Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 27

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, the Independence Day holiday seems to have depressed blogging activity a bit from the American contingent, and I think a lot of people are off on holiday as well. But I still found some fine summery posts about butterflies and caterpillars, writing in unusual forms, and being in unusual places such as labyrinths, Acadia, or the present moment.


Morning wakes hours before its city creatures.
I see light through the shutters:
cool insides while their clapboards communicate color — 
hydrangea pink, hydrangea blue —
to the morning.  Slate gray street, 
a herribone brick sidewalk.

Couples inside, 
coffee darker than their peignoirs.  
It’s a holiday.
The 4th of the seventh month, almost mid-summer,
almost tipping over. 

Jill Pearlman, Independence EveryDay

Hey, you guys feeling the Fourth of July this year? Yeah, me neither. Instead of grinding our teeth over 45 spending millions on tanks (and taking it away from our parks) in our capital, let’s take a moment to enjoy the wonders of summer all around us. Swallowtail butterflies! Kittens napping next to roses cut from garden!

And if you want to do something positive on July 4, consider donating to RAICES, which helps unaccompanied children and detained immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. And plant a tree and some milkweed. Feed your hummingbirds. Say hi to a neighbor. Little things that can make our country better.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New poems in Summer 2019’s Spoon River Poetry Review, Butterflies, Kittens, July 4 and 25th Anniversaries

And I dream of the grass
of prairies, lost highways that pass,
relentless and unbending, by abandoned outposts,
forts and cowtowns whose brave boothill ghosts

still ride the range; the empty-hearted homesteads
whose screendoors bang on windy nights; dry riverbeds
enclosed by old barbed wire, and oil-well donkeys, one end
gazing at the sand, the other at the stars.

Dick Jones, 50 years since the first moon landing. What of Michael Collins, who stayed on board Apollo 11..?

from the top of my head paper ships set out

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, ku 11.07 2011 (1)

On my Italian parsley plant:
a fat green stripey caterpillar.

It’s a black swallowtail
in fourth instar, readying

for its chrysalis. Unlike
the monarch, predictable

in its cycle of rebirth, these
take an indeterminate time

encased in green or brown
before emerging wet-winged.

Rachel Barenblat, Chrysalis

–On Monday, as I drove to work, I thought about the sonnet I had written on Friday, and this thought flitted through my brain:  I wonder if I could write a crown of sonnets.  I wrote a second sonnet, and then went on to write a third and a fourth.  Yesterday I got a head start on the fifth.

–I’ve realized that I can rhyme Holocaust with Pentecost. My crown of sonnets may be headed in an unusual direction.  I have yet to use that rhyme, but seeds have been planted.

–Speaking of seeds, the butterfly garden continues to enchant.  On Monday, I realized that one of the bushes had caterpillars. And then I realized how much of the milkweed bush they had eaten: [image]

–More than once this week, I’ve thought of the book The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar.  And more than once, I’ve wondered if I’m remembering it correctly.

–Yesterday, I got three more plants that my pastor picked up for me.  He said that it can take 2 or more weeks for the milkweed to spring back from the relentless munching.

–The fact that  the bush can survive and come back seems like a good metaphor if I could avoid the potential pitfall of triteness and cliche.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Sonnet Crowns, Butterfly Gardens, and Discernment

I’m writing in haste as this looks like the day we’re going to tackle our back garden meadow (grass uncut all season) and the sunshine and garden shears are calling me. I’m putting together an informal, low-key workshop for Trowbridge Stanza based on the pantoum, which the Poetry Foundation explains well here and includes sample poems. The Poetry Foundation’s glossary describes the pantoum as

A Malaysian verse form adapted by French poets and occasionally imitated in English. It comprises a series of quatrains, with the second and fourth lines of each quatrain repeated as the first and third lines of the next. The second and fourth lines of the final stanza repeat the first and third lines of the first stanza.

I first found out about the pantoum form by reading a blog from Warwick University by David Morley which unfortunately I can’t find online any more. I know that David Morley has included pantoums in some of his collections and that he is an aficionado of the form.  A. E. Stallings, John Ashbery and Donald Justice are other poets famous for writing pantoums.  You probably know many more – please tell me!

One of my favourite pantoum poems is ‘Incident’ by Natasha Trethewey, a stunning poem about lynching which I return to many times.

The subtle repetition of lines and circular nature of the form suits subjects that we revisit and strive to make sense of over time but that doesn’t mean to say that any poet should feel obliged to obey strict rules (as if!).  There is more to read about the pantoum at the Academy of American Poets here.

Josephine Corcoran, Collecting Pantoums

Jeffery Beam has long been a devotee of beauty, and his Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements is one of the prettiest books to appear in recent years. This poetry collection is another in the realm of the book-length series of poems, and is also an addition to the world of ekphrastic poetry. It is a book of free verse responses to paintings–and since the art is intricately tied together in a series, naturally the poems are as well. And internally they are held together, elaborate parallelism often binding the lines, so there is a kind of macrocosmic and microcosmic structure in the form.

Spectral Pegasus / Dark Movements display a different way of thinking about what a book of poetry is, and it strikes me that the book is determined to create its own audience–that is, to create the reader’s understanding and sympathy for the project–through what is included. Short excerpts from Lindsay Clarke and Joseph Campbell serve as a kind of preface, nudging us in a desired direction. The poems and art form the core of the book, but they are followed by three essays about the poetry and the art. So the book itself teaches how to read it, and also how to look at the art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins… Then there’s a whole other dimension to the book in which music and poems join in the CD. It’s an interesting and rare way of looking at the making of a poetry collection, and one that must have taken a lot of love and care.

Marly Youmans, Midsummer reads

I was advising a writer-friend lately to celebrate small wins. Then I thought, hey, I should do that, too. Since my last couple of posts explored self-doubt, and a lot of people in my orbit are having rough summers (for example, catch up with Jeannine Hall Gailey’s inspiring posts), I thought I’d share some shine.

I’m getting ready for more visibility in 2020-2021 by applying for conferences, festivals, etc., and making lists of opportunities to apply for later. For instance, I’ll be attending the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference this November for the first time. I organized a panel, recently accepted, called Uncanny Activisms, about poems that resemble spells, prayers, and curses. My co-panelists include writers I know as well as writers I’ve never met but have been admiring from a distance: Cynthia Hogue, Anna Maria Hong, Hyejung Kook, Ashley M. Jones, and Anna Lena Phillips Bell. I’m very excited to hear what these smart women have to say about a poetic mode I’ve found indispensable these last few years.

On that note: two of my poems just appeared in the new issue of Ecotone. “State Song,” pictured above, is the shorter piece, and I’m SO delighted it’s placed near an essay called “Erasing the Border” by artist Ana Teresa Fernández (the image above is hers). “State Song,” from my forthcoming collection, is in that spiritual-political zone my panel will be addressing, and I hope it speaks against borders and fences, too. (The other poem of mine is “Turning Fifty in the Confederacy”–yikes.) Do read the whole issue if you can, for it’s full of challenging, beautiful writing. I love Ecotone‘s new department, “Various Instructions,” plus I found a new menopause-themed poem there for my growing collection: “Elegy for Estrogen,” by V. Penelope Pelizzon.

More fireworks: Amy Lemmon just published an essay in Diane Lockward’s July Poetry Newsletter about how to mine another poet’s book for writing prompts–and then revise out traces of the other writer’s words to create poems fully your own. The nicest part: the book that inspired her was my last one, Radioland! Lemmon’s piece is inspiring and accessible–check it out.

Lesley Wheeler, Some sparklers on a dark, hot night

Some experiences seem beyond words. That’s how I’m feeling about my week in Chartres. And yes, I know it was a writing workshop, and that I should be perfectly at home, writing about it. But.

So I went to Chartres for a writing workshop with Christine Valters Paintner. I wasn’t expecting a  spiritual workshop focused on Chartres Cathedral and its nearly 1000 year old labyrinth (and its 2000 year history, pre-current cathedral). Even had I known that the labyrinth would be a central aspect of our week, I don’t think I could have fathomed how profoundly meaningful this location was going to become for me.

Bethany Reid, Writing the Labyrinth

[…] I decided I needed to take a chunk of leave this summer. As such, I embarked upon a month-long break. But of course being the Type A woman I am, I made myself a long to-do list of things I needed to accomplish while on leave.

I started with ten days in Maine. The first week was spend at the Poetry Residency at Maine Media, followed by a few days in Acadia National Park. Jay flew up that Friday night and we spend the weekend hiking and exploring the park. Acadia has been on my list for a while so I was glad to finally cross it off. Also, it’s beautiful and has some excellent hiking so it made for a great weekend.

Once home from Acadia I moved on to the next item on my to-do list: adopting a dog.

I said goodbye to Daisy at the end of January. At fifteen years old, she had a long, wonderful life but I was still devastated when she died. I felt like part of me had died too and I vowed to take a long break from being a dog owner. But then…well, then I realized that there was a dog-shaped hole in my heart and there was only one thing that could adequately fill it: another dog.

Courtney LeBlanc, One Month

I had read the news as usual that morning and fell into the now-usual doom gloom. Then the radio reminded me that another of my music pantheon died recently. Dr. John has ascended.

And the station played a tribute to him for a few hours, but I was vacuuming and stuff so heard a bit here and bit there, nodding to the beat when I could hear it, otherwise swept in my own to-and-fro, but they closed with “There Must Be a Better World Somewhere,” and I thought, Right, Mac? Right?

But then I opened up Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights.

The Book of Delights is Ross Gay’s almost-daily, always-exuberant, sometimes-funny, sometimes-poignant record of his days’ delights. Which are often found in not so obvious places.

Although that groovy dude — and here I’m talking about Dr. John, although Ross Gay is indeed also one groovy dude — Dr. John’s oddball let’s-face-it-a-bit-whiny sly if-I-don’t-do-it-somebody-else-will devil on his angelic shoulder (have you HEARD the “Boogie Woogie Twins” with Jools Holland? Shut. Up.) makes it almost impossible for me to not leap up and boogie around the kitchen, there’s often a dark undercurrent in his music, that undeniable blue note, a hint of wrong-place-right-time. Some might call it duende.

And just as you might tire, thinking, all right, enough, you perky sonofabitch — and here I’m talking about Ross Gay — I don’t know that anyone would call Dr. John a perky sonofabitch — Gay will slip in an essayette that reminds us ever so subtly of that yin to yang, the old no-joy-without-sorrow note that sometimes being a black man in this world causes him to stumble over even in the midst of this practice of delight, or even just being a human in the world, and doing the hard work of loving in the face of losing.

Marilyn McCabe, Sweet Confusion Under the Moonlight; or, The kingdom of God is within you; or, Making the Better World

Perhaps we evolved this way so that someone would be there to bury the dogs and the cats, so that someone might be available to shoot the horse that would only suffer. Life and death leave a certain amount of cleaning up that must be done, and so we have minds that reason, we have hands that can grasp a shovel or squeeze a trigger.

Help me now as I gather the wood. The fire I am building needs to be very large, and very hot.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Perhaps we evolved this way so..’

The cedar
in the window

is somehow
changed by

my seeing.
I am

somehow
changed by

its being
there. Neither

of us speaks
of this in

ordinary moments.

Tom Montag, THE CEDAR / IN THE WINDOW

Gospel Earth by Jeffery Beam

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Gospel Earth“A big book of little poems,” says the press release. Except not all the poems are little, and not all the contents are poems. This is a sprawling book, an unruly book, and as I read I vacillate wildly between admiration and impatience. Perhaps that’s fine. Some of my favorite prose works are similarly undisciplined: Zhuangzi, Moby Dick, Gargantua and Pantagruel, and lord knows the Bible. Not bad company! Still, my editor’s hand itches as I read yet one more page of superfluous epigraphs that serve only to overwhelm the micropoems that follow, and titles that lie heavily on certain poems, closing off alternate interpretations. I feel as if I’m on a nature trail with too goddamn many signs to tell me what I’m seeing.

Maybe reading a book like this straight through is a mistake, but after reading for an hour or so I found I was beginning to miss the signs of human civilization that are nearly impossible to escape on this globe, especially in the places Beam identifies as the origins of these poems, places in Italy, France, Ireland and North Carolina. Where are the roar of jets, the rumble of motors, the jarring clutter of powerlines and subdivisions? Then, too, despite a fine homage to William Carlos Williams, who famously declared “no ideas but in things,” there’s a relatively limited vocabulary of images which after a while feel more like ideas and less like real things: wind, water, tree, sun, etc. The book begins to feel narrow despite its girth. The nature mysticism begins to feel unearned, and the persistent vatic tone starts to ring hollow for me.

It is of course unfair to complain that this isn’t quite the book I would’ve preferred to read, but I’m not trying to write a fair-minded review, simply share my response as one particular reader with my own set of biases. The thing is, I found a great deal to like, too. I penciled little checkmarks in the corners of pages I liked, and flipping back through the book now, I see that I’ve marked at least a quarter of all the pages, which if I extracted them with an exacto knife would make a book about 50 pages long. Even in the section of the book called “Green Man,” almost all of which I would’ve jettisoned had I been Beam’s editor, I find some lines that strongly resonate:

In order to make sense
of the ground
I build an earthen hill & sit upon it
(“The Green Man’s Man”)

Another longish poem, “Foggy Mountain Sutra,” has two lines I’d love to see alone on the page:

Anxious to waken anxious to go out
What grey bones dance me to my grave

A short poem called “Resurrection” has so much I like, I am itching to white out the title and the last word, which sits in a stanza by itself:

What late fire-dragons
fume from my body
What purples
What frosts

The night tastes bitter

Dawn’s
moss on my tongue

Beauty

And don’t get me wrong: there are poems where I wouldn’t change a thing, such as “Treatise of the Daisy.” (Well, O.K., the typographic daisies separating the three sections were a bit much.) And here’s a poem where both the interpretive title and the vatic tone seemed just right:

Revelation of Beginnings

The cities pray but
not for long
Soon they will bend

Wind
Tall grass

There’s a poem just three words long, including the title, which I really admired —

Thrush’s Parable

Tree

— though I suspect that if you aren’t familiar with the wood thrush, hermit thrush or veery, it will probably make you shrug.

One more example shows I think the kind of gnomic quality that Beam was going for in many of the poems, here with great success to my ear:

The Visitation: Moth

No flame to explain me

The section called “MountSeaEden” was my favorite. None of the poems in this section have titles at all (except in the Table of Contents — an interesting compromise), and we’re told they originated from “Traversing the Healy Pass, Caha Mountains, Beara Peninsula, Ireland” with two companions in Autumn 2006. They seem appropriately light and free, and their cumulative effect lends power to the individual parts, where mountain and sea are blended to dizzying effect.

Sand in sandal

Leaf-print on pillow.

is one poem, and here’s another I really liked for some reason:

Thrifty mountains

bright & mineral

where herds graze
where saxifrage assumes

I hope I don’t seem like I’m damning this book with faint praise. I got it as a review copy, but if I didn’t own it and I saw it in a bookstore, I would probably buy it, because I do love micropoetry and there’s a lot here to admire and learn from. Beam clearly understands how brevity can make a piece more suggestive and powerful. I just wish he’d applied that lesson to the whole book.

I’m reading a book a day for Poetry Month, but I’m also hoping some folks will join me and fellow poet-blogger Kristin Berkey-Abbott to read four of those books, one a week starting April 3 — or even just one of the four. Details here.