Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 15

Poetry Blogging Network

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

Poetry Month continues. We write about writing (of course), family, and flowers real and artificial, we write about favorite poems and the poetics of travel, teaching exercises, abilities and disabilities. We pay attention.


Along with the fiery nature of Aries and the blossoming of spring comes April and National Poetry Month in the US.

One of my main inspirations has been the poetry of Jericho Brown and his new collection, The Tradition.

His essay about invention (titled “Invention”) and how writing poetry was how he confronted the panic of possible death has also inspired me to write every day. Poetry is a means of survival.

I’ve been trying to write at least some lines of poetry every day as a challenge to extract myself from the mini-depression I went through this winter.

Winter was dark, rainy, muddy. Even in March, depression clung to me, like sticky hands holding me down.

When the sticky webs started to feel like a cocoon, I understood on a more personal level TS Eliot’s opening lines in The Waste Land:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers

Christine Swint, NaPoWriMo 2019

I have written maybe five poems that I’ve liked so far this month, and lots of weird fragments. The black hole (of course) inspired one, and somehow every time I have to walk into a hospital in spring I write a poem about it. I’m also working up the courage to send out my two in-progress poetry manuscripts out some more – one is very political and feminist, and the other is more somber in tone, about getting diagnosed with cancer and then MS, and all the surrounding solar flares and eclipses. I also have to send out some work – during my down time after AWP, I’ve gotten lots of poems back (hello rejections!) so I have to get on the ball. I was encouraged that I got a positive, ‘send more’ rejection from the one piece of fiction I had out – I don’t have more, but it was nice. I may try to write another fiction piece this month if I get inspired – it’s much harder work for me than writing poems. I listened to a Sylvia Plath reading and realized how much her sense of line and sound – I started reading her at around 19 – had influenced my own work. Her voice was pretty great, too, kind of deep and clipped and a pronounced New England accent. I also have a review or two to do. I find that reviewing takes a different kind of mental energy than poetry writing – or even fiction writing. I also have plenty of reading from the stack I brought home from AWP!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy National Poetry Month, April Gloom (and Blooms,) and More Post-AWP Thoughts

Each day I’m carving out a little time–maybe just fifteen minutes–to draft something, a poem or the seed of one. This morning I responded to a request from someone who wants poems about Mina Loy. I ended up rereading most of The Lost Lunar Baedeker, which is really teaching-prep, too, because I’ll teach Modern U.S. Poetry in the fall and book orders are just around the corner. I hadn’t spent serious hours with this collection in years and was newly struck by all the beautiful poems about aging. When I was 49, I thought I’d write a suite of poems about my poetic idols when THEY were 49. I ended up writing one sonnet about Edna St. Vincent Millay then quit, because it was so damn depressing. 49 is apparently not the happiest age for women poets. Now, past the hinge of 50, finding Loy’s intelligent take on what she calls the “excessive incognito” of “An Aged Woman” is such a gift. Plus Loy’s coinage “Bewilderness,” which appears in a poem about widowhood called “Letters of the Unliving,” is my new favorite word. I have the most fun when wandering a vague landscape you could call by that name–sort of working, sort of playing around.

Lesley Wheeler, Errant in the Bewilderness

Writing a poem a day or even two for GloPoWriMo means I often have to scurry around for subjects. I’ve been doing prompt a day since August and it’s no surprise that sometimes the same theme comes up. I’ve had Brexit twice, mythical animals, smells, colours about four times, pets, ect. I don’t want to rehash old subjects unless I can really see a new avenue to explore, so I’m not holding myself back from looking at ideas that maybe feel a bit too personal or too close to the bone if they pop into my head for a prompt. 

I’ve often avoiding writing about my family, my childhood in the past, not because anything too horrible happened, but it feels like it’s not only mine to use. Many of the people I could write about are alive and might take my delving into past moments they are connected to as an invasion of their privacy. Others are dead, but living members might not like their ‘dirty laundry’ being aired in public, however limited the poetry reading public may be. I don’t use names, but I guess if you know my family it wouldn’t be hard to trace relationships.  

Gerry Stewart, Home Truths

Did the fire in my brain come before or after the fire
in my mouth? My mother will never tell, and the records
have all been lost. All we know is there was burning, a pyre,
nerves gone haywire; we know there was a scream, a cry, a cord
anchoring one end of a wire at a fixed place, flashpoint
channeled from this, here, toward infinite possibility.

PF Anderson, It Happened So Long Ago

Talk to me about
department store windows,
or that lime-green bag
you took from my closet.

Your friend who’s divorcing:
what’s her new house like?
Tell me about the red buds
on the tips of the maple

or my grandson’s new haircut
that makes him look thirteen.
Tell me something about the world
that will make me miss being alive.

Rachel Barenblat, Request

After-life is waiting, treading water.
Hovering there beyond the sun as I sit
in my bones and pull blankets over
my head. Church bells count the hours
until there is no more weaving of fine wool
or forging of metal.

Charlotte Hamrick, Call and Response

According to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, between now and the late April rains one should tend to the graves of one’s ancestors. This period goes by the name 清明, or qīngmíng, and the weeks are designated “clear and bright.”

In my part of the world, we experience a mix of rainy and clear; but the days are warming and the grass greener. The annual winter weeds pull up easily, and the tough perennial weeds emerge before the grasses. The moist, newly-thawed soil makes levering those weeds less difficult now than later in the year.

I, however, do not live anywhere near my ancestors’ graves.

~

Clearing

Clear the patch that yields
to memory
clutch the hand hoe
and the trowel
disturbing early spring’s
small bees and gnats
beneath the plum’s
blossoming branches […]

Ann E. Michael, Tending, clearing

The outlandish pink trees
shake their stiff crinolines
and the whole theater stirs.
The audience feels
loved like brides
in a world of divorces.

Too  frilly,
too old-fashioned,
the critics huffed.
The management closed the show,
closed the whole theater.

Only the caretaker
sees the pink trees dance.
They still dance,
so out of hand,
so outlandishly beautiful,
to the wind’s applause.

Anne Higgins, The Pink Trees of Emmitsburg

They say she was barely nineteen
when she was widowed
soaked her body in kashayam made with liquorice root  
embalmed the face in neem paste.

There is a type of plant that serves as fences
even goats do not eat the leaves
breeze does not pass between the branches

whorls of leaves
masquerade as flowers.

Uma Gowrishankar, A story for the month: Panguni

I love this poem because I don’t know it; it makes me wander off and research things. It’s a sort of crossword puzzle that I’m not sure I’ll ever fully solve, but which feels like a life-giving exercise. I had to look up another reader’s explication of this poem just to understand that the title is a reference to Audre Lorde’s 1984 essay “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” That shows how far I still have to go with this poem (and, obviously, my education in many things). Some poems you get in a heartbeat; others make you look and wonder and read.

Amy Miller, 30 Great Poems for April, Day 12: “The Master’s House” by Solmaz Sharif

Just two things to say about a poem that speaks richly for itself: first off, it demands to be read aloud; you need to hear the repetitions of the rondeau redouble, it’s assonance and consonance, and not be distracted by how it looks on the page. The second thing, for me, is the business of belonging, the tug of distance and of the rhythms of migration. The fear of stasis. I love the clinching snap of that triplet
My life has become a segment of white
that my family fold neatly and stow – 
all clasps on the trunk snapped tight

John Foggin, Wise sisters (2). Elizabeth Sennitt Clough

I’d never heard of Ari Banias before and never heard of the poem – which you can read here.  I chose it because I like the word ‘Fountain’ and I also like fountains, there’s something cheerful and lively about them although, thinking about it, perhaps they waste a lot of water?  Anyway, without ever having read the poem and knowing nothing about it, I started cycling and listening.

The first thing I noticed and liked about ‘Fountain’ is the breath of the poem, if you understand what I mean.  It seems composed of short lines, or lines of unequal lengths, and short thoughts, as opposed to longer thoughts and sentences.  The poem has a fragmentary, breathless feel.  I found the poem interesting, I wanted to keep listening, to know what was happening and what the poem’s speaker was doing/thinking, although it starts off as simply someone sitting by a fountain in Paris and describing what they see.  In the short preamble before we hear ‘Fountain’ read, the editors and the poet explain that the poem captures some of Banias’ observations while he was living in Paris for a few months.  He aimed to pay close attention to close details, it was explained, but also to notice what was happening next to famous sights and landmarks.

My ears pricked up at these comments because I’m interested in getting better at writing about place.  True to his word, the poet does observe small details about what is happening next to the famous landmark ie: “When the language teacher talks about le capitalisme: / the gesture of three fingers rubbing imaginary fabric” and “Across the courtyard, this T-shirt on a hanger out the window / turns in the light breeze as if trying to look behind itself.” The poet also tells us about himself – “I’m a tourist, vulnerable and stupid, / my legs showing, shoes practical, face red.” and later “I’m consumed with not knowing where to buy paper, safety pins, stamps.”

Josephine Corcoran, Listening to ‘Fountain’ by Ari Banias & other poems

Except for work, I could go for weeks without conversation.
Weekends, a 25 cent streetcar ride to Ocean Beach.
Poetry readings somewhere almost every night,
Sit in the back and scribble in my notebook.
Smoking pot openly on the street, never a problem.
Or spend all day in the stacks at the SF library
Reading books from 1910, forgotten poets.
I had no past, no future, lived day to day.
Lucky Strikes. Street vendor hot dogs. Jack Spicer poems.
That summertime layer of fog across the city and the bay.

James Lee Jobe, ‘The 1970s. San Francisco, Mission St, between 2nd St & 16th.’

So, I walked. Where do all those kilometers of pattern lead? I wondered. To the plazas, certainly, but then they wind out, up another hill, into a narrow maze of streets, curving out and down again to the edge of the sea, along the edges of buildings the color of marigolds, lavender, sky, up into the maze again. It is a city that leads the walker to walk, but toward what? Toward incompleteness itself, perhaps. The image at the top of this post shows the only conclusion I found: a place where the pattern changed into green growth and light, at the end of a small dark tunnel.

I also kept a journal with some drawings, which I’m still adding to; I’ll probably share them here as time goes on. But I struggled with making art there. I had the sense that drawing and photographing were, to some extent, futile — I left Lisbon feeling that it was impossible to capture its essence, because we cannot capture incompleteness, absence, and longing, even in the present age where the emphasis is on having a “complete experience”, of checking items off a list, taking selfies at the proscribed spots to prove we were there. The Time Out Market, a concept that was first tried in Lisbon, is a perfect example: the tourist doesn’t need to discover anything for him or herself; they can just go to a centrally-located and packaged “destination market” where a curated selection of upscale restaurants and  shops have stalls with the same signage, the same style, offering a sample of their wares. It’s enticing on the first visit; on the second, not so much. All major cities will soon have these markets, and they will all look alike, too.

Better then, perhaps, to write in fragments, like Pessoa, or to express feelings in music, or simply to reflect on experience in solitude. Even as a brief visitor, I sensed Lisbon’s elusive, melancholic undercurrent, and I find I’m appreciating it even more now that I am home.

Beth Adams, Lisbon

Sometimes I read over a student’s response and realize they’ve missed the historical context or have no knowledge of an entire school of thought. I panic. How can I give them what they need to advance their work? How can I help them fill this gap in their education?

Then I remind myself that we all have gaps, also wens, scars, and willful blindspots. That the best thing I can offer to my students are maps and questions. I can’t give them the destination to which I’ve already traveled, because the journey is the purpose.

I can keep reminding them to pay attention. That good writing (and good living) is made out of 100% paying attention. This means allocating space, filtering distractions, and making choices that foster awareness.

For me, it’s all about the walk in the woods that turns up a volunteer pansy blossoming too early in the season. A small yellow amongst so much leaf litter. And then at my desk, remembering that the name “pansy” is thought to be derived from pensée, French for thought or remembrance. And that another name for pansy is “heart’s ease.” All the layers, all of the focused attention on this world. All of it poetry. 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Mind the gap

Alison Peligran does a lot with origami:

–Students write poems on origami paper, fold their poems into shapes, and then leave them across campus, a harmless “vandalism.”  She offers this site for learning how to make these shapes, and she recommends the videos.

–Students could make poems into origami boats that they set sail in the water.

–Her students left strips of poems in a huge oak tree on campus.

–She also created a poetry scavenger hunt, where students looked for lines that she had hidden on campus and assembled them into a poem.

She says that transforming the poem into an object is transformative.  Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil agrees.  She said that creating a 3 dimensional object leads us to new places , letting our guard down when creating together.  She talked about creating poems pasted to bowling balls, murals, matchbooks, and of course, the chapbook–there’s a slide that shows how to make a staple-less chapbook, but it looks quite complicated, although she claimed it’s simple.

I was most intrigued by Nezhukumatathil’s snow globe erasure poem idea.  She creates snow globes out of jars, glue, glitter, and a poem inside.  As the clumps of glitter fall on the poem, voila!  an erasure poem.  She gives them to students during week 1, and each week, they shake the globe and get a new poem idea from the erasure.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Artistic Play in the Creative Writing Classroom and Beyond

Dear Reader:

It’s been 2,259 frequent flyer miles, one published poem, a ton of new books and literary reviews to read, one reading in Portland, an introduction to yoga and one month since my last confession.

It’s National Poetry Month. Take a poetry pill for your anxiety. It’s good for you and will do you no harm.

It’s been a busy month since my last confession with AWP at the end of March. I confess that seeing Portland for the first time was interesting. The scenery and topography were surprising to me. I must confess I  had visited Oregon numerous times in the past on the Oregon trail, but I don’t think Portland as such existed back then. I was usually running low on supplies and had lost other people in my party to dysteria.  That’s what I remember most about it.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – So Many Books To Read

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Access all Poetry in which I talked about poetry in terms of its accessibility for disabled poets and audiences. I spent Thursday night reading poetry at Spike Island with deaf poet Donna Williams and paralysed poet Stephen Lightbown. […]

Stephen was launching his first full collection, Only Air published by Burning Eye books.

Stephen’s range of poetry was as varied as Donna’s. There were reflective ones about his life since the sledging accident that left him paralysed — the cover photo of his collection is of the tree in question. There were also humorous ones such as one about footballer Alan Shearer who, when he played for Blackburn Rovers, visited the hospital where Stephen was recovering. Alan was present at Spike Island courtesy of a huge poster of him in his Blackburn Rovers kit which fell off the wall during the reading of the poem … I reckon he thought he was in the penalty area and took a dive ;)

Giles L. Turnbull, Spiky Poetry

Exercises for Achilles

Finding comfort in discomfort.
An involuntary but necessary
slowing
at the bottom of the staircase –
attention to healing

Ren Powell, April 11, 2019

You were the quick thing, and I.   The
dull, heavy.    The sliding shut    thing.
The narrowing of breath until it grew
still.    The not knowing what to.   The
hands, big.   The fingers, blunt.  What
to do with big, blunt, but squeeze.

Romana Iorga, The Snare

Finally, after my 100th round, I stopped overthinking every single thing and just let the instruction in. Even though bullets and brass were flying all around me, everything went silent and still. My mind let go, and all that existed in the universe was that front sight on my target. My shots hit the bullseye in quick succession, and I was flooded with pure joy at the elegance of it all. Finding that moment of perfect attention and focus felt like magic. Everything vanished except the exact moment I was in and the task that was before me. It’s a feeling I have had sometimes while doing things that require total focus, like stage acting, but I’ve also had it when simply walking along a lake or standing in line at Burger King. I know better than to chase after it, but I sure would like more of it in my life.

Kristen McHenry, Electricity Shamed, Unorthodox Meditation, Sprucin’ Up

We ask, is this poem desirable?  Is this poem fuckable?  The slip of sex between the garter and the thigh.  The high of swing sets and car accidents. The fragments of the self cast off like feathers. I was a monster in the mix and no one could see it.  Scribbling my words across the backs of men that were other women’s husbands. When asked, I could lie and say I made it up.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #12 & #13

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 14

Poetry Blogging Network

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

A lot of poets are writing a poem a day this month, and bloggers seem split between those willing to share their rough drafts and those who prefer to post already published pieces instead. I’ve shared snippets of both sorts of poems below, and I defy anyone to identify without clicking through which are which. (Please note that if I’ve shared a quote from a poem that you plan to later take down so that you can submit it somewhere, shoot me an email or message me on Twitter so I can erase the evidence here!) Also in the mix: musings on language and poetry, surviving the AWP, and working in collage and other media and genres. And I love Amy Miller’s Poetry Month project of writing about a favorite poem every day, in posts that are the perfect bloggish blend of the personal and the analytical.


I took this week off from work and have spent most of it writing poems, writing poetry reviews, setting up a new website for publishing poetry chapbook reviews, submitting poems, writing poems. Sort of a trial run for retirement. I can’t wait to have more time to write, more control over my schedule, more reading, writing, reviewing poetry.

For the something-ith year (10th I think) I am writing a poem-a-day for April. After a couple of poems, I realized that I am writing a sonnet cycle. I am excited about this!

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse is Poetry Month with a Vegan Twist

I will blame the blueness in the sky
the berries fallen and crushed under feet, seeds carried away by wind

the plain breasted bird on a dying tree.
Sun soaks through everything, stitches specialness into the ordinary

Uma Gowrishanker, where poems hide

Not named for the coarse open fabric of flags,
but named after sifting seeds,
after  blue dye from hairy blooms of the legume family
in India, Indigo Buntings flash,
hue of the portion of the visible spectrum from blue to violet
evoked in the human observer
by radiant energy,
by iridescence in flight.

Anne Higgins, In the hand of the bander

Isn’t it funny how the words super and superb are so close to each other orthographically, and close in meaning, and yet one is considered plebian while the other is a lofty, almost snobbish choice?

Super: 1) of a high grade or quality; 2) very large or powerful.

Superb: 1) marked to the highest degree by grandeur, excellence, brilliance or competence.

It’s almost as if back in 1802, someone who couldn’t handle consonant clusters downgraded superb to super, stripping away the ‘grandeur, excellence’ etc.

Sarah J. Sloat, I open my mouth and there it is

A poet
might vajazzle a cloaca with ommatidia
just because they like the sparkle and bounce of the words, but
trust me, you do not want to see those words put together.
Pray they don’t add a sprinkling of blastomeres for some cleavage,
or knit neuroglia over biofilm for a net
to scrunch into a purple nictitating membrane. What
it comes down to is no one quite wants a poet’s body.

PF Anderson, On Making Beautiful Monsters

Poets don’t assume a thing is just a thing—they look beyond the obvious truths for the truths that require more digging. And that comes to the second thing Keita said that I wrote down in my notebook: “the impulse to research changes everything.” I underlined that three times, because that is such a powerful truth about poetry, writing poetry, and the urge to create. Creating isn’t so much about making something new as it is finding new ways to experience the old (or the things that already exist). [M. Nzadi] Keita went on to talk about the world as multiple words, and the need to acknowledge and sort through the many layers of it. This, she said, is a de-centering experience, and poets thrive on that de-centering.

Grant Clauser, Not Taking for Granted: Notes on Why Poetry

Read “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” in the online journal Jellyfish Review here.

This hybrid poem/prose piece by Kathy Fish, published in the online journal Jellyfish Review just after the mass shooting at the Route 21 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, went viral in October 2017. When I read it at the time, it gave me shivers. The poem stuck with me, particularly those last few hair-raising lines.

But by the time I came back to this poem a few months ago, in my mind it had grown; I remembered it as being a long, list-y poem. So I was surprised to read it again and find that it’s actually very short, concise, even lean—and I think that’s one of its great strengths, the fact that it can start out so larky, sweet, offhand, and then so quickly take that dark turn at the end. Its whiplash is swift and sure. I also love the fact that it’s not exactly a poem, though many regard it as one; it’s a great example of the flexibility of hybrid forms. This is one of those poems that make me think anything is possible with words.

Amy Miller, 30 Great Poems for April, Day 4: “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” by Kathy Fish

When you have a rabbi for a daughter
sometimes you get texts from the hearse.
You must have known what I was doing:
reminding myself that I still had a mother,
bracing against — well, now: not being able
to reach you to talk about purses or friends
as the cemetery’s energy slowly drained.

Rachel Barenblat, Texts from the hearse

The walls are thin, transparent.
Angels stand at right angles.
I close my eyes to see the bees
breaking and entering. Honeycomb
dipped in sorrow. Eyeballs
rolling like grapes on my palm.
I see a handful of pennies fallen
through the grate. Shallow sludge,
the refuse of a city feigning sleep.

Romana Iorga, Falling Asleep with Carpenter Bees

The bottomland rose up behind you,
a hard, broken ripening.
You sewed yourself by thirds out of your softness,
holding all of you out of the sun
to feel yourself settle in.
You ran into the bottomland’s cloudy eye.

Charlotte Hamrick, Stones & Moss

The woman holds inside herself
for nine months the evolving child
and every moment is one of multiplying,
expending energy during the wait
which may result in either life
or death. Even the Zen place of repose
requires breath: action, inhalation,
oxygenation, illumination. Notice:
this morning, the plum trees blossomed.

Ann E. Michael, Patience

It rained at Spring Equinox, and
A beautiful quiet filled the house
In the dark just before sunrise;
There was only the sound of the rain
And my wife yelling for more
Toilet paper.

James Lee Jobe, ‘It rained at Spring Equinox, and’

Strange to navigate the busy waters of the Cork International Poetry Festival, and then the very next week–from a distance, via social media–watch writers navigate the even busier waters of the AWP Conference in Portland, Oregon. I managed to photograph every reader I saw in the Cork Arts Theater, except for closing night when my phone died. (Note that this happened mid-email. So I spent an agonizing twenty minutes wondering if I was standing up Kim Addonizio. Luckily, she got the message and made her way to Cask to meet up for dinner.) The downside of the phone dying is that I can’t show you Kim’s awesome shoes, or the sweet interplay between Billy Collins and Leanne O’Sullivan, a rising star of Irish poetry who had received the Farmgate Café National Poetry Award earlier in the week. The upside is that I was able to relax and fully inhabit those moments. 

Sandra Beasley, Teaching (& Festival-ing!) in Cork

The next morning I woke up brighter and more alert and ready to take on my Friday, which included the first event: a book signing for PR for Poets at the Two Sylvias Booth, where I got to visit with my beautiful editors, Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy – really well attended, thanks to everyone who came by and bought books! It was a wonderful opportunity to chat – albeit briefly – with some people I have been friends with online for literally over a decade! I could hardly breathe because I was hugging so many people. Really, I love doing readings and panels, but hugging your friends is the best part of AWP, or telling someone how much their book meant, or thanking editors/publishers. It’s the people that make the event what it is. Swag is terrific, but human interaction between writers is even better.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Poetry Month! And AWP Report, Part I: Welcome to Portland! Disability Readings, Disability Issues, and Seeing Writers in Real Life

One of my favorite poetry publishers, in fact, they’re my dream publisher, is Write Bloody. They publish amazing poets and poetry that constantly inspires and awes me. And so of course I stopped by their table at the book fair. As I flipped through books I chatted with the woman standing beside me. It wasn’t till she walked to the other side of the table that I realized I’d been talking to the author of the book I held in my hands. So of course I bought the book and snapped a picture with Seema Reza. And, as it turns out, she’s a local DC poet and she’ll be at an upcoming Readings on the Pike so I’ll get to see her again soon!

I went to a panel titled, How We Need Another Soul to Cling To: Writing Love Poems in Difficult Times. During that panel I heard, for the first time, Meg Day, read their poems. Let me just say, the poems Meg read completely wowed me. After the reading I fangirled over Meg and they were kind enough to take a picture with me. *swoon* Seriously, I may have fallen in love a little bit, they are that amazing.

And absolutely worth mentioning – the time I spent with my friends, connecting with fellow writers, sharing meals and glasses of wine, attending readings together. The camaraderie rejuvenated me and my heart was filled.

Courtney LeBlanc, I Survived AWP

I know some people go to AWP to network, to roam the Book Fair, to attend off-sites and book-signings, and to hear the keynote speakers. These are important reasons, and I’ve done my share. However, my main reason for spending the time and money that AWP requires is to get ideas for writing and/or teaching. To that end, I have a process I’ll share with you.

As soon as I get home, I get out my notebook and the conference program. For each panel I attended, I locate the panel description in the program, and then I write down the title, the date, and the names of the people who gave the panel. Then I write. After I fill up a page or two, I highlight anything that stands out. Then I look for connections, circling that which seems related.

For example, I attended a panel titled “Mind-Meld: Re-imagining Creative Writing and Science.” As I wrote, I remembered that panelist Adam Dickinson stated that he’d used himself as a science experiment. He talked about the psychological stress of testing himself daily to see what chemicals and bacteria lurked within his body. He also mentioned that serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for well-being, is made in the gut. As you can see from the page in my notebook, I connected this idea to others I’d remembered from the panel: [Click through to view the photo.]

Erica Goss, Getting the Most Out of AWP

A week ago, I’d be waking up in Portland, eating a hearty breakfast, getting ready to figure out the mass transit system to make my way to the Convention Center.  As I think back over all the AWP sessions I attended, the one that made me want to ditch the rest of the conference to approach my writing in a new way was the one on Intersections of Poetry and Visual Art at 10:30 on Thursday.

My brain had already been thinking about this possibility (see this blog post from December, for example). […]

It made me want to return to some poems and see if parts of them might make good sketching prompts.  I was interested in the process of the poets at the AWP session.  As you might expect, they approached the intersection of visual art and poetry from a variety of angles:  some of the poets and artists worked in true collaboration, in some the words came first and then images, and then one woman worked more as a collage artist. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Intersections of Poetry and Visual Art

Influenced by a Winston Plowes poetry workshop a couple of weeks ago (see previous post ‘Butterflies of the Night‘), the work of poet and artist Helen Ivory, and the boxes of Joseph Cornell, here’s my latest composite fiction. [Click through for the photo.]

I’ve used the found text I am devoted to nobody but myself as a starting point, then created a series of paper butterflies using copies of a photograph of myself taken when I was 19. Although I’ve worked with a single photograph, each butterfly is unique. The whole thing has been incredibly time-consuming but utterly absorbing. Partly, it’s been a problem-solving exercise, and that’s good because it’s made me think in a different way. It’s been a case of literally thinking outside the box!

Julie Mellor, I am devoted to nobody but myself

By summer 2004, I was going all in on visual exploits, and it coincided with the very beginnings of the press, so I was designing the first few covers as well. I took a summer collage workshop at the Center for Book & Paper (it kills me this no longer exists, I was considering another ill-advised masters degree if they still offered it to bone up on my bookmaking skills.)  By 2008 or so, I’d also made quite a bit of money selling originals, prints, and paper goods online–far more than I will probably ever make as a writer.  I had finally found the medium that did not depend on me having to render anything perfectly at all.   In having to struggle with how I expected something to look vs. how it ended up looking.  With collage, so much is happenstance, depending on what bits and pieces you have available.

I’ve mentioned before, how the form actually also changed me as a writer, in my approach to composition. The poems I wrote in late 2004 and early 2005 were written very different from the poems I was writing before and were far better for it.  Writing, which I’d always approached as a very serious endeavor with an intended aim in mind, a point of success or failure,  became much more..well..FUN.  Collages (and by proxy poems)  are more this wild territory where anything can happen, I don’t really know what I will get, and therefore, am always usually pretty happy with the results. Even my adventures in other mediums, the ones I most enjoy, have a certain experimental approach–abstract watercolors, nature prints, ink painting. What happens tends to happen and it’s the discovery that is always the best part. (I could easily say this about most of my writing these days as well.)  Sometimes the mistakes and trip-ups are the most interesting elements. Sometimes, they lead to other possibilities or change the course of the river.

Sometimes, I truly have no idea where I am going or what will come of it.  It’s actually kind of awesome…

Kristy Bowen, wild territory | adventures in collage

I was just putting together some notes for a poetry workshop I’m giving to the general public in April, which is, of course “poetry month.” I would not usually offer a “poetry” workshop. Rather the workshops I have offered ask people to just think creatively and imaginatively and not worry about what genre comes out.

In my intro notes to this workshop (the host organization said I could “do anything I wanted but it had to be focused on poetry”) I want to say something like what this article said, the idea of letting the work figure out its own form. This is part of the mysterious process of making.

Marilyn McCabe, Make Me an Angel; or, On Not Committing to a Genre

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 12

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: wildlife and wild lives; imperfect bodies; off-beat workshops; archives, glossaries, and anthologies; cultivating attention and being attentive to others; preparing for AWP and preparing for NaPoWriMo.


Try to read spirit and this
ensues: writing shivers, a trick,
a tease. Creatures shifting shape
can’t pause at the mirror to preen.
Someone wears nine tails;
something prepares to change
by burning all the words.
A smoke of fox escapes.

Lesley Wheeler, A smoke of fox escapes

Yesterday, I wrote about my Thursday encounter with a fox while taking an early morning walk through my neighborhood.  I’ve continued to think about that fox.  We don’t live near a forest.  How did it come to live here?  I think of its family, its extended network, living in this non-native habitat.  And then I wondered if maybe it was once a native habitat of foxes before we paved it over.

As I drove through my neighborhood on my way to the grocery store this morning, I saw a thin man walking barefoot through my neighborhood.  I might not have noticed, except that earlier this week, I saw a different thin man walking barefoot through my neighborhood.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Neighborhood Encounters

In the car, our son stared
at the darkness. Our daughter wept:
“He’s frightened the deer.
She’s kicking to get away.”

The doe jerked, paused. “No,”
I said, “Your father is touching it.
Soothing it, so it will not die alone.”

Ann E. Michael, Deer metaphor

When Lauren Davis read from her chapbook, Each Wild Thing’s Consent (Poetry Wolf Press, 2018), at Imprint Books in Port Townsend WA, where she works as a bookseller, I understood why she chose to read the less risky poems in this very daring chapbook, but I’ll admit I was disappointed. When the first poem in a Table of Contents is titled “Vulvodynia,” you’d really have to trust your audience. But to her crafty credit, Davis intersperses poems about sexual encumbrance with gorgeous, very Pacific Northwest nature poems. And it renders everything enticing, as it should be. For what is sexuality if not nature?

On the other hand, you can’t look at the book’s cover (a photo with the understated title “Red Petaled Flower in Selective-color Photography,” credit: Donald Tong) without thinking of vulva. As with a Georgia O’Keefe painting, you can’t look without gazing, or gaze without longing. And here is where the marriage of wild life and the external female genitalia is clinched.

Risa Denenberg, Each Wild Thing’s Consent

She is not perfectly constructed-
and for that, I love her.
Her dress doesn’t match her hair,
sea urchin spines hang like nunchucks
from her belt and she only has one breast.

Sarah Stockton, A Doll is a Poem is a Woman is a Yes

Awake now, I remember the story

my chaplaincy supervisor told
about the patient who went on and on

about dysfunctional plumbing.
The punchline was, she was talking

about her own body and didn’t know it.

Rachel Barenblat, Dream

like not being able to remember a dream you cannot wake up from

like the scarecrow you once knew when he was a rake

like living inside a bubble in a fish’s ear full of the consonants of waves

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, likes again / som’er igen

Our subject was moths and the writing was generated by listing ideas and descriptions that were suggested by looking in very close detail at some live moths which Winston had collected the night before and stowed in the fridge! Looking at these butterflies of the night close up almost made me forget they were moths at all. In fact, l had everything from forks to typewriters in my notes. That, l believe, is the power of poetry and somewhere at the heart of why we do it. But it is also the sign of a really good workshop so thank you, Winston Plowes, for making me see the world a little differently.

Julie Mellor, Butterflies of the night and a 3D poem

Eight of us from the book-art group ABCD achieved more than seemed possible in two days of Tom’s  teaching. Three books each! Two with hard covers and head-bands! One with a leather spine and raised bands! When people ask (they do, sometimes) what sort of books I made, I have always described myself as a coarse binder. Now I’ve had a brief taste of fine binding. I’m rather proud of my hand-dyed indigo book-cloth and end-papers, and the red glove-leather that clings to the spine like a tight-fitting evening gown.

Ama Bolton, Bookbinding with Tom O’Reilly

My personal archive is now officially part of the Georgia State University Library Special Collections and Archive. The first two boxes, which were actually delivered late last year, contained copies of my books, original manuscripts, early journalism, press materials and more. There are many more boxes to come, and will eventually include correspondence, my journals, early writing and ephemera. Last week, Franklin Abbott (who also donated his archive to GSU) interviewed me for a videotaped oral history that will soon be available on YouTube. I have quietly been in the process of organizing my archive for more than a year. It’s a process that will continue until I depart this realm.  Many thanks to archivist Morna Gerrard, who has made this process so stress-free and is an absolute delight to work with. I am grateful, honored and more than a little gobsmacked that my writing has, literally, found not one, but two forever homes. My titles with Sibling Rivalry Press are also part of the Library of Congress’ Rare Books and Special Collection vault thanks to publisher Bryan Borland and editor-in-chief Seth Pennington.

Collin Kelley, Update: Georgia State Archive, reading with Dustin Lance Black, a new review

How much background info does the reader need? If I reference a myth connected to a creature, do I need to explain it to them or can I just use the imagery from it and hope if they’re interested they’ll look it up themselves, as long as my connections to the images and the myth work within the poem on their own.

Yeats never mentioned Zeus in ‘Leda and the Swan’ and I remember a teacher having to explain the myth to the class, though I knew it. Does the power of the poem still hold if you don’t know the story? I don’t want to spoon-feed my reader info, but in some poems there are certain bits of info that would help the reader to understand better, so I do have to include that. Do I have to explain every Finnish word or cultural reference, include a glossary in my book or can I leave some to context?

Gerry Stewart, Grounding

I’ve just finished reviewing Filigree: Contemporary Black British Poetry (Peepal Tree Press, 2018) for Under the Radar magazine. There are seventy poems by approximately 45 Black and Asian British poets, a good range of backgrounds, ages, ethnicity, fame in the poetry world.  Many very strong poems and a delicious variety of subject matter and poetic styles – this book would be brilliant for a writing/reading group and would also be good to take into schools and universities to teach writing from.  There is a comprehensive, meticulously evidenced preface by Professor Dorothy Wang about colonialism and the English language and English poetry.  And at £8.99 for 70 poems (plus a substantial preface) this book is my recommendation for World Poetry Day.

Josephine Corcoran, World Poetry Day

Strong coffee, Thelonious Monk playing solo,
And some poems by W.S. Merwin.
We lost Merwin last week, 91 years old.
He’s been on my mind;
The poetry, his work with the trees,
Restoring a piece of the earth.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Strong coffee, Thelonious Monk playing solo’

Isn’t it great that the very process required to make art is what [Marion] Milner discovered is the process required to feel fulfilled, once we’ve jettisoned the ideas of fulfillment handed to us by parents, others, society, tradition. This is not to say that fulfillment is not found in all kinds of work, but rather that it is found in moments of quiet, sensory-based attention to what is at hand, whatever is at hand — a meeting with a client, the combining of ingredients for a cake, the resolution of a column of figures, or the act of mustering experience, imagination, and language to write a poem.

Milner wrote: “I had felt my life to be of a dull dead-level mediocrity, with the sense of real and vital things going on round the corner, out in the streets, in other people’s lives. For I had taken the surface ripples for all there was, when actually happenings of vital importance to me had been going on, not somewhere away from me, but just underneath the calm surface of my own mind.”

Marilyn McCabe, Love the One You’re With; or On Envy, Fulfillment, and the Writing Life

I ran under a blue sky this morning and could see the moss-covered tree trunks, the rings in the water. The dog ran faster than usual, and is now sleeping on the couch in the other room. I can picture him there, from here.

Oh, to be my age and still clinging to images
wanting to hold them as evidence of a real life
these still lifes, these dead moments
past or imaginary,  equally irrelevant.

Ren Powell, Dating: 18.03.19

One of those days when you come awake and bestirred. How things suddenly shift, like an old log in a river bed that twists into a release and a rush. Two days ago I wrote a poem to take to a Poetry Business Writing Day; a poem I’ve been trying to write for two years or more, an old log of a poem, and everything pent up behind.

I put it down to how the company of other poets matters, how listening to them tells you ‘it can be done’. There may be writers who can make poetry out of solitude but I can’t imagine how it is to be like that. I love the urging and weight of stuff. And deadlines, pressure. When the company and the pressure come together I can feel blessed and released.

John Foggin, Wise sisters [1]. Greta Stoddart

If you are nervous about talking to other people, remember that most of them are writers, and therefore also uncomfortable talking to other people! Offering others help is always a great place to start, so I like to make a little map in my head in case people ask me where things are, (and as a disabled person, I especially take note of quiet places, places to get a drink or snack, and accessible restrooms). Expressing genuine enthusiasm for other writers’ work is always pretty safe. […]

If you, like me, are nervous about performing in front of strangers, whether doing offsite readings or official panels, just remember it’s not just about you, it’s about what you’re giving others, whether your poems, or your advice or information that could be helpful. It’s so hard for me to not feel self-conscious these days – my MS has amplified the things to be self-conscious about now – walking, talking, remembering things/people’s names – but mostly people are too preoccupied by feeling self-conscious themselves to even notice the things you’re worried about. Putting people at ease is as important as anything else.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Spring, Supermoon, AWP: Day Trip to Skagit, In-Depth on a Poem, and Surviving AWP Portland Part II: Last Minute Tips

As we come up on another April, another NAPOWRIMO, I can’t help but think that last year’s endeavor was really the beginning of me digging in on daily writing. For all those years that I tried and failed, the only thing done differently was prioritizing the writing at the beginning of the day instead of putting it off til the end. In previous attempts, I’d make it about 10 days in and buckle.  I aced April last year, and (mostly) continued on for the rest of the year (I did take a couple of breaks when things got crazy and/or I needed to somehow fill the well. So many pages, and poems, and series have come about in the last year. I’m only sad it took so long to realize that was what I needed to do.  I was productive before, but mostly in droughts and spurts, and never as much to my liking.  Also, I think the more time you spend at it, the more you write, the better you get.  You might write 10 poems and only one is a keeper, but that one is better for all those other pieces.

Kristy Bowen, the cruelest month

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 11

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: aging, mortality, ambition, procrastination, and books; preparing for the AWP; preparing for spring.


I don’t remember the first time I read W. S. Merwin’s work. I feel as if his words and spirit have always been with me. I do remember the first time I met him in person. Another student poet I knew, Andie, from Pamela Alexander’s weekly poetry class (held in Pam’s living room outside Central Square) had heard that Merwin would be at Harvard for a reading and reception. This very quiet poet and total rule follower asked me if I would attend the reading with her — and then crash the reception.

My friend and I (young, awkward, and brave) sidled up to the very small group where Merwin was chatting and joined in. Was it a Harvard Review event? The fancy pants people (dresses and heels and perfect make-up) stared at us. We did not fit in. My friend addressed Merwin telling him in a flash flood of words how important his poems had been to her, how they allowed her to believe she had permission to write her own. Andie went on for awhile. I had never heard her talk so much.  And when she was finished, perhaps believing that we were both about to be ejected from the premises, she stepped back. And then I remember — as if it was not 34 years ago though it was — Merwin smiled broadly and said, “Thank you. That makes me feel useful.”

And there was no doubt that he meant this. Andie’s effusiveness, her awkward praise, visibly filled him with a humble gratitude. There were so many ways the conversation could have gone but this gentle thanks from Merwin altered the universe of poetry for me. This poetry god had just ambled down the mountain and spoke to us as if we were his trusted friends. He was the only one in that stuffy room who welcomed us in and made us feel as if we had a right to inhabit the poetry world. Or at least try.

Susan Rich, Remembering W.S. Merwin (1927-2019)

At 76, I’ve lived longer than anyone on the male side of my Dad’s family (and all his sisters, too). Sometimes I’ll do the maths, and think something like, “well, with a following wind I could probably have five or six or seven years left. Four would be good. Every day’s a bonus. You’re a lucky man.” It’s not for a moment depressing, but it’s made me notice that I’m reading poems I might not have taken much notice of before. Life enhancing poems that didn’t seem that relevant or interesting at one time. Your stories will be similar, I imagine. When I was in my 30s and my Dad was dying I found myself reading and re-reading Tony Harrison’s sequence of sonnets from The school of eloquence… Book ends(especially), Continuous, Marked with D.They gave me a vocabulary, a language to shape my grief. In the break-up of my first marriage, and in finding a new love, it was A kumquat for John Keats, that midlife thankyou for coming through, for love, for survival. I remember him reading it when it had just come out, the relish with which he read the lines

I burst the whole fruit chilled by morning dew
against my palate. Fine, for 42

I loved the way it came after:

Then it’s the kumquat fruit expresses best
how days have darkness round them like a rind,
life has a skin of death that keeps its zest.

I saw him reading last summer, still going strong at 80. And I wondered how those lines sound to him now. I think he might give them a wry smile. It’s the same kind of wry smile I reserve for young men’s poems about their imagined end. Rupert Brooke, for instance

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England……….
a pulse in the eternal mind, no less

I don’t imagine for a moment that he had any intention of ending up like that; he just thought he did. Since he never got to the Front he never got to rethink it, unlike Sassoon, or Rosenberg, or Owen and the rest. But I’m pretty sure it spoke to me differently when I was 16, when I believed sincerely (because of the H Bomb) that I’d not see 21. We read who and where we are. We change and the poems change with us.

John Foggin, Staying Alive: me and Mr MacCaig

In 62 years this body has become worn;
Lumps and bumps and bald spots. Aches.
Places that hurt and I’m not sure why.
Other things have changed with age, too;
I spend more time thinking about the sun and moon,
The trees and watersheds.
Much less thought goes to the curve of a shapely thigh.

James Lee Jobe, ‘In 62 years this body has become worn’

I have been reading Hayden Carruth’s poems, admiring the breadth of his experiments in styles from sonnets to jazzy free verse to prose poems and extremely short poems–even haiku. One thing becomes clear after awhile: his appreciation of song, of the poem as song, of the need to create song as an expression of life and against the things one wishes to resist, even when (especially when) it is impossible to resist.

His poem “Mother” says all of the things I wanted to write about my mother-in-law’s death, and more. It is achingly honest and achingly sad and deeply loving.

After reading it, I thought to myself, “You do not need to write those poems; Carruth has achieved what you are trying to accomplish.” But we compose poems under individual circumstances and for personal reasons, and I suspect that reading “Mother” will help me to revise my own poems in probing ways.

This is why we read other poets’ work. One reason why, anyway.

Ann E. Michael, Come let us sing

It’s only as “swift” sank in, and I felt the distance of “landscape” that I “got it.”  The paved path is a road; I’m on that Interstate, if it is one, not beside it.

Because she doesn’t name it as road, and because she delays the fact that the pines are gone and doesn’t spell out why or how (removed for farming? cut down to build the road?) I have wandered inside her poem and so find myself complicit at the end in all that taking the fast road ignores or denies.

Thank you, Carol Barrett, for this reading experience.  Carol has two books, Pansies, just out, and Calling in the Bones.  I’m looking forward to reading both.

Ellen Roberts Young, Reading a Poem: Barrett’s “The American Dream”

This morning I was feeling like a dried out husk, with no ideas for writing, a poet who would never write a poem again.  I thought about approaches that often work:  taking a real or fictional character and writing a poem from a different angle or taking a minor character and giving the character a voice.  Nothing.

I scrolled through my blog posts that get an “inspiration” tag so that I can find them when I need inspiration.  I went back several years and again, nothing.

Then a line drifted across my brain:  I keep this garlic press although it only has one purpose.  I thought of my juicer, which also only has one purpose but takes up more room in the cabinet.  I was off–and I finally wrote a poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Poem Composing and Travel Fretting

I happened upon this great piece from Susan Minot this weekend and it got me thinking about not so much how we write, but how the world, in fact, opens itself up to us in possibility every day.  I’ll be sitting on a bus, or pushing a cart of books through the library, and there it is, that shimmering idea.  Or in that weird morning space between waking up enough to look at my phone to check the time and the alarm actually going off.  Admittedly, so much is lost because I didn’t write it down.  Didn’t force myself to commit it to memory for later when I had time to consider it as creative impulse.  This week, one night, I was up in the stacks and heard strange inexplicable noises a few rows away and got to thinking about the plot of a horror movie or novel where a woman is haunted by the ghost of herself from the future. She would then have to solve her own death like a puzzle.   Or a title for a poem, or a concept for a book will come to me. Friday, I was tweaking the dgp website and for a second “&nsbp” or “non breaking space” seemed like a great title for a book of poems written in html code style.

Kristy Bowen, sometimes the world writes itself

In a desert zoo, a jaguar slashes a stupid tourist who felt entitled: all I can think of is her cage, her pacing, her desperate desire to kill something. I nightwalk on ice, in dark, on thickly beaten-down snow. It’s exhausting, how fast it slips out of our hands, claws, teeth. How hungry we are. To be ourselves. All things are happening at once, they say, as though this is news.  All the endings. All the beginnings. Vitality and decay, simultaneous.

JJS, March 10, 2019: jaguar stars

If we’re to be nothing after death
let it be nothing like nothing on,
like a dress you take off
on a very hot night
to feel the slightest breeze,
a dim light that gives you goosebumps.

Magda Kapa, Like Nothing On

I took the train from Paris to Chartres.  It was a Friday in Lent, and on those Fridays, they take the chairs off the Labyrinth, which is designed right into the cathedral floor.

Not too many other people there.  I walked it.

Later, I wrote this poem:

Thin Place

I walk the labyrinth at Chartres.
The subtle knife can cut the veil.
I hear the whisper on the other side.
I stretch my hand and touch the air.

The subtle knife can cut the veil
where walls are thin as plastic wrap.
I stretch my hand and touch the air.
Heaven and earth just feet apart

where walls are thin as plastic wrap. […]

Anne Higgins, On this day last year

The picture of my cats contemplating the excellent Joanna Russ’s How To Suppress Women’s Writing is here to inspire some pre-AWP reading – of course you’ll come home with a bunch of new reading material, but I’m trying to warm up – trying to place a review of a new book, Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic, (excellent!)  and I’ve been trying to mix up my feminist reading material – sometimes being outside of academia I feel I miss out of some books that are familiar talking material in the academic world, and this book is one of them. (It was mentioned heavily in Sophie Collins’ Who is Mary Sue?) It’s a fascinating, fairly easy read, sharp and funny in places. Joanna is a science fiction writer as well as a critic, so I’m going to look for more of her work.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Ready for AWP, Part I: Schedule, Packing Tips, And How Not to Panic

Speaking of the bookfair– The bookfair has become SO LARGE, you actually need to spend A LOT of time there… AND it’s worth it.

Here’s why–while sitting in on a panel, may feel like “wow, I am learning important things,” walking around a bookfair actually connects you with people and publishers and poets and presses. You will make connections, you will learn about the presses you want to publish you, and you will meet the editors behind the scenes.

This is SO important as a poet or writer. You will have the opportunity to hold the books they publish, look at the covers, read the words and decide if this is a press you’d want to have publish your work. 

So take the time. Buy books. Support presses and poets. Look at the books and educate yourself in what kind work presses publish. Ask questions. Present your best self. Be professional. Learn about all the presses and what they do.

Kelli Russell Agodon, AWP 2019: Tips from an Introvert #AWP2019 #AWPTips

Looking awkward is one of my natural gifts. I probably look awkward in photos because I am awkward in real life. Like the time I was attacked by vegetation. Or the time I threw myself into a cute boy’s locker while trying to play hard-to-get.

But now, to my horror, I’m told I need an author photo to promote my new book. Although I successfully eluded requests to put my picture on the back cover, I’m told I need such a photo for publicity materials. Whaaa? This is my third book (or fourth, or fifth, depending on how you count) and I’ve never had to assemble anything resembling publicity. But book reviewers, apparently, want to check the flesh-covered skull I smile from before they consider cracking open a copy.

In an effort to put this off longer, I have procrastinated by looking up what sort of photos truly laudable writers have gotten away with over the years. [Click through to view examples.]

Laura Grace Weldon, Author Photo Angst

I’ve been making a lot of stuff lately, not just found poems but collages to compliment them, even a found poem in a box (see below). I loosely term all this stuff ‘composite fictions’ and last week I started to realise I’d got quite a number of these pieces. So, I’ve created a gallery page on this blog where you can view them under that heading.

Sometimes, the cutting and sticking has felt like it’s taking over from the poetry all together, but I’ve kept at it, in the belief that that you learn through doing, and completing, things. That’s not to say I’m happy with every finished piece, but completing is a stage in the process. Unfinished work makes me feel uncomfortable. What would it have been if I’d got round to finishing it? Good or bad, I’ll never know – unless I complete it. And it’s reassuring to be able to put one project aside in order to concentrate on something else, then go back to the first one later.

Julie Mellor, Side projects and procrastination

Not really a blog post but an ageing woman cycling on a static bicycle half crying, half laughing listening to an old George Michael song and thinking that she used to imagine George was singing to her about

oh there was so much unrequited love in those days! and she never imagined anyone wasn’t straight, she was very young

now Paul McCartney is duetting with George, she didn’t know about this version, the wonder of spotify, looking sideways through the windows she could almost be cycling down a country lane

it would be a good idea

Josephine Corcoran, Not really a blog post

What’s it all about? The tendency of “life” to want to live in the now and onward. The meaning of life? Well, I don’t think there is intrinsic meaning to this random fallout. You want meaning? Make it yourself. We just flail around, a bunch of bacteria and dividing cells, and then it’s over. Well, except for the bacteria.

Which brings a certain amount of perspective on the idea of success, something else about which I’ve been thinking.

I’ve tried a number of pursuits in my life. Had a number of ambitions, both realistic and outlandish. Numerous fancies. Many dreams. One by one, all these things fall away. Pursuit falters; ambition lapses or faces the grim reality of oh-just-forget-it; dreams, well, dreams are forgotten, tossed aside with regret, relief, bitterness, or remain clutched in the hand like a magician’s coin, invisible but caught in the fingers.

I thought I’d be this thing, do that thing, or be that kind of person. With each passing life phase I’ve tried to get clearer who I am, what I’m here for, and how I define success. It’s an ongoing project.

Marilyn McCabe, Pass Go; collect $200; or, On Success…or Successishness

I am always smoldering
like a stubborn campfire
or a pair of new lovers
two months into their affair
I am not a flickering candle
fearful of the wind
or even a strong set of lungs
I cannot be snuffed out
blown out

Bekah Steimel, Lit

Look, Mom, he’s taking up

needle and thread to be like me, and I’m
taking them up to be like you, to finish
the canvas you started. Isn’t that what

we all do, in the end: add clumsy stitches
to the unfinished tapestry of generations?
He’s trying to make something beautiful

from hard work and yarn. I told him
I’m proud of him. I told him
wherever you are, you’re proud of him too.

Rachel Barenblat, First letter

This morning I dawdled more than usual and was a half-an-hour late to hit the trail. But it is spring now, and the sun is catching up with us. For now, a half-an-hour is the difference between running in the dark, and running in predawn’s pink and blue watercolors. Next month the sun will beat me to the trailhead every morning.

The lake is still edged with ice and roughly textured in the soft light.
The ducks’ calls can sound like mocking laughter, but I no longer mind.
They are a promise (and a reminder) for the day to come.
Let it come, and go – and keep it easy.

For now, there are sunrises.
There will be sunsets in the autumn
when it comes.

Ren Powell, March 11, 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 10

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week, a pure miscellany. Daylight Savings Time is kicking my ass, so I’m afraid I’m too tired for the usual careful thematic arrangement. I’ll just jump around my feeds in a random fashion and grab things that appeal in my sleep-deprived state.


I think it’s important that as we create, we acknowledge ourselves and the history we bring to our creative process. When I traveled back to my parents’ home for the holidays this year, I was reminded of how much I have changed from the shy little boy who grew up in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. Now, this was nothing new to me. Ever since I came out, I’ve worked to become more of who I feel I really am. I’ve worked to let more parts of my personality out that I was ashamed of or hid while I was in the closet. I felt that process meant I needed to change a lot. And maybe it did. But somewhere along the way, I pushed a lot of my past away. Maybe it was from painful memories, maybe it was from a loss of ideals and connections that were held in my youth. I don’t know. But either way, I focused more on my now.

But my past is part of who I am. And as I’ve worked more on my writing, I’ve realized more and more that there are parts of me that don’t make sense if I don’t accept every history I have. As I came home for the holidays, I remembered again that no matter what, there will always be a part of me that grew up walking through the forest, playing in crick beds, going to church, and so many other things. As much as I come home and see that I don’t really fit in my hometown the way I used to, I still come home and feel a connection.

My Label is Aaron – guest blog rewind by Aaron Gates, co-editor-in-chief of Peculiar (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

One of the first sonnets I wrote, as an undergraduate, contained the lines: “A mouth of purple crocus opens through/ the snow, wild to speak the store beneath. / It carries coin.” I don’t remember the rest, although the poem is probably in a bin in the attic somewhere. The lines have been running through my head all week as the weather flips from warmish to snowy to springlike again. March is always a crazy month in my academic calendar, but I am ready for the madness, as long as it brings me color!

Lesley Wheeler, A mouth of purple crocus

It’s Friday morning.  The sun’s shining, the air’s still quite cold.  We have a yard full of new snow. I have been working on lyrical CNF essays and poems for several weeks now.  Wrote a sonnet Wednesday, much to my surprise.  It’s a single sentence with internal rhyme (another surprise), and it’s about the first day of Lent (yet, another surprise). I have no idea what’s going on in my mind’s writing room these days, why some things are so out of the blue, but this poem seems to be a gift. Inspiration began with looking out the kitchen window, watching cardinals that flit branch to branch in the crab apple tree, then make their way to our feeders.  I love watching the dance.

M. J. Iuppa, The First Week of March, 2019, Racing towards Spring . . .

Such a pity, at times, this humanity.
But not now, now we are the light
Reflecting off the brittle surface of the ice.
Now we are slipping deeper into the dream,
Deeper into the sweet, cool fog of sleep.

James Lee Jobe, ‘We are breaking through the ice of an imaginary stream.’

Brrr! Writing from a very chilly morning here in the suburbs of Seattle. This weekend was full of excitement. I had been a little under-the-weather since I had three fillings earlier in the week, so by Saturday I was sick of being house-bound and it was sunny though not warm so we ventured out to the zoo, mostly to see the little red panda cubs again. Then Sunday was the book launch for Martha Silano’s Gravity Assist, a fascinating collection that examines the space race as metaphors for family relationships.

great pleasure to see the introducing readers, Kelli Russell Agodon, Molly Tennenbaum, and Rick Barot, as well as Martha’s reading from Gravity Assist (check out one of the poems from the book, “Instead of a Father”) and to see a lot of friends from the Seattle writer community come out to support each other. Glenn also snapped a shot of PR for Poets on Open Books’ shelf!

I was a little nervous (I don’t do great in crowds with the MS thing), but it increased my feeling that I’ll probably do fine at AWP – except for remembering anyone’s name or face in a crowd (still troublesome for some reason, so if you see me at AWP, be kind and remembering my brain doesn’t function totally 100 percent in overload, when you say hi, remind me of your name, the name of the person next to you, and probably my own). I was especially happy I went since a friend had a small emergency during the reading that I was able to help out with. You never know when you might be useful!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Zoo Visit, Poetry Readings, PR for Poets in the News and Submission Fatigue

I will be in Portland, OR from March 27 – 30 for the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference and the No Fair/Fair.

The No Fair/Fair is being held as an alternative event for small presses that cannot afford to be part of the expensive AWP. Thirty small presses – including Sibling Rivalry Press – will be taking part in a book fair and series of readings.

Collin Kelley, AWP and No Fair/Fair in Portland

I struggle this morning. Whether to read poems, or write them.
I’ve lost an hour. Where did it go?
I hate subordinate clauses that are followed by non sequiturs.
I hear slips all the time—like tinnitus, like a mosquito’s whine, like a seagull’s cry.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse, Minus an Hour

It’s almost like I’ve given up everything for Lent and as if Lent is all the time. I am behind in my blog, poetry writing, poetry submitting, letter writing, and all things me. Except that I was in a play, so that explains my absence in January and February, 2019, but it doesn’t explain anything else. Tuesday, I was downtown and saw Abe Lincoln all dressed up for Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday.

Kathleen Kirk, Fat Tuesday with Abe

That morphine is pale blue
sickly-sweet baby blue
like every cutesy sleeper
I didn’t want for my infant son.

That I would feel
like a mother bird
tenderly tucking the drops
under her waiting tongue.

That the gasp and hiss
of the oxygen pump
would be both comforting
and terrible.

Rachel Barenblat, Things I didn’t know

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for imagining to be other characters or to use other voices in my writing and have used imaginary characters or people from my family’s past before. But this issue is so layered and sensitive and volatile that I don’t think I could write from their point of view, just as I couldn’t imagine being a person of colour or to have a disability or major illness and do them justice by pretending to understand what they were going through.

It’s an interesting prompt to try and take on the voice of a character other than yourself for poetry. We do it all the time for fiction, but poetry seems to lean more towards the intensely personal for the author. I would avoid attempting it with this sort of subject matter, but taking a mythical, fictional or historical figure or a totally made up character can help push your awareness of this writing style. Give it a try. 

Gerry Stewart, A Voice Not Taken

I’m overjoyed to say that Sarabande Books will publish a collection of my visual poems next summer (2020), all Misery poems. In my mid-50s I’ll be a debut author. I’ve been toiling away at these poems for going on three years and it’s been a constant surprise. I love the textures of it, the possibilities.

Publication is a ways off so I’ve been delaying saying anything about it. But I’ve begun mentioning it in my bio when I have a piece published, so rather than live in fear that someone will read my bio, we announced it.

I don’t have a title yet. This needs to be decided soon so I can design the cover, which is kind of exciting. Visual poetry in general is exciting. I love doing it. I hope to learn many new things. I’m in Frankfurt taking a collage class this week, case in point.

Sarah J Sloat, good news

The first-person possessive pronoun permits English speakers to colonize the cosmos. Often, I catch myself in claiming “mine.” My house, my meadow, my cat, my children! As if I could actually own any of them (although I possess a piece of paper that asserts that I own my house, sometimes I have my doubts). I did not intend, when I started writing this poem, to remind myself not to go about “making it all about me.” But it does serve as a reminder. And I think a few of us human beings ought to be more aware that our tendency to hoard and claim may not serve us, or the world, all that well.

Ann E. Michael, Perspectives

The third was a bridge, an archway,
an aqueduct. It looked
like a semicolon; she had always
wanted to use one,
but never learned how.
She walked across and woke up.
The room was the same.
The morning light through the curtains.
The taste in her mouth. Even
the face in the mirror.

She touched the charred stubs
on her back, stroked that memory
of having been hitched, however
fleetingly, to something
that could blot out the sky.

Romana Iorga, Four Nightmares

At night, the ancient ones speak
to us in soft, bodily gurgles
and strange dreams from a different homeland.
We surface from senseless landscapes
to wear our slave clothes
and artificial faces, masks
of every sort. We trudge
to our hollow offices to do our work,
that modern drudgery,
filing papers and shredding documents,
the feminine mystique, the modern housework,
while at home, domestics
from a different culture care
for the children.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Poem for International Women’s Day: “The Hollow Women”

Also,  the monsters that exist within domestic spaces. Or develop because of them.  The crucible that transforms one thing into something else.  In taurus, the monster is less actual monster and more metaphorical.  The house and family that the monster exists in becomes a monster in and of itself.  I’ve been thinking about this as I work on my notes and a few pieces about the HH Holmes Murder Castle, where the hotel is in itself, wholly monstrous.  So then how does a house, in the context of something like the summer house, itself both breed monsters and become one?

Kristy Bowen, horrific domesticities

In the melodramas and storms, it was rather steady, unforced and unmannered, the ongoingness of poets reading and singing people they hope are listening, but singing nonetheless in the space their words create.

I think of the different tones and approaches taken by our nine poets: the whispery, the off-slant, the eloquent wit, the darkly ardent.  The open pleas, the laments.  The open door to tenderness.  The eight-minute slot per poet added to an intensity of poets concentrating their meaning and audience listening hard to what they had to say.  That focus ensured that the words left their mark.

Jill Pearlman, Staying Power of Poets Resist

For me, the writing comes first, so when I’m working with found texts, I’m scanning for words/ phrases/ lines that spark a reaction. I don’t have any idea at this stage where the poem is, what it will say, how it will say it, but I have that initial phrase and that’s enough. I can’t predict where I’ll find what I’m looking for. I mean, I’ll go to a charity shop and buy a handful of books that in some way look promising, or I’ll scan a newspaper or a magazine and find an article that looks like it’s got potential. However, it’s not until I sit down to work with these sources that I know if they’re of value to me or not. Also, I’ve noticed that if I try to force it by settling on a phrase that’s ‘just good enough’ (because I can’t find anything that really fires my imagination) the process of creating the found poem becomes too conscious and invariably generates a poem I’m not happy with.

Julie Mellor, Originality …

Thanks to Afshan D’souza-Lodhi at The Common Sense Network for publishing my short piece, New Oldish Poets Society – which you can read here – detailing twelve women poets who’ve recently published their first pamphlet or collection in their late 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.  I’ve read a few articles recently charting the rise in poetry’s popularity yet nothing that I’ve seen mentions the rather wonderful phenomenon of more and more older women being published for the first time.

You can decide for yourself why it is that older women are increasingly making a space for themselves in the poetry world – in my article I suggest that it is to do with networking, education and publishing opportunities made available by the internet, as well as changed and changing attitudes towards women in general and a reassessment of what is considered ‘good’ poetry, along with different types of people making editorial decisions.

And you can draw your own conclusions about the reasons for the absence of older women in articles celebrating the current #poetryboom…

Josephine Corcoran, New Old(ish) Poets Society

a jet plane’s contrail
splits in two, a heart breaking

dissolves into cumulus clouds
that look like bees

James Brush, Rural Free Delivery

I pulled a book off the shelf. What made me think of you?

I keep throwing myself at the feet of strangers, circling around them again, they are both familiar and made strange when viewed from a new point in time. This is the way of things, isn’t it? There is a painful roundness to the world – I started something new going over old territory.

The world is too round for my determination. The time=distance cluttered with objects as real as anything I think I can hold in my hands.

The Too Sharp Corners of the Too Round World.

I keep accidentally dredging up evidence of my own life. Evidence is a funny word, really, in use. After all, evidence is just support for an argument. For a hypothesis.

The introduction to your poems presents the evidence that you likely existed.

Ren Powell, March 4th, 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 8

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week found bloggers writing about challenging themselves in new and sometimes difficult ways, pondering revision, thinking about the ancient Greeks, fighting despair and depression, celebrating successes, and of course, reading poetry.


Last year I was worried about my poetry becoming stale. I wasn’t as excited by it as I used to be. So I started to experiment with found texts and suddenly I became more enthusiastic and creative. Since then, there have been many ‘oops’ moments, and I know there will continue to be many more. However, something interesting has sprung from them and I’m enjoying the writing process more. I’m also more open to new formats and platforms for poetry, and a little less concerned about getting work published (although I’m not abandoning that goal).

[Susan] Jeffers is clear: trust your impulses, accept responsibility and don’t stick with, or be protective of, wrong decisions – correct them. There’s no reason why you should stay on the well-trodden path (in writing or in life) if that path is making you feel unfulfilled. Poetry can feel very serious at times. Reading and writing it can be intense and provoke some odd disquieting feelings. However, adopting the ‘no lose’ approach allows you to step off the path and experience new ways of creating without feeling guilty that you’re not doing ‘proper’ writing (you know the feeling, when you sit down with pen and paper and time to write but you’re doing it out of a sense of duty rather than a drive to create ).

Julie Mellor, Crossing the line

Yesterday was the last day of my Lucie Brock-Broido Stay, Illusion practice. The idea was to sit down each day—at my desk, at the gym, on the bus, wherever—read a poem from Lucie’s book, choose a line, a fragment, an image, and write from or in response to it. I started on October 22. I did not show up daily, but I did show up. Yesterday was poem 65. And then a sadness that it was done.

Some of these drafts might become poems. A couple of them already have. One is in active revision. And many are pressed in the pages of my notebook. I’m hoping to get back to them, read and see which ones, or whether any, still ignite some spark worth nurturing.

What did I learn? This worked well for me. Each time, I’d write something. Even if I knew it wasn’t going to turn into anything else, I was writing. Even better, it gave me a chance to sit in active conversation with Brock-Broido’s poems again. My goal had been to choose not just compelling images but those that were difficult or uncomfortable—not the kinds of things that might naturally show up in my poems anyway. And that was the biggest challenge, to tug away from comfort’s gravity.

Joannie Stangeland, The end of one practice…

Last week I presented a project that seemed unlikely to exist and equally unlikely to succeed, but it managed to do both.  It was a live poetry performance called Mirrors.  In spite of the simple title, every time I tried to explain to the people I’d enlisted to read, we all got tangled up.  Three groups of four pairs, with ten-minute breaks for discussion — too much information!  Just dive in!

Which we did.

I chose bits of writing from observant feminist/literary scholar of Torah, Avivah Zornberg, whose verbal pyrotechnics and all-around genre-bending work I’ve long admired.  I placed these powerful excerpt opposite a selection of my poems.  Zornberg’s dense text, out of context, next to my dense text … a case of heightening complexity to obtain clarity?

The idea was to put them side by side and let the sparks fly.  They’re not one-to-one correspondences, more like juxtapositions, points of departure, spiky soul mates.  Zornberg’s probing of the unconscious of a Torah passage, her eliciting of emotion inside discontinuities gaps and white spaces left room for my poetic eruptions about existential condition.

Did they tango?  Well, yes.  Rumblings, premonitions, regret, amazement, praise – voices were liberated in the room, a choral celebration of the many.

Jill Pearlman, How do you know when you’re ready?

For the Greeks, Delphi was the center of the universe. Kings traveled in person from all the city-states, including the islands, to consult the Pythia, the Delphic oracle in the temple, and they built treasuries on the side of the hill to house part of the spoils won in battle, as a gift to the gods. Mount Parnassus is remote, and far from the sea; at 2,457 m (8,061 ft) it is one of the highest mountains in Greece, sacred to Apollo and Dionysus, and it was also the home of the Muses, who inspired poetry, art, and dance. Delphi is located far up on its slopes. It was a real journey for us to get there, in a modern car, on winding mountain roads. I can hardly imagine what it took for ancient people to make that journey and arduous climb; clearly it was of vital spiritual and political importance to them.

But going there myself, I could see and feel why they thought it was so special. On the way up, we drove hairpin turns, stopping once for a shepherd with his flock of goats, the bells around their necks tinkling, their hooves clicking and scrambling on the loose rocks. We passed through the narrow winding streets of the town of Delphi, perched precariously on the slope, and back into the wilderness to the ancient site, from which you see no signs of human habitation. It’s spectacular and wild: from the steep rocky slope with its pines and cedars, you look down across a deep rugged valley. Hawks and owls and crows must have been common then as now, the wind blows, the dark cedars punctuate the sky, and you climb the same paths, past the market and the treasuries, up toward the man temple where the oracle gave her riddles, and even higher to the theatre. Of course, what was once a busy mecca is deserted except for tourists. I tried to imagine a bustling marketplace, smoke rising from sacrificial fires, human voices everywhere: that was difficult. But there was something about the place itself that hadn’t tumbled with the stones, and had perhaps even preceded them. Standing on the ridge above the main temple, I tried to imagine coming there any of the grand buildings had even been built. Who were the people who identified this place and first called it sacred? Perhaps what I was seeing and feeling now was closer to what they felt. I kept hearing the cry of a hawk as it circled and rose in the mountain thermals, and then plunged down into the deep valley we can had come from. Above us was snow, the inaccessible realms of the gods. Closer by, in a glade in the woods, near a rushing spring, perhaps the Muses still danced: it wasn’t hard to imagine. 

Beth Adams, Exploring Delphi on Paper

The ancient Greek stage was constructed at the heart of a stadium: no proscenium, just pillars, ramps, and the mechene. Machine of the gods, later Romans would call it, since it was usually Apollo up there holding forth and tying up loose ends—unless Euripides wrote the play, in which case it would probably be a slave, and very little of this human mess would be resolved.

Aeschylus, Sophocles—these men wrote such elegant language. Pristine and pure. Cathedral-like, their imagined worlds. I like Euripides best. He tells the bloody truth.

The ramps were called paradoi, and were used for the choral entrance and exit. At the end of a tragedy, the Chorus would sing their kommos—song of lament—during the exodos, the exit scene that served as a kind of afterword, bodies strewn across the stage.
 
Is this a tragedy?

God, I hope not. Please, let it be not.
[…]  

Euripides said
A coward turns away, but a brave man’s choice is danger.
Euripides said
Time cancels young pain.
Euripides said
The fountains of sacred rivers flow upwards.
 
A week into the antidepressant, I start to be able to smile again.
Two weeks in, I can work effectively, at least for short stretches.
Three weeks in, my real focus comes back.

JJS, Skaha, Part VI: Exodos. Kommos. Afterword. Beginning Again.

She shakes her head, pushes the sleeve of her tunic

dismantles the stockpile that fences her house – the rubble
of bones, pellets of flesh,  the moon marks on nails, adamant warts.
The spray of dandruff like burning stars scatters
in the garden, the smoke palls his face as she throws
a handful of soil over the eyes, the mouth open in prayer.

Uma Gowrishankar,How a mother processes a terror attack

The first gray light of a winter morning.
Walking among my fruit trees
I cry for my dead son.
I then scatter those tears
Like seed across the cold ground,
But the birds won’t even go near.

James Lee Jobe, ‘The first gray light of a winter morning.’

Sometimes my despair arrives as a result of too much focus on the gatekeepers of the creative commons: those people and systems granted with the culture’s ability to say pass, or fail, to our creative work and our desire to send it out into the world with some form of recognition and acclaim.  Sometimes it takes fortitude to keep working the system, but today I’m going to ignore the gatekeepers altogether and post a new poem right here.

A Good Clear Out

I divested myself
of what lies downriver
the rusted cans and blackberry thorns
the animal traps lined with bloody fur
I’m boxing up whole decades
And giving them to strangers
yearbooks, prayer books
the necklace I bought for you-
the one I couldn’t bear to part with in the end
Yet
was too ashamed to ever wear out, so
Here. Take it.
It doesn’t suit me anymore. I’m going bare.
 (SES, 2019)

And Lastly, What I’m reading:

I’ve been reading a collection of poems: New Poets of Native Nations, edited by Heid E. Erdrich. I cannot recommend this book of poetry with enough fervor. If you were sitting across from me I’d wave it in your face and read poem after poem out loud, while you poured yet another cup of tea and tried to absorb the grievous beauty coming at you in words, lines, stanzas, incomparable images. 

Because making art and experiencing art is a way of choosing life, and disrupts the cycle of despair. 

Sarah Stockton, Disrupting the Cycle of Despair

After moving to Portland last summer, I was introduced to Portland poet Melissa Reeser Poulin through another fine Portland poet, Kristin Berger.  
We all read together in January at Mother Foucault’s Bookshop where I had the opportunity to hear Melissa read from her new chapbook-RUPTURE, LIGHT.

RUPTURE, LIGHT is a book filled with poems that speak both to the personal and universal.  The poems in this collection take us on a journey through the worlds of pregnancy, children, and marriage, and with this poet’s keen eye, helps us see both the transitory nature of the domestic scenes and their continued ability for rebirth: It turns out life is a will/an overfed bulb/that can be forced to bloom again/and again.

Hope is never forsaken in these poems, but as a keen observer the poet lets us know that all we love is leaving us: In the graveyard,/the snow softens the stones/while we walk, idle talk about how/we’ll be buried//You want to live forever/in the canyon we love,/your skin and bone/become sugar pine/and chaparral. 

Carey Taylor, Rupture, Light

You can’t tell which year the book was first checked out because the date stamps note no year until we get to a handwritten Jun. 21, 1937. The book is then checked out every year until Feb. 19, 1943, the year bombing began in earnest in Frankfurt. It was especially heavy in 1944 and continued into early 1945. The war ended that spring.

The book is taken out again on April 15, 1946. In 1947 it’s taken out eight times. Boy, people were really hungry for poetry written in the Frankfurt dialect.

The library card makes history tactile. I’d meant to use this and the other cards for collage but this one will be spared. The others, also aged and discolored, will do as well.

Sarah J Sloat, Loose Ephemera

[…] no one would recognize
a heartbeat on the edge of familiar

songs written in dead languages
& trees that grow twisted on the plains

could be the old hair metal guitar
that escaped the pawnshop wall

James Brush, Dead Letter Office

It seems so simple to these children, the idea of a farmer-poet who once nursed a badger. I imagine they would not have been fazed to know that in his early life he’d hunted and trapped and killed animals, and throughout his life had been a fisherman. They would possibly be baffled by the fact that critics of Hughes and his poetry find it problematic. What Yvonne Reddick’s book [Ted Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet] does, with a clarity that belies its density, is to sure-footedly take the reader through the thickets of academic controversy that surround the poetry and the poet; to analyse their relationship to the burgeoning environmental  movement; to deftly unpick interpretations of art’s relationship with ecology, and equally to the alarming number of sects and subsects that occupy the fields of eco-poetics and eco-poetry. […]

Hughes was a prodigious reader of just about everything, and a prodigious writer of letters (700 pages of the collected letters), of poems (1200 pages), of plays and essays and so on. He was an educator, a broadcaster, a lecturer and a performer. He was conflicted hunter, a conflicted farmer (how many other poets do a full time job like that?), a conflicted and unfaithful husband, father, lover. He grew up in the physically and historically imbricated landscapes of the upper Calder Valley, and of Mexborough. Landscapes of the kind D H Lawrence grew up in. When I read Reddick’s accounts of various critics’ condemnation of his inconsistencies when it come to ecopolitics, I get annoyed. Because, I think, why should a poet be consistent, why should a life be simplified into ‘consistency’?

John Foggin, Critics, poets and the common reader (Part One)

I’ve been writing a lot of words on the page. Scrawled loopdiloos, but what do they say?  What are they getting at? That’s the problem. I feel like I’m sleepwriting. All this impressionistic stuff is rushing out, but what is it all about? I’m not sure. I’m trying not to disrupt the process with criticism and analysis at this point, but I’m eyeing it all suspiciously.

Okay, well, then in fact, I AM disrupting the process with criticism and analysis. I know that only when I plunge into the editing process will I discover what there is in here. But there’s so MUCH of it. And I fear that’s it’s all fluff and no substance, or that I’m racing around something but not getting any closer.

How do we balance the creative impulse with creative intent? Too much intent can flatten an impulse like my hair when it gets too long. No body. No bounce. Too much impulse with too little intent is all bounce, all Marlo-Thomas’s-That-Girl-flip-curl.

Marilyn McCabe, There there; or On Substance and Style and the Writing Process

I like revision, even though it hijacks ALL my creative energies. (With these rewrites to tackle, plus Shenandoah poems to read and grant proposals to draft for my 2020-2021 sabbatical and this pesky full-time job as teacher-adviser-program coordinator, I feel like I’ll never write a new poem again.) It’s rewarding to hone old efforts and feel sentences click into their grooves. But I’ve been thinking about the word “revision.” Its emphasis on “looking anew” doesn’t entirely capture what I’m doing. In both genres, I’m re-sounding lines, trying to hear them freshly, managing echoes within mss. I’m also thinking hard, as I revise, in order to revise, about giving readings. What passages or poems would I choose to read aloud to audiences, and why? Do they sound right in my voice? If I would want to kick off a reading with this poem, or end it with that scene, do those preferences have implications for the arrangement of a printed book? Or do the mediums of print and live reading simply have different requirements?

Lesley Wheeler, Revision, re-audition

Maybe the month of February calls to us as a quiet time of yin creativity, which is a way of looking at revision as an inwardly-focused energy–as opposed to marvelous bursts of creativity from inspiration or the much-vaunted Muse. The lunisolar calendar used for centuries in Asia calls February the first month of spring (立春  lìchūn)! I had better keep at the revising, therefore. Before I know it, yan energy will return with the start of the gardening season in eastern Pennsylvania.

Ann E. Michael, On revision (again)

Read and edit old poems. Recently, I went through my files in Google Drive reading some of my old poems. I pulled out a few and edited them with fresh eyes. I submitted three and all three were accepted. Yesterday I looked through my journal from 2014 and found a poem I had completely forgotten. I added a little to it, but not much, and plan to submit it.

Play around with  black-out & found poetry. Just grab a newspaper or magazine and begin circling words that you’re drawn to, then rearrange them – or not – into a poem. This is an exercise that often gets me kick started.

Another exercise I like to do is use a poem that you like by another poet. Staring at the last line, write a response to it. Work your way up to the first line, writing responses to each. I don’t remember where I read about this technique but I really like it. In fact, I plan to do it this week-end.

Charlotte Hamrick, I Need a Jump Start

Q~What’s your writing process like?
A~I don’t really have a writing process, and every year I keep trying to get into a writing routine, but I fail. But yes, I usually jot down ideas and phrases on my phone or in a notebook, and most of my poems either begin with a word or an image, or a central idea. Sometimes I might be stuck in the subway and write a short poem on my phone to pass the time, or maybe I am studying for a test and I’m frustrated, so I’ll jot some lines down that may later become a poem. In short, there isn’t really planning involved. However if I’m writing a story, I’ll usually plan it out in terms of a chart or a timeline of events and then begin.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?
A~My poetry tastes have been through many phases. There was a time, I’d almost exclusively read only Romantic and Victorian poets, and I went through a phase where I literally worshipped Sylvia Plath. In my high school, I went around quoting Eliot’s Prufrock and Marvell’s His Coy Mistress (only the bit at the end, “though we cannot make our sun /Stand still, yet we will make him run” because I found that incredibly daring and hopeful) the whole time. I’d also read a lot of Rilke, Neruda and Rumi in translation. Closer to my culture, I loved children’s rhymes in Bengali and the playful non-sense poems of Sukumar Ray. For a while, I followed a lot of insta poets like Rupi Kaur and Lang Leav, but I’ve grown out of it now. In college, as an English major, I had to read tons of poets, and in my fourth semester I took up this course called “Postcolonial Poetry,” and we read so many wonderful, beautiful contemporary poets, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I also love Carol Ann Duffy for how accessible she is, and I think accessibility is one of my personal preferences when it comes to reading poetry nowadays. Maybe the whole poem doesn’t have to be accessible, but there has to something or some part that I can understand or sparks a trail of emotions or something I find inexplicably beautiful.

death of an imaginary friend / an interview with poet Archita Mittra (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

OMG! OMG! OMG! Here I am in The New York Times Magazine next to John Legend! Well, not me so much as my poem, “Hoodie,” which was selected by Rita Dove for this week’s NYTimes Magazine.

Can’t tell you how much this little poem means to me. It is my Alex poem, and it addresses a fear I share with many people of color about the safety of our kids, children of color in particular. Seems more relevant now then when I wrote it. He’s 15 and looks more adult and child. When I say “be careful” as he leaves the house, it’s not him I’m worried about–it’s everyone else.

Needless to say, I’m very thankful that Rita picked Hoodie. She’s always been an inspiration for me so it just means that much that this poem will reach a wider audience.

January Gill O’Neil, Hoodie

I have been watching the frustration of some much loved writer friends who send out their first manuscripts over and over and get a ton of “finalists” but don’t get chosen. At least not yet. It’s a shame because these are very strong writers and I want to hug them and tell them to ignore the noise and that they’re terrific. If I had my own press I would have already published them. I don’t want them to feel that they are “less” as people or writers because today’s trends or editors don’t validate their work. In the letters of Virginia Woolf I’m reading, she tells another younger writer that she didn’t publish a thing (besides reviews) in her thirties. And her forties were when she wrote and published nearly all of the work we consider ‘important’ today. Sometimes it takes time to come into your own.

I’ve also watched some friends get wonderful news – my friend Kelli Russell Agodon just won a PSA prize for lyric poetry – and Martha Silano has a new book, Gravity Assist, coming out with a book launch in a few weeks – which, yes, I am actually happy to celebrate. You want your friends to succeed. You cross your fingers for them and cry when they cry and rejoice when they finally get the good news. As a reviewer, I come across a lot of poetry books – some of which absolutely blow me away. They are so good they are humbling.

Tomorrow I’m meeting up for coffee with a new friend who not only does poetry but documentary filmmaking (which seems an even more difficult world than poetry.) I think the best cure for feeling unloved, rejected, is to get back out there, send out your work (which I’m doing right after this post – carrying a poetry manuscript – a paper submission – to the post office) and get together with other creative folks.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Six New Poems in the newest issue of Rosebud, and When You’re Not the Chosen One

I gave myself permission to devote myself for the weekend to one book. To be within it while the snow fell and then another front pushed in rain. To keep turning pages, stopping only to feed spruce logs to the fire, as the light filtered in over the mountains through the front windows then shifted to the western windows, then faded behind the bench.

I’d waited impatiently for my copy of Casting Deep Shade by C.D. Wright, and like any acolyte, I felt a little nervous. The book opened like slow steps on creaky wooden stairs, the rumble of words, history, memories, science, photography, art, the body. The sound of rumination, of devotion.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Casting Deep Shade

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 7

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week saw poets musing about the effects of winter on their writing, wholeness and healing, the legacies of mothers, the making of books and found poems, and more — essays and poems that invite slow reading, and might help cure a case of the winter blues.

Here’s a highly poetic fact I learned this evening from a scientific paper shared on Twitter: Did you know that there are tiny, harmless bees in Thailand that drink human tears? And that scientists have a word for tear consumption: lachryphagy? But lest that seem a bit twee, be forewarned: the photo illustrations in the paper are the stuff of nightmares. Yin, meet yang.


I have missed blogging for a few weeks. I have been tossing spheres in the air, sandwhiching commitments between commitments strewn with distractions. But I am happy to say that I am overwhelmed with all things poetry. My review of Lynn Melnick’s “Landscape with Sex and Violence” is up at The Rumpus. I have an essay onboard for the series Writing About the Living at the Town Crier, curated by Lauren Davis; a blurb to write; seven books that I’ve agreed to review over the next few months; and preparation for attending AWP for Headmistress Press, which is suddenly right around the corner. I am tossing submissions and devouring rejections. I have a manuscript floating belly up in the roiling sea of poetry.

On the home front, the Olympic peninsula did entertain a magnificent snow show over the past couple of weeks, which was more than a distraction, and my heat and my washing machine are on the blink, piles of laundry are everywhere and I finally got some wood for the wood stove. I’ve scheduled a mammogram. I have announced a retirement date, which is now less than a year away. When I retire, I want to become a poet.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Missing Musing

Now, if I were a normal person, all this lack of connection and the ability to leave my house may wear me down. But I am not your normal person, I am a poet, so for me, this snowstorm meant I was just given empty days to work on my poems and manuscript.

To me, this week has felt like a writing retreat. Since Friday I have woken up and read or revised my manuscript. I have lived in lounge pants and thermal shirts. I have napped when I wanted and snacked my way through the day. I took a few walks but mostly, moved around the house thinking about titles for my manuscript, making notes in journals, and sitting down with my printed copy of my manuscript and making notes through it.

Today and yesterday, because we pretty much knew we weren’t going to make it to work, I did Two Sylvias tasks, such as design a book cover and write some prompts for our April NaPoWriMo event. I ate chili and for dessert had dark chocolate chips and peanut butter on a spoon–ah yes, my glamorous life.

But here’s the thing, how often does the world grant us time?

Kelli Russell Agodon, Waiting for the World to Melt: Snowpocalypse in the NW = Impromptu Writing Retreat

Feeling very ready for some sunshine and warmer weather. I want to see daffodils and cherry blossoms, not murdered cherry trees and bulbs buried under snow. The political climate and the weather have together been so depressing, maybe I’ll go sing drowned swan ballads to cheer myself up!

End of February can be a tough time for writers, because it tends to be a season of waiting on submissions, of still-too-long nights and dreary short days, of sad music (Ahem, acoustic version of “Northern Lights” by Death Cab and hey, for the heck of it, a version of “Bonny Swan”) So be kind to yourself, watch something that makes you laugh, read a novel or bring in some tulips. Spring awaits. Write into the cold wind.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Valentines in the Snow, Beautiful Ghosts at Roq La Rue Gallery, and Writing into the Winter Quiet

M.S. and I are teaching our Creativity class again this semester. It’s funny — not in a haha way, but in a how odd way — how much questioning I do every time we return to the course and the material.

Of  course, maybe it’s also cyclical, as we’re in the heart of winter and low temperatures also do something to keep my mood low, my mind disquiet. But I think it might be the tenets we teach in the class, tenets M.S. and I created together, agreed on, tenets we wholeheartedly believe — and the way I have to face them again, and in their light confront my own creative practice, see where it falls short, where I might be phoning it in. 

And once I do that, I hold myself up: I confront my own identity, how much I’ve tied it — with stubbornness, with obstinacy — to art-making and creativity. I hold this image of myself up to the weak winter light coming through the window, and I examine all my inconsistencies and flaws.

It’s necessary,  I suppose. It speaks to a kind of rigor, perhaps, if we assess our creative selves every once in a while and see what we might do differently. But it feels invasive, too, even if I’m the one doing the interrogating.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Martha Graham Martha Graham Martha Graham

It’s just above freezing, so the cold is more of a caress than a bite. Still winter, though:
there’s no bird song – that’s for spring.
Right now the magpies are in deep conversation in the neighbor’s tree.
This time that could be restful, seems to press an obligation.
It’s difficult not to fill the quiet with rationalizations.
It’s a bit like not trusting the body to breathe.
Is this a lesson in dying?
In being?

Ren Powell, February 17th, 2019

Poetry can be used to increase brain function, helping people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia; decrease or eliminate pain, supporting people with chronic pain issues; and elevate mood, engaging and lifting people with mood disorders.

Noting the impact of poetry, both reading and writing poetry, on pain and suffering, a recent article in The Permanente Journal lays out poems which are the author’s expression of the meaning of living with chronic pain for over 20 years, a kind of philosophical hermeneutic conversation about pain and poetry. The article’s authors explore “the efficacy of writing and reading poetry as a means to help people living with chronic pain to explore and express their narratives in their own unique way.”

Eugene Feig, one of the authors of this article sends out poetry almost weekly to the members of a pain support group as a means of sharing his own experiences of living with pain, as well as to support and to inspire hope in others. “The style of poetry we are presenting is that of a person who is not knowledgeable about poetry in a formal sense but who has an understanding of how it has helped him learn to live.”  [Full Article] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6045501/

Health, Healing and Peace through Narrative Poetry – guest blog post by Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I imagine the health crisis at my house has affected me at least a little like the great snowstorm of 2019 has affected all of us–this snowstorm that Cliff Mass says we’ll be telling our grandchildren about. We believe that we have control of our lives, and then life itself catches us by surprise, knocks us down, and dares us to get up again.

But I remember how I began this series, in Prompt #1–life does happen, terrible things happen. The only actual control we ever have is of our own response.

One response I’ve made, thus far, is to dig out my copy of Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. As much as anything else, this is a book about Palmer’s debilitating depression and how he came back from it. I found it on a shelf with books about teaching; I had forgotten it was about depression–well, entirely apt! […]

[H]ere’s a passage I copied into my journal this morning:
“This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know,” says Mary Oliver, “that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attentiveness.” But we live in a culture that discourages us from paying attention to the soul or the true self–and when we fail to pay attention, we end up living soulless lives.” (34-35)

I once heard the poet Chana Bloch say, in regards to her brush with cancer, “I am going to survive this, and I am going to write about it.”

That’s what I’m going to do, too.

Bethany Reid, Parker Palmer’s A HIDDEN WHOLENESS

When nearby factories
heaved             smoke-grey   
corkscrews
into an ash-spackled sky
 
she saw              
only the young girls
           in a schoolyard
nearby
fidget          twirl
and rustle     skirts
of pearl-pink crinoline
their cheeks
heat-tinged
their palms clasped
one to the next.
 
All darkness     acquiesced.

Gail Goepfert, Heart-ened by One Who Knew How to Hold Space

My mother whipped me with a belt, a serving ladle,
A hairbrush, a spatula, and her fat, heavy hands.

Every blow was like being struck down by God.
Every blow held the taste of terror to me, a boy.

When the whipping was through, Mother held me,
Whispering, “I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to.”

Do you see how she loved me with scars? Fearing her
Taught me compassion. I did not whip my own children.

James Lee Jobe, ‘My mother whipped me with a belt, a serving ladle’

Maybe this is part of why I’m a poet: I’m an external processor. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” wrote EM Forster. Me too. I write my way to understanding the flow of my emotional life. I write my way out of the hurricane.

When I had my strokes, I wrote about them here, and about the journey of exploration that followed — the medical journey (we never did figure out what caused them) and the spiritual journey of seeking equanimity in the face of that enormous unknown.

When I had my miscarriage, I wrote a cycle of ten poems — and rewrote, and revised, and polished — as my path toward healing. And then I shared them here, because I hoped they would help someone else who was navigating those same waters.

When the body involved is my own, when the story involved is my own, I can share openly when the spirit moves me. Because living an authentic spiritual life in the open is a core part of my spiritual practice, and because my words may help others.

And I know, from emails and comments over the 15+ years of this blog, that what I write does help others. That many of you have found comfort and strength here. That when I am willing to be real, that can call forth a mirroring authenticity in you.

But sometimes the story isn’t mine to tell. I remember conversations about this when I was getting my MFA at Bennington (20 years ago) — how do we chart a responsible path through telling the stories of our lives when those lives intersect with others?

Rachel Barenblat, A time for silence, a time to speak

quite musical
a previously invisible tree
it turns orange and bleeds red

women in the woods with axes
found by dowsing
where the axe fell

a tree theatre
stitched on bonded silk
haptic is the word of the day

Ama Bolton, ABCD February meeting

I’d like to say a public thank you to Gill Stoker at the Mary Evans Picture Library for inviting me to write a poem inspired by one of the photographs held in their archive. I chose ‘London Pubs at Closing Time’, mainly because I loved the expression on the face of ‘The Duchess’ (left of frame). I created a found poem exploring the idea of voice and blurring the boundary between past and present. Depending on the sources, found texts can really lend themselves to this. I also used lines from my own writing. Somewhere along the way, between moving bits of cut-up text around on the kitchen table, sticking them in my notebook, then typing them up, the poem achieved its form.

You can read the poem below. Better still, click here to read it on the library’s poetry blog, where you can find some amazing contributions by other poets.  Of the more recent ones, I really enjoyed Natan Barreto’s ‘To read a language / Ler uma lingua’.

It’s certainly worth looking at the library’s archive. It’s easy to search through and there’s a wide range of both historical and cinema images. If you feel inspired to write something in response, contact the library as they welcome new contributions.

Julie Mellor, I feel like we can talk about anything

I re-did two Misery poems today. I scrapped them because the collage/visual didn’t sit well, so I started over. It’s a fun thing to do because the text is done, only the visual has to be found.

Such rejigging is one of the reasons why over the past couple years I’ve bought four copies of Misery. It’s sometimes funny when I’m on a page about  protagonist Paul Sheldon’s “number 1 fan,” because if you look for the item I’ve purchased most often on Amazon it’s that book. You’d think I had a fetish.

Sarah J Sloat, Rejigs

I worry that people think they need to spend money in order to get better at writing and I really don’t believe that’s true – although some courses can be extremely helpful and the right workshop can spark many ideas and develop your creative practice.  There are excellent free resources available online, although you might have to spend time finding them, as well as some extremely good ‘how to’ books (available through libraries).   I learned so much by taking ModPo, I can’t recommend it enough.  There are other such courses to look out for, one of which is How to Make a Poem offered free from MMU via FutureLearn.

I wrote this post On not spending money (to learn to write poetry) a few years ago which gives some more suggestions.  As is often the way with blog posts, readers have also left some interesting and helpful comments at the end of the piece.

Having said all that, because I now have some spare cash and because I really like Ann and Peter Sansom who are running the Poetry Business Writing School – and whenever I’ve been in workshops with them, I’ve always produced something in my notebook which sooner or later has become a poem – I decided to apply for a place.

On top of that, I’ve also signed up for an online course taught by Paul Stephenson at The Poetry School – Channel Hopping: A French Exchange – “Writing ‘real’ poems inspired by France’s vibrant and diverse poetry scene.”  I’m  not sure if I’ve mentioned that I used to live in France (not that you need any knowledge of French to participate in this course) and I practise a tiny bit each day using the Duolingo app on my phone and computer.  So, this course really appealed to me – I’m looking forward to learning about contemporary French poets and their work and I imagine that Paul will be a hard-working, imaginative and fun teacher!

Josephine Corcoran, A student again

For I will consider my Kitten Ursula.

For she detests clocks and smashes them so I may no longer be ruled by Time.

For with supernatural quickness she jumps upon my plate and eats my breakfast eggs.

For all ping-pong has become Cat Pong, with Ursula perched upon the table the better to intercept each ball with unholy dexterity.

For I used to consider Poe a handful.

For she is teaching me many lessons by scratching them upon my hands in hieroglyphics.

For first she laps tea from my unattended cup.

For secondly she jumps upon Poe with her legs splayed then bites him on the neck while he meekly submits.

For thirdly however high we store the ping-pong balls she will find them, so don’t place them near vases or computers.

For fourthly I apologize, Christopher Smart, I am too exhausted by Ursula to continue this list you inspired.

Lesley Wheeler, For she is of the tribe of Tiger

[Vivian] Gornick talks about finding the other in the self and using that self-investigation to provide purpose and tension in an essay or memoir. But isn’t that also the case in poetry — is there not a crucial element of investigation, and aren’t we often asking questions of our selves? And must they not be so intimate that you, the reader, are also engaged in that self-same self-investigation, advertently or inadvertently? As Gornick puts it, “…a mind puzzling its way out of its own shadows…[t]he act of clarifying on the page….”

About this idea of “truth” in a piece: “Truth…is achieved not through a recital of actual events; it is achieved when the reader comes to believe that the writer is working hard to engage with the experience at hand. What happened to the writer is not what matters; what matters is the large sense that the writer is able to makeof what happened.” It seems to me this is as true in poetry as in any kind of literature.

Of course, this is not what all poets are about. Some are functioning on the surface of sound, or the whiteness of page and what can be played out there, or are at some other kind of poetic enterprise. So I admit maybe my thinking here is too narrow. I am writing about the kind of poetry I am trying to write, not the kind of poetry that is widely lauded in the contemporary world (poetry which makes me feel like there is some huge club all of whose members are speaking some secret language I have not been initiated in. I consider this a failing in myself.).

She talks about “looking for the inner context that makes a piece of writing larger than its immediate circumstance…” That’s the kind of poem I’m talking about.

Marilyn McCabe, If it’s not too late, make it a cheeeeseburger; or, Presenting the Self

I stole this from some stories you used to tell

something from beyond the memories
of great grandparents & 90s hard drives

a butterfly struggles flaps mad
through the yard

warm morning daguerreotype sunlight
& notes slipped past the censors

James Brush, Pen Pal

With my palms smeared in ash, I went to complete
what the fire began

The message to the gods coiled through the viscosity of air
hung between the two worlds

The universe is an elongated throat covetous of the farthest constellation
Call it home even when the meteors pulse
implode the cells in the brain.

Uma Gowrishankar, How a poem processes a terror attack

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network (deadline: February 14).

Some weeks, if I didn’t know better I’d think that the poetry bloggers in my feed were responding to an essay question in some class that everyone but me is in on. (Why yes, I do have mildly paranoid tendencies.) This week, that assignment would’ve been something like: “How might risk, difficulty, or discomfort shape a poem’s creation? Illustrate with examples from your own or others’ work. For extra credit, discuss the importance of play.”


I keep seeing myself in the center of the lake.
On a still day, and everywhere is blue and quiet – except for where I am
waving my arms about, thrashing my legs against imagined, deep threats

complaining about the turbulent water.

This is my morning meditation as my mind passes through the blue candle
towards the yellow. Yellow is equanimity. The giving and the receiving.
Secure in a sense of enoughness.

I can’t let go of this longing for spring – when the morning runs are no longer a matter of pushing through darkness and trusting that all is well though
obscured.

Ren Powell, February 6th, 2019

On this sunny morning.  I know the snow will follow.

This time next week I will be having surgery. 

Here’s a poem from my book  How the Hand Behaves:

Garden gloves huddled

in a paper bag hanging on a hook
by the window where the ice clotted
bare branches quiver
and the sun sends their gnarled shadows on the snow below.

Garden gloves clean, soft, bleachy perfume,
stained brown and green,
some holy fingers clutch each other
while they wait.

Anne Higgins, Dreaming of Spring

People losing power, icy patches where you can slip and fall or where your car can skid out of control or just get stuck. Or, you might, like me, worry about the rhododendrons and go out in your pajamas and a jacket, with a broom and no gloves (I realized too late that I needed those gloves) to shake the heavy weight off the branches before they split off.

On the other side of snow’s beauty is risk.

And isn’t that what a poem is? The sounds and images collecting, building, and balancing between a palpable beauty that can make us gasp and the tension, discomfort, fear that makes us hold our breath?

Recently, I’ve been looking at my poems to locate where that tension begins–or if it’s even there. If it isn’t, what is the poem trying to do?

Joannie Stangeland, Poem as snow

I suppose the first breakthrough of sorts came in the guilty relief and release –for both of us, I want to believe – that came when my mother died in her 90s . She spent the last fifteen years of her life in a nursing home following a  severe stroke. She fought against every moment of it. She resented and hated it. I took her ashes to the Valley of Desolation, her favourite place in Wharfedale, and soon after, wrote a poem about it as a sort of atonement or prayer for absolution. Then I felt guilty that I’d not written for my dad, so I wrote about his birdwatching, his shoe mending, his singing; and then I had to balance it up with more about my mum. It’s a strange thing, guilt, but the outcome was that over about three years I’d written a handful of poems, and more about my grandparents, and it seemed to come more easily with each one. I didn’t feel as if they were looking over my shoulder, tutting.  Or not as often, or not as loudly.

But I can pinpoint the big breakthrough to specific dates. In October 2013 I was on a writing course at Almaserra Vella in Spain, and the tutor was Jane Draycott. She gave us a quick writing exercise…first impressions, get-it-down stuff on a randomly chosen postcard, which happened to be a Penguin book cover that had images of flame on it. And I wrote about our friend Julie who we’d visited in her flat in Whitby a couple of weeks before. Julie was dying of an incurable cancer; she’d confounded the specialists by outliving their predictions by over a year.

Flames. The most tenuous of connections. But a flame burned fiercely in Julie, and in the underlit smokestacks of the Boulby mine just up the coast. Maybe that was it. I typed it up with very few changes the week after. When she died a couple of weeks later, I nerved myself up to give the poem to her brother at her funeral. I was genuinely frightened. But he liked it, shared it. Gave me a permission I realised I needed: to write honestly about and for real living people. That poem Julie won first prize in the 2013 Plough Competition. Andrew Motion had liked it! I used some of the prize money to put together and print my first two pamphlets.

John Foggin, Keeping up with keeping up

It’s important, I think, to experience discomfort–it means I am facing a new task, a new perspective–that I’m learning something. I tell my students that if they are totally comfortable with the concepts in their coursework they are not learning anything yet. Education does not come without risk, whether the risks be physical, social, emotional, or intellectual. When we feel uneasy, it may mean we sense danger or sense the presence of someone manipulative, dishonest, or unkind. It may, however, mean we are simply “outside of our comfort zone.”

Tony Hoagland‘s poems offer examples of how we learn through leaving our familiar attitudes. Daisy Fried’s insightful 2011 commentary on his poem “The Change” notes the need for such uncomfortable moments. Poems Hoagland wrote as he headed toward his death from cancer at age 64 do not shy away from making the reader feel awkward, unhappy, or–in some cases–relieved, even glad. It can feel wrong to acknowledge relief as part of death. That recognition tends not to follow U.S. culture’s social norms.

I’m not claiming all good poems rile up discomfort; some poems offer joy or embrace a comforting openness; and, as readers bring their own differing experiences to the reading of a poem, the same poem that discomfits one person may appeal beautifully to another reader.

This post came about because I feel I have come to a period of discomfort in my work, and it troubles me but in a good way. I would rather feel discomfort with my writing that disengagement with it. Disengagement is writer’s block. That does not describe where I am at the moment. Instead, I feel rather as I did when I began to write and revise using formal patterns. My written expression up to that point had all been in free verse or prose, so adapting to villanelle or sonnet structure or sapphic meter seemed risky, difficult, “wrong.” Wrong for me, for the writer I believed I was, for the writing voice I had developed for 20 years.

And I was wrong about that, too! My initial discomfort aside, I learned so  much about poetry, including about my own style, through the practice of formal verse. The wonderful online journal Mezzo Cammin (formally-inspired poetry by women writers, edited by the amazing Kim Bridgford) has published several of my poems in the past. Now, two more of them! Please click here.

Ann E. Michael, Discomfort

As many teachers have repeated in many classrooms, there are no wrong questions, just wrong answers. (Maybe it was there are no wrong sandwiches, just wrong condiments.) When we’re talking about poetry, or about the making of it in particular, again there are no wrong questions, but there may also be no wrong answers. The question, however, is crucial the poem’s very existence. It’s the heart of each poem.

Here’s how it works. After I’ve gotten the bones of a poem down, maybe established the situation or narrative, the shape and the rhythm, but I’m failing to find a way to bring it all together, I go back to the idea of the question. I’ll scrounge around in the poem to try to find what it’s asking. If I figure out the question or the motivation in the poem, then I’m better equipped to solve its problems. My attempt to answer the question can sometimes help me through the poem’s speed bumps or can help me navigate safely through the poem’s turn. Sometimes it helps to actually put a question in the poem–either as a crutch that you’ll eventually remove–or as a permanent part of the poem. A question is a pretty interesting part of speech in that it’s one of the few that almost always demands a response from the reader. If you ask the reader a question, they feel compelled to answer–or look for the answer.

Grant Clauser, The Poem is the Question

Last week I  mentioned that the Poetry Society had a callout for poems that take note, in some way, of 99 of the mostly commonly used words used in 40 years of the National Poetry Competition.  I wasn’t going to write anything for this because I thought it was too much of a distraction from my aim to write poems that might fit into the theme of my next book.  That is to say, I’ve set myself a loose target/goal/aspiration to write poems that sit well together, with the hope that I produce a cohesive, fluent and not too disparate book.  It’s fine to hope, right?

But then I found that I’d worked hard on a few poems during January, persevered, stuck with them even when the going was tough, and by the very end of January I seemed to have made headway – and then the snow came, so I allowed myself a diversion.  A few days later, I had a poem of sorts – but was it enough?  Although I seemed to have responded to the writing prompt, I wondered if that was all I’d done, and when I read the poem, it seemed rather flat – in fact, rather dead!

This got me thinking about the value of writing prompts and themes.  I know that some writers love them and write well from them but I wonder if I should focus instead on poems that have started from scratch, from my own notebooks.  Then again, I have sometimes started a poem from a prompt, in a workshop for example, then put the draft aside for months or even years, come back to it and written a decent poem.  Maybe it’s time that’s needed then, regardless of how the work first started.  I doubt that my poem is any good at all but I’ve sent it off.  I’ve let go of it.  Maybe my next poem will be better. Hope, again.

Josephine Corcoran, A few poetry notes

Last weekend had us celebrate Candlemas (the presentation of Jesus at the Temple) on Feb. 2 and the feast day of Saint Simeon on Feb. 3.  One of my Facebook friends posted “A Song for Simeon,” the T. S. Eliot poem that imagines Simeon at the end of life, perhaps having an existential crisis, or maybe just feeling the age of his bones. 

I immediately thought about a companion poem, a song for Anna, the prophetess who is also mentioned in the Presentation at the Temple text in Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:  22-38).  But until this morning, I haven’t had time to play with this idea.

This morning, I wrote these lines:

In this temple of old bones and white whiskers,
I water the plants and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

Then I stopped, struck by the idea of a villanelle.  I find the villanelle form to be one of the most difficult.  A villanelle needs a first and third line that can be repeated and thus can stand on its own.  The lines need to end in words that can rhyme (if you want to know more, go here).

I made a change to make the rhyming easier:

In this temple of white whiskers and old bones,
I water the plants and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

I wrote out the villanelle structure, leaving blank lines.  I’ll come back to it later.  I wanted to write the original poem that I envisioned, without struggling with the villanelle structure.  So, I flipped the page of my legal pad, and I was off and running.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Poem for Anna the Prophetess

If I’m not actually writing, I try to be at least making something — a video poem, a series of drawings, some act of creativity. Recently I made a, as it turns out, rather elaborate and complicated accordion-binding book with a cover made of two small picture frames within which I made collages. (Yeah, I haven’t been doing much writing lately….)

It was quite an undertaking, and I had never made such a thing before, so it has some flaws — I folded some of the pages incorrectly and had to refold, so the old folds are still evident; I pasted some of the sections together on the wrong side so the pasted portion shows instead of being hidden behind the new page; an item has already fallen out of one of the collages. You know how things go. But it was a process, and a product, and therefore, satisfying.

I showed it to a friend, who said, “Oh, what are you going to do with it?”

I became confused. Was I supposed to do something with it? I thought the doing was the doing. I thought the showing-someone was also a sufficient doing. Was there more? Am I supposed to…what?…submit it to an art show…sell it on eBay?

Okay, I write poems, and some of them I send out to try to get published. Some of them I put together with others into a manuscript. Some of them get thrown away. Some sit around in their underwear for a very long time. If I was required to “do” something with everything I made I’m not sure I’d make stuff at all.

Marilyn McCabe, D…do do do..d..da da da da is all I want to say to you; or Why Make Art

The threadbare day
spun yarns from empty tales
when I could not choose

between the sea and the mountain
Both were a gateway to another life

Uma Gowrishankar, Tree Talk

Throughout her lifetime of writing poetry, Mary Oliver was largely ignored by the literary establishment.

Crickets.

I have the sense she was humored, discounted, or metaphorically speaking patted on the head for being too plain-spoken. Yet, countless readers have found a home in her words, her style, and her reverence. Some found a greater appreciation for all poetry through her work. Aside from those poets attempting only to appease the publishing gods, shouldn’t we all hope our work brings readers to greater enjoyment of poetry?

For the most part, Oliver led a quiet and unassuming life—preferring serene walks at dawn near Blackwater Pond with her dogs and reveling in the silence of her natural surroundings. Far be it for the literati to understand much less value those qualities and daily patterns when so many promote an urban ethos of steel, concrete, asphalt, and 24/7 ambient cacophony. Instead, she chose the primal sounds of birds, the surf, the crunch of pine needles underfoot and, yes, crickets. She wrote about all this and God—sometimes veiled and sometimes right up in the front seat. While I, grounded in the also overlooked Midwest and Great Plains, considered her a hero.

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Mary Oliver & Crickets

I begin to think the eagles in the tree outside my window are channeling Ursula Le Guin. When I read her essays in Words Are My Matter, the eagles trumpet from their perches in the high cottonwood trees. Trumpet is rather wrong, it is much more like emphatic flute players.

I don’t mean to suggest that Ursula had the thin squeaky voice that, incongruous as it seems, eagles possess. But rather, when I start reading these by turns serious, by turns funny, essays, I have the distinct impression of a voice from above, slightly disappointed and frankly exasperated, pointing out where I have gone astray. A voice from a being who could easily rip my heart out with knife-like talons but who will, for now, try to put me back on the path gently but persistently. 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Ursula Le Guin and Eagles

I’ve been a fan of horror as a genre since I was a kid, but only recently became aware of how poetry and horror intersect to provide beautifully dark verses capable of illuminating the shadowy side of the human experience. Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed an increasing number of horror poetry collections written by women in the world (in part, because I’ve been more actively looking for them). It’s exciting to see this develop. Below are a few of the horror poetry books I’ve read and love, and I hope to discover many more in the future. […]

Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar
Basement Gemini is a gorgeous chapbook of poetry that draws on horror movie tropes to explore female power and agency. There’s a kaleidoscopic beauty to these untitled lyrical prose poems that feel cohesive a cohesive whole. Chelsea says, “Basement Gemini was kind of born out of that idea — the simultaneous, seemingly-contradictory-but-not-really victimization, vilification, and empowerment of women that’s encountered so often in horror.”

Heliophobia by Saba Syed Razvi
Razvi’s collection tangles together darkness and light into a dark tapestry of power poems. As Razvi describes her book, “I suppose these poems are some kind of unholy fusion of museums, goth clubs, meditations, and global diaspora — all rewritten through dream logic, in some kind of ink made of the timeless decay of memory!”

Andrea Blythe, Fives Books of Poetry to Check Out for Women in Horror Month

Thanks to Gingerbread House Literary Magazine who posted this Q&A feature on fairy tales and poetry with me today: Gingerbread House Q&A with Jeannine Hall Gailey.

Ironically they posted my poem about the White Witch last week, and then it seem the White Witch of Narnia has descended on us in Seattle to install an unending winter! Seriously, we have no temperatures above freezing on the forecast for a week and more! This is much colder (and snowier) than average for us. By late February we usually have some trees starting to bloom – not this year, it seems. […]

So, with no way to escape and trapped indoors, what are my plans? Working on a Plath essay on spec, a fellowship application, and received two acceptances in the last few days (both of which, unfortunately, were stuck in my spam folder, so I didn’t even get to celebrate them right away.) I may send out one of my poetry manuscripts another couple of times, too. Still reading Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath’s letters, and checked Mary Shelley’s apocalypse novel The Last Man out of the library. And although January was full of rejections, I’ve had two acceptances this week. Thinking about starting our taxes, finally. If I hadn’t already gone a little crazy from being stuck inside last week by the snow, I’m sure I’ll be a little “The Shining” by the end of this one.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Q&A Up at Gingerbread Lit Mag, Seattle Snowpocalypse 2019, Snowbound (with Cats)

I’m honored and so pleased to have my poem “Three Miracles” published in the winter issue of The Penn Review. This poem is the third to be published from a series of personal poems about healing and recovery. In 2015, my son (21 at the time) was in a horrible accident in which he was hit on his bicycle by someone driving a pickup truck in downtown Salt Lake City. He nearly lost his life. Recovery was difficult, but he made it through and I’m grateful every day that he’s still here with us. It took me a long time to begin writing about the incident, and I’m hoping to soon have a home for the complete chapbook length collection. You can read the other two published poems from this collection here: Bone Music – Contrary Magazine, Resurrection Party – Tinderbox Poetry Journal.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “Three Miracles” in The Penn Review! + no fee call & editor interview, DEADLINE: Feb. 24, 2019

twisting down the mountains
ran a river road

we knew it so well
knew it wouldn’t end

but we’re clocks
& we cannot tell the time

James Brush, Pony Express

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 5

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network (deadline: February 14).

Books, books, and more books! Writing them, reading them, collecting them: That’s what I found in my feed this week, even more so than usual. Maybe it’s the inevitable effect of a long winter. Other themes included listening and therapy, vocabulary and rhythm, getting out and about, and learning from Sylvia Plath. Enjoy.


Alfred Edward Newton, author and book collector (Not to be confused with Alfred E. Newman of Mad magazine fame)  is quoted as saying, “Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity … we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.”  In this context, Tsundoku appears to be a positive thing. Alternatively, I have heard it used to describe book hoarding. The latter is a less flattering description of the pastime.

Let me say that  I am guilty of having more books that I have read. Or at least completed. I have a fairly extensive personal library. I make no bones about it. 

I confess that I love the feel of books. Not so much the feel of e-readers. I love the sight of books. And yes, I love the smell of books. […]

According to statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, unread volumes represent what he calls an “antilibrary,” and he believes our antilibraries aren’t signs of intellectual failings, but the opposite.

Alberto Manguel puts it very lovingly – “I have no feelings of guilt regarding the books I have not read and perhaps will never read; I know that my books have unlimited patience. They will wait for me till the end of my days.”  There may come a day in which I am no longer able to add books to my library. I hope that is not the case, But I keep reading. And yes, buying. For the time being.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Tsundoku – Pronounced sun-do-ku / Illness or Healthy?

The man who’d died, Raimond, was a bibliophile. The majority of his books were in German so I skipped the novels and history and went for art and photography, though I did surrender to some particularly beautiful books, whether for the covers or subject or gothic font. I don’t have much shelf space left at home so I tried to be disciplined and discerning. I even turned my back on his ample poetry collection. 

I did give in to one small book, though. I felt like a voyeur leafing through something so personal, but in a flimsy floral notebook, Raimond had pasted poems he chose from newspapers and magazines. Some clippings were still bunched together at the back of the book. In pasting, he grouped a poet’s work together — there’d be two pages of Günter Eich, for example, before moving on to Sarah Kirsch, whom he obviously loved.

The notebook appealed to me because I have one in which I’ve done exactly the same thing. The difference is I pasted only one poem per page, accompanied by an image. I remember the hours spent carefully choosing and arranging, and enjoyed thinking of my kindred out there doing the same.

Sarah J. Sloat, The golden notebooks

Q~You mentioned that you are finishing up your MFA. What are the best/worst parts of this for you?

A~I completed my MFA in January 2019, and it was an amazing experience. I wrote so much over the past two years and finished with a full manuscript. Being in an MFA program forces you to write and to read – both fellow student’s work but also your instructors and everything that gets assigned. I felt fully immersed in poetry for two years. It’s very bittersweet to be over – I already miss the program, but I found my community there, and it has been a wonderful experience.

Q~Who are you reading now? According to your blog, you read A LOT of books. How does this inform your own writing?

A~I do read a lot; in 2018 I read 221 books which was a personal best for me! I read a little of everything – a ton of poetry, literary fiction, genre fiction (fantasy is great for audio books!), CNF, memoir, etc. (Friend me on Goodreads to follow what I read: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6611777.Courtney_LeBlanc) I get recommendations from friends and Twitter (shoutout to DC Public Library for running great book chats – https://twitter.com/dcpl). I just finished Seducing the Asparagus Queen by Amorak Huey, which is a gorgeous collection of poetry and a great way to kick off 2019. Next, I plan on reading some of Mary Oliver’s work since she just passed away, and I’m already missing her words. I recently read The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and really enjoyed it (fiction). My favorite fantasy is Strange the Dreamer (book #1) and Muse of Nightmares (book #2) by Laini Taylor, which I recommend to everyone, haha.

When reading books of poetry I’m often inspired to write my own poems – either by something I read or just the general feeling I get from a book or a poem. I think the better read you are, the better writer you’ll be. As poet Jane Kenyon said, “Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.”

To My Ex Who Asked If Every Poem Was About Him / an interview with poet Courtney LeBlanc (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

In September, I was notified that my full-length manuscript, Fabulous Beast, was the runner-up for the X.J. Kennedy Prize and that it was selected for publication in the fall of 2019. The contract didn’t arrive until January, but it’s finally signed. (Yay!) And now we’re moving into book cover stuff and that’s making everything feel more real.

Most of the first section of this manuscript was published as a chapbook by Hyacinth Girl Press in 2015, as Fabulous Beast: The Sow. Having that little book out in the world has meant so much to me — Margaret Bashaar, the editor, creates beautiful books and supports her authors with a tireless energy. I’ve been so grateful to be a Hyacinth Girl author, and I’ve been introduced to (both in-person and electronically, over social media) a supportive community of fellow poets through the press.

But now it’s really exciting to think of the second section, a ten-chapter fairy tale written in Spenserian stanzas (hahaha, it sounds AWESOME, doesn’t it?) and the third section, poems employing the imagery of Norse and Greek myths, being out in the world, too. I worked so hard on this manuscript, and put so much time and energy (and yes, money) into submissions to various awards and calls for publication, it’s really gratifying to know the entire book will be a real-life object soon.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Full-Length Fabulous Beast is Going to Be A Thing in the World. Which is Pretty Cool.

Last autumn I pulled together a manuscript of poems written since my first collection was published. I know it takes a long time to find a home for a book of poetry. And since I can’t afford to submit it to publishing houses that charge reading fees or contest entry fees, the list of publishing houses I might approach is smaller. But I pulled up my optimism socks and sent it to my first choice, Grayson Books. This is the publishing house that included one of my poems in their beautiful Poetry of Presence anthology last year.

Their submission guidelines warn they only publish a few books each year, so I expected to send the manuscript along to another publisher after I got the inevitable rejection. I didn’t even open their emailed response right away in order to postpone the disappointment.

Instead I got an acceptance! (I’m pretty sure I heard trumpets.)

I am strange about my own good news, suddenly more shy, and have only told a few people since signing the book contract back in October. Each step of the process —- editing, choosing a title, approving art commissioned for the cover — has been a testament to the professionalism and patience of Grayson Books publisher Ginny Connors. I still cannot believe my good fortune.

Laura Grace Weldon, My New Book!

So apparently, one of the magical transformations of midlife is that a poet can become a novelist. I have moments of elation about that, and moments of alarm. My turn to novels is a way bigger change than anything that’s happened in my writing life since I won a prize for Heterotopia ten years ago. It’s NOT a turn away from poetry, which is still very much at the center of my daily life, but it will be a turn away from traditional scholarship, I think. My novel, Unbecoming, and my next poetry collection, whose title I’m still fiddling with, will be out in 2020 (there’s a small chance of late 2019 for the novel, but I’m not banking on it). AND I have a book of poetry-based nonfiction, a hybrid of criticism and memoir, scheduled for 2021 (more details on that soon!).

Creative writing across the genres, full speed ahead!–I’ve been drafting a lot of micro-essays and some micro-fiction this winter. Reviewing, too. But I can’t do everything. And I know where my heart lies.

Learning to write a novel has been hard and surprising and wonderful, but now I have to learn about publishing one. PLUS do my best job ever at getting the word out about my new poetry collection, simultaneously, while revising the essay collection. It’s a lot. I anticipate a big pivot next year from the introversion of writing/ revision/ submission work to the extroversion required for traveling, reading, guest-teaching, panel-surfing, and all the other stuff. Some of it at SF conventions! And all this will happen right at my empty nest moment–this is also the winter of helping my son get college applications out and waiting for the verdicts. I mean, really–what’s the appropriate cheerful-but-scared expletive for THAT?

Lesley Wheeler, Change of (literary) life

I finished three fantastic poetry collections this month. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is a justifiably lauded collection of poetry and essays. The collection offers an unflinching look at the everyday realities of racism in America, with the second person narration drawing the reader directly into the experience. The blend of writing styles and art make for a powerful and necessary read.

My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing by Kelly Lorraine Andrews is a beautiful little chapbook published by Pork Belly Press. These poems explore the physicality of existing in a body, with a blend of mortality and eroticism.

Ivy Johnson’s Born Again dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, it gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. Check out my interview with Johnson on the New Books in Poetry podcast.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: January 2019

It’s not a social norm–real listening. Despite the recognition that human beings are social animals that require communication, despite the recognition that “talk therapy” (which at its foundation employs active listening) and writing therapy can heal broken psyches,  even though many studies over decades have demonstrated how relationships rely upon partners’ openness to listening–listening stays a bit unconventional.

So many people think listening is passive. No, it is an active verb. Bombarded with information from numerous sources, the processes of discerning what one should listen to get tattered and confused. Our brains want to chunk information, to ignore, to elide, to suppress and glean and separate the various threads so the mind can prioritize.

Listening is difficult.

~

William Carlos Williams famously claims it’s difficult to get the news from poetry–and, in the same poem, he asks us (by way of Flossie, his wife) to listen:
…Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life
from books
and out of them
about love.
Death
is not the end of it.
There is a hierarchy
which can be attained,
I think,
in its service.

the mind
that must be cured
short of death’s
intervention,
and the will becomes again
a garden. The poem
is complex and the place made
in our lives
for the poem.
[I am not html-savvy enough to code the spacing of this poem on my blog, but you can find it here (p. 20) or here; the excerpts are from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower.”]

Ann E. Michael, Hear me out

[…]
Birds whirl around your room, and then you die,
even though you’ve swept them from the roof beams
out the window. Birds have taught you to fly
through this world, stitched with invisible seams.
Even though you’ve swept me from your roof beams,
I come to ask you where you’ve gone and why
this world is stitched with invisible seams. […]

One of the last times I met with my therapist, a beautiful elderly woman who became like a mother to me, she was seeing clients in a home office. She had suffered a car accident, and she thought the accident was contributing to her memory loss.

That day in her office a bird flew into an adjoining room, so Joanne (a made up name to protect her privacy), got a broom and swept it through the open springtime window.

And around the same time period, we had a bird’s nest near our bedroom window, probably a wren, hence this poem.

Christine Swint, Nests in the Wall

I wrote a poem this morning that came to me yesterday as I walked across the campus of my parents’ retirement community.  I reflected that it was the feast day of St. Brigid; I wondered if a retirement community was similar to a medieval abbey in significant ways.

The poem I wrote this morning was a bit different than the one I thought I would write, but it made me happy.

I also read a bit of poetry that made me happy.  When I sent my book length manuscript to Copper Canyon, I got to choose 2 books, and I chose Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones by Lucia Perillo, mainly because I loved the title.  It’s a new and selected collection, and wow–what powerful poems.  I had no idea.

It’s been a good writing week.  I could feel my well being filled by my traveling and by my reading.  On the plane ride back, I finished Old in Art School by Nell Painter–what an intriguing book.  It made me want to go home and paint.  I did sketch on the plane, but I felt constrained by the space and the bumpiness, so I made it a quick sketch.

Kristin Berkey-Abbot, Back to Regular Life, Sweetened by Time Away

[…] Her mouth moves in prayer,

her tongue runs along the soft palate, the molars extracted after years
of the root canal: it is a soft mound like the grave at the edge of the village

she saw him dig. Her breasts produced the extra ounce of milk
at every childbirth to be squeezed into the mouth filled with soil.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Feed

In the structure of a poem, each word, as an I-beam or a column, needs to be carrying weight and be balanced with the others, or be deliberately off-balance. Multisyllabic words have to be used carefully because they can visually and sonically outweigh or overshadow other words, rocking the whole enterprise, and not in a good way. They also run the risk of sounding self-conscious. (Why use “utilize” when “use” will do, except that you think it sounds fancier?) (Or maybe you need three beats in that line, I suppose. That might be a justification…but a pretty shaky one.)

Similarly, grand and abstract words can weigh too much: love, for example, soul, universe. Even “moon” has to be handled with care. (I was advised once to not use the moon at all, as it’s been soooooo overdone. But, I mean, geez, I can’t NOT talk about the moon.)

It takes patience (and humility), I think, to not get caught up in my own extensive vocabulary options, to instead wait for, or mine for the often more simple utterance that says more than its parts.

And then to have the courage to surround it with silence, the vital partner of speech.

Marilyn McCabe, Shunning the Frumious Bandersnatch; or, Finding the Right Words

I was reading my Christmas present, The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963, when I came across a mention of syllabic verse. Plath’s poem “Mussel-Hunter at Rock Harbor” is written in stanzas of seven lines, each line containing seven syllables. In a letter to her brother Warren, dated June 11, 1958, she writes about the poem and the form she used:

“This is written in what’s known as ‘syllabic verse’, measuring lines not by heavy & light stresses, but by the numberof syllables, which here is 7: I find this form satisfactorily strict (a pattern varying the number of syllables in each line can be set up, as M. Moore does it) and yet it has a speaking illusion of freedom (which the measured stress doesn’t have) as stresses vary freely.” (247) 

According to The Handbook of Poetic Terms (every writer should have one on her desk), “Writing in syllables is a terrific way to ‘even out’ a poem, and is useful also to writers who feel stymied when deciding where to break their lines.”

For a poet whose “mind was brilliantly off-kilter, its emphasis falling in surprising places,” to quote Dan Chiasson’s review of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963, which appeared in the November 5, 2018 issue of the New Yorker, this “satisfactorily strict” form worked very well.

I just tried this with a recent poem. It started as a free-verse poem, then morphed into a prose poem, but is now a series of bouncy, mostly seven-syllable lines. I like the odd breaks this form imposes, and I think it gives the poem a kind of energetic forward motion it didn’t have before. 

Give syllabic verse a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Erica Goss, Syllabic Verse

A few days with cold rain and a cold have given me time to catch up on my reading, specifically Virginia Woolf’s letters and now I’m dead in the middle of Sylvia Plath’s letters, Volume II. I thought this quote might have about today’s poetry publishing world, instead of 1959’s:

Here’s a quote regarding not getting the Yale Younger Prize in Summer, 1959:
“I am currently quite gloomy about this poetry book of about 46 poems, 37 of them published (and all written since college, which means leaving out lots of published juvenalia.) I just got word from the annual Yale Contest that I “missed by a whisper” and it so happened that a louse of a guy I know I know personally, who writes very glib light verse with no stomach to them, won, and he lives around the corner & is an editor at a good publishing house here, and I have that very annoying feeling which is tempting to write off as sour grapes that my book was deeper, if more grim, and all those other feelings of thwart. I don’t want to try a novel until I feel I am writing good salable short stories for the simple reason that the time, sweat and tears involved in a 300-page book which is rejection all round is too large to cope with while I have the book of Poems kicking about. Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing, which remark I guess shows I still don’t have pure motives (O-it’s-such-fun-I-just-can’t-stop-who-cares-if-it’s-published-or-read) about writing. It is more fun to me, than it was when I used to solely as a love-and-admiration-getting mechanism (bless my psychiatrist.) But I still want to see it ritualized in print.”

(She’s referring to George Starbuck, a neo-formalist who went on to run the Iowa Writers Workshop and may have had CIA connections…please read Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers to learn more about the CIA’s deep connections to the literary world and all we hold dear…Oh Sylvia, if you had only known how deep the cronyism and favoritism went back then for male writers…you might have been less bitter, but maybe not.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Winter Witch Arrives in Seattle, New Poem up at Gingerbread House Lit, Queen Anne and More Sylvia Plath, and Looking Towards Spring

In terms of poetry, things are going great. A poem I wrote for Malala is part of a multi-art performance in March. I was asked at a candlelight vigil for a murdered police officer. I was asked to read at a city council meeting, a county board of supervisors meeting, and for Martin Luther King day. Original, new poems for everyone. Also, I was part of a poets-on-posters project for downtown. I want to do a broadside project, and I seem to raised the funds for it.

I have been trying to cut down my time on Facebook and Twitter. It isn’t really good for my Buddhist practice; at least it feels that way. I am trying to cut down to just posting my poetry links (to my blog and event notices), but like an addict I get pulled back in. Working on it.

“Hi, I’m James, and I am a social media addict.”

My work with the homeless shelter has been affected by my health, but I am still on the board of directors and doing what I can. I can only be on my feet for so long at a time.

What else? I’ve been focusing on shorter poems with an emphasis on place, using Basho and Li Po as my prototypes. For years I did deeper image, somewhat ecstatic poems, and every so often one comes up, but I enjoy this a lot more. Very satisfying, these little things.

James Lee Jobe, journal update: 31 January 2019

In Miami, I had a brief residency at The Betsy. The Writer’s Room program is amazing (in return for a reading and a meet-the-artist reception, they give you a place to stay and a $50 / day tab at their restaurants). That said, one has to get past the strangeness of the entire staff knowing who you are and why you’re there. SWWIM was kind enough to host our reading, where I finally got to meet Vinegar and Char contributor Elisa Albo. (Have you signed up for SWWIM’s daily poem? You should!) I read four books in two days–Jessica Hopper’s Night Moves, David Menconi’s Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown, Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, and Porochista Khakpour’s Sick–lounging whenever I could by the Betsy’s rooftop pool. I checked into a cat cafe for an hour. And I walked down to the South Pointe Park, a walk that brought me comfort so many days back when I was living in Miami in February 2011, as part of a now-defunct artist residency. I’m working on my next nonfiction book, and this was the perfect setting. But that’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Sandra Beasley, January Tidings

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 4

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network.

This week saw poetry bloggers continuing to write about Mary Oliver, as well as reacting to current and celestial events. There were posts about creativity and overcoming writer’s block, reviews, philosophical reflections… the whole mix. I should mention that I am slowly becoming more selective as I continue to add more blogs to my feed. It’s a good thing most people don’t post every day, as Luisa and I do here at Via Negativa! That would be nuts. Anyway, Enjoy.


Those of us who are still here: we are still, always arriving.  We’re not in the Promised Land, that’s for sure.  All we can really do, is to be in the becoming.  Still, always arriving.  We’ve been still, always arriving since we left the ennui of Paradise. We throw questions, try to dominate, cure. We try to stare down the enemy though, as if in a mirror, we’ll see our own face in its acts of aggression.  Learning to love the questions themselves, rather than the answers relaxes the drive to conquer. As King said, mental freedom, illumination can move things. 

Today also on the Jewish calendar: Tu B’Shevat, festival of the trees. Today trees are sheathed in ice in New England. The sap is there, held in tension, in suspense, waiting, always arriving.

Jill Pearlman, MLK, Always Arriving

I don’t know about you, but I process confusion by getting my ass into a chair and my pencil onto a page. So when the video of the young man staring down the Native elder surfaced, I watched it and paid close attention to the emotions that rose to the surface in my body. I didn’t respond on social media. In fact, it didn’t take too long for me to stop looking at social media altogether on the issue. I wrote about it in my notebook. […]

When I taught high school, I spent a lot of time choosing novels that I hoped would expand my students’ empathy, help them walk in another’s life for awhile, break down some of the barriers. That’s what literature and poetry does best, it shows us how it is to be another person. I remember how hard it was for my students in a small town in Alaska to really put themselves into the place of Ishmeal Beah in A Long Way Gone or Amir in The Kite Runner. But when they succeeded, the transformation was permanent. They could not go back to their own small lives without carrying some of the lives of other people who were different than them…. and the same as them.

When I write, I try to offer my reader that same chance to step into the poem. “Did you lose someone to Alzheimer’s? Was it like this?” I offered in Every Atom. “Are you lost and looking for the way some god might be all around you? Does it feel this way?” I wondered in Boundaries.

Recently, I look at my new poems and think I am asking, “Do you love the world? Are you open to the way the crow flies across the cold sand? Are you willing to listen for the soft compression of wings on air?”

“Are you ready to have faith that what you call other is only you on a different day?”

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, On a different day

So I am up and out the door. But the blood moon has rolled over and pulled the thin blanket of clouds with it. The sky reflects a sickly orange spill from the green houses in Bore.

I feel that I’ve written that sentence before. I’ve written about how we impose on the world.

But still, this morning was once in a lifetime.

Sporadic hail through the tree branches.
The dog tugging the lead,
still unlearning to hunt. 

Ren Powell, January 21st, 2019

In the end, all that mattered was blood
relations, forgiveness, love. In hospice, I left him alone
the night before he died. Still thought he’d walk

out of that place. The nurse said he was afraid on his own
in the dark. Even with opiates, he couldn’t find a way to sleep.
He asked for me. I drove right over. He stopped breathing that day.

There was a blood moon, auger of end times, in the days
before his death, a lone orb pointing the way,
an opening of sorts, a door for him to slip through, quite easily, on his own.

Christine Swint, Driving My Father Through the End Times, a Sestina

After her tea she gets
the big pot and scrubs vegetables for soup.
Her knife is rhythmic against the cutting board,
her felt slippers scuffing from counter to stove
and back again. I see her mouth move sometimes
as she sways, mincing, mincing her life.

Sarah Russell, Mornings after breakfast

Ever since my daughter planted cover crops in the fall of 2016, I’ve been fascinated by winter rye. How tall and glorious it grows. The subtle colors of its ears. The Catcher in the Rye, and the delicious homophone with wry.

Although it’s almost February, I finally ordered the seeds, and this morning went out to plant. […]

And while I’m out in the dirt, I have time to think about writing, think about how messiness gives the eye and the mind nooks and crannies to explore. How it feels to dig in and turn over, to break the blockages apart, to weed through the words. How the rake finds new roots and clumps get rid of. Sometimes I get an idea for a poem.

This morning, I thought about how I’ve been working on a poem that complains about those people who say home-baked bread can’t be “from scratch” if you don’t grow your own wheat–and here I was planting rye! And I thought about how it’s better to experiment–and risk failure–in a poem, just as this rye patch may fail. This might be the shortest diary ever. We’ll see.

Joannie Strangeland, The rye diary

It’s been two snow & ice storms, four poems submitted to one venue, plane tickets to AWP19 bought,  more presidential candidates announcing than I can remember, lots of reading and lots of writing since my last confession. […]

Going through another of those writing funks where I am not happy with much of what I put on a page. Of course, this is not the first time this has happened and I confess that I am well aware that it will happen again. I’m writing a lot trying to push through it. It’s the only way I know to get back on track. Still, it is frustrating when this happens and you wonder if you will ever put another poem on a page that you are happy with.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Federal Workers on My Mind

We can get so hung up on not writing that it makes us anxious and can block us. In a recent issue of Mslexia, poet Tara Bergin says that to combat the terrible fear of starting a poem, instead of saying “You’re going to write a poem tomorrow”, she leaves post- it notes for herself that say things like, “Read such and such an article and take notes” and other notes reminding her to read different things. This means she’s always got something to do and is not failing because she isn’t compiling an actual poem. I did something like this on the long haul towards my PhD – lots of notes to self on my desk, in books and on my phone.

My insomnia is a thing I don’t necessarily like but have come to accept. so in the particularly fevered early hours of PhD days, I made it a thousand times worse by making visual Insomniascapes on my phone -tiny images of me placed in surreal landscapes, or just the landscapes themselves. These were places I knew and ran or walked around to clear my head or to think more but the various apps made them nightmarish. This was possibly a useful kind of displacement. I’ll never really know. Maybe I ought to write poems to accompany them. Even though I wasn’t writing words there but I was still “writing”. The practice was connected with certain emotional and psychological states and was undoubtedly a creative one which was linked with writing.

Pam Thompson, “Writing” Towards Writing

It’s been really helpful to read these posts by poets writing about how they find their way into poems:  Writing” Towards Writing by Pam Thompson and fearless creating by Julie Mellor.  As well as containing useful and practical advice, the posts are a comforting reminder that I’m not alone in finding writing hard going at times.  I have a poem that’s been kicking around for months.  It’s there because I realised that another poem I was writing was really two poems.  So I managed to finish poem one but had these scraps of ideas, lines and words for the second poem.  I suppose it’s something like knitting a jumper and finding there’s some good wool left over that it would be a shame to waste.  Or realising you bought too much expensive wool and that it would be plain wrong to leave it lying around going to ruin.  Do you understand the kind of nagging feeling I’m left with?  All January it’s been going on and January hasn’t been the best of months to begin with!

Josephine Corcoran, Finding your way into a poem

I’ve been experimenting with combining sketching and poetry writing, and last night, I took a larger leap.  I had been looking at an old manuscript, and I was intrigued by some of the images (not all of them mine–I can trace at least two of them back to this poem by Luisa Igloria).  I started with those images and wrote the words of the poem.  Then I sketched a bit.  […]

These new creative directions come with questions.  Do the poems work without the image?  Is there a market for these poem-like things with images?  As I continue to do them, will a narrative arc emerge?  As images continue to make an appearance, should I read anything into them?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, When Sketches Meet Poems

Day Three: Thursday, Jan. 24:  This day began later than the others thanks to a dentist appointment. (Apparently, after 40 everything falls apart, even if you’ve been taking relatively good care of your teeth.) I could still sip coffee with half my jaw shot up with Novocaine, so I trekked to Starbucks despite the late start.

Sure, it’s totally a cliche to be a writer working in any coffeehouse, let alone Starbucks, but cut this working mom of three some slack, okay? At $6 a day for coffee and a bottle of water (+ tip), with free WiFi and a corner seat next to an outlet, plus the ability to focus for three solid hours without the distractions of home or the office, it’s probably the most convenient and cheapest residency a poet-mom can get.

And even — or maybe because — I’d arrived later in the day, I stayed later too, (the Starbucks baristas must love my loitering ass) and finished a solid draft of the review. I concentrated on the beginning and writing about all of the parts of Esperanza and Hope that make it worth reading and found quotes to demonstrate and by the end of the day I was over-caffeinated, under-fed, and more than a little grumpy as a result, but very satisfied that I finished the week with a completed piece of work.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical 2019

Delighted to receive my copy of “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom,” a new short story published by Faber & Faber that Sylvia Plath wrote when she was 20 years old, and Mademoiselle rejected. She didn’t work on the story again for two years, and when she did, she diminished the mystery and darkness of it. A reminder that we, as writers, often let editors guide what and how we write way too often – and just because something is rejected, doesn’t mean it isn’t good. She was just way ahead of her time. This story seems today, Murakami-esque, in the school of magical realism or symbolism – some resemblances to the story of Snowpiercer, in fact – at the time, it must have been very surprising reading indeed. I wish she had been encouraged to write more short fiction – this piece shows she had a real talent for it. One more lesson from Sylvia: don’t let editors discourage you from writing something different, or something people haven’t seen before. Or, in modern parlance, F&ck the haters.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Midwinter Sun, Four New Poems up at Live Encounters, Spy Animals, and Plath’s New Book

One thing that is interesting about reading some of the lesser-known or recently translated Tang poets (e.g. Meng Chiao, Li He, Li Shangyin) is the realization that, beyond the Li Po–Tu Fu–Wang Wei axis, not all of the Chinese poets were as focused on the clarity of the image the way these (and some others) often were.  From the standpoint of English-language poetics, we tend to see Li Po, through Ezra Pound’s translations, as the avatar of imagism, though he also wrote poems of mystic journeys that veer into the surreal and dreamlike.  […]  But the emphasis on the imagist “thing” has until recently tended to leave a lot of other Tang-era poets out of picture.  A. C. Graham began to remedy that somewhat in his Poems of the Late T’ang (1965), and in recent years, further translations of individual poets have been more frequently published.

The latest of these is the work of Li Shangyin (813-858), translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts (New York Review Books, 2018).  This volume includes not only Roberts’s translation of approximately 50 pages of Li’s poetry (with facing original Chinese), but also the versions by Graham and some by Lucas Klein (most of which are duplicate poems, making for interesting comparisons).  Li’s style is at times naturalistic and imagistic, but more often allusive, metaphorical, and, like Li He’s, surreal.  His work has historically been considered extremely obscure or, as Roberts puts it in her introduction, “unknowable and elusive . . . almost baroque, opulently layered with distinct mythological, historical, personal, and symbolist imagery” (xi).  This, of course, makes him difficult to translate. […]

Perhaps of use is an ars poetica, which begins,

At dawn, use clouds
To conceive the lines.
In winter, hold snow
To divine the poem. (33)

Mike Begnal, On Li Shangyin

I’m thinking of the whole complicated continuum from Pastoral poetry to the current imbroglio of ‘eco/environmental poetry’. I’ve been wrestling with this ever since I read Yvonne Reddick’s tour de force of exegesis in Ted Hughes: environmentalists and eco poet. I think I lost my way in the second chapter in which she summarises the sects and subsects of ecopoetry criticism: the topological, the tropological, the entropological and the ethnological. There are probably more by now, but they didn’t help me to entangle what I think of as ‘nature’, living as we do in a land where every metre has been named, walked, farmed, exploited, fenced, walled, built on, abandoned and reclaimed. All I know is that is if we continue degrade the ecological balances of the world it will die. The earth will get over that. It doesn’t care. It’s already gone through four major extinctions, not least being the one caused by the emergence of oxygen in the free atmosphere. It doesn’t care for us. But it seems obvious that we need to care for it if we care anything for ourselves.

When it comes to poetry that concerns itself with the natural world (and I’ll strenuously avoid that capitalised cliche Nature) I guess my first big eye-opener was Raymond Williams’ The country and the city which was my introduction to the idea that words like that are culturally constructed, and go on being deconstructed and reconstructed. Very little of the poetry we were given at school concerned itself with the city and the urban. It was pastoral, nostalgic and often sentimental . Poems like ‘The deserted village’. Poems like ‘Daffodils’. It took me a long time to work out why I distrusted ‘Daffodils’ but the clue’s in the first line:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

The first word; I. It’s not about daffodils, is it? It’s about the poet and what the daffodils can do for him as he wanders (ie purposelessly) and lonely (ie in self-elected solitariness) as a cloud (ie diffuse and without responsibility). It’s what I thought of when I heard Gormley’s phrase ‘ a pre-narcissistic art’. He did a revolutionary thing, Wordsworth. It’s a shame this poem is what he’s chiefly remembered for by folk who aren’t that interested in poetry. He opened our eyes to a power and loveliness beyond the bounds of a predominantly urban and urbane culture.

John Foggin, Green thoughts, and a Polished Gem: Alison Lock

“Nature poets” can be fierce, asserting the need for stewardship of our blue planet; poets who write happiness well understand–and convey–that pain and sorrow remain our companions in life. That does not mean a focus-on-the-positive Pollyanna attitude. No–to compose poems that show us we have every reason to love what we encounter takes bravery, because we so often fear what the world offers. To do so takes deep acknowledgment of suffering, not just a glancing nod, but compassion. The poet may not “behave well” in his or her own life but has the practiced gift of observation and enough craft to show the reader difficult perspectives.

Sometimes, gladness and optimism and beauty get obscured by experience and griefs. Next time that happens, maybe turn to poems?

Ann E. Michael, Remembering joy, redux

I just finished listening to the podcast “On Being with Krista Tippet” where Tippet interviews Mary Oliver. I am still in the glow of Ms. Oliver’s voice, her words, her generosity. It originally aired in October 2015 and so was conducted in the last years of her life when she had left Provincetown, Massachusetts after the death of her longterm partner, Molly Malone Cook.

One of the many things that I jotted down while listening to Oliver is:  “Poetry wishes for a community.” She also spoke about “the writer’s courtship” and the importance of creating time and space in one’s life to write — preferably while being outdoors. […]

Here is what I know: poetry needs community; it thrives when poets come together to write, to share ideas, to acknowledge the poetic voice in one another. These retreats always leave me feeling nourished. I do not know what I would do alone in a garret unless I had my poetry community to gather with in early autumn and late winter.

Susan Rich, Poetry Wishes for a Community — Mary Oliver, Poets on the Coast, and Groundhog Day Writing Retreat.

I’ve been reading about the art of wood carving in David Esterly’s fascinating The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making. The author said several things of interest to me as a writer.

Here’s one that echoes Rilke’s idea of “being only eye,” that is, looking at something so intimately that “self” consciousness falls away but something of the deeper self rises up. Esterly writes:

“Once I gave lessons in foliage carving. I proposed to the students that we reject the idea that carving should be a means for self-expression…The assignment would be to carve a laurel leaf, a leaf of extreme simplicity. I asked the students to throw themselves entirely into the leaf, seek its essence and express only that, putting aside their personalities and carving only with hands and eyes…At the end of the day? There were eight individual leaves, some more compelling than others, but each distinct from all the rest…Trying to express the leaf, the carvers inadvertently had expressed themselves. But it was…a self-expression…from a union with their subject.”

I talk about this a bit when I lead writing workshops at an area art museum. I ask people to give themselves over to looking, and then, by challenging them to write constantly in a timed session, invite the inadvertent utterance onto the page. In this way we give ourselves the chance to surprise ourselves.

Marilyn McCabe, Whittle While You Work; or, Considering Wood Carving and Writing

The passing of Mary Oliver, and the subsequent news articles and social media messages about her, made me realize something about contemporary poetry. There’s so little joy in much of it.

The range of emotions and experience available for poets is limitless, yet the predominant themes in journals and books makes it seem like poets choose to spend more of their energy on the darker side of the spectrum. Now there’s a lot to be depressed about today and a lot to be upset about. Clearly social and political issues influence, and sometimes dominate many poets’ work. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Good writing, whether it concerns tragedy, anger, sorrow or grief, is still good writing. And as I said in a previous post, pain lends a poem a kind of emotional energy that’s useful for a poem. In fact, I think negative emotions are easier to drive than positive ones. But that doesn’t mean that every poem has to feel like a gut punch.

Grant Clauser, It’s Not All Misery: What Mary Oliver Taught Us About Joy

When the moon turned red, so many more stars appears and everything had that crisp look which is hard to explain but the night sky felt as if someone had used the “sharpen” tool in Photoshop, making sure each pinprick of light was detailed and perfectly placed.

As the eclipse went on, I thought–I should be writing. I have this weird superstition about monumental moments–New Year’s Eve, lunar eclipse, birthdays, solstice, Day of the Dead, etc–that I should be writing on these days because it’s a nod to the universe that yes, this is my passion and if you see me writing on these days, it means it’s what I should be doing with my life (and hey universe, if you see this, send me some good luck and inspiration too). 

I realize this doesn’t really make any sense, but it’s a strange belief I’ve carried since I was younger. On New Year’s, let me start the year by reading a poem or writing one, on my birthday, let me be laughing so it carries on through the year.

But during the lunar eclipse, I realized that even though I wasn’t physically writing a poem, I was experience one. I was in the middle of a poem looking out. Insert shooting star. Insert the moment you hear your neighbors laugh because they are out on their patio with a drink watching as well. Insert telescope zooming on a crater. 

I now want to write the poem to create the feeling I had on Sunday. I want to be lost in a poem and not know it’s a poem. Maybe that’s life. Maybe it’s when we’re mindful. Maybe this is something I need to think about more when the reader is reading my poem, is she lost in the poem and looking out, shooting star filled, or is she just lost? 

Who knows if we are the poet or our life is the poem? Who cares to find out?

Kelli Russell Agodon, During the Super Blood Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse, I Find Myself in a Poem