibility, love. It strikes me that “The Life,” which biographers rely upon for insight into poetic output, yields curiously and differently to each poet’s affinities, vision, and voice.Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday
I had started working on the devil riffs in 2011 after reading Luc Ferry’s A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. In it, he referenced the idea of “diabolos” or “the who who divides.” I remember writing that down in my notebook and thinking about it every once in a while, riffing on ideas of division and duality in freewrites. The more I wrote, the more I felt that I wasn’t writing about religion directly, instead taking the devil on as a lens, how we humanize the devil and project onto them everything from our misdeeds to an idealized swagger and power. So, the breakthrough of using one narrative as a lens with which to approach other narratives was practiced with the devil first.
When I began working on what would be the first draft of this book, the devil riffs naturally came to mind as an element to put in play. It was around this time, too, that the moment happened where the word devil was confused for double—a natural moment in conversation that made it into the world of the book. Every draft of this book had these devil riffs (I keep calling them riffs as they never felt like poems but more that they borrow from philosophy and aphorism) scattered throughout. They always stood out to folks who read the manuscript, the reactions a mix of confusion and amusement. The idea of bringing them all together under one title came late in the process, and was born after reading an article about books that don’t exist. As I read it, it occurred to me that the devil riffs were their own book within a book, so I tried a draft with it. Once I saw them all together, I was inspired to add some further riffing, turning out what you see in the final version.
This book within a book allowed for a different voice from the main speaker of the manuscript. This shift also allowed the devil voice to address a “you” which is both me and the reader of the book, which is eerie (I hope). Suddenly the devil is not just the usual projections and excuses (the devil made me do it) but also devil as conscience, devil as speaking in a more assertive register than the speaker elsewhere. Note, too, that the devil says things that L turns out to have said, and also riffs against some of the speaker’s own words. Here, again, the idea of the double. The play of “Devil or nothing” was one of the final things to be written. I suppose that the manuscript is abandoned in order to enact the “nothing” half of it.José Angel Araguz, Ruin & Want interview excerpt, pt. 4
Two years ago an exciting new online journal made its appearance on the literary scene. Uniquely, the voidspace focuses on interactive arts: the website itself is an invitation to dive in and explore through a series of alluring portals. I spoke to founding editor Katy Naylor about the voidspace, her sources of creative inspiration, her poetry, and her plans to set up a new press.
– Katy, you’ve described yourself as growing up in ‘a house full of books’. Tell us something about your creative development and the influences that inform your writing.
Katy: I actually spent the majority of my life not thinking of myself as a creative person at all. I wrote stories as a kid, as many people do, but as I grew up I became a reader, a viewer and a player: a consumer of art rather than a creator.
My mum was an English teacher, so literature was always part of my life. I was a real theatre kid, going to see Shakespeare with my mum regularly, and even making yearly pilgrimages to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare and other plays. I was also keenly interested in history (particularly mediaeval history – I even spent a few years practising early mediaeval crafts, combat styles and building methods, and learning how to sail a longship) and folk music (I spent some time as a Morris dancer!).
When I got older I discovered immersive theatre – Punchdrunk in particular – and the multi-layered and multi-sensory storytelling I encountered there blew me away.
I’ve also been interested in adventure and narrative games for a long time, as a player before I was a writer. As I kid, I loved text adventures on the computer and in choose your own adventure books, and I even taught myself some BASIC coding in order to try to write my own. A British kids’ TV show, called Knightmare, had a huge impact on me as well. It was essentially a Dungeons ‘n’ Dragons type game, but using a mixture of actors, props and early blue-screen technology, you could see one of the players seemingly physically present in this elaborate fantasy world (and seemingly falling off imaginary precipices, if they weren’t careful). It really captured my imagination.
As an adult, I discovered interactive theatre, which combines game mechanics with a theatrical narrative art, and found my own online DnD group. In its purest form tabletop gaming is a form of collaborative storytelling, but it releases players from the sense of obligation to “perform” and polish. As a result of that freedom, you often get incredible stories growing organically, that would never have happened had players consciously thought that what they were doing was writing. That’s the energy I try to bring to the voidspace – that sense of creative playfulness.
It was during lockdown that I discovered that I could actually write. I think having the time and space to think and experiment woke something in me. When we were only allowed out for a short time every day, I’d take long walks by the sea where I live (the sea is another abiding influence) and the ideas would come. Once I started to write, all the influences I’ve talked about: theatre and gaming, the past, music and folklore, the songs of the sea – all came back to me, and still form the backbone of my work.Marian Christie, Step into an adventure: An Interview with Katy Naylor of the Voidspace
This time of year also brings on my informal year-end evaluations—what went well this year and what didn’t, things I want to invite into my life and things I want to do less of. It’s easy to forget the accomplishments and successes of the year in cold, stark November—so I try to keep track of those too. On the writing front, I had the book launch for Flare, Corona in May (and a preview of it at AWP, where I connected more than ever with the disabled writing community, which was great), and I turned 50—there were many more family visits than in the past seven years, and I reconnected with friends that I wanted to see again who had sort of slipped out of focus. I’m prioritizing friends and family, my writing work, and my health in 2024 for sure. I also want to make sure that I do less unpaid labor (and look for more paying opportunities) because my financial health is becoming a priority too—especially as my health care becomes more specialized—and more expensive.
I love the poetry world but one thing about it I don’t love is how it relies on writers’ unpaid labor (and submission fees, etc.)—usually the people who can least afford it—to prop it up. I’ve been volunteering as a reviewer, editor, fund-raiser, PR person, etc. for over 20 years. Isn’t that crazy? If I acknowledge that I have limited time and energy, then I need to volunteer…less. This also means being pickier about venues for submitting poetry and reviews, as well as maybe trying to write more essays. (And a big thank you to the journals that pay reviewers and writers and the folks who organize paid readings and classroom visits!)Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Eagles, Thanksgiving Celebrations, a Poem in JAMA this Week, Guest Appearance at Washington and Lee University, And Year-End Evaluations
Driving home from my son’s orchestra practice
in the dark of rural Vermont, mountains
a slightly different deep blue than sky:
sudden sense-memory of dancing with my father
at my wedding. Nat King Cole on Spotify,
probably a song our hired jazz trio crooned.
The marriage and my parents are both long-buried
but I remember my father healthy and strong,
his arms around me, the crisp sheen of his tux.
I wish I could have that back. My parents,Rachel Barenblat, Blue
and how everything seemed possible, for all
whom I love. The griefs I didn’t yet know.
You want to know how it is possible to sustain
attention over broken periods of time, how to find
again the cord of your lineage and the emblems
of not-darkness in the rubble. You want to know
where the birds with emerald plumes went
after they abandoned the garden, and whether
someone remembered to save the seedsLuisa A. Igloria, Sometimes You Want to be Stronger than Fate
from the fruit of once abundant trees.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
How did she know? How did she know that singularity of each of us, the separation that the Self defines, the pain of it sometimes?
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
This is the line that moves me to tears. Why is that? The generosity of the world, perhaps, its offer to me, the risk involved in loving, in loving the world, and the excitement, and the reward in taking that risk, in opening myself, my imagination, to all that is possible in this incredible life.
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
With the geese, with the soft animal of my body, with you, wherever you are, connected through out imaginations, through our connections to the world, each other, the wild, the roots, branches, the wings, clouds, the wind, the world. Of and in and with.Marilyn McCabe, Geese
and then i found youJim Young [no title]
with your hand on a book’s breeze
lost in the turning
A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the Bird King, 1300 chapbooks, the air full of silk, a Tasmanian double, the absence of sex in lit mags, and much, much more. Enjoy.Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 46”
A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, we embrace the miscellany: the poetics of wrongness, chaos and magic, love and rage, untethering, unknowing. Enjoy.
This one is 17×57. It’s tentatively called “A Mother Who Loves Books,” because I was thinking of my mother when I made it, and the text is a poem from Let it Be a Dark Roux, “My Mother’s Perfume.” It’s linen, and I am loving how unfinished linen looks like on the edges. I’ve been working on a few more, unfinished, pieces using torn linen, and I can’t imagine tiring of the tearing for awhile. There’s something powerfully, almost…archaic about linen that’s unraveling a bit at the edges.Sheryl St. Germain, Color Dreams
Last week, I attended the launch of Matthew Stewart’s collection, Whatever You Do, Just Don’t (HappenStance Press) and Mat Riches’s Collecting the Data. The latter, available here from Red Squirrel Press, is Mat’s long-awaited and excellent debut pamphlet. The launch itself was a joyous and merrily raucous occasion, with readings not only from the two launchers, but also some mighty fine guest readers – Eleanor Livingstone, Hilary Menos and Maria Taylor.
There was a lot of love and affection in the room for Mat and his warm, witty and well-crafted poems.Matthew Paul, On Mat Riches’s ‘Half Term at Longleat Safari Park’
And it’s only now that I’ve managed to really sit and think about the fact that I have an actual book out there in the world. I’m not 100% convinced I will ever truly come to terms with it. There’s certainly a feeling of well, what now…? The poems are out there, people actually own them in a book. I’m not there to read them to them with an intro. That’s quite a strange feeling to come to terms with, but I’m getting there. What do I write next? When? How? For who? All good questions, but not for today. And not a question for this book.
I’ve found myself sitting and staring at it whenever I’ve had a spare moment. It’s a beautifully produced thing, just looking at it as an object it astonishing.Mat Riches, Dating the collective
Last weekend I attended a funeral for a family member. “Have you been doing any writing?” my cousin’s husband asked me. He was a musician when I first knew him; after his son was born he gave up playing professionally and took a full-time day job with good pay and benefits. For years he has asked me this almost every time I see him, and my answer is always the same: “Not really.”
I shrug and smile. The real answer feels like too much to say in a big group of people standing around a small kitchen. I don’t actually know what the real answer is, but I know that much about it.
There is nothing like an unexpected funeral for someone younger than your parents to make you contemplate what it is you are doing with your life, and how it might be even shorter than you have, in recent years, come to realize it is.
“Are you just feeling like you don’t have anything to say?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, nodding. That is a truth: I don’t have anything I feel compelled to say. But I was also thinking: Or maybe too much. And: There’s not enough time. And: There are so many voices in the world already, so much that I feel like I’m drowning in the cacophony.Rita Ott Ramstad, It’s been a lot
this room this bright quilt
winter waits on the other side
of these dark windows
in dust and rubble
on fire all this has nothing
to do with me the naked child running
through fire has nothing to do with me
these buildings become dust
have nothing to do with me
I sit on this bright quilt
blue and white and redSharon Brogan, there is no good news
patterns of flowers and thread
I drink from my modern porcelain
blue and white cup a pale
version of Italian cappuccino
what is true? who is to blame?
Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?
A poem usually starts for me with a bit of language that I overhear or receive subconsciously. Many poems start with my wife, the poet Kodi Saylor, saying something incredible. I’ll often respond, “That sounds like a line of a poem,” and she’s usually like, “Well, go and write it then.” Usually that little snippet of language has some rhythmic quality that suggests a next line. That’s usually enough to get started. I let the rhythm and associations of sound and image suggest themselves and just go with it. The poem emerges. I try not to overthink it, but of course I do sometimes. Currently, I’m much more of a writer of short pieces that accumulate into a larger project. The stakes are lower for me that way which is important for me to combat the voice of the perfectionist that lives inside me.rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Matt Broaddus
My name is on the book cover, but the book is in fact written by many hands. My grateful thanks to the many Singaporeans in America who shared their stories with me and gave me permission to write them up in verse. Here it is, a book about us: SAMPLE AND LOOP: A SIMPLE HISTORY OF SINGAPOREANS IN AMERICA.
“Based on personal interviews, these poems together tell a part of the story of the migration of Singaporeans to the United States of America. Sample and Loop traces the nonlinear, multidimensional, and surprising trajectory of lived experience in musical verse. Here are the Ceramicist, the Pediatrician, the Scenic Designer, the Chef, the Porn Star, and a host of other migrant-pilgrims sharing the tales of their lives even as they continue to make those lives in a country not of their birth. By narrating their discoveries, troubles, hopes, and sorrows, they refract a powerful beam of light on both countries and compose a wayward music for the road.”
All sale proceeds go to Singapore Unbound, the NYC-based literary organization that envisions and works for a creative and fulfilling life for everyone. You can find the book on Bookshop.org and Amazon.Jee Leong Koh, Sample and Loop: A Simple History of Singaporeans in America
[The Poetics of Wrongness], published earlier this year, is made up of four sections of newly edited texts originally delivered as lectures as part of the Bagley Wright Lecture Series (2016). Publisher Wave Books calls it [Rachel] Zucker’s “first book of critical non-fiction” and refers to its sections as “lecture-essays of protest and reckoning.” It says the poetics of wrongness itself — the list of anti-tenets Zucker offers as a new poetics — offers a “way of reading, writing and living that might create openness, connection, humility and engagement.” […]
This book strips off the itchy robe of what’s presumed to make poems successful (“Oh, teacher, I say you are wrong,” p. 8) and streaks through the halls of academia and publishing. It jumps over gates. It walks on the grass. It picks locks. This book encourages a build-our-own poetics. This book is a middle finger to the tools of the patriarchy embedded in so many of the “rules.” It disturbs the universe that makes oppressors comfortable and offers renewed, modern senses for beauty and time.Carolee Bennett, my love letter to “the poetics of wrongness”
tonight i will show youRobin Gow, 11/11
one thing. here is the bowl of whipped cream.
here is the spoon i use. here is
the way my stomach feels full of clouds
when i am done. here is how
i try to lick the last tastes of sweetness
from the bottom of the bowl.
One of my goals for 2023 was to want nothing from my creative work but good work. I mean, obviously, we all want things, book sales, publication opportunities, someone to just acknowledge that we exist and don’t suck. And partaking in things like social media and promo is part of it. But earlier this year I decided that those things, that kind of scrambling, was not where my best efforts lay and maybe I get more enjoyment from sharing and letting the chips fall as they may. I would continue to write and share things and express myself and create tiny strange worlds. It was freeing, but also think it kind of tripped me up. What to do? Where to go? If I am not struggling to get people to buy my books, read my publications, come to readings, etc. how does anyone ever encounter my work in a way that makes me feel seen? I tried to channel those energies into the writing instead, but what happened is that every great piece I wrote felt like yet another brick in a wall that made me lonelier. I am not sure I have crawled out of this funk just yet, but I am writing daily again. So we will see how I fare.
Maybe it’s chaos. And maybe it’s okay that it’s chaos. That it all means nothing. I will write and people will read it or they won’t. They will buy books and read posts or maybe they won’t. I will just keep doing my weird little things and take the joy from that. No one cares. It’s terrifying and sad. But it’s also kinda magical. Like tiny spells you throw out into the world and maybe one lands somewhere that needs it.Kristy Bowen, chaos and magic
In 2000, friends of mine saw [Stanley] Kunitz read at the Dodge Festival. They both witnessed him helped to the stage and from their seats, they could see nothing but the crown on his balding head. But then something incredible happened. As Kunitz began to read, he became taller, his face appearing above the podium. It was as if poetry (they said) had restored his youth. Reading his poetry to a receptive audience brought him more fully to life. I have never forgotten that…
Here is a stellar interview I discovered today between Gregory Orr and Stanley Kunitz taped when Kunitz was 88 years old. He reads “Father and Son,” a poem written when Kunitz was a young man, giving a hard and uncompromising vision of his dad. Orr offers that Kunitz is the first poet to write of his father in this way. Kunitz shakes that accolade off but he has lots of important things to say about poetry. He also reads, “The Portrait,” a kind of self-portrait, perhaps one of the first pieces that has led to our preponderance of self-portrait poems today.
GO: What purpose does poetry serve?
SK: Poetry is most deeply concerned with telling us what it feels like be alive. To be alive at any given moment….Before the poets we had no idea what it meant to be a human person on this earth.
Wow. Kunitz lived to be 100. He won the Pulitzer prize when he was 63, became Poet Laureate at 95. He is an incredible example of poetry being a life long pursuit. When it was an incredibly unpopular thing to do, Kunitz consciously chose to elevate domestic experience in poetry. This was before Roethke, before Lowell, before Plath.Susan Rich, Stanley Kunitz on my fridge, in the garden, and the joy of surviving.
Are your dreams shuffling
like cards (a random draw
flashing in the dim light),
stretching like strange cats,
or climbing upwards,
clutching to rockweed,
stiff salt stalks of kelp
travelers from weight
of the waters toPF Anderson, Dear You
of approaching stars?
Writing is noticing, but it can also be the song of oneself. It can speak of who you are. And it gives you the opportunity of declaring it in your own voice and in your own words. As UK writer John Berger writes, “Nobody knows exactly why birds sing as much as they do. What is certain is that they don’t sing to deceive themselves or others. They sing to announce themselves as they are.”
We can speak of the experience of others. We can speak of the experience of ourselves. In writing, you take agency. It is your story, your words and you are saying them when you want to. And writing imagines community. Perhaps you imagine sharing your words with another. Of creating a connection. Of being in this—all of this—together.
There’s an iconic poem called “Motto,” by Bertolt Brecht that you perhaps have heard:
In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.
What does singing about the dark times mean? If we sing a happy song in a dark time, we know we are singing in the context of that dark time. Maybe it is a defiant, subversive act, a refusal to despair or be cowed by the darkness. If we sing darkly about the dark times, we name what is happening. We name what we are experiencing. We remember our humanity, our shared humanity. Our story may be dark, but we are the ones telling it. To tell the story is to have agency. […]
As a small child in Ireland, I remember hunting around my dad’s office and finding a little box that perfectly held a hundred blank index cards. The box seemed so magical and full of possibility I knew I had to write some magic spells, some mysterious incantations. I snuck the box into my room and immediately began writing on the cards. I didn’t know any spells but I wanted to capture the feeling of magic so I just made up a script. No one could read it, not even me. But that wasn’t the point. I filled all the index cards with this cursive hoodoo. My goal was to create a feeling, to use the form of spells and the loops and swirls, scratches and knurls of my invented script. I was whispering to life itself. We were connecting. My writing put me at the centre of speaking. In the middle of secrets.Gary Barwin, THE SONG OF OURSELVES IN THE SHADOW OF NOW, a speech about the importance of writing in dark times
This poem had its genesis in my move from London to the village of Rottingdean on the south coast of England, where you can stand on the South Downs and listen to the sea at the same time. Words and images often float up when I’m walking here, and I type them into my mobile app before they disappear. Then, when there are enough of them and they’ve had time to ripen, I sit at my computer and see what happens.
Winter shadows are accentuated in open spaces. When there are contours too, you get shadow magic, where you see your shape, or that of others, distorted, elongated, living a separate existence. Much of A Pocketful of Chalk is about seeing the ordinary from a different perspective, finding new aspects of yourself in the full glare of nature. We create mechanical things such as a windmill to harvest nature, and perhaps, because of this, become giants in our own minds. By the end of the poem, however, I’m insubstantial, ‘I float in the beaks of birds’.Drop-in by Claire Booker (Nigel Kent)
At the terminal’s
edge, sunset outlines a row of cranes so they look
like a fleet of otherworldly sentinels, snouts
scouting the air. And I can hardly bear to watch the news:
for instance, today, a father wept as he dug, in vain,
for his children’s bodies. Around the bombed ruins of homes
can we say it is by luck or grace the living grieve? Even
the youngest ones can’t stop trembling: this word, fromLuisa A. Igloria, Tremble
the Latin tremulus—pertaining to the trauma of a wound.
My first purchase from Trickhouse Press was the inaugural Oulipo Puzzle Book (Spring 2022), one of a series of four delightful anthologies of poem puzzles that are informed by various constraints. In your introduction to Issue 4, you write:
‘My secret belief about Oulipo, in poetry and otherwise, is that the joy of Oulipo lies in the crafting of an Oulipo work moreso than in the reading of one…. What I’ve attempted to begin with this series of puzzle books is to put the pen in the reader’s hand, quite literally, and create spaces for readers to engage in Oulipoean thinking themselves. An Oulipo puzzle isn’t just a puzzle or a word game – it can also be a writing prompt, a springboard, a summertime, an autumn leaf, or a winter wondering land.’
Can you expand on this, with particular reference to your own relationship to poetry – as a reader, student, editor, and writer?
Dan [Power]: When I was a kid I was obsessed with wordsearches and mazes – actually I still am – and I liked making them and drawing them even more than trying to solve them. It’s very satisfying when you’re putting together a wordsearch or a crossword and you find the perfect word that intersects with the other words you’ve put down, and fills the space you’ve got left. Similarly with Oulipo, I like the challenge of writing under a constraint. I’m not great at it, and I think the things I’ve written that I’m most proud of came about from writing with absolutely no constraints, but it’s much more satisfying to complete an Oulipo poem because it has a kind of finality to it – there’s set rules, and a task to be completed within those rules, and eventually you get to a point where you can say for sure that it’s finished. There’s no finality with an unconstrained poem, you can keep editing and changing it forever. I thought of Oulipo writing as a kind of problem-solving, and a puzzle book working with Oulipian constraints seemed like a logical thing to make.
The idea for the Oulipo puzzle books came a few years ago when I was trying to get my head around how cryptic crosswords work, and I realised they had their own pretty consistent sets of constraints, and I wanted to see what other kinds of puzzles were possible by placing different sets of constraints on different kinds of puzzles. I also liked the idea of Oulipo as a method or a process, and was always more interested in the process of creating an Oulipo work than the finished work itself, trying out different combinations of words, exploring all possible avenues, tracing all possible connections… placing constraints on a piece of writing really makes you consider all the different detours it can take! As I said in the quote you mentioned, the puzzle books are about trying to give the reader that experience. The unfinished puzzles aren’t the poems, and the solutions aren’t either, they’re more like prompts – the poetry is going on in the reader’s head, it’s the thinking and the problem-solving itself.Marian Christie, Anything could happen – An Interview with Dan Power of Trickhouse Press
The launch event for the Hastings Stanza Anthology last month was standing room only, and we were thrilled to raise several hundred pounds for the brilliant Refugee Buddy Project. Copies are still available (ask me) and since we’ve covered our costs all sales income now goes to the Project. The cover features a painting by the multi-talented Judith Shaw and there’s lots of lovely work in this book as you can see from the below.
I went to the London launch of Clare Best‘s new collection Beyond the Gate last month and it was a super evening. Unfortunately, having to leave to catch a train while Clare was still surrounded by a crowd of acolytes, I was delighted when my signed copy arrived in the post. It’s an excellent collection. I do love Clare’s work.
Also on my ‘to be read’ pile: Isabel Galleymore Significant Other (Carcanet) and Jane Clarke A Change in the Air (Bloodaxe), both poets I’m going to be interviewing soon for the podcast. Jane’s book was shortlisted for the Forward Prize this year and is on the TS Eliot shortlist. And I’m pretty sure Isabel’s collection was on the shortlists a couple of years ago.
Good news on the submissions front – Pindrop Press has offered to publish my collection next year and I’ve signed the contract, so I guess it’s official. I’ve been so impressed with editor Sharon Black’s communication and enthusiasm. I feel very fortunate indeed, and in safe hands.Robin Houghton, Currently reading, plus an anthology & a contract
I find it impossible not to feel guilty that I’m living a life without hardship and pain when others are not. But guilt is a pretty useless emotion, isn’t it, and rather self-indulgent. I have allowed myself to switch off the news and to think of other things once I’ve written and donated and done the small empathetic actions available to me.
On Saturday, I met with others from Trowbridge Stanza, the monthly poetry group I organise, and I ran a workshop centred on the Penned in the Margins anthology Adventures in Form. There were ten of us, reading about, trying out exercises, writing and sharing fragments of writing that might become poems. The session was quite tiring but fun and stimulating, according to feedback!Josephine Corcoran, Guilt and Empathy
We stand on the street corner
for those whose streets run red
with blood and fire.
We stand on the street corner,
praying to awaken
from our collective nightmare,
to discover it was all a dream,
that we are safe in the arms of loved ones,
that all we hear are birds
and the laughter of children.Jason Crane, POEM: Vigil
It’s a wide spectrum between the frictions of our daily lives and the bombs and rubble of Gaza and Ukraine, the Peace Wall in Belfast, but we’re all on it somewhere. When my Jewish friends worry about the surge in hate crimes, in verbal abuse on social media and on the streets, I sympathise of course, it must be horrible and frightening, but I’ve been surprised to find it so difficult. On summer Saturdays I have to listen to my neighbours singing songs about wading up to their knees in my blood, and we’re supposed to take it for granted – it’s just the marching season. When I hear people who wouldn’t personally be mean to a soul complaining that ‘you’re not allowed to say anything any more’, I wonder how their queer neighbours or their disabled friends feel about that. And when we say ‘we must be able to get along and why can’t people just be nice to each other?’ I think we don’t really understand peace at all.Elizabeth Rimmer, Peace, Peace! They Say but There Is No Peace
gale forceJim Young [no title]
how the shadows gesticulate
on the morning wall
“Where” was inspired by my maternal grandmother, who died in October 2000 after suffering from both cancer and Alzheimer’s. The poem began with a realization that what I wonder about more than where she is now, after her death, is where was she then, at the end of her life. Watching a loved one deteriorate is heartbreaking, and witnessing my vibrant grandmother lose access to her own memories—to her own life and sense of self—rocked me to my core. It was a formative experience for me as a human being and as a writer. I don’t think it’s an accident that so much of my work is concerned with memory.
I found myself, early on, testing the elasticity of the opening sentence. How much could it hold? How long could I extend it? The unwieldy nature of that first sentence reflects the difficulty I was having grappling with the subject matter. How best to articulate something that resists articulation? Then again, this is the work of poems, and—I think—work that poems are uniquely suited for. I think the commas create tension; those pauses that slow the reader down while at the same time building momentum because many of the sentences go on and on, and they’re loaded with repetition.Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Where”
I’ve read many memoirs and non-fiction books about cognitive decline and living with a beloved person who has a neurodegenerative condition; from Oliver Sacks to the recent biography of Terry Pratchett and many of the books we’ve read in my “morbid book group,” information in these texts connects with the personal emotions involved in deeply complicated human ways. There are also quite a few poetry collections themed around this type of loss, and I ought to compile a list one of these days, because poetry has been helpful to me as my family and I contend with elders dealing with forms of dementia (and there are many forms). That fact has led me to wonder whether readers even need another poetry collection centered around cognitive loss. Since so many of my poems during the past four or five years intersect with or explore that topic, I have considered making a manuscript of them. I hesitate. Too much sadness?
Yet while the circumstances that evoke such poems are usually sad, the disease progression differs, as do the personalities of the persons with cognition loss and the personalities of their loved ones. Perspectives on the persons and the diseases also vary a great deal. Similarities exist–enough to make a reader feel recognized–but situations and value systems mean there are as many ways to write about dementia as there are to write about anything else. […]
These days, my mother sometimes seems unmoored from the present moment, but not absorbed in memory either–just kind of lost in the ozone. Self, language, memory…sometimes they slip away from her physical body. In this process, though, she has things to teach me. Just as my hospice patients do, and as their families do, by helping me to widen my understanding of human beings and how we get by in the world. Or how we flounder differently from one another. Or how we rescue one another.
I take this gradual loss into myself–that’s what most of us do–and it’s hard, it’s painful to keep myself open to learning and love when what I first notice is untethering and loss. But yesterday when visiting my mother I noticed she has a cobbled-together notebook in which she sometimes writes (in tiny, indecipherable script). Some pages she had divided into three columns, some have scraps of letters or newspaper clippings stapled to them. Are her pages a record, or a practice? She cannot tell me. Yet it was kind of amazing to realize she does this with apparent intent. She has her reasons, if not her reason in the classic sense.Ann E. Michael, Untethering
I came across the most astonishing gentleman on YouTube this week named Troy Hawke. His entire shtick is dressing up in a ridiculously ornate suit, complete with an ascot, and walking around in public complimenting people. It’s really quite magical. I believe he is bestowed with a Godly gift. His compliments aren’t random or insincere, they are extremely incisive and show that he really sees the people that he compliments. In complimenting people, he shares a moment of joy and recognition with them. For example, he stops by a bench where two friends are chatting and says, “You look very comfortable in each other’s presence. It’s a lovely way to be with another human.” They light up with with delight at their friendship being seen and appreciated by another human being. I find his videos light and humorous, but also truly uplifting. And who doesn’t need some of that in the midst of what the world has become?Kristen McHenry, DP Progress Pics, I Baked Bread, Compliment Man
I had a brain-wave a couple of months ago when I was out walking. Using my copy of Mammals of Prince Edward Island (And Adjacent Marine Waters), my plan is to respond to entries in the book with a poem and a sketch. It’s a winter project for my personal enjoyment but I’ll share what I make on this blog. Please excuse my rough drawings – maybe just maybe, I’ll get better as I do more of them. Here’s my first poem and sketch.E.E. Nobbs, The Flying Squirrel
It’s World Basking Shark Day. Airplane Mode Off.Bob Mee, ON WORLD BASKING SHARK DAY, I READ THE BEEKEEPER’S BIBLE
Text Predictions On. Personal Data Up To Date.
I read your diary from before you knew me.
Bombs fall on refugee camps, hospitals, schools.
Ten thousand dead in a month. Save Draft.
I’ve been trying to prepare a 15-minute talk for my winery bookclub this Wednesday. We’ll be discussing the late Louise Gluck’s terrific book, Meadowlands.
I’ve taught classes to veterans and disadvantaged high school kids and college students, but I thought since I usually teach creative writing, I would instead talk more about how to write a poem than how to read one!
I know what I don’t want to say—poetry isn’t supposed to be an escape room, it’s supposed to be something enjoyed or appreciated the way a piece of visual art or music. Poetry isn’t autobiography—it can be memoirish, but it can also be fictionish. But there are some tools poets use that non-poets might want to understand or know about, so I thought I’d talk about those—tone, diction, punctuation, sonics, images, metaphors, etc.Jeannine Hall Gailey, How to Read a Poem, In Between Holidays, and Galloping Toward 2024
Yesterday I tried to take some old wooden rabbit run panels to the tip. It turns out that the tip is closed on Wednesdays, which I knew but thought, inexplicably, that it was already Thursday. I’ve not been well this week, which might explain my confusion. I’ve had a stupid a virus; which has been bad enough to make me uncomfortable and a bit brain-foggy with a cough and a heavy, liquid feeling in my lungs, but not bad enough for me to cancel work. I hate feeling vulnerable. And illness makes me feel exposed, and miserable and like my body is not my own. I have, however, enjoyed my work this week which has mostly been running early morning writing groups. There is something particularly special about the dark morning turning to light as you sit quietly, writing with others. It’s one of my favourite parts of being a facilitator, and of being a writer. I’ve fallen into a pattern of working from 6.30am until about 9am and then going walking with, and sometimes without, the dog. We don’t go so far anymore on account of the dog being quite elderly. But last week I walked up to the river which runs along the edge of our village. The river Hertford is a strange river, it rises just outside another nearby village, Muston, and despite being just a mile from the sea, it flows inland, down the wide, glacier carved valley where I live, where I have always lived. On the day I walked up to it I’d seen a fellow dog walker in the lane. I stroked the long muzzle of his lovely greyhound and we passed the time of day, talking about the ash and the beech leaves and how autumn had arrived so suddenly, how it seemed to do this every year, and that each year we were surprised. His dog waited patiently. My dog wound himself around my legs. He told me he’d been up to the river and had seen a king fisher for the first time in ages. I had never seen one, though had been with people when they had seen one. It seems I have often had my head turned the wrong way when the king fishers appear. On the day we; the dog and I, walked up to the river, we were lucky. We arrived on the wide metal bridge and stood patiently, or rather I stood patiently, but the dog got bored and started winding round my legs and trying to get into the river and then suddenly, out from under the bridge, there was the kingfisher. It was the colour of an Egyptian amulet, jewel-like, the most beautiful, bright blue I have ever seen, completely at odds with the brown, draping, wet landscape. I watched it flit down the length of the river and away and stood with my mouth open in an O of surprise. Perfect.Wendy Pratt, If the Landscape is a Body then the Hertford is a Wound
Can we pray for rain yet?
Has time stopped?
Are we still family
even if we disagree?
Where is everyone elseRachel Barenblat, Unknowing
in this cloud of unknowing?
I have been immersed in quilting since Wednesday afternoon. It has been strange to resurface, strange to do other things. I’ve gotten my reading responses done for tonight’s seminary class. I’ve thought about other writing that I haven’t been doing, the writing that always slips to the bottom of my to do list when I have a chance to immerse myself in a retreat.
I’ve also been thinking about poets and quilters, wondering if there are similarities to what I’ve seen and experienced. At the risk of talking in huge generalities, let me muse a bit.
–I am a person making it up as I go along. I’m more in love with the fabric than with the quilting process. I create quilts because it gives me a reason to collect fabric, but then I have to do something with it. Once I might have thought about making a living with this art–even more reason to collect fabrics! But now, I’m happy to be in my own corner of the world.
The same is true of writing. Once I wanted to make a living with my writing, and if it should happen, I won’t complain. But I want to do the writing I want to do, not what is likely to sell in the wider world.
–This week-end, I’ve watched many quilters working from kits. Not only do the kits come with instructions and pictures, but they also come with pre-cut fabric. There are designers out there that not only design the finished quilt, but they also design the fabrics.
I look at the pictures that come with the kit, and I think, no, I’d do it this way. Nope, that color choice is all wrong.
In the writing world, the kit might represent an MFA program or a literary journal–that hope that there’s one way to do things, that we can unlock that one way if we go to the right school and get the right publications.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilters and Writers
The mixed-use heart.
All warmth and passion
or is it all red fury?
Red Alert – a love or war
Blood as in beating and alive,
or draining on a sidewalk?
We are unhappy people
in a happy world. I heard
it said. And it wobbled
in the red, fully lit garden.
Something will happen
We just don’t know what.Jill Pearlman, Code RED
I talk to the birds about complicityRajani Radhakrishnan, Untitled -9
and courage. How both need wings.
How both burn red. How both grace
and macabre defy gravity. If only,
briefly. They come every evening.
Pied Wagtails with homes somewhere
I cannot see, to hop around on the
tiles and sing from the terrace walls.
All. All things can be obliterated in
It’s a beautiful day in Portland, Oregon, sunny, with bright fall leaves blowing down and gray clouds massing in the distance, after days of rain, and that’s a peacock on the roof. I came here to help my daughter have a baby, and that has indeed happened. A beautiful baby named Lola, 8 lbs, 12 oz, 22 inches long. So far, she likes to sleep in the daytime and keep her parents awake from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., like lots of babies who sleep while the mother is active by day and kick around nocturnally. I am happy to hold this baby and stare at her. The activity that rocked her to sleep in the womb included a daily neighborhood walk that I got to do with the family a couple times before the birth, and that’s where the peacocks come in. Just as there is a flock of wild turkeys back at home, or trail turkeys, since they walk the Constitution Trail as well as the neighborhoods, here there is a flock of wild peacocks. Or you might say a pride of peacocks, a muster of peacocks, or an ostentation of peacocks. Although these local peacocks are quite modest and unostentatious. Shortly after getting this picture through my son’s window, I got to witness this one fly gently down to earth.
Then time stood still, as they say, suspended itself, and we had days of labor in a hospital room. The baby was born, and then my mother died, as if she had been waiting for the baby to come into the world before she went out of it.Kathleen Kirk, Peacock on the Roof
rittō ya isu hitotsu aru furuhonya
beginning of winter−
a second-hand bookstore
with one chair inside
from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, November 2022 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, TokyoFay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (November 9, 2023)
A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.
These past two weeks brought Halloween, Day of the Dead, and the return of Standard Time in the U.S. and Canada. Israel’s war on Gaza has, if anything, intensified. Unsurprisingly, poets had something to say about these things, although I think we tend to be more aware of the limitations of language than most. Also: parades for poets, a teetering between melody and madness, an epic poem about astrophysics, and much more. Enjoy.Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44”
A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, we’re in the thick of it, with odd dreams, recalcitrant language, blockages, burning letters, dwindling daylight, and poems struggling to be born. Enjoy.
For the first time in a long time, I reached for my poetry drafting notebook, to capture two lines that came to me suddenly: “Remember the knife / and the tiny spoon.” These are a cake knife and a salt spoon, brought home from the farmhouse–the spoon because it is so tiny and charming, the knife in case I bake a cake. But who knows what they will be in the eventual poem? It is assembling itself in fragments. “Will there be a piano?” I don’t know where it will go next.Kathleen Kirk, My Nasturtiums
Watch this space. There is the kernel of a poem in there but at the present it isn’t clear. It’s definitely a case of some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you and some days you both go hungry. Wow! I was looking up the origin of the phrase when I came upon this long thread relating to The Great Lebowski. I love the internet for this sort of thing!Paul Tobin, ALL THE BEAUTY DRAINS AWAY
who cried eight tears into the heart of each star
who runs the circus of death
whose martyred howl shall be restored as fleshGrant Hackett [no title]
While a couple new poems have wriggled their way out of the ground, I am still not back to full productivity, but October can sometimes be a fruitful time even with the landscape dying off and folding in for the winter. November is never particularly kind to me, as the last few years have attested, so I am determined to enjoy thoroughly what comes before it.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/1/2023
Our minds take us wherever they need us to be.
Whenever’s another matter but that too.
I remember when we had no particular place to go.
All the same we knew the way.
Cluster bombs of napalm follow orders, are buried with full military honours.Bob Mee, THIS VIOLENT SKY
Out on the bright sea something sparkles.
In physical chemistry, the critical point is where the temperature and pressure of a substance are both sufficiently high that there is no longer any difference between its liquid and gas states. In mathematics, the critical point is where the rate of change of a variable of interest is undefined or zero. In the rest of the world, anthropogenic climate change is advancing at an ever-increasing rate. Climate scientists warn us that once we cross some critical climate tipping points, there can be no turning back: things will only get worse and the “new normal” will be largely undefined.
Nevertheless, we can guess how things might look. When language fails to describe how we feel about the disasters occurring around us now, we must invent new forms of expression. As the world contorts and reshapes to the stresses we place upon it, we should bear witness and record what is passing, what is coming to be.Ian Gibbins, Critical Point at FELTspace
In my sighted days I had a very cluttered Windows desktop. Sometimes I would intentionally position an icon so that it overlapped and obscured one of the other icons. One of the mandatory icons was a shortcut to the Training and Development folder. An icon interfered with this, resulting in raining and velopme. I had exotic dreams about a pair of star-crossed lovers from ancient Greek mythology called Raining and Velopme! Maybe it’s like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, repairing broken pottery with gold … the repair enhancing the beauty.
The opening asks us to consider what if everything was beautiful? Can something only be considered beautiful if we have something that is not beautiful to compare it with? What if the broken then repaired item is more beautiful than the unbroken item? Maybe the average person is more beautiful than the supermodel simply because the scars of life have created a resilience and beauty beneath the surface.Giles L. Turnbull, This is the Way the Pamphlet Ends
I decided to start Brandon Taylor’s The Late Americans, a book so good that it didn’t lull me back to sleep. Eventually, I had to force myself to go to bed. The book so far is about a grad student at Iowa who reveres poetry, but not his fellow grad student poets. In some ways, it seems to be offering an interesting window into the state of literature in the 2020’s, but in others, I suspect that these grad students are going to be very different from most poets I know, poets who are in a very different stage of life. But it’s still an intriguing read.
I just finished Marge Piercy’s Braided Lives, also a book about a poet, but a very different poet. She’s from a working class Detroit background, and the book is set in the 1950’s. She’s working her way through undergraduate school at the University of Michigan. I’ve read it numerous times before, but this time, perhaps I loved it most, and I’m not sure why.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poets on the Pages of Books Then and Now
I loved hearing the poems of my fellow winners, Rachel Spence and Ben McGuire, and Maria’s fantastic poems, also. And what an honour to share our reading space in the gallery with the stunning artwork of Sandra Suubi, selected for this year’s Liverpool Biennial.One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone
This week the fatigue has caught up with me. 7 weeks in to this new chemotherapy, and writing is difficult. Mid-sentence I stop typing, because I’m not sure where my thoughts were headed.
Right before I sleep the words come rushing. The images. The poignancy that may or may not have real.
In the evenings, I’ve been trying to concentrate on poetry. Learning to identify dipodic meter. Attempting to write in it. But my attention span is short when I’m sitting still, I can’t get past a quatrain. The body objects to a stillness that is not sleep.
Oddly, the best way to fight fatigue is to exercise. So I am either exercising or falling asleep.Ren Powell, AWOL with apologies
A good poem can create links and resonances that overload a melody. You can go forward and back, pick up echoes, go slowly through a stanza, stop at a phrase or skip a line. You have time and attention for layers of meaning or step outside a poem altogether to enter a whole new landscape. And you can afford to make every word, every line, new and different. A reader has the headspace to pay attention.
Listening to a song is very different. Familiarity is important. Simplicity and space is important. Rhymes matter, because a good rhyme might be predictable, but it is as welcoming as a well-prepared cadence. It doesn’t matter if you have filler syllables the way it would in a poem:
The weary earth we walk uponKarine Polwart Rivers Run
She will endure when we are gone
because the voice makes good use of them. Words are there to guide you through the music, and the music is there to interpret the words. You may visit the realms of thought and imagination, but more likely you will find your emotions stirred and become deeper acquainted with your heart. Writing a good lyric is a synthesis, and requires knowing what not to do, how to create space, when to leave well alone. A poem that falls flat on the page (like most of Burns, as far as I am concerned) can fly as a song.Elizabeth Rimmer, The Words of Mercury
In their strange cosmogony predating Copernicus by two millennia, the ancient Greek scientific sect of the Pythagoreans placed at the center of the universe a ball of fire. It was not hell but the heart of creation. Hell, Milton told us centuries and civilizations later, is something else, somewhere else: “The mind is its own place,” he wrote in Paradise Lost, “and in it self can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”
Grief and despair, heartache and humiliation, rage and regret — this is the hellfire of the mind, hot as a nova, all-consuming as a black hole. And yet, if are courageous enough and awake enough to walk through it, in it we are annealed, forged stronger, reborn.
That is what the non-speaking autistic poet Hannah Emerson celebrates in her shamanic poem “Center of the Universe,” found in her extraordinary collection The Kissing of Kissing (public library), song of the mind electric, great bellowing yes to life.Maria Popova, Center of the Universe: Non-Speaking Autistic Poet Hannah Emerson’s Extraordinary Poem About How to Be Reborn Each Day
I’m not convinced the pigs know what dessert is but they seem to have survived their nightly road crossing, so far. The scene they create is timeless enough to be considered for embellishing a decorative jar. Better still if humans weren’t around to interfere and build roads that endanger the pigs in the first place. Harsh, perhaps but the rhythm is gentle and the language simple so it doesn’t feel didactic.
In the title poem, a ginkgo tree, thick with age, offers shelter to Taoist poets, one of whom calls it “A Tree Becomes a Room” […]Emma Lee, “A Tree Becomes a Room” J P White (White Pine Press) – book review
Did I ever tell you about the time I was on an AWP shuttle bus and a publicist’s assistant told me that my sacral chakra was blocked? We were chatting about reiki, so I’m clearly receptive to that kind of random conversational offering, but it’s pretty bold to diagnose a stranger. I instantly knew that I’d landed in a funny creative-writing-conference anecdote. What surprised me was that it also felt like a serious and sincere exchange: she was trying to be helpful, and for my part, I suspected she was onto something.
I don’t use the term “writer’s block” because I find it unhelpfully mystifying. There are tons of reasons to feel paralyzed at the keyboard: fear that you have nothing worthwhile to say; fear of certain audiences’ criticism; illness and exhaustion; and the sheer difficulty of articulating some material, for emotional or intellectual reasons. Blockage IS a perfectly good metaphor for those obstacles; I’ve certainly spent years of my life getting in my own way. But I have to diagnose the obstruction in a more specific way before I clear it. Plus, calling it a “block” implies complete stoppage, and I seem to spend my writing time discovering side roads. If I can’t write a poem, maybe writing a blog will show me what I’m bothered by. If I can’t bear to finish that article, could it be the wrong project? Do I need to re-route completely?Lesley Wheeler, Blockage, re-routing, clearance
The story of her suicide seems, like many suicides, improbable. She jumped/fell off the bleachers of Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Hadley, Massachusetts. At the time, I remembering one of her sons protesting that she would never have committed suicide. Now the narrative of her jumping seems the single story. But anyone who has studied suicide knows that women rarely jump, or shoot themselves, or do anything that distorts the body.
She came from a family of ten children, was married three times, and had two sons. None of these are points of connection with my life and yet I deeply connected with her poems. Poems that often spoke of the dead; of the thin veil between this world and the next. Image and sound, the real turning into the surreal.Susan Rich, The Lasting Work of Deborah Digges
Somewhere in time the mother is depressed. The child doesn’t know this, the child has never heard of depressed. The child watches the mother from behind her eyelash curtain, not knowing this is the beginning of secrecy. She watches for the slightest upturn of her mother’s lips, for the lines on her forehead to smooth out like waves on a sunny, sandy beach. The child has never been to the beach but she’s seen it on TV, broad and sparkling like thousands of smiles.Charlotte Hamrick, Curtained
Under a froth of mosquito netting, an islandLuisa A. Igloria, Allowance (3)
from which to push off toward sleep. You tucked
every fold carefully around the mattress, leaving
no space. In the ceiling or in the floor, some houses
held a secret door—one rusted handle coupled with
an iron slide lock. Before the grownups retired for
the night, sometimes they walked around the house
perimeter, checking windows or scattering salt.
Contrasting Kinetic Kissing with Mekong Delta shows something of the range and variety of the collection. This is also a poem about relationships, but very different in form, tone and style. There’s is no hyperbole on this occasion: it is infused with melancholic realism. The narrator in the poem has kept some love letters from an old boyfriend. The opening line, ‘They’re white as rice that wasn’t thrown at us’, suggests that this had been a very close relationship that might have resulted in marriage given more conducive circumstances. However, the lover served and died in Vietnam. She had kept his letters, meaning ‘to re-read, gather them for warmth’, but she resolves to burn them instead: ‘I light a match, red breast flames releasing/ Angels illegible in their ascent.’Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Apprenticed to the Night’ by LindaAnn LoSchiavo
I dream of elevatorsEllen Roberts Young, Thinking about dreams
in a large hotel. A wish
to be lifted up? One is
too crowded, the next
stops at floor nineteen,
my room on seventeen.
As I realize I could
walk down two flights,
the doors close, reopen
on floor twelve, my fear
of yielding control
I’m facing a blank grey concrete wall.
The desk came in a flat-pack box.
I assembled it with the included
Allen wrench, named after the
Allen Manufacturing Company
of Hartford, Connecticut,
the town where my father was born.
An Allen wrench is also called a hex key.Jason Crane, First Poem At A New Desk
Will it, if properly applied, free me
from this curse?
In the Dean Koontz interview I mentioned last weekend, he also said something interesting, if a bit harsh. He said that if you’re constantly writing yourself into a corner, then perhaps you’re not meant to be a writer.
Harsh, because I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to tell anyone else that they’re not meant to be a writer.
Harsh too, because I am literally constantly writing myself into corners.
I have written myself into so many corners my home office is actually the shape of a megagon.
Finding one’s way out of such corners, I suppose, is part of the satisfaction of writing. It is also, at least for me personally, part of the anguish. It feels as if I never know if I will actually make it back toward the other side of the room, where there are merciful doors and windows, or if I will stay in this particular corner for yet another week, month, year, eternity.Becky Tuch, How do you get out of a writing corner?
All I want is house filled with color.Carey Taylor, Enough
A little bit of privacy.
A green vine.
A sky filled with water and sun.
How did your first book change your life? The first book truly gave me confidence. It confirmed that it was possible to do this thing I thought impossible which was to write and publish a book of poems. How does your most recent work compare to your previous? Aurora Americana and my previous book, Radioactive Starlings, are both thinking through the notion of place. They are doing this in different ways but the notion of place is the link by which they connect. How does it feel different? Aurora Americana is a dawn book. Most of the poems take place during or close to dawn. I’ve never centered time in this way. […]
I write every day. I wake up very early, before sunrise. I like to have that new day’s sunlight fall over the page as I write. I usually write for four hours in the morning. I end the morning writing session with a run. I dedicate the evenings to revision.12 or 20 (second series) questions with Myronn Hardy (rob mclennan)
The end of September brought rain (from Tropical Storm Ophelia) and cool weather. I returned from Chicago, the most recent leg of my book tour and spend a whole week with my pups – hiking muddy trails and getting out as much as the quickly fading daylight would let us.
I love fall – the cool weather, the turning leaves. But I hate that the sun is setting earlier each day, that I have to rush home after work to try to sneak in time on the trails. Still, I appreciate every mile and every minute we spend outside.Courtney LeBlanc, Autumn is Here
Welcome to October! Here we had a weekend of cool sunshine after a week of a deluge of cold, crazy hard rain. I had a new fairy tale poem appear in the journal The Broken City and a kind new review of Flare, Corona in TAB journal. I had a really delightful Zoom book launch with Malaika and Redheaded Stepchild Lit Mag and a wonderful group of North Carolina readers and writers. We also had book club (We read The Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes of New England at Bookwalters in Woodinville, and we chose Osamu Dazai’s Blue Bamboo for next month), plus a Supermoon! And I got together with an old friend to catch up and wonder through a sunflower maze. Whew! I am ready for sleep.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome October! A Busy Week: Reading Reports, Supermoons, Writing Friend Dates, New Poems and New Reviews of Flare, Corona and Pumpkin Farm Visits
After we’ve whispered the name of our country like a curse and a cure.
After mistaking rupture for rapture and exit for exist.
After we’ve stuffed all our love and differences into a time capsule, telling ourselves we’ll revisit them on our deathbed—Rich Ferguson, After and Before
The third level he identifies is being willing to ask for help in promoting your work. Yeah, this is tough. It’s a little “please, sir, I want some more”-ish, in that I’m holding out my work in trembling hands to the Great Creative Orphanage Master who will sputter down at my little bowl astonished at my temerity and utter, “What!”
But of course, it’s not that way at all. There is no such orphanage, nor master. My bowl is not empty. I am not seeking gruel. I’m just one among many looking to complete the circle of creation: a writer wants a reader, a painter wants a viewer.
There are in this world people who can help you get read or viewed. It may seem like they’re gatekeepers, that is, that some people slip through skippingly and the portcullis slams down on the rest of us. But it’s not really that way. People by and large like to help other people. Not all the helpers can help all the seekers. That’s just a fact. But many help many. And sometimes the one who is helped is you, and sometimes it isn’t.Marilyn McCabe, So much younger than today; or, On the Art of Being Helped
“Life is as stuffed with episodes as a mattress is with horsehair, but a poet (according to Aristotle) … must remove all stuffing from his story, even though real life consists of nothing but precisely such stuffing.” An interesting detour into the apparently meaningless episodes that happen and are forgotten though Kundera points out that “In infinity every event, no matter how trivial, would meet up with its consequences and unfold into a story.” That is if we, like god, were eternal.Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading list update -16
If there was ever a time to learn to set boundaries, it was when I needed to work to a deadline, on my own published book. Alongside taking the app off my phone, I began to say no to unpaid and low paid work, I began to change my own working patterns, I moved to Substack and I took a risk on myself as a writer, or to put it another, more healthy way – I invested in myself as a writer. My wages dropped, initially, but though growth is slow, growth is growth. I am making it work.
A couple of days ago I logged into facebook and felt a familiar sense of dread and guilt. Because I’d not been on the site for a while I had missed so many people’s news – sad news and happy news – I felt a terrible guilt to have missed birthdays and anniversaries and competition wins and publishing news etc. And it was at that point that I realised that Facebook was no longer enjoyable, I found that it provoked anxiety rather than joy.Wendy Pratt, Leaving Facebook
Last month Tesserae: A mosaic of poems by Zimbabwean women, was released into the world. Working on this book with Samantha Vazhure, founder and editor of Carnelian Heart Publishing, and the wonderful poets whose voices are featured within its pages, has been an immensely rewarding experience.
During the Q&A session following the book launch on Twitter/X Spaces, a participant asked: what poetry do we as poets read? It’s an interesting question to unravel. I’ve been thinking how my answer would have evolved over time.
At my all-girls’ school in the nineteen-seventies, English literature was exactly that: English. It was also dominated by men. We read Chaucer and Shakespeare, John Donne and Andrew Marvell, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Shelley, Keats, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Wilfred Owen. Golden daffodils fluttered and danced in the breeze; brooks bickered from haunts of coot and hern, whatever those might be, while outside our classroom the African sun blazed and jacaranda trees wept purple tears.Marian Christie, What poetry do we as poets read?
octoberJim Young [no title]
in the corner of every window
a sleeping snail
A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the equinox, telepathy, stream-writing, list poems, and much more. Enjoy.
It is peak bramble time, jam-making, pickling, apple cake and plum crumble time. The first geese are here, and the last housemartins are lining up to leave. The bird population in the garden has changed – the sparrows are mostly in the fields just now, so the blue tits have a chance at the feeders. The magpies are mostly bothering something else in the woods, there are starlings along all the roof tops, and the robin is noisily staking out his winter territory in the hawthorns over the burn. The temperature has dropped ten degrees over the last week, and I’m about to pick the last tomatoes and move the lemon verbenas and the scented leaf geraniums into the greenhouse before the frost. I’ll be stripping out the spent annuals, and sowing the seeds I’ve saved to jump start next summer’s flowers, and I’ll be making pot pourri and some dried flower arrangements to give us scent and colour through the dark days.
Because next week is the equinox, one of the tipping points of the year, and we’re heading for winter. I’m having a tipping point of some other kinds too. I seem to have shifted from ‘learning about’ this new territory, to ‘getting to know’ it. I am aware, not only of new facts as they come to my attention, but how they impact things I already know. I understand more about why some plants are thriving and some aren’t, how taking out all the stones from the front garden changes not only the drainage, but the feel of the soil, and I can hear when there’s a new bird in the garden. It feels like a more mutual phase, as the garden responds to what I’ve done – and not always in the way I expect. I had no idea the marshmallows would grow so tall, or how much shade the lilac tree casts.
And in writing, too. I’ll be in the house more than the garden, in my head more than the world. I’m out of the note-making, researching, puzzling, planning stage and into the real words on the page. Unwilding is still very short – less than five per cent of the total, but there are actual words! And more importantly, as it turns out, the next poetry collection has begun to happen. It is tentatively called The Midsummer Foxes but it is also going to have bees, weather, music, herbs and the moon. I have always wanted to do a ‘four elements’ collection, and this may well be it. I am embarrassingly excited about it!Elizabeth Rimmer, The Tipping Point
straw balesJim Young [no title]
a lonely tractor giving birth
On Eurostar from the Netherlands I wrote two poems about returning home and a poem about forgetting. I haven’t knowingly written a poem for a while. I had hoped I could, after bike rides, visits to museums, spending time with Giya. I felt refreshed by being away. I saw new things, including Snow White and the Broken Arm by Marlene Dumas, a South African by birth who lives in Amsterdam. And Snow White is holding a camera. When I went to visit mum and showed it to her she laughed. That was the response of a writer, I realised. It was subversive.
There is lots to do now. It’s a question of pacing, breathing and breaks, I’m told.
I want to think more. I’ve been in plant mind all spring and summer. Autumn’s provoking a change.Jackie Wills, Coming home and thinking more
In Latin, the word equinox means equal night—
there are two times each year when day
and night are the same length in all parts
of the world. On one side, she was dying.
On the other, she was already dead,
her breaths having slowed until
they could not mist the mirror anymore.
The three women who cared for her until
the end folded the sheets and prepared
her body for its last ceremony of fire,
for sifting into an urn bearing her name.Luisa A. Igloria, Death in a Different Time Zone
A CBe event at the Barbican scheduled for Wednesday this week, the 27th, has been postponed (to 31 January next year) because of poor ticket sales. How many tickets were sold? As many as a tree-surgeon friend could count on his right hand, after having lost two fingers on that hand to one of those chopping machines into which fallen branches are fed.
Ouch. It’s dose of realism. Event organisers who schedule Ian McEwan or Zadie Smith or Marie Kondo or Michael Palin can stroll into the box office, quids in; event organisers who schedule small-press writers have to run ten times faster for often, as here, zero result.
The Barbican event was ticketed. They pay the writers. Many book events don’t. This is tricky: earlier this month I heard a librarian speak about her unease at having to charge £3 for an author event when for many of the people she wanted to come that was a barrier. The regular charge for book events in London is £10, which equals 2.5 Costa coffees and the food budget for a week for many. We want open access; we want writers to be valued; and it’s depressing how often money gets in the way rather than helping.
Once, a friend and I were the only people to turn up to a stage adaptation of Kafka in a pub theatre and they put on the show just for us.
On the plus side: for publishers whose authors cannot fill stadia, every reader matters.Charles Boyle, Postponed
21st June 2017, a sweltering day in London, was a significant date for me in two respects. The number one reason was that it was the launch of my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, at the LRB bookshop. But the second reason is that at the same event I met my mate Mat Riches for the first time.Matthew Stewart, My mate Mat
On that back of that reading (and a fair few pints after the event itself!), we exchanged a couple of poems by email, gave each other feedback, found the feedback useful, realised we also had a fair bit in common apart from poetry, and began a WhatsApp chat that must now have thousands of messages in its archive. It soon stretched well beyond poetry to the key issues of dodgy craft beer, dodgy football teams, dodgy knees and dodgy tastes in shirts.
In fact, I’d argue that every poet needs a mate like Mat, and I feel hugely fortunate to have found him. He’s seen all the poems in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course. His development as a poet has been massive over these six years, and his forthcoming pamphlet, Collecting the Data, will be a terrific calling card.
Mat and I are very different poets, but I’d suggest the key to our successful mutual support is that we never attempt to get the other to write in our aesthetic or voice. Instead, we strive to understand, respect and sometimes push each other gently towards a stretching of our self-imposed limits.
Perhaps the only bad thing is that we now can’t ethically bring ourselves to review our respective books.
Rex Jung is a neuroscientist who studies creativity. He defines creativity as what is “novel and useful” [emphasis mine]. By choosing to live a creative life, by choosing to seek out the poetic in the humdrum details of our daily lives, we can use writing to gain the perspective we need to become the person each of us wants to be: we can live deliberately.
We can cultivate attention and gratitude. We can create stronger connections with the physical realities of Earth, and with each other. If we look inward, but aim toward art—and if we are fortunate—we can transcend ourselves.
Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.
– Oscar Wilde
We construct our narratives. Which story are you choosing? Because this choice is who you are.Ren Powell, Metaphor as a Present Tense Manifesto
Kierkegaard suggests that we’re depressed, in modern times, precisely because we’re trying to live in the present moment: we have emptied the past and the future of all meaning. “Everything is cut away but the present; no wonder, then, that one loses it in the constant anxiety about losing it.” In these conditions McMindfulness is more likely to exacerbate depression than to relieve it. Relying on the present moment to supply all our meaning was already overloading it: piling more on is not likely to help.
I still think most people will need mindfulness practices (very broadly construed) to have a life worth living. But I’ve joined the rebellion against locating the present moment as the place where reality lives. There’s a lot of reality. Some ways of reaching out to touch it are historical, and some are soteriological. The fact that “we look before and after” is a feature, not a bug. Sure, it can get us in trouble. What can’t? Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.
A quiet Fall day. I have failed in everything. And still no rain.Dale Favier, “Everything is cut away but the Present”
One of the gifts of lyric poetry is the way that it can hold space for a full range of truths as well as ways to access understandings of truth. I often tell writers that what we are after is awkward human utterance. This can be interpreted both as craft as well as content. Figuring out what needs to be said as well as how it needs to be said–this is the gift and animation of engaging with poetry and its truths.
These thoughts are on my mind after spending time with the digital album Songs For Wo(Men) 2 (Hello America Stereo Cassette) by Mugabi Byenkya. This album’s narrative arc centers the experiences of a disabled body navigating an able-bodied world as well as the themes of intimacy and love and their role in survival. What charges through the listening experience is Byenkya’s lyric sensibility.
The opening to “Tina,” for example, sets a scene deftly then quickly makes clear what the stakes are:
Housekeeping keeps knocking on the door telling me to open up. I sit and listen. I’m the reason that the towel rack lies mangled askew on the chalky linoleum floor, wondering how much this is going to rack up in charges, wracking my mind for a convincing enough excuse, because I had a seizure while getting out of the shower is a little too much truth, a little too much awkward silence, a little too much shifty eyes, a little too much tiptoeing past the room but barging in when the fork clatters to the ground, a little too much.
The scene here depicts the liminal space of having to negotiate around vulnerability. The physical vulnerability of the moment runs parallel with the emotional vulnerability behind the speaker’s voice. Reading the words alone makes clear the mind at work; the wordplay of “open up” can be appreciated and lingered over in text, such a poignant note to hit before moving forward. Listening to Byenkya’s voice behind words, however, adds a further dimension, makes clear exactly the “opening up” to come.
The idea present in the phrasing “a little too much truth” lives at the core of this album. Byenkya’s awareness and ability to evoke for listeners moments of “a little too much truth” is a gift to watch in action.José Angel Araguz, microreview: Songs For Wo(Men) 2 by Mugabi Byenkya
Geoff Bouvier’s first book, Living Room, was selected by Heather McHugh as the winner of the 2005 APR/Honickman First Book Prize. His second book, Glass Harmonica, was published in 2011 by Quale Press. He received an MFA from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts in 1997 and a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University in 2016. In 2009, he was the Roberta C. Holloway visiting poet at the University of California – Berkeley. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his partner, the novelist SJ Sindu, and teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.
1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I don’t remember the first book I ever read, but it fundamentally changed me. The mere fact of words – lines of little scribbles that were somehow signs of meaning – shifted my basic understanding of everything.
The first book I wrote – “The Cake Who Lost Its Crumbs,” when I was three – taught me that I could sculpt those little significant meaningful scribbles. My audience was my mother and father, who were quite encouraging.
The first book I published, thirty-three years later, relined my confidence. Though Living Room found only a modest audience, it did earn me some inroads into academia, where I’ve been able to cultivate a life of the mind.
With my new book, Us From Nothing, I wanted words to again shift my basic understanding of everything. I had to try to understand who I am, why I’m here, where I came from, and where I might be headed. It took me 7 years to research and revise what became a serial epic prose poem about the most important milestones in human history.
2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Psychologically, from the moment I learned to read, it was the words that got me, first and foremost. The mere fact of words. I didn’t care about stories or characters. Those words were drawing attention to themselves as words. That’s the poetry. That hooked me.
Factually, I grew up in a house full of books – my parents were both teachers and readers – but the shelf with the poetry books was the only one with cobwebs on it. I think I gravitated toward it because no one else ever touched it; the poetry books could be mine, all mine.rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Geoff Bouvier
My latest poetry book has an unusual backstory: the pandemic and my telepathic parents.
My parents communicated telepathically — mostly when my father was at work. She was a stay-at-home Mom; he was a shipman in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and had no access to a telephone. When I was too young for school, she’d ask me to play quietly and then converse with him. Naturally, I thought all married couples could transmit thought messages.
I inherited this useful ability, which granted me access to communications “across the miles,” so to speak. For example, I could reach my father while he was driving and insist that he turn around and come home. I kept this channel open so the dead could reach out, too; My Dungeon Ghost is a memoir poem about an elementary school classmate who became a paid assassin, died behind bars, and telepathically requested “a boon.”Drop-in by LindaAnn LoSchiavo (Nigel Kent)
With outsiders, this was never discussed, even though my family considers telepathy to be a normal thing even children are expected to do. Though I’ve had my share of uncanny conversations and experiences, I deliberately excluded these from my writing. Then the pandemic arrived with a panicked lockdown — and the silken privacy of isolation granted permission to open a locked door. I decided this collection would be different: a conjuring of the literary and speculative, the familiar and the alien, with judicious sampling from other poets.
This was the first in-person reading I’ve done in a long time. I’d forgotten how bad the nerves are when I read out. Getting the collections off the bookshelf and going through them, choosing what to read was like going backwards in time, like looking through photos and seeing images of previous selves. I literally had to knock the dust off them, especially the early ones. I have five collections in all: three full and two pamphlets and I have another full collection coming out next year. You’d think by now I’d feel reasonably confident in my abilities as a poet but for some reason, poetry is probably my main area of intense feelings of imposter syndrome. Often I get so nervous before a reading that I’ll spend the whole day beforehand stuck in ‘waiting mode’ feeling sick with nerves. But I think something might have changed this year, the nerves are definitely not as bad. I think it’s since I signed the book deal contract on my nature-landscape-memoir. I have spent a year writing about belonging and what it is to belong, to feel you have a place in the world. I feel like I have spent a year validating my right to exist in the arts sphere, and other places, my own landscape, my own skin. The difference between having a poetry collection published and a main stream trad published non poetry book is immense – I’m going to write a post about it in the future – and it helps that there’s a team working with me, all of us working towards getting the edits finished, getting the book landed and absolutely shining. I don’t know what it is I’m trying to say – something about being taken seriously as a writer, but also, that self recognition, the finding of inner value in your own work…you have got to have that to grow.
Anyway, I think because the nerves were less debilitating this time, and because I didn’t have books to flog or a course to sell, I think because I was simply taking part (not organising for a change – the relief!) I was able to enjoy the evening more fully, I was fully present. I chatted to poetry friends, I got the gossip on other sectors of the arts world, I enjoyed, oh fully enjoyed, the readings by the other poets and when I came to read I felt a genuine connection with the audience. As I sat watching the night draw in on Northway, listening to the musicians between sets and watching the good folk of Scarborough going out into the town, or coming in and out of the SJT theatre opposite, the shop lights and the street lights glittering, the sound of traffic moving through the town, I thought – this could be anywhere. We could be in London, we could be in Manchester, but here we are in Scarborough.’ It pleases me to see cultural events like this springing up in the town, and I’m pleased to just be a tiny part of that.Wendy Pratt, Knocking the Dust Off – Reading Out
I have a live reading as part of an Acumen evening coming up this week […]. Do pop in if you find yourself in Dulwich on Thursday. I liked what Wendy [Pratt] had to say about not having to organise the reading so she could step back and enjoy just reading. I liked her note about not having books to sell as well— this will be my last reading before I do have to start thinking about that.
However, what I really liked was the poem that Wendy included at the end of the post. It’s her lovely ‘Love Letter to Scarborough on a Saturday Night‘ from her most recent collection, ‘ When I Think of My Body as a Horse‘ (reviewed by some knobhead here). Maybe it’s the fact that I have family in Scarbados—NB, I don’t think it is, but I love this poem. The whole collection is a moving feast, a marvel and just moving, so if you’ve not read it please do.Mat Riches, Nationalising Breaking Glass and Rood-Screens
Now, I could just cheat and tell you to read the Scarborough poem and call that it, but oh no, dear reader…I want you to have more…
On Thursday evening I did a reading with Catherine Kyle Broadwall (she read from her fun new book, Fulgurite—full of fairy tale poems!) and read from Field Guide to the End of the World and Flare, Corona, which I think went pretty well. Had a good crowd, it was a super cute store—great eclectic magazine sections, great fiction and poetry sections, and a stuffed narwhal hanging from the ceiling, and we sold a lot of books, which was fun. It had been a minute since I’d done a reading, so I was glad it went pretty well. […]
I got a total of four rejections and two acceptances this week – and one was from a place I’ve been trying to get into for years, JAMA, or the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not a doctor, but I do have a pre-med biology degree, and I write medically themed poetry all the time, so it seemed like a natural fit—but the first poem they took wasn’t at all medically related, ironically. Ha ha!
Fall always means new pens and notebooks, catching up on paperwork, starting the academic year—so even those of us who don’t work in academia will be affected by the increased work at literary magazines or invitations to come read at classes, all that sort of thing.
Although I am still recovering from my antibody infusion from almost two weeks ago, I’m starting to feel a little more productive as the days get colder and shorter.Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s Fall Witches! Autumn Equinox with Glass Pumpkins, a Reading Report from Edmonds Bookshop and an Upcoming Zoom Reading, Exciting Acceptances
Such a joy last weekend to attend one of a few readings organized by Editor Cassandra Arnold to celebrate her release of Alchemy and Miracles (Gilbert & Hall Press, 2023). Everyone read so beautifully! This collection is filled with nature poems written by 83 poets from all over the world, including three writers from right here in Southeast Alaska. Yes, I’m over the moon to have work in this compilation with fellow Blue Canoe writers Mandy Ramsey from Haines and Bonnie Demerjian from Wrangell. If you get the chance, give Cassandra Arnold a follow on Instagram (@cassandra_art_and_stories) where you’ll surely be inspired about all things poetry. And yes, she designed this lovely cover, too! Alchemy and Miracles may be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Happy Autumn, all! In true, Southeast Alaskan form, termination dust on the high peaks yesterday morning.Kersten Christianson, Autumnal Alchemy
You can’t see in the photograph that the speaker is sitting on her hands, nor can you see her feet, described later as “thick toes, accustomed to field” that are squeezed painfully into borrowed shoes. And the face gives no evidence of physical pain, but that makes the speaker even more believable. She has prepared for this moment, this unveiling, and nervous as she is, she will not allow something as minor as discomfort to ruin it.
Smith turns the poem in the second stanza by changing the verb tense, moving into second person, though it feels more like the speaker is talking to the picture or into a mirror rather than talking directly to the reader. It’s a fantastic use of the second person, because usually the effect of the move is to grab the reader by the shirt, so to speak, and demand their attention, but here it’s more introspective.
Tell me that I have earned at least this much woman. Tell me
that this day is worth all the nights I wished the muscle
of myself away.
The “tell me” is a request for validation or acceptance, but again, the speaker isn’t asking for it from us. She’s asking it from herself, which is important because she isn’t sure that she’ll receive it from anyone else. The end of the poem leaves this uncertain:
Here I am, Mama, vexing your savior,
barely alive beneath face powder and wild prayer. Here I am,
both your daughter and your son, stinking of violet water.
The “vexing your savior” combined with “wild prayer” really hits hard for me because of my own experiences of estrangement from family over matters of faith. I feel what’s at stake and why she still needs to be this person no matter the cost. There’s an ache here that stays unresolved, and I think that’s why it sticks with me.Brian Spears, Sitting for a picture
Wow, I felt a lot of love for RS Thomas after my last blog post.
I wonder if we need more spirituality today, generally I mean. I speak as a moderate atheist. I think I used to call myself an ‘agnostic’ – wanting to leave the door open I suppose – but we all grow older, and so our thoughts and beliefs mature one way or another. I now love a lot of things about the church of my upbringing (although I hated it as a child!), but it stops well short of faith. The only church service I enjoy is Evensong, but I love the architecture of churches and can’t resist going inside any I come across. I’ve often sung the services in cathedrals with my choir the Lewes Singers: I will sing anything, but I never say the creed. It’s always a moving experience, but perhaps that’s the feeling of being in the presence of faith: people who truly believe. I don’t just mean those participating in the service, but also the thousands of souls who have worshipped there for centuries, right back to the stonemasons and labourers who built the massive edifices. I respect all that, and feel privileged to be a part of it.
But spirituality feels much wider, more inclusive than religion as such. My impression is that RS continually questioned his faith. Isn’t that what many of us do, even the atheists? What do we believe in? Surely it can’t just be Gaia, politics, football or reality TV?Robin Houghton, On spirituality, a submission and the wonder of lists
The Days of Awe open on Rosh Hashanah and close on Yom Kippur. When my birthday falls on Rosh Hashanah, it gets lost in the birthday of the world; when it falls on Yom Kippur, celebrations turn sober and thin. Gallows humor when fasting, enacting symbolic death? Fat chance!
This year, the birthday fell smack in the middle of the Days of Awe – and I got a day or two of awe. When your walls come tumbling down (Rabbi Alan Lew’s image), as they did unbidden during this season of introspection, you get some light in the gaps of the rebuilding. That happened mid-week – all in betweens! – in a New England-y place familiar and known (Maine) but charged. I cleared the slate and came with heightened sensibility; came to the sapphire sky with such a mind. Something came to meet me.
Everything got renewed by the sea, standing on the deck of a fishery
in the presence of a rope coiled, braided, stiff with the sting of fish iodine
and rusted wires woven together with gates, doors, traps
and floats bulbed in mottled white and bright fuchsia
hanging like a bunch of radishes.
Yes to Paul Eluard: “Is there another world? Yes, in this one.”Jill Pearlman, All the Days of Awe
Do I read Emily Dickinson because she speaks to me directly and clearly? In truth, no. I’m very often mystified. And I think this is a point worth making: we don’t always read the writers we love out of a profound sense of familiarity or comprehension. But where I don’t understand her, a different kind of understanding steps in, a knowledge layers deep that I would not otherwise have activated that day. Dickinson makes me experience what she herself described here:
“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”
Dickinson’s social quickness and wit is often overlooked in favor of her reclusive tendencies. If you don’t believe me, read her letters. I have just flipped to a passage at random and found a letter to her brother Austin that I had marked years ago. It reads:
Your welcome letter found me all engrossed in the history of Sulphuric Acid!!!!!
Yes, she included five exclamation points. Later in the letter, she tells her brother she’s eager for a Valentine—all the other girls have received them—so, where is hers? She insists that Austin tell Thomas she’s pining for one.Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday
Since learning that yoga is not, in fact, a sinister cult but a really useful way of caring for my back, I regularly breathe out deeply. This is something I’ve done both in classes, and in front of ‘Yoga with Adrienne’ and her free YouTube videos.
When younger, I did breathing exercises for wellbeing by default when playing the flute. A lot of my lessons were spent with my teacher encouraging me to develop breath and diaphragm control. I had no idea how useful a life skill this was as I channelled a column of air into a top C.
More recently, I exhaled deeply on opening a box of copies of Festival in a Book – A Celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival. I had been holding my breath for two weeks: between the moment of pressing send on the final proofs and lifting out the first book. I breathed even more freely when Anna Dreda, Festival Founder, said she loves the anthology created in honour of her Festival and its legacy.
It has struck me since that the publication of a book of poetry is, in some ways, an exhalation, a letting go. A breathing out of thought and word and music into the world. Breath and word. The word made paper. It can’t be taken back now. And it will become part of other people’s breathing, internal and external, when read.Liz Lefroy, I Exhale Deeply
I know sometimes a poem can simmer away for years before the poet feels it’s done, or at least in a state competent enough to be abandoned. I know some people feel writing slowly and meticulously, working on the placing of words in relation to each other, how each fits or alters the metre, a rhyming scheme, or the demands and rigours of the particular form that is at the heart of the attempt, is the proper way to pay respect to poetry as a craft to be learned. Sometimes this process allows time for an exploration into what the poet actually wants to say – because it’s not always obvious to the poet at the outset. I appreciate this, and have written this way.
And of course there is the question of feedback. A poem might be sent to a trusted poetry friend for appraisal, even for thorough workshopping. Bits might be lopped off, the tense altered, adjectives questioned, the lines rejigged to the point of a new opening or closing line. And if the poem ever becomes a part of a collection, then the publisher’s editor, who might or might not be the same person, might well want to suggest even more alterations. This is normal enough stuff. Some thinner-skinned poets seem to struggle with it but after many years of working for newspapers, I understand the role of the sub-editor and the value of a good one. Far from it being bothersome, I appreciate the effort and generosity of those who take the time to offer their thoughts.
However, not all poetry is written as methodically and meticulously as this. An obvious point, perhaps, but in poetry’s case ‘rules are not always rules’.
More recently, or at least recently more frequently, I have felt more confident in the technique of stream-writing, not simply as a warm-up exercise, but as a valid form of delving into what the mind contains and wants to share. When I begin I have no idea what will come out of it. I might have one line, one image, and I usually feel calm enough to shut everything else out and let the words, images, phrases, chunks of conversation maybe, emerge and work out their own order. It’s an exploration, without prior warning, of the recesses of the mind. Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, the result is completely disconnected rubbish because I’m unable to think or connect thought and so it is deleted. Other times, it feels as if I may have hit on something, that the words have a relationship to one another, a rhythm that might alter and swing around, but that forms a whole that contains some kind of meaning, in the strict sense of the word, as in an emotional connection not simply a logical process. The validity of this way of doing things is a matter of opinion and it’s certainly not something I would do every time I sat down to write, but I’m finding that with more practice comes more consistency, as I suppose is the way with any technique.
That is not to say the ‘end result’ cannot stand editing. There are poets who employ stream-writing as an inviolable technique, valid only if left well alone as the produce of the mind at that particular moment in life or time. I see the point in this as a principle but the obvious danger is that it may end up as a stream of self-indulgent drivel, a celebration of egotism in a string of boring sentences.Bob Mee, Untitled
There can be beauty in a list: its specificity, also the rhythm and sound–which order does the poet choose for each word? That matters. Chronology perhaps; category, like the scientist; or else sound, such as alliteration; or possibly by the thread of some concatenation that gradually creates associations. The logic of a list poem differs from other forms of lists.
I always think of Whitman as an early and consummate “list poet,” though a great many of his poems do not rely on the strategy. There are list poems that employ anaphora and those that build through phrases. Others rely on modifiers that escalate or change tone to surprise the reader. In my own process it has been useful to begin drafting poems through listing, though often I abandon the list when I revise.
Also, I teach myself about the world and its people, environs, and ideas through lists.
For example, having strayed temporarily from my home region, I’m getting acquainted with a “new” place by making lists of birds, trees, flowers–yeah, the naming-things approach so basic to human beings, like when my children were just learning to talk and conversation with them consisted largely of naming objects or actions.
This is not a poem:
Pygmy nuthatch, juniper titmouse, pinyon jay. Gambel oak, Abert’s squirrel, pinacate stink beetle, skink. Quaking aspen, limber pine. Common raven, Woodhouse’s scrub-jay, fireweed, globemallow, bear corn, oak gall, crow. Pinyon, cholla, Ponderosa pine, alligator juniper, Apache plume, sandwort, groundsel. Gneiss, granite, gray oak, spotted towhee, rabbitbrush, bajada, arroyo, muttongrass, mesa, schist.Ann E. Michael, Lists
Somewhere a chair is waiting for us. Maybe at home. Maybe at the doctor’s office. Maybe in an empty lot beside a busy street where a sparrow sings in the thicket.Carey Taylor, Off Killingsworth
When his partner suddenly died, life changed utterly for Paul Stephenson. In Hard Drive a prologue and epilogue hold six parts of almost equal length. These poems take the reader through the journey of grief: Signature, Officialdom, Clearing Shelves, Covered Reservoir, Intentions, Attachment.
‘A noted formalist, with a flair for experiment, pattern and the use of constraints’, Paul also has a talent for intriguing titles: Other people who died at 38; Better Verbs for Scattering; We weren’t married. He was my civil partner.
There is a great variety of form: erasure poems, use of indents and columns, haibun, prose poems, alongside the narrative poems which range in length from three lines to the five-page poem Your Brain.Fokkina McDonnell, Hard Drive
A little while ago, I read a pamphlet by Nikki Dudley. It was about her Nan, Greenie, and about how Greenie´s dementia had a huge impact not only on her, but also on Nikki and the whole family. At the time I was reading this, my father had died after living with Parkinson´s-related dementia for the last years of his life. And my mother, who was (and still is) alive, was living with dementia as well. The book meant a lot to me and I came back to it again and again. It is a mixture of poetry, CNF and visual poetry, the latter illustrating perfectly that dementia is not a linear thing, but something scattered, murky, out of reach for those who live with it and those who are their witnesses in this process. When I wrote my own book, St. Eisenberg and the Sunshine Bus, Nikki’s book helped me to think outside the box in describing my father’s dementia.
So when Beir Bua Press closed down and it wasn’t clear what would happen with all the books, I approached Nikki and asked her what she thought about Sídhe Press re-publishing her book. We agreed on working together and on September 15, Just One More I Go, was re-published by Sídhe Press. It is, of course, the same book it was, but I hope we have added and improved to it in a way that honours Greenie. As well as an additional poem, we now have photos of Greenie not only on the cover, but also tucked inside the book- one more thing to illustrate who she was and is to Nikki, and once we read it, to us. And it slots in seamlessly with Our Own Coordinates- Poems About Dementia, which was the first book I published with Sídhe Press.Annick Yerem, Just One More Before I Go by Nikki Dudley
haha to ko ni umareawaseshi hanano kana
our fate of being
a mother and a daughter
flowering field …
from Haiku Dai-Saijiki (Comprehensive Haiku Saijiki), Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo, 2006
Fay’s Note: “hanano” (flowering field) is an autumn kigo.Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (September 25, 2023)
Two of Trish Kerrison’s sons have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which triggers progressive muscle failure and usually limits life to eighteen years or below, although they are now in their late-twenties. The poems are an honest, and occasionally humorous, look at life as a mother and carer. The short introductory poem takes the image of four lines drawn in sand to make a box, “to put people in// to live,/contained,// until the sands shift.” Children are life-changing events but also a tickbox on a life’s milestones: job, marry, children, etc. A disabled child can leave parents feeling as if their life’s foundations have slipped away. No one pictures themselves with a disabled child. There’s not only the extra care work involved but battles to get the support parents are entitled to, the juggling of carers and work, and the feeling of constantly fighting the same battles over and over. But parents keep going, as “The Ground Beneath Our Feet” concludes as parents
“laugh, even as the sands are shifting.Emma Lee, “Beyond Caring” Trish Kerrison (Five Leaves) – book review
We walk on unsteady feet, unsteady ground.
We don’t look down.”
Today, riding back to the city, and drinking my first PSL of the year, I noticed some trees were somehow bright yellow amid still plentiful green and remembered we had crossed that official threshold into autumn–the equinox. That early dark creeps in slowly, but starts racing toward December about now, helped along by the time change that will come in early November. I have not started my fall decorating or swapped out my summer clothes for cooler weather but possibly this week I will do both.
This week is less thick with writing than last week with lots of deadlines and the first draft of the poetry study guide trial assignment. In addition to the usual lifestyle and design stuff, it was really nice to spend some time, deep diving on a single poem (Sharon Olds’ “Rite of Passage)” and putting all that literary analysis education I paid so much for to good use. There were chapbook orders and layouts on new books that will be coming. There was one new poem in the cryptozoology series, but it feels halting and stiff like I haven’t written enough in the past couple of months, poetry-wise, sort of like clearing your throat after a long silence.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/25/2023
I sometimes laugh when I think back to my NY post and declaring 2023 to be the year of my ALL. This year, and it’s only September, has already exceeded expectations. I’m looking forward honestly to January when I can write down the plot of this past year, and call forth the next. (Carefully, very carefully….)
But also, don’t worry, it seems with every amazing thing that’s happened, there’s been a balance check. But I still believe in the unsaid, (a post I wrote in 2017), I still believe in the words of Nicole Brossard who says, “You have to be insane to confide the essential to anyone anywhere except in a poem.”
Still, life is wonderful, still life is wonderful……My book on that subject and the art life will be coming out in January, and I remain very proud of it. More on that soon…..
In the meantime, our garden season is coming to a close, the poetry of fall is upon us.Shawna Lemay, Another Season of Seeing
I often sort of felt like I was the only stranger at a party where everyone else were lifelong friends. Much hugging and exclaiming around me while I stand awkwardly smiling and clutching my wine glass. One of the many great things about online learning though is that I don’t have to be there in the room with the awkward smile and the wine glass. I can be HOME with the video turned off, my brow furrowed, thinking wait…what? […]
And no, I’m not going to tell you which poet, because I’m sure you love love love their work and might be a tad judge-y of me for noooot really being tuned into it. I’m hoping, though, that sense of not-getting-it -even-though-you-want-to resonates. I’m happy to be reminded that I don’t need to love it all, that I can just keep reading on. And that maybe there will come a time when this poet’s work is exactly what I’ll need.
The poetry mansion has many rooms, so it’s okay that I slide out of this one and wander into some other room, or lurk in the hallway for a while. I’m sure there’s another party I’ll feel more comfortable in. Have wine glass, will travel.Marilyn McCabe, You don’t know what love is; or, On Learning and Appreciation
Famished for good fortune, well fed on the hungers of the needy, we can name all the saints but cannot bend their mercies so one size fits all.
To sing, to seek, to rosary old stones.
To regal and re-gold tired sunrises.
Scatter worries for the birds feasting on hard times.
For the ones flying south in winter, scatter hopes so joy may expand.Rich Ferguson, Blessed Light For the Dying
For the Earth,
both hands in an arc.
A fist for the moon.
Gravity a rope,
unseen in the dark.
Palms up for the tides,
both high and low,
the hands raise and lower
as they ebb and flow.
The planet spins,Jason Crane, POEM: Describing A Satellite
the pull taunts,
the moon is what
the water wants.
island: the moonGrant Hackett [no title]
that swallowed the moon
a mouth that gathered clouds
A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the transition to autumn, Labor Day and the meaning of work, Sealey Challenge results, a book-burning, and more. Enjoy.
Interregnum. Summer has lost its grip, but Fall has not yet taken hold: cloudy, quiet, rainless days appear one by one and vanish. In the evening, Vega or Arcturus appear, dim and inarticulate, in the pools between the clouds, and vanish again, their messages undelivered. I am waiting, I suppose, for my two granddaughters to arrive — one in Colorado, and one here. A pause, while Fall considers its approach; a long indrawing of the tide.
It’s California weather, of course, not Oregon weather. My parents’ generation of Oregonians tended to move to California when they retired, and their bones got tired of the damp and chill: climate change has accomplished this move for my generation without the trouble of packing. At the moment — why not gathers such crumbs as fall? — I’m content to live in a dryer, warmer state. The September slant of the sun has always pleased me, and we get to see more of it, now.Dale Favier, Interregnum
The months inspire their own sort of synesthesia, don’t they? I can feel, taste, see, in flashes of associations, each one, its distinctive personality, color, shape. Still, September carries a particular presence. Wallace Stegner spoke of that “old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air…Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.” That may partially explain it—the month is forever colored by notebooks, pencils, early wake-ups, and autumnal routines after an indulgent, restorative summer.Maya C. Popa, Poems about September
It’s the time of year for making still lifes, anyway, isn’t it? The flowers won’t last much longer. Bring some in, make a still life won’t you? Then make your way to the couch.
There’s a short poem I love to read at this time of year by the Italian writer Patrizia Cavalli (translated here by Gini Alhadeff):
“We’re all going to hell in a while.Shawna Lemay, A Whole Life in Every Day
So come on now, to the couch!
The couch! The couch!”
Today is rainy and cool, and we tidied the house, I organized and put away my summer clothes, and we started to really prepare for fall. We bought the last doughnut peaches for cake and made barbequed chicken and cornbread with the last good corn. I lit a couple of pumpkin coffee candles. We paid attention to the cats, who felt they had been very neglected the last few days.
I did a few submissions this week in a bit of a daze, because submission windows can be short and demanding, even when life is chaos. I also tried to catch up a bit with my reading—even picking up a few new books to start (ambitious, I know, but fall seems like a good time to acquire new books—especially important when you’re spending a long time at the hospital with a needle in your arm).
As the seasons transition, a few of my friends noted the stress of the change, the return to different rhythms. In Seattle, we pretty much say goodbye to the sun and hello the “the long dark” of the next nine months. I’m hoping to catch a few good days to visit the pumpkin farms, to pick the Pink Lady apples from the tree in my front yard I planted at the beginning of the pandemic, and even a few figs from the fig tree I planted two years ago. Fruit from new trees is always a good sign—last year we got neither apples nor figs—so I hope my trees will stay healthy until next spring.Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Supermoon, a Surgery, and One Perfect Fall Day, Plus the Importance of Joy and Healing
Many of us think about Labor Day as the end of summer, and I’m old enough to remember when college classes started the Tuesday after Labor Day. My mom does too; she said in her generation it was because college students had jobs at country clubs that would close after Labor Day. In terms of weather, I’ve always lived in places where summer will stretch on through September and perhaps beyond.
Even though many of us will see today as simply a day off, it’s a good day to think about work, both the kind we do for pay and the kind we do out of love. And what about the work we feel compelled to do? I’m thinking of that kind of documenting of family history, of cultural history, of all that might be lost without our efforts. I’m thinking of our creative work. There’s so many more different kinds of work than just work for pay.
I’m thinking about our attitude towards work too. I am glad to see that this article, published in 2016, about the theology of work is still online. Here’s my favorite quote from it, with ideas informed by Christian monasticism: “Taking Benedict’s approach would force us to reconsider how we think about our work. Instead of, ‘What work am I called to?’ we might ask, ‘How does the task before me contribute to or hinder my progress toward holiness?; Not ‘How does this work cooperate with material creation?’ but ‘How does this work contribute to the life of the community and to others’ material and spiritual well-being?’ Not ‘Am I doing what I love?’ but ‘What activity is so important that I should, without exception, drop my work in order to do it?’”
And here’s a Buddhist thought about work for your Labor Day, found in an interview with Bill Moyers and Jane Hirshfield who explains, “Teahouse practice means that you don’t explicitly talk about Zen. It refers to leading your life as if you were an old woman who has a teahouse by the side of the road. Nobody knows why they like to go there, they just feel good drinking her tea. She’s not known as a Buddhist teacher, she doesn’t say, “This is the Zen teahouse.” All she does is simply serve tea–but still, her decades of attentiveness are part of the way she does it. No one knows about her faithful attention to the practice, it’s just there, in the serving of the tea, and the way she cleans the counters and washes the cups” (Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, page 112).Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thinking about Labor on Labor Day
I’m fascinated by American poet and lawyer Mary Leader’s fifth full-length collection, The Distaff Side (Shearsman Books, 2022), a curious blend of a variety of threads: the needlepoint the women in her family held, dismissed as “women’s work”; her mother’s refusal to learn such a thing to focus on poetry, and publishing in numerous journals yet never seeing a collection into print; and her own engagement with these two distinct skills, articulating them both as attentive, precise crafts. “My mother couldn’t sew a lick.” she writes, to open the sequence “Toile [I],” offering her mother’s refusal to learn as something defiant across the length and breadth of women across her family, “But that was a boast to her.” As the following poem reads: “1950, 1955, / 1960. What girls and women got up to / with distaffs flax spindles standards / happles and agoubilles was not called ‘their art.’ Not remotely. Needlework / was no more ‘creative’ than / doing the dishes, and trust me, / doing the dishes was not marveled at, [.]” That particular poem ends: “And my / mother’s hobby morning after / morning after morning, every morning, / every morning, was reading and writing / poetry, smoking all the while.” There’s a defiance that Leader recounts in her narrative around her mother, and one of distinct pride, writing a woman who engaged with poetry. A few poems further in the sequence: “I have / the typescript of what, in my judgement, / should have been my mother’s first / published book, Whose Child? I have / here the cover letter she labored over.” I’m charmed by these skilled, sharp and precise poems on the complexities of the craft of poems and needlework both, stitched with careful, patient ease.rob mclennan, Mary Leader, The Distaff Side
It seemed to me all around me was a message: “Work. Look.” I wrote that in my journal. That night I’d had a dream in which I was trying to develop an artistic goal for the immediate future, which morphed into me stating that I was going to memorize one song on the piano and play it for people, which morphed into me explaining excitedly how I was going to make scones to bring to their party, but the host approached me and said, “Please don’t bring them. We don’t like them.” And I woke devastated. When I finally shook off the devastation and entered the day, I was fascinated by how that urge to focus creatively ended up with that dream that no one liked what I was making. How powerful is rejection, how powerful the pull of external validation.Marilyn McCabe, I have heard you call; or, On Creative Work and the Inner Voices
Brown campus now, all these child freshmen. I was 17 then. Walking around campus now, thinking all that freedom, to be the odd girl out, to suffer, to remember, to extinguish, to wear diaphanous skirts and lay clothes out on the green to sell, to revel in contradiction: the Brown Green. To read wandering the hallway of the dorm, as I did to anyone with ears: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. To draw out: Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. To hear kids say about me today: she was from then, she didn’t know yet. The hell I didn’t! To walk into traffic talking and assume all cars will stop. To not see the cars. To be somewhat girl, somewhat boy. Somewhat woman, somewhat man. Roaming around in her head; putting logic on a vertiginous axis. To be double-sighted, to become someone else inside the same person, to surf time, to be here now.Jill Pearlman, Age, Relatives, Lo-Lee-Ta
I learned, while teaching college freshmen the past few years, that many younger adults do not know how to write or even to read script. Many children never get the lessons in handwriting in the second through fourth grades the way I did. Instead, they learn keyboarding–a skill I got to in my junior year of high school but never really have mastered (yes, even now I use a self-developed version that’s sort of an advanced hunt-and-peck method). It’s hard to believe that reading script is a task that will be relegated to specialists in years to come, but I shouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happens. To many of my college age students, handwritten script in English is almost indistinguishable from the marks of ash borers. They don’t see the need for that particular skill. Handwriting is going the way of letter-writing.
Perhaps we live in a post-script world?
I have been thinking about the handwritten word recently because of a recent incident while visiting my mother. She received a small refund check from an insurer, and though she understood what it was and that she no longer uses her checking account–we siblings take care of that through power of attorney–she was confused about what to do with it. “Sign it, Mom,” I told her, offering her a pen. “We’ll deposit it for you.” I turned the check over and pointed to the line for signature on the back.
She wavered, pen in the air. “I don’t…I don’t,” she said (her aphasia has advanced past the point of expressing full sentences). It took me a moment to realize that she could not recall how to sign her name. I placed my hand around hers and helped her start with the capital B.
I didn’t cry, but the experience hasn’t left me alone. I suppose there may be a poem in this incident, but if so, it’s a sorrowful one.Ann E. Michael, Script, postscript
Even now, at what we believe is near the end, my mother isLuisa A. Igloria, Talisman
what kids today might describe as #fighting, A month in the hospital
and she’s rallied and flailed, flailed and rallied. Through intravenous
feeding, oxygen delivery, antibiotics, everything short of TPN. Who
is Patty? my cousin and the nurses ask. My mother has been calling
the names of the dead, names of the living, names of all the remembered
ghosts in her life. Perhaps more than death or dying, the ghost of our own
approaching absence is the most difficult piece of the puzzle. She still
knows the difference between the clothed and naked body, how the taste
and texture of water on the tongue disappears like a stolen jewel. Once,
she fashioned for me an ugly name in a second baptism meant to confuse
and repel the gods. She embroidered it on towels and the inside
of my collars as she mouthed it like a spell. Sometimes, I still start
at my shadow on the wall, blue and sick from being shorn from light.
Somewhere in time there’s a darkened room with just enough light to see a circle of grief. In the center of the circle is a woman in a hospital bed. Sharp angles under white sheets. Cool, pale flesh stretched over forehead, cheeks, chin. Weeks of a vigil fading into the past. A decision has been made, connections have been unconnected. It is silent in this room except for sighs and sobs. One of the grieved takes the woman’s hand and begins to sing a sweet hymn to accompany the woman from the room, from the earth. This is a moment that lives forever for those who loved this woman.Charlotte Hamrick, Mood #2
whose skin has not awakened to green
whose heart is blind with eyes
where are there hands to bandage the skyGrant Hackett [untitled]
One of the most menacing things about depression is its elasticity — its way of suddenly receding, swinging open a window of light, only to return just as suddenly with redoubled darkness, just when life has begun to feel livable again, even beautiful.
On September 16, 1962, a voice unspooled from the BBC airwaves carrying an emblem of that cruel elasticity.
Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963) — who spent her life living with the darkness and making light of the barely bearable lightness of being, until she could no more — had composed the poem a year earlier, shortly after moving to a quiet market village in Devon. For the first time, she had a room of her own to write in. “My whole spirit has expanded immensely,” she wrote to her mother as she filled the house with “great peachy-colored gladiolas, hot red & orange & yellow zinnias” from the garden, that great living poem.
Within a month, in the fading autumn light, her spirit had begun contracting again in the grip of the familiar darkness. One night, unable to sleep, she tried a meditative writing exercise: to simply describe what she saw in the Gothic churchyard outside her window. That exercise became one of her finest poems and one of the most poignant portraits of depression in the history of literature.The Moon and the Yew Tree: Patti Smith Reads Sylvia Plath’s Haunting Portrait of Depression
old pondJason Crane, haiku: 30 August 2023
Today was a full press day (no freelance work) since there were quite a few things that needed final corrections before I start printing. I have only dipped a toe into submissions, which wrapped up Thursday in a final flurry of activity, so will begin greater forays into reading next week likely. I still have a couple delayed books in the works, but am now working on the set I accepted for this year. Amazingly, since I planned to start those in August anyway, I am only a month behind schedule for 2023 accepted titles. This year’s inbox is a little unruly, since I was once again allowing sim subs after a few years of not. This means some things have been withdrawn in the time since they were sent b/c they found another home. Logistically it’s rougher to keep track, but I feel like I take a little too long in responses sometimes, esp. for things I am interested in–so it’s only fair they have other opportunities when I am slow.
As for my work, I had a brief flurry of activity on new poems, but then told myself I should take a break and return when fall arrived officially, which I suppose it has now, at least according to the meteorological calendar if not the celestial one. Since I really need to be working on recording and editing the videos for villains right now, I may just hold off til the equinox to get back to daily poeming, completely reasonable, but I do get itchy if I go too long without writing much at all, so we’ll see. I won’t be submitting much in the immediate future, so am going to share snippets of the poems I’ve written this summer on Instagram, so keep an eye out there.
The decor and lifestyle stuff is turning out many fall and spooky season offerings like this, this, and this.) A gig that I had initially turned down earlier in the summer b/c the pay-per-word count (writing literature study guides) actually came back with a poetry-specific offer that is shorter guides but still the same pay, so I will be doing a couple of those every month going forward. Since the AI poetry thing ghosted me and didn’t work out, and any poetry lessons for the online learning site I already write for are few and far between, it will be fun to write poetry-specific things again after a few months of other subjects like dance, history, and visual art. While denser and more time-intensive than the decor, food, and restaurant stuff, the researcher in me loves them nonetheless.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/3/2023
You can link to my London Grip review of Katharine Towers’ superb chapbook by clicking here.
What I didn’t adequately suggest in the review itself was how beautifully the booklet is designed and produced by Philip Lancaster and the The Maker’s Press. Everything except the Tasting Notes is printed in a way that combines visual clarity with softness (the paper is a very pale ivory rather than white). The Tasting Notes are shaped as concrete poems and printed in a pale slightly greenish grey, which to me suggests the elusiveness and obliquity of attempts to describe nuances of flavour. It’s altogether a remarkable physical production.Edmund Prestwich, Katharine Towers, let him bring a shrubbe – review
I had to double check myself re an idea I had about Simon Armitage’s Book of Matches (Faber & Faber 1993). So I Googled, and yes, I had remembered it correctly. The 30 fourteen-line poems/sonnets in the first section are each, supposedly, meant to be read in the time it takes for a match to burn. I guess the clue is in the opening stanza of the first poem:
“My party piece:
I strike, then from the moment when the matchstick
conjures up its light, to when the brightness moves
beyond its means, and dies, I say the story
of my life —”
Well, you just have to, don’t you?! My first match burnt out after a few lines and I realised the draft from my writing room door that opens onto the garden was to blame. My second attempt, different poem, had a second or two to spare. My third one had me squealing and blowing it out as the flame licked at my fingertips a couple of lines before the end.
But gimmicks apart, I like the poems in this collection. I like Armitage’s command of form and language, of rhythm and rhyme, and how none of those ever dominate the poems, only contribute to their music. What he has to say always transcends the engineering work. I feel he understands that the audience matters. He’s a poet that cares about his readers. The work can be both playful and serious. Serious but not solemn.Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge – Simon Armitage
When August started I was on a fantasy novel kick. Patricia Briggs, Megan Bannen, Neil Gaiman, and Andri Snaer Magnason, Kimberly Lemming and Sangu Mandanna. Sure, I could do those and continue poetry, right? I often alternate between poetry binges and novel binges but I could do parallel binges. Push more through the head, why not.
Sometimes pushing through the slog of hard-to-understand is good for stretch goals, to push past normal comfort. Part of Sealey Challenge is to read different and to share the love of what you uncover. Stretch is the theme. (I shared some of what I read as Poem of the Day at bluesky and instagram and in past posts here.)
So it’s September and I’m still standi— er, still sitting.
Reading causes writing sometimes so I wrote more novel scenes, and a chapbook. Was it more than normal? Not sure. I’ve done 50,000 words over the last 4 months in poetry, not counting scraps of paper and convenient but not in the right folder files.Pearl Pirie, Sealey Challenge
I believe in the general theory that one should finish what one starts. However in my real, practical life, that’s a different story, as evidenced by a plethora of uncompleted crafting projects, poems started and never seen through to their final form, and books began but never finished. Today I shall provide you with a glimpse into some of these of unfinished titles, as well my justifications for putting them down early: […]
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I complained about this book in a previous post, but at the time, I thought I could get past the atrocious degeneracy of its characters because the writing was so beautiful. It turns out I can’t. The beautiful language just isn’t enough to carry me through this one. I don’t care about any of the characters, and contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think that Daisy is some tragic pre-feminist figure. I think she’s a brat. I’ve never been able to figure how this book became such a literary darling, until a bit of shallow research informed me that it was an initial failure. Years after it came out, The Council on Books in Wartime distributed free copies en mass to soldiers serving overseas during World War 2, thus exploding its popularity.Kristen McHenry, Book List of Shame
In my second published poetry book, I have a poem called “In the Left Breast”. I wrote it after I’d found a lump (turned out to be nothing). I was in my early 30s.
Thinking about this made me wonder if we are really ever unprepared for possibilities? There is another poem in that same collection that questions whether “imagination is a good thing.”
In my mind, it is all about staying flexible enough to adjust. Adjusting is a response to the world. Sometimes it’s positive. In the context of my world view, a positive attitude is not the same thing as a positive outcome of a response.
I don’t believe celebrating a possible future outcome manifests that outcome.
This morning I am thinking about singing. Last week I sang with the radio while I was driving. It had been a very long time since I was in that kind of space. I remember now that magic spells require chanting, or singing. That’s a kind of effort, too, so I will leave room for that in my world view.
Right speech. Right action.
Right diaphragmatic effort.Ren Powell, After a Week Not Writing about It
My phase of reading nowt but historical novels is over (for now) as I get my poetry head back on in preparation for Season Four (gulp!) of Planet Poetry.
First up, I’ve been doing a deep dive into Leontia Flynn‘s brand new collection Taking Liberties (Cape). It’s wonderful work and I’m feeling quite energised by it (meaning: it’s inspired me to write something that may be a poem.) I’ll be interviewing Leontia on the pod, really looking forward to that.
Also on the ‘to be read’ pile is Caroline Bird‘s The Air Year (Carcanet) which picked up a whole ton of awards in 2020. I’ve not yet been hit by the ‘Bird Love Bomb’ that many others speak of, so I shall read it with keen anticipation.
I was a fangirl in my teenage years of Brian Patten, and I’m still hoping we can coax him onto the poddy. In the meantime I’ve been loving, loving his Selected Poems (Penguin 2007). Even lovelier is that having bought it second-hand, I discovered it’s a signed copy, ‘To Liz’ – the name I was given at birth. Spooky!Robin Houghton, Current poetry reading and podcast prep
You mentioned on Instagram that After Curfew was inspired by Rowan Beckett’s Hot Girl Haiku. Can you say more about that inspiration, and how it helped you write and shape your collection?
Rowan held an online launch party on Facebook for their book, Hot Girl Haiku, in May 2022. My friend, haiku poet Susan Burch, reminded me to attend. I’d never been to an online launch party. It was fun! Rowan had posts and videos set up on a schedule. One of the prompts was to write our own “hot girl haiku.” It brought me back to that time in early adolescence and young adulthood when I wanted so much to be a “hot girl” but I was more of a “geeky girl.” I wrote this in the comments:
in a stranger’s lap—
Joshua Gage, of Cuttlefish Books, wrote back that he’d like to hear more of that story. I said there wasn’t much to tell — I didn’t think I had too many “hot girl” moments. But it got me thinking, which led to writing the collection.
On a related note, I read online that you wrote most of After Curfew in one sitting. Do you usually write in big spurts? How was creating this collection similar to or different from your usual process?
I rarely write in big spurts! This was very different than my usual plodding along. I just felt inspired. It was like Rowan gave me permission to write about my past.
What was your editing process like? Did you have to cut any haiku? Was there a point where you found yourself needing to add some to supplement the original poems?
I wrote the poems quickly at first, jotting them down as they came to me. When it came time to order them, I wanted to tell a cohesive story: of first love, of loss, of moving on. When I realized that I really did have a collection, I wrote a few poems to fill gaps in the narrative, and I dropped a few that didn’t fit. Originally, I had a few tanka in there too.
In English-language haiku, poets are often instructed to focus on composing from the present moment. After Curfew is written in the present tense, but concerns the past. Did you make a conscious decision to keep the poems in the present tense? Or did that emerge organically during the writing process?
I think the present tense brings an immediacy to haiku — writing in past tense puts some distance between the reader and the poem. I’d like to say something profound about how I wanted the reader to share in my awkward moments, but the truth is, I was reliving my memories as I wrote them.Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: Julie Bloss Kelsey
Here are a couple of Annie [Bachini]’s haiku in the book which I especially like:
faint breeze rolling a scrunched paper bag
the rhythmic squeaks
of the cleaner’s shoes
The one-liner is a concrete haiku of sorts, in that the bag is rolled horizontally with the text. What I especially like about it, though, are that the word ‘rolling’ is used transitively, rather than the much more common intransitively, and that the movement is engendered by a faint breeze. Yes, it’s a fairly straightforward ‘cause-and-effect’ poem, but it’s subtly done. The highlighting of an item of litter may or may not be seen as an incidental comment on today’s selfish society. And which reader wouldn’t enjoy the sound of that ‘scrunched’? The way in which the wind is interacting with a thrown-away item reminds me of that strangely captivating scene in American Beauty in which the camera follows a plastic bag through the air. The haiku is very neatly done.
The three-liner is equally fine, not least in how it makes art out of what, in lesser hands, could be a mundane observation. The waiting room might be at the doctor’s, dentist, train station or wherever – though probably one of the first two – but it’s the attentiveness of the second element of the poem which beautifully commands the reader’s attention. It’s an exemplar of how a well-chosen adjective can add so much: as well as providing visual and sonic balance, ‘rhythmic’ implies so much. The cleaner, it seems, is doing a thoroughly professional job, as perhaps they’ve been shown how to do. We might intuit, too, that the cleaner is taking pride in their work, but earns very considerably less than the professional in the consulting room. That it’s the shoes which the poet draws our eyes and ears towards makes this, for me, a real masterpiece.
The book, rather prosaically entitled Two Haiku Poets, is available from Iron here.Matthew Paul, On the haiku of Annie Bachini
THE BOOK BURNING
was everything you’d expect it to be.
Self-righteous men, always men,
directing the children, laden
with armfuls of the banned, damned books.
Casting them into the inferno
with a wide eyed giddy intensity,
ecstatic in this act of vandalism
we are burning books!
and the air is full of charred letters.Paul Tobin, STRAY WORDS SET FREE
Stray words set free
from carefully constructed sentences.
The ink knows as it sizzles,
that every book is a temporary alliance
of print and wood pulp and glue.
If the men had been more patient
eventually it would have returned to dust
I don’t think I have read a poet like Susan J. Bryant before, so it’s impossible to give readers a steer through comparisons to better known contemporary poets. The best I can offer you is to say that her work is clearly influenced by the formal satirists of the past for Elephants Unleashed is made up of biting poems in beautifully handled forms, such as villanelles, triolets, sonnets and ballads.
Nothing is safe from Bryant’s critical eye. The institutions of Church, Government, Education and Royalty are all subject to her cutting wit. Politicians are given a particularly rough ride. TONGUES SPIN AND WEAVE is typical in both theme and style. She writes: ‘When syrup-dipped toxicity/ Disguises vile duplicity/ With evil veiled in virtue’s flower/ Your liberty they will devour./ Perceive, beguiled society-/ Tongues spin and weave.’ There’s something of a modern-day Pope here, both in sentiment and the music of the form, the rhymes working hard to give emphasis to the destructiveness and danger of politicians and those in power, who disguise their true intentions with feigned morality.Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Elephants Unleashed’ by Susan Jarvis Bryant
AI is writing our poems
and we can’t tell
All this is normalized
All this consumed
All day, all night
Our ruin is streamed
on all kinds
It seemsRajani Radhakrishnan, What’s Going On?
we can’t bring ourselves
[Months have gone by] and what have I been doing? Not writing. Sadly. I am beginning to wonder if I’m sliding into dementia. I have some of the symptoms: Lack of energy, isolation, loss of interest in things which used to interest me. Having trouble retrieving names of people and sometimes names of books or other objects. Then, again, in other ways I am fine and even perky. The garden absorbs my mornings and evenings. Watching British murder mysteries on my laps. I was completely alert and energized on a recent very long drive to Evansville INdiana. I am also somewhat addicted to watching short videos of horses , deer, birds, and babies on Instagram. I recently realized that as an only child of older parents, I was hardly ever around little babies, those under the age of two. I am fascinated by their faces, their eyes, the thinking that is obviously going on. Maybe this entry will break through my inertia.Anne Higgins, Months have gone by
In early spring it’s wild ramps,
dark blades of onion-scented grass.
Then come the fairytale eggplants.
On the cusp of fall, tiny plums.
In winter I splurge on clementines
though citrus won’t grow here, at least
not yet. Sometimes I treat myself
to marzipan at Christmastime, though
almond trees are struggling.
We’re running out of groundwater.
How long until the memory of coffee beans
will be implausible as the days
when silvery cod were so plentifulRachel Barenblat, Impulse buys
we walked across their backs to shore?
This morning the air felt crisp. There was a certain blueness to the sky that made me think of frosts. The fields were so dewy I got soaked walking the dog. This was the first day where it’s been too cold to wear shorts from the off. But by lunchtime the sun had burnt this faux autumn off and it was sunshine and warm air, except in the shade. It’s difficult to admit that the summer is nearly over, and I’ll miss my days of bare skin and sandals, but all things must pass, and there is so much to love about autumn. Now though, and for the next two or three weeks we are in the liminal place between seasons. It is a place of change. It is a place where we are not quite experiencing the riot of reds and oranges and crispy leaf walks of autumn, but not quite able to experience the BBQs and patio drinks, the golden evening walks and thick green foliage of summer either. And all the time we experience this change, we are physically and emotionally in change ourselves.
The catalyst for the turn towards autumn for me, and my feelings around it is always the migration of the geese. The geese now fly over my house in thick lines, long lines full of voice and each time I hear them my heart is taken somewhere wintry and still, and it stills me to hear them. In summer I felt vibrant and colourful, in autumn I will feel calm and aware and I want my days to reflect that. I shall change my practice and my focus to fully embrace the season, to be connected to the world around me, the natural world.Wendy Pratt, Late Summer a Sensory Experience – The Colour of Summer
Although the mornings are sunnyBob Mee, ONE OF THOSE ‘I DID THIS, I DID THAT’ RECORDS OF A WEEK
the heavy rain that lasted half an hour around dawn
has left the grass wet.
Small oaks are springing up where I planted acorns last year.
Today I will dig up the next batch of potatoes.
Together we will pick blackberries.
I will look again at my fantasy football team.
hoshizukiyo homo sapiensu nani o shini
what are homo sapiens
from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, November 2022 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, TokyoFay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (August 30, 2023)
A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: remembering Maureen Seaton, gearing up for fall book launches, making videopoems, pondering the big questions, and much more. Enjoy.
It’s rare to read a poetry collection and enthuse about every one included in it. Inevitably some poems will resonate with us more than others. But Matt Morden’s collection, Stumbles in Clover (Snapshot Press 2007) has me savouring every single haiku on every single page. I felt like that when I first bought it and feel it again today.
Nigel Jenkins, on the back cover, said, ‘They are as spare and translucent as it’s possible to be, yet they are deeply affecting…’. ‘Spare’ could easily suggest something that has been pared back to the detriment of content and meaning. But Morden has such a wonderful eye for detail, and humanity observed, that his micro poems expand beyond their physical boundaries. They are like miniature doorways into shared emotions, felt experiences. And the natural world, where it appears, always feels, through suggestion, like a parallel to the human one. […]
I mentioned in a previous post that, for me, the best poets and poetry collections are the ones that fire me up to write too. Here are a couple of haiku written today, thanks to Matt Morden.
she deletes her Whatsapp
while I am reading it
summer’s endLynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge
he buys me a chilli plant
called ‘Basket of Fire’
I came across a poem today that speaks with the voice of my aching heart. I was delighted to find the author is Amanda Gorman, whose poetic voice often resonates with me. She’s a poet for this moment on earth. Young, truthful, gifted, she speaks plainly with vibrant images, simply but with rhythm, alliteration, and assonance. Amanda Gorman is the author of The Hill We Climb and Other Poems. She was the youngest inaugural poet in America.
Right now, we are in a transitional world, upside down in our values, experiencing the hottest days on our planet and the most confusing and dichotomized (is that a word?) society. I am aging. At 74, my heart and my body hurt a lot of the time. We’ve survived a pandemic together, but somehow also apart. That experience has re-sculpted our way of life. Gorman’s poem felt as if it was torn from me.Rachel Dacus, When Everything Hurts, Poetry Heals
While looking for a nonce meter form to use for this collection about sin-eaters and ornamental hermits, I’ve been wanting to follow numbers. 40. 42. 6.
Today, because of medication, my red blood cells are collectively at a low point—but if left alone, the individual cells would rise and fall independently in a staggered rhythm of roughly 40 days.
It takes 40 days to mend a fracture, and 40 days to replace the epidermis. Hindu women spend 40 days secluded after childbirth. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. Muslims believe the dead may return on the 6th day or on the 40th.
The list goes on as far as you want to follow it. One half-truth will beget another.
In fact, you can pick any path alongside a river and follow it to the one sea.
This is my path.Ren Powell, Searching for One True Form
John Greening’s recent, self-confessedly ‘tightly-focused’ little selection from Goethe’s vast output is, in part, a campaigning publication. In his Introduction, Greening notes the difficulties surrounding the great German poet’s presence in English: the sheer volume of work, the range of that work, the man’s polymathic achievements (as poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, critic), the long life untidily straddling all neat, period pigeon-holing. Christopher Reid has called him ‘the most forbidding of the great European poets’, but perhaps the English have come to see him as a mere jack-of-all-trades? And where do we turn to read and enjoy the poetry? Michael Hamburger’s and Christopher Middleton’s translations look more and more dated. David Luke’s Penguin Selected (1964; versified in 2005)is the most reliable source. But tellingly, as Greening says, one does not find young, contemporary poets offering individual translations of Goethe in their latest slim volume in the way we do with poems by Rilke or Hölderlin.
So here Greening sets out a selection box of various Goethes to encourage other translators: we find nature poetry, romance, the artist as rebel, meditations on fate, erotic love poems, a rollicking ballad, dramatic monologue and a very fine sonnet. I like Greening’s determination not to lose the singing. Here, he has ‘shadowed’ the original metres and retained rhyme schemes, though he sensibly makes more use of pararhyme than Goethe’s full rhyming. While not approaching Lowellesque ‘imitations’, Greening has also sought a ‘contemporary texture’ by venturing to ‘modernise an image or an idea if it helped the poem adapt to a different age’. For example, in ‘Harz Mountains, Winter Journey’ (‘Harzreise im Winter’) Goethe’s buzzard has become the more familiar image, in southern England at least, of a red kite. The carriage or wagon (‘Wagen’) driven by Fortune becomes a car in a ‘motorcade’ and another vehicle is imagined ‘winking on to / the slip-road’. There’s also an enjoyable touch of Auden in Greening’s updating of ‘crumbling cliffs / and disused airfields’ (Middleton has ‘On impassable tracks / Through the void countryside’).Martyn Crucefix, Goethe’s poetry – some new translations by John Greening
I ran into a poetry acquaintance recently, and on being asked, I churned around in my brain and realized it has been 14 years since I got my MFA. The person then asked, “Are you still writing?” I stared at them blankly, thinking, “What the hell else would I be doing?” But I just said, “Oh…yes,” and was left feeling a bit stunned. You who know me well may know that I “quit writing forever” on a regular basis. I’ll have to remind myself of my stunned reaction next time I’m tempted to declare, “I’m done, done forever.” I’ll remind myself how stunned I was by that question, how confused that I would have quit writing, even though that degree is now in the murky past. How startled I was at the thought that not-writing might be “a thing.”Marilyn McCabe, What’s he doing in there; or, On “Being a Writer”
Oh, well. Once again, I had every intention of following through on the Sealey Challenge this year and posting about what I read. Instead, I did a little traveling and the whole shebang fell apart. I have continued my way through my stack, but will not give extended commentary here. (The post would be very lengthy.) But here is the list of what I’ve read since the last time I posted:
- Carl Phillips Then the War and Selected Poems
- Mary Jean Chan Flèche
- Robert Hass Time and Materials
- Tiana Clark Equilibrium
- Roberto Carlos Garcia What Can I Tell You? Selected Poems
- Edna St. Vincent Millay The Harp Weaver and other Poems
- Tracy K. Smith Such Color: New and Selected Poems
[…]Donna Vorreyer, The best of intentions…
I went in to substitute teach for the afternoon on the first day of school at my old building, filling in for a friend who had to attend a family funeral. The kids were nice, the afternoon went quickly, I saw some old friends. But I got home and was TIRED. ALL CAPS TIRED. I legit yawned from 6:30 PM on like I hadn’t slept in days. A good reminder that I retired at the right time. And that teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world.
If I were doing the Sealey Challenge this year, I would embark on a re-reading of the Maureen Seaton books in my possession, having just learned of her death. I met her in Chicago and took a seminar with her, and she was an inspiration. She encouraged me to send some prose poems to Quarter After Eight, where they were taken. It became a favorite journal of mine, full of the challenging and unexpected.
I would probably start with Furious Cooking.
Sadly, I am not doing the Sealey Challenge this year–voraciously reading a book of poems a day in August–because daily life has gotten a bit too complicated by caregiving, though resting with poetry might have helped. The heat wave did not. Now I think of throwing my ivy comforter on this wooden glider, putting the stack of Seaton books beside me, and at least leafing through, pausing here and there to concentrate on a poem. But the afternoon is spoken for.Kathleen Kirk, Furious Cooking
This morning, news of 2 deaths took me back to specific times in my life: Bob Barker and Maureen Seaton. I was surprised, in some ways, to learn that Bob Barker had been alive these many years, and saddened to realize how relatively young Maureen Seaton was when she died, in her mid-70’s. At this point, if there’s a cause of death, I haven’t found it.
Bob Barker seemed old when I was first aware of him, lazy summer days watching The Price Is Right, with my mom and sister. We loved this game show, and I’m not sure why. Looking back from a distance, the prizes seem less than fabulous, unless one won one of the showcases at the end. I remember one babysitter pointing out that the contestant was lucky to have won extra cash because she’d need it to pay the taxes on the prize package.
Still, we tuned in, almost every morning, unless we had swim lessons. And the show went on–and on and on–long after we quit watching, long after Bob Barker stopped hosting it. Reading the news coverage, Barker seemed like a good human. I’m glad he lived so long.
Maureen Seaton also seemed like a good person, but unlike many of my peers, I was not her student. I was an adjunct at the University of Miami where she taught, but our paths rarely crossed. Once I went to a reading where she and Denise Duhamel read from their new work. I bought Little Ice Age, which had just been released. Seaton signed it, and told me how much she appreciated the fact that I bought her book in the hardback edition.
I looked up the publication history–that reading must have been in 2001 or 2002. Wow. It seems a lifetime ago, and in so many ways, it’s just as distant a time as my suburban childhood watching The Price is Right. I went to poetry readings so often that many faces started to seem familiar. I had dreams of my own book with a spine, and when my first chapbook was accepted in 2003 for publication in 2004, it seemed a tantalizing possibility.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pivoting to Past Times
I was very sad to hear about the death of poet Maureen Seaton, who was a tremendously encouraging and supportive writer as well as a really fun writer—I’ve been reading her for years, but it is her steady kindness to others that I saw in all the mentions of her in social media. I wonder—does our work matter more, or how we treat people along the way? Either way, if you haven’t picked up anything by Maureen yet, you should. Ed Ochester, the editor of 5 AM and University of Pittsburgh Press for a long time, also passed away—another poet who was known for kind editorial notes and support for writers. Yes, he sent me some of those notes. We feel real sorrow—not just an abstract sense of loss—when these kinds of people pass away. The poetry world can be cold and indifferent, but these were people who made it less so. It’s hard to say this without sounding like a cliche, but they were people who reminded me to be not just a better poet, but a better person, and I will miss them. I want to remember to be kind, how important it is to write that note, or that blurb, or that appreciation or review.Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of Flare, Corona in F(r)iction, Still the Smoke and Heat, Poetry World Losses, A Blue Supermoon Coming…So Look Out (or Up)
The latest from Redmond, Washington poet (and that city’s second official poet laureate) Jeannine Hall Gailey is Flare Corona (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2023), a constellation of first-person narrative lyric portraits and self-portraits clustered into four sections—“Post-Life,” “Harbingers,” “Blood Moon” and “Corona”—as she articulates an uncertain future around the weather, ongoing fires and the opening months of the pandemic, and of living with Multiple sclerosis. “You were warned.” she writes, as part of the poem “To Survive So Many Disasters,” “You promised / never to return. You set out on a journey / far from home. You looked out into darkness / and saw possibility.” Her poems explore layers of complication, both from within and surrounding, simultaneously burning out and refusing to fade away. There are moments in poems that see powerful lines occasionally buried, but Gailey writes from the centre and from all sides of each of these ongoing crises, offering her lyric as a way to document what has happened, what is happening, what might still be happening. “Under the mountains,” she writes, as part of the short poem “That Summer,” “the earth tried to shake us off. / The oldest oak trees fell, / people sheltered and burned in swimming pools, / the screams of horses in the air.” She speaks of climate crisis and its ongoing traumas, as the poem ends: “We were tied to a troubled earth. / You said it was too late to leave anyway.”rob mclennan, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Flare Corona
I had actually forgotten that I’d written this poem until someone shared this image on the site formerly known as Twitter. As soon as I read it, I remembered what was on my mind and heart when I wrote it. I had to search on my hard drive to date it, though — I wrote it in spring of 2015, earlier than I thought. Looks like it was originally written in couplets, though I also like the shape that someone gave it in this image. (There’s a slight transcription error in line 8, but I’m honored that someone liked the poem well enough to share it this way, even without the original punctuation and italics.) It’s not exactly a sonnet, in terms of rhyme or meter, though it’s inspired by the movement of a Petrarchan sonnet — eight lines, a turn, then six lines. My favorite line is still, “God isn’t / a diner waitress saying: what can I get you, hon?” That’s not how I understand prayer to work, even petitionary prayer. Sometimes I can’t help wishing it worked that way, though. I would order so much wholeness and healing and sweetness and fulfillment of hope.Rachel Barenblat, Find
Today’s post draws from my research into how, exactly, wonder can work in service of preservation efforts, and how poetry can be the invaluable link connecting the two.
I often revisit the work of my most humble, most brilliant friend, Robert Macfarlane. In addition to being one of the most mesmerizing and thoughtful writers on nature, he has, in my estimation, done the best job of succinctly capturing one of the chief issues we face in our efforts to address threats to the Anthropocene:
“As a species, we will not save what we do not love, and we rarely love what we cannot name.”
Inspired by the findings of Cambridge researchers who discovered that British children aged eight and over were significantly better able to identify Pokémon than organisms found in the natural world, Macfarlane set out to write a book that would reclaim “the magic of naming nature” through “summoning spells,”: short, rhythmic poems. That book, beautifully illustrated by Jackie Morris, is called The Lost Words, and it celebrates the identification and cherishing that naming the natural world allows. He provides a lexicon of slowly vanishing words—acorn, adder, bluebell, and so on—relying on a visual acrostic, whereby each stanza is capitalized to highlight the letters spelling out the thing described. Here is “Bramble”:
Bramble is on the march again,
Rolling and arching along the hedges,
in to parks on city edges.
All streets are suddenly thick with briar:
cars snarled fast, business over.
Moths have come in their millions,
drawn to the thorns. The air flutters.
Bramble has reached each house now,
looped it in wire. People lock doors,
Little shoots steal through keyholes,
to leave – in quiet halls,
Empty stairwells—bowls of bright
blackberries where the light falls.
The poem relies on what Francis Spufford in The Child That Books Built called the “gloriously embedded” elements of language to which children are so attuned, “its texture, its timbre, its grain, its music.” Bramble is personified as “on the march again” across rural and urban landscapes, while the tightly woven pattern of full rhymes, “hedges / edges,” “flutters / shutters,” and slant rhymes “briar / over,” capture bramble’s invasiveness. Where things might turn sinister in the fifth stanza, “People lock doors, / close shutters,” Macfarlane redirects the story to acclaim the power and literal fruitfulness of bramble: “Little shoots steal through keyholes / to leave…/ bowls of bright / blackberries where the light falls.” The almost incantatory stresses make the poem ask to be spoken aloud.
In short: the poem enacts the wonder of the thing it describes.Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday: The Lost Words, Wonder, and Environmental Preservation
when were stars erased by rain
when did sleep still live in a tree
who was the first to murder a dreamGrant Hackett [no title]
I’ve been a bit scant on posting this month because I’ve been a bit scant on everything—inspiration, creativity, energy, and pep. August feels like it has dragged on interminably, and I haven’t been able to get forward momentum on anything. The heat, smoke and terrible Seattle air quality hasn’t helped with my general sense of stagnation and ennui. I’m left to just sit and wait out whatever this is, while I hope for a return to crisp, cool air and a good week of cleansing rain. In the meantime, I haven’t had a lot to say, and I haven’t had the to drive to fight through it and muster up a post anyway.
Despite my listlessness, I have managed to make one decision this month, which is to return to journaling. I used to journal daily, and I can’t pinpoint the exact time that practice fell away for me, but I haven’t journaled in many years, and it feels like it’s time to start again. Journaling always brought me clarity, and I am feeling a need for clarity on many things right now. The act of sitting and writing with pen and paper, physically moving your hands over the page and connecting your thoughts to the movement, imbues a sort of magic. It brings calmness and calls forth truth and orderliness of the mind, which is something I long for right now. And of course, returning to journaling means buying a plethora of fancy new journals, which I am definitely not addicted to and don’t have a hoarding problem with at all.Kristen McHenry, August Blahs, A Return to Journaling, Training Re-Set
I recently came across this blog post by Naush Sabah about why we send our poems to magazines (or not). I’m in agreement with her on just about all of it, although I needed telling some things; for example:
You needn’t seek to publish every poem you write. Some work is for the drawer, some work is for an audience of one or two friends, some work is better within a book, some work is for the trash and, if you’re lucky, a key to unlock the next piece of writing.
It hasn’t been a conscious thing, but when I think about it, I can put most poems I write these days into one of these categories. I haven’t been sending out as many poems to magazines as I used to, and among those I have sent not many have been accepted. I’ve been a bit disillusioned about this to be honest.
And yet at the same time I can see that quite a few of these poems belong with others in order to have the impact I’m after. In other words, in a collection.
A few might even be poems I should be treating as stepping stones to the actual poem I’m after, the ‘key to unlocking the next piece of writing’ that Naush talks about in her piece.
A funny thing to be saying, given my unofficial role as cheerleader for submitting to magazines. I still believe in the magazines, and still encourage people to send in their poems. But it’s what I’ve always said: it’s not a strategy that suits everyone all the time. Goals and ambitions change.Robin Houghton, The positives of submitting less to magazines
Scientists say faking happiness can hurt you.
Scientists say the average person walks the equivalent of five times around the world in their lifetime.
Scientists say when you die, some companies will turn your ashes into fireworks.
Scientists say the universe is like a giant brain.Rich Ferguson, Scientists Say
Last week, I was watering our garden in an effort to stave off the effects of the high heat we’ve been living in. I was in a hurry. I was impatient. I was anxious. I yanked the hose, and I broke off two large branches of a shrub I’d once given up on. It had been all wonky, growing a few measly branches on one side, with the other side of the bush bare. I moved it to its current spot, almost daring it to live. If it died completely there, I figured it was no loss.
It’s not only lived there, but thrived, filling in beautifully. It’s a story that has given me some joy. And then, in one quick moment, I broke off two full branches, returning it to a state of bare lopsidedness.
I was so glad that it was me who did that, rather than Cane. Because it just made me sad. I was glad to be angry with myself, rather than him.
Cane suggested putting the branches in water. Maybe they will sprout roots and we can replant, he suggested, get a new plant out of it. I think that’s not likely, but I did it anyway.
This morning, as I sat here writing these words, the branches were right in front of my face and I noticed something that stopped me:
The branches are flowering. My broken branches. Sprouting tiny little flowers. Not the roots we hoped for, but flowers we didn’t even know to hope for.Rita Ott Ramstad, Wonky
Who knew, at the bend,
a long slant sun would meet me,
we’d eat a burst of tomatoes
at night, already in shadow,
a wall of sound, sonic crickets
like monks in saffron robes
lined from here to the mountains,Jill Pearlman, Slanting
soft, soft their silken chant, hand clap.
I can now share/remind you that the launch event will also be on the 7th November, at The Deverux Pub in Temple. I will be reading with Matthew Stewart (launching his second full collection. I’ve read it and it’s excellent). There will also be readings by Maria Taylor, Hilary Menos and Eleanor Livingstone. It’s a Red Squirrel Press and HappenStance read off. Who will win? Who will hold the coats???
Come along to find out…I am very pleased as it will be the first time I’ve actually met Sheila, Hilary, Maria and Eleanor.
More details here. And my thanks to Nell for putting this up (and for putting up with me). And very much thanks to Sheila for agreeing to publish me in the first place.Mat Riches, Varroa-iations on a theme
More from me on the book when I have it, but I am very, very excited now and it’s all starting to feel scary.
Super-excited to share this cover! Thank you to everyone at Sundress Publications for their work on this! Special thanks to Ani Araguz, my partner and artist behind the artwork on this cover. […]
This piece is entitled “we go to sleep early so we can dream what’s never in it for us.” I love the sense of at once feeling mired and also breaking apart. This ties into the way ruining and becoming ruins because of want are used as a metaphor in the book.
Also, happy to share that the project has a description as well. Check it out:
Is selfhood constructed? And if so, by whom? Exploring queerness, race, body image, and family, Ruin & Want is a masterful meditation on otherness and identity. In a series of gripping, episodic prose pieces centered on an illicit relationship between a student and his high school English teacher, Araguz peels back the layers of his marginalized identity. By reflecting on his childhood into adulthood, Araguz grapples with finding a sense of self when early, predatory experiences have deeply affected his coming-of-age. In quixotic, deeply eviscerating lyric prose, Araguz delivers a troubling but bold memoir that handles this topic with courage while grieving what it costs survivors to reckon with harm’s aftermath. Yet in the midst of this struggle, we find many bittersweet and lingering gifts such as, “For the first time I saw myself as someone worth seeing,” that make this work necessary and unforgettable.
I’ve been working on R&W since 2016. The work has had me learning and growing over the years. The book is a testament to my survival. The final year of work had me realizing that I have been late in embracing my queer identity, something that has been difficult to do until the completion of this book. Still learning as I go.José Angel Araguz, Ruin & Want cover reveal!
Writing really is a long game. I wrote Murder Girl gets wired in 2007 after I’d relocated from Perth to Adelaide and was still elbow-deep in writing for theatre. I didn’t know about prose poems. I thought I was just writing little sketches (were they poems? were they stories?) with a view to heightening ordinary fuckd-up urban and suburban folk to a kind-of mythological status. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’d give my characters names like Murder Girl, Violet Sweets, Beef Boy and they’d always drink too much & have low self-esteem. Auto-bio much? Now I can hear rhythms & a smattering of rhyme in this poem, which were the precursors to me writing and performing my first spoken word poem in 2016.
In 2020, when I received funding to record my first collection SIARAD as an audiobook & make some video poems, I wanted to record multiple sound-tracks for this poem, which were then edited & enhanced by the audio genius Jeffrey Zhang. Then, the poet indigo eli introduced me to featherful (not their real name) who agreed to make the video-poem. I still remember the feeling of being blown away the first time I watched it. It exceeded my expectations in capturing the feel of late-night, urban-gothic youth culture in small city Australia. The video poem’s interplay of dark and light, appearing & disappearing, is eerie.Caroline Reid, VIDEO POEM: Murder Girl gets wired
Earlier in the week, a facebook friend asked everyone if they could think of a time they wanted to stop writing, and what made them carry on regardless. How did they work through it? I was thinking of responding, but then realized the answer was way too complex and convoluted to deal with in a comments section. There are days when I feel this way about poetry specifically, not really writing in general, of which I have done many different types and genres at various points. I love that I get to make a living writing other kinds of things now, but poetry sometimes feels like something I could easily drop from my life like a napkin from a table and I’m not sure anyone would notice. It certainly doesn’t contribute financially to my life, nor does the pursuit of it necessarily all the time contribute to my mental well-being. It is a lot of time and effort invested with steadily diminishing returns, something that took me a long time to realize. That working harder or more or better wouldn’t necessarily show any kind of difference at all. And by returns, I don’t necessarily just mean po-biz things, many of which I have let go of in the past several years. But more so the sense of purpose that I sometimes lose the thread of at times. Would I not spend my time better by writing things that allow me to make a living rather than dropping poems into what usually feels like a void. Would not these energies be more productive leveled elsewhere?
And yet, I don’t know how I would live without it. Or where I would channel those same storytelling energies. Fiction, sure, but I am not really very good at it. Essays, maybe. Writing poems, good or bad, have been part of my life since I was a stupid teenager who did a little too well on an English assignment and somehow locked in hard on a genre that most people don’t seem to care about at all. I used to dismiss that Rilke quote about HAVING to write, of dying if you were forbidden to do it, as pretension and dramatics, but maybe he was right. Sometimes I am not certain how I could ever consider stopping. Sometimes I am not certain how I can keep going.
But there are still poems to be written. Projects to be executed. I am digging in on the video poems that I will be releasing in September–the villains series–armed with a fancy new microphone […]Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/28/2023
One thing I love about poetry is the space it holds for nuanced conversation. It’s so magnificent when poets get their teeth in something, shake it about and snarl at it or fawn over it (or both!). Poems are places where we can wonder about things and be in awe just as likely in response to something beautiful as to something terrible.
Barbie is a spectacular subject for poetry. In addition to the cultural baggage noted above, she offers opportunities for ekphrasis and persona poems. She conjures nostalgia and personal story. She invites reflection on identity and body image. She churns up questions on gender, class and power. And of course, there are all those outfits: Who is she, really? “Just” a doll? Perhaps.
It’s all grist for the mill, as they say — frothy, frothy fodder for poets.
I, personally, haven’t written any Barbie poems, but I always enjoy reading them. Of course there are full collections worth noting, including KINKY by Denise Duhamel, Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang and Never Picked First for Playtime by Dustin Brookshire, which is an homage to Duhamel’s.Carolee Bennett, barbie in the poetry world
“From From” explores the question “Where are you from from?” (where are you really from) by investigating the awkward state of being American yet being othered by white Americans and of the feeling of incompleteness when you discover your heritage through English sources. Youn’s approach is less direct than Claudia Rankin’s but equally as eloquent. Youn’s studies are inventive, setting up two perspectives to interrogate received knowledge and bias. “From From” is a multi-layered collection that rewards re-reading.Emma Lee, “From From” Monica Youn (Carcarnet Press) – book review
My father died five years ago. Yesterday was his death anniversary. Five years seems wrong. It feels both too long and too short. In this state of unmooring, one becomes time’s orphan, just as moving from Singapore to New York made me an orphan of place. I have lived in New York as a foster child for 20 years. 20 years seems wrong too, for the same reason. Yesterday I tried to recall the exact day I landed in JFK airport and took the bus to Grand Central Station, in order to board the train to Sarah Lawrence College, where I was to learn how to write, but I could not remember. What I remembered was sitting across from an older Jewish man on the train. He told me he was a jeweler who opened his own shop. Tonight, 20 years after I came to this city to see if I would be any good as a poet, I am having dinner with a younger Singaporean poet and her mom. She is here to pursue further training in the craft of writing, as I did. She will meet a host of interesting people in NYC, the sedulous, the sadducees, the seducers. I hope she will meet my jeweler.Jee Leong Koh, Foster Child of New York
I visited Magnetic Poetry this morning aka The Oracle. This is what she imparted.
Beneath dreams andCharlotte Hamrick, a little something
your sweet tongue
bares a fasting and
pants for roses raw and light
licks an ache
a sleeping love
cooling to rust
Highland Park Poetry press has set up a book launch/poetry reading for The Red Queen Hypothesis (and me) with poet Rene Parks and an open mic to follow. This event takes place Saturday, September 9th at 5 pm, at Madame ZuZu’s, 1876 First Street, Highland Park IL. Here’s a link, and here’s another link. It’s a ways to travel from eastern Pennsylvania but a good reason for yours truly to visit a new place, meet new people–including the book’s publisher–and listen to other poets.
Too often, perhaps, I stay around the home front, indulge in my introversion by gardening and reading, and shy away from promoting my work. Lately, it’s been months since I did any submitting. There was my participation in the annual Goschenhoppen Festival, then a short but lovely week in North Carolina, camping and seeing friends. Now, the veggie season is starting to wind down–tomato sauce simmers on the burner–and I will have fewer excuses for why I am not sending out poems.
But my travel for the year is not quite done. In September there’s one more trip away from PA, and after that we can settle into autumn. I have writing plans, so once we return, I need to create a schedule that is flexible enough I can stick to it but framed clearly enough that it feels necessary and not difficult to integrate into my days and weeks. Every one of my writer friends knows how challenging that can be. Wish me luck. There’s a chapbook that’s been languishing in my desk area for quite a long time, but to which I’ve recently returned; there’s a ream of poems under 21 lines that might make up a collection, too. Then there’s the next manuscript, rather grief-heavy at present, that I need to re-think and revise.
Oh, and all those poem drafts I have not looked at in awhile…Ann E. Michael, Book launch, travel, PR
Ann E. Michael, The Red Queen Hypothesis, Highland Park, 2023
Like her wonderful blog, Michael’s second full-length collection is meditative, witty, and smart, with a scientific and sometimes philosophical bent. Also like her blog, it’s closely observant of the more-than-human world in flux. “The Red Queen hypothesis,” I learned, comes from biology: species must keep evolving to survive. Poems and the people behind them must keep changing, too. In addition, The Red Queen Hypothesis suggests the advantage of sexual reproduction, and there are plenty of seductively “soft persuasions” in this collection. Like the “Stew Cook” speaking to her beloved, this is a book to “fill nooks with aromatic hours.” Shout-out to all the tasty slant-rhymes amid a profusion of traditional forms: rhetoric/ lick, beige/ strange, viola/ Iowa. My sense of knowing Ann pretty well by now might be an illusion—I’ve spent way more time reading her work than with her in person—but then again, intimacy with another person’s way of thinking is one of reading’s chief attractions.Lesley Wheeler, Holding dear
As I was writing You Could Make This Place Beautiful, taking risks with both form and content, I suspected that for every reader who attached to certain craft choices, there would be a reader who’d chafe at those same choices. (Sort of like, “For every bird there’s a stone thrown at a bird.”) The direct address, the vignettes, the meta aspect of the narration, the privacy boundaries—I knew all of these were “love it or loathe it” choices.
All of this to say: I knew I was writing a book with a strong flavor. But I love strong flavors! Blue cheese. Smoked kalamata olives. (Smoked anything, really.) Very dark, bitter chocolate. Very black, bitter coffee. Chili crisp. Rose lemonade. Dill pickles. Hot curry. An imperial IPA. I find these things delicious, but I also completely understand how they might taste terrible to other people.* Taste is subjective.
You’re not for everyone. Your work is not for everyone. So be it!
“You are not responsible for the world—you are only responsible for your work—so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be.” —Sol LeWitt, in a letter to Eva Hesse
Whatever happens to your work when you send it into the world, with its sometimes treacherous landscapes, is none of your business, really. You made the thing, and now people can make up their own minds about it. Will everyone love it? Probably not. Will everyone hate it? Also, probably not.
But do you love it? Are you proud of it? Do you stand behind your choices? Have you made something uniquely yours?Maggie Smith, Pep Talk
Does this story know how to walk into the sunset, arm around the waist of hope? Does it know when to stop, to let the past become the future, let the future rechristen the past, let time recalibrate itself around words — words written now, words written then, words that make no sound? Where the last part of the story stops, more has already happened. Before. ‘On Turning Fifty’ was a milestone-chapbook I released in 2019. Then from the quiet of the year that followed, came ‘The Night is my mirror’. The continuity surprises me, though much of it was inevitable. There was more. From the horror of the pandemic years came the anguished poetry in ‘Duplicity‘, released in 2021. All the dots are connected now. Do you see the pattern? Do you remember the crow that became a line in the sky? The first line. Do you see what geometry that line has wreaked? How solemn are those polygons? Which side is up? Some of those edges follow the horizon, some of them touch the acute angles of one blinking star in the sky.Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (53)
awaiting the summer rain:Jason Crane, haiku: 28 August 2023
a stick shaped
like a bird’s foot
On Sunday I was part of a group of poets and musicians reading at an outdoor event in the Italian Gardens in Scarborough. I don’t think I’ve been in the Italian Gardens since I was a child. I have a strong memory of my mum and myself having a day there together, me playing with my Sindy doll and running around the pond and up and down the stairs imagining I was in a fairy world, my mum quietly reading a book in the shade. It was just as I’d left it, though in the mean time it had become quite run down, before receiving funding to be brought back to its former glory. As I sat in the shade with the other readers and musicians I could hear the breeze blowing through the leaves and the scent of the sea and the flower gardens were carried up to us. […]
Mostly I have been stuck in the office this week sending literally hundreds of emails to Spelt competition entrants, letting them know the outcome. Our brilliant judge Jane Burn has sifted through 788 individual entries to whittle down to a longlist of twenty poets. Alongside that I have been pulling the last bits of issue 09 together and sorting out problems with it. We’ll be going to print with it soon. And as if that wasn’t enough, I’m working on yet another Arts Council England bid for some Spelt stuff too. If you know me you will know filling in applications makes me want to pull my own eyes out and kick them out of the window. But I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. After spending so much time at my desk, we decided to have a walk along the beach last night at about 8pm. It was glorious. The sea was a gentle murmer, there were still people on the beach, some of them with little fires which seemed brighter in the dusk. Scent of sausages o the breeze. There were lots of dead jellyfish looking like hazy autumn sun sets.Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience: The Scent of Summer
Heavy trucks cough out a smell of omelettes and salad, financial ruin.
Food is an answer, yes, always, but remember to spit it out.
I stood to one side, didn’t understand, didn’t get involved.
A book called A Very Short History Of Friends.
Guilt is a secret hand opening ancient maps, spreading them out.Bob Mee, MEDITATIONS ON GUILT
Committing to commas, semi-colons, and cover layouts is an act of courage not demanded of us in the day-to-day virtual or verbal worlds where mistakes can (usually) be corrected at the touch of a few buttons, or with a cough and repetition of a line. It may not feel like it if you haven’t done it yet, but be assured that the process by which Moth, Aunts Come Armed with Tea Cakes (Thirza Clout), Body of Water (Emily Wilkinson), Lucidity (Ross Donlon), and I Buy A New Washer (Yours Truly) (all published by Mark Time) came to be in print form is a matter of precise, finite, and often late-at-night-squeezed-into-the-rest-of-life decision making. It’s also a matter of kind discussion with our editor, Ross, of benefitting from his poetry wisdom and skills.
It’s the finite, deadline bit that’s so difficult: a form of existential angst, made manifest. Never mind that saying, the one about ‘abandoning poems’; when you publish them on paper you have to release them carefully, tenderly, precisely, and, it may surprise some, soberly, and after lengthy and serious thought. This is because you release them to the possibility of changes of mind, misunderstandings, and (oh horror!) typos, as well as joy, understanding, and connection.Liz Lefroy, I Mark Time
No time for lingering, except to lingerLuisa A. Igloria, Ode to the Unsentimental
in a room filled with simple light; no
call to pilfer coins it scatters freely
at your feet. Bowl, water glass, figs
softening on a tray—enough of need.
Clear-eyed, unclouded: even as
sweetness falls away, you want
the making of things that last.
A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: mindlessness, writing routines, poetry and psychology, fierce women, and more. Enjoy.
That was a different kind ofPF Anderson, Bathrobe
love. That was a love of something beautiful
simply because it was. It was violet,
supple, thick, luscious, soft. It was everything
I ever wanted in a bathrobe. It hangs,
right now, on a hook in my bathroom, stretching
and fading in the morning sun, years after
the man himself has gone to ashes, decades
and decades after he gifted it to me.
It was the first gift he gave me, and the last.
I had to nudge myself into another poetry submission and discovered it was a full two months since the last. Sigh… Busy, stressful times continue, but with beauty, joy, and moments of sweet downtime, plus, alas, dangerous heat. But the heat has lifted, and I am soon to volunteer at two tables for our annual downtown Pridefest, itself delayed by a full month but now fully supported by the city. I’ve got my Pride hat, my Pride flags, and two shirts–one for each organization, plus a water bottle, travel tissue, a cell phone for a ride home, and a Walt Whitman tote bag. I feel strangely well prepared! I hope I am coherent, as I had a little anesthesia yesterday. Nasturtiums I planted from seed, and the above marigold, are blooming! There was welcome rain and, sadly, some unwelcome damage from recent storms. Let’s hope we all repair.Kathleen Kirk, Nudge
She sits by my neighbour’s front window, sometimes tries to wander into the house and she has a face I want to look into all day, to absorb that moment’s contentment. She’s about the same size as a young fox that wanders across mum’s terrace and when the back door’s open nips in to take out the red slippers I keep there. I side with the myths of fox as messenger of the gods. I don’t like the anthropomorphic characteristic of cunning. A fox walking down mum’s road the other evening with a rabbit hanging out of its mouth was a reminder of truth. It went up to the Tye and waited near one of the many warrens. I could not disparage a fox for that. Humans, on the other hand, put words on the walls of art galleries and ignite fields, forests, mountains and valleys.Jackie Wills, The vixen’s stare
The French existentialists — I barely read them, but what a baneful influence they had on me! — thought of life as a thing to be invented; made up, out of some primal creative fire, and then committed to, in an act of bold self-assertion. I don’t think this conception stands up well under examination. Who, after all, does the creating? Where did *that* self come from, the one who makes the choices? Why, the self before the choices, of course, and you get a regress that’s either infinite, or ends up in Mama and Papa and your kindergarten peers. This is noble independence? I don’t think so. The thing doesn’t make any sense: and anyway it doesn’t correspond to anything I know or remember about myself. I didn’t invent myself. I’ve gradually and painfully discovered myself.Dale Favier, Flowering
The wildfires are spreading like wars. We need to get out.
Airports have closed.
People walk the roads with suitcases.
We get into the car and drive into history,
using a map of Europe from before the meteor.
We give the kids an I-Spy Book of Dinosaurs
to keep them quiet for an hour or so.
They look hopefully out of the windows.
You’re wearing that light yellow shirt,Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING AFTER PAINTING A GHOST THAT RETURNED FROM THE END OF THE MIND
the top two buttons undone because of the heat.
Your silver crucifix shines as the sun diffuses
through the windscreen dirty with bugs.
There’s a difference between the mindless and the tedious. I don’t care for tedium; but a task I can mindlessly manage–something physical, but not too demanding, without a lot of surprises I need to problem-solve–those projects can be almost relaxing. When weeding, my thoughts can wander. The job is so familiar and repetitive that there is no need to devote much brainpower to it. Ideas, reflections, observations, images can float aimlessly in my mind. I can think about poems while weeding. Taking a walk in a woods or quiet countryside offers me the same sort of internal/external environment.
Proofreading was like that for me, back when I was a proofreader (when there were such things as proofreaders in every newspaper, type or print shop, publishing house, ad agency, and legal department). Editing takes some thought; but the less engaged a proofreader is with the text, the better. I was employed as a proofreader when I first recognized that I was truly serious about writing poetry, and I found value in the ’empty mind’ that my workaday job fostered. There was a bonus in that sometimes I did glean new information from the materials I read.
Composing this post, it strikes me that “mindless” is the wrong word, or not an accurate word to convey what it’s like to feel internally occupied while the physical body’s doing something else. “Reflection” implies more stillness. Something more akin to walking meditation?
At any rate, I can hope that the weeding and staple-removing might eventually get my poetry mojo re-booted. I have to work on my next manuscript and continue to promote my latest book, too. In the meantime at least I’m accomplishing something.Ann E. Michael, Mindlessly
I finished this 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a Van Gogh painting, and it only took 2 1/2 years! Seriously, my family started it on Thanksgiving 2020, stalled out, rolled it up on one of those felt contraptions, bagged it, and threw it in a corner of the living room. This week was quiet with Chris away, so on a whim I pulled it out. I quickly became obsessed, for reasons I didn’t understand. I don’t want to tell you how many hours I spent sorting and fitting the little streaky pastel pieces. (P.S.: I eventually found the final missing shape, after I broke the puzzle up and reboxed it, of course.)
As soon as I did, I was able to return to some difficult work that was stalled: making a near-last revision to my next poetry book, Mycocosmic, and working on the elaborate author questionnaire I mentioned last week. These tasks have similarities to finishing a jigsaw puzzle: for instance, both involve sifting through patterns, although a puzzle has one solution and a book many possible good shapes. But working on one cleared my head for the other, I think, oddly enough in the way Ann E. Michael describes low-cognition chores in her recent blog post. Maybe there are a lot of poets out there taking breaks from mental work in this extreme July heat.Lesley Wheeler, Jigsawing together a poetry ms
Some days are bad writing days. Some weeks are bad writing weeks. It’s possible to meet a word count and have no clue what the words were. It’s possible to feel like a robot, mechanically working, without feeling or connection. It’s possible to hate every minute of it.
It’s possible to go on like this for a very long time.
But if you keep working, eventually something will click.
What is it that clicks? A door? A master lock? A vault in the Sistine Chapel? The snap of the lid of a pickle jar?
Who knows. But something opens up.
Those bad writing days are all part of the work, it turns out. We can accept them. Tolerate them. Maybe even appreciate them.
They are like the abrasive relative at holiday dinners. Difficult to love, but still part of the family. […]
Sometimes the click happens when you least expect it.
In the supermarket, at a playground playdate, on your way to class, in the middle of an argument with your best friend.
Suddenly, you realize, you’ve been working this entire time. You’ve kept going, even without fully knowing it.
It’s like trying to stand still in the ocean—impossible. Just being in the water, the current pushes you along.Becky Tuch, Monday Motivation! With Thoughts on Craft!
I’m a great believer in the satisfaction that comes from making and doing things yourself, and find this an antidote to so much of what feels wrong about our disposable, ever-faster, highly commercial, media-driven culture. It’s a great feeling to create something from scratch that is uniquely yours, to use it and enjoy it, and to learn from the project so that you are inspired for the next one. The biggest key to success is to start simply, and find some helpful friends or resource people who can advise you about your choices and your process when you’re having difficulties. Nobody is born knowing how to do these things! Just as in cooking, we all have to learn, we all get better at it gradually, and there is always something cool and exciting to aspire to in the future.Beth Adams, A Report on my Summer Sewing Binge – Part 2
It’s my own fault, I hadn’t planned properly. The things that I thought would take minimal work, didn’t. I’d broken my own cardinal rule and planned for time (off) that I wanted, rather than time (off) that I had. Although I’d taken no new work on, work that was rolling on still existed. I am the founder and editor of a literary magazine, Spelt, a magazine that seeks to validate and celebrate the rural experience through creative non fiction and poetry. We feature interviews with authors and have four creative non fiction columnists and the magazine is a print magazine, which means a lot of work needs to go into it. I work with two other editors, but really, this is my project, my baby and so I tend to take on the lion’s share of the work. No one gets paid, we all do it for the love of being a part of a system that creates platforms for writers who we feel need more recognition and a place to show how nature writing can be something other than a practice of romanticised observation. We recently suffered a set back financially and we’ve been limping on with the magazine while we try to raise some funds through the annual competition. Because I was writing the book, issue nine was behind, is behind. Because I was writing the book the competition wasn’t getting the promotion it needed to be successful. I realised I needed to catch up on those commitments before I could really take time off. My compromise was three hours work between 6 and 9 am, in the hope that after that I’d be able to take time off, but what happened was that the lovely, elderly dog needed his daily care – the glacial pace slow walks that keep him happy and healthy, the attention to his coat (he’s long haired, and I can’t get him to the groomer anymore as he gets too upset and stressed) in the heat of summer, his occasional incontinence and his need to be with me, the reassurance that he needs. If you’ve ever lived with an elderly dog, you’ll know that at this stage of their lives, they need a lot of care giving. I don’t imagine we have a long time left with him, and I want to make sure that every one of those days is of gentle happiness and companionship. By the time I’d be done and got him settled it would be lunch time, and I’d be exhausted because I was up early every day to work, and I just wanted to sleep. And then, because of the monster anxiety – because I knew that I would need to jump back onto work and be prepared to, like a Flintstone car, run as soon as my feet touched the ground, after my ‘time off’; making space to work on the edits of the book when it’s returned, setting up work around it to enable me to continue to pay my mortgage and bills while I do, meant some planning and prep work. And then the day was over and the elderly dog needed his glacial evening walk and then it was bed time. Reader, there was no walks on the beach, and the weather has been very rainy anyway, so that put paid to even simply sitting in the garden. I even lost most of my usual sacred morning space to write and reflect because I was filling that space with work to allow me some time off. […]
Yesterday I did the thing that I said I was going to do and, after I had dealt with the old dog, my husband and I left the house and went to be tourists at Burton Agness Hall.
As soon as we were out of the village and crossing the Wolds I felt better. As soon as we were pouring ourselves through the fields of wheat and barley, the golden summer landscape, I felt better. We saw a stoat cross the road like a small fire burning and my heart expanded, loosening all the tense muscles around it. We spent hours walking the grounds of the hall, being moved by the stories of people long since dead, soaking up the extraordinary art on display, walking thorough the gardens lulled by the hum of bees, the scent of flowers, then dinner at the pub, then home. When I walked the dog that evening I felt grounded. I wasn’t thinking about what was next on the list. I was communing with the place that I live, connecting to the ground beneath my feet, the breeze, the prickle of rain. Two roe deer were in th top field as I passed. We stopped to watch each other, then carried on with our lives. I felt like I had come home, not just physically, but mentally. This morning, i am up and at my desk to write. The world will not end if I don’t answer my emails. Today I am giving myself over to writing time. I don’t know what I shall write, it doesn’t matter. Maybe an essay, maybe a poem or a flash fiction or the start of something bigger. It doesn’t matter. It starts here, with this essay, with these words. Thankyou for bearing witness to it.Wendy Pratt, Allowing the Creative Well to Refill
After book club on Wednesday where we discussed the poetry book Our Dark Academia (in case you’re following along with the book club) among other things, I remember feeling a moment thinking about taking joy in talking about books and just writing for fun, not worrying about publishing or marketing or any of that stuff.
I think I got exhausted from the first few months of my sixth book coming out, plus AWP and all that accompanies that, and it was nice to remember that appreciating poetry is kind of its own reward, and that there are simple things that give us joy: visiting with family and friends, walking through a field of lavender, watching butterflies, and writing poetry among them. I’m not particularly good at slowing down and having moments of peace and joy, I actually had a book as a teen called When I Relax I Feel Guilty, so this week was a bit of a revelation. Then I wrote two poems (I hadn’t written in a little while) and didn’t worry about updating any spreadsheets or submitting or rejection—I just enjoyed writing them.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Back Into Routines, Finding Joy in Writing and Talking Books, and Looking Forward to Fall (Readings?)
Rob Taylor: The back jacket copy of If It Gets Quiet Later On, I Will Make a Display bills it as “a volume of essays, stories and poems… on a life of reading, writing and bookselling.” And yet, smack in the middle we find “Collected Trout,” a 24-page essay on Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop. Like in a wide-ranging display at a bookstore, your reader is left to make the connections between this disparate part and the others. A few other pieces, too, seem only loosely tethered to the book’s central concerns.
“I love making the themed / (albeit only broadly associative) tabletop / displays,” you write in an early poem in the book. Later, you refer to this type of curation as “a form of poetry.” Could you talk about your approach to the curation of this book, which ranges so widely in both form and content?
Nick Thran: I find I am focused, energized, and un-self-conscious when I’m gathering books together for display. One afternoon, immersed in this activity, I paused, looked out the window, and thought to myself, this feels so good. Then I began to think about display-making in the context of the writing I’d been doing over the last few years.
After Mayor Snow, I wanted to write a book that didn’t rely too heavily on well-paved neural pathways towards anxiety and fear. Those things could be there in the new work, would be there, because that’s a part of my makeup. But the central mode of the new book, whatever it looked like, would be that E.M. Forster quote from Howards End “Only connect!” I also wanted to stay with things longer than I was in a lot of my poems. I liked the challenge of extending looks, in prose, while also accommodating diversions, digressions, associative thought.
But I’d hit a wall in a book of essays I was working on. The essays I’d already written were interesting to me. A lot of them, “Collected Trout” included, are in this book. But I’d developed an impossible set of constraints for myself. I was also running into that difficulty most every non-fiction writer, writing about the work of others, runs into: am I really the person to be speaking on behalf of some of the artists I’m writing about? Especially if I’m trying to make these essays, in some way, personal? Fiction gave me some freedom from those constraints, to remove the names, to veer off in wildly imaginative or speculative directions, but keep the essence.Rob Taylor, On Display in my Mind: An Interview with Nick Thran
Jonathan Totman has recently started a new poetry blog and it looks like becoming an top-notch addition to the scene. Using his expertise in clinical psychology as a point of departure, his posts provide a focus on poetry and mental health, offering selected poems by the likes of Ramona Herdman alongside reflections that are informed by his counselling work.
There are already five excellent posts awaiting you, though I’d especially recommend the latest one on loss and fearing joy, which also features an excellent poem by Sue Rose. You can read it here.Matthew Stewart, Jonathan Totman’s new poetry blog
Dunn and colleagues are looking into ways in which therapists can help people with persistent depression tone up their capacity for joy. Often, a lot of our focus in therapy is on dealing with the difficult stuff. Rightly so, of course, but it seems there is increasing attention in the research literature (and the therapy room) being given to the idea that some people might benefit from more help in moving towards positive emotions and overcoming blocks and fears that might be getting in the way. (I’m conscious as I write that I’m sort of skirting round the question of what “joy” and “happiness” actually mean. I don’t think I want to open that particular can of worms right now(!) but will just acknowledge my own perspective here, and the fact that what happiness means and how we relate to it is of course personal, variable and influenced by social, cultural and religious factors; Joshaloo et al., 2014).
I’m speaking only from personal experience here but, for me, poetry can be one avenue through which to enrich and amplify joyfulness. Poems can often surprise us, lift us out of auto-pilot, shine a light on the textures of sensory and emotional experience. This idea of “seeing things afresh”, which is part of mindfulness-based approaches, very much chimes with the poetical ambition to describe experiences in new ways. And if this brings with it sadness, and fear, then perhaps poetry can, in a small way, help us to feel less alone with these feelings. For me, a poem offers a kind of container for complex feelings, much like a therapy hour. I’m sure it’s partly why I write. Of course I also hope that at least some poems will also reach out, speak to others. But it would be wrong to pretend there isn’t a personal and emotional investment, and part of that – I think inevitably – stems from a need to feel my way towards and into loss. I’m not fond of the word “processing” – loss and grief, in particular, are deeply personal and often far from linear journeys – but it’s something approaching that. Perhaps part of it is simply listening – to the rumble in the dark, the ache and the fear. But it’s something more active too, something closer to reconnection or assimilation – a making room for those most awkward of companions, pain and joy.Jonathan Totman, “Taking Flight”: On Loss and Fearing Joy
“Phantom Pain Wings” is a journey through grief, an attempt to render the complex emotions tied up with bereavement on a page. The bird-like language, imagery and motifs allow the poet to investigate the unfamiliar, the physical and psychosocial struggles that grief brings. It widens beyond the personal to a universal journal of the disassociative states, the birds offering a freedom to probe things usually left undisturbed. Choi’s translation encompasses Kim’s word play and visual puns, brings the poems alive, enabling English readers to share in rich, multi-layers of Kim’s imagination.
The collection also includes a translation diary from Choi, detailing some of the discussion between translator and poet and choices made.Emma Lee, “Phantom Pain Wings” Kim Hyesoon translated by Don Mee Choi (New Directions) – book review
When I saw a post by ‘Albert’ on Twitter with this quote by L S Lowry: Had I not been lonely I would not have seen what I did, it reminded me of this poem by Matthew Sweeney. A fine ekphrastic poem that moves beyond description, as it enters into dialogue with the artist about their work.
I have a few ekphrastic poems that need expanding in some way, so I’m going to do some research and explore how I could incorporate the artist’s own words into those poem. Is this something you might do with your own writing? If you’re a painter, photographer, sculptor, do poems inspire you? [Click through to read “Dialogue With an Artist”]Fokkina McDonnell, Had I not been lonely …
SALA, the South Australian Living Arts Festival, is a statewide festival of visual art, spanning the entire month of August, and involving over 700 venues across the state with nearly 11,000 participating artists. SALA is Australia’s largest and most inclusive visual arts festival, and takes place in galleries and non-traditional arts spaces across South Australia, featuring visual artists working at every level, in any medium, from all backgrounds and all parts of the state. Indeed, there are few if any festivals of this nature anywhere in the world.
I have enjoyed participating in SALA in different ways over the years. For SALA this year, I am excited to present Beyond the Floodtide… a sequence of mostly new video works with environmental themes, at The Joinery in the Adelaide CBD, in collaboration with the Conservation Council of South Australia and coordinated by Sally Francis.
Faced with accelerating anthropogenic climate change, how will life on earth cope with global warming and rising sea levels? Plants, animals, humans, forms yet to evolve: all will need to adapt to challenging new environments. This video sequence imagines how we and the biosphere around us might deal with the consequences of our effects on the planet.
In addition to screening the videos at The Joinery on each Friday afternoon in August, I will be giving an artist talk, explaining some of the processes that went into making the videos. Together with acclaimed local poets Matthew Pankhurst and Shaine Melrose, I will present a reading of original poetry addressing environmental themes.Ian Gibbins, Beyond the Floodtide… SALA 2023 at The Joinery
Peter Riley’s sequence of 27 short poems opens with words “Proof that the world exists.” What is this proof? The irreducible figure of the refugee, that human in motion who surrounds us every day, invisible but insistent:
that the world is, but unstable: the Refugee’s story.
The second poem introduces a counterpoint; birdsong. The birds are also migrants, and their song tells “the tale of the Refugee’s journey across Europe,/a sonorous black hole day after day”.
The birds and the figure of the Refugee are intimately interwoven in the poems that follow. We are reminded gently that the figure in the steel container is a dweller on the earth whose existence requires proof:
did he remember before he left to visit
the old holm oak up in the fields , to hold
its spiked leaf in his hands and listen
to what it said?
It’s not without significance, I think, that while the native oak is a symbol of Britain, the holm is viewed as an invasive species. A little later, birds, tree and the Refugee are drawn against a background of ongoing ecological catastrophe framed by the central concern of proof:
There may well be a world
but there is probably no future. Earth’s
moisture sucked into the blue sky,
lost rhymes fallen into dry ditches.
The last line in this extract draws us towards another central question; what is the role of poetry in the face of loss of hope? The answer, tentative as it is, is to hold on, to persist:
Thursday, market-day and again a bird sang.
across the canal, not a wren.
By Sunday there were three or four. Is this a turn
of the tide, is there a hope of something more
than a stray pheromone riding the breeze?
And we are reminded in other sections that we are all refugees in a world that, despite all its provisional flux, fully is. And that we must, against all the odds, sing:
Robin, fill your little lungs,
and blow your meaning over the fields
fortissimo for the new year.
Peter Riley is one of our great singers, and here he is, full fortissimo. We’re lucky to have him.Billy Mills, Recent Reading: July 2023
How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I’m kind of a slow learner and my process tends to reflect that. It feels like I’ve been working on Age of Forgiveness for the last ten years or so. Probably I have been, in some ways. A few of the poems in the book are from early on in my writing life, but I didn’t start working on it as a book until 2019, and it won’t become one until September 2023.
So, between 4 and ten years. […]
Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Probably not? I think I’m mostly interested in all the first-year-poetry-student stuff still. I think a lot about form and voice, repetition, order, metaphor. Other stuff, too, but those are the main ones. My main question always seems to be, how am I supposed to write this poem that my brain is trying to make me write? […]
When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I play pickup basketball and then stretch for six hours afterwards. That usually gets me to where I need to be. Sometimes pickle ball helps. […]
I’m inspired by visual art. I seek it out, hang it on my walls, think about it, and write about it, too. A few years back I became a little bit obsessed with this visual essay called First Adventures in Beauty by Lia Purpura. Technically a book, I guess. Books that are art interest me a lot. I’m thinking of Book of No Ledge by Nance Van Winckel, Mary Reufle’s erasure books, both of Karen Green’s books and a handful of other Siglio titles.rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Caleb Curtiss
the sad spectacle of sun glasses in an airport loungeJim Young, vacant vacation
life in lateral inversion
a mind full of sunshine
up through the clouds
down with a bumpy landing
reality in the arrival lounge
my name written on a card
i remember who i am
Cycladic villages – how is it that they never get dirty? In Athens, age drips rustily down the walls; on a Cycladic island, the white of village houses is brighter than white, beyond pigment, beyond age. They are like sugar cubes divided by a wet knife. Some islands are ringed by fire but not on fire; they are both dazzling and cooling. White doves tiptoe on the ledge of a white houses. Villages wind mazelike with steep stairs and plastered passages, bursts of bougainvillea and jasmine.
Then there is the blue. If Homer were to describe it now, he might still say that wine-dark sea is agitated, full of shifting, intertwined patterns. Underwater you can see the chain of sailors’ shaped phrases, one hooked to the next. Blue that dissolves as if in a dream and blue as solid as heaven. If Homer were writing now, he might be sending postcards or texts about Ulysses’ long travels. Saw the blue – unfenced. Full of monsters and simmering grudges. Blue – to die for.Jill Pearlman, Homer texting from the islands
many afternoons later, what I remember is
the song of invisible cicadas on the trail up
to the Parthenon, the pink glow of sunsets
painting lesser hilltops, the silence of Sounion,
even the sea only a whisper, and all those
pillars standing in the ruins like broken arms
reaching for the blue stillness. Because memoryRajani Radhakrishnan, Part 57
resides in the ordinary. Little things. That were.
Little things. That weren’t. What I never saw.
He was always there. Entering the darkening theater as the lights went down. He was too tall to miss. Then steel drums and a stage of gorgeous men would bring the Caribbean sea to the shores of Harvard Square. How could I not fall for the color and spectacle, the wildness? The Trinidad Theater Workshop was founded with Walcott’s twin brother in 1959, in the 1990’s plays would travel up to Massachusetts for US premieres such as Dream on Monkey Mountain, the one that I loved most.
It amazed me that a poet could also be a playwright. But Walcott was also a watercolor painter, he was a genius who defied category.
That doesn’t mean that Walcott was well-liked or even deeply respected in the 1990’s before all the awards. I don’t know that Cambridge doyennes knew what to do with him. He was most infamous for the rumors that surrounded his movement across the river—and enough rumors become taken as fact. Story was that Walcott had been asked to leave Harvard due to an affair with a student. The student was of age but had second thoughts when the affair ended. And of course it was more complicated than that—but again—rumor. These were the waters surrounding him when I first met him on the page.
What stays true is his work.
Love after Love
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread, Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
This poem is not typical of his work, but it is one that I return to again and again—as do so many others in the aftermath of love. The sparse language, the sense of a self lost and then the step-by-step struggle to find it again. Can’t you relate?
But the book that convinced me that he was our 20th century Shakespeare (and more) is The Star-Apple Kingdom. I’ve read and re-read it—-first being introduced to the lyrical patterns and cadences in grad school when Garrett Hongo read much of it aloud to our class. “I had no nation now but the imagination,” Shabine states as he leaves home. I had been rootless for years: Scotland, Niger, South Africa, Bosnia, all in quick succession. Here was a poet who claimed his rootlessness—did more than claim it; Walcott elevated rootlessness to epic poetry.Susan Rich, In the Theater with Derek Walcott
My dear friend and colleague, the poet, teacher and academic Sue Dymoke has died.
Though she had been ill for some time, the news came to me (comes to me) as a great shock. I cannot get used to talking about her in the past tense.
We first met, at the turn of the millennium, at the Royal Festival Hall. Jean Sprackland had gathered a group of poet-educators to put some teaching materials together for the nascent Poetry Archive. I knew immediately that I had found someone on my wavelength, whose poetic, pedagogic and academic identities were fully blurred. I went home knowing I had finally met another unicorn.
Sue and I worked on several projects together: the ESRC-funded Poetry Matter series and subsequent books, both with Andrew Lambirth and Myra Barrs; a poetry pedagogy symposium in Porto, also with Andrew, as well as Janine Certo and Laura Apol; a poetry anthology with Unbound, the not-quite-funded (but still amazing) No One You Know, featuring poets talking about their ‘secret- weapon-poems’; and latterly Young Poets’ Stories, funded by the Foyle Foundation, on the writing lives of prizewinning young poets.
It was Sue’s energy and attention to detail that got these projects going and over the line.
Young Poets’ Stories coincided, almost to the day, with the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, which meant that we conducted nearly the entire project online. Coming from different corners of the country, we had previously met up at the British Library, queuing in its chilly courtyard before bagging one of the cafe tables where we took it upon ourselves to compare stationery and cake products, accompanied by more than the legally safe limit of flat whites.Anthony Wilson, In memory of Sue Dymoke
This month has seen the deaths of fierce women. In some ways, that’s true of every month; fierce women often meet fiery ends, and much too soon. This morning, I was sad to hear of the death of Sinead O’Connor, and earlier this month, sad to hear of the death of Minnie Bruce Pratt. Both women faced life circumstances, particularly around motherhood, that I will never have to face; I can make this claim as a post-menopausal woman. Both highlighted the hazards that come from living life on one’s own terms.
O’Connor’s battles were much more public than Pratt’s, who was one of the first to write about the sacrifices that she made when she decided to pay attention to her desires for other women; she lost custody of her sons because of that choice.
I only bought one of O’Connor’s albums, or maybe two. I loved I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, but by the time later work came out, I wasn’t as interested for reasons I no longer remember. I always cheered for her as she took on various causes, even as I wondered if less confrontational tactics might win more believers for those causes. It’s a question I often have–what means justify what ends?
I had some of Pratt’s books, back in the days when I was buying any feminist work I could find, back when more of it was published, back when there were more small presses. I have likely let a lot of that work go, and I do wonder if I’ll regret it, in later days, when books may be harder to find and the power that fuels online collections dwindles/becomes ghastly expensive. I wonder the same thing about all the music that has come through my hands.
If that end time comes, and I’ve read all my books, I’ll just read them again. If I can’t play the music of others, I’ll finally have time to teach myself all the instruments that has been waiting for me. I will be a fierce woman, trying to avoid a fiery end.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Fierce Women, Fiery Ends
Until a couple of years ago I knew little about the singer-songwriter Tori Amos. She’s now responsible for more of my earworms than any other performer. I watch her often on YouTube, comparing performances.
People used to tell me she was like Kate Bush. My favourite Kate Bush song is “Under the Ivy”, which is one of her more Amosish pieces. I think that she has the artistic aspirations of Amos. Bush is less confessional though, and sexuality isn’t her topic or vehicle. Janis Ian in “Watercolors” has some of Amos’ anger, self-criticism, and social awareness. Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album (perhaps still my favourite record) has the reflection and self-questioning that Amos displays. Amos has more control over her voice than all of them. […]
All of the pieces I like are over 25 years old. More recent songs like “Speaking with Trees” sound like re-hashes. I’d rather have a new rendering of “Precious things”. Writers who use their early life as source material can run out of inspiration. Some other writers, even if they’re not always autobiographical, get their best ideas early and spend the rest of their lives raiding their early notebooks – I think Dylan Thomas did that. Such artists in their later years sometimes produce themed, committed work (concept albums, etc) to compensate for their lack of inspiration, it seems to me.Tim Love, Tori Amos
“Enough is so vast a sweetness, I suppose it never occurs, only pathetic counterfeits,” Emily Dickinson lamented in a love letter. In his splendid short poem about the secret of happiness, Kurt Vonnegut exposed the taproot of our modern suffering as the gnawing sense that what we have is not enough, that what we are is not enough.
This is our modern curse: A century of conspicuous consumption has trained us to be dutiful citizens of the Republic of Not Enough, swearing allegiance to the marketable myth of scarcity, hoarding toilet paper for the apocalypse. Along the way, we have unlearned how to live wide-eyed with wonder at what Hermann Hesse called “the little joys” — those unpurchasable, unstorable emblems of aliveness that abound the moment we look up from our ledger of lack.
The poet and etymologist John Ciardi (June 24, 1916–March 30, 1986) offers an uncommonly wonderful wakeup call for this civilizational trance in the out-of-print 1963 gem John J. Plenty and Fiddler Dan (public library) — part fable, part poem, part prayer for happiness.
Written as a long lyric and illustrated with gentle charcoal sketches by the artist and experimental filmmaker Madeliene Gekiere, the story is a soulful — spiritual, even — modern take on Aesop’s famed tale of the grasshopper and the ant, radiating a countercultural invitation to rediscover life’s true priorities amid our confused maelstrom of materialism and compulsive productivity.Maria Popova, The Ant, the Grasshopper, and the Antidote to the Cult of More: A Lovely Vintage Illustrated Poem About the Meaning and Measure of Enough
My recent poetry residency was at a seminary, so the symbols of Christianity were all around me, the Christs and the crosses, the benevolent and grieving Marys, as was nature — trees and flowering bushes and moss. And poison ivy. But I got thinking a lot about this quote I passed every day on my way to the dining hall. It’s from the book of Micah, a book I had never heard of.
Micah (or Mi-ca-yahoo — “who is like Yahweh”) was a prophet from 8thC BCE. The quote on the stone says: “What is required of us? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
As a poet, of course, I want to ask: which translation? And as a poet too, I’ve been given to contemplating those words, individually. […]
And finally this “humbly” thing. I’ve spoken of this word before. It is from words meaning lowly, or, literally on the ground or from the Earth. Which we are, I guess, we beings: a bit of earth, a bit of star, some spit, and these minds, so cunning, so easily scarred with memory and pain, and joy. And setting aside the comic image that arises when I think of “walk” and “on the ground” together, although I guess, in the human body, the act of walking is a constant falling and catching-of-a-fall, this idea is nice: of walking humbly alongside the divine, just listening rather than prattling along trying to impress or curry favor. Being companionable with the divine on an amble through the trees. Just listening.Marilyn McCabe, Hash browns over easy; or, On Chewing Over Words
I am very little.
My arm is upraised
because we are holding hands,
as if I’m asking to be noticed.
When we arrive at the ice cream shop,
the glass brick fills my field of vision.
It is both mundane and magical,
like the wall of a ruined castle.
This memory contains no ice cream.Jason Crane, POEM: No Ice Cream
I recently spoke to a group of MA students at Oxford University. The event was called “The Writer’s Life.” Presumably, I was there to provide insight into the arc of my career 10 years after my own graduation from Oxford. I had given a similar talk for Poets & Writers’ “Mapping the Maze” in the spring, and in both cases, recognized that this wasn’t the moment for my usual glib extempore or self-deprecating humor. Or, rather—since there was still plenty of that—I knew I needed to write out my remarks, because the truth is that what has made the greatest difference in my own journey, and the reason I’ve sustained my practice at all, has nothing to do with the occasional signposts of career success and everything to do with having a strong why.
Readers, you may already recognize the truth in this. That for all the grit, stamina, and sheer effort you exert, nothing is as sustaining as a strong why. That why is a safeguard against everything from existential despair to bitterness to paralyzing self-doubt when faced with the blank page. It is the energetic vein binding the essential you—not the ego you—to the task at hand. It is what makes the process—not just the product—rewarding, which ensures continuity and true purpose.Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday
I am still caught in a strange place with the new poems, unsure of what direction, if any, they want to go. There are about a dozen, but I haven’t decided what sort of animal they will eventually be. Without daily writing exploits most of July, I have been directing more efforts toward the visual side of things most days, including just making random collage animations for IG in addition to more series-based projects (see above.). I will be working this month on recording and making video poems for the VILLAINS series, so keep an eye out for that in September, as well as an impending zine for that batch of HOME IMPROVEMENTS collages and poems, probably coming toward the end of this month. I have more diversions planned for fall, including another haunted dollhouse advent project, the Henry James-inspired governess zine, and more in the works over the next two months.
As we enter back-to-school season, once again the month of August feels disorienting, disconnected as I am to an academic calendar after decades of being firmly entrenched. My own nearly 20 years of schooling, then the library job at the elementary school, then over two decades at Columbia and an MFA program nested inside it. It’s hard not to see September as a new beginning and August as an ending of sorts. It is perhaps why most of my autumn endeavors seem more serious than the writing I do in the spring or summer. How it feels like a time that calls for weightier projects.Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 7/31/2023
I wish we hadLuisa A. Igloria, Abundance
a story of abundance as point of origin, but without
anyone having to steal fire or be muted into a statue
or a bird. We remember to skim pearls from the froth
of rice wine, decanting a sacrament for wonder.
Before lowering our heads to drink, we hang
cuts of meat in the branches for the ravenous birds
of death or uncertain fortune— You hear them stab
the water, beings that can swallow a thing whole.
I want to return to innocence & from innocence to shadow. I want to return to shadow & from shadow to river. I want to return to river & from river to the crossroads. I want to return to the crossroads & from the crossroads to song. I want to return to song & from song to your heart. I want to return to your heart & from your heart to a home.Rich Ferguson, What the river-voiced hallelujah sings
is it true that earth has never uttered a word
that silence and stone make soul
in the clear mind of rain
aren’t we randomGrant Hackett [no title]