Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. With major religious holidays this weekend, Poetry Month just past the midway point, and spring well underway in some places, many poets this week struck a playful or celebratory note, even as serious issues still needed to be wrestled with and poems needed to be written or pored over. Enjoy.


I want to say so much about
this oak and these first bluebells
but what can I say that you
don’t already see and feel yourselves?

The weight of that trunk hunkering
over the frail brushstrokes of colour.
You might even imagine their barely
perceptible scent soon to be booming

through the woods. We are comforted
in these moments, aren’t we? The reliable
return of Spring. By beauty.
The way our small hearts sing.

Above me the first shimmer of green
in the splayed branches. At my feet
these steadfast little gifts. I want to
believe in a world that can change and heal.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ So much

The author places a blindfold over her eyes and her body in an enormous circle. Flirts with broken taillights and right angles. Throws pages into the river. Still, she shivers under streetlamps, gaslit and ghost prone. Touch her, and she leaves a small black mark on the underside of your wrist. Large enough to bite. What a fight when the author went down and down into the tunnel and came out bearing a single string with which to hang you. A single page smooth and white as the back of a dead woman’s hand. The author could crack her bones each night and assemble anew every morning, but nothing went back together as sound as it began.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #15

I’ve taken a little dive into Spanish language poetry recently, with two wonderfully bilingual volumes: Jorge Luis Borges’s Poems of the Night — an anthology of variously translated works focused on…well…la noce, and sleep, and insomnia, death, and sunrise, sunset, and of course, la luna; and America, by Fernando Valverde, translated by Carolyn Forché — an outsider’s view of our strange land.

Side-by-side bilingual translations are, for me, the only way to go when I read poetry in translation. Even if I don’t understand one letter, it’s important for me to see how it looks on the page, see the rhythm of the words laid out, glimpse if, for example, the original language seems to use end rhyme but the translation does not, or whether line breaks are different, or if, (as in one notable experience I’ve written about in these pages) entire stanzas have been foregone. If I recognize the letters, I may try sounding out the poems, just to get them in my mouth, how the language requires my tongue to tick or tangle, my lips to pop or pooch.

Both of these authors are grounded in the land and flinging through the stars. Reading them makes the world new again in the freshness of their perspectives, their imagery, the way syntax is often turned around from the English norm, how some words are softer than the same in English, some harder. Feel how soft “estrella” sounds compared to the relative burst of “star.” (And yet both have their place, don’t they, when we think about the characters of stars on different nights, under different skies, different emotions?)

Marilyn McCabe, Jump a little higher; or, On Reading Borges and Valverde

set fair the pop of the dubbin tin

The haiku above, one of the April contingent in The Haiku Calendar 2022, still very much worth buying from the incomparable Snapshot Press, here, has been talking to me for the past week and a half. Few haiku as short as this – just nine syllables – do as much work.

I picture the poet/protagonist, having consulted the weather forecast, down on his haunches to polish his faithful pair of sturdy black boots, for a walk into the countryside, maybe, or out to the coast.

The familiar sound as the tin-lid’s catch releases is immensely satisfying. Chard is as observant and excellent a haiku poet as anyone writing today, so he knows that the ‘pop’ needs no qualifying adjective, and his choice of the rather old-school ‘dubbin‘ is inspired.

It’s also pertinent to note that Chard didn’t write ‘set fair the dubbin tin’s pop’. His wording enables a double surprise: of the pop itself, and then that what causes the pop is something as apparently trivial as opening a tin of shoe polish.

Except that it isn’t trivial, and it shifts the focus: what we see is an act born of tradition; of someone with standards to maintain, standards no doubt instilled in him as a boy. The day is ‘set fair’, so boots need to be looking their best.

Matthew Paul, On a haiku by Simon Chard

Very pleased to be one of the 21 poets in this zuihitsu portfolio, edited by Dana Isokawa and published in the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s magazine The Margins. Asked for a note to accompany my three zuihitsu, I wrote this: “I was introduced to the zuihitsu in a workshop on Japanese poetic forms taught by Kimiko Hahn and immediately fell in love with it. How fresh Sei Shōnagon sounds across the centuries! What is the secret to such eternal freshness? Trained in traditional Western forms, I was looking to expand my repertoire by looking again to the East, and what I found was not so much a form as a voice. Sure, Sei Shōnagon is a privileged snob, as a literary friend pointed out with a sniff, but I love to put on her beautiful robe, rub some precious rouge on my cheeks, burn a fine incense stick, and wait for my lover to arrive in the night.”

Jee Leong Koh, When I Go Home with Someone

I’m occasionally contacted by people who have been moved by one of my flower poems and it’s nice to know that my poems are out there and working their way into occasional lives despite my minimal active involvement in the current poetry scene. 

I’m so enjoying the work of Matthew Sweeney at the moment, it has taken me a while to really get on board with his poems but I’m seeing possibilities in his work that could potentially help me move on in my writing. I absolutely love his poem The Owl

Marion McCready [no title]

Dion O’Reilly: Nature, or what we now call The Living World, is a prominent feature in your poetry. Do you consider yourself an eco-poet?

Yvonne Zipter: I’ve never actually thought about it, but I think that’s a fair label to apply to my work. If ecopoetry explores “the relationship between nature and culture, language and perception,” as Forrest Gander posits in The Ecopoetry Anthology (eds. Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street), then it makes perfect sense to apply that term to my work. Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound, for instance, is organized roughly as a dialogue between the natural world and humans, the intent being to show how they—we—are interrelated. But I tend to agree with Naturalist Weekly that “labels can be challenging for readers and writers. They have a tendency to limit our ability to see the world. One of the things I really appreciate about poetry is that any given poem may produce different meanings to different people. . . . Any poetry that gets you to think about your role or place in the natural world is beneficial and . . . the labels we give them are only helpful if they contribute to the joy of the audience.” That said, I would be honored to be thought of as an ecopoet.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Interview Series: Dion O’Reilly Interviews Yvonne Zipter

And what of the one just out of the shadow
of that tree, where the woman stands alone, her eyes
empty, her clothes wet with the failure of escape, all her

longing pressed into the lines on her brow, ordinariness
in her swallowed swear, in the line of her shoulders
unable to hold up the grey sky? What of that puddle

that looks up at her, the lady who wants to leave, the
puddle that wants to follow her feet? What is left after
the rain is no longer rain, after a reflection disentangles
itself from a puddle that didn’t know how to hold it?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, When rain is no longer rain

I had my computer at my sewing station.  I was able to write a bit, sew a bit, on and on through the day.  It was wonderful.

At Quilt Camp, I leave my aging laptop in the Faith Center where the sewing tables are set up. The building is completely empty when we go for meals, and I did wonder if my computer was safe. Then I laughed at myself. Every woman in this room has a sewing machine that is more valuable than my computer–and many of those sewing machines may contain just as much in the way of electronics as my computer. These are not your grandmothers’ Singer sewing machines. Alas.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Last Look Back at Quilt Camp

Glancing out the window at the park across the street I see a man walking with an umbrella. Fat, slow raindrops. A low and dark sky. He closes the umbrella and looks up, smiling at the rain. In my house I begin singing an old song that was popular long ago when I was a young man. I sing the lyrics very quietly. How quiet? Like a field mouse. The man spreads wings that I had not noticed before and he begins to rise up through the rain, his face turned upward, and he gives off a light as he rises, an aura, golden at times, then silver, then golden again. Up, up, up he goes until I cannot see him through the window. He rises through the rain, then higher, through a tiny bit of snow. I am singing now with words that are all but invisible. 

James Lee Jobe, it’s a spring rain far below heaven

pond life
thumbing the pages
of my childhood
british insects ~ birds eggs
underlined with a boy’s joy

Jim Young [no title]

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I come from a long line of poets. My father was a poet. My grandfather was a poet. My great grandfather was a poet. None of this is true, but I suppose it could be, I never asked any of them. I didn’t really come to poetry as opposed to anything else. My poems are fiction, and non-fiction, and some of them are actually short stories, and others are ideas for novels that reasonably pass as poems. I prefer things that are shorter because it doesn’t take me very long to express an idea or what I’m thinking of, unless I’m intentionally drawing it out. In a poem I can get through a whole event in under a page, in a novel it takes 150 pages and half of that is just people walking from one place to another and talking to each other about the places they’re walking to and from and what they’re thinking about while they’re walking. My poems also include walking though, if that’s something you’re into. […]

What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I don’t have a routine. I have two small kids and an old house with a long list of things to fix, and a full-time job. Today I changed the cabin air filter on my car. But now it’s rattling. So I’m doing this, and then later, I will stick my hand in a blower mower and try to fish out a leaf… or a dead mouse… or something. My wife is the best, though. She’ll carve out time for me to write when I don’t. Other than that, I mostly jot poems down on my phone as they come to me. Then, when I have the time, I put them into Google Docs. Then I change the font to Garamond or something hi-brow like that and see if I’m impressed by myself. If I am, I keep it. If I’m not, I trash it. Then I make dinner, or something. I’m impressed by people who have routines and little quirks around their writing. I hear all the time about writing corners or whole rooms. My office has my tool chest and a water rower in it (the water rower was free, I’m not rich, don’t worry), I don’t have room for a writing room. I remember reading this one writer talk about how they had their own writing space and their whole process was some sort of meditation ritual. They even talked about lighting a candle just out of view, something about the eternal flame of creativity or whatever, I’m sure. I remember laughing when I heard it because it was so ridiculous to me but at the same time, that’s cool if you have time and space on your side. I have neither. Also, time is a flat circle. I like to think my routine is not that of a “writer” but some average person who writes. Shout out to average people. If I get that Amazon Prime special I’ll upgrade myself and start lighting candles or something.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tyler Engström

Watching a Coral Reef on YouTube

The cats and I are fascinated by stripes, speckles, electric blue & yellow, drifting orange, waving pearlescent white, golden dots, glowing eyes under rocks. We are voyeurs to underwater acrobatics, ballets of flipping fins, action chases in invisible undertows, the rhythmic pulse of ghostly tentacles. The cats twitch their whiskers, flip their tails, eyes widened in hypnotic stares while I fall deeper and deeper into a loose-jointed calm, surrendering to my own undertow.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo 2022 day 15

I am wound up. But bound.

I think this inertia is one reason I am drawn toward formal verse when I feel hopeless. Formal verse is somewhat effortless. The poeticized knowledge is guaranteed to translate into something acceptable on some level. There is a sense of sureness in a slavish execution.

I had a graduate student years ago who turned in a draft all too light on research, in which she postulated that a particularly adventurous painter would have (not) accomplished his modernist work had his teachers been prescriptive in terms of his art training. Ah, but the truth is: they were. They were naturalists. His training had been as rigid as a tongue with no familiarity with curse words.

I figure part of the draw of the rigid framework is to discover what really needs to escape from it. Otherwise, we are simply working within the contemporary frameworks we think of as “new”, but are actually familiar enough to give us that sureness of execution. We want the pedigree. It has a purpose, too, beyond the name-dropping.

But maybe the tighter the restrictions, the more meaning can be brought into view? In this same podcast this morning, Anthony Etherin talked about only having written sestinas that were also anagrams, explaining that he didn’t think he would write a good sestina without even more demanding constraints.

There is something fascinating about this idea. I can’t help but think that the attention to conscious constraints is what allows us to bypass our linguistic and cultural, unconscious constraints.

Right now, I am going to pour another cup of tea and write a sestina.

Ren Powell, Weekends are for sextains?

Breathe. Fall. Let the chest fall. Exhale.
Inhale. The air does and does not
move itself. The air is hungry.
The body is hungry for air.
It is a kind of love affair,
the way the body and the air
both lunge and leap, both rise and fall,
grasping at each other as if
this is the true purpose of life,
narrowing to a pinpoint like
vision, like a trajectory,
the point where falling stops and then
eyes open, look up through the leaves
to that blue at the beginning.

PF Anderson, Falling

Today I hit a lull with write a poem a day April so I’ve allowed myself to fail publicly. I went grocery shopping this morning early and tomorrow I have an evening appointment with a new dermatologist. Neither of these things should account for the fear panic in my heart but the panic is there and I’ve learned to listen to my body. The real poem I wanted to write today was a cryptic message I found deep in the bowels of my email account that simply read

ADD PICKLES

now we’ll never know

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Parsons Marsh
homelessness comes with
no destination

Jason Crane, haiku: 11 April 2022

I wrote the first version of this poem in the fall of 1987, the day before I began my first “real” job after graduating from college. It had been more than 10 years since I’d quit skating, but these were the words that came to me as I thought about leaving behind my life as a student, the only one I’d ever known. Sitting at my sunny dining table, I thought about how it would likely be decades before I would again have time on a weekday morning to write poems.

I wondered what I was gaining and what I was losing and how I would feel about it all far in the future, at the end of my work life, when I might again be able to spend weekday mornings writing poems.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On taking flight

it could be rain
or a distant headland
on that dim horizon

a lighthouse
white-washed buildings
low stone walls enclosing green

an iron gate to let you in
never go back
there will be lock and chain

Ama Bolton, View from Fjara

Maurice Scully’s Things That Happen, written 1981-2006 and finally published in complete form, one volume from Shearsman (2020).  I’ve been reading this gargantuan work in smaller pieces throughout the decades now, since approximately 2000 when I was living in Galway and editing The Burning Bush literary magazine.  I got in touch with Scully around that time, and I’d received a couple of his chapbooks from Randolph Healy, poet and publisher of Wild Honey Press.  I was immediately drawn to Scully’s work, along with that of other innovative Irish poets whose writing was finally beginning to come to prominence.  Scully and I exchanged a few letters (before email became the primary mode of communication), and he sent me some more of his books as well, and I’ve written about these and others in various essays and reviews — for example, online: of Prelude, Tig, A Tour of the Lattice; and about further of these book-excerpts in various print outlets.  Initially I approached them as self-contained chapbooks or what have you, but especially when larger pieces of Things That Happen began coming out from Shearsman and other presses in the early 2000-10s, the bigger picture began to emerge.  Now there is this single volume of approximately 600 pp., finally bringing it all together and allowing us to encounter it as one.  There’s something about the book itself, a big blue object, minimalist design, an object of apparent import even before being read.  “The book / is fat.”

Michael S. Begnal, Maurice Scully’s Things That Happen

On Saturday night at second seder we’ll begin counting the Omer: the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation. Here are seven new prayer-poems for that journey, one for each week — plus a prayer before counting, and a closing piece that integrates the journey before Shavuot — from Bayit: Building Jewish: Step by Step / Omer 5782.

This time, seven members of Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group wanted to co-create together. So each of us took one week of the Omer. (I got hod, the week of humility and splendor.)

I also wrote an adaptation of a classical prayer before counting the Omer, and we co-wrote a kind of cento, a collaborative poem made (mostly) of lines from our other pieces woven-together, for the end of the journey. You can find all of this (in PDF form, and also as google slides) here at Builders Blog.

Shared with deepest thanks to collaborators and co-creators Trisha Arlin, R. Dara Lithwick, R. Bracha Jaffe, R. David Evan Markus, R. Sonja Keren Pilz, and R. David Zaslow. We hope these new prayer-poems uplift you on your journey toward Sinai.

Rachel Barenblat, New prayer-poems for the Omer journey

“Early on, I divined that this book already exists in the future. / After all, I thought of it; it’s a probability somewhere, complete, on a shelf. / My intention is to consult that future edition and create this one, the original, for you.” -Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, from A Treatise on Stars (2020)

At first, when a hectic term ends, I have no idea how to slow down. Panic rises about whatever work I’ve been putting off, usually difficult writing-related stuff–this year, not only the usual submissions but planning events and media to launch Poetry’s Possible Worlds, although I’ve set up a few things. I’m jazzed about the first one, a virtual conversation with Virginia Poet Laureate Luisa A. Igloria. Called “Exploring Poetry’s Possible Worlds,” it will be hosted via Zoom by The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk and nicely positioned near the close of National Poetry Month on Friday, April 29, from 6-7 pm EDT. Many poems have created transformative spaces for me, and I hope Luisa and I can create one for you. If you’d like to join in, register here.

The official launch date is May 17, so my book is from the future, as Berssenbrugge writes, but advance copies came this week and they’re gorgeous. […]

It’s not all publicity labor and task force reports over here, though. I’m really reading again: some of it’s for fall teaching, granted, but wonderful all the same. I picked up A Treatise on Stars just for the weird, lovely fun of it. I’d never read a full book by Berssenbrugge before and it was way stranger than I expected, all about receiving signals from the sky and dolphins and other people. What a pleasure to sip poetry on the porch, catching her wavelength. Just shifting the enormous pile of books around to see what had accumulated was gratifying, as is thinking about summer trips and even cleaning out my sock drawer.

Lesley Wheeler, Ashes to bluebells

It’s National Poetry Month and I’m feeling overwhelmed by poetry. Wait, that’s not an accurate statement. It’s National Poetry Month and I have a lot of things on my to-do list, some of them poetry related, and I’m feeling overwhelmed. That’s a true statement.

This month my independent poetry press, Riot in Your Throat, is open for full length manuscript submissions so I’m reading subs and hoping to find 2-3 to publish. (If you have a full length manuscript looking for a home, please submit!)

I’m also pulling together my new collection, which will be published spring 2023 by Write Bloody. For me this means printing the poems and then laying them on the floor, seeing what sort of cohesion starts to emerge. It’s also a little overwhelming because at first, it feels like there’s nothing to pull the poems together. And then slowly, as I start to move poems around, to pull poems out and insert different ones, it starts to come together. It helps that my dogs, Piper and Cricket, are there to supervise. Until they decide it’s time to play and nearly make a mess of everything.

Courtney LeBlanc, Overwhelmed by Poetry

I’m down for a saffron sink
a boom smart
a purperglance spree
one, four, one, one
I’m splendid
fifty-three alpha minus
the way I found the spirit’s spanner was
I had a shopping cart chest
a Napoleonic shriner
a headcold of trees

Gary Barwin, EXECUTOR SHRIKES. A little poetic funk

I’m thrilled to be one of the featured NaPoWriMo participants today, along with the inimitable Arti Jain of My Ordinary Moments! It was NaPoWriMo 2017 that brought me back to poetry after a long hiatus and to be recognized like this means the world to me. Many thanks to Maureen Thorson for gathering us again around the fire, so we can release into the wild all the words we’ve cooped up inside us for a very long year.

Today’s prompt challenges us “to write a poem that, like the example poem here, joyfully states that “Everything is Going to Be Amazing.” Sometimes, good fortune can seem impossibly distant, but even if you can’t drum up the enthusiasm to write yourself a riotous pep-talk, perhaps you can muse on the possibility of good things coming down the track. As they say, “the sun will come up tomorrow,” and if nothing else, this world offers us the persistent possibility of surprise.” (Full NaPoWriMo post available here.)

As for my response, it’s an example of what reading nursery rhymes and A. A. Milne obsessively to your children might do to you. The last line came out unintentionally racy, but I’m not apologizing for it. It’s the lucky number 13 that did it! Also, I’m so happy to have found E. A. Shepard’s original illustrations to Winnie-the-Pooh. Today is a truly lucky day. (Did the world exist before the internet? Did we?) And last but not least, if you haven’t yet watched the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, please do. It’s wonderful.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo Day 13, 2022

It’s ink on paper,
it’s not art,
these poems,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (172)

Zoë Fay-Stindt: […] I’m trying to think about your first question, about what my favorite earth body is… So I grew up in North Carolina and France, back and forth–

Sarah Nwafor: Oh, right! We talked about this because I want to practice French with you. Yes. 

Zoë Fay-Stindt: Yeah! Right, yes. So, I feel constantly inhabited by multiple landscapes at once, and the rivers are what draw me in–what raised me. And I’m realizing, especially being in Iowa where there is very little undead water or water that is alive and thriving, I’m realizing now how much I relied on water because of how dynamic and fluid it is. I relied on that so much for my healing and for my mental well-being. So I’m struggling without it. What about you?

Sarah Nwafor: That’s beautiful. Rivers are important. That’s one of my goals this year is to really be in right relationship with water–water is an intense element but she’s important. Oh, my favorite earth bodies–let me think. Oh, I really love forests so much. Everything you need is in a forest, you know? They have little streams and creeks. And salamanders. They have soft moss, which is one of my favorite things to touch. And of course trees—trees are ancestors. And there’s also something so spooky too about being in a forest. Even now as an adult I feel like I have to watch myself when I’m in a forest. There’s a level of respect that I need to hold myself with when I’m in a forest. I just feel like trees give me like grandfather energy.

Trish Hopkinson, Poet Sarah Nnenna Loveth Nwafor interviewed by Zoë Fay-Stindt

The Easter moon recedes behind
an impasto of cloud. The first Sunday
after the first full moon
after the vernal equinox. Christ.

The booing of the geese, the jeering of the crows.
What else? What did you expect? 
The echoes fade, the light goes. The palette knife
lays down diamonds of silver, squares of slate,

banked snow mounds of white, and the moon
(remember the crescent? That was Ramadan)
is extinguished. You said
there was another life, on the far side:

you said to think of it. What life?
What side? I think of the side
running, running till it runs clear. Maybe
that’s not what you meant. 

Dale Favier, Easter Moon

After all the words of two Passover Seders, what remains? — meaning unsayable.  After flowing wine, a vertiginous sea, questions of morality and freedom, of being a stranger and redemption, after provocations, interruptions, questions posed with incomplete answers —ah!  The inchoate feeling.  A floating satisfaction.  After all the words, no words. We straddled time — we are slaves, we are part of the redemption — and we sat at a table eating fresh fish cooked in spices with fiery sweet potatoes.  The cat stretches her back.  It was a verbal catharsis that, in Avivah Zornberg’s witty terms, rephrases Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, one must say everything.”  We talk and keep talking and will talk as long as we can. “It,” absence or mystery and longing for full presence, will elude our desires to fix or define, and we will long after it.

We walk outside, feel the spray of rain on our faces, soft wisps of air that are not-bombs, soft clouds-not-plagues, nighttime smell of magnolia mixed with darkness and awakening mud.  The happening happened and meaning was made. The happening is happening and meaning is being made. We don’t even have to say Dayenu!

Jill Pearlman, Cascading Seder

Stay curious – it will continue to pay off. Learn a new language, or a new instrument, read new literary journals and poets you’ve never heard of. Read fiction and non-fiction on subjects you don’t really know anything about.  Education? Travel? Close examination of the natural world? Yes! The point is, never stop being curious about your world – that is what will drive your writing long term.

Be kind when you can be. Volunteer with younger writers; review someone’s book; do someone a favor who can’t do you a favor back. There can be a lot of competition and not enough kindness in the art world, the poetry world, the work world in general. Believe me, your small and large acts of kindness will reverberate more than you know. A note to someone to say what their work meant to you – or how much you loved their class in eighth grade – or thank them for support during a hard time – that sort of thing matters.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Advice for the New(ish) Writer (Plus Pictures of Birds and Flowers, Because Spring)

This is not
a ritual of feeding
so much as enactment
of a ticking
urge inside you,
the one that insists
on finishing the smallest
task, on bringing every
beginning to its close
and leaving nothing
behind—

If only
each one were
the equivalent of a wish
fulfilled: the bomb
undetonated, the rifle
permanently jammed;
every brick and gleaming
window back in place
at the hospital, the school,
the playground, the theatre,
the train station. Everyone
alive in the country
they love—

Luisa A. Igloria, Cracking Pumpkin Seeds Between Your Teeth at Midnight

The day is a bowl, the bowl is a day, a poem is a bowl. The bowl fills, the bowl empties. Hungry, sated, the bowl goes back and forth. The bowl is endless; the bowl is eternal.

I read poetry to fill up, to empty. I read it with affection, with dismay. I read calmly, for calm, and sometimes for sorrow. I read to feel and to let someone else do the feeling for me. I read for mystery, to not know, to sit and howl in the not knowing, to steep in it, and I read for clarity and understanding and for the shock and howl of that too. […]

I forget what I love, and go to find it in a poem. I am at a loss. I am sanguine. I am losing my confidence. I feel gaslighted. I am dismayed by the world. I need joy. I am unsettled. I go to poetry. I miss beauty. I miss you. I feel alone. I hate. I feel poisoned. Poetry. Poetry. Poetry.

I don’t know what to do with my life. I don’t want change; I do want change. I want light and I want integrity. I want sense and intelligent thought and delight. I want hope. I want commiseration and I want good trouble and I want to be roused. I want the exquisite. I want fun. I don’t want to be told. I don’t want unrest. I want play. I am exhausted. I am foggy. But I am bold. Poetry, I tell you, poetry.

Shawna Lemay, A Day is a Bowl, or, How and Why I’m Reading Poetry Now

If kissing were a mathematical formula, the equation of a circle would equal the shape of puckered lips—

an elliptical sweetness whose radius is centered at the origin of bliss.

Any and all equivalent chord theorems would refer to your joy’s intuited music—

songs soothing savage global anxieties into a geo-born geometry whose main function is to create an earth that is beautiful and round.

An earth that graciously bears humanity’s weight, along with providing an error-free formula stating that true love can exist,

just like the presence of a perfect-circle kiss.

Rich Ferguson, The Formula of a Kiss

I was in my mid-twenties when I decided I was going to write poetry “seriously,” and I started by signing up for a class in Contemporary Poetry.  The book assigned was Poems of Our Moment, edited by John Hollander.  I didn’t recognize any of the names in the Table of Contents, and couldn’t seem to take hold of the first few I tried to read, so I decided to start with the poems by women.  That’s when I discovered that out of thirty-seven poets in the book, just three were women: May Swenson, Adrienne Rich, and Sylvia Plath–names that meant nothing to me.  I could at least follow the Swenson poems, and admired the ones by Rich–little steps forward.   And then I read “The Bee Meeting.”  It was one of those moments that divide our lives into before and after.  It took me over completely, mind and body, as if I’d been abducted not by aliens but by someone who knew deep things about me that I didn’t yet know myself.  I felt as if I had  to write to her, to connect.  And then I turned to the Contributors’ Notes and discovered she was already dead.  Elation, then devastation.  But at least the poems were still there.

Sharon Bryan, Poems that Grab You and Never Let Go

But first came Plath. After Ursula Le Guin, the only female author we studied. Her name was a rumour, freighted with glamour and gossip. Could it be true? What did the poems have to say? Ariel, the classic Faber black and white cover. Lunchtimes listening to recordings (From the radio? There were no audiobooks then.) of someone reading the Letters, all of those notes about rationing, the cold and English reserve. Suddenly, this was literature as life, of having absolutely no choice in the matter. The beekeeping poems. Lady Lazarus. That lampshade. Coming face to face with voice as (what?) persona, mythology, as performance. As absolutely having no choice in the matter. I crawled into the library one night and took out a book of essays, which stopped with an analysis of her. The word pathological. (I had to look it up.) Knowing then that I would spend a good deal of my life crawling into libraries, thinking about poems, and looking up words I did not know. (‘Cut’ was one of the poems we had not covered.) Then, the weather hotting up and exams approaching like the future, those final poems at the end of the book (her life), ‘Edge’ among them. What was it Borton said? ‘A perfect poem.’ That impossible last line, ‘Her blacks crackle and drag.’ The music of that. The inevitability. ‘A sense of something utterly completed vied with a sense of something startled into scope and freedom. The reader was permitted the sensation of a whole meaning simultaneously clicking shut and breaking open, a momentary illusion that the fulfilments which were experienced in the ear spelled out meanings and fulfilments available in the world.’ (Heaney on Lowell, The Government of the Tongue.) The book’s final line, about words governing a life. I knew (we all knew) nothing. But kind of prophetic. This is what it takes. This is what you have to measure up against. It got me going, like a fat gold watch.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: Edge, by Sylvia Plath

THE GIRL WHO GOES ALONE, Elizabeth Austen. Floating Bridge Press, 909 NE 43rd St, #205, Seattle, WA 98105, 2010, 40 pages, $12 paper, www.floatingbridgepress.org.

I was excavating shelves, looking for a more recent Floating Bridge chapbook—which I know I purchased last year—and I turned up this one. Yes, I read it a long time back, with pleasure, but it hasn’t ever made it onto the blog. So, here we are, another book about a poet, walking.

The Girl Who Goes Alone won the Floating Bridge chapbook award and was Elizabeth Austen’s poetry debut. Since 2010 she has gone on to write several books, including the full-length Every Dress a Decision (2011). She served as Poet Laureate of Washington State from 2014-2016. She is an acclaimed teacher and speaker. Her poems capture the “trance-like tidal pull / of sweat and flesh” (“For Lost Sainthood”), while at the same time eluding any grasp. Dave Meckleburg described The Girl Who Goes Alone as “an excellent feminist manifesto,” that “becomes a guidebook through the wilderness of being human that anyone can use.” Exactly.

Bethany Reid, Elizabeth Austen, The Girl Who Goes Alone

The weather warmed and got windy, and that bodes reasonably well for garden prepping even if the last frost date is still almost a month away. I got digging, sowed more spinach and carrots, cheered on the lettuce sprouts, and–with some help from Best Beloved–pried most of the winter weeds out of the veg patch and set up a raised bed or two.

While I was out there pulling creeping charlie and clover and reviewing my garden plan for this year, it occurred to me that my process in gardening parallels my process in writing. My approach to each has similarities, probably due to my temperament though perhaps due to the way I go about problem solving. The process is part habituation or practice and part experiment, with failure posing challenges I investigate with inquiry, curiosity–rather than ongoing frustration. And sometimes, I just give up and move on without a need to succeed for the sake of winning.

I have no need to develop a new variety of green bean nor to nurture the prize-winning cucumber or dahlia. My yard looks more lived-in than landscaped; on occasion, we’ve managed to really spruce the place up, but it never stays that way for long. I admire gorgeous, showy gardens but am just as happy to have to crawl under a tree to find spring beauties, mayapples, efts, rabbit nests, mushrooms. My perennials and my veg patch grow from years of experimentation: half-price columbines that looked as though they might never recover, clumps of irises from friends’ gardens, heirloom varieties I start from seed. The failures are many, but I learn from them. Mostly I learn what won’t grow here without special tending I haven’t energy to expend, or I learn which things deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and squirrels eat and decide how or whether to balance my yearning for food or flora with the creatures that live here and the weather I can’t control. There are a few things I’ve learned to grow reliably and with confidence–ah, the standbys! But the others are so interesting, I keep trying.

Ann E. Michael, Process parallels

For some people, the story of resurrection begins with a cross. For me, it begins with song.

Yesterday morning, walking the dog beneath a grey sky, collar turned up against a chill breeze, I heard the first calls of the varied thrush. That single flutelike tone that burrs close to buzz at the end. A watery sound that means the season has turned.

And though it is not yet the pleasantly green, budding part of spring (indeed right now graupel is setting all the winter dried leaves to tremble), the world is filled with light.  I walked on the beach without gloves.

This time of year requires persistence. Belief that bluebells are pushing up beneath the layers of rumpled alder leaves. Belief that the soil is warming, that soon I will be able to seed radishes. Belief that the fiddleheads will push up like brown knuckles and then unfurl into fronds.

Belief that I, too, am shaking off winter’s dreaming and now turn to doing. Turn to pencil on page. Turn to writers in residence at Storyknife and writers preparing for the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference. Like ice that breaks apart all at once on a creek that swells with melt rush.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Resurrection

I drove their car back, it was a joy to drive, much nicer than ours. It took about an hour, with my dad in the front seat. They were both getting smaller right before my eyes. He did really well, all in all, and is very stoic, but I can see already that he is changed, he is frailer. They both are. As I drove I pointed out the landscape features and we talked about churches they’d visited nearby, the myths and village folklore that surrounded them, the way the road swept away into the fields, the beauty of it. Mum sat in the back and read her book. There was a sense of role reversal, I thought back to the same conversations we’d had as children, the driving to see relatives in Thirsk, the pointing out of the landscape features, the stories that were attached to those places. I had a sense that we were driving forward to an unknown point, and all there was to do was to move, to progress, to mark off each small accomplishment, to celebrate the wins and manage the losses.

I am sat in my office, just returned from a walk in the lane. It is warm; the first proper warm day of this year. It was good to feel the warmth on my skin. No coat or even cardigan: I wore my cut off jeans and a loose flowered blouse, no make up, hair pinched up in a clip. There is something about this unpeeling of winter clothes that is very freeing. The swallows are back; a pair in the lane, exactly where I first saw them last year. They skim the fields and flit and turn like bats on the wing, they sit on the telephone lines, forked tails hanging, chattering and they bring joy with them. Tiny things, moving across the globe, directed only by the purpose of existence. I stopped to watch the buzzards, paired up again. I was hoping to see the courtship display I’d witnessed last year – that death defying tumble of claws and wings and sudden rise to circle the air drafts opposite each other. Not today.

We have starlings nesting in the porch, the house is alive with their chittering and whistles. The office window is open to the blossom and the grass scents, the rumble of sheep in the fields, the lambs calling back. This is blissful. Life can only ever be lived in the moment you are in. The future, the past, they don’t really exist. There is only this moment.

Wendy Pratt, Travelling Without Moving

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, I made the questionable decision of trying to set up a new phone at the same time as I was compiling the digest, so what follows may seem more of a jumble than usual. If so, my apologies. All I can say with confidence is that there’s a lot of good stuff here.

Snow covers the beach
and drifts over dunes
like a ghost sail. It falls
without a sound,
without an echo—
shapeshifting summoner
that locks hundreds
of travelers for hours in
their cars, on the black
ice stretch of highways
from south to north.
Even in this world, light
can have a thousand
names. Cypress and pine
and fir link arms,
reminding me of green.

Luisa A. Igloria, Say Winter Without Saying White

“Make it new!” It’s been over 20 years since I got my MFA, but that command still resounds. I remember learning it from Liam Rector, of blessed memory, then the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars. Liam was big and brash and often urged us to “make it new,” though the thing he said most often was “Always Be Closing” — words that took on new resonance after his suicide.

“Make it new” comes from Ezra Pound, or so I learned at the time. It turns out those words are quite a bit older, and I’m glad to know they originate with Ch’eng T’ang, since Pound turns out to be a fascist and an antisemite.  The poets to whom I most frequently turn are masters of taking the familiar and making it new. Naomi Nye, Jane Kenyon, Mary Oliver: they make it look easy. 

This requires both noticing (like Moses at the burning bush) and craft. I want to do what they do. I want to weave something luminous and lasting out of the threads of daily life, like the cloak of mitzvot the Zohar says the righteous will wear in the world to come. But sometimes I sit down at my loom, as it were, and the threads break in my hands. This week is one of those times.

My father’s been in the hospital with COVID. I’ve been bracing for a death that has miraculously not come. (The miracle is the vaccines; his doctors said so repeatedly, as though we needed convincing.) It’s not clear what “recovery” will mean, but I’m not racing to Texas for a funeral. A week ago, I was sure I would be. Finally I can exhale. But I don’t seem to have poems in me now about that.

I don’t have poems in me now about the terrorist attack at the synagogue outside of Fort Worth, or about how it’s rippling into Jewish community life. I don’t have poems in me about what it feels like to sit with my community and talk about what we would do if. Someone can probably make great poems out of balancing spiritual vulnerability with a panic button, but not me, not now.

I don’t have poems in me about the spike of adrenaline every time my child has a symptom, or I have a symptom, or a loved one has a symptom, after two years of pandemic. I don’t have poems in me about the constant sense of living in Schrödinger’s box: is that an ordinary virus or is it COVID? Should I use one of our few at-home tests to find out? If I use a test, can I trust the results? 

Rachel Barenblat, Making it new

For this poetry prompt to help you write a love poem to a word, start by reading “Lover” by Ada Limón and give some thought to what you like/admire.

My affection for this poem starts with how Limón manages to write what reads to me as a pandemic poem* — as many of us have tried! — without mentioning the pandemic at all. She adeptly describes feelings I recognize as the despair and haze of lengthy social-distancing practices and lock down:

– “nothing, nothing is funny”
– “an oblivion-is-coming sort of way”
– “this gray waiting”
– “I trust the world to come back”

Limón’s instinct here is brilliant: the pandemic can’t claim sole ownership of those ideas about the world. As much as I hate to say so, there are and will always be plenty of reasons to despair. If Limón is in fact writing a pandemic poem, she wisely limits those references to subtle gestures, extending the shelf life of this poem. The poem is vaguely set in our current pandemic moment, but it isn’t about the pandemic.

The poem also isn’t about the narrator’s lover/s. It’s not really about lovers at all. Instead, it’s about the word lover.

Carolee Bennett, choose a word and write a love poem to it

gentle in January
folding and sticking
it’s an ideas month

a genetic thing
a revelation
most reviving

Ama Bolton, ABCD January 2022

In “Notes on the Danger of Notebooks,” an essay in Synthesizing Gravity, Kay Ryan writes, “Isn’t it odd to think that in order to listen we must be a little bit relieved of the intention to understand? This, of course, is the danger of notebooks. They are the devil’s bible. They are the books of understanding later.”

Notebooks are “a shell to protect us from loss,” Ryan declares, in an existence where “almost everything is supposed to get away from us.” As beings constantly moving through time, we keep notebooks as letters to our future selves about what’s already happened. 

Ryan, a practitioner of what she calls “derichment,” the opposite of enrichment, advocates radical simplicity. Only then, she says, will we really notice change, which leads to ideas and creativity. “Change will enter and twist like a drop of ink, the tiniest bit of new per old.” About enrichment, Ryan asks, “Children, it is often maintained, must be enriched; bread must be enriched. Weren’t they rich already? Wouldn’t you have to degrade them somehow in order to make them need enrichment?”

It’s not notebooks, or “spiral hinged objects,” as Ryan calls them, but “getting stuck in them.” We write things in our journals that strike us at the moment, but upon reflection, these notes to our future selves may or may not—usually not—deliver on the promise of a new idea. 

I say this as a dedicated journal-keeper for many years, with stacks of notebooks filled with my jottings, lists, sketches, and freewrites to prove it. I absolutely advocate and am a practitioner of journal-writing, but, as Ryan notes, with some caveats.

Erica Goss, The Danger of Notebooks

I will admit to mixed feelings about prompts. Prompts can act as shortcuts to the process of composing, but I am the kind of writer who prefers the long haul; for some reason, the struggle of finding something to say, and an interesting way to say it, assists me in writing poems. I’m not in a hurry. I revise frequently. If it takes a long time to get to the finished poem, so be it. Sometimes I’ve followed a prompt and produced quite a nice poem, but maybe the voice or style or approach does not feel like my own. That’s a potential downside to prompt use. I have read poems by other writers that sound like prompt-produced poems. Some of them are fine work and yet…

This isn’t to suggest prompts lead to inauthentic or cookie-cutter poems (though that can happen, especially with inexperienced poets new to the task). I think it depends on how the prompt is presented or written and, in addition, the environment surrounding the process of thinking about writing. What works best for me is a prompt that makes suggestions I have to complete or devise for myself. Ambiguity with specifics, if that makes any sense–or specifics with ambiguity.

The environment in which I’m currently working includes a group of seven people, with whom I had not previously been acquainted, meeting online, and a moderator/leader who makes observations non-judgmentally and asks questions concerning where this poem draft could go next. And yes, there are also prompts. What I like about Elena Georgiou’s prompts is their open-endedness. Because none of us are beginning writers, we feel free to disregard any part of the prompt that doesn’t appeal to us–or to follow it closely to force us out of well-worn poetry habits–depending on our internal environment on the day we happen to be tuning in or trying the prompts. We are a group of independent people who are collectively thinking about writing. That’s something of value.

Ann E. Michael, Prompted

For me, midwinter is a time of introversion. I’m three weeks into my university’s winter term, so I’m planning and leading discussions and meetings constantly, but they’re usually based on study and solitary thinking–not extroverted stuff, even though there’s a social, performative aspect to the work.

The class based on NEW reading and thinking is an upper-level seminar on Contemporary Poetry. I think of it as a spiral: we start locally, broaden out to work from other countries, and finally cut back to North America again to end with Joy Harjo. The first four weeks are based on books I’ve never taught before: the anthologies Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia and CounterDesecration: A Glossary for Writing Within the Anthropocene, and the very new individual collections White Blood by Kiki Petrosino and The Adjacent Possible by my near neighbor, Julie Phillips Brown. (You’ll see below a poster for a reading this week pairing Julie with my colleague Brenna Womer; February readings are only advisable in iffy winter weather when the authors are REALLY local!) All this was a little ambitious: 10-20% revision of a syllabus is advisable to keep things fresh, but 50% means a lot of work, and it’s not like there’s criticism yet to guide my thinking. Teaching White Blood last week, I didn’t find any reviews that extended my ideas, although they were good. There was, however, an interview with Petrosino in The Adroit that helped enormously. Since the book contains three erasure poems based on an ancestry test, I also had my class try their hands at erasure based on a segment of the university’s website explaining why Washington and Lee is still named after the leader of the Confederate army. One of my students created a particular cutting one, implying that the decision was all about money. His was much better than mine!

Lesley Wheeler, Mind of winter (not)

The fun of digging out is that we are digging out from what we are seldom digging out from.   We are not working our way out of spates and chains of email, nor piles of snail mail, nor escaping oppressive debt, nor solving social tangles of our own absurdity, nor pulling back from excess of adjectives or superlatives that have piled up in a crush of ecstatic emotion, a dizzying sense that this equals that — therefore the more metaphor, the more alike the underlying structures of the whole world.

Phew! We are digging out from snow.  Two glorious feet of it.  With shovels and muscle and terrifically repetitive motion.  Some with snow blowers, and some with plows attached with pickup trucks with brackets. We are scraping off layers to get to deeper layers that will eventually yield a familiar bottom.

We are digging out. The spinning that we often do, as poets, is calmed. Replenishing, never static. We can feel ourselves like birds gathered in trees, shaking off the branches, thinking of nothing but delight.  

Jill Pearlman, Digging Out, Literally!

We are living in a new Age of Authoritarianism, and it is incumbent on all of us to fight its oppressive spirit wherever we find it, even when it is within us. Technology has created new tools for state surveillance, mass disinformation, and capitalist exploitation, but it has also given us new means to highlight injustice, organize resistance, and express solidarity. The Civil Disobedience Movement in Myanmar does not concern just the Burmese, but all of us. One year after the military coup against a democratically elected government, if we permit the Burmese dictatorship to legitimize itself, we reinforce the powers of totalitarianism and weaken the forces of liberty everywhere.

We need to heed the voices of resistance in this vital anthology, Picking Off New Shoots Will Not Stop the Spring: Witness poems and essays from Burma/Myanmar 1998–2021. The voices are many and various, but they all say, Courage! Fatefully, eight days before he was shot dead by Myanmar security forces in a protest, the acclaimed poet K Za Win wrote, “The fuse of the Revolution/ is either you or myself!” The gauntlet is thus thrown down to all, like me, who would claim to be poets. A schoolteacher too, I cannot help but be moved by Min San Wai’s poem, dedicated to Pan Ei Phyu, a 14-year-old girl who was killed by a bullet that penetrated her home. “There’s a hole the size of a pencil tip,” Min writes, “in the bamboo wall of our house.” Pan Ei Phyu will never hold another pencil, but we can hold it for her, by writing her story large.

Gaudy Boy is honored to publish this necessary collection of witness writings in the US—together with ally publishers Ethos Books in Southeast Asia and Balestier Press in the UK—and pledges to donate all profits to the Civil Disobedience Movement in Myanmar. We will take to heart the courage of these inspired defenders of democracy.

Jee Leong Koh, “Tyranny Needs No Companions”

No God but capitalism,
the new religion, fascism disguised
as businessman, always male,
always taking what is not his.

Brute heart, not enough stakes
to keep you dead.
We thought we had vanquished
your kind permanently last century
or was it the hundred years before?

As our attics crash into our basements,
what soft rains will come now?
The fire next time,
the ashes of incinerated bodies,
the seas rising on a tide
of melted glaciers.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, International Holocaust Remembrance Day

I watch the presenters on wildlife/nature programmes, walking through the empty countryside, enjoying the beautiful views, the flora and fauna, and I think: I want to be there – or at least out and about. Some people can get out into nature. Some can’t. Access to nature is a topic covered in numerous articles and official papers and is a vast subject. This is just my view, doubtless coloured by how I feel right now. 

It’s not a straightforward issue, because different people want different things, obviously. For example, how do we protect the feeling of actually being in nature? If everyone has access to nature and uses it, then you could find you’ve gone out into a crowd rather than into nature, unless you go somewhere really wild, and, oh yes, less accessible. Difficult to reconcile the two. There’s also the issue of protecting nature, not damaging it, while out enjoying it.

I am very lucky in that I live near the sea, on an island with wonderful habitats for nature, where, theoretically, I could walk for miles or just sit and observe. But I can’t walk for miles – I have MS, my legs are not as strong as they were and I have real balance issues and can fall very easily. Many of the places I want to see I need a car to get to, and some places now charge for entry too. There are other issues as well, which I’ll get to. But I’m still one of the lucky ones, because, with help, I can still get out and about, but oh, how nice it would be if I could do it on my own. Oh, and I have a small garden, so I can go there.

But large numbers of people don’t have a garden, or a local green space, let alone access to nature reserves or the wide open spaces of the countryside. And if they can get there, will they be able to get about independently? Wheelchair users and people with disabilities of all kinds may find navigating open spaces difficult, if not impossible, on their own. Many places are not accessible by public transport and most places where you go by car, if you have one, now charge for parking and/or entry, so it’s also a question of whether you can afford it.

Women often don’t feel safe alone on the streets. There is no good reason why they’d feel any safer in natural open spaces. You could go in a group – which can be great, if you’re a group sort of person – but what if you’re trying to get away from everyone and everything? You just want peace and quiet and nature. Some people like groups, some like crowds, but some want to be on their own, at least some of the time. And if you don’t feel safe, you can’t.

Sue Ibrahim, Access to nature

Years ago, I was involved in a long, drawn-out poetry competition wherein one poet was eliminated each week over twelve weeks. It caused me a fair bit of literary trauma and it is an experience that I shall not deem to repeat. It was frankly quite vicious and soul-destroying, and it’s when I first learned that poets are cruel. That having been said, I came in fourth overall, and I won a few of the weekly challenges. This poem is one of the winners. I can’t recall all of the specifics of the assignment, but we had to write a poem about Dolly Parton using phrases from some of her songs. My poem was deemed by the All-Knowing God King of Poetry Judges to be the best one that week. The following week I got completely brutalized, of course. Nothing like a little psychological abuse to keep me on my toes. Enjoy! […]

When did you love Dolly most?
When she was a raven,
bedraggled with sorrow,
and I sought soulfulness to borrow.
My first in-love-with, Lady Lament.
We sang together of sweet descent;
baptized anguish, but never drowned.
Little sparrow, little sparrow,
your voice has that high, lonesome sound.

Kristen McHenry, Poem of the Month, Ah, Memories

[YouTube video]
About 25 years ago, I wrote music to a childhood poem one of my closest friends wrote when she was in her early teens. At her funeral a few years before — she committed suicide in her early 20s — this was the poem that was used to memorialize her.  

I’ve been wanting to make something with this poem and this tune since then as a tribute to her and to somehow capture something of my memory and grief over her loss, now about 30 years ago. I still think of her often. I hope this captures something of the beauty, sensitivity, and bittersweetness of her words and that there is something of her in the music. My sister-in-law sang the beautiful vocals for me and I’m grateful to have this tune sung so hauntingly after all these years.

Gary Barwin, Geese of the Wild: In memoriam Margo Sim

Yes, she is a poet made of bird feathers and truth. 

She writes on the blank page as if she were creating 
the flag of a new nation, as if she were drawing 
the sky from memory. 

James Lee Jobe, creating a flag for a nation

My tip for today is to mine your curiosities (and obsessions!). What are you thinking about a lot? Listening to podcasts about? Reading books about? Perhaps, like me, you may have a range of things catching your interest right now (mine are Puritans, Pokemon, MFK Fisher, Wendell Berry-esque homesteading).

So, let’s take Pokemon for example (gotta catch them all). Let’s say you are interested in all the different little creatures, and how did they think of so many, and what inspired the show, and why are some of them really close to animals but some are more human like, and isn’t that weird for a trainer to train the more human like ones (like Mr. Mime)?

Research the crap out of all that stuff! Then start writing poems about it. And maybe you write like three pokemon poems, and it’s over. Obsession faded, something else prettier walks by.

But maybe not! Maybe you write 100 poems about Pokemon! And you start sending them to journals, and you make a collection, and all of a sudden you have a poetry book “Gotta Catch Them All!” that wins some hoity toity prize.

And it all started with your obsession. Actually — your curiosity. So want to write more? Get curious!

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Follow your Curiosity

A few weeks ago I received an email from the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) that an occasional poem I wrote for the Emma Lazarus Project: Poetry Contest was the first of two finalists, along with a winner. I was most delighted due to the fact that my poem “Dear American Lady” will be archived with Emma Lazarus’ original sonnet “The New Colossus.” 

In her acceptance email with the AJHS, Manager of Programs & Operations Rebeca Miller wrote, ” Our judges had an incredibly tough time choosing from hundreds of incredible entries made from across the country. Only two finalists were selected for each category, and in honor of this accomplishment we have posted your poem on the AJHS website in our Poetry Gallery…[and]your poem will be placed next to the work of Emma Lazarus in the AJHS archive to be appreciated for generations to come.” (italics mine) 

I have to say those are pretty stellar digs for my poem to be archived with “The New Colossus.” 

And coming on the heels of my intentionally taking a break from writing/publishing the whole of 2021. 

As defined by the Poetry Foundation, an occasional poem is one written to “describe or comment on a particular event…,” and generally not considered the most pleasurable of endeavors to execute, as the subject matter is handed to a poet on a prescribed platter and while not distinctly uttered, a party line is courteously insinuated. That said, “I acknowledge” the latter half of the last line of “DAL” is a party line. I felt the need to wrap it up, and I was sorely limited to 14 lines, a truncation of my natural narrative poetic voice.

Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow, Onward 2022

We come from the stone age:
the magic happens here.

It is medicine,
nutrients, seed,
sauce

cornerstone

sediment of history
the centre
holds

heavy
cold, totemic-
it is everything

multiple
make, serve,
be.

Ernesto Priego, 35. El molcajete

One thing I did do this week was think about cover art! BOA sent me an author questionnaire and also some forms about cover art for my upcoming book, which sent me into a deep dive and thinking about what the cover of “Flare, Corona” should look like. First, I found out there’s an anime character from a series called “Fairy Tails” named “Flare Corona.” So that was a discovery. Then I found out it’s sort of hard to find a perfect picture of an eclipse with a corona and solar flares, and even if I do, does that really convey the ideas that the book contains? In other words, does it do what good cover art should do – make you want to read the book? I also thought about using a close up from an MRI of a brain lesion, which is only black and white but sort of cool, a black hole with a white halo, but ultimately nixed the idea as too depressing. Most of my books have an identifiable human female on the cover, so going more abstract would be a departure.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Still Sick with Ice Fog, Thinking About Cover Art, And When Will the Pandemic End?

Many decades ago, there were places in the US/UK that published snippets of prose – I think Readers Digest had little pieces for example. But these outlets dried up so the authors of these short texts, if they wanted them published, had to send them to poetry magazines. Putting in line-breaks helped. Of course, prose-poetry existed, but that term was reserved for surreal, discontinuous works. Also popular was the idea of making all the stanzas of a poem the same size of rectangle, as if there was a metrical/rhyming pattern. Read Paul Durcan’s poems to see how it’s done.

Then Flash emerged, providing a natural home for short narratives again. Various other short prose formats became popular too. Authors of short pieces no longer needed to add gratuitous line-breaks. Some authors have taken advantage of this. Carolyn Forché has re-published her famous “The Colonel” poem as prose. […]

Nowadays poetry readers seem capable of not caring about line-breaks. When they start reading a poem I think they decide whether it’s the sort of piece where line-breaks matter and read the piece accordingly. Neither do they care much if there’s obvious prose in a poetry book. I suspect it’s been going on covertly for a while. I read a U.A. Fanthorpe book recently. It looked like a mixture of poetry and prose. Her famous “Not my Best Side” is like the prose I try to write. I doubt if the Trades Description Act can be applied. That said, I think Poetry judges could be braver.

If you can’t beat them, join them. I have prose and poetry versions of some pieces. I’ve short-lined and long-lined versions of poems. I’ve even (shame on me) taken a paragraph from a story of mine, added some line-breaks, and had it published in a poetry mag.

Tim Love, Mixed genre poetry books

My hiking shoes punch into the crusted snow. I’m not hiking, just walking across the landscape of what might be my next stop. The barn is empty. The education center is empty. The bathrooms are open. The lights are on in the welcome center, but the sign in the window has been flipped to CLOSED. No matter. I want to get the lay of this land and I don’t need to talk to anyone to do it. At the end of the plowed path are two hopeful solar panels, pointing up through the clouds. An act of faith. A sign tells me to watch for beavers. I don’t see any.

spiked soles
pull the ground up
through the snow

Jason Crane, A hopeful haibun

I ran before writing this morning. Heading out, we heard a songbird along the trail, and turning back I saw her in a beam of light from the trail lamp. A chaffinch. I think it’s another six weeks before they all return. Another three months before we see the sunrise on our runs. Until then, the crows squabble in the dark. And on occasion, a duck laughs and splashes.

A lonely chaffinch chatters.

This morning there is something tight in my center. A clenched fist shoved under my diaphragm, and I have to keep my mouth closed. I am still not sure how I feel about observing this separation of emotion and intellect. I know this is something I am cultivating for a reason. But often I just want to rebel against my intellect and scream. There is a steady stream of soft curses coming from my mouth these days and it surprises me. My vernacular is unnecessarily colorful, though impassioned. I used to tell my kids not to curse unless they needed to. That powerful words lose their cathartic magic when they are overused and worn thin. Yet, here I am now. Under my breath, on the breath, rolling through my inner monologues.

I blame the darkness and the cold that makes a body tense.

Leonard is curled on the rug. Part of his body slipped under the desk. He loves lying under tables and in corners. Like most dogs, I suppose. Why can’t I be more like him? To curl into the darkness and cold, tucking into himself. Relaxing. If I could I would head off to a dark cabin and light a fire and curl up with a notebook. Womb-safe.

Ren Powell, Prayers and Curses

The thing is, I don’t have a problem with titles. What I do have a problem with is the business of working on a full collection. Because (I think) I’ve just finished one. I realise that it’s the first time I’ve admitted it in print and that it’s the first one that I’ve done that wasn’t the result of winning a competition or of putting stuff together to submit for a competition (or the one that I had to do for an MA that I hated doing). Quite simply, it arose from the realisation that I’m running out time, and the accompanying sense that I’d like to tie up loose ends and leave everything neat and orderly. It’s the kind of urge that had me stripping my classroom at the end of each term, cleaning, sweeping, ready for a new term and new ideas, or, if I was leaving, a new occupant. It’s a collection that includes a sequence that’s taken me at least five years to fettle. Whether it works or not, I can’t say, but the two authors I shared at the beginning made me think I’d like to reflect on why it took so long. Here we go.

Nearly six years ago I wrote a post called “Please, Miss, I don’t know what to write.”

I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now, a lot less sure of myself;  I said, brusquely enough, that if you can’t write right now, if you’re blocked, or whatever, it’s because there’s nothing you urgently need to say, and you’d be better off going out into the world and collecting memories and experiences.

I need to rethink this, because the problem as often as not is not having nothing to write about, but possibly too much.

John Foggin, Watching the river flow…..

Yesterday, I put the final touches on the galley and cover for animal, vegetable, monster and uploaded it, which means it is one step closer and I should have a proof copy within a couple of weeks. No doubt there will be much tweaking once I see that before it’s finalized (margins are always a beast) but I am getting speedier on the process than I was a year ago when I was working on feed, which took significantly more trial and error to come into being (and even the end result still had a couple errors I plan to fix when I order a new batch of copies, but for the moment am well-stocked..) dark country was definitely better, despite the changed up trim size that made it trickier.   I am getting the hang of it, which, if all goes well might mean some anthologies might be possible on the horizon (that is, once I am able to knock out the book art-ish one devoted to mermaids I may actually finally have time to make happen now that I won’t be at the library so much of my days.

I am also getting more comfortable in this strange world of self-publishing (well, longer books, I’ve been issuing my own work for a couple decades now in smaller installments.) There is something great about working with a press to bring a book into [the] world, but also something singularly enjoyable about this. (I wrote a comparison last year that sums it up.) I hope I will continue to be able to do a little of both–I have many, many projects and some earmarked to submit / already under consideration elsewhere. Someone asked me recently if I wasn’t worried a little about that nasty little hobgoblin “legitimacy” but really, at this point, I really just want to get things out there for interested readers, which blissfully, since I am not tied to tenure tracks and other limitations is how I conduct this crazy little thing called po-biz. I’m not saying I don’t occasionally need an editor’s fine tuning hand, but also it’s finally middle age is paying off in how many limited fucks I really give about what people might say. Which is all a little hilarious since I spent so much time in my baby poet days fretting about it and now it feels exactly like it should be. 

Kristy Bowen, the self publishing diaries

I’m charmed by the prose sweep of Davis, California poet Katie Peterson’s fifth poetry collection, Life in a Field: Poems (Berkeley CA: Omnidawn, 2021), winner of the “Omnidawn Open,” as judged by New York poet and essayist Rachel Zucker. Peterson is the author of This One Tree (New Issues, 2006), which was awarded the New Issues Poetry Prize by judge William Olson, Permission(New Issues, 2013), The Accounts (University of Chicago Press, 2013), which won the Rilke Prize, and A Piece of Good News (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2019). As her author website writes, Life in a Field is built “as a collaboration with the photographer Young Suh,” a photographer who also happens to be Peterson’s husband. As Rachel Zucker begins her piece to open the collection: “I found the book you are about to read delightfully easy to enjoy, and yet I find it difficult to explain what I love about it, and why I knew, with conviction, that from among a group of extremely strong entries, I would pick this manuscript for publication. Like most great poetry, Life in a Fieldis impossible to summarize or paraphrase. More than most poetry, it eludes formal categorization. Life in a Field is hybrid, mongrel—part allegory, part parable, part fable, part fairytale, part futurist pastoral set in the past or an alternate reality. In this short collection, Peterson has created her own original, heterodox form.” Peterson’s texts exist as the best kind of collaboration, in that the connections between text and image aren’t obvious or even replicated between them. These aren’t pieces depicting in photography or written word, for example, what is offered in the other form; it is as though the text and image exist in a curious kind of conversation with each other, each in turn reflecting upon and building beyond the other. As Peterson offers, herself, towards the end of the collection: “I have always thought that the opposite of chance was focus.”

In this story there is a girl and there is a donkey. The girl approaches the donkey because the girl has something to say. What is it?

Through blocks and stretches of contained prose, she writes the narrative of the donkey, and the narrative of the girl: two threads that run throughout, occasionally meeting, mingling and spiralling out again, in among the other elements. One could offer how Life in a Field is a story of how perception works to telling a story, or how narration shapes perception, whether the truth of the donkey or the truth of the girl, or the truth of the girl within her church, and the boundaries such offers, contains and constricts. “Because we are so far past this story,” she writes, “I wish to linger on it. This story is not your story. You are not meant to relate to it. You are meant to pitch a tent inside this page like a down and out person might do by the American River, under the trestle tracks, where the outgrowth and heat and greenery and shade in proximity to water makes a drought as unlikely as a marriage of equals in a century where women can’t read. You are meant to believe you can live there.” Between text and image, this is a book of mood, tone and shifts, writing far more than the writing might first offer, and threads of narrative that float, rather than hold, hang or pull.

Peterson writes of a donkey, and of a girl. One could almost suggest the collection as a whole—prose poems, poems and image—is constructed not as a narrative-per-se but as a collage across a large canvas, one that speaks around privilege, love, labour, time, decay and empathy. The book, Life in a Field, is simply the final, completed single image; one simply has to stand back far enough to get a good look, and take it all in.

rob mclennan, Katie Peterson, Life in a Field: Poems

I’ve been feeling bad for poets whose books were released during the Pandemic, poets whose book launches were cancelled or never scheduled, poets who haven’t been able to do in-person readings. I asked myself, Aside from buying lots of books, what could I do, especially for my own Terrapin poets? So I devised an idea for an interview series. I invited all of my Terrapin poets to select one poet whose book had come out during the Pandemic. They were invited to choose a poet whose book they’d read or wanted to read and then to come up with five questions for that poet to respond to. The response was wonderful! Thirteen poets offered to do a Q&A. Some of these were poets with a Pandemic book themselves but some were poets without a Pandemic book. Lots of generosity among my poets! Yvonne Zipter was the first Terrapin poet to volunteer; she chose to interview Heather Swan about her Terrapin book A Kinship with Ash.

Yvonne was also the first poet to complete her interview. Here is that Q&A.

[…]
Yvonne: Your love of nature is evident throughout A Kinship with Ash. Have you always loved nature? From where does this appreciation spring?

Heather: I feel like I have always been a part of the natural world. I spent so much of my time outside as a little girl. The studios where my mother and father worked were luckily near spaces I could explore with my dog. I moved from the prairies and woodlands of the Midwest to Colorado where I lived in the mountains. Later we moved again to a town on the east coast by the ocean. Because I moved so often, my human friendships didn’t last long, but my dog was a constant companion with whom I explored these landscapes and this allowed a deep connection to the birds, the insects, and the land. All the beings we encountered in those spaces led interesting and important lives and spoke in languages I didn’t understand, but recognized as valuable and mysterious.

Yvonne: A number of the poems in this collection grapple with the effects of pesticides and climate change. They are all both heartbreaking and beautiful. What does writing such poems afford you?

Heather: The experience of loving this beautiful, fragile, miraculous planet at this historical moment also means being in touch with enormous grief as so many species are going extinct, as forest after forest is being killed, as fish are struggling to survive in toxic waters, as frogs and insects are disappearing. When I write, it is part elegy, part plea. When I write, I want to remember that while so much is being lost there is also so much to be grateful for. I hope that my poems are an invitation to readers to pay attention to the outrageous beauty and vast number of different intelligences out there as well as to question our impact on the world.

Yvonne: Your sweet motherhood poems also showcase your love of nature. My sense is that this entwining is part of what fuels your anxiety about the state of our world. Can you elaborate on this?

Heather: Funny, this question made me tear up. Yes, of course. I am a parent and a teacher. My children have grown up on trails, in trees, in canoes spotting birds, insects, and frogs. A part of their community. They ache knowing so much of what they love is at risk. I invite my students to connect with each other and the planet, so they will be invested in the work of care. I think all the time about the next generations. Will polar bears still exist? Will the oldest trees survive? Will the coral reef thrive? I want so much to be a responsible ancestor, not just to my children, but to all humans and non-humans. I would like my work to offer an invitation to intimacy with the earth and also hope that we can change things for the better.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Yvonne Zipter Interviews Heather Swan

Yesterday was the memorial service for my poet friend Bill. What a lovely event, and we read several of his poems aloud. His wife and sons spoke, colleagues, and a close friend who is a retired Unitarian minister. Bill was not a churchgoing man, but he wanted her to say his eulogy. His son and grandson, opera singers, sang! Laughter and tears. Cello music. Veterans presenting colors. Masks. Exactly what was needed. Life goes on, and loss is part of it.

Kathleen Kirk, Bathsheba and the Stinkbug

Today I want to talk about making marks, making your mark, mark-making. If you’re an artist or writer or creative person, you’re making marks on a regular basis. But everyone makes marks, even if it is on a screen. I’d like to make a case for the simple joy of making marks on a regular basis.

I love what Lisette Model said of the snapshot (photo), “We are all so overwhelmed by culture that it is a relief to see something which is done directly, without any intention of being good or bad, done only because one wants to do it.” And then there is the Andy Warhol quotation that gets a lot of airing out: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

So I believe that that is extremely true and useful at the same time as I believe that we need to hold art and artists up to the highest standards. Art is not easy; art is not hard. Don’t let yourself off the hook. But also, just make your marks, and worry later if it’s just for you, or which ones you want to discard, which you want to show to your circle of friends, and then possibly a larger audience.

Shawna Lemay, Make your Mark

Beneath the four-count of a jukebox moon, we strip down to our underwear, bras and panties.

We navigate the slap and caress of cool summer waters, a feeling of liquid electricity shocking us crystal clear despite the smoke and booze in our blood.

We paddle through the post-pubescent murkiness:

blossoming acne, body hair, raging sex drives.

We push one another under; we lift one another up.

We swim away our blues.

We swim away the future.

We swim to outrace that strange feeling inside us, the ache of a deep blue empty.

Some of us glide effortlessly through the water; others swim with all their might—

caged birds discovering their first flight beyond the bars.

Rich Ferguson, Teenage years of nightswimming with friends in our small-town lake.

to dive into that wave
not the next one
but this one now
to gasp at the grasp
of a life resurfaced
seething in angor animi
ashore being assuredly
as absurd as this sea is
home to that thought

Jim Young, the sea swimmer

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 42

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, poets have been pondering questions of audience and language, questions of vocation and avocation, questions of travel, and more. Enjoy.


As the exhilaration of bringing forth a new book begins to settle, it presents the writer with another empty page. The writing has to being again and the poet, like a child, stares out at a freshly scrubbed world, learning anew, words and meanings, tasting phrases and metaphors, slowly, as if the morning is a foreign language, strange and tempting yet utterly incomprehensible.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What happens next?

This morning I was thinking about books and time and the way we change as authors–not only in the style of our writing, the subject matter, our obsessions, but also how we approach the art form–the commerce (or lack-of)–the bizness of this thing called po. The poet who wrote the fever almanac, who compiled various versions, combined and recombined manuscripts.  Who sent it dutifully off to first book contests and handed over those shiny paypal funds. She wanted to gain some sort of entry so badly. Wanted legitimacy, whatever that meant. And doors opened,  not at all where she expected.  

But once inside (I say this as someone who probably only made it into the foyer of the poetry establishment, not the house proper) things weren’t all that different. Most people in her life barely knew she wrote–let alone a book. She still went to work and cleaned the cat boxes and cried on buses  The poet who writes books now, wants something else, but something almost just as elusive–an audience.  Sometimes, those two things go hand in hand.  One leads to the other–and sometimes it flows both ways. Sometimes, you get stuck between. 

I like to write now, not with an eye to the editors, the gatekeepers, the people who will grant permission to various hallways and rooms, but my perfect reader.  I like to think she likes the same things I do.  The weird and spooky and heartbreakingly beautiful.   Maybe she’s a poet, or maybe just some other creative soul in another discipline.  Her age doesn’t really matter.  She’s something between an old soul and a child of wonder. She lives mostly in her head, though sometimes, through reading, inside the heads of others. She wants everything and nothing, but mostly a lot of sleep. A cat (or several). Some coffee. She probably has a job–something bookish. Or arty.  A librarian or an English teacher.  She’s seen a lot of bad relationships but also some good. She has a couple friends or many in a loose sort of way. Many would say she’s quiet, but can be quite loud when she wants. 

As I think about my books, the ones I’ve written but have yet to publish.  The books I’ve yet to write that are no more than an idea.  A scent in the air. A change of wind.  I picture her, probably not in a bookstore, but opening an envelope in the foyer of her apartment building and slipping out a book–my book. Grazing her finger along the spine. Because she probably reads a lot, she won’t read it straightaway, but stack it neatly with others. 

Kristy Bowen, the reader

So almost everyone I know in real life is not only not a writer, but has little to no interest in poetry at all (Writer friends: this post doesn’t apply to you).

However, when I come out with a book, they feel compelled to try to read it because they are nice to me. I actually feel really awkward when my day-to-day people read my book though–even my day-to-day people I’m very close to and know more about me than I would ever write in my books.

Why is this?

I think it is because I feel like an everyday-person reading my poetry might misunderstand it or misinterpret it but think the poetry is more my authentic self than the self I share with them (which is much more authentic than my poetry–minus my unpublished collection of poems about Kit which is practically my blood on a page and possibly too raw to ever find itself in a full-length published book form).

I guess that I also think that they just won’t like it–and I’m not sad/upset/bothered at all that they won’t like it, I just expect most people to not like or “get” poetry. I could probably find a poem in each of my books that I think most of my friends and family would like, but I know for sure they won’t like the whole collection (this is maybe a question of accessibility to the everyday reader and not the specific Poetry reader?).

Anyway. If you are my sister or my friend from church or co-op or my next door neighbor or anyone I see for playdates and coffee, I’m not saying you can’t read my book, but it won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t.

Renee Emerson, why I don’t want you to read my book

In one of the lectures given while he was Oxford Professor of Poetry, on ‘clarity and obscurity’, the now Poet Laureate Simon Armitage recalled attending a poetry reading with a non-poet friend (all the lectures are available to listen to here).

After the reading, the friend asks Armitage about the mini-introductions the readers had given to their poems: why, his friend wants to know, don’t they put them in the books? In reply, Armitage reels off various defences – a book is a privileged space, that any one explanation might preclude other readings.

“I still think they should put them in the books,” his friend says. “Or in the poem.”

While he doesn’t go as far as advocating for written intros, Armitage goes on to describe how poems can be more or less generous with the information they offer, and suggests that the modern tendency to hold something back – those references which have a personal, or particular, but unexplained resonance – is an attempt by poets to recreate the kind of enigma which form previously provided.

Free verse is sometimes defended as a more inclusive way of writing, so it is curious that it often goes hand in hand with obfuscation, deliberate or otherwise. What, Armitage asks, if obscurity is just another ‘club membership by which the ignorant and uninformed are kept outside the door’?

Several of the examples of the poems Armitage discusses are ekphrastic poetry: responses to works of art. He shows how some contemporary examples require the reader to be familiar with niche works of art (allowing for the fact nicheness is relative). Other poems do not even reference the work they are responding to: only someone ‘in the know’ would know the poem is a response at all.

What, Armitage asks, is the thought process behind deciding not to give the reader this kind of information? And what does that say about our responsibilities as readers?

Jeremy Wikeley, Are we being educated here? [h/t: Mat Riches]

Upon reflection, the reason I feel I haven’t been doing creative work is that I am not generating many new poems right now. Some, but not many. But let’s re-think the process of revision: it’s a process of deciding upon the order poems should appear in a book, and which of the poems ought to be there to speak to one another, to resonate with one another (and with the imagined future reader). Hey, I am using my imagination here, and I am doing creative work. If all I ever do is generate new poems, those poems won’t have a chance to go out into the world and endeavor to speak to other humans.

Figuring out how to make that happen is the creative work of revising, editing, rethinking. Imagining the reader. Striking the tone of each individual poem to see whether it adds harmony, or works with a fugue-like trope, or changes the mood to minor, or unleashes a surprise. The book of poems can have an arc or act as a chorale or zigzag about to keep the reader on her toes.

The collection of poetry, when it is not yet a book, presents problems the writer and editor must solve. Problem-solving requires creative thinking–I tell my students this almost every time I see them in class!

Will the manuscripts find homes? That’s a different “problem.” Meanwhile, more new poems, more revisions, maybe more manuscripts ahead…while I await the first frost, while the leaves turn and fall. All part of the cycle.

Ann E. Michael, Collecting & creativity

I am happy writing what I consider to be poems, short or long, sometimes very long, primarily because they take me on a trip. I can let my mind go where it will, trusting in the process enough to bring out something that, hopefully, challenges and therefore interests me. And hopefully, anybody who reads it.

A novel, though… not a chance, I thought.

And so why have I written only one poem in the last couple of months – and am 77,000 words into a story that has, so far, maintained my interest – and that I badly want to complete. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know what I’m doing. By that I mean I began it with no plan, no plot, no idea how long it would be, where it would end, if I might like it or not. I had an image of twin boys raised in a wet landscape by dour, religious parents who led lives that were separate from others around them. One boy spoke, the other did not.

I gave the boy who spoke the temporary/working name Josef and wrote the first sentences as follows:

Josef, they said, you have to take care of your brother, you have to take him with you.

In those days, my name was Josef.

What, all the time?

Wherever you go.

I had no idea at all what would come next. I made a deliberate effort to write slowly, to settle into the world I was somehow creating. Where was it? I didn’t know. When was it? I wasn’t sure. When I stopped at the end of the first session it was because I didn’t know what to write next. And somehow, eight weeks on, it’s at the point where it feels it might end soon. How I don’t know – and don’t want to know. When it’s done I will allow myself to go back and edit. Until then I’ll go where it leads.

Will it work as a piece of writing? I don’t know, which is the fun of it. If it does, then a couple of bottles of red may be consumed. If not, then maybe a couple of bottles of red may still be consumed.

Bob Mee, ON NOT KNOWING WHERE A PIECE OF WRITING IS GOING

Write it fast,
the first draft,

and make up
the rest of it

later on,
the old monk told

the novelist.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (38)

[L]anguage is a golem, a superhero, a doula, the moon. Language is a kid dressed with astounding style and agency, a kind of fatherhood of the world. And motherhood. Language is a map, a legend, a rocket, a secret plan, a beloved city, an entire cosmos, a marvellous escape and a transformation.

Gary Barwin, Some words on Michael Chabon

on exploring Charles Causeley’s house

we might be buyers with money to burn
this could be a viewing

house all shipshape
bristol fashion

I am in the footsteps of a poet I don’t know
a most modest master

so I search for clues
open drawers look in wardrobes

but you cannot wear another’s words
purloin their inspiration

it doesn’t work like that

*

I think tomb robber is about right for how I felt. I was conscious of the fact that I was looking for inspiration in the very place where most of his ideas coalesced. It was a unique experience and thanks to Annie for organising the weekend.

Paul Tobin, PURLOIN THEIR INSPIRATION

the eternal search
other words for other things
wish coin in the fountain
his mind turning inward
from down in that well
the bucket brought up silver
but when the sun went in
down the bucket went again
perhaps what darkness offers
is the eternal state

Jim Young, reading r s thomas

I’ve reached that time in this thinking aloud post when I wonder what quite it is I’m trying to say. I think I’m just writing in this blog when it’s drizzly and drab outside, after not properly blogging at all for a while, without a proper plan. I hope that’s allowed. Perhaps I’m thinking that writing is a solitary, strange, not always chirpy business, mostly a means of receiving mildly disappointing news. Sometimes, I wonder what it is all about at all. But so many of us just keep on with it, don’t we, in spite of everything.

Josephine Corcoran, End of month, rainy Sunday blog

TRANSBORDA III Q-TV: the response of video art to the quarantine times is part of the Festival of Books and Movies – Alcobaça in Portugal, 1-21 November, 2021. Curated by Alberto Guerreiro, the event features a diverse international line-up of video artists. Amongst so many good friends and colleagues, I’m delighted that two of my videos are on the program: ISOLATION PROCEDURES and future perfect. I also have a component in the international collaborative project, Chant for a Pandemic by Dee Hood.

ISOLATION PROCEDURES was recorded during the 2020, mostly on location at Sleep’s Hill, Blackwood, and Belair, South Australia, where I live, under partial lockdown conditions. The audio samples are made from birds, frogs and voices in the immediate neighbourhood. The text samples advice from various government, business and community organisations. “WE ARE CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE… MAINTAIN YOUR SOCIAL ISOLATION…” After the pandemic has passed, the lockdowns persist: this is the new normal…

In future perfect, we see and hear words stripped of their ornamentation, pared back to monosyllabic cores… Are these the roots of language? Or are they the skeletal remains of a lost form of communication? Who is trying to speak here? What exactly are we being told? Perhaps a coded message. More likely, a cry for help.

Ian Gibbins, TRANSBORDA III – Q-TV: the response of video art to the quarantine times

One year in Theater History, I stupidly stumbled into a discussion about the “facts” of theater history being theories. And that theories can change with new information – thus changing the “fact”. But I can’t get it out of my head that even though I know the hard sciences work this way as well, I want something to be a real – hard & true – fact. Not something made true by the loudest voice, or the most votes.

This fact today: from where I stand, the Hunting Moon is waning in the pale morning sky. The wind is blowing. Leonard is sleeping by my feet. I am yearning for all the vague atmosphere that the word village brings to mind. I want to live there.

And I want this person in my Facebook feed to be comforted somehow. By someone real. To be held – not in thoughts – but in body.

Ren Powell, Facebook is not a Village

It’s been a blustery week – the Pacific Northwest hit with “bomb cyclone” weather patterns – right now, I’m typing as my power is flickering on and off. We tried to make the best of the brief mornings and afternoons of slightly better weather whenever we could. […]

[W]e got a chance to visit with my poet friends (and Two Sylvias Press editors) Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy, who came and met me at the ferry arrival area. We shared carrot apple ginger cupcakes in a gazebo overlooking the water and got caught up on writing news in the brisk outdoors. I also picked up a pack of the Two Sylvias Poet Tarot set. It was great seeing friends IN PERSON again. I forgot how great it is socializing in real life, especially with other writers!

Then we traveled on to see my little brother Mike and sister-in-law Loree at the new house they’re renting on the Hood Canal, stopping along the way at a local park to unpack a thermos of hot cider and snap a pic – only to see a sea lion fighting with seagulls right behind us. We had a good visit, sat out on their beautiful deck overlooking the Hood Canal, had a little dinner, then made the long trek back to Woodinville. Once again, great to see actual family in human form, instead of just over the phone or over a screen.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Blustery Week, Ferry Foibles, Visiting Friends and Family Over the Water

I’m buried, overloaded, drowning in work, but how could I turn down an invitation by a fellow Singaporean to try some cheap and good Chinese food in a place that I knew nothing about? Spicy Village is an unassuming establishment on Forsyth Street, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, whose claim to fame is its da pan ji, or “spicy big tray chicken,” a dish from Xinjiang.

I did not do my research beforehand, so I did not know about the chef’s specialty. Instead, I had soup dumplings (delicious but small), spicy beef brisket hui mei, or handpulled wide noodle (chewy good), and fish balls stuffed with pork (yummy), as my friend and I chatted about the various business scandals that had broken out in Singapore, about FICA, about Singaporeans in NYC doing this and that, and about the trials of New York real estate.

As the evening went on, I was feeling strangely revived in that tiny, five-table restaurant, with eye-watering fluorescent lighting and a sullen waitress. It had something to do with the food, something to do with the company. When I peeked into the kitchen, and saw three cooks, two women and one man, pulling the dough in their hands into long strands of noodle and talking with great animation, the sight was mysteriously energizing.

Jee Leong Koh, Spicy Village

i’m earlobe to your earhart. i’m astroturf to your astrophysics.

jack o’ lantern to your geranium, chthonic to your tonic.

i’m bray to your brie. knurl to your nureyev. i’m squeegee to your tuileries, caw to your kalimba.

i’m dishcloth to your dish antenna. baywatch to your beethoven. i’m dog-tired to your catalyst.

i’m small time to your bigfoot.

Rich Ferguson, you say catechism, i say cataclysm

I still don’t know what I’m doing with my life, but at least I’m doing something. Which is a huge relief. I don’t think I knew just how much being dead in the water was distressing me, till I got a little way on the ship. Just to have a wake again, and the sea whispering under the planks. And maybe, after all it doesn’t matter so much what I’m doing: I’ll figure out what I’m doing partly by doing it.

At present, the most important thing would be either Python or the blog, I guess. The blog. I love writing and being read: but it may be that the blog is a dead end. Blog readership is falling off, for one thing; and for another, I am constrained by my past there, by the speaking voice and choice of topics my readers are used to. How many times can I run my stumbling toward enlightenment schtick? Okay, I’m overwhelmed by the intensity of beauty, and I can’t summon what it requires of me: what good does it do to say that over and over (and to exaggerate it)? My handful of readers loves it, but that doesn’t make it the right next thing to focus on. We have lingered in the chambers of the sea. Maybe the time has come to leave them.

Dale Favier, Getting Meta

Beady unblinking eyes, some red and some white, stare out from my phone charger, coffee maker, speakers, PC, printer, and elsewhere. The average U.S. home has about 40 electronic devices draining power, accounting for around 10 percent of one’s energy bill. Some call this leaking electricity or vampire energy.

Things I used to get done on a regular basis now seem to take forever. I never used to squeak right up against deadlines, beg out of regular obligations, fail to answer necessary texts, forget things like sympathy cards. Never, ever. But I have the last few years, excoriating myself all the while.

Adding up U.S. households, all this leaking energy totals the output of 26 power plants. This in a time when people in the U.S. use more electricity, per capita, than nearly anywhere else in the world. 

Sometimes I cancel a walk with a friend, a walk I’ve been looking forward to, because I just can’t muster up whatever it takes to get myself out of the house. Then I wonder what the heck is wrong with me when surely both my friend and I need the restorative pleasure of time in nature.

Laura Grace Weldon, Steadily Drained

The light on the window sums it up:
This is the year of drought in the city—

Days are endless as the land endures the heat.
Buildings bare sockets, hardly dent the glare
Of the sun harsh on stumps of shrubs, moving

Vehicles:
The river of lives dry and ache of thirst.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Maxim Drawn from Clearing-nut Tree

Word of the Day 18: ‘stour’. Stour has many meanings, but I’ve always heard it connected with dust and dirt. I was excited to learn that my mother-in-law called her vacuum a ‘stour sooker’ which was similar to the Norwegian I learned ‘støvsuger’. I think my MIL would have done well in Norway, with her Scots vocabulary, there’s so many words in common.

A short poem by William Soutar, who was best known for his bairn-rhymes. He was part of the Scottish Renaissance with Hugh MacDiarmid and had a short tragic life. His poems capture the fleeting beauty of life that passed his sick-bed’s window.

Nae Day Sae Dark

Nae day sae dark; nae wüd sae bare;
Nae grund sae stour wi’ stane;
But licht comes through; a sang is there;
A glint o’ grass is green.

Wha hasna thol’d his thorter’d hours
And kent, whan they were by,
The tenderness o’ life that fleurs
Rock-fast in misery?

Gerry Stewart, Scotstober: Days 17, 18, 19 and 20

Back in the 1990s, one of my first published poems appeared in Poetry Scotland. It was chosen by Sally Evans, a co-founder and editor of the magazine, who’s still a stalwart of the poetry scene in Scotland. In fact, I was delighted to meet her finally in person at StAnza 2019 and thank her for her encouragement all those years ago.

Since 2020, Poetry Scotland has been edited by Andy Jackson and Judy Taylor. They’ve kept its unusual format – an A4 broadsheet – while its aesthetic has also been maintained and tweaked to bring it bang up to date (see their website here). As a consequence, I’m delighted to have a new poem in their latest issue, nº102, which is out now. High-quality printed journals still have an important role to play in contemporary poetry, and I hope Poetry Scotland will be around for many years to come…!

Matthew Stewart, Poetry Scotland

[Rob Taylor]: Assuming the poems with place names as titles (like “Manitoba”) were written in those places, you traveled over half the planet in writing this book! At one point you mention that your browser has “thirty flight search tabs” and that you own “more bathing suits than underwear,” so I suspect travel has been central to your life and identity (you note at one point that travel “becomes my greatest escape”). 

[Cicely Belle Blain]: The ability to travel freely to so many places is definitely a huge privilege and something I understood to be a privilege from a very young age. My family made a concerted effort to provide us with the opportunity to travel, even at the sacrifice of other luxuries. I remember in ninth grade my teacher asked me why I didn’t choose geography as a subject to pursue and I replied that I felt like I already had front row seats to the best geographical education. I have always valued and appreciated my parents’ willingness to take risks—they’ve moved from the Netherlands to Italy to Kenya in the time I’ve lived in Canada.

RT: We’ve all had to live life differently since the onset of the pandemic, but I wonder if that isn’t particularly true for you, having lost your ability to travel. How has your time been during the pandemic? Has the requirement to stay in one place caused you to look at the world, or yourself, any differently?

CBB: Over the past year the value that travel holds has changed. It is no longer about exploration and fun and leisure, but about connecting or reconnecting with people, ancestors or culture. This has allowed me to view travel less from a Western perspective of ticking things off a bucket list and more as a sacred opportunity to find parts of me that are missing. I hope when the pandemic is over, I can dedicate my future travels to places like Gambia, Jamaica and other lands where my ancestry lies.

Rob Taylor, Achieving An Equilibrium: An Interview with Cicely Belle Blain

Why Palermo, a friend asked when I was making plans.  To gather the last strands of summer sun, like harvesters with a basket, I said, or something such.  Everything sings in the sun.  Instead, there has been some sun and much storm. The stone streets gleam slick and gray between the medieval buildings; the streets with arms extending out like a wet octopus. 

I might have said more interesting things: I love the mash-up of cultures, the never-finished project of culture building.  When I was 21 and dizzy with discovery, I said this was the first Arab country I’d been in.  Was it the pressure of colors — greens, pinks of fish, oranges, figs, the persimmon I ate everyday with fresh ricotta and semolina bread on a park bench?  Even locals here still talk of their Arab city — the gardens made urban market, sumptuous and overflowing in crowded alleys with fruits, fish, vegetables.  It’s a vision of possibility – a world of overflowing excess – that exists, and exists, no less, in the shadow of crumbling buildings!

The streams of cultivaters — Carthinigians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Arab, Normans, Italians, Cosa Nostra – are all still felt. Along with palm and orange trees, cats, graffiti, conversation, cars, garbage.  This fertile energy threatens to overflow at all moments, is always almost too much, pulls back with its own logic.  To know a thing, you put yourself in the middle. That’s the beauty of it. 

Jill Pearlman, Why Palermo

parked
beside a stream
of traffic

Jason Crane, haiku: 23 October 2021

And we came home with pockets packed with seeds
prickly chestnut hulls leaves and stones
a sliver of slate and the shell of a stripey snail
grains of Quantock soil under our nails
and the day was round and perfect as an egg
and contentment ran like a robin’s song in our veins

Ama Bolton, Desire Lines, continued

This pamphlet is subtitled “Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals reimagined” and was published to coincide with the 250th anniversary of her birth. The journals are packed with description of the natural world and her thoughts and feelings, written over the period 1798 – 1803. Sarah Doyle calls these collage poems rather than found poems because, although the words are Wordsworth’s, the poet has reshaped the prose into poetry and added punctuation where necessary for sense. The original spellings have been kept rather than modernised. The language is far from prosaic. The first poem, “One only leaf,” is short enough to be quoted whole,

“upon the top of
a tree – the sole remaining
leaf – danced round and round

like a rag blown by
the wind.”

Emma Lee, “Something so wild and new in this feeling” Sarah Doyle (V. Press) – book review

I was very saddened to hear of the death of Brendan Kennelly this week. He had been a long-standing presence in my poetic universe, and was part of the constellation of poets collected in that life-changing anthology Poetry With an Edge which I devoured in the early nineties having decided to put poetry at the centre of my life. (If you are new to this blog, I have written about his poem ‘May the Silence Break’ here, and, more recently, ‘The Gift’ here.)

That final phrase belongs to his compatriot Seamus Heaney, who has also been in my thoughts recently, namely the austere quatrains and ‘inner émigré’ monlogues of his fourth collection, North. The line that’s been nagging away at me is from the poem ‘Fosterage’, part 5 of the ‘Singing School’ sequence. The poem is one of three that Heaney wrote in celebration of his friend and teaching colleague the short-story writer and novelist Michael McLaverty.

The poem contains a model of Heaney’s ability to make poetry out of everyday speech:

‘Listen. Go your own way.
Do your own work. Remember
Katherine Mansfield—I will tell
How the laundry basket squeaked … that note of exile.’

I first read it having just finished a big Katherine Mansfield phase, and was sure that the universe was trying to tell me something. The lines ‘Go your own way./ Do your own work’ in particular have been copied into more commonplace notebooks and quotebooks than I can remember.

Anthony Wilson, Do your own work

When I come to write my memoirs

I shall hesitate over many things. Pens
for a start. Inks. Nibs. And paper. Lined or plain?
And a routine. A fixed time every day, like Trollope?
Stop after two hours, mid-sentence, regardless.
Or after two thousand words. Or as things dictate?
Middle of the night, esprit d’escalier. Perhaps
a dictaphone? Though transcription is a bore.
An amenuensis would be nice,
but who would you trust, and they’d want paying,
regular hours. Food and drink and board?
Who knows. Anyway, that’s out.
Notebooks, perhaps. But not Moleskines, in case
people notice, and ask if you’re a writer and then
tell you that they do a bit themselves
and wonder if you’d like to take a look,
and tell you how they’re fascinated
by Temperance, or the evolution of the urban bus.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [10]. Kinda blue

I’m very pleased to see the newly-released full-length debut by Bronwen Tate, an American poet recently transplanted into Vancouver for the sake of a teaching gig at the University of British Columbia. After the publication of a handful of chapbooks over the past few years, including titles published by above/ground press, Dusie Press and Cannibal Books, comes the full-length The Silk The Moths Ignore (Riverside CA: Inlandia Books, 2021), winner of the 2019 Hillary Gravendyk Prize. Through her book-length suite, Tate speaks of children, echoes, stories; writing from the inside of a curiously-paired bubble of text and pregnancy, each of her narrative threads swirling up and around the other. “Any creature with the head of a man will face you differently. Bind the book of autumn,” she writes, to end the poem “NEWS KNOWN / SOONER ABROAD,” “ember-leafed difficulty. Pea coat in the closed, embarrassed, left diffidently. // Can a heartbeat quicken? Mismeasured, I bargained, unmeasured, immeasurable. // Any foreign city can be a mellifluous note. // The true sky was grey.” There is such an interesting and intense interiority to these poems, writing through the blended swirl surrounding pregnancy and mothering a toddler, and reading and thinking. Through Tate, the considerations of writing, thinking and pregnancy are singular, shaping lyric sentences that are attuned to the shifts within her own body. “I could not say I had a daughter. I had a syndrome,” she writes, as part of “THE BEAUTY OF BEINGS UNLIKE / THAT OF OBJECTS,” “missing chromosomes nature mostly culls. A colleague tells me she studies what for me was a sentence. // I had that, I answer. Lost it. Her.” And yet, these poems were not prompted by such shifts, but through an entirely different kind of shifting perspective, as she offers as part of her “ACKNOWLEDGMENTS”:

Many of these poems began with reading Proust in French, which I read well but not perfectly, in search of words I did not know and could not make a confident guess at. I used these words, my guesses based on context, strange collisions, their etymology, French dictionary references (sometimes only to the Proustian sentence in which I’d encountered them), and the guts of my beloved OED for drafting material. While much of what this process generated has been trimmed away in revisions, I’ve gratefully retained some plants, some syntax, some atmosphere, and many titles.

I am fascinated through the way she shapes her poems, whether prose poems or her prose-attuned lyrics, attentive to the shape of the sentence and the accumulation of phrases, and the deep music of her flows and shifts and pauses, breaks. “Now bathysphere,” she writes, as part of “SWEET TEA,” “I house a slow advance. Brain and bone.” Or, as she writes to open the prose poem “AN EMPTY MEASURE IN MUSIC”: “That the dead could linger. Measure to the first knuckle of my littlest finger. Hand-worked guipure, light wool for a shawl. My body a shroud, lost all, lost all. Flicker, spark, and softest fall. // I count the beats in stillness.” Through Tate, we experience a lyric where language and the body intersect, and meet; a confluence of words and cells, each offering their own set of simultaneous possibility. She presents both an abstract and deeply physical and straightforward narrative space, one that articulates how perspective adapts, shifts, stretches and reshapes, from the immediate of the body to what that represents, moving through and against the language of Proust, and such a generous and affirming song of being.

rob mclennan, Bronwen Tate, The Silk The Moths Ignore

–This week brought us the latest adaptation of Dune.  At the same time I was watching Bosom Buddies, I was reading Dune.  Do I remember the plot?  No, but I do remember my dad telling me to give it 100 pages before giving up on it.  I did, and I was hooked, and for years, 100 pages before giving up became my rule for reading.  My other Dune memory is 10th grade art class, where we had a teacher who just left us to our own devices with all the art supplies, and I drew a picture based on my reading.  One of my classmates told me it was derivative of Star Wars, although he wouldn’t have used the word “derivative.”  I can still see the hooded figure (bonus:  no need to draw a face!) and the swirling desert colors and the burnt orange of the sky.  Will I go see the movie?  Doubtful, but it does sound intriguing.

–Another book I read in early adolescence was The Diary of Anne Frank.  On Wednesday, I went out for my early morning walk at 5:50.  Slumped against the concrete column of a downtown building was a man, sleeping in an upright sitting position.  On one side, he had a mostly empty bottle of vodka, on the other a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. I continue to think of him as a metaphor of the human condition, but I’m not quite sure what the metaphor is saying.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Echoes of Early Adolescence

Famine towns spring up,
the farther north one goes.

Flood towns cascade
farther south. The diorama

is a rediscovered art form.
Each boiled grain spared

from a meal affixes moss
to twigs. Once, we had

windows of scalloped shell.
Once, we had capes of bamboo

leaf. Every street corner had
a tiny bread-shrine whose lights

came on behind brown paper
curtains at the crack of dawn.

Luisa A. Igloria, What World

Friday means challah dough rising while I work. Today it also means red beans soaking for mashawa, a soup from Afghanistan. Later I’ll add quick-cooking yellow lentils, bright like the leaves carpeting the grass outside my kitchen window, and tiny moong beans in dull Army green. I wonder what color camouflage American troops wore in Afghanistan over the last twenty years. I know that trying a recipe from someplace doesn’t mean I understand anything about what it’s like to live there, or to flee from there, or to yearn for a there that maybe doesn’t exist anymore. No matter how many news stories I read, I can’t entirely bring the other side of the world into focus. At my work email address, I read and forward another email about resettling refugees. Outside my window the hills are dressed in autumnal tweed. Maple and oak and pine trees rustle. Central Asia couldn’t seem further away.

Rachel Barenblat, Soup

Moonlight, waxing toward full, sweet
Nightfall after an easy Indian Summer day.
My parakeet sings along to the jazz on the radio.
The darkness grows like a healthy child.

James Lee Jobe, the darkness grows