Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 31

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’s theme, if there is one, might be described rather too glibly as “feeling low in high summer.” A lot of l-words make an appearance: languor, lugubrious, limbo, lemon, lime, light, lines, luxuriousness. Lockdown, of course. And still, life.


scissoring low
between lamb and ewe: 
the heatwave swallows

Matthew Paul, Some summer haiku

I always feel trapped by August, its thick cluster of vowels.  Clotted.  Lugubrious, made for a lazy tongue.  Made for  limbs given up to the sun.  If it were a kitchen sauce, it would need to be thinned.  If there is a gust in August’s nature, we don’t feel it until the second half.  

Just what augur lurks in August?  Something is hiding in plain sight of its sun.  Its heaviness portends.  The gods know what hangs in the balance, but who can read the signs?  In the long wash of hazy beach sunset, reams of moody air rolled out, I can’t find a pattern.  The gulls are dropping mussel shells on rocks.  Sandpipers perform their own nutcracker suite in the just-washed shoreline.  Their pattern is their business. 

Jill Pearlman, What augurs, August?

Sound of morning,
the O of the
sorrowful dove

opening like a
vowel, like a sigh
after loving.

Tom Montag, SOUND OF MORNING

When the milk was delivered midmorning            languor
cradled in the crook of the household

On the coal stove blazed by asthmatic breaths
coffee beans splayed open         peaberry plantation 50 – 50

Uma Gowrishankar, The coffee drinkers

When I participate in or host zoom chats, I’ve tried to be conscious of what kind of visual impression I make. Though I’m not a person with a closet full of bright colored clothing, I’ve worn a lot more of it this spring and summer. Color always lifts my mood — most of us respond that way. For some reason, human beings seem to echo or take cues from their environment, and while people in the south have no trouble wearing tropical colors, we northerners are notorious for wearing black, grey, brown and white in the colder months, just when everyone needs color the most. (But we’re Canadians — wouldn’t want to stand out too much!) Anyway, all I’m saying is that I’ve been conscious of the effect of color on my spirits during this pandemic, and when I was trying to get back into doing some artwork, it wasn’t linework that drew me in, but pure color.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 34: The Transformative Power of Color

Moisture is clinging to everything –
on the undersides of flower petals
it glistens like starlight,
on the edges of the awning where it
drops on my head just as I step
out from under,
on the slick black back of my cat
slinking through the bushes hunting
lizards.
But I am dry, dry, dry […]

Charlotte Hamrick, Dry Spell

Most days I find myself in this strange limbo of having no idea what the next few months will be like. What the next few weeks, the next few days. It’s hard to plan for programming and other library things when it’s a very real possibility that Illinois will hit the red zone again and we’ll all be working entirely from home. I’m making good faith gestures that it will not. Planning exhibits, thinking about my ILL workflows, buying fall clothes (I found an oatmeal sweater dream dress on Poshmark and put it in my cart so fast I got whiplash, because, yes, it’s time to start propagating that fall wardrobe. ) I’m ready for fall after the last few hot, muggy days, which seem to have cleared–last night was cool and windy enough to knock my conditioner & shampoo off the window ledge in the shower. If we have been robbed of cookouts and beach going, and really, just going anywhere or doing anything until 2021 at least, fall is pretty homebody-ish for me anyway. I mostly just want to stay in and watch horror movies, though if we’re honest, that’s pretty much ALL year.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 7/31/2020

Here we are in high summer — my favorite season of the year, all lush and green. And I can’t help bracing for the winter , knowing the likelihood that the pandemic will surge again when flu season arrives and when we’re all confined to poorly-ventilated indoor spaces. I’m always a bit fearful of the oncoming winter. Seasonal Affective Disorder hits me every year, even when I do all the right things. This year I am extra-afraid, because I imagine that winter will mean not only long dark nights and bitter cold but also lockdown again, and shortages again, and rising death rates again, and loneliness. 

This morning I went to Caretaker [Farm] with my son to get this week’s vegetables. As I bent to the green bean rows and lifted each plant to scan for beans, I breathed the scent of clean dirt and greenery through my soft fabric mask. Remembering the indigenous wisdom in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass (which I’ve read several times) I pressed my palms to the earth and murmured a thank-you to the soil, the plants, the careful loving farmers, and the whole web of life that makes it possible for me to pluck these vibrant, beautiful beans from their runners and bring them home.

Rachel Barenblat, Comfort

The yoga teacher says lift
your palms to your chest;
turn it into a box
of intention. Then lie
down and bring your hands
to your sides. Imagine
your corpse floating down-
river, leaving everything
and everyone behind.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait:  Savasana

I love the process of starting small with a still life and then enlarging it, and then at the end slowly taking away each object. Which is better, the more minimalist version with just the one vase, or the addition of shells, flowers from our garden, then lemons, the skull? For me it doesn’t really matter, it’s the process that’s the thing. These small gestures. Standing up on the sofa with my camera and then jumping down to nudge a shell, turn the vase, heading to the kitchen to peel the lemon, wondering if the skull is too much, pulling the one broken bloom out to dangle its head, turning the nautilus so you can’t see the broken off part, turning it back so you can. I’m blessing the still life, all still lifes, their quiet, their infinite nature. I’m blessing the held breath of the photographer, the perfect blooms and the more ragged ones. I’m loving the way all the time I’m shooting, Fantin-Latour is in the back of my mind and how art and loving art and objects and flowers connects us through time. It’s a small thing to love, but it helps.

Shawna Lemay, Love Small and Obscure Things

And so I feel awake to my mind, to the words on the page and to the world, the latter of which is both good and bad. Don’t turn your back, she says. Even when it aches, she says, and I’m trying.

This week has been an absolute mess, including a couple really miserable work days and one morning in which I had to Google “what to do if you get wasp and hornet spray in your eye.” The week has also contained its share of pure magic, like the doe and twin fawns I watch from my porch. Like the gladiolis (nearly 4 feet tall!) near my walkway. Like the sky that’s ours to see whenever we want to look up. […]

Morning, after all, has been pawing at me these last few months. Pay attention to me, it’s cried. (Meowwwww.) Its persistence has not been a metaphor: it has the claws to back it up.

Just as autopilot didn’t last, this wide awake nesting mode can’t either. It’s not only that perimenopause is calling a bunch of the shots. My normal rhythm — though not as rapid fire as the hormone-influenced one — is to race and rest, race and rest. Race, race, race.

Collapse.

Rest.

I’m trying to go slowly this time. I am trying to set no expectations about “results.” I’m trying to change where I place “value,” In doing so, I hope to be able to sustain it a while.

I told my therapist earlier this week all the things that I was sick of, including striving, which led us to talk about how to recognize what does work. “When it feels good,” she said, “pay attention. What are the ingredients?”

It’s easy to say what to leave out of the recipe: long hours at work, hornet spray in your eye, wild hormones, cat scratches on your calf and a fucking global pandemic, for starters. A simple invitation to name what it is about the fawns that moves you? Much more challenging. But also: it’s exactly what writers do. We grope for meaning. At least it’s what we do when we show up, when we accept that other invitation: Be here. That is what we must practice.

Carolee Bennett, on “groping for meaning” with natalie goldberg during a global pandemic

Some days even the flat roads
present as inclines and inclines
persuade me they are really hills
while any actual hill has risen
to an unknowable height. And then
I glance through the trees
at the side of the lane, the glitter
of sunlight, the short grass
stretching to the horizon, and I feel
the opening of my own heart
as I run through the world,
overcoming, for now, that ridge
of resistance and accepting it all:
flat roads, hills, how the world
is composed of joy and woe, of light
and shade and we are the bearers.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Resistance

These little messages from the outside world can hold more portent than they might have a few months ago. This can mean a rejection has more impact, or that a postcard can carry more weight. I’m trying to avoid using Facebook (because of their ethical decisions and misinformation problems, along with thinking it might be detrimental for mental health in a way Instagram and Twitter are not) so I end up spending more time in the physical world. Physical objects like books and magazines get more attention, and I want them to be beautiful and encouraging. I bring in spring-scented sweet peas in a jar, cut dahlias in cases around the house, the occasional rose in a bud case. There is some mythology that hummingbirds were messengers from the gods. If so, I hope they bring good news. We could use it.

I’m also trying to support the businesses I love (and want to survive) with e-commerce as much as possible, whether that’s buying a dress or a book or a box of produce from my local farmer’s stands (here’s a link to 21 Acres, my favorite in  Woodinville, and Tonnemaker Farm stand, which also has a beautiful u-pick garden). I also want to support visual artists and other writers when I can. I’m not wealthy, but I feel like coughing up a few dollars for a literary magazine subscription or someone’s new book might help keep artists and publishers alive, and maybe deliver that hopeful or positive note that someone might need.

Because I am a writer with two poetry manuscripts circulating, waiting for good news on either one is a kind of excruciating hobby. I agonize over title and organization, whether to include new poems, whether to take out old ones. I feel like putting time towards writing and revising is at least a positive place to put some of my frustrated, homebound energies. I wish I had a big “yes” from the universe right now, from a dream publisher. I hope I get over this superbug soon so I can get a little way back to “normal.”

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding Inspiration Where You Need It, Looming Messages from the Outside World

I was half-heartedly cleaning out the hall closet the other day in an ongoing bid to find my long-lost Fitbit, and I realized that I have done nothing crafting-wise in many, many months. I have had no desire to sew, to make rugs, to finish my many unfinished projects, or to paint or draw. I firmly believe this is directly related to COVID-19 and the subsequent stress it’s caused me. I feel like I am instinctively reserving my energy right now. I have had to go into work every single damn day of this pandemic and cope with the massive stress that is involved in working in a hospital during a global outbreak, and I don’t have the luxury of any leftover energy to generate the creative impulses necessary to crafting. It makes me sad. I feel deadened in that way, and I don’t think that it’s good for me. And it seems weirdly tied in with my unwillingness to make a hair appointment, although I don’t know why the two would be related. Perhaps it has something to do with a sense of luxuriousness. Part of why I enjoy getting my hair cut is that for one entire hour, I get to feel special and taken care of and a little bit fussed over. It’s worth paying a little extra money to go to a place where it smells nice and looks pretty and there’s some ceremony involved in making me look slightly better. I don’t want to get my hair cut when it is going to be stressful and fraught with rules and distancing and glass partitions and fear and an “in and out as quickly as possible” mentality. That same sense of expansive luxuriousness is tied into the time and energy required to think through a creative project and execute on it. Generating the energy it requires to consider time, color, form and design at this time just seems impossible. I don’t like this. As an artistic person, the grayness and lack of vibrancy in the world right now is very disheartening. Maybe the best way to fight against it is to rebel; to somehow find the energy within to create something of beauty, no matter how small.

Kristen McHenry, Dental Stalking, Crafting Sads, New Monsters

Two years ago I bought a wetsuit and was determined to face my fear of open water – with a barrier of neoprene between.

Two, three times we swam across the tiny lake. Two, three times I had flashbacks of the Kentucky river and the nest of baby moccasins. Slow down, I said: Breathe.

This is what panic feels like. And it is almost always irrational.

Right?

Swimming in dark water is a metaphor for life – and for death. You can never know what is near. What that bump or tug might be.

Slow down.

Breathe.

Anyway.

… And get back out there.

Ren Powell, Learning to Swim

childhood 
digging up the hamster
to see the bones 

Jim Young [no title]

Tomorrow is my 67th birthday if anyone ever says I’m “67 years young” I’m going to sock them in the neck

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was 78 years old when she died she fought like a wild thing full of anger denial and general piss-offedness I love her for tossing her own goddamn five stages of grief out the window at the end

I keep thinking about the blue land crabs that marched through a Miami suburb in early June I believe they were harbingers of a strange and eerie art perhaps a reversal of doom we should have paid attention

William “pig bacon” Barr twirls his pen adjusts his glasses smooths his hair and attempts to talk over anyone but especially women right now he is leaning his head on his hand giving himself a hitler mustache with his middle finger he has a lot of tells William “pig bacon” Barr can also be called William “pig bacon” Tell

Earlier this week I gave myself a tragic haircut and now I can’t tuck it behind my ears hippos get deep cuts and scratches and ticks and bites on their skin which they can’t reach (obviously) so they enlist barbell fish to nibble them to clean and sooth them after which the hippos go into a deep happy trance this is how I feel at my hair stylist

I saw a harmonium on the side of the road just hanging out among the trees it was a perfectly good harmonium and it was on the road for two weeks I wonder where it was going and why

White men have weaponized their cars against children’s soft bodies why aren’t these republican politicians on television outraged and why is it more important to them to protect buildings instead of the soft bodies of Black men and women and children

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I don’t know why I should blog this. I don’t feel able. John would think it absurd. He says I mustn’t lose my faith in the president, and has me take Breitbart, to say nothing of vitamin C and rare meat.

I lie in bed and look at the paper. Behind the outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like people posting and tweeting alarming news at a social distance. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder–I begin to think–I wish the pharmaceutical industry would hurry up and release a vaccine!

*****

There are always new infection vectors in the wall-paper and the virus gets into my hair. In this hot weather it is awful, I cannot even walk in the garden. The CDC recommendations go round and round and round and round–they make me dizzy!

But I really have discovered something. The front pattern does move–and no wonder! The people behind the bars shake them! Nobody could climb through the pattern–it strangles so; but I see a woman wearing a mask and brandishing an absentee ballot.

Lesley Wheeler, The Yellow Wall-paper by Charlotte Lesley Perkins Wheeler Gilman

July’s wallpaper:
apricots, cherries, peaches
and the moon out there.

Not a day missing,
a full month. Empty-handed
we arrive, breathless,

Where are our colours?
What happened to the music?
There’s been no dancing,

just counting of steps.

Magda Kapa, July 2020

The lime drops to the floor and rolls under the table; you cannot reach it. It’s just that kind of dream. Whatever you want is always just beyond your reach. You can never quite do the thing that needs to be done. 

There is a lover for you, but you never make love. Or perhaps someone who is dead in your waking life is there in the dream, and seems to be well; you are glad to see each other. Neither of you mentions the death. 

Time passes. The dream changes, grows darker. There is rubble in the streets, buildings are in ruin, it is night. You are doing a job that is both familiar and unfamiliar, and you cannot actually complete the work. 

James Lee Jobe, The lime drops to the floor and rolls under the table; you cannot reach it.

1)      If new online mags appeared regularly prior to lockdown, there’s now a veritable plethora, often created and curated by well-known poets/editors, and technically adroit. Will this be a watershed moment? How many of these outlets will stay the course? Does this daily bombardment of new work mean that poems disappear into a temporal vortex even more quickly than in the past?
2)      Zoom fatigue. When people were cooped up at home in full lockdown, Zoom readings and workshops immediately became popular. However, now lives are gradually opening up beyond the boundaries of the home, is a Zoom fatigue setting in?
3)      If everyone’s anxious, that means poets are probably more so! First and foremost, this seems to be expressed in their work itself, even if it’s not consciously Covid-related.
4)      And the same anxiety for poets is also reflected in an attitude to submissions that feels even more awkward than pre-Covid. Waiting for a reply to a sub is always tough, but it’s made easier if you’ve got a busy daily routine. If you’re furloughed or stuck at home, time weighs more heavily and those subs start to stress you out.

Matthew Stewart, Ten poetry trends in the pandemic

Picking up magazines at random I had a chuckle-filled time reading the eviscerations inflicted on my fellow-poets. This came to an abrupt halt when I read the opening sentence of a review which turned out to be about my own book. It read: ‘Anthony Wilson is far too capable a writer to ever be any use as a poet.’ It did not mean this as a compliment. I read the sentence again, to check I had read it correctly. The room began to tilt. Sweat seemed to be coming out of my eyes, but I knew it was not sweat.

I went outside for a bit, onto a balcony overlooking the Thames. Even the river seemed to be tilting. I noticed that I needed to hold on to the furniture to walk.

Then I made a second terrible mistake, quickly followed by a third. I read the rest of the review of my book of poems (it got worse), then photocopied it so I could share my outrage with Rupert and Siân. Taking nothing away from their sympathy, neither course of action did anything to improve my state of mind.

Once the initial shock of my discovery had worn off I seemed to enter a long tunnel of numbness. Normal life and interactions would continue around me, but I participated in them as though hearing and observing them through a wall made of glass. Everything was muffled: sound, the taste of food, my children’s laughter. Everything except my anger.

Siân was great company on the train. She said the answer was to eat and drink my body weight in almond croissants and Virgin Trains coffee while penning offensive acrostic poems using the letters of the reviewer in question. This helped enormously.

Our tutors for the week were Jo Shapcott and Roger McGough. Keeping us busy with insane sounding exercises like writing a villanelle before lunch, they threw ideas, poems and anecdotes at us implicitly expecting that we were well up to the task not only of keeping up but writing poems of value.

This feverish and competitive atmosphere cajoled me from thinking too closely about the review. Nevertheless, as soon as I was away from company my fears about its hostility gnawed away at me. I began to believe that they were right.

I remember going to bed on the second night with a poem (Jo had set this as an exercise) that we found from a book we had plucked off the shelf at random. The idea was to read the poem aloud and to try and memorise as much of it as possible before falling asleep.  I had chosen her own anthology Emergency Kit , probably in an attempt to please her. I closed my eyes, opened the book and stabbed at a page in the darkness. The poem I had chosen turned out to be ‘Before’ by Sean O’Brien. I had a dim memory of having read it when I bought HMS Glasshouse (OUP, 1991), but now the poem seemed to come alive in a completely different way. In its meticulous calibration of that time before waking and the switch to what Les Murray calls the ‘daylight mind’, I found myself suddenly able to hold my rage and disappointment at something approaching arm’s length. The world O’Brien describes is not free of pain, far from it. But, hypnotised by its somnambulant rhythms I found myself wanting to believe in words as a force for good again. Things could be otherwise.

A miracle.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Poems: Sean O’Brien’s ‘Before’

I plan to try the Sealey Challenge in August, which you can read about here. Basically it’s a dare to read a book of poetry a day during the month. Chapbooks and re-reads are fine.

I wanted to have to buy as few books as possible but ended up buying about 10. If I were in America I would use the library. I have some German-language poetry in my stack, but I read poetry in German much more slowly. That said I dipped into one of the Bachmann books and it was kind of great. Still I’m a bit daunted. I’ve included my own book and will make up the difference with chapbooks I have at home to make the challenge less demanding.

Have I talked myself out of it now? No, I’m no perfectionist. If I don’t read 31 books I won’t consider myself a failure. At the moment, nevertheless, I’ve gotten a headstart on “East Window,” a book of Asian poems translated by W.S. Merwin. It’s more than 300 pages long. It’s wonderful but days into it I am only halfway through.

I have examined my motives for joining this challenge. I wondered, do I just want to socialize online? Do I just want to post photographs of books and find affirmation? Do I want to look cool? Honestly I just want to read poetry again and especially poetry I haven’t read before. But I confess I love photographs of stacks of books, photographs of single books and photographs of books artfully arranged in pairs, triplets and quartets.

Sarah J Sloat, Sealey Challenge

Today I read Bruise Songs, by Steve Davenport. It’s a book I’ll be reviewing later, so I’ll say more about it then. Today I offer it for Day Two of the Sealey Challenge to read a poetry book a day. I had started to read around in this book when it first came, but today I read it straight through. Well, I read the first poem, “Dear Horse I Rode In On,” and then the note about it in the back, which I knew was there from my reading around, and the note mentioned the last poem, “Soundtrack for Last Words,” so I read that, and then the actual last poem, “Moon Aubade,” and then I went back to the beginning. That’s my nonlinear way of being linear.

Speaking of the moon, my husband just came in and said to go out and look at it. So I did. It’s full on this beautiful clear night. And, hey, I started this book in the morning and finished it at night, so I am linear, after all.

Kathleen Kirk, Bruise Songs

The wisdom of square foot gardening, which is to break your growing space into small, manageable portions, easily translates to writing projects. If the blank white page is your word-garden, it can seem like a pretty scary place, simultaneously empty and full of possible word-weeds. But if, as in gardening, you divide it into small parts, the prospect of filling that space is much less intimidating.

This approach is the opposite of freewriting, which instructs the writer to scribble as fast as possible for, say, five minutes. While useful in getting past a writing block, this approach would be disastrous in gardening, the equivalent of wildly scattering untold numbers of seeds all over your carefully prepared garden bed. Not just a bad idea, but one you’ll most likely regret for a long time to come.

With square foot poetry, I use 3×3-inch Post-it notes (you can also draw squares on your sheet of paper or in your journal). My favorite color is yellow, because it’s cheerful and reminds me of the sun shining on my garden (and hopefully, on my words). Now, just like in gardening, I try to fit as much as I can inside those squares, substituting words for plants. When I write on my Post-it notes, I take my time, since every word takes up proportionally more room than on a larger piece of paper. 

An advantage of using Post-it notes is that you can easily move them around, rearranging the piece of writing you’re working on (yes, I know there are programs that do this, but for now, I’m using paper). When I plan my garden, I use the same method, taking into consideration how tall the plant is, how much sun it needs, and whether I grew it there previously.

Erica Goss, Square Foot Poetry

I was pleased that I performed well under pressure.  I don’t want to be one of those people who freezes and can’t act–or worse, that falls apart in hysterics.  I was glad that I remembered my address.  But more than that, I have been trained since childhood to call 911 in an emergency.  Happily, I’ve never had to do that. 

Now in the past 6 weeks, I’ve had to make that call twice.  The first was for a student who was having chest pain and tightness and tingling in his left arm.  He was young and looked like he was in good shape, but the symptoms were close enough to heart attack symptoms that I decided it was better to call 911 than not.  He was fine, although there was some irregularity revealed by the tests that the paramedics used.  They wanted to take him to the ER, but he declined since he was sure he wasn’t in danger of a heart attack.

As I said, the rest of the day felt easy yesterday.  At 1:00, I watched the new poet laureate of Virginia being sworn in.  Maybe these events have always been livestreamed and/or recorded, and I just didn’t know it–but one of the benefits of this recent time is realizing how many of these events need to be livestreamed and recorded to reach a larger audience.  It was so inspiring to watch–it would have been inspiring regardless, but it was even more so because I know Luisa Igloria, the new Poet Laureate.

As I watched, I made this Facebook post:  “I am watching Luisa A. Igloria‘s acceptance speech–she’s being sworn in as the Poet Laureate of Virginia. How cool that we can all watch, even if we can’t travel to Virginia. And even more wonderful to know that she was chosen–it gives me great hope for the future, both the future of poetry and the future of the country. It wasn’t long ago that a female would not have been chosen, an immigrant would not have been chosen, a non-white poet would not have been chosen. She’s an amazing poet, and I’m so happy that she’s been chosen!”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, When Your Cottage Doesn’t Catch Fire

Our world wobbles on its human-made axis of insanity and is always one blindfolded step from ruin:

pandemics, poverty, wars, and racism.

Countless beings wail in the key of pain, unable to retune themselves to ease.

Certain nights, the moon is just a trick of light;

one evening, it resembles a diamond, the next night, a dagger.

And so we strive to become one another’s steady shine,

through light and dark, rise and fall, song and smoke.

Rich Ferguson, The Moon is Never What You Thought it Was

On a day that I give into it all and do little more than sleep and eat and write these postcards, I wonder about the missives I send out into the world. Why does it matter to write snippets about bread and berries and walks and hammocks, as if such things matter in times such as these? Can it? Do they? If I write about the sweet and omit the bitter, am I delusional? Am I in denial? Am I bearing false witness if I crop loneliness and sorrow and fatigue out of my stories, or if I leave only their shadows at the edges of the margins?

Late that night a friend shares an essay, and Lyz Lenz reminds me that our stories in times such as these–all of them–are “a struggle of memory against forgetting.” They are “a struggle of nuance in the flat face of fascism.”

Reading, I understand what I often forget, and why I force myself to do joyful things even when they bring me little joy and why I write about them. It is a struggle to hold onto old joys in a new age of despair: To shape the dough, pick the berries, move the legs, still the body long enough to feel warm breeze against hot skin–and write about it. It is a struggle when such acts and the writing about them may feel trivial, inconsequential, or even self-indulgent. But they aren’t, and it isn’t.

To do such things and write about them, to remember what was sweet in the past and keep it present–even if flawed, even if lesser-than, even if the gesture feels cliched or hollow–so that it won’t disappear into some dark forest of the future, is a making-and-doing of the highest order.

As Lenz reminded me, when writers write they know: “At least I am still here.” And when we read their stories of living plot lines like our own, we know that we are, too.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Postcards, the making and doing edition

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 29

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 I’m in a bit of a rush to get the digest out before the promised storms hit, which will mean disconnecting the wi-fi: on a mountaintop, routers are especially vulnerable to the electricity in the air during a thunderstorm. But my gardens are so parched here, I am praying for all the bad weather we can get. And by praying, I mean reciting Robinson Jeffers: “Come storm, kind storm. August and the days of tired gold and bitter blue are more ruinous…”

Anyway, I apologize for any possible typos below, and for my lack of a concise intro. As some writer or another once quipped, I’m in a hurry, I don’t have time for brevity!. But I was pleased to find no shortage of great posts to quote (or in some case, reproduce in their entirety) this week, starting with an ocean swimmer’s essay on the toadfish…


The toadfish sits on the bottom of the sea, singing a song of love.

It is a creature midway between humble and fabulous. It is small enough to fit into a person’s hand, and has a bulbous, grey-green, wet look. It is quite ugly, except for the luminescent dots (photophores) running along the length of its body, which give it a spiffed-up, dance party look, like the buttons of an ensign’s jacket, thus giving the toadfish its other name: the plainfin midshipman.

I have never seen a toadfish, but I have heard them singing.

Ordinarily the toadfish lives in the deep, dark sea. But when it is time to seek a mate, the toadfish swims up to the shallow, intertidal waters of a bay or slough. The male burrows into the mud at the bottom, and begins to sing, hoping by his song to attract a female to his burrow. Vibrating his swim bladder, the toadfish emits a clear, resonant tone — a steady drone, a hum. Other toadfish nearby tune in, and they synchronize their pitch with one another, so the water column fills with a continuous humming note. It can be quite loud, penetrating the hulls of boats and ships, keeping their occupants awake at night. It may even be loud enough to awaken those on land. It is often mistaken for a sound of mechanical origin: A distant ship motor, a generator, or some other machinery operating on the shore. But no: It is a sound the toadfish have been singing for probably millions of years, since long before humans existed.

On a recent swim along Muni Pier, aka Aquatic Park Pier, I heard the toadfish singing, each to each. I did not think they sang for me. But their song sounded, to me and my swim friend Zina, like a chant, really, a steady, clear, “OM” sound, somewhere around low A, and it was a song I felt I could join. The deeper I put my head into the water column, the clearer and stronger the sound became. If I could swim deep enough, I thought, I could enter into the sound completely, but I might never return. So instead, from the surface, I tried matching the note with a sound of my own, floating there with my face in the water, chanting my own OM into the water, bubbles blowing out of my mouth as I chanted along with the toadfish.

When I found the right pitch, my whole torso resonated with the sound. I had joined the chant, the chorus of the toadfish. It felt like the all-encompassing, penetrating tone of pure love. It was the sound of the universe singing to itself.

Dylan Tweney, I have heard the toadfish singing.

Covid exists. Covid-19 exists, summer-20 exists. High noon exists. Heat exists. Water in rivers, in seas, in showers, from fire hydrants exists. Coves exist. Hidden lanes of purple hydrangea exist. Overturned bones of kayaks. Smoothness of stones, stones, pebbles irreducible pebbles exist. Marsh grasses like glissando on a piano. Poison ivy exists. Bodies in hospitals exist. Grief exists. Shadows and data and systems, bindweed and drifting boats, errors and interpretation. Brutality exists. Bridges, from a distance, from other islands. A breeze laying traces of a fishnet on the waves. Wildness, wilderness, wildness exists. Light that has never been the same since the beginning of time exists. A swimmer’s ecstasy exists. A swimmer exists as she swims through that moment’s infinity. Festivity exists only because of the possibility that it might not exist.

Jill Pearlman, covid-19, summer-20

This summer, I’ve been participating in Wednesday Night Poetry, the longest running weekly poetry reading in the nation. This series is usually in Arkansas, but its presence online is one is those unexpectedly beautiful things that has come about during the pandemic. I’m so grateful to Kai Coggin for hosting this event and curating this reading in such a welcoming, inclusive, affirming way. This has been a summer highlight for me.

Last night I shared my poem “Nevermore,” a love poem for my Granny from my chapbook 28,065 Nights, which will be published next month by River Glass Books. [Click through to watch.]

Katie Manning, Wednesday Night Poetry

I was feeling rather smug about having a new collection of poems for which I could start gathering rejection letters, until I realized that at least 10 of the poems in the 50 poem collection seem to be the same damn poem over and over again.

Yes, they differ in imagery and rhythm and movement, but they land in the same place, with they same no-duh realization.

I know I often feel like I’m writing the same poem over and over, but to have it so plainly in my face is, well, annoying.

I thought I could get clever and tried to turn one poem on it’s head, so it at least STARTED in the same damn place but ended someplace else, but I wasn’t fooled by my trick.

It’s funny, of course, because I hadn’t realized how obsessed I’d been. But clearly I’ve got issues. Or one issue, anyway.

How many such poems can a collection can get away with having? Two? Three? Four if I hide them throughout and distract the reader with shiny objects?

Marilyn McCabe, It was fascination; or, On Writing the Same Damn Poems Over and Over Again

I’ve read that many writers are stressing about not writing as much right now as they think they should (what with still being mostly constrained from fun distractions, like offices, travel, parties, etc. but still in the middle of a poorly controlled pandemic) but for me, summer is a natural time for revision. I don’t write as many poems in the summer, typically (and it also tends to be my worst season for health – unfortunately, this July has proved no exception – I caught a superbug during my root canal AND just got tested for coronavirus as well, because why have just one thing?) […]

So besides photographing my cat and flowers with my typewriter, I’ve been spending hours looking at the drafty drafts of poems I’ve written since January, looking harder at my two book manuscripts in terms of organization and order. It’s been four years since my last book, and I’m getting a little anxious about getting another book into the world, but I do want them to be the best books possible.

I’ve had a couple of writers take a look at my newest manuscript for feedback (which I recommend if you’re feeling stuck and unable to “see” the manuscript anymore), and I was surprised by a couple of things, including that I’d been writing accidental sonnets. Anyway, I also don’t recommend futzing with two books at a time if you can help it. I think the older manuscript is pretty polished, it’s the newer one that still needs some reshaping, but keeping track of both in the same spreadsheet is eye-crossing. I got an encouraging note from a great publisher, but had to really work to track down which manuscript they were responding to! Not good, Jeannine.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Summer is for Revision, Phone Calls to Catch Up with Writer Friends, and Twitter’s #PoetParty Returns

I slid off the rocks pictured above at Willoughby Spit, Virginia, last weekend, cutting my toes and raising a mother of a bruise on the opposite shin. A couple of days before that, I fell off a bike, although that time I managed to throw myself clear onto some relatively cushy grass. The day before that, I got bashed down by Virginia Beach waves a couple of times; the wind was high and getting from the billows to the shore was a challenge.

I’ve always been a klutz, but my muscle tension is higher now, which makes my balance lousy. Paradoxically, I don’t think my fear of falling helps. I watch my 19-year-old leap up and down steep trails, the kind spined with sharp rocks and tree roots; his footing is relaxed and sure because he trusts his body to do what he wants it to. Was I ever that agile?

I still want to move with speed and attain the great view, but if I push even a bit too hard, I end up benching myself. I’ve been thinking about ambition in writing, too–not, this week, ambition for quality of the writing, but craving a little bit more recognition, pushing myself to apply for more opportunities, even knowing that middle aged women hardly ever pull the brass ring. Leaving town for a few days, even though we didn’t go far, allowed me to stop thinking about Unbecomingand The State She’s Inhallelujah! When I got back from the beach last Sunday, though I dropped into a homebound funk, made worse by a sore throat. I immediately thought I was dying from COVID-19, felt sorry for the kids and husband I would leave behind, and did some soul-searching about what work I had left to do in the world (yes, I go apocalyptic quickly and vividly). Then I realized I had stopped taking an allergy medication at the beach, started it again, and felt fine within two days.

That cheered me up, but what cheered me more was a long phone call with Jeannine Hall Gailey ranging over all these subjects–health, career aspirations, politics, literary culture. It helped SO MUCH, and not just because she’s a gifted pep-talker, which she is, or because she gave me good concrete advice, which she did. As she wrote on her own blog earlier today, conversations like that can remind you that we’re not alone in aspiring and feeling frustrated. There’s a difficult balance to walk: for sanity’s sake, you can’t get carried away by po-biz longing, but I also don’t want any of us to underrate ourselves. Others are perfectly ready to ignore or underestimate us–we don’t need to get a jump on them!

Lesley Wheeler, Like water wants to shine

Someone mentioned Imposter Syndrome to me recently when discussing confidence. There have been times when I’ve had to play at being a poet to be able to get through situations where I haven’t felt up to the task. After my second son, I think I struggled a bit with post-natal depression and barely went out or talked to people. I actually put on a costume (a fancy pin and scarf I wouldn’t ususally wear) and went to various writing events to force myself to mingle and smile. I eventually worked back up to reading my work in public. I still wrote, it was the public side I struggled with and pretending I was a capable poet helped. 

I’ve had days when I’ve ripped up poems or just deleted them. Days when I’ve cried at a reader’s harsh or tactless or too honest words. Days when I’ve despaired that I’d never get published or that my writing was so bad that everyone hated it. 

But I always went back to writing because it has never been about publication or being liked or finding an audience though those things would be gravy. It was a need to write, to capture my thoughts, my life, my breath on paper. To give them a permanent space when everything was swirling around my head. And I didn’t compare them to others’ work, didn’t worry if they were good enough because they were me, at that moment, rough and raw, slightly polished with time, changing with mood and experience. And I have always been good enough. 

It frustrates me that I can praise my fellow writers, my mentees until I’m blue, but I can’t make them see how good and brave they are for just writing what they want. How bringing that scraggly, imperfect poem into the light of understanding readers is a cause for celebration and pride. How sending your work to a journal even though it will probably be rejected, because the odds are against almost all writers there, is amazing because for 10 minutes or so your words are inhabiting someone else’s head and making them think about something you cared enough to write. And if it’s not for them, it’s still yours. 

Gerry Stewart, Good Enough?

This weekend, I put the bloom project to bed.  Or perhaps planted it deep in the ground (if the metaphor is more apt.) It’s still a little rough, and I plan to spend the next few weeks smoothing out some edges and see what I’ve got.  Again, it’s hard to write about things without distance, so maybe some time is what these pieces need.  Up next in writing plans is a little fun series on Weekly World News headlines I’ve been batting around in my head that is making me giggle. It might be the perfect antitdote to some darker projects I’ve been immersed in the past few months. (well as shadowy as The Shining and virus poems tend to be.) 

According to my journal/planner, I had all sorts of creative plans for this spring and summer, but now feel like much of them fall to the wayside in the name of just getting through the dumpster fire that is 2020. But at least there are still poems, pretty much daily, first thing I work on over breakfast. I’ve also been devoting one weekend day to writing-related things like submissions and manuscript org, and book promo efforts (this this weekend’s book trailer success.)  which feel like they can get swept away, especially now that I am back to commuting during parts of the week. My relationship with all things poetry is still rocky, and I tend to go from obsessing about writing then back to not caring at all, but it’s still a case of pandemic brain that I hope will pass. It might be one of the things that I still feel I have control of–so perhaps I need it more than ever. […]

My longer projects tend to build as smaller things constellate–and tend to be more over-arching in their themes, but broader in their subject matter.  Maybe it’s just easier to write several small books than one big one, or to somehow trick myself into writing a larger mss. by composing it out of small ones.  Like building a doll house out of wood blocks rather than framing it out and constructing a whole.  

Kristy Bowen, for the love of tiny projects

little spiders 
born in the smallest room
my house is yours

Jim Young [no title]

Thinking about fires in a fireplace, because we have a fire in our summer cottage on cool mornings when I’m writing, I ask myself whether “hearth” refers only to what the fire rests on or the whole fireplace.

I open the dictionary.  It means the stone under the fire.  But my eye catches the word “hearth-tax.”  In seventeenth century England and Wales, I read, a hearth tax of two shillings a year was levied for each hearth.

Now I want to know:  Is this the original form of the property taxes we pay for our houses?  How much did two shillings buy in the 1600s?  Did people complain about what their tax was paying for and how high it was?

Could I use this in a poem?  And how am I supposed to get back to work?

But I couldn’t write without a dictionary.  Mine is a one volume version of the OED.  When I pause to look up a word – usually for its etymology, its base meaning – I feel fully engaged in my language.

Ellen Roberts Young, Delight in Distraction

For some reason, I got it into my head this weekend that I needed to find my long-abandoned Fitbit. I was gifted this item several years ago by a friend and used it obsessively for a month straight before I decided I was in an abusive relationship with it and impulsively tossed it into a drawer, never to pick it up again. But now I want it back and I can’t find it and it’s driving me crazy. I vaguely remember having put it in a box at some point along with my obsolete Kindle and a tangle of cords and cables, but this mythical box is nowhere to be found. I’ve combed through our credenza, our junk drawer in the kitchen, the hall closet, and the bedroom closet. I looked in our storage bin in our Laundry Room. I dug through the computer room closet. It’s nowhere. And the longer I look for it, the more I want it. It’s more about desiring the victory of finding it now than it is about actually wanting to use the annoying thing. I am obviously harboring deep feelings of loss elsewhere in my life that I am projecting onto to the poor Fitbit. But that’s not stopping me from fervently believing that if I can just find the damn gadget, it will redeem all that has gone to wreckage in my life. In fact, I’m going to look for it again after I get this post up.

Kristen McHenry, Desperately Seeking Fitbit, Game Babies, Mean and Sexy

I haven’t really worked with clay since I was 13. I had an art teacher then who let me use the kick-wheel during lunch breaks. Mr. Shannon didn’t teach or instruct me that year. He was my mentor.

Once he gave me a set of watercolors and a salt shaker and said, Get at it.

Once he made a blind so I couldn’t see the paper while I drew my own hand, and I have been fascinated by the tactile quality of lines ever since.

Later I learned that Edouard Manet said there are no lines in nature. That is because line is a language. And, like my grasp of Norwegian, here my comprehension far exceeds my composition skills.

Another time, Mr. Shannon asked me to describe all the colors I could see in a white hat – worn by a cowboy in a Marlboro ad in a Smithsonian magazine –  if I remember correctly.

Not even black and white are black & white.

At the end of that year, my life was uprooted (again), and I lost whatever I was connecting to then. But the desire remains even now.

When I experience nostalgia, it is like this: small moments of half-discoveries. And nostalgia’s inherent fear of the unmet potentials.

Still, everytime I hold a rough piece of ceramic I am flooded with a calming and full ambivalence. There are days I wonder why I’ve not thrown out all of the dishes and settled with a few scratchy, glazed bowls and a few wooden spoons.

I suppose this really is the very definition of nostalgia? If I ever won the lottery, I would have a second, tiny home made of roughly-hewn cedar – and I would fill it with wool and beeswax.

Cinder block frightens me.

But so does snow.

Paper can make me weep with grief.

Handling old books is cathartic. And I cannot – and don’t want to – explain it.

I trace marginalia with my finger.

Ren Powell, The Emotion of Textures

[Writing about loss]

is letting the memories come

is sifting them out, writing down what was said, what you saw

is sitting with the sadness, reentering it

is knowing this is the only way to explain it all

is giving the context in each cover letter

is sending her picture in with the poem acceptance

is telling the editors her name

is daydreaming not of the book getting published, but of sending the book to her doctors

is daydreaming of the only poetry reading you’d want to do of it–at her graveside, for her.

Renee Emerson, Writing about loss

5:45 a.m. The storms that rumbled in the distance for hours finally arrive. The doors and windows rattle, and the street lights blink out, even though the electricity in my house stays on. I turn on some battery operated lights (fairy lights in mason jars) just to be sure.

I’ve been thinking about the lives lost this week. The COVID-19 deaths are hard to process: of the 14 million (14 million!!!) confirmed cases worldwide, there have been 603,059 deaths–139,266 deaths in the U.S. In an average flu year, we’d have 250,000-500,000 deaths, 36,000 of them in the U.S. Does anyone still think that this new corona virus will be no worse than the flu?

I was sad about particular deaths this week. Yesterday, I saw the news of the death of Christopher Dickey, son of James Dickey. When we moved here in 1998, Chris Dickey had published his memoir, and he was all over the NPR network–and then I kept hearing his reporting from various difficult areas across the globe. Plus, James Dickey was teaching at the University of South Carolina when I was there as a grad student, and while I never had him as a mentor, some of my friends did, and they spoke of him highly. Chris Dickey was much too young to die, just 68.

How strange to lose 2 Civil Rights era icons in the same week. Rev. C. T. Vivian died, as did the more famous John Lewis. In some ways, their deaths are good deaths–they come at the end of long, productive lives, and the world is a better place because of them. John Lewis was 80, which these days seems a bit young to die.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Morning Reports

Your scythe drags its shadow
over the threshold
like an unwanted child.

The slippery blade curves
under the burden. I recognize my fear

in the throaty croak of a rooster.

Romana Iorga, Sharp Dawn

“Tell us a story.” For my parents’ generation,
a siren was normal. Normal was hiding

beneath ones desk, dreaming a bomb.
On screen, the anchor quotes a dead poet

while our rockets launch. Syria. Beautiful
is a word we still use. Virtue is a word we use.

The interrogator’s textbook says not to look
for symmetry. Not to get attached to a source.

R.M. Haines, New Poem: “Death Prime”

I have been on a Dickens kick since March, reading his novels and travel writings that I had never gotten around to in the past. He was, in many ways, a journalist: a consummate observer of human behavior, appearance, society. It struck me, reading American Notes for General Circulation (1850), how prescient he was about the USA.

In 1841, Dickens was just 30 years old but well-regarded in England and in “America,” where he traveled with his wife for six months. His observations tend not to demonstrate the best about 1840s Americans, though he also reflects on the “good character and general friendliness” of the people here. He remarks at how free education means that almost everyone is literate–every non-enslaved person, that is.

What amazes me is his wrap up, where he concludes his book with a kind of warning to Americans, a warning about our inclination toward doubt in our fellows–our lack of trust, about hyper-partisan political ideology and its poor results, about the ruin slavery will visit on the nation, and about the sad tendency to reward/admire “smart men” over moral, kind, generous, or intelligent ones. He additionally blasts this infant nation for its insistence that trade (and capitalism) matters more than just about everything else except the vaunted concept of personal freedom, which of course is belied by the existence of slavery.

Ann E. Michael, Foretelling

Now, more than ever, America feels like the prom date that’s gotten totally wasted, and is spending the whole party sick in the john, leaving the rest of us by the bandstand, mirror balls spinning above our heads, scattering shards of shattered light across our face masks and crumpled quarantine attire, wondering when the band will, ironically or not, play “Freebird” and light up these purple mountains and amber waves of grain with enough electricity to shred the heaviness from our bones and make us feel light enough to walk on water.

Rich Ferguson, America, the Freebird

We talked before about our meeting in university, but I’m curious about your interest in poetry before that. With the name “Hafiz,” I suspect your parents played a role, but perhaps not? What role do you think poetry has played in getting you to the place in your life where you are now?

Shazia [Hafiz Ramji]: I don’t think my parents knew what they were getting into with me! A poet in a poor immigrant family is hellish for all involved.

Hafiz is a popular name in Persian and South Asian and Muslim cultures, as I know you know from the infamy of Hafiz/Hafez the big poet. I was named by my grandparents as “Shazia Hafiz,” which is my full first name actually (but I go by Shazia in conversation). The grampy and grammy must’ve known what was coming more than my parents did! Though, they were initially going to name me “Sasha.” I don’t know why… or I don’t think I’m ready to find out!

My dad used to sing ghazals when I was young – on tape, every day! At the time I really disliked them. To my little kid ears, they sounded so sad and slow. They stopped me from living in my fantasies of becoming an explorer when I grew up. My dad also used to tell me stories at bedtime. We all used to sleep in the same room, because our house was small and because the Gulf War situation scared the crap out of us. I would not be able to sleep if he didn’t tell me a story!

I also remember reading voraciously. My parents would take me to the bookshop and the owner would let me exchange the book for one on the shelf (without ringing it through), because he knew my parents were broke and that we’d be back in no time.

I don’t think I legitimately knew what a poet or a writer was until I was into my teens, but I remember writing constantly when I was young. I would sit in front of the TV and watch snakes and other creatures on National Geographic, and I remember feeling awed by so much beauty! And that’s when I would pick up a notebook and write “a poem,” which was just descriptions of deserts and oceans and cool stuff on National Geographic.

I still watch Blue Planet and Planet Earth to get into the writing zone. Wonder and awe return me to a good place.

Rob Taylor, To Reach Each Other With Love: An Interview with Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Here’s a dorky story that I’ve kept with me my whole life. I was in grade one, I know this because we moved house the following year. I knew that the woman down the street was older and alone and unwell. It snowed a lot one winter and I had a red plastic shovel and when it did snow I sneaked down and cleared her walk. Probably did a terrible job, but there it was. I remember doing this several times but once, she came out her front door and called me over and tried to give me a two dollar bill (which have long been discontinued and which is entirely beside the point — but I can vividly picture that two-spot waving in the wind and her in her floral house dress holding the screen door open and how cold it was). It was super nice of her, I’m sure. But all I can remember feeling was that it was all ruined, that I’d been caught, and it was ruined, the gift was. I wasn’t doing it for money, it was just this secret thing that had been making me feel good. I ran away without the cash and cried and I’m not sure anyone really understood why. Maybe they did.

So anyway, what that taught me was to just be more stealthy, and to do secret good things.

Also, an aside, I remember really loving that dumb little red shovel. The sound of it digging into the snow. You know? Remember when the things we now call work were just plain fun and delightful? I’m still that dorky weird little white haired ghost kid who never hardly spoke a word to anyone outside my family and because of that my mom would always get phone calls saying I should be “tested” since I must not be very smart.

Shawna Lemay, Do Secret Good Things

In February 1992, so long ago, I moved to Germany. I rented a little place temporarily in the old city area of Mainz. It had no heat, or rather, it did — an old coal oven that I was sure I would use improperly and end up suffocating myself. And funny enough I was reading Germinal at the time, about the French coal miners, the poor, who shall inherit the earth. I still remember the passage about the brioche.

After a few weeks I moved to a one-bedroom apartment near the train station where I could catch a bus to my office on the outskirts of the city. Mainz is not a big city. One night soon after I moved in I was asleep in the back bedroom, which looked out over a brothel, when I awoke to a shaking for which I had no explanation. The bed rattled and I looked around and wondered what on earth could this be and I thought it must be the devil come here. All my childhood fears have materialized and here I am engulfed in the devil’s blender!

This couldn’t have lasted long. I got up the next morning with the feeling of having had a bad dream that you’ve forgotten except for the fright of it. I didn’t recall the jolt or ever opening my eyes. But when I got to work one of my colleagues asked if I’d felt the earthquake. It was like someone brought the smelling salts. Immediately I remembered the rumbling and surprised as I was I was also relieved for an explanation. I was also shocked to find out there were earthquakes in Germany.

The trigger for this memory is the book I’m reading, “What Belongs to You” by Garth Greenwell, in which the narrator has a similar experience in Bulgaria, most likely in 2012.

“I was pinned to my bed by an animal fear as the world shifted with a sound I never heard before, a deep grinding thunder and the sound of alarms, all the cars of my neighborhood shrieking their warnings, a bewildering cacophony of patterns and tones.”

The book is beautiful and transcendent and I recommend it, earthquakes and all.

Sarah J Sloat, Tremulous Adventures

I am tired.

Though I write from a place of privilege and of safety, I am tired.

Tired of feeling mentally fried nearly all the time.

Tired of the government -who are not a government, but a campaign team that got out of hand and do not have our interests, least of all our human flourishing, at heart.

I am tired of lockdown-not-lockdown. I am tired of the masks-debate. I am tired of ‘But those statues are our history‘.

I am tired of Donald Trump.

And yet.

And Yet.

And yet….

I pause to be still, I remind myself that I am not alone, I breathe, I practice self-care and notice again that the tiredness I feel is what my South African activist friend Roger calls ‘part of the plan.’ ‘It’s what they want. The trick is to experience it but not give into it.’

So I remind myself that my favourite word in the Psalms is ‘But’. Especially the ones where it doesn’t appear and the reader inserts it for herself. ‘It has all gone to shit’ (which as Anne Lamott reminds us is a theological term): ‘but’. I still have a job. But my kettle still works. But the bakery remained open. And the Common Beaver has opened a courtyard (see above). But I got to see my mother yesterday. But I have a garden. Verily I walk through the shadow of death, but thank the Lord, Shawna Lemay is still blogging. And Karen Walrond. And Josephine Corcoran. And Simon Parke. They are my go-to resting places. My places of clear water (is that a Heaney line?).

There is still so much to be grateful for.

Anthony Wilson, Tired, but

There are so many things I want to write but this much exhausted me Portland is a fire bomb in my heart I have zero plans for July for the first time in maybe ever I have so many friends who are teachers who are deeply concerned about the school year when I taught orchestra in middle school I could not have imagined containing all. those. droplets. I built a plant stand today I have green tomatoes and sugar snap peas and roses and calla lilies in my garden I made cinnamon rolls last week and canned marionberry jam this week

I feel adrift lost at sea I wave from my boat Ahoy! Ahoy!

Rebecca Loudon, Three strange things

I have attempted schedules in which I go to bed with plenty of time for adequate sleep, but there is then little time for anything but work, necessary chores, and sleep. No time for reading, music, creative play, relationship nurturing–the things that make life most worth living. No time to just be. What if Kate is right, and these things are not wants, but needs?

Of course we can live like this. I have for decades. Many, many people in the world live with far less rest than I have. But can we be well?

These might seem like frivolous or tone deaf questions to be asking in the midst of a pandemic, when living is no longer a given for anyone, even the most privileged of us. Perhaps, though, this is the best time to be asking them.

As I contemplate a return to in-person school in the fall, and read articles in which transmission (which will mean death for some) is a given and something “schools will need to prepare for”–because in-person school is increasingly being framed as an intractable necessity rather than as a choice our society is making–I am seeing more clearly all the ways in which what I’m going to be required to do is just an extension of what’s been required for all of my life.

And I can’t tell you, today, what my response to that will be–because the bottom line is that I work to eat–but I can tell you this: I am fucking sick of it and from it, literally and metaphorically. I have zero interest in being a martyr or a hero, nor do I have plans to be either. If I get sick and die from it, it will be tragic, not heroic. And the tragedy will not be the loss of my life, but that the loss was preventable.

We all get what we pay for in a capitalistic society. Hope everyone will remember that as they send their kids back to school this fall.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What feeds us

Both of my grown-up children (aged 19 and 21, and sent home from university in March at the start of the UK C-19 lockdown) started temporary jobs in local factories this week, packing cosmetics and cheese respectively.  It’s been fascinating to hear their anecdotes of shop-floor life.  Basic hygiene is adhered to rigorously, but social distancing and mask-wearing isn’t, I’ve been told.  They are both on zero-hours contracts so it’s been eye-opening to learn more about current working conditions and about what is expected of temporary factory workers.

In the distant past, I’ve worked in low-paid temporary jobs – although never in a factory.  I did childcare, office work, shop work, door-to-door sales and telesales.  All this before I went to university as a mature student and became a published writer.  In recent years, I’ve become more out-of-touch and I tend now to mix with people who have well-paid, secure jobs, or retired and semi-retired people with a comfortable income.  There is little poetry – that I know of – written about ‘low-skilled’ work.  Can you think of any, other than in the poems of Philip Levine? Who now is writing about factory work, zero-hours contracts, working in a crowded production line in the middle of a pandemic?  Which poets live in this world?  Do you know any?  I don’t.

Josephine Corcoran, What the real world is

This nicely-produced little book arrived today from Bob Horne’s small press Calder Valley Poetry.

John Foggin’s invitation to submit poems based on the opening words of Eilean Ni Chuilleanain’s poem Swineherd (When all this is over …) brought nearly 100 responses from a multitude of poets speaking in the voices of a variety of occupations. Calder Valley Poetry asked the poet Kim Moore to choose one poem for each letter of the alphabet for an anthology.

Here you will find poems that are are witty, serious, surprising, imaginative, empathic, well researched and well polished.

My favourite is perhaps Wendy Klein’s Wonder Woman, who dreams of sensible clothes and a retirement in obscurity, when she will not have to try to bring /peace to bellicose men who say one thing/and mean another.

Or maybe it’s Julie Mellor’s Phrenologist, who longs for a simple self-sufficient life free from the troubling cartographies/of other people’s minds.

Or John Foggin’s Night Soil Man, who looks forward to smelling The essence of  a baby,/the blue pulse in her skull I’ll be allowed to kiss.

Or Sarah Miles’s Graphic Designer whose fate is to default to Comic Sans. It’s so hard to choose!

Ama Bolton, When All This Is Over

Long-awaited has become a tacky term, its soul ripped out by marketing bods who desperately hunt a unique selling point for a poet, only to find it’s ubiquitous and emptied of any meaning. However, there are still certain moments when it really is valid. One such is the publication of Alan Buckley’s first full collection, Touched (HappenStance Press, 2020).

Buckley’s work is riven from experience, both of poetry and life. As a consequence, his verse eschews facile certainties, setting out its stall early on in this book, in the poem Life Lessons, which assumes the format of a Q&A:

…How do I live without being touched?
Your skin will be become stainless steel.

How do I learn to survive in a vacuum?
Don’t move. Don’t breathe. Don’t feel.

Matthew Stewart, Might and maybe, Alan Buckley’s Touched

Why am I a poet? My father’s face was hard and angular, his thin lips seldom smiled, and when he spoke it was not of love. My mother spoke of love quite often, even when she slapped my face or took a belt to me. I noticed the power of the sunrise when I was still a small boy, how the streaks of color blessed the dark sky, and I loved the way the winter air tightened my cheeks. I always knew that birds had a language all their own. And the smiling eyes of girls, I caught that very early as well. Why am I a poet? Because it is the only thing I know how to be.

James Lee Jobe, Why am I a poet?

Wanderer
in the mountains,

monk
of simple joys,

sayer
of what cannot be said,

keeper
of the mysteries,

lighter
of the lamp,

old man
with his hair falling out

thinking
like a flower.

Tom Montag, Wanderer

The idea for my latest novel, The Beekeeper’s Daughter, came from my love of Plath. In many ways it’s The Hours with Sylvia Plath. It is the story of three women, one a modern day woman dealing with modern day, Plath-like problems (mental illness, a cheating husband), another is Sylvia Plath herself, during the time she moved back to London with her two young children just before her death. The third female storyline is that of Esther Greenwood. It’s a made-up story, but it does stick to the plot-line of the post The Bell Jar stories that Plath herself wrote (that survived) starring Esther. In The Beekeeper’s Daughter, Esther Greenwood is just out of college and living in London. She’s wondering about an old flame while becoming entangled with a guy whose voice is too loud, who drowns her out not only with his large physique but with his overpowering personality (a’la Ted). To research for this novel, I did more than read The Bell Jar many times. There were more than a few biographies and a trip to London to see the house where Sylvia Plath lived with her children just before her suicide. (It is coincidentally the home of the famed poet Willianm Butler Yeats.) But I found while I was writing, after a lot of research, that I really needed to go back to Plath’s poetry.

It seems like a “well duh” moment now but honestly, I hadn’t thought to focus on Plath as a poet when I started writing. I knew Plath was known for her poetry. I knew she thought of herself as a poet beyond any other medium. But I wasn’t a poet and so I didn’t even think to go there. And I will just admit that many novelists are terrified of poetry. Poetry scares us. An economy of language! That’s not for us. We prefer to drone on and on. But I digress. I realized as I was writing about Plath that I needed to study, to really dive into her poetry.

And so I began to read her work. I started with Colossus, since that had been her first collection. After reading Colossus I moved on to Ariel. I blew through both collections and then realized I had to stop, I had to slow down and really take them in. I realized that despite studying English literature and creative writing extensively in college and graduate school, I never really figured out how to read poetry. But as I kept reading Plath’s words, I found myself thinking more and more in poetry. I heard poetry in my head the way I used to get ideas for fiction. And as I kept reading poetry, I wanted to write it.

Balancing ‘The Bell Jar’: How Sylvia Plath Led to a New Appreciation for Poetry – guest blog post by Jessica Stilling [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]

To estrange; to take the once-
familiar and see how circumstance

bevels it, throws it in a different
light. At noon, the fountain pours

its brightness one shade cooler. All
the pigeons flock there, and in that

other time, children who heard it
calling their name. I lean my cheek

against the window glass— how thin
the broken distance between here, now,

and those years before everything
we touched left a smudge on the world.

Luisa A. Igloria, ILIW

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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, poets had trouble sleeping and trouble waking up, trouble celebrating and trouble mourning, trouble writing and trouble not writing, while all around us flowers unfurled and swelled into fruit.


I’m writing this post while sitting on a bench by the side of the canal in Bradford-on-Avon.  I’m writing in a small sparkly notebook and I’ll type up these notes later when I return home.  It’s nearly 3pm on Friday, 3rd July, 2020.  I left home just after 2pm to catch the train here, just one stop from where I live.  The journey took six minutes.  It was the first time I’ve used public transport since the lockdown started in March.  I wore a face mask and I sanitised my hands with gel once I’d got off at my stop.  These are items that I always carry now, in the small rucksack bag I wear on my back.  Most other passengers were also wearing masks, but not everyone.  My carriage was about one third full.  I bought my ticket from the machine at the start of my journey using contactless payment – I tried to book online using my phone but those tickets were unavailable on my app.  There were no staff on board the train checking tickets or face mask-wearing.

Today I feel I’m rejoining the world again, in my own way.  Using public transport is important to me although I realise it’s riskier than driving a car, in terms of being exposed to Covid-19 and other germs.  But I’d started to make a concerted effort to reduce my carbon footprint before lockdown, and I want to return to that lifestyle.  I also felt an urge to get out of the house and to be alone.

My household’s lockdown began with all four of us watching The Tiger King on Netflix.  It’s coming to an end with each of us involved with a BBC iPlayer series I May Destroy You: Andrew and I watching together on the telly in the front room; our daughter watching in her own time somewhere in the house on her laptop; our son not yet watching but listening in to conversations about the series when we meet in our kitchen.  Perhaps we survived this enforced time together without major arguments because we’ve circulated around each other in our lives, giving each other space.  Some of us would probably appreciate more space than others.

Josephine Corcoran, With lockdown hair and a face mask, I rejoin the world

A hot night, no sleep
to cool down thoughts and doubts.
Then the light, the birds,

a cup of coffee,
as one must declare defeat.
A win is this dawn,

yellow and rosy,
the earth, a sweet funfair candy.
Fine, I’ll stay awake,

dream of lilac dawns*.

*dusks

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time – Throwback June

ruby is my birthstone the gem of July Ruby was my grandmother’s name this moon is a jack moon a jack knife moon a Jack and the Beanstalk moon a jackoff moon a high noon moon a Jack Torrance moon a screw you moon a moaning moon a moon of betrayal and butter knives this moon leaves suicide notes in cookbooks then makes dinner this moon shoots a gun on black and white television this moon dangles over the Aurora Bridge in the middle of the day but it’s a strong swimmer this moon shakes up history this moon is a tourist a sham a mark a shill a Shaklee salesman needing a drink of water a used car salesman with a cigar

Rebecca Loudon, 100% full

In the wee, small hours of the morning, once again, I couldn’t sleep. I was having one of those dark night of the soul kinds of night, where I couldn’t quiet my brain and go back to sleep. I decided to get up and do some offline journaling.

I ended this way, “So many roads circling back to a question: what am I going to do with the rest of my life? How can I plan now that this pandemic has changed everything? Or has it changed everything?”

I did some sorting. My spouse has an idea for a shelving project; I am fighting despair as the plan has gotten ever more complicated. All I wanted was a place to put my books! Books that have been packed away for 2 years now. Insert a heavy sigh here.

I came across some map fragments.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Fragments of a Map to an Unknown Future

I made this box for you

I filled it with fragments, beachcombed
sea glass, wisps of snagged wool.
I wanted you to know
the random loveliness of being alive,
to know it in your bones and blood.

I put in :

snow, to remember draughts
and rooms with cold corners;

a black handled knife, sharp as silk,
in a grey-vaulted market, the scent
of cut flowers to show that fathers
give like the gods; a bicycle stammering
through stems of barley, willowherb,
to understand that gravity may be defied;

the humped glass of a brown river,
black branches snagged on the weir’s rim;

these bundled letters in different hands
and inks to show how words fall short of love.

John Foggin, Our David’s Birthday

The language of illness is, as Woolf puts it, “primitive, subtle, sensual, obscene.” It is urgent, terrifying, and sacred. These are qualities found in poetry.

Later in the same essay, Woolf writes, “There is, let us confess it (and illness is the great confessional) a childish outspokenness in illness; things are said, truths blurted out, which the cautious respectability of health conceals.” 

The part about “the cautious respectability of health” implies that when we are ill, we can blurt out truths we wouldn’t dream of when well.

This is the time for honesty and fresh, raw language. This is the time for poetry.

Erica Goss, Plague Poetry

In the Google search bar, I type “how do you know when it’s time” and the first autofill response that comes up is “to put your dog down.”

Followed by: to break up, to leave your church, to dig up potatoes, to move on, to retire.

I don’t go to church and I haven’t planted any potatoes, so Google’s powers of divination are limited. But I was seeking information about how to know when it’s time to let go of my dog, and I hate that Google’s algorithms correctly anticipated that.

I wish I were searching for some of the other “how do you know when” topics; many are about food and their harvesting or cooking: salmon, mangoes, pineapple, garlic. I wish I cared about food more, the way I used to.

I try “how do you know when it’s too late” and I get both “to get your ex back” and “to have a root canal.” I’ve never had a root canal, but from everything I’ve heard about them, those two things might have more in common than one would think.

I trim the inquiry back to “how do you know” and the stakes are suddenly much higher: if you’re pregnant, if you love someone, if you have anxiety, if you have depression, if you have coronavirus.

“should I” yields a mix of results that speak to the absurdity of these times, of our lives: refinance my mortgage, get a covid test, get bangs, stay or should I go. Or, maybe just of my life. I suppose Google knows that I’m of an age where lyrics by The Clash might be what I’m searching for.

It’s only when I click on the lyrics to that song and read them–rather than listen to them through a haze of alcohol and hormones and unresolved childhood trauma (hell, completely unrecognized childhood trauma)–that I understand I’ve misunderstood them for my whole life.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A day in the life

The weight of other people’s suffering can be palpable, whether someone weeping in the next room or someone in agony across the globe. How do we go about our own lives knowing others are in anguish at the same moment? This question has haunted me, especially in my growing up years. I suspect such questions weigh more on children than we imagine.

By the time I was eight or nine years old, my parents had cancelled their subscriptions to news magazines because they couldn’t deal with repeated questions like, “Why is that village burning? Who hurt that man? Why isn’t someone helping that baby?” Even the most well-intentioned adult would rather not think about such questions, let alone answer them. Try to explain war to a child. No matter how you skew it, the answer comes down to whoever destroys more property and kills more people, wins. Try explaining poverty or prejudice to a child. It’s impossible to morally justify the indifference and greed that helps to prop up “normal” life in the face of truly open, honest questions.

Laura Grace Weldon, Compassion By Design

America,
we can shine and scrub your floors
without a Hoover or a Roomba, then punch
holes in the bottoms of fruit
cocktail cans so we can grow bird
chillies and tomatoes on the veranda.
We let a dentist in our old hometown pull
out all our teeth so you wouldn’t get
the chance to do it and charge us
triple. There is a fish we like to eat
whose belly is soft and sweet and full
of fat; but every bone in its body
is a tree that bristles with more than
a dozen spears. Like you, America—
if we’re not careful, we could choke
on even the smallest mouthful.

Luisa A. Igloria, America

The Unafraid is deeply moving in parts, as it portrays quite well not just the multi-generational struggle to create a better future in America, especially but not only in the Deep South, but also what forces those with no money, no education, and no papers to leave their countries for the United States. The sacrifices made are tremendous, and what it means for families to risk everything to come here is wholly unappreciated by policymakers who would rather erect walls than uphold the values this country is supposed to represent. Our cluelessness robs human beings no different from ourselves of so much, from the most basic rights and services we born here take for granted, to the opportunities to realize better lives for our children, opportunities slow in coming, if at all, to the undocumented.In addition to showing us the truths about forced migration and its life-changing consequences, the documentary also sharply reveals the racism endemic throughout this country. To be brown means having a life that doesn’t matter, if you want to go to college, if you want to make a living that lifts you out of poverty. To be brown means not having the right to believe in the “American dream”. To be brown means, in the argot of the film, to be “very afraid” until you become one of “the unafraid” who finds the strength to risk opening a closed door. That any one of us might watch this film and not see the wrongs we perpetuate in our government and socioeconomic and cultural policies, as well as through our myth-making, is to be deliberately obtuse and tragically indifferent to the riches that immigrants, undocumented people, asylees, refugees, and DACA recipients offer us.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXXI

Independence Day (or Interdependence Day, as I’ve heard it called): The country has been thrust back on me.   I’d left it countless times, then straddled between two countries, then made a life of motion.  But circumstances being what they are, I am simply facing it, America…  

posthumous, finished, junked, done — or part of the process of rising and passing that covid-19 has made us so aware of?   A “Finale for America” as clever wits have referred to rogue fireworks that have been exploding nightly?  In recent weeks and months I have agreed.  But the 4th gave me — what — freedom of stuckness.  I looked kindly on things; it wasn’t forced, it just happened.  

I thought about the Declaration of Independence and read, along with many, Frederick Douglass’ bracing famous 4th of July address: “You may rejoice.  I must mourn.”  The polyvocalism of these declarations of values – that we are living in the polyvocalism – unstuck me from singularity.  The truth and reconciliation process we’ve so long needed might be here.  I listened to the very best of American song — the sinuous pairing of elegant contrast, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald duets.  In a flight from nihilism, there are ways to combine the large and small. 

Look how beautiful the day after – peony petals against a pile of oyster shells. They are dissociated from their meaning — yet in this time of appreciating passage, the wisdom songs of covid as well as garbage day, here they are.  The flowers had been flush and full, the oysters a marvel. The energy of passage keeps us from getting stuck.  The poet Alice Oswald talks about this in her new Oxford lecture, “An Interview with Water.” Poetry, dance, rhythm and water all keep us moving. Then there’s the leaping between odd things – country, trash and renewal – that keeps the mind buzzing.

Jill Pearlman, Of Oysters, the 4th and the Surreality of it all

& awaken cranium of geraniums, awakeness will make your thought gardens grow brighter.

& awaken all relatives of relativity, awakeness will travel you at the speed of light.

& awaken evil-faced clocks snuffing out lives with every tick, awakeness will allow you to more carefully consider each moment of every day.

& awaken those whose blues are blacker and bluer than the blues, awakeness can allow you to sing above the pain.

Rich Ferguson, & awaken

Despite saying I probably needed a certain amount of distance to write about the current state of events, and in fact a 2-3 month span of being unable to write at ALL really, I find myself mid-project on a series called BLOOM–named so because of the ways illness (actual, metaphorical) blooms in the body, in society, in the world. Also the way nature this spring, despite humans and their stupid diseases, continued to bloom while we were still dying. While people were being killed by the virus, by the government, by the police. But even still, I usually need more distance, and who knows how much time there is for any of us.

Kristy Bowen, bloom

On my walk home from Launcherley yesterday I made a note of the wildflowers I saw: Sweet Woodruff, Meadowsweet, Agrimony, Camomile, Pineapple weed, Yarrow (both white and pink varieties), Creeping Cinquefoil, Yellow Trefoil, Spear Thistle, Hawkweed, Common Mallow, Field Convolvulus (both the white and the pink-and-white varieties), White Deadnettle, Sowthistle, Herb Bennet, Herb Robert, Willowherb, Ragwort, various docks and sorrels, Water Hemlock, Spurge, Redleg, Fat Hen, Wild White Clover, Field Scabious, Burdock, Teasel, Marjoram, Hedge-mustard, and a Mullein when I was almost home. […]

My family moved from London to an isolated cottage in a rural part of Surrey when I was ten. It was the beginning of the summer holidays and, not knowing anyone locally, I spent my days happily wandering alone looking for wild flowers. My aunt in the Isle of Skye, a keen amateur botanist, sent me Collins Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers, newly-published, far too big and heavy for any normal pocket, but just what I needed. I learnt a lot of names that summer.

Ama Bolton, As I was out walking, part 2

Standing in my yard just after sunrise I picked a ripe peach from my tree and ate it right there. The fine and soft part of a morning in summer. Not far off, the sounds of birds.

James Lee Jobe, Standing in my yard just after sunrise I picked a ripe peach

So I’m contemplating memento mori with all my soul of late. Maybe if we all contemplated the theme memento mori we’d be a little kinder, a little more mindful. We’re here so briefly, so beautifully. And self-portraiture, I know it might get confused with the influencer culture when posted on Instagram, but they are two different things. Though interestingly, and I adore this, when I posted a picture there, I had a lot of comments on my sunglasses. (Which are from Simon’s btw — not a paid product placement, but interesting that that’s where we go in our minds, and I’m no different).

The thing about posting photos of yourself through time, is that you really begin seeing yourself, and seeing yourself differently. You see angles, you get to know your best side, your wrinkly neck, your flaws and your beauty, and your ridiculousness. One does begin to accept certain aspects of oneself. And also, because it’s not just one session per year or every second year for an author photo or work photo, it’s less important. There will be another moment.

The best thing though, is that you don’t seem to change as much, it’s much more about the slow process of living, aging, being. It’s all okay. Yes, I’m still picky and I’m choosing how I’m presented, portrayed, touched up in Lightroom, but that’s part of the art of it. I’m sure these photos say things about me that I’m completely unaware of.

Shawna Lemay, Contemplating My Themes

I have never considered myself a person who had any power; and yet I now recognize that just as I have privilege I never earned, I have power I never earned–and that I have indeed been using that power (as I have unwittingly benefited from privilege) and can do more with it. For educators possess power.

So do poets.

The past three months, as spring has bloomed into summer, poems of protest and poems that inform society have likewise bloomed. Poets of color, marginalized poets, poets who are disabled or queer or immigrant or for other reasons yearning to be heard are all over social media–which is not unusual in itself (the voices, the poems, have been online for decades)–but the difference lately comes through retweets and viral videos and shared posts at a higher rate than previously. These poems, and the prose and interviews that often accompany them, create discourse. Badly needed discussions. Confrontations that cannot be shoved away as easily as they were. I’ve been reading and observing, hoping a change is gonna come.

Ann E. Michael, Top ten, discourse, power

I’ve been advised enough times not to do it, you’d think I’d stop trying. But here we are again. The royal “we,” I mean, possibly, or the group of us who do such a thing, as opposed, I guess to the “they” who do not; that is: use the first person plural pronoun (we) in poems. Why do I keep trying to make it work?

It interests me to write poems from the perspective of this identity: a member of the human species. From this perspective I can think about the so-called “human experience,” not as “in opposition to the nonhuman,” but as a part of a, let’s face it, pretty significant force on the planet, and as a representative of a species that is able to think about itself and go “Hmm…really?” A member of a species that is aware of, possibly obsessed with, death, and, therefore?, a bit obsessed with life and its meaning.

But the use of “we,” or MY use of “we,” shall I say, has caused people to become argumentative (“you do not speak for me,” they say, or sometimes just “oh yeah?”) or to be otherwise put off by the lack of immediacy and intimacy (“hm, what are you distancing yourself from,” they ask). I don’t know, though. Do I not have the — what: right? capacity of imagination? proper hubris? — to speak out of that human stance?

Marilyn McCabe, We shall be released; or, On the First Person Plural in Poems

have you ever wanted to be that man
the one with the stick
you know – the one with the metal pole
who listens to your stopcock
out in the road
with his ear to the shiny wooden cup
at the end of his decision

or the man with his hands on the handles
of the surging tube that goes up and down
up and splurging down in the storm drain
that keeps the kids enthralled

or the man with the shiny wooden pole
with the pig’s tail hook that darns
the coupling links between the trucks
with such deft luck that barely at moment
between the buffers shine bouncing the
chains tight in a juddering offwego

Jim Young, have you ever wanted to be

Here’s a few of the poetry books I read during lockdown. Some took longer to arrive than others, but I liked the wait, the feeling of anticipation when something new is on its way. The Penguin Book of Haiku was one I felt I should have read a while ago. Here’s a lovely haiku from it, by Socho:

in the riverbreeze
a cluster of willowtrees
spring revealed

And then there’s the wild imperfection of Kerouac, and a haiku that sums up those days during lockdown where I waited for the books to arrive, and felt fully imersed in both my reading and my writing:

Big books packaged
from Japan –
Ritz crackers

I tend to nibble on oat cakes, not Ritz crackers, but I identified with the sense that really all you need are some good poems and a few snacks to keep you going.

It’s hard to pick a single poem from any of the collections I read, especially from Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, which is a gem. I’ll quote this one by Max Verhart for now:

out of the haze
the dog brings back
the wrong stick

Isn’t it wonderful? Precise, evocative, profound.

Julie Mellor, Lockdown reading

Rob Taylor: In “Talking with Ancestors After the Show” you write “if there is a moment this is it / know better than to beg a minute’s sojourn // reminder to the artist: this is it.” I can imagine so vividly that line being delivered in a spoken word performance, and how it might resonate differently (and, in some ways, similarly) in that context. That Venn diagram between the “stage” moment and the “page” moment — their audiences, their performative spaces, their “voices,” their ephemerality.

As a writer whose background is in spoken word, how have you found the experience of putting your words, often first meant for public performance, onto the page? What have you been able to bring over with you, and what have you had to leave behind? What new opportunities has writing for the page granted you?

Jillian Christmas: I love that you frame them as opportunities. When I first approached the challenge it seemed to present itself as a fear of what would be lost, what eye contact or small facial expression would be missed and what emotional information would go with it. But your framing is absolutely correct, somewhere along the process, I discovered that it was in fact a great joy, almost a game, to figure out what choices I could make on the page that uplift the poem to a similar effect as I would have on the stage. In some places I learned that the voice of the page poem would be different, more concerned with shape, spacing, or a leaning, possibly tumbling word. In some places a more direct translation would occur, a long slender diving presentation, where my voice might have dipped or swayed (as in “But Have You Tried”). In the end I decided that there were no limits to my choices, allowing each poem to have as many lives as it needs, perhaps one for the page, a longer more lyrical or repetitive version for the stage reading, perhaps a third snappy edit for tucking inside the nest of the perfect song. A multitude of mechanisms to coax every bit of connective tissue from any given piece.

Rob Taylor, Playfulness and Gravitas: An Interview with Jillian Christmas

Mr Hoyes was no ordinary English teacher. He’d already had an extremely youthful Matthew Sweeney as his Poet in Residence at the College for a year, while numerous workshops with Ian McMillan were still in the future. I suppose I fell between those two stools, but I didn’t have an inkling of that at the time. Instead, all I knew was homework turned into writing stuff of my own accord, turned into staying behind after class to show it to him, turned into him gifting me copies of literary magazines such as Iron, where Peter Mortimer had published his short stories.

This sharing of his own work, treating me as an equal, was just one example of Mr Hoyes’ generosity, as was his gentle prodding of me in new creative directions. His support meant that I suddenly stopped feeling alone and different from everyone else. As such, he was crucial in my becoming the poet I am today.

However, things developed even further once I left for university. On my first trip back, I visited all my old teachers at the college and showed him some of my more recent poetry. He suggested looking at it together over a pint at the Hop Blossom the following Friday. Thus, Mr Hoyes became Richard, and our friendship began, involving London Prides over more than two decades, all combined with swapping our latest work. He’d bring short stories, articles he’d written for the TES and extracts from his regular column in the local paper, and I’d contribute my drafts of poems.

Matthew Stewart, A tribute to Richard Hoyes

I suppose I want to believe there is always
a way out and a way through. Because

what else can I do? Collapse into whatever
strangeness and fear I encounter and weep?

How quickly the cat shifts from panic
to acceptance. Look at her rolling

in the dusty earth, as if this place
is what she has always known it to be.

Lynne Rees, Poem: No Through Road

Death is an
unbroken horse.
All the wind

is wild. The
sun is risen
and we move

on, chasing.
Some day we
will catch it.

Tom Montag, DEATH IS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 25

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week saw poetry bloggers mourning, celebrating, pondering, and agitating — sometimes all in the same post. There’s no sign of a summer slump in blogging, and not too many people seem to be reaching for light summer reads, either. Perhaps that would change if we allowed ourselves to go lie on the beach. But alas (or not), most members of this community are too conscientious for that. And besides, there are monuments to be toppled…


In a revolutionary time, the role of the poet can be exposed in difficult ways. When direct action is in full swing, the indirect, mediated work of language on a page feels almost irrelevant. And commentary on the institutions that surround this work seems even more so. And so I begin here by acknowledging that all I have to say below is rightly eclipsed by the vastly more important fight for Black lives and for the abolition of police and prison; and by the continued calls for justice for Breonna Taylor, James Scurlock, Robert Fuller, Malcolm Harsch, Rayshard Brooks, Tony McDade, Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, and so many others. I have been in awe of the protests leading to the dismantling of the Minneapolis Police Department; to the emergence of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone; and to continued calls for justice and revolution across the world.

If anything, in what follows, I hope to carry some of this revolutionary momentum into the insular world of poetry and its institutions. And I have been encouraged to see that, in recent days, others have already begun this process. For poets, the most significant upheaval has occurred within the Poetry Foundation. In the wake of what was effectively a “poet’s strike” led by the Ruth Lilly Fellows, president Henry Bienen has been pushed out, the board is promising to audit their financial structure, and they have pledged more funds toward supporting Black poets, artists in need, and social justice. Further, in the publishing world more broadly, change is signaled by open discussions online revealing enormous disparities in pay, leading to questions and demands that may acquire greater momentum. The National Books Critics Circle has nearly collapsed. And on a near-daily basis, it seems that new abuses and inequalities are brought to light in writing communities. So I think it is absolutely time for poets and writers to drastically rethink our institutions and practices, and to refocus our energies in light of this historical moment, applying pressure and realizing that—although many of us are barely scraping by—our work does have an economic function that can be leveraged for change.

However, many poets may first need to reconceive how they relate to these institutions and the prestige they confer. Also, it will require some to break free of the consoling illusions of liberal politics. For it is all too common for poets, both inside and outside the literary-academic system, to have a blind-spot about their own virtue and autonomy—one which is reinforced by the liberal humanism that is more or less the norm in creative writing programs. In fact, it was even stated quite recently that poets are not often on the side of power. And I suppose to some this may seem sensible enough. After all, poets are generally sensitive people who simply love language, and they often come across as underdogs in a world that doesn’t much want to connect with their work. However, under such illusions, and especially when aligned with institutions, poets develop serious blind-spots that can help perpetuate real harm. So we badly need to reconceive of how poets relate to power, and we need to be rigorous in critiquing and working to transform or even abolish the institutions that we so often turn to for support. And while anti-racism and anti-sexism are absolutely at the heart of all this, so too is anti-capitalism. We can’t afford to be confused about our economic function any longer. We need to educate and organize ourselves, and this will begin by working in active repudiation of the lures of institutional prestige.

R.M. Haines, On Poetry, Prestige, and Power

I’d had other experiences that helped me begin to learn and intellectually understand the role of race in our country, and my own socialization as a white citizen of it. I’d unpacked my invisible knapsack. More than a decade earlier I’d read Lies My Teacher Told Me and given my own children A Young People’s History of the United States. In the months since August of 2016, I’d read Waking Up White, and Between the World and Me, and The New Jim Crow. I’d absorbed “The Case for Reparations” and watched Rukaiyah Adams’s powerful TED talk on the enduring economic impacts of being Black in America. As part of a year-long equity certificate program for educators, I’d explored the racist history of Portland, Oregon and written my own racial autobiography, a 6,500+ word essay exploring how I’d spent my life largely color-blind, an easy thing to do having never lived anywhere but the Pacific Northwest, home to “sundown towns” and “The Whitest City in America.”

I thought I’d gotten it–and the learnings I’d gleaned from those experiences had been painfully acquired–but my day at the Portrait Gallery, somehow, broke through something in me that my earlier learning hadn’t penetrated. I cannot tell you why or how, but seeing wall after wall after wall of wealthy white men, with just a smattering of white women (many of them wives of said men) and people of color, in the early months of the Trump presidency, in a city of so much power, where there are such stark, visual lines between people of color and people absent of it, brought the truth of our history home to me in a way that nothing else had, and I felt the fairy tale–all the myths about America that I’d been raised on and believed in and loved–shatter. It didn’t just break my ideas about my country; it broke my ideas about myself.

It was the first of three days touring the capitol, and in everything I saw afterward, I saw the white supremacy that permeates my country. It was not simply a thread running through its fabric. It was the frame, the foundation, the underlying structure of every story I’d been told. I didn’t just understand it; I felt it in a way I never had before. I remembered my twentysomething self eschewing the idea of a diamond engagement ring because most diamonds came from South Africa, home to apartheid, which had not yet fallen in the late 1980s. My fiance and I had wondered how whites in that country could live with themselves, could live in that country, benefitting from such injustice and oppression. Thirty years later, I thought maybe I understood them. I wondered if they, somehow, had been as blind to their systems as I had been to ours. The cognitive dissonance I felt was akin to vertigo, and it was beyond disorienting to realize all that I had never seen that had been all around me, for all of my life. It was humbling. It was shameful. And it hurt. Losing Abraham Lincoln hurts.

How had I been so ignorant and unaware? What else might I be missing now? What else wasn’t real?

It was not unlike the awakening and reckoning I’d experienced when emerging from an abusive relationship, when I began to realize truths that had previously been too threatening to see. From that earlier, personal experience, I could see that my education, my culture, and my country had–like my former partner–been gaslighting me for the entirety of my relationship with them. The terrible thing about gaslighting is not only that it messes with your perceptions of reality, but also that it messes with your perceptions of yourself. You learn not to trust yourself, a lesson that rings even more true once you finally start to see all the ways in which you’ve failed to understand things fundamental to your life. You lose whatever sense of yourself you’ve had and have to build a new one.

That is where, collectively, we are now, and it all hurts. That rebuilding is also hard, hard work.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Reckoning

Tonight an eagle flew horizontally at eye level straight through my front yard my heart shivered with the wild beauty of it I ran out to the porch to what? see if I could track its passage? to hear if it left me a message about my dying country? a parcel?

I have been sick a pancreatitis flareup again but it was a short (though painful) bout just a week no doctor I felt today like I might be on the mend I don’t drink and I don’t smoke but I can lie very still on top of a hot water bottle and take ibuprofen I have some Vicodin but I’m saving it for the apocalypse or in case I fall down and break my arms off

I dreamed I was trying to play the clarinet in an orchestra and I couldn’t make my left hand close around the upper joint the conductor was the american president a panic dream and a music anxiety dream all rolled into one I woke up in a slick sheen of sweat probably my fever breaking

that eagle though shot through the green like jesus on a bender

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

display a weapon threaten
to use a weapon remove
a weapon from the holster
brandish and use a weapon
restrain the body the black
body the brown body demand
immediate compliance
disrespectful stance obscene
gesture whose obscene gesture
use of command voice nothing
conversational can transpire
kick hand cuff leg cuff
expletive oleoresin
capsicum takedown blunt
object pressure hold spit
mask carotid hold wrestle
hold control hold
subdue subdue subdue

Luisa Igloria, police continuum of force

As I slide the little box of my tefillin shel yad to nestle beneath the sleeve of my guayabera shirt, I remember the old men in the weekday minyan where we went to pray after my grandmother died. Some wore bolo ties. Some had sportcoats hanging off of one arm, sleeves rolled up. And some wore guayabera shirts like these. Like my grandfather wore on that lonely morning as he began to drift, unmoored, away from us. Mississippi had just ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, finally agreeing to the abolition of slavery in the year 1995. Today pandemic jostles for headline space alongside police killings of Black people. Look how far we haven’t come. My grandfather was a thoracic surgeon. He fled the Nazis in 1939. Dare I hope that he would stand up for the right of every Black human being to walk, play with toys, jog in a park, drive a car, sleep on a sofa, listen to music, drink iced tea, birdwatch, and carry Skittles, without fear of a cop or armed vigilante or garden-variety racist stealing their breath?

Rachel Barenblat, A sign upon my arm

The rain feeds the trees, feeds the earth, and pounds the stones. Given time, water will cut through rock. Rivers gain strength and power, and they rage. And me? I’m just an old man turning on his windshield wipers.

James Lee Jobe, The rain feeds the trees, feeds the earth, and pounds the stones

House Mountain, visible from my desk past telephone wires, is a daily reference point that appears in many of my poems, often as a way to touch base with forces much larger than my own little life. The piece above was in 32 Poems; in the final poem of The State She’s In, now three months old, the same mountain gives me a stern talking to about ambition. This morning House Mountain is invisible behind haze. It doesn’t mind giving me a metaphor for an uncertain, unforecastable future, apparently. Nor does my cat Ursula, who has taken to chasing her tail on a staircase newel. The other day she fell off, busted a lamp, and slid down rump-first behind the upright piano–clearly enacting the state of my brain.

DACA survives, at least for a while: good. A monstrously destructive president slides in the polls: all right. My daughter’s stories of recurring police brutality to Black people in Philadelphia: the record keeps spinning. I’m not writing much these days, but I think the 2020s are going to be another great decade for protest poetry. There were two powerful ones in the New Yorker I flipped through yesterday, by the always amazing Marilyn Nelson and Terrance Hayes. They remind me that I don’t have to be writing; I can just wait out the mists. Being a reader, voter, donator, person at rest: those are all fine, too.

A few good things I’ve been a part of lately: the Practices of Hope reading I participated in a week ago was warm, lovely, inspiring, and pretty much ego-less (recording here, the About Place issue it’s based on here). Verse Daily kindly featured a poem of mine, “Unsonnet,” that recently appeared in Ecotone. I have a gigan about my parents’ pine green Gran Torino in Literary Matters: anybody else old enough to remember those seatbealt-less rides in the “way-back”? Sweet interviewed me here. And I have an essay about teaching in my part of the south in Waxwing (a former colleague calls this place “Confederatelandia”). That one I did write recently–miraculously, really, given how hard this spring was!–but it’s just a 1500-word expansion of comments I would have made on an AWP panel called Teaching in the Confederacy, organized by Chris Gavaler and featuring Lauren K. Alleyne, Tyree Daye, and Gary Dop. Editor Todd Kaneko urged me to keep digging deeper into my own evasions, making it a better piece, but I presume it will be outdated in about five minutes. As I just wrote to a former student, now a professor himself and wondering about how to be a better teacher-scholar during Black Lives Matter, I’m in a constant process of self-renovation these days.

As is necessary. I think about Breonna Taylor every day, and the dreaming she can no longer do.

Lesley Wheeler, Dreaming

She came back eight months later
darker and thinner, with a distant look,

began talking of her body as a tenement
she would soon vacate.

She referred to time as the end of a kalpa
when the waves lashed the walls of Tiruvelikeni kovil.

It was a part of the story she narrated –
the leaf on the water at the moment of dissolution

as the sea bed heaved. If alive today
she would have translated the pandemic as pralaya –

both three syllabled, hers ending with a vowel
the slow exhalation of air when light escapes the sky.

Uma Gowrishankar, Pandemic/Pralaya

Here in King County, where I live, we just hit stage 2 of the re-opening, though Washington State’s numbers, like a lot of the rest of country’s, are turning worse, not better. Yesterday night there was a block party in my neighborhood, older people and children, lots of beer and laughter, nobody with masks on, and I wondered if these people were stupid or suicidal or just oblivious. Do they forget there is still a plague on, one that has no good treatment, that we are still a year away from a vaccine at least, that it can cause permanent organ damage if it doesn’t kill you? At the wineries, drunk people cheek to cheek, no masks, stumbling along through the paths. I know this exact thing is happening in a larger scale all throughout America right now.

I feel so disappointed in people. For one, their refusal to face scientific facts. For two, their inconsideration towards people like me – vulnerable to disease because of immune problems, just “it’s okay for you to die, it’s not going to happen to me.” Selfish at best. Murderous at worst. Their boredom and refusal to acknowledge facts will lead to death and then, even more death. It’s tremendously depressing how predictable it is. I knew America didn’t value poetry. I’ve learned that it also doesn’t value science. Or the lives of me or people like me. It doesn’t value anything that isn’t easy and make it feel good. I feel less and less like an American, and more like an alien here, like I don’t belong here. Tell me, are you feeling this too? […]

Along with my disillusionment with America, I’ve been equally feeling discouraged with the PoetryWorld, which I knew from a young age (well, from the time of my MA in my early twenties) was flawed and full of people who might take advantage of other people, but it still surprises me when it happens. There have been a lot of shifts in power in the PoetryWorld, and maybe something good will come from that.

And what can I say? I’ve been writing and submitting since I was nineteen, taking a dozen years to work in tech, getting too sick to continue working in tech, and turning back to my dream of being a writer. I had hoped at this point I’d have more to show – that I’d have had a little more success by now. That I wouldn’t still be sending out my manuscripts (with endless checks, endless months of waiting) to publishers, still knocking at the doors of bigger presses, still fighting for…more nothing? What am I doing with my life?  I am a fighter, but sometimes even I get tired. And today is one of those days. We try to be good literary citizens, volunteering at literary magazines, serving on boards, donating and writing endless book reviews and…what is the result? Not that you do it for a reward, but…have I been naive, trying to do things the right way, trying to be kind, trying to be scrupulous? Anyway, I know from social media that others are giving up and turning away from poetry right now, which I think is a shame, because now is the time we need poetry. I know I do. I turn to reading poems that moved me back when I was nineteen. I read new books full of passion and intelligence, and they give me hope. Plus, I can’t stop writing poems. I have the start of a third poetry manuscript of my hands now. I just need a publisher to believe in one of them. Those of you who are also discouraged – just remember, the world is turbulent now, turning on its axis, eclipses and planets in retrograde, there are plagues and protests and whispers of war and ruin. We just have to make it through. That is our job now – to survive, to be around to rebuild a better world, and a better PoetryWorld.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Greetings from the Solstice in Seattle, Disappointed with Rising Covid Numbers and Re-openings, Feeling Discouraged with PoetryWorld

If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll have read my list of calm things to do and at this time I keep coming back to good ol’ number 16, which is “Share your calmness.” Of course we’re angry right now and with every right to be. I am so angry at the brutality and racism and unfairness. And here I acknowledge my privilege because I know that not everyone can step aside and that living in Canada as a white woman affords me an enormous amount privilege. But is it still possible to be a donor of peace and hope? Is it still possible to attempt to be the calmest person in a room/zoom? Is it possible to let our calm become a contagion?

Anger can be effective, and necessary. Now is the time for anger, I can’t deny that. Even Bruce Springsteen is using the F word these days. Good for him, man. This is not to be taken lightly. When the boss is telling you to put on a fucking mask, this is serious stuff.

But okay, we’re wearing a mask, we’re trying to be calm and let it ripple out so that it can help others become calm and we can try to lower our blood pressure etc.

I keep thinking about all my years at the library, trying to develop and to really have an open-hearted stance. I put my whole body into that stance and my eyes and my facial muscles. It’s hard to do when you’re tired, or wary, and sometimes even a little afraid. But I’ve always found that when you make this effort, when you throw yourself out there with an open heart, the payoff is amazing. It’s really about having trust in humans, faith that if you are your best self, they will bring theirs. I would say that this works almost all the time. But now, if our faces are covered, how is this going to work? Early on when I started working at my current library branch, I got Bell’s Palsy, which I have bored you all with repeatedly, and wrote about in my latest book. Suffice to say, half your face is mud/basically paralyzed, and this usually lasts 3-4 months. Most people recover but I had some depressing thought that I’d be in the whatever percent of those who don’t. Don’t ask me why, I had convinced myself of this, and so went back to work before I strictly needed to. Long story short, I couldn’t use my usual facial expressions to convey those things I wanted to convey. So I had to really rely on the rest of my body, my eyes. The eyebrows were also useless, though I’ve often been asked if I even have any. I do! They’re just very light, haha. What I realized is that what’s more important is just feeling the feelings. Feeling the faith, and actually trusting. That that is enough. It’s felt. Words, also good. But yah, it sounds all fluffy and mystical, but in my small experience, it worked. You send out good, you get good back. You can still do this, emanate the good vibes, the whole heart, wearing a mask. And if it doesn’t work, at least you sent out good. Because for me, how I walk through the world is the thing. This is what living is. This is what being a decent human is. (Yes, sometimes it’s also yelling at people Boss-style). The thing is, none of this is going to go away overnight. How do you want to walk through the world? What is your stance?

Shawna Lemay, Also this

Sometimes all it takes is a placebo of a smile placed askew on my face to get me imagining I could’ve been a Picasso model in another life.

Or perhaps glitter for a second skin, something catching light just right to blind the con-artist politicians and suntanned psychopaths looking to make a killing in the socially distanced outdoors.

Sometimes we gotta break down our inner walls just to lay hands on our own hurts.

Clear away the dirty fingerprints left on unfulfilled thoughts so we can polish them to perfection.

Those lights we witness at the end of the tunnel, maybe they’re not cars careening towards us.

Perhaps they’re the shine of our own eyes as we approach one another, promising we’ll get through this.

Rich Ferguson, Conversations I’ve Had With the Walls on One Too Many Sleepless Nights

[Thomas Merton] had left the academic world of New York in order to seek God and some sort of personal overhaul. He was aiming at authenticity, transparency, honesty, directness, egolessness… and yet he learned how the very act of writing — which he couldn’t help, couldn’t give up completely — became a trap for the ego. He talks about it a lot. This was his huge struggle: the need to say what he saw and felt out of the depths of his contemplative experience, to communicate it to others, and to try to make a difference in a broken world, but how writing can become performance that addictively seeks something else entirely: admiration, praise, fame. Just before his accidental death, Merton wrote this about his vocation: “He struggles with the fact of death, trying to seek something deeper than death, and the office of the monk, or the marginal person, the meditative person or the poet, is to go beyond death even in this life, to go beyond the dichotomy of life and death and to be, therefore, a witness to life.”

Merton held up a mirror for many of the struggles I was having in writing and in art and in life, and in that mirror I saw myself, my games, my desires more clearly. The mirror shows the whole room: what we need to throw out, and the bits we should keep, and it’s a process that never ends.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 29: On Journals

Monuments relate to thinking, to memory. We want our thoughts to endure–our society, our “own way of life”–to last forever, because we know we will not last forever.

Monuments have the disturbing quality of often belonging to only one group in a culture, however. The victors, or those who wish they had been victors. The victims, mourned. The powerful, because they have the means to build monuments. Monuments can fade from significance; the culture can change its point of view, making the old statues controversial or useless; new leaders can appear.

I am rethinking what I consider to be cultural and social monuments.

Here’s something I love to hear when my head and heart get too full of complicated histories and emotions: Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” sung by Otis Redding. *

~~
* [FYI from Wikipedia: “In 2007, the song was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, with the National Recording Registry deeming the song “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”

Ann E. Michael, Monumental

Rob Taylor: Midway through On/me, in the poem“ On Identity/Silence,” you consider what to say after a colleague makes a racist comment about Indigenous people: “deciding if fighting is enough // deciding if education is possible // knowing that i will forever live here / in this space / of in-between”.

So much of the book is about feeling “in-between,” and I wonder to what extent you think of poetry itself as being in-between in some way – a middle ground between fighting and educating, between the “political” and the “personal,” between Indigenous oral traditions and English Literature, etc. etc. Do you think of writing poetry as part of your in-between-ness?

Francine Cunningham: I realized a long time ago that I live in this in-between place and what I do with my art has to reflect that. Growing up it wasn’t a space that I ever read about or that people talked about. I felt really alone in this space. I felt like the thoughts and feelings I was having were not valid and made me a bad person, a bad Indigenous person. I’ve been working with Indigenous youth for close to fifteen years now and it has shown me that I am not alone in this in-between place. I feel like it’s my responsibility to speak about this space for the youth that I work with.

I write fiction and non-fiction too, but I speak about this primarily in my poetry because poetry is where my heart lives. My poetry isn’t filled with rules. I’m not playing with any of the different forms that exist in poetry, I am just writing my heart. That to me is closer to oral traditions of storytelling. It’s about me talking honestly and plainly. For a long time I didn’t think that I was a poet because I could never remember all the rules and different forms, or because my poems didn’t look like or sound like the poems that I studied in English class. I spent years denying all the poems inside me because of this and focused instead on my fiction. But one day it just became too much to hold in my heart, and I let the poems come. And I loved them. I showed some people and they loved them, too. Then I started to publish them and people I didn’t know contacted me to tell me how much my work meant to them. People who didn’t read poetry because they also felt inferior in not understanding the rules. People who felt like, because they couldn’t understand all the vocabulary, poetry wasn’t for them. But when they read my words, they understood them, they didn’t feel locked out. That meant so much to me. Since the book has come out I have had a lot of people contact me saying this book touched them to tears because for once they could understand what I was saying, even if they were non-Indigenous. Accessibility to the arts is important.

Rob Taylor, This In-Between Place: An Interview with Francine Cunningham

“In recent months I have been intent on seizing happiness.”  So wrote C.D. Wright, my guiding star right now.  If you’re naturally happy, you don’t make declarations to be happy.  You throw out an idea, a wild proposition and follow it passionately to see where it goes. If your arm is strong, you toss that net far and wide to pull in both flowers and monsters. 

I’m sitting at Wright’s feet now to gauge those monsters and flowers, but also to hear how, in her poetry, she navigated extremes. She wrote that she was pulled by extremes, as am I, and her selves swing wildly, as do mine.  Mine has a kind of “pessimistic optimism” or “optimistic pessimism” or “radical realism.” I feel that I’m carrying battling twins around on these humid summer days.  Where can I put them except on a page in form that doesn’t have to be resolved? Their form and spirit overseen by kindred spirits that I’ve pulled from my shelves? How lucky I am to have a way that keeps me human.

Returning to Wright, what follows her opening line in the poem “Crescent” about intending happiness is “to this end I applied various shades of blue.”  She then hauls in all kinds of fierce and ironic material examples. She works up into a fierce lather that seems to reflect a sexual fury, a restless rage.  No one lives in a world of our making.  Yet fury at the “system” is freighted with an unabated wonder.  Her material world crackles with straight-ahead fierce wonder at what is.  As she moves through her world, she softens or careens to a kind of balance that places her outside herself, into selfless love and community.  In her final great phrase, she delivers a profoundly earned mantra of illumination, for the road has been exhausting and exhilarating: “draw nearer my dear: never fear: the world spins nightly towards its brightness and we are on it”

“Crescent,” from Steal Away, Selected and New  Poems (Copper Canyon Press)

Jill Pearlman, Flowers and Monsters

For the last couple of weeks, a single peony has held my attention. I’ve watched it as the bud strained to open, then been amazed by the flower’s sudden unfurling. I was almost late for work one morning as I tried to photograph a raindrop on one of the petals. And then I was saddened as it shed its petals under the weight of rain. It’s a strange experience to try and give your attention to just one thing, when daily life is constantly tugging you in other directions. As for the haiku I’ve written about it (below), well, I’m not sure they come anywhere close to my actual experience of the peony, but I’ve been trying to explore what the form can do and be a little looser in my interpretations. Reading Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (ed. Kacian, J., Rowland, P & Burns, A., Norton, 2016, f.pub 2013) has expanded my understanding of what’s possible within these short poems. It’s a great book, full of little surprises, and it has an enlightening overview of haiku in English by Jim Kacian at the end, which I can thoroughly recommend to anyone who is interested in the development of the form.

Julie Mellor, peonycloudburst

all these haiku‬
‪i keep stepping on them‬
‪tripping over them‬
‪i throw them out but‬
‪they are homing haiku‬
‪flapping around my head‬
‪and in my bed‬
‪and in my tea‬
‪you see‬
‪how much rhyme is missing‬
‪from the haiku‬
‪that also trips me up‬
‪and suffocates me ‬
‪i sneeze‬
‪haiku haiku‬
‪all fall down‬

Jim Young, all these haiku‬

Whichever way you look at it, lockdown is coming to an end in England, and gradually elsewhere in the UK, too. Non-essential shops are open, churches are open for quiet prayer, public transport is running, roads are much, much busier, businesses are opening up although everyone is expected to keep two metres apart and wear a face covering in enclosed indoor spaces. It has been the strangest time I’ve ever lived through and I am still processing what has happened and what is still happening. In the middle of it all, I’ve read books, watched films and TV series, binged on radio drama and audio books, read collections of short stories, poetry and novels. I’ve queued – and I continue to queue – in supermarkets for food and I’ve got used to cooking for four adults again rather than for just Andrew and I. My daughter has finished her degree and is waiting for her results. She is about to turn 21. My son has finished the first year of his degree and is working out how to organise accommodation in London for next year while he is stuck at home in Wiltshire. Andrew has continued to work in his job in software from his office in a shed at the bottom of our garden. I have sometimes desperately missed being alone to write and Andrew has – cleverly and kindly – repaired an old table and moved it into the corner of a shed my son uses for band rehearsals. We are big on sheds in our family – which is a blessing because I love the solitude of my new writing space.

Josephine Corcoran, Once upon a lockdown

My tiny chalkboard poems continue and, apparently, are appreciated by many who read them on social media, as these readers are telling me. I am glad. In addition to sudden chalkboard revisions as I write, I experience ongoing changes in interpretation. I wrote “Last Days” in my back yard, on the patio, gazing in wonder at the beauty of everything around me, and feeling eternity somehow. Inside me was the scary realization that I/we might be living our last days on earth…but, if so, at least they would be remarkably beautiful. And the world could go on without us.

Last Days

Yes, it might be
one of the last days
so breezy and bright,
so beautiful and clear.

The first version ended with two sentence fragments and had three periods. It felt breezier and brighter, therefore, but lacked eternity. Now it is one long sentence, like life. Eternity remains only in the title and at a line break. These may simply be the last days of sheer beauty before rain (needed!) or terrible heat (coming today). Or…these may indeed be my/our last days on earth.

I suspect I’m under the influence of Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, published in 2014 but terribly pertinent to now, as it’s about the world after a flu pandemic has drastically reduced population and wiped out civilization as we knew it. No grocery stores now, gasoline has expired, no electricity, no phones, no computers. People are making do in settlements here and there. And there’s a Traveling Symphony for entertainment, because, and this is a quotation from Star Trek: Voyager, “survival is insufficient.”

Kathleen Kirk, Last Days

I’m not sure what it’s taken but I’ve started writing again. Not a great outpouring, but something. Maybe it’s been the eclectic reading I’ve been doing.

As well as Mary Jean Chan’s Flèche (Faber, 2019), I’ve read my way through Jean Sprackland’s Green Noise (Cape, 2018), and am enjoying dipping in and out of Darling (Bloodaxe, 2007), Jackie Kay’s selected. I’ve also been intrigued by Adam Nicolson’s exploration of Wilton and the background to Sir Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’, which then got me onto The Elizabethans by A N Wilson which I’d had on the bookshelf for a while. Much to enjoy here, but the author has some angles (shall we say) and turns of phrase that rankled with me. Although I’m on the last chapter I don’t think I’ll finish it as there are just too many references to how Elizabeth had become ‘old and yellow-toothed’ and so forth. A queen who had achieved so much during her reign, being denigrated for the sin of growing old and thereby losing her looks doesn’t sit well with me. Funny, that!

I’m getting very interested in the ‘Sidney circle’ and the whole pre-Shakespeare Renaissance literary scene. In particular I’m starting to dig out more about Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, by all accounts a fine writer, but who tends to be described in terms of a) her more famous brother and b) her generous literary patronage.

Robin Houghton, Getting all Elizabethan, new writing and emerging from the gloom

At the Field Museum in the fall, an audience member inquired whether I thought myself a nature poet, but maybe I am as much as any girl who spent her life growing up in the boonies of both Illinois and Wisconsin, but who was in love with the sea.Who wanted to be a scientist to study those depths. As an artist, I fall again and again to landscapes and botanicals.  Though I am probably more in debt to the supernatural than I am the natural. I feel, as I’ve been working on dark country, that this is at the forefront, but it’s been there all along through the other books I’ve written.  Even sex & violence has its ghosts–my own past relationships, Plath herself, Dali’s little blue dog. 

And in many ways the writing is a sort of exorcism of ghosts, of stories, of the past dusted off and made shiny and new. I’ve been thinking of this as I look at the newest completed manuscript, feed, and how it was a writing out, a bloodletting in the year after I lost my mom. There are so many ghosts there, literal and just my own metaphoricals.  Or maybe less an exorcism and more of a seance–a speaking to and with the dead, either others or the self you left behind at various points of travel. 

Kristy Bowen, poems and ghosts

Christina Sng’s collection of poetry, A Collection of Dreamscapes, blends dark fantasy, science fiction, and horror, examining the many-faceted aspects of women, from their hopeful dreams to their shadow selves. These lyrical poems offer tale of “women who hide behind the taste of poisoned apples, who set themselves on fire, who weep at riverbanks, the taste of freedom too much to swallow, too heavy to bear.”

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: May 2020

Over on his ever-excellent blog, John Foggin has revealed the names of the poets behind the 26 ‘When All This is Over’ poems chosen, out of 80 or so which were submitted, for publication in a Calder Valley Poetry pamphlet. Like many great ideas, this project has a perfect simplicity to it, and it has been a real pleasure to be involved in it. To be one of the 26 in the pamphlet, among some wonderful poets, is a lovely bonus.

I won’t single out any of the amazing poems except to say that the title of Sue Riley’s marvellous ‘The Cats’ Meat Man’ reminds me of a saying of my dad’s – “Quick, quick, cats’ meat!” – the derivation of which I can’t recall him ever explaining. I suppose it was just that if we didn’t hurry up doing whatever it was he was geeing us up to do, we would end up as cats’ meat. Or something like that!

Matthew Paul, John Foggin’s When All This is Over project

–If you came to this page hoping for an analysis of yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions, head over to my theology blog to read this post.  What a pleasant surprise!  I predict that when historians look back on the great Civil Rights decisions, this one will be much higher on the list than the marriage decision from a different June in this decade (2015 to be precise).

–For those of you who are literary minded, you may have come to this page thinking I would write about James Joyce and Bloomsday.  I have done that several times in the past; after all, I wrote my MA thesis on women characters in Joyce.  I plan to tune in to this YouTube channel from the Symphony Space folks to see people reading chunks of Ulysses throughout the day.

–It will be very different from a long ago Bloomsday, when we had recently moved to South Florida, and went down to Books and Books to hear people from the University of Miami read from the book.

–I think even further back to my grad school days, relaxing by my apartment’s pool, reading academic books as I wrote my thesis.  I miss a lot about those days:  my youthful body, my youthful enthusiasm, the luxury of time to read hefty academic works.  But there’s much about my current life that I didn’t have then:  financial resources, self knowledge, confidence in my creative skills, a more mature faith.

–Most of all, I miss the certainty that I had then that my best days were still to come.  I had just finished a year of teaching classes, classes all my own, not just as a teaching assistant.  I knew that I was doing what I was put on earth to do.

–In contrast, yesterday I saw 2 students throw their arms around each other and hug as if a war had kept them separated.  By the time I was about to say, “Please stay 6 feet apart,” the moment was over.  I thought I would spend my working life discussing great works of literature, like Ulysses, but instead I’m the middle school dance chaperone, monitoring physical distance and breath.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days that Bloom

Lines found in my Twitter feed on the summer solstice

this zombie world
see what it looks like
share the urban space

a whole family of dead cats
at least four of them
in a tub of rainwater

who decides?
who’s in control?
there’s nothing for me

I’ve missed you
unless you’re a heron
dreaming of your great escape

a little tree
raindrops in grass
will lead you back home

feeling brave
heading north
thanking the universe for Bob Dylan

Ama Bolton, Summer solstice

My dad’s father, grandfather John, by all accounts, was not an affectionate man. My dad was, but he found it hard to show it, spontaneously. He wasn’t cold, or distant. But something in him was withheld. This is just to say, ‘I love you, Dad’.

What remains

How do you know that this is love? Is it
the moment that draws you in, the saving stitch?
One moment out of all the moments,
out of all the wrong notes, the missteps.

Because I thought he didn’t know the way of love,
didn’t know the tune, the words, 
they were what other people spoke,
they were borrowings, and he wasn’t one
to accept with grace, always on guard. But

he’d go out, not saying where, come back
and give his grandchildren each a Marathon.
He wasn’t a man to pick up a child
so a child could slip into his shape
as cats do. A silent gift of chocolate bars
was him articulating love.

What they remember of him, my children,
what they tell of him, is Marathons.
Remember when our granddad gave us Marathons?
What remains of us might just be love
but the story’s always Marathons.

John Foggin, For my Dad on Fathers’ Day

When I first heard this poem [“Invitation to Brave Space” by Micky Scottbey Jones], I was in brave space. Invited into it, with no map and no plan. It was scary and exciting.

There we were, sitting round the fire, exchanging hopes for the year, the coming season, our dreams.

Forty of us, including children, a long weekend of wild walks, getting soaked, of pub grub, deep listening and intentional turning up to say what was on our hearts: mobile phone addiction; climate grief; post-election anger; mental health.

Of eating together and silly games. The preparation and clearing away of food. The pouring of wine.

Right now is a still silent evening on the longest day of the year. (I resist the thought of the darkness rushing up to meet me.) Back then we were still getting knocked around by February. How we laughed into that wind, that downpour. There were rumours of a virus, but not here, surely, we said.

I was in the brave space. I talked about some deep and hidden things. Very slowly I learned to stand in my truth.

I am trying to stay there, but it is not easy.

Sit down with me a while. The sound you can hear is my breathing. It’s ok, you don’t have to say anything.

Sit with me a while longer. I am not feeling brave, but let’s explore the space together.

Anthony Wilson, Brave space?

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 23

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 felt possibly pivotal in American politics; time will tell. Some poetry bloggers did write about other things, but most of those posts sat uneasily with the uprising- and COVID-related content, and in the end I took them out. I do want to acknowledge two extraordinary texts emerging this week that are (sadly) not blog posts but Google docs: the Letter to the Poetry Foundation from Fellows + Programmatic Partners and, a few hours ago, Phillip B. Williams’ Letter of Apology from a Ruth Lilly Fellow. Both were sparked by the Poetry Foundation’s “A Message to Our Community & Contributors“—just the sort of vapid, substance-free message of support for #BlackLivesMatter that Maureen Doallas calls out below.

News broke as I was assembling this digest that a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council has pledged to disband its police department, just over a week after protesters burned down a precinct building there. So be careful before you join the mob… of comfortable liberals and conservatives whitesplaining protest tactics to the oppressed.


When people murmur in a mildly moralising way about peaceful protest, maybe they should stop and think about Emily Wilding Davison.

A militant suffragette, she was repeatedly arrested and imprisoned for breaking windows, setting fire to mail boxes, and on one occasion for attempting to horsewhip a clergyman who she mistook for Lloyd George.

She undertook repeated hunger strikes in prison, was forcibly fed 49 times, and attempted to kill herself in Holloway by leaping off a landing. She said after that she thought that her death might cause people to pay attention to the cause of women’s suffrage. On June 4 2013, Emily Wilding Davison travelled to Epsom, went to the racecourse on Derby Day, waited behind the railings at the bend to the final straight, and as the horses came round the bend, ducked under the rail, and walked in front of the king’s horse. On and off for 30 years I tried to find a way to write about it.

I think about images that have, one way or another, changed how we see the world, and maybe changed the world itself. The terrified villagers of My Lai in Vietnam, and the small girl stripped naked by napalm, her mouth a silent scream; a Buddhist monk in flames; a student holding up his arm against a tank. A white policeman kneeling on the neck of a black man until he dies.

I was staggered when I learned that the death of Emily Davison was filmed live by a Pathe news camera, and duly appeared in British cinemas. I had thought the stills I had seen were remarkably in-focus single camera shots. I could not understand their clarity.

John Foggin, A grating roar

tomorrow my son is going to photograph a protest in Snohomish a small town no one had heard of until it became patient zero for the corona virus Snohomish where I attend the county fair every summer Snohomish where a handful of peaceful protesters were greeted by a sidewalk full of white american proudboys standing with spread legs holding automatic weapons snickering among themselves not only their stances but their faces threatening and ugly

the american president’s boys with a long tradition of  hate

my son quoted Shakespeare to me this morning

The blood of the citizens of Verona makes the hands of the citizens both bloody and uncivilized; that is, not polite, and possibly murderous.

then he quoted some of the lyrics to Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and he said that George Floyd was lynched I think so too deliberately horribly and in the open

my son believes we’re at the beginning of true worldwide revolution that the protests are not going to stop that they have just begun that the citizens of the world have been oppressed long enough they are rising up as one body to demand change and they will not stop until change is brought forth he tells me he sees children in the street some high school age young people finally finding their voices their rallying cry

Rebecca Loudon, What our sons say

What could be more dispiriting than a biological enemy, an invisible enemy, an enemy that has turned the morality schema upside down?  Yesterday’s bad guys — alienation and isolation  — are today’s heroes of good health.  Those heroes of isolation are also conditions for authoritarianism, which makes them still count as bad guys.  No wonder we’ve felt so lost and confused.

No wonder the police murder of George Floyd has changed the moral landscape.  In its horror and shame, in its immorality, it prompted the massive outpouring of public grief and collective protest.  It has a clear-cut narrative, with victims and perpetrators.  The unequivocal police brutality has no moral ambiguity. It liberated us from our own cells. Our listless selves had been told that this narrow narcissistic world was heroic – perhaps with limited horizons, we didn’t trust it. 

Walking on a summer afternoon to the RI State House, I refound my “we.” We were some 10,000. To hear the roar of thousands who respond in unity to the call of a leader – to feel the vibration in our bones, as my daughter said – began to restore a self in relation to others.  Collective, actively scooping up a sense of purpose. Rebellious. Called to look into our selves where moral ambiguities will most obviously arise. That has to be part of the pact. We can still do that while dissenting injustice, abuse of cops and our homegrown tyrant crossing new red lines at every turn.   This is not bad news wrapped in a protein. 

Coronavirus is still a threat, as we’ll always remark when we look at photos, in the future, of protesters in masks in photos.  As a young friend said, “History looks back at the past.  We’re in the middle of history.  But we don’t know what it looks like — we’re living it.”  He wasn’t comfortable with not knowing.  He shrugged: he knows he doesn’t have a choice.

Jill Pearlman, The Protests: Sprung from Moral Uncertainty

Since the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, I have read and viewed countless news articles, op-eds, solidarity statements, video webinars, social media posts, tweets, and photo albums related to Black Lives Matter (BLM) in the Pacific Islands and our diaspora. 

The first thing to note is that there is widespread support for BLM amongst Pacific Islanders (PI). There have been numerous solidarity events in Hawaiʻi (where I currently live), Aotearoa, Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, West Papua, Australia, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and my homeland of Guåhan (Guam). There have also been Pacific-organized events in California, Washington, and Utah, and I have seen PI participate in protests from Kentucky to New York to where it all began: Minnesota. At least one PI was arrested/detained, and there are perhaps more. BLM solidarity in the Pacific is not new (many events that occurred in after the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown) but it is definitely more expansive today. […]

The most wonderful part of all this is that so many PI have interpreted this history to mean that we have a “debt” to the Black community because of all they have done to empower us, directly and indirectly. In Pacific cultures, “debt” is not a capitalist phenomenon. It is much deeper and refers to ideas about gift-giving, social reciprocity, interdependence, kinship, obligation, support, and mutual aid. Chamorros call this “chenchule’” and it is one of our most cherished values and practices.  […]

Within U.S. settler colonialism in Guam and Hawaiʻi, I have noticed that there are some politicians and individuals (who are White, Asian, or POC) who are vocal in their support of BLM and even for police abolition. However, I have seen these same people stand AGAINST Chamorro and Hawaiian sovereignty and self-determination. This to me points to how some settlers in the Pacific support liberal and progressive reforms, but they don’t support decolonization, which would completely unsettle their power here. This also speaks to a divide between civil rights and indigenous rights.  

Craig Santos Perez, Black Lives Matter in the Pacific, 2020

These days, I put an ear to America’s chest to make sure democracy’s heart is still beating.

I share my breath with others ‘cause the air is so choked with tear gas and political propaganda.

I rearrange our collective spirit into a beatbox offering solid, uplifting rhythms as we witness secret police wandering the streets, bashing bruise tattoos into the flesh of peaceful protestors.

In my higher conscience, I’ve started an Etsy store selling necklaces made from the words and songs of Gandhi, MLK, and Billie Holiday.

I’ve created see-through face masks where we can witness one another’s lips as we speak words like, “Peace,” “Love,” and “ Dream.”

Rich Ferguson, Beating, Not Beating

Official Wear Orange Day was Friday, June 5. June 5 is also Breonna Taylor’s birthday. She was killed by guns in a terrible police mistake. But Wear Orange Day was created by friends of Hadiya Pendleton, dead at 15 by gun violence, back in 2013. My poem for that is hard, quick, and blunt. You understand why. 

Today I Wear Orange

to honor the dead girl
killed by a gun. Orange
like a hunting vest,
meant to say:
I’m not prey.

Hadiya had just been in the parade for President Obama’s second inauguration and was dead a week later. […]

I don’t like to jump on any bandwagons, but I do wish to stand in solidarity with all our nonviolent protestors today. At a distance, masked, I attended our local NAACP/Not In My Town rally to see, feel, and be part of the local support. I came late and left early, not wanting to mingle with any crowds. Couldn’t hear or see the presenters, but felt the solidarity. My peripheral vision made me turn at the right time to see potential danger, a young white man wearing a bandana on his forehead riding a motorcycle on Front Street. My gut said, Trouble. Later, he drove through the crowd and injured people; he’s been arrested. I listen to my gut now, having ignored it sometimes in the past. After seeing him, I scanned the crowd, as well. I was looking at the young white guys, I have to confess. There’s my current bias and tendency to profile. I apologize for the past, the present, and the future. I’ll do what I can, which doesn’t seem like much, but I do vote and help get out the vote, via a tiny elected office.

And my tiny poems will continue, at least through June. If I can remember what day it is. And who I am.

Kathleen Kirk, Wearing Orange

Small bamboo stakes with tiny flags on them were placed six feet apart, all along the north side of route two, from First Congregational Church to Thompson Memorial Chapel.

We gathered with our signs, each person or household to a flag. Most of the signs were homemade, made on posterboard or on cardboard recycled from boxes.

“Black Lives Matter.”

“Stop systemic racism.”

“Covid + racism = mourning in America.”

“Lord have mercy.”

“Seeking justice.”

“Black lives matter.”

“We stand with you.”

The church bells tolled. When they were done, a bagpiper stood on the steps of First Congregational and played somber songs.

As cars drove by, from one side or the other, we turned so our signs would face them, like sunflowers moving with the sun.

Most cars honked in support as they drove by. A few big rigs drove by and honked as they passed us. One bicyclist pedaled slowly by, reading each sign in turn.

A light rain fell. We stood in quiet solidarity with the victims of SARS-CoV-2 and the victims of systemic racism around our nation. When the clock tower rang for 5:30, we quietly went home with our grief.

Rachel Barenblat, Vigil

I marched at the parade with my daughter, surrounded by people her age. I thought about the world I thought I was bringing her into–what I thought I was giving her–and I wondered what the parents of all the others there had thought they were giving their children. I want to tell you how it broke my heart a little, to see these people taking action to try to make the world be more like the one I (wrongly) thought we once had, to see their anger and frustration and courage and hope. But my broken heart is not the important thing here, and my tiny heartbreak is nothing in comparison to those of the parents who have lost their children at the hands (or knees or bullets) of police, or those who worry that they will.

Last week a journalist claimed that America is a tinderbox. Last night, in a peaceful protest in a town known for its liberalism, I could feel it–people brittle as leaves and sticks on the forest floor after a summer of drought. Our youth–all of our youth, not just those privileged by social class and race–need real hope for something like the kind of future I took for granted when I was their age, and they need it in the form of action, not empty words and gestures without substance. They need more than police taking a knee one minute and then rising up to throw teargas and shoot rubber bullets the next. They need relief from corrupt leaders, inept government, gross income inequality, a trashed economy, crushing debt, racist systems, and a dying planet.

We all need that for them, too. As activist Lilla Watson once said,

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

A lit fire can be hard to contain, and people who feel they have little or nothing to lose are going to be quick to reach for matches.

We all have more to lose than we realize, I think.

Rita Ott Ramstad, No justice, no peace

June—not even rounding the cusp of summer; yet heat
pours out as if from a cauldron on every surface.

And the heat of bodies building as a fire
in every city, refusing to be staunched.

These last few months, we raised our windows
at sundown to salute those among us whose work

takes them closest to the edge of the fire.
Each night we hear the distant sound of choppers

circling overhead, and see the arcs thrown by
their beams. Only in the fitful pause of sleep

does the day’s sadness distill into a sort of quiet
blue egg. Every wing in it, every breakable bone.

Luisa A. Igloria, Domus

It’s been a week. You can tell because a giant Russian oil spill and asteroid hurtling towards earth didn’t even make the top five news headlines. Coronavirus, levels of which are still rising in the US, has been knocked out of people’s minds by gigantic protests and riots across the country – and even across the world – about police violence against unarmed, innocent African Americans. Police violence isn’t a new problem in the US, and it’s been remarkably persistent, so we need to think about how reform can makes things better, from sending in social workers and therapists to de-escalate with domestic violence and mental illness and wellness checks instead of police to eliminating the budget for police altogether. It’s clear that what we’ve done before hasn’t gotten rid of police corruption, racism, and abuse, so we need to look at new ways to address the issue.

This is a really important time to register to vote, because not only do we vote (hopefully, out) our president in November – which seems crucial to fixing some of America’s problems – but local elections like sheriffs and mayors are coming up. We the people have more power in voting than we think, and I hope we use it.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Turmoil, A Poem and Photo in 805 Lit + Art, and reading at the St. Martin Bookfair Saturday Night

My email has filled and refilled with messages from various publications, nonprofits, and other organizations and companies, all stating, in white type against black background, that  they stand with protesters to demand justice and are donating money, sometimes huge sums of money, to various race-related causes or foundations because #Black Lives Matter.

Although these actions can be regarded as good things to do, are they meaningful? Because I want to ask, What else? […]

What does the word “justice” mean to you? “Freedom”? How do you define “fair treatment” and “equal opportunity”? Or are those just sound-good words for your public relations announcements?

What specific actions do you pledge to take when your white CEO commits an EEO violation? Or your HR director turns a cheek to managers’ failure to meet diversity objectives? 

What are you going to do in the communities where you’re based to ensure the history we teach our children includes the true stories of our crimes and African Americans’ many accomplishments? Will you send your children to the same public schools that black children attend? 

Which of you in fact will “stand with” Black Americans and link arms and march the next time a black man out for a run is stalked, beaten up, or killed by white supremacists? What are you going to do to help ensure every Black American has the right to vote? Or prevent a political party from killing legislation to right our wrongs against? Or help rid this nation of food and housing insecurity? Are you going to stop supporting political campaigns that keep in office white men and women who take an oath to uphold our Constitution but are owned by lobbyists and do their bidding, no matter that bidding wrongly discriminates? 

Will you invite your African American neighbors to dinner, or allow your child to have a playdate with his or her black peers?

Whose story are you willing to listen to and defend if one is black and the other white?

Will you support and engage in a national, state, or local race-reconciliation initiative to acknowledge publicly our racism so that all of together can begin to heal and transform our society and culture?

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXVI

–Yesterday, my niece, who goes to grad school in South Florida, asked if any of us had any information about protests or marches. I was a bit abashed to realize that I didn’t. In grad school, I was connected to all sorts of peace and justice groups, both local and national. I was much more plugged in, even though we didn’t have e-mail or social media, or we had a different kind of social media.

But I did know some folks who knew some information, so that’s a plus.

–I have become the kind of person I despised when I was 19, the middle aged person who does support work of social justice by writing out a check. But let me remember the pastor of the inner city Lutheran church in Washington D.C. who educated me by telling me that suburban people and their checkbooks were what made the inner city ministry possible. He did it in the kindest way possible, and I will be forever grateful to know that the work of social justice takes many forms.

–I have always assumed that I was the kind of person who would be the first shipped to the radioactive Colonies in an Atwood dystopia. But I’m thinking I may have flattered myself.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Marching and Writing Checks for Justice

So much has happened since you wrote to me. There are little fires burning everywhere. I don’t think any of us were made to take in all this hurt. I feel the edge of apathy tempting me like a daemon hovering off the edge of a cliff, while beasts and bleeding bodies are rushing toward me in a nightmare. Well, not toward me, but toward us all. I am coincidental.

Are all individuals coincidental?

What can I do but sit on the ground where I am, and breathe? I am irrelevant in the bigger picture of things. And yet integral to all of it.

I am not on the front lines of anything, as you say. I’m not tending to the ill, not protesting in the streets of my homeland. I don’t speak for the suffering, or the dead.

There has to be a way to accept the fact of one’s own helplessness- or uselessness -and not give into likegyldighet. I’m drawn toward the word in my second language because the unfamiliarity seems to put the word’s meaning in relief. The literal translation of the word: the same-validity. Two equally legitimate realities. Facts. It is not a matter of “alternate facts”, but conflicting facts. True phenomenon that coexist necessarily in a state of conflict.

Facts. Disconnected from desires. Desires are interpretations, and there is nothing solid about them.

The fact is we are human. The fact is humans desire. The fact is little good comes from automatic writing.

You are on a font line, Richard. Your day job. It is tending to the vulnerable. It is working towards a kind of justice.

Ren Powell, The Front Line

In the time of COVID we washed our hands with the spittle in the air and prayed for death. We touched our eyes and waited for death or a ventilator, whichever came first. We counted the number of deaths but not the names of those who died.

The names of the dead were written somewhere with invisible ink, but no one knows where. If someone does have that knowledge, they have never admitted to it, and who could read invisible ink anyway?

In truth, a few people prayed for life, but we also failed to record their names, and there was no god to answer such prayers. Death was everywhere.

In the time of COVID the televisions worked just fine, and computers streamed concerts and videos. You could get anything delivered to your home except cheer. We ate pizza and cut our own hair and stared at social media until it invaded our dreams.

Many of us now distrust social media as much as we distrust the spittle for its infection, as much as we distrust the fools who lead us. Indeed, is there any leader worthy of trust? Spit for me and I will wash my hands again.

In the time of COVID we shaved off our body hair and covered ourselves with oil. Naked, we rubbed against each other until we screamed and our house pets screamed along with us, not understanding.

Or perhaps I am wrong, and house pets understand more than they let on. Perhaps they find the sounds of human orgasm to be funny.

In the time of COVID the police continued to murder Blacks until riots overtook our cities and dumpster fires lit the night, the sound of police sirens was a symphony of horror, a symphony of fear.

Even now we can hear the music starting all over again. Even now it is the time of COVID.

James Lee Jobe, In the time of COVID we washed our hands with the spittle in the air

I’ve spent a good portion of the weekend watching the Epstein docuseries on Netflix (of which I think the web of corruption is only the very tip of the iceberg among powerful men) , and last night & finishing later, the Hunger Games movies, of which I have only seen the first two.  (I love the books, but I just never have gotten the chance to get to the two final ones.) They are a strangely appropriate thing to be watching at this very moment and I was hoping they didn’t just spike my anxiety higher, but so far I think I’m okay.  I am back to focusing no further than the end of the day. Especially as my anxieties & fear about going back to work are beginning to creep up on me.  There is so much we don’t know and so much I feel people are paying attention to  (notably that we are not expecting a second wave, and only that the first wave is still very much still happening, only that the news, understandably, is focusing on other things. )  I feel no safer out there than I did in late March. I feel esp. helpless about the decreased seriousness of people out there who seem to either be misinformed or just defiant that they need to wear masks and be careful. I actually feel like the mass protests actually look pretty safe and masked up, but the people in bars and on beaches not so much.

Inside, I am better able to focus on writing-related things than I was a few weeks ago. I have a new book, after all, and want to figure out ways to celebrate and promote it as much as I can. There are also a couple new series–one devoted to Weekly World News headlines and another that just might tangentially be  about the virus, but also about intimacy and connection.  Also just the notion of “viral” and things hi-jacking the body from a scientific standpoint. I feel like I need to tread carefully…I’m not particularly keen on most current events type writing since I think it tends to fall into cliche and hyperbole very easily.  The lit journals are filled with mediocre coronapoems right now. I think I, myself, need a little more distance. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things : June 7, 2020

there’s massive evil going on
and I study the grasses
oh god I’ve retired

I lit a fire
it was like putting down a pet
I cried

Ama Bolton, ABCD: June 2020

This intense week, I’m featuring a new collection by activist-editor-poet Sonia Greenfield (check out Rise Up Review sometime, too, for brilliant poems of resistance).

Letdown consists of 64 numbered prose poems about pregnancy, birth, raising a special needs child, miscarriage, grief, and recovery. No poems can be assembled into tidy chronologies–they slip and blur, associate and meditate–but the book has a strong emotional arc, through an underworld of pain, to emergence into love and compassion. I love that the book ends in empathy for other parents, but that’s enabled by Greenfield’s own difficult rebirth: “Though I am better now, sometimes I can feel a kite string tied inside cut through me when what I want yanks.”

Maggie Smith gets it right, too, when she calls Greenfield “a master of the prose poem.” Each has a boiled-down lyric intensity. Many investigate the meanings of words, putting the lie to the literary-critical truism that pain short-circuits expression. Poems about diagnostic language, the tone-deaf consolations and blame friends offer, and her sons words are very powerful. Her son is on the autism spectrum and the recurrent description of his “weird energy” could describe the book, too. This collection channels a strong charge of loss and love. As she says, “It takes a while to strip expectations away, to peel off the layers until we’re holding our child’s happiness in the palm of our hand, as pure as the simplest silicate mineral, and say it is enough.” This is a testament to celebrate.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #13 with Sonia Greenfield

“The apocalypse…is not when the world ends; it’s when one single person is killed. The entire universe becomes deformed when one single person is tortured.”

—Raúl Zurita, trans. Borzutzky

“The death toll is always one, plus one, plus one. The death toll is always one” —Teju Cole

…we are each other’s
harvest:
we are each other’s
business: we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.

—Gwendolyn Brooks

Beauty will be here for us, but this time, this time. We have to be here for it. We have to end this. Because one unnecessary death is intolerable. Evil is intolerable. Racism is intolerable. Inequality is intolerable. Hatred is intolerable. The disparities are intolerable. Violence against Black people, and Indigenous people and all BIPOC is intolerable.

I’m honestly just a gutted horrible mess over this. I haven’t cried over Covid-19. I’ve cried over this. I read Twitter most of the day, various news sites. And then we had a family Zoom call and that was lovely. What a privilege to know that all your loved ones are safe. And then a big cocktail while listening to Jason Isbell’s song, Be Afraid, repeatedly. Most of us don’t even know what real fear is. I know I don’t.

The line by Teju Cole just keeps repeating in my head, the death toll is always one. It guts me.

Shawna Lemay, Try to Say Something; Also: Shut-Up

Imagine as fully as possible that a crowd of desperate people are at your door. Their eyes and lungs are burning, they are afraid, angry, out of options. You have seconds to decide. Imagine you open the door and now your home is filled with these strangers, every available space taken up. They need food, water, aid. Can you do it?

Now imagine this. You are on the other side of a stranger’s door. You’re the one in pain, afraid and desperate. Will the door open for you?

Laura Grace Weldon, Hospitality To Strangers

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 20

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: music, work, hiatuses, journaling, healing, grieving, raising children, embracing entropy, and more.


the spring wind sings
around the log pile
old and new griefs

Matthew Paul, Hampton Court haiku

Saturday pandemic drive
grey and improvised
over empty interstate lanes.

Miles fades in and out
signal stretched
across low clouds, near mist.

Momentary lockdown lift
this piece has no melody, just modes
a gist of Spain in the linger.

Collin Kelley, Poem for the pandemic: ‘Flamenco Sketches (Demo)’

Musicians, sheltering
at home, risk the noise

complaints to practice,
knowing no one can tell

them when intermission
will end, when each will

rise from a hard-back seat
and nod encores to the end

of spring’s sullen silence.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XVIII

The hardest thing I have done is to attempt to follow the advice of Franz Kafka, who said: ‘You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.’ I tried it the other day, with the help of a track I had tended to skip over, Peter Gabriel’s A Quiet Moment (from the album New Blood). […]

Now, I absolutely love New Blood. But the more I listen to it, the more I find myself looking forward to A Quiet Moment above everything else. Which has really surprised me. It is not as if there is a great deal there: 4 minutes and 48 seconds of nothing. Except it’s not nothing. There is the wind blowing. A skylark. Some distant traffic, followed by a plane. Some more wind. And then what sounds like a combine harvester. That skylark again. And that is it. It isn’t much.

But in a way, it has been everything to me on this lockdown. That someone climbed up a (Solsbury?) hill with some recording equipment and sat there long enough to capture it. (One day I had it on repeat. I think I began to detect different movements within it…It turns out Kafka was right after all.) Gradually and sometimes painfully, sitting in silence is teaching me to shed my activist-self for something much quieter and more present. I don’t always like what I see there. Somehow I am learning that this is all necessary.

Anthony Wilson, A quiet moment

In this strange period we’re experiencing, time itself seems to have changed. The indistinguishable days go by in a blur, without the structure of our former schedules. Some of us are out of work; others are adapting to working in completely different ways; suddenly we’re faced with tasks we’ve avoided for years, or spending huge amounts of time getting food and cooking it. Ironically, although we all supposedly have “more time,” it’s often hard to feel like we’re getting much done. It’s harder to focus, harder to stick to a routine, harder to make decisions and work effectively. Sometimes it’s even hard to sleep, or get out of bed in the morning…and there seems to be no end to this in sight.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 25: Work

Things are hard right now and sometimes the best thing you can do for your creativity is to give yourself a break. It’s okay.

One of the things I do is to intentionally give myself permission to take a time off — to the extent that I will literally say to myself (either in my head or out loud), “I give myself permission to not write today” or this week or even this month.

I do this for a very specific reason — it’s a way to battle the shoulds, which come with an associated feeling of guilt. I can think back to any number of times when I’ve been reading a book, playing a video game, or taking a walk and my brain chimes in with , What do you think you’re doing? You should be writing, right now.

Guilt about not writing is insidious. It can compound all those feelings of stress, anxiety, and self-doubt that led to the feeling of being blocked in the first place.

Giving myself explicit permission to do something other than writing shuts down those shoulds, providing a clear space to really enjoy whatever I’m doing. That way, I’m able to really recharge and, when I’m ready, I can come back to the writing refreshed.

Andrea Blythe, Tools for When You’re Feeling Creatively Blocked

the descent into hell
no work no money
the empty room

a sadness all the time
I’ve forgotten how to speak
here comes the cat

Ama Bolton,. ABCD: May 2020

At the start of the year I began a reading journal, in which I aimed only to write about books I was reading. It was meant as a record, though I invited myself to make remarks or point out passages, etc. It went well for a while, also because I was spending chunks of time unplugged on airplanes, where distractions from reading and writing are few.

But in March the coronavirus hit Europe and I stopped flying. It was mid-April before I thought it might be worth keeping a record of life at this time. I didn’t want to explore my feelings or dissect the news or criticize the government, at least not necessarily. I set out to observe and take notes.

Of course now I’ve got two journals going, or three if you count the collage journal I rarely tend to. Plus this sometimes-blog. It seems I’m burdening myself with commitments. Like, hey, how about this journal, or this one, or this? So I’m pursuing the most traditional of the non-digital three, i.e. life in these times.

My father has always been a faithful journal keeper and he says when he goes back to peruse old journals it isn’t thoughts or feelings that interest him. He’s more engaged by what he had for lunch or if a stranger told him his fly was open or if he visited a friend. So I’m sticking with the quotidian.

Sarah J Sloat, Overcommitted

This is a Blue Monday in the blog, even though it’s Friday. Some weeks, it feels like Monday all the way to Wednesday, when it starts feeling like the Friday that will never come. There are things I am saying to myself these days, in words in my head that I’m not writing down—not here, not in my private diary, not in poems. They are ongoing. They come while I am walking or working, they interrupt my reading. They are mixed—like life. They have hope and fear and despair, darkness and light. I don’t know if I will ever write them down.

Kathleen Kirk, Words I’m Not Writing Down

What I learned was this:
we cannot even explain snow in terms of snow,
nor light in terms of light. Then this:
snow stops being here, and light fades. But love goes on,
and elsewhere snow clouds gather, and elsewhere the sun rises.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Previously unpublished poem: ‘Leaving Basel’

Right now, I’m the dishwasher, 1/2 the cook, laundry coordinator, and etc.

Although I don’t particularly enjoy these tasks, they fill some unknowable need – stability. The dishes in particular provide a rhythm to the day. After every meal comes the cleanup. I rely on that rhythm to mark the day.

My wife has taken to doing a morning calendar routine with the small ones. Things like what day it is, what month, what season, what the weather is like. It only takes five minutes, but I think it grounds all of us in the present day. Rather than what could become dangerously out of control numbness.

Today I took the trash and recycling down to the curb. Because it’s Sunday evening and the trucks come by Monday mornings.

What unnoticed, unappreciated rhythm these mundanities give us.

Eric M. R. Webb, On Mundane Tasks

Doesn’t a charm of goldfinches seem magical, like a sign of luck or good fortune? I took this picture one rainy morning this week, I think I’d just had a virtual doctor appointment and gotten a poetry rejection, neither very auspicious. I had a dream last night about Prince, who in my dream, was about to give a concert on my birthday, and came over and introduced himself and told me my work meant a lot to him. I don’t know what that means, but it also seems auspicious.

I keep hoping to wake up and read good news on the news feed instead of more and more terrible news, more death counts, more tragedy. I read the covid research papers every day, hoping one of them will uncover something that will change how we deal with this virus.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Pink Typewriters, a Charm of Hummingbirds, and Why Ina Garten is Helpful in a Pandemic

Put the flowers in a different vase, you know? If you’re writing poems, try an essay. If you’re writing a long essay, try shorter ones. Invent a new form! These times are new and I think demand a new way of writing, a new vessel, a new form….something that blends genres, challenges traditions, surprise and vexes….ideas?

We are trying to find ways to say things about this time, but will the old forms work?

Shawna Lemay, Style is a Simple Matter, or, 5 Tips to Get Writing in Trying Times

Carol Ann Duffy and the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University have brought together poets from around the world to write new poems about the recent days past and the weeks ahead. The poets were invited to write directly about the Coronavirus pandemic or about the personal situation they find themselves in right now.

Great to be part of this project. Click here to view the poems.

I submitted a selection of  what I loosely term haiku, which you can access here. Rereading them, they somehow seem quite remote from the crisis. There again, that’s probably a reflection of my response: to walk, to distance myself, to meditate.

Another online project that has been a joy to be part of is John Foggin’s ‘When All This is Over’ anthology. It began as an invitation to respond to Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem Swineherd and snowballed from there. It’s currently up to day 8, which covers letters K and L. My poem is the Phrenologist so, as they’re being presented in alphabetical order, I’ll have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, I’m enjoying reading the variety of poems the brief has generated, and the way they’re being presented (as an illuminated manuscript).

I know how much time it takes to collate and process writing online, so many thanks to everyone who is making these projects happen. I value, more than ever, the sense of community they engender.

Julie Mellor, Write where we are now

I chose three headlines rather than three lines for the body of my haiku.  Seifu’s haiku suggests the contrast between the abundance of nature and the cold truth of death.  Alan Cummings writes that the haiku was written when there was widespread famine in Japan.  This resonated with me as spring is particularly beautiful this year and yet there are terrible headlines every day as Covid-19 spreads. I wanted to put this contrast into my collage.

I thought about placing Boris Johnson’s body and Donald Trump’s body actually lying down in the collage but decided instead to cut off their heads (skulls) and lie them down.  I’m playing with the double meaning, in English, of “lying”.  “Lying happily” seems appropriate for these two heads of state.  I put the words ‘care’ ‘homes’ down near their heads because the truth about what is going on in care homes, the number of deaths, the lack of PPE, has been brushed under the carpet.

Alan Cummings writes that in Japanese poetry dokuro literally means a skull, but in poetry it is sometimes used to mean the whole skeleton, particularly one that is found by the side of the road. There is a Japanese poetic tradition of poems inspired by dead bodies, he says.  There are so many ways that this poem written 200 years ago speaks to me today. 

Josephine Corcoran, Spring is unfolding before my eyes

two ambulances two sheriffs
and a fire engine scream down
the street our neighbors
shoo their children inside
draw their curtains
no one talks no one knows
what happened on the anniversary
of my sister’s death I fold down
my Snow White sheet
place her nightie
in my body’s shallow smooth
it with my hands then I lie
beside her and whisper all the secrets
of the known and unknown world
into her blond blond ear

Rebecca Loudon, corona 19.

We lose
our bodies over and over, or watch
from the sidelines as they take on
one impossible form after another:
a man with blue fingers, a fish
with accordion lungs; a tree
in whose nets of complicated leaves
pale lanterns float, each with the face
of children or dead lovers.

Luisa A. Igloria, My dream life has changed

As corona virus hit, the metaphor has me trembling, so to speak, the metaphor has become all too real. I’m even more off-balance than ever. The metaphor keeps cutting through thicket, getting more and more personal.  All the borders are being invaded, irreality becomes a part of reality, up is down.  My metaphor has invaded my very cell structure. 

I’m suffering from physically real, medically verifiable vertigo.  My head is wobbly, the ground is shifting a lot of the time.  I have to negotiate steps on that tightrope from one point to another, delicately, with feet that are tender and with an appreciation for the emptiness below.  The care that is required, though, is epic. In the reclaiming of values that float to the surface and assert themselves as essential, I’m putting “tender” and “care.”  The tender tending of things which may or may not affect you. Or be you.

All the work I’d done to prepare myself for shaky ungrounded reality not enough. Maybe words and images have led me to a point: into the real. 

Jill Pearlman, Vertigo, How Real You Are

What if the “work of healing” is nothing more than willful creativity? This is the material you are given: a bit of mud, a bit of coal, a fleck of fool’s gold. Make something of it that is yours.

It’s our nature to be altered by phenomenon.

Just like the trees that grow around the fence posts, that layer their bark each season – callouses that look like faces, faces that read like stories. Nothing healed. And nothing gained. Just part of the great forest.

Ren Powell, Healing as Praxis

A poet, scholar, and teacher, I thought I’d passed the forking path to novel-writing a long ways back. Chris is a cheerleader, though, and–this is crucial–author of a couple of published novels and many short stories, so he’s a great person to talk to about small, vague story ideas. I’d been fantasizing about another tale I never expected to write: a changeling professor, Dr. Perfect Poet, visits on a faculty exchange program and makes literary triumph look like a breeze. I’d drafted a bad poem about her, in a fit of frustration about my own messy life. (The closest thing I had to a superpower was yelling, Flame on! during a hot flash). As we walked and talked, I realized these two plots could interlock. Chris and I started spinning it out–who this main character might be, with her irritating and uncanny new colleague, and how she might react when weird things started happening.

Lesley Wheeler, Becoming Unbecoming

This has been a strange week-end, as so many week-ends/week days/weeks have been strange. It’s been a mix of unexpected wonderfulness, crushing moments of grief, a tingling current of rage, sadness leaking out at various seams and hemlines that I didn’t even see before the pandemic swept across the planet. […]

Here is a memory that I don’t want to slip away. On Saturday evening, my spouse was looking at a text for his Logic class adoption. It includes Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” My spouse read one line, and I said the next from memory. We went on this way, an interesting call and response. My spouse was amazed and impressed that I could say so much of it from memory, word for word. I’ve taught that poem for years, saying it out loud several times a term, several terms a year. Clearly it has sunk in.

I miss teaching poetry that way, in front of a room of students, reading the poem out loud. It’s a sadness to realize that we shouldn’t be teaching poetry that way for awhile.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Just Another Normal Pandemic Week-end

I’ve recently had sight of Abegail Morley’s new collection The Unmapped Woman. To read it is to be drawn into a mystery of dream-like sadness and the minutest, extraordinary detail of the processes around loss and grieving. ‘We all start in water’ begins the poem ‘Expected’, and whether that’s amniotic fluid, rockpools or ‘slippers of meltwater’, water seeps its way through the whole collection, as if it couldn’t be stopped. This is emotionally draining material conveyed with great skill and beauty.

The reader has a sense of being ‘on hold’ throughout – waiting is a recurrent theme: sometimes with anticipation, sometimes in desperation, finely balanced, a jangle of nerves, things just holding together.

‘ You’re waiting / for liberation, foetus shaping in liquid until you / come adrift on a crib-shaped island with the map / of life crumpled in the tiniest palm I can imagine’ (‘Imminent’)

‘I wait for melancholy to wake,/snared like a hack of crow/ at the back of my throat. / I wait to weight its grief at daybreak.’ (‘Not Being’).

I found this collection very moving and I think my favourite of Abegail’s books so far. You can order it here at Nine Arches Press. I believe there’s an online launch planned. What a shame that so many good poetry books are having to make do with virtual launches for now.

Robin Houghton, Abegail Morley’s ‘The Unmapped Woman’

Every 20 years or so, my region gets a truly late freeze.

This is one of those years. It seems strange when snow flurries alight upon dogwood blossoms, but this period has been strange in many respects. What’s one more weirdness? We can adapt. It just requires employing strategies we haven’t used before.

Which brings me, today, to Marilyn McCabe’s chapbook Being Many Seeds, just released by Grayson Books…like my own chapbook, a publication somewhat muted by the coronavirus. Make note, though, that you and I can still purchase books online. It just may take a little longer to receive the text. And isn’t anticipation fun?

Her chapbook has a lovely cover. [Readers may know I’m a fan of milkweed.] And the poems fascinate as they unravel–almost literally–on the page, in a form of erasure poetry followed by brief prose that is not so much interpretation as deepening. McCabe tries strategies with her poems as words and also as meanings. If that makes any sense. Want to know more? McCabe posted about the evolution of this collection on her own blog (which I suggest you follow) here.

Ann E. Michael, Flurries

It could be said that the repetition does serve as an emphasis on that particular passage, perhaps the most central passage of the essay. The shift of poem does add a slightly different coloration on each segment. That in itself is sort of interesting. Yeah, that’s it. I meant to do it that way.

Still, I feel very foolish, as it is such an incredibly obvious error. And I’m a professional proofreader! But, that said, my publisher didn’t find it either. Anyway. What is the lesson here?

Happily, my first response when I found it was to laugh. My second was to shrug. Oh well. Shit, as they say, happens.

I do know that after spending much time with a piece of work, especially a whole manuscript, a veil seems to lower over the thing. I can’t see the trees, can barely make out the forest. It seems a blur of what it has been, what it has become, what it might have been, what I perhaps had intended but since have forgotten. I can’t even answer questions about work after the veil has fallen. People ask me what I meant by things and I just make stuff up on the spot. At some point the work becomes no longer mine but something that has escaped into the world.

That’s why we need copyeditors and proofreaders. Long may they reign. Or rein, as the case may be, as in “in.” Sometimes rain, as in “on the parade.”

But how freeing it is not be upset by a mistake. I mean, I didn’t back over the neighbor’s cat. Nothing was injured or killed in the making of this mistake. This is less a mistake, in some perspective, as an imperfection. The stakes are not particularly high, here. I don’t think the Pulitzer Prize committee will even notice. This is not one of those errors that will haunt me in some 4:00 a.m. self-hatred session.  And believe me, I have made some of those kinds of mistakes. To be able to look at an error and think, well, look at you, being human, is a very nice thing. Mistakes are made. The book as a whole I think is interesting, diverting, creative. Not to mention the gorgeous cover. So. What’s a little imperfection among friends?

Marilyn McCabe, I’ve made a few; or, On Imperfection and Finding Mistakes Too Late in a Manuscript; or, Oops

A family? Yes. I have one. One son is dead, another is somewhat less than sane. (Something whispers in my ear that I failed them both.) There is a daughter, sober, who also has a daughter; the little one is a delight and commands more magic than the rest of us put together. And my wife still puts up with me. Can you imagine? Married to the most minor of poets! Poor dear. 

Family, come and bring the mops! I will pour the soapy water on the floor, the same old floor as always, and together we shall begin to mop.

James Lee Jobe, A family? Yes. I have one.

the future is this bunch of kids‬
‪what they do not know
now‬
‪is that one day they will not know
how‬
‪time flew away the way it did‬
‪the way it did the way it did
and stole their innocence‬
‪and bestowed it on a bunch of kids‬

Jim Young, a bunch of kids

We can never know for sure, something I wish I’d understood when I was standing where she is now. At 22, I thought of life as being something like a novel, a cohesive narrative that could be broken into chapters, each one leading inevitably to the next. That is why it felt so important, especially then, to make the right authorial choices: each would create and eliminate a host of others. Choose wrong, and some beautiful plot lines (about love, children, work, home) would never be written.

Now I can see that if life is like a book, it is more a collection of linked short stories than a novel or an epic poem. It is filled with endings and beginnings, full stops and new starts and long pauses, episodes of living complete unto themselves. Some characters appear only once, while others drift in and out of the larger and looser narrative, sometimes at the center of the action and sometimes only at its periphery. The white space between one story’s ending the the next’s beginning is not empty: It is full of breath, rest, possibility, and actions so small or insignificant they aren’t worth noting–unless, suddenly, they are, at which point a new story begins.

My girl who hated change and clung to family and once charted her options in kaleidoscopic color-coded spreadsheets–a hedge against missed opportunities and lesser choices–has grown into an independent woman who still makes plans but no longer fits them into tiny digital boxes. I’m watching her lean into this moment in the world that is intersecting with this moment of her life and blown the boxes to bits in ways that are both terrifying and freeing, creating a horizon full of nothing certain but uncertainty and change.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Commence again

We can keep this all going,
the simple goodnesses,
the heightened senses,
even without threat of virus,
without sacrifice.
All that is necessary—
a shift in attitude from
being among the condemned—
to a gratitude for what is,
for the absurdity of uncertainty’s
boundless lessons and blessings.

Lana Ayers, Lessons from Lockdown

I wish I believed that God hurls lightning bolts
     like Zeus on his mountain striking evil down.
I want to smash what keeps us in thrall
     to petty kings who feel no empathy
who set their children one against another
     fighting for supplies in a zero-sum game.

My child asks why God doesn’t answer our prayers.
     Grief stoppers my throat. What can I say?

Rachel Barenblat, Pandemic Psalm 2

The past few days feels maybe like a door opened, or maybe a window or maybe a wound.  Some release of pressure and a flowing of something that wasn’t here a couple weeks ago. Maybe it just takes time, or maybe just numbness to what goes on around me.  I feel less paralyzed–with fear? with dread? Nothing has changed and yet maybe something has changed.  And while I don’t know if it’s permanent, I’m gonna go with it and see what happens. The world out there is still crazy and toxic and possibly contagious, but in here, I am feeling more like myself at times.

I’ve been puttering a way on The Shining series, trying out titles, and have at least a chapbook length segment of them, and at least a half dozen more still coming maybe.  They are not bad, even the ones I wrote robotically and less-than-inspired at the beginning of April. The project as a whole is beginning to have a shape–a voice–that I am liking.  I’ve been working on it a bit daily first thing over breakfast, before the scrolling through social media poisons my brain for the day. Write the poem, then check facebook, because inevitably, you will find things to be at best, annoyed about, at worst panicky or livid. Things that make it harder to write, to concentrate, to care.

Kristy Bowen, egress

It’s like how some can have everything and yet have nothing. Or how some can have nothing and yet have everything.

It’s like how certain hearts are dark as an x-ray of a bullet. Or how heaven is written into the fine print of certain people’s laugh lines.

It’s like how we can say the most profound things with our eyes while our lips are hidden behind face masks.

Rich Ferguson, Quarantine Simile

Speak, earth,
of comfort

as all things
come apart

around us.
Let us

fly into
entropy

as into
heaven.

Tom Montag, SPEAK, EARTH

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week found poets reading, writing, not writing, reviewing, gardening, walking, thinking, playing video games, teaching, dreaming, sheltering in place. “These are the quarantine cuts…”


These are the quarantine cuts
we gave each other,

 scissors to hair to floor.
We’ve grown so close,

 like face to mask
and hand to rubber glove.

 I’m your crazy, 
one legged shadow…

Claudia Serea, After so much time together, we finally got matching haircuts

Sometimes at night my kid is scared, can’t sleep
and loss piles up on loss like banks of snow.
Count to twenty while I scrub each hand.
Some days we laugh. This is the life we have.

Loss piles up on loss. The banks of snow…?
When I wasn’t looking, spring arrived.
Some days we laugh. This is the life we have.
Outside, bright daffodils lift up their heads.

Rachel Barenblat, Pandemic pantoum

The world is changing, reaching out, but when the entertainment venues are open, the ability to meet up returns, will anyone remember that there are still those of us who can’t take a weekend off to go to a conference or have the money to get public transport into a bigger city for an event, who physically can’t travel to do a 9-5 job?

I hope this new online, distance-friendly, open culture will continues after the dust from the Corona Virus settles. That my kids can still pop into a friend’s birthday in Australia, even if it’s only to watch him blow out the candles. That I will be able to ‘attend’ an AGM or conference via Zoom. That I will be able to read my work at a magazine launch, even if it’s only on their website afterwards. 

I hope that we remember that ways exist to include those isolated in our worlds and that we are allowed to continue to use technology to build an even wider community, as inclusive as possible. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Five: Isolation After Isolation

We are all living in the multiple registers, processing all the different realities, simultaneously. Obviously, I’m on a computer writing this, at home, safe, with my wifi, so that means that I’m in the privileged class, even if I have lost my job and am living with uncertainty. I can also be hopeful, which is a privilege, too, I don’t lose sight of that. By the end of this we will all have suffered loss of one sort or another. And yet, there will also be pockets of happiness, and we will learn to love life in all sorts of new ways, too. We won’t neglect our sorrows and we shouldn’t neglect our duty to happiness, either.

Probably you’ve read by now Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights? I won’t quote at length from it, but remind you of the chapter where he talks about how we might join our sorrows, and in doing so, he asks, “What if that is joy?” What if we were to knit our sorrows together now, our worries, our waiting, our hopes and our fears? What garment would we make?

What if you could extend your quiet outward? Though we hardly move we are close to the door to the temple….

Shawna Lemay, The Quest of an Inner Quiet

The next photo is of Stonehenge, also taken in the hot summer of 2018. We live in West Wiltshire but often travel past Stonehenge, in the north of the county, on the A303 – which is where I took this photo from the passenger seat of our car, on our way to visit family in London.

There is, of course, something magical and special about this ancient site, and it always strikes me as extraordinary, however many times I’ve seen it,  that it suddenly appears by the side of the road, without fanfare.  I remember a time when the whole site was open to the public to visit, no barriers, no financial charge.  I don’t visit it these days (even before lockdown) as I hate queues and crowds of people so I don’t like visiting tourist sites in general.  My son has been to the summer solstice at Stonehenge several times and says it’s wonderful.

I like the sense of travel in this photo, a sense of escape.  I’m looking forward to being able to go places again, on a whim, without planning, just taking off somewhere.  What must those stones make of what’s happening to the world at the moment? Have they seen it all before?

Josephine Corcoran, Three photos from my camera roll

I woke up at 3:00 am thinking about bees (it’s one day before my 60th birthday, and I still can’t sleep through the night). The day before, my son and I were sitting in the garden when a swarm of bees flew over our heads and settled in a tree across the street. The sound of a bee swarm is alarming, but bees are at their least dangerous when swarming. They have no home to defend; they’re following the queen, who, for reasons known only to her, has decided it’s time to leave the hive and move somewhere new.

In Oregon, we’re in Week 7 of the coronavirus stay-at-home order. Like many of us, I’m having trouble sleeping, but I’m used to that. When I can’t sleep, sometimes I recite poetry in my head. After I thought of yesterday’s bee swarm, these lines from W.B. Yeats’s immortal poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” popped into my brain:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

I’ve fallen in love with a lot of poems, memorized them, idolized them, and, once the glamour wore off, seen them for what they really were: a pile of words containing all the flaws of their creators. But “Innisfree” has never lost its appeal, no matter how many times I read it. Deep in the night, I soothed myself with the lines

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

Erica Goss, Bee-loud Brains

With COVID-19, our days of being nomads are over. Sheltering at home for the duration of the pandemic gives our roots time to set and grow. We can see that life is more about how we are, much more than where we might grow. Relax and breathe. Dig deep. 

James Lee Jobe, With COVID-19, our days of being nomads are over.

Although it has been allowed here – all along – to gather in groups of 5 or less (keeping a responsible physical distance), I have not been around other people for social reasons for 43 days. Yesterday, I showed up for a friend. To be with friends.

I made a decision yesterday to remain diligent and responsible, but to let go of fear.

I know that fear is a useful emotion. But it is not a useful state-of-being. When E. and I hiked across the Hardanger plateau on our honeymoon, we had to ford some powerful rivers, and scramble along some steep screes, with 25 kilos on my back. I took note of the fear, and regarded it as an important signpost to heed, but not as something I needed to slip into my pack and carry with me.  I knew that would put my health at risk.

Yesterday I witnessed a work in progress – a site-specific performance that was beautiful for so many reasons. The performer was wearing a bright orange suit, and at one point danced her way down a long stretch of a pedestrian path. The sky was blue, the birds were calling, and I could hear water gurgling through a drain somewhere in the field.

It was a celebration of life. But watching her shrink in the distance as the path narrowed, it was impossible not to contemplate the fact that our lives encompass deaths.

Ren Powell, Circles of Awareness

Flat and metallic, my tongue  
like disinfected aluminum.  The scent 
conveyed from nose to throat,
a sympathetic gag almost. 
Vapors wave before my eyes.
Clorox, ghost of scents past,
seemingly obsolete, you’ve come back.

You were banned, like death,
things we thought we’d conquered.
The stink of fear, soured dispositions,
army hospitals of World War I.

Jill Pearlman, Olfactory

Here’s what’s more sobering:  now all of my undergraduate English professors are dead.  I realized I wasn’t sure about one of them, but the miracles of the Internet supplied the information.  My Shakespeare professor, Dr. Steen Spove, died in 2008 of pancreatic cancer. 

When my favorite English professor, Dr. Gayle Swanson died in 2014, I blogged about it here and here.  Much of what I wrote about her applies to the whole English department of Newberry College when I attended.

I learned to love literature in a variety of ways through the teaching of all of those faculty members in the English department.  I learned to love a variety of works of literature.  Granted, the reading lists were traditional, but they gave me a solid grounding.

And when I wanted to explore more, to examine the women that had been left out of our beloved Norton anthologies, not one professor discouraged me–no, that would come later in graduate school.  My undergraduate professors were interested to see what I would come up with, and they let me loose on the margins of the canon.

They also nurtured my writing skills and talents–of course, you’d expect English majors to be nurtured this way, but after shepherding students for decades, I’m more in awe of this now than I was then.

When I look back, I am astounded at how open our professors were, how they had us over to their houses (and their second houses).  I’m amazed at how many cultural opportunities they made possible, both by inviting authors to come to us and by taking us on field trips to see authors and other intellectuals.

Part of me will always want that kind of teaching life for myself, the joys of a small, liberal arts college.  Part of me has this sobering realization that many of those types of schools may not survive this time of pandemic, when this old-fashioned kind of teaching, learning, and living in close proximity may not be feasible.  I know that many of the small, liberal arts colleges weren’t doing well before the pandemic, and they may not have the dexterity to survive into what will be the new reality.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Last English Professor

I started reading this book [Oculus by Sally Wen Mao] in mid-January and created the bones for these reading notes at that same time. I didn’t get very far. The anxious mood I’d been combating proved to be more formidable than I’d hoped, and so I walked away from my reading/writing goals without even realizing I’d done so. I was fortunate to get back into therapy, which has been a great comfort, but the descent into lock down/quarantine (#socialdistancing to fight the pandemic) happened at roughly the same time. I’ve been lucky enough to continue to work from the safety of my home and be paid, but it’s been difficult in its own way. All of that is a story for another post, and I do hope to explore it at some point, but I return to this book in the context of all of that. Deep into all of that. Weeks and weeks deep. Layers and layers deep.

Oculus starts with these three lines: “Forgive me if the wind stole / the howl from my mouth and whipped / it against your windowpanes.” This COVID-19 quarantine seems to be making everything hurt just a little — or even a lot — more. My initial notes about “Ghost Story,” the collection’s opening poem, captured only these lines: “We relied on our plasma television / to pull us back to the world again.” In light of the pandemic, I seem to be reading much more into it now. For example, “the curtains parted, exposing / us to the wolves above.” And “we built new barricades / between ourselves.” And “that was the last time I trusted a body that touched me.” And “a heart broken / joins another chorus. Can you hear / the chorus speak? Can you bear / it?” Has the pandemic changed all the meanings? I don’t want to imply that the poem is now “about” the global crisis. It isn’t. It’s still about the loneliness that exists inside a relationship when it isn’t working. However, what I am wondering is whether or not being gutted by what’s going on in the world has heightened our senses. Are we more attuned to the pain of others? Are we any more likely to feel the suffering of others in our own bodies? As poets, we’ve been like this all along to a degree. It’s our superpower (and our struggle). But I do believe there’s something incredibly powerful emerging from the collective compassion and unrest.

Another way to look at all that is just to say that poetry meets us where we are. It’s as much what we bring to it as it is what the poet painstakingly sculpts. As a poet that’s freeing. It’s exhilarating. It’s also god damned infuriating.

Carolee Bennett, “if this doesn’t comfort you”

Not only is his name essentially a pun—“patient” as both noun and adjective—and not only does the name “Patient” efface a “wrong name” that is never revealed, but we are divided further in our understanding of Patient through consideration of just what it means, medically, to be a patient. A patient’s subjectivity is one which may be experienced more as subjection; moreover, that subjection is itself split between the doctor whose care he is in and the disease itself. Thus, a patient can be seen as a site of radically fractured subjectivity: he is a site of deferral (“patience,” again) between self and other, sickness and cure.

R.M. Haines, Reading the Pharmakon: Part II

Spilt Milk was one of several books, also including Susan Wicks’s Singing Underwater and Thom Gunn’s Collected, which, after a few years’ absence, coaxed me back into writing poetry in the late 1990s. I remember reading it by a pool c.1998 and thinking it was the ideal holiday poetry collection, because it’s suffused with what became Sarah Maguire’s perennial themes: heat, sultriness, sensuality, sex, food, gardens, a tangible sense of place – her native West London, Mediterranean Europe and the Middle East – and Irishness, of her birth-mother and adoptive parents. Each poem seems so well-made and moves around through time and space.

But, like The Pomegranates of Kandahar, Maguire’s last collection published while she was alive, it also has a sharp political sense: of the uncertain times just before, and then after, the fall of the Berlin Wall; of women’s rights; of respect and support for migrants; and much else besides, but without seeming forced or didactic. I think that’s a very difficult balance to achieve. (Maguire went on, of course, to found the deeply important Poetry Translation Centre.)

Matthew Paul, On Sarah Maguire’s Spilt Milk

There’s also an acute sense of the absurd, as when, in the care home, the poet turns his father’s watch back an hour. It’s an act of love for a man who has forgotten where he is: ‘By night, he gets half-dressed for going out: “To interrogate a Russian spy” ‘. Paul retains a sense of humour here that could so easily be lost. When we get to the prose poem ‘D Word’, we learn that, ‘Dad’s been disturbing other patients by yelling out’. Placed in a side room, he barks ‘Come on’. Paul carefully handles the possibilities of what this actually means: perhaps his father is calling to him and his brother, or the cat. But who could have imagined that final interpretation, that he’s calling to ‘death itself’. It’s a brave last line, short and powerful, stopping the reader in their tracks.

In the final poem, ‘Queen Queenie’, the ‘you’ is presumably Paul’s mother after his father’s death. Rather than seeing hope in nature, she hears it in the late blackberries, ‘still singing lustily on their bush’. Those singing blackberries are such an uplifting, life-affirming image and absolutely the right note to end on.

This is a very coherent collection. The blurb indicates that the poems have been written over a span of 30 years. I like that. It indicates a willingness to wait, to be attentive, to let the poems come to you. Perhaps this accounts for the variety of characters and situations Paul is able to relay, and the scope of the book. All in all, it’s a very satisfying read.

Julie Mellor, A Review of Matthew Paul’s ‘The Evening Entertainment’

HUNTER MNEMONICS, Deborah WoodardHemel Press, 2008, illustrated by Heide Hinrichs, $6 paper, http://www.4h-club.org/hemel.html.

It seemed like cheating to include  this slim chapbook of only 5 prose poems in my month-long read-a-thon, so I read it twice. The images are dream-like, or they are like images drawn from a fairy tale you heard as a child and have never since been able to find. It casts a spell. Certain motifs repeat and repeat, poem to poem, like stones you might step on to cross a creek. It immerses you in something, but when you emerge, you’re not quite sure what it was.

I heard Woodard read these, and afterwards I couldn’t get them out of my head, so I contacted her and she gave me a copy. Does it depict a walk in the woods as a child, to a town that no longer exists? Or is it a walk in imagination?

Bethany Reid, Deborah Woodard

Marianne Chan’s brilliant debut collection [All Heathens] engages a wide array of topics with insight, wit, and brio: not only religion but colonization, copulation, space exploration, and family relations (her mother is a funny and wonderful recurring character). I fell hard for Chan’s work in the process of selecting pieces she had submitted to Shenandoah, and All Heathens expands on the pleasures of those pieces in a satisfying way. As I take notes for these micro-reviews I make notes in the back of each book about zingy lines and titles, and there are too many here to list. One of the most hilariously wicked poems is a retort to “When the Man at the Party Told Me He Wanted to Own a Filipino,” and there are so many great metaphors, too (“the sun was hot yellow tea in a saucer”). A few lines near the beginning of All Heathens crystallize something about the book for me: “my mother keeps telling me/ that I should move my hips when I dance, because I am as stiff/ as a Methodist church in the suburbs…” I’ve never met this author and can’t tell you how she would boogie if this virtual salon ended in a dance party, but her poems are full of oscillations and surprising turns that could constitute poetry’s answer to her mother’s instruction. Words can move, too.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #8 with Marianne Chan

During this crisis I’ve been pulling one book at a time from my poetry shelves and delving into it over a period of days. Searching might be a better word — for kindred spirits, and expressions of emotion and lived experience that feel resonant with my own. There aren’t going to be literal parallels because this particular crisis is unprecedented, and that’s not what I’m looking for. It’s more a search for people who also walked in some sort of darkness but faced it squarely, and found meaning in it, or in spite of it.

That’s different than looking for naive hope, or painting pretty pictures as a distraction. I’m grateful for all the beauty and hopefulness I see or am able to create, don’t get me wrong. As a writer and thinker, I just don’t seem to be able to avoid talking or writing or reading about the ignorance, cruelty, heartlessness, and sheer evil that are going on, especially in America; or the risks and sacrifices of the largely anonymous and often poorly paid people providing critical services; or the immense sadness that comes from this massive worldwide loss of life — life in every sense of the word.

I wish it were different, but I’m not particularly optimistic about the future; we humans don’t learn very well from history or our own mistakes, and most of us are primarily selfish and focused on the short-term. Nevertheless, love is always present, and where there’s love, we can also find light and hope. Naive liberalism will get us nowhere; the forces arrayed against it are too great, and too entrenched in most of our societies and governments. I think it’s actually more hopeful to avoid wishful thinking and instead see things as they actually are — and find ourselves and our way forward centered within that reality. As Thomas Merton wrote, we need to cultivate the capacity to hold the darkness and the light together, simultaneously, because that is the way the world actually is. Certain poetry does that, and music, and some people also do it — usually very quietly — in the way they live their lives.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 19: A Spade

No grief is foreign to us
anymore: the grief of birds
stranded between seasons,
the fruit on the tree
still green as a stone with no
way to hasten its sugar. New
strains invisibly misting
each bench in the park, yellow
Xs of tape marking off space
on one side.

Luisa A. Igloria, Can the ordinary be foreign as the death of a cloud?

Once we are set free

from this quarantine,

I will search beneath your bed to ensure there are no more monsters—

monsters bearing the odor of heartbreak; monsters bearing smiles whose teeth are chipped tombstones; monsters stealing wonder and leaving only wounds.

Rich Ferguson, In Praise of Beastless Beds

Life could be worse, than to pass the night while reclined.
Still, this is a hard place to be. Harsh lights erode
any sense of mystery, while puzzles remain
formulaic and vague, shrinking into shadows
at the edges of the room. Throw beauty a bone
with a framed department store poster, flowering
like bruises under her skin. Her mind wandering,
wired-down arms puddle on the mattress (gravity
dense), while x-rays steam open the chest cavity.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah, Reclining

on a scale of one to ten describe your wristlet your shrunken paps your crushed toe your shredded pancreas your questionable meds have you ever been in a psychiatric ward do not do not answer yes do not cry or laugh or move your mouth or eyes the pain tractate here is a chart with cartoon faces from pale to fire ant red and growl point to the cartoon pain picture on the scale of one to ten that matches your experience inside the hospital machinery excuse me excuse me eat the contents of this paper cup is it not the communion of the body of Christ point to the cartoon face that matches your face equally is this not the face of Christ describe the contents of your purse point to the cartoon face on the pain scale that matches the contents of your purse pain equally take this cup in remembrance of me take this cup let this cup pass from me today is the last day of lent Spy Wednesday commemorating the day Judas sealed the fate of Jesus with his spittle point to the cartoon face of Jesus on the pain scale that most closely matches Judas’s sorrow and inability to make and keep friends

Rebecca Loudon, corona 16.

we can’t see you yet
it just goes round and round
turn on the audio

only one right answer
make do and mending
using up scraps

thrushes wake me
we are locked in
serves us right

dragons emerge
and there are bitterns
the names are disappearing

Ama Bolton, ABCD: April 2020

Sometime last spring I blogged about a line of Sherwood Anderson that Raymond Carver was fond of and used for the epigram for Harley’s Swans, one of his poems from In a Marine Light.

I’m trying again. A man has to begin over and over – to try to think and feel only in a very limited field, the house on the street, the man at the corner drug store.

Sherwood Anderson, from a letter

I thought about it again this weekend googling the work of my new favourite Swedish-American poet Malena Mörling. It puts me in mind of what I am trying to reach for most often at the moment, a very small locus of attention that will bear the weight of my witness as well as help me endure the weight of the things I am myself carrying. It is a tall order, I know. I used to read Carver in this way (I say used to read: I haven’t read him for a while), and also Jaan Kaplinski. Now, more than ever, it is James Schuyler. A cat. A blade of grass. Shadows. Just sitting at the table of good friends.

The kind of thing I am talking about is summed up nicely by Graham Clarke, from a book called The Carver Chronotype. The kind of writing I am looking for just now (and which I think the above all excel at) is ‘a self-consciously limited area of attention in order to achieve as particular a realization as possible of individual marks and spaces’.

Anthony Wilson, We have to have great meals

lockdown
painting the fence again
woodland green

Jim Young [no title]

Remember when I used to write about poetry? About reading poetry? About *writing* poetry? Yeah, me too. Good times.

Actually, I’ve been reading in small, stolen minutes Aziza Barnes’ I Be But I Ain’t. I began that book years ago when visiting Poet’s House in NYC — I found it on the shelves and began reading it while I waited to attend some reading downtown. I loved it, felt disappointed I had to put it back on the shelves and leave it there — and so, a couple of weeks later, or maybe months, bought a copy — and then didn’t pick it back up again until just now. No idea why. It’s so very good.

I’ve had to do a lot of rereading, too, for the classes I’m teaching, so I’m also reading things that are not poetry. […]

[M]y novel class is reading The Corrections, which I pair with The Sound and the Fury, and is normally a very apt and instructive pairing. BUT GOOD GOD. Assigning a book that actively works to make you loathe the characters, from which you’d very much like to *escape* the characters, just doesn’t sit well with the close quarters of quarantine. I have no idea how the students in that class will take it. What a note on which to end the semester! (Because it’s 500 plus pages, we’re going to be reading it as our last complete work of the course).

I’m writing small, weird pieces in the mornings this week. And then moving on to emails, class prep, my kids’ distance learning, etc. Eventually I’d like to play with these morning sketches and see if they can be turned into actual poems, but that *eventually* seems like a very long way off.

Still, writing *something* makes me feel a little more like my usual self. My Quarantine Self is not exactly a chick I want to be good friends with. The sooner she can move on, the better.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, 2020 Quarantine/Social Isolation Report That Again, No One Asked For

This morning I woke in the former world,
the world before the virus, or so I believed.
The sun had the same kiss of brass to it
as it does in this post Covid 19 morning.
The scent of spring was similarly buoyant
on the morning breeze, daffodils and the early
hyacinths. The same black-mohawked Steller’s Jay
perched on the edge of the roof, staring down
at the morning coastline below our hillside,
sea dark and serene, swells horizonward with
white crests like bobbing gulls.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Another World, a pandemic poem

In response to the prompt, I freewrote a bit about my fascination with apples. In my grandmother’s village, I could pick an apple off the tree, wipe it on my shirt, and bite into it right there, while standing next to the tree that had just given me one of its children to eat. Terrible, I know. Borderline cannibalistic. Those weren’t pretty apples, by the way. Not the garden of Eden type. But they tasted heavenly. Ah, the kind of imaginary conversations one can have with an apple tree, thanking it for its gifts, apologizing for eating its children, asking the tree to adopt me instead, promising to spread apple seeds far and wide. I took out most of this half-remembered and slightly unhinged conversation. Once the poem got going, there didn’t seem to be room for it anymore.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 24

A couple of weeks ago I had the thought of writing to friends, to ask how they are and tell them what’s going on in our little world-bubble. But I confess my handwriting is poor, and after 20 years of RSI it hurts to write longhand. Then I remembered how much I’d enjoyed making ‘Foot Wear’, my little A6 sized pamphlet, and thought I would revive the quaint art of the ‘notelet’ – a sort of cross between a card and a letter. I have a large stock of good quality A5 paper, so I started painting sheets of them, just random background paint, the more sloshed-on the better. When they were dry, I flattened them between the pages of my OED, then set about trimming and pamphlet-binding two sheets together into little A6 booklets. But what to put in them? I decided on a kind of mini-magazine – there was space for one poem (something I liked and/or felt was appropriate, but not one of mine), one ‘topical’ prose extract or flash fiction, a recipe and a knot instructional (I’m big into knots at the moment). It seemed a bit dry, so I got out my copy of the fascinating British Poetry Magazines 1914 – 2000 and photocopied a few of the poetry magazine covers from times past. And added a postcard. The notelets were all slightly different – I tried to choose the elements according to the person I was sending to.

When it came to writing in the notelets and sending them out, I wondered if I’d gone a bit crazy. I could picture some of the recipients opening and thinking ‘oh no, Robin’s lost it’. But in a good way I hoped! In actual fact I’ve had some really lovely responses, including a handwritten card and letter, and no-one seems to have been weirded-out. One friend said, ‘it’s fascinating to see what people get up to during a lockdown!’ I’ll take that!

Robin Houghton, Just a notelet…

Lalalalala, nothing is happening. We are not in the middle of a permanently life-altering pandemic and I know this because in my world, the world of House Flipper, everything is going swimmingly. I recently entered my first gardening contest and I scored full points! This means that I sold my house for fifty percent more than it would normally go for, bringing my total net worth to a cool 2 mil. See? It’s all great. 

In preparing for my big win, I read up on the ins and outs of the garden contest, and I found it very revealing in regards to what Europeans think of Americans. (I believe the game is made in Poland.) There are four garden categories: English, Crop, Modern and American. There are certain elements required for each one, and for the American garden, (which I did because this is ‘Merica), it must include, bizarrely, a pizza oven, a barbecue grill, a picnic table and chairs, and a hammock. “Interesting,” I thought. “Someone thinks Americans are food-obsessed sloths.” But then I read further and saw that it must also include at least three pieces of “outdoor” gym equipment and a swimming pool. So which is it, Europe? Are we lazy slobs or fitness-obsessed narcissists? The other odd thing is their ideas about conifers. To win, your American Garden must be chock full of conifers. Conifers, conifers, conifers. Can’t have enough of them, apparently. I wanted to shout the whole time I was adding more and more conifers, conifers do not grow in every state in the U.S.! But ultimately, I won, so the joke’s on them.

Kristen McHenry, Too Many Conifers, Puffy Ginger vs Ripped Adonis, Hospital Update

I was talking to a friend yesterday about reading during the quarantine. We were talking about how much we hated The Road, and I commented that Cormac was projecting his own inner bleakness onto his apocalypse. I brought up Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John; one imagines a heroine who rescues the world with her creative force, and the other imagines a post-pandemic world welcoming a traveling tour of Shakespeare performers, a world of grief and terror, sure, but with room for art and artists.  These two books, I think, find the hope in the apocalypse. I like to think Field Guide to the End of the World was my attempt to imagine all the apocalypse scenarios, from Twilight Zone to 2012, with an eye towards the hope and humor of those scenarios. It is intensely difficult to keep your sense of humor and hope right now, I know. It’s scary. I’m having nightmares almost every night.

Tell me how you are coping. Do you have more reading suggestions?  (I also recommended Rebecca Solnit’s Paradise Built in Hell, a hopeful version of disaster history in the United States.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Birthdays During Quarantine, First Pink Dogwood and Goldfinch, Finding Hope In the Apocalypse

It is primarily instinctive, but it has been clearly shown that birds that build intricate nests…learn and become better nest builders over time.

Look at what it is that makes a nest: Layers. Strands of this and snippets of that: hair, grass, needle, leaf. And, too: Tenacity, instinct, skill. How many wingbeats must it take? How many miles does a bird traverse back and forth, back and forth, to make its shelter, to attract and secure its mate?

It’s a delicate business, the weaving in of new material to create the nest cup. 

Think of what it is that makes a cup and what it’s for: Curves, walls, a space in which to keep things–water, keys, buttons, change. What is an egg’s shell but a cup full of change? And a nest but a cup full of shells?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Shelter in place

Like many poets in April, National Poetry Month, I’ve been writing a poem a day. I provided prompts for an online writing workshop I attend and adapted those prompts for the public library, where they are posted weekly on social media, so patrons and poets in the community can write along. I had hoped to offer and to write on a variety of topics, not to be preoccupied with quarantine, lockdown, worry, or disease, but worry often creeps in—to my own poems and those of my fellow poets.

Here’s one, for example, that began as the heart’s response to the sound of the train, just before it was leaving town headed north. I used to ride that train often, back and forth to Chicago, and would tell my husband to listen for the train horn and head for the station to pick me up. Then an ordinance was passed, establishing a Quiet Zone in town, and hearing the train now is rare.

Overground Railroad

Leaving town, the train moans once
on the cold air, unwelcome April snow
coming down like rain on silent lawns,
into silent fields. It might be a new
crew, unaware of the ordinance against
the train sounding its horn in town.
Who’s riding the train now? Is it mostly
empty, one living being for every six ghostly
passengers? By now, the train has passed
the ghost house three stories high, a stop
on the Underground Railroad, or rumored
to be. By now, the train can sound its horn
at crossings if it wants, can moan and groan,
can wail and keen, lament to heart’s content.

Kathleen Kirk, April Poem-a-Day

In my NaPoWriMo World – nothing. It’s apparent I’m not going to be able to participate this year so I’ve given myself permission to be ok with it. My days seem to fly by and, honestly, I seem to have lost interest – for now, anyway – in writing poetry. I find myself more drawn to flash fiction and nonfiction. In fact, I took a week-end intensive flash cnf class with the wonderful Kathy Fish and thoroughly enjoyed it. I produced nine flash pieces that I can build on and received lots of support from Kathy and the other class participants. I’m taking a Hermit Crab class in May from another wonderful flash writer, Cheryl Pappas, and looking forward to it! I haven’t been submitting much at all but I do have a poem coming out in MORIA and a flash fiction coming out in Flash Frontier soon. In other writing news, I’ve joined the new Fractured Lit magazine as a reader so be on the lookout for our first issue. Right now I’m doing more reading than writing and that seems to fit into my life better. I’m sure the writing will return but I’m not going to worry about it. These days of social distancing and sheltering at home present a good opportunity to do some reading. Go for it!

Charlotte Hamrick, What’s Happening

Franciscan priest and ecumenical teacher Richard Rohr points out that we cannot know the deepest meaning of love unless and until we “allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way.” It is through great suffering, he says, that we find great love.

So to whom do we look when we look past ourselves and our own fears, anxiety, and suffering?

Let’s begin with every person who is unlike us: the Guatemalan mother separated from her two-year-old at the U.S.-Mexico border. The teenager sent alone across the desert to make a new life in America but caught and deported after months in a crowded ICE facility. The men and women whose addictions keep them on the streets, whose fragile minds prevent them from accepting shelter. The food-deprived. The drug-addicted. Prisoners in Rikers Island jail. The men digging the trench graves on New York City’s Hart Island. The women forced to share space with their domestic abusers. The children given up for adoption. Single, working mothers with no childcare. Syrian and Iraqi and Afghani refugees and interpreters. Rohingya refugees. Anyone seeking asylum in the United States.

Let us add: funeral home staff. Priests and other clergy. Police and firefighters.

Let us add: our emergency medical technicians, nurses, and doctors working their relentless shifts with too little equipment and no time to save the sick who arrive too late at our hospitals’ doors.

Let us add: The scientists warned not to speak out. The whistleblowers fired because they spoke out. The artists and poets who are censored. The writers who refuse to stop writing.

Let us add: the now-unemployed and all deemed “essential”. The small business owners gone under.

Let us add: the immuno-compromised. Those with disabilities. Those in group homes. Our friends with cancer. Our mothers and fathers in nursing facilities and assisted-living homes. Our seniors who live alone. Every person in the U.S lacking health insurance. 

Let us add: the farmers. The delivery drivers. Our grocery store employees. Our servers.

Let us add: those who give us their false moral equations and false life choices.

Think what it means to say, “We’re all in this together.” “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XV

Send my ashes
to some rocky

sharpness on Mars.
I haven’t done

enough for this
earth to want me.

Tom Montag, BURIAL PLANS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 16

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.

In this time of global crisis, who better to parse the strangeness than poets? Defamiliarization is our stock in trade. But poetry bloggers are also still enthusing about poems and collections we love. We’re just a little stunned that non-poets lately seem to be joining us in this. What took y’all so long? Should we be pleased or alarmed that it apparently required an apocalypse to remind some people that poetry exists?

One more note before we get to the digest, a CALL FOR POETS: Jason Crane, whose poems sometimes appear in this digest, is a long-time podcaster (The Jazz Session) and radio guy whose newest podcast is called A Brief Chat. The show has just started Poetry Fridays. Each Friday Jason features a poet reading 8-9 minutes of their own work. If you’re interested in contributing poems for an episode, email him at jason@abriefchat.com.


I went to a place of rewilding this morning thinking I would beat the sun and I was shocked at the desolation I felt the sudden dark sky the sad abandoned doll it mirrored my mood I took two of my books to John the Carpenter and left them on top of his goat house in a blue sparkly Christmas bag I have been fighting depression which makes its own rules outside the day to day survival grab I crave anything from a restaurant that I don’t have to cook last night I dreamed someone cleaved an axe straight into my head dreams and more dreams every night dreaming into the new world webbing of dreams so many of us are dreaming it is Saturday but it feels like Sunday as the days smash one into another

Rebecca Loudon, Day 45

One of my favorite pieces of music is Antonin Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings. Today, I listened to it on a loop, which I tend to do with most of the music I love, much to the dismay of my husband, children, and dog. That second movement in Dvořák’s Serenade melts me into a puddle no matter how many times I hear it. I hope that today’s poem conveys a smidgen of the ecstatic experience I have when listening to this piece.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 15

After the pandemic has passed, the lockdowns persist: this is the new normal…

Recorded during the 2020 coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic mostly on location at Sleep’s Hill, Blackwood and Belair, South Australia, 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. [Click through to watch the videopoem.]

Ian Gibbins, ISOLATION PROCEDURES

An afternoon walk. Bugle and white bugle in the meadow above Tor Wood, and bluebells, white dead-nettle, primroses and ramsons on the way to King Castle Wood.

King Castle Wood covers the remains of an iron-age fortified hilltop enclosure and is rich in native trees and wild flowers. Today it was all bluebells and birdsong and ferns unfurling. Guelder Rose and Hawthorn were just coming into flower.

In a lovely meadow called The Lyatt, on the far side of the wood, I saw a scattering of Early Purple orchids, once a common plant of chalk or limestone meadows and ancient woodland. […]

I got home in time for tea and cake before a Zoom recording of ten poets responding to “Rise: from one island to another”, a beautiful and disturbing work; you can see it here.

Ama Bolton, Week 5 of distancing

If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?

I would say I am horribly sad and that some days I cannot even bear it. I would say writing a book of poems about the precarity of our lives in this brutal era only to have the era be too precarious for the poems has been staggering. I would say that beauty and song have a nagging way of sneaking up on me despite my rage and grief. I would say: I am waking up at midnight and keeping a raw insomniac’s journal. I would say I feel unkempt and also deeply alive. I would say “thank you so much for asking.”

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Poetry Salon with Tess Taylor

I’ve been watching a hell of a lot of apocalypse movies.  While the pandemic ones are a little too much right now, I do take some weird sort of comfort from other threats–zombies, aliens, global warming, weather disasters, volcanoes, earthquakes, meteors, giant reptiles.   While I wouldn’t say I’ve been bingeing things as I might on weekends previously, I still have more late-night movie watching time than when I’m working late and usually go to sleep as soon as I hit the blankets. Some of them are bad.  Some of them decent . Some of them not at all what I expected.

Kristy Bowen, disaster dreams

People say that Jesus is coming back,
But they don’t know when.
An owl lives in the stand of pines
Across the street from my house;
I hear her, but I never see her.
If she’s silent, how can I know
when she is there and when she is not?
She blends in so nicely.
If Jesus doesn’t tell anyone,
How will they know he is back?

James Lee Jobe, People say that Jesus is coming back

Do not fear
the pain you know.

It already wears you
like an old coat.

Tom Montag, DO NOT FEAR

Habits are powerful things. That’s why it’s so hard to kick the bad ones. But knowing a habit is power, you can cultivate the habit. Starting with twenty minutes. Who can’t sit in front of their screen for that long? Even if you write just one word, you’ve done your job.

Like singing or dancing, you can increase your writing endurance with practice. It, too, is a muscle — just a mental one.

Surviving a pandemic while writing is like surviving my brother’s death through writing. That’s when I began this daily practice. It was my escape from the pain. It’s become my joy through whatever else is going on in life, whether it’s tedium, stress, crazy-busy work times, anxiety, or sheltering in my home. At least I’m lucky enough to have food, a roof, and a laptop. And time and my imagination. The basics for a writer.

Rachel Dacus, Writing Through a Pandemic

Every few
rows there’s a stand with a large bottle
of hand sanitizer, but it’s heartbreaking to see
they still keep lobsters in tanks, their large
crusher claws bound close to their heads
with broad rubber bands, their walking legs
weakly paddling water. Who of us will be spared,
will pare away the extra letters to get to
the spar, which the dictionary describes as
the main longitudinal beam of an airplane wing?
Sticks of celery are green as grasshopper
bodies. Every now and then a person jumps
when someone is about to come too close.
In their baskets, loaves of bread are breathing.

Luisa A. Igloria, Day 39

Our parish priest holds twice weekly gatherings on Zoom for anyone who wants to check-in, say hello, hear another’s voice boom through the quiet of isolation or quarantine. This week a participant remarked on a fleeting but nonetheless present sense that faith wasn’t holding, wasn’t enough sometimes to carry her through the day. I wanted to give her a hug. In this pandemic, the only thing we can control is how we choose to spend the day we wake to, and even waking is a miracle. I think the crisis has been hard on those who are used to filling a day with noise and movement, who haven’t practiced finding respite by being deeply silent. In the many early hours when others are sleeping and I’m not, I’ve focused my attention on the silence, been surprised by the chitter of birds in bushes outside my window, listened to how rain sounds the closer it gets to ground, how wind sweeps through a roof space, how steps on a sidewalk come to a stop. Faith holds when you unshackle yourself from time and doing, allow yourself to be curious, to believe such things go on, though you’d swear you were just dreaming.

Maureen E. Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XIV

I have always found it comforting when people of great faith admit to doubt. Then I know they are living in the same world I live in. I was going to write that these people are “honest with themselves”, but that is a judgment.

Perhaps there are people in the world who experience the world as having footholds, certainties. Me assuming otherwise is a projection of my own perspective as the correct perspective. And has a consequence of condescension at best, of accusation at worst.

Best – worst. Yeah, they are both unproductive at any rate. And neither is a form of compassion.

Judgement doesn’t have an antonym in my dictionary. Maybe it is compassion? With compassion, one can explain consequences, but one can never sit in judgement. Maybe we should do away with judges and replace them all with arbitrators.

I’ve been walking these moors for more than twenty years now, and still I can be uncertain of the ground. I can find myself suddenly ankle-deep in water, tossed by a stone tipping on a hidden fulcrum.

But isn’t that exactly why we choose to walk these trails? Isn’t that – the uncertainty – the source of the surprising joy that keeps us from being jaded with the world?

Ren Powell, Walking the Walk

the light is the same, it is‬
‪we who have lost our innocence;‬
‪hit in the solar plexus‬
‪while the sun still shines.‬
‪breathless we contemplate ‬
‪darkness ‬
‪breathless we count‬
‪our blessings‬

Jim Young, covid dawn

So I felt, “These are hard to read.” Because it can be uncomfortable to stay, purposely, in such ambiguous moments. I found the poems [in pray me stay eager by Ellen Doré Watson] puzzling for awhile until I stuck with the reading and settled into the poet’s sound and methods. And then, response, reward: ideas and experiences that struck chords, places evoked, sentences that capture the way human beings think and process their circumstances. Revelations, even.

Maybe I was just in the wrong mood for reading when I started this book…there are times when I want an “easy read,” a comforting novel with a happy ending for example. Such texts, though, seldom teach me or show me anything new, whereas pray me stay eager has made me think about the mechanics of a line of poetry as well as sound, and touched me deeply as the poet writes of her aged father and the deaths of friends and her keen appreciation of the world and the word.

Ann E. Michael, Reading, eagerly

To my mind, this is an undeniably singular and astonishing form of writing. For many like me, the relentless power and originality of this style will be all one needs to be persuaded. For despite, or in addition to, the extreme technicality of some diction (osteocyte, telomere, rhotic-to-sibilant, etc), there is a deeper movement going on here, a process of unfolding, that does not require us to grasp the precise denotative meaning of each element (though there is nothing stopping one from trying). And so instead of asking, “What exactly does this mean?” the more relevant question is, What is this doing? How is it working? What is the operation it is performing and how can I follow its maneuvers? And how might I lose myself in them more knowingly?

R.M. Haines, Reading the Pharmakon: Part I

To say that [Ian] House’s poetry embraces ekphrasis does not do justice to what has clearly been a life’s project for him. His work, I think, transcends the very idea of ekphrastic poetry and finds instead an expression of the symbiosis of life and art. Yes, he describes visual works of art, as traditional ekphrasis would, and he does so beautifully, as in his central sequence of seven poems based on the paintings of Paul Nash ‘It Must Change’: e.g. “blazing yellows and oranges / intenser than all imagining / fierce as a fusion reactor / self-unsparing self-consuming / the sunflower hurtles downhill” from the sixth poem in the sequence (‘It Must Burn’). But many of his poems are not descriptions as much as contemplations and digressions, as in ‘Now You See It’, inspired by Ai Weiwei’s 1995 triptych ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn’ in which House recreates the heartbreaking descent towards the ground of a priceless work of art before questioning our reaction as viewers (“Couldn’t you admire the man / who had the balls…?”) and then proposing a way of understanding the problems surrounding Weiwei’s paradoxically iconoclastic artwork (“We… / wanted someone to tell us / … / that we share no genes with the millions / who’ve shattered statues, burned books.”).

Chris Edgoose, A Glimpse of What Hovers: Just a Moment by Ian House

In Octavia Cades’ brilliant collection of poetry Mary Shelley Makes a Monster, the famous author of Frankenstein crafts a creature out of ink, mirrors, and the remnants of her own heartbreak and sorrow. Abandoned and alone after Shelley’s death, the monster searches for a mother to fill her place. Its journey carries it across continents and time, visiting other female authors throughout the decades — Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Octavia Butler, and others. Pulling from the biographical accounts of these amazing authors, these poems beautifully examine the nature of art and creation, reading and consumption, and how monsters are really reflections of ourselves.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Mary Shelly Makes a Monster by Octavia Cade

I met Joanna Thomas two years ago at Litfuse. She does this really arty, fun stuff with erasure poems and visuals and — because I generally don’t do those sorts of poem — I almost skipped her workshop.

I am SO GLAD I went. More than the keynotes or anyone else I encountered that year, Thomas’s work burned a hole through my imagination all the way down to my bootsoles. She is a wonder. If you can’t get your hands on any of her limited edition books (exquisite little gems you’ll want to keep and give to friends), then you should invite her to give a workshop for you. (Adults and our delights aside, I think these would inspire some pretty wicked home school lessons.) To read more, visit Thomas’s very visual blog:  https://www.joannathomas.xyz/.

Because the poems [in Rabbit: An Erasure Poem] don’t run down the left hand margin, my blog space will just make a botch of it; hence, the photograph. In short, Thomas has erased  Webster’s Elementary Dictionary: A Dictionary for Boys & Girls (New York: American Book Company, 1941), and she shares the image from the dictionary, then duplicates the poem (and its peculiar layout) on the facing page.

Bethany Reid, Joanna Thomas

I have always loved this poem by the Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski. It felt like only a matter of time before I turned to him during the lockdown.  I love his poems’ barehandedness, his apparent lack of artistry, the evenness of his tone when describing joy and trauma alike. And yet, as he says in ‘This morning was cold’, he has ‘no counsel to offer’, merely a presentation of the facts as he sees them. He inhabits a space in my imagination that is somewhere between a university seminar room, a log cabin and picking up a toy car from underneath his kitchen table. Or walking for a day through a forest without encountering another soul. The perfect companion for a stretch of self-isolation, you might think. A couple of winters ago I half-read Unforced Flourishing: Understanding Jaan Kaplinski, which documents his wholly social life, as filled with readings and lectures and conferences as with the ordinary concerns of a dutiful parent and grandparent. That’s what I love most about his work, the sense that while all of these noble and urgent things may be going on in the background, he gives his attention fully to what is in front of him, and thus to his reader, at any one moment.

Anthony Wilson, The wonder is

Like that final weight pallbearers carry to the grave.

Yet say the correct password, and the moon will allow you into its secret room behind the shine.

That’s where good luck wears the scent of new laundry behind its ears. Where our brightest essence illuminates dark waters.

Often, these days seem like one long, weird dream.

The clock tells me when it claps its hands, I can open my eyes. It’s then I’ll be older than I remember and younger than I care to forget.

Should you see me holding something to the light, it’s a letter I meant to send you before all these troubles left their shadows at our door.

Rich Ferguson, Certain Days Feel So Heavy

Even the stubborn hydrangea outside my porch
gate has come into full leaf, buds at the ready.
But my heart will not settle into steady rhythm.
My breath is shallow. Later, I must make my weekly
excursion into town for food—masked, gloved,
hatted, scarfed—looking like a nineteenth century
immigrant just off the boat from Poland,
wearing all of the clothes she owned at once,
frightened of the unknown new territory where
communication and comfort appeared impossible.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Welcome to the New World, a pandemic poem

She swerves into the day,

the new day, with a breath
between her and thunder,

between her and thunder
is a breath that says rest

is coming, the slow rain
is come, and says, just stay,

just wait inside. Just hide.

P.F. Anderson, Shekhinah Lights the Candles with Lightning

I miss people.  As a self-declared introvert, I’m surprised, pleasantly – I miss people badly.  The list of what I miss is endless.  I miss their clean smells, their dirty smells, their mop of hair, their prickly beards. The irony of their eyebrows.  Their slack lids, their twitch.  Their sniffles and complaints about their sniffles.  The bass timbre of their voices. The cloud of their breath, their own personal barometer.  I miss their living quality.  (And that’s just the face.)

I miss things of the senses.  My senses gather confirmation of all kinds regarding external existence.  They are the yes to my no or yes to my yes.  They are charged fields that activate me, as plants churn sun with chlorophyll for energy.  People and their vibe – they are the other to my I.  The talk to my talk back.  

I am a skeptic of the virtual.  The compilation of pixels will never convince me, viscerally, of life. And yet, do I have a choice? 

Jill Pearlman, On Missing People

I’m intrigued with the idea of “virtual,” as most of us are meaning it these days: using technology to bring us together while we stay apart. There’s the older meaning of virtual, which often has a whiff of dismissal–something virtual is not quite as good as.

I’m thinking of the virtual community I discovered when I started blogging. And then, as people stopped long-form blogging, I felt I had lost that community–and once, that community felt almost as close as the communities I was part of in the face-to-face world, and in some cases, more so. And then, poof, it seemed to be gone.

And now, I’m seeing some of those elements returned. This morning, I thought about how tough this quarantine would be without that technology. If we had had this kind of pandemic that drove us all apart from each other in the early 80’s, when long distance phone calls were so expensive and it took much longer to get information out, it would be tougher in some aspects, and perhaps easier in others. Maybe there would have been less wrong information disseminated. But we’d have certainly been more isolated.

I’ve found it very comforting to check in with people virtually to compare notes. I’ve found it all marvelous at how we’ve all managed to move so much to online environments. I do worry about people who don’t have the technology at home.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, How We Live Virtually Now

You’ve made dinner. I tell you
about my divorce, but
don’t mention the pandemic:
why intrude on your afterlife
with something so terrible?

I wake to more headlines
(the world is dust and ashes) but
for a moment I almost felt
that loss isn’t forever, that
the world was created for me.

Rachel Barenblat, For me

I’ve been sending out work tentatively, as it feels hard to believe that poetry can be important in such a time of crisis. On the other hand, I’ve been buying books from local bookstores to keep them in business, subscribing to lit mags even with the post office being threatened by the President and his bullying GOP with shutdown. (Write to your congressperson to protest this lack of funding for the Post office, the lack of which would make us effectively a third-world country, and would prevent voting by mail.) So many things are uncertain: when will we be able to get out of lockdown? When will we have a treatment, much less a vaccine? When will the death tolls start to dwindle? How will this hurt people’s mental health and the economy? Uncertainty is difficult for human beings to sustain for long amounts of time. Poetry and music seem to offer some comfort for me as they resist certainty, and encourage us to dwell in possibility.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Easter During a Pandemic; Life as a Writer During Lockdown, and Pink Supermoon with April Flowers

I started writing poems about the pandemic back in March, before NaPoWriMo began, because the emergency was beginning to hit us locally and hard. And I decided early on to post a lot of them on Instagram (@amymillerpoet). I’ve been dabbling with Instagram poetry the past few months; I like the mixture of text and images, the block of art. The whole thing about how the poem is now published because I went and blabbed it on Instagram is just another interesting thing; I’m not sure what to do with that. But suddenly it felt like a time to let the poems walk out the door, since I literally couldn’t. We are truly all in this together, and I had a strong compulsion to get poems out in the world where all sorts of people could read them, not just the ones who subscribe to literary journals. And, I don’t know, maybe I just needed a gigantic distraction. The discipline and techie geekiness of making those Instagram poems was like a lifeline I was following through some very dark water.

Amy Miller, NaPoWriMo, Plague Year Edition

The only thing that feels sure to me is a future that is different from the past. Not in every way–but also, in every way. If I think of my life as a set of systems–work, home, health, money, relationships–the foundations remain the same (at least for now), but each of them is also so changed that it feels as if there can be no true going back to what they once were. Can’t step into the same river twice and all that.

This is not, at this point, an original thought about the future. But it might be an important one for thinking about how to regard and live through the present.

Late last week, a friend referred to the time we’ve been living in isolation as “lost” and talked about a “return to real life.”

“No,” I said, pushing back. “This is real life. These days are our life, too. We haven’t lost them.”

In the past week I’ve felt myself resisting the idea that this is some time apart, some blip, some brief interruption to our regular programming, in part because the only thing that’s become clear to me in the past week is that our experience with this virus is going to be a long haul, and I don’t want to, in any sense, give away such a big chunk of time by thinking of it as unreal or somehow apart from the whole of my life.

But also, because the life I’m living now is beginning to feel normal.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of real life and new normals

Words and images will speak to each other through time. This doesn’t perhaps mean much other than that you were paying attention. You were feeling things. You were allowing sparks to fly. You were allowing the universe in.

I was going to write a post that more directly addresses the surreal world we’re currently living in. And I’m sure I’ll be doing more of that, though others are doing a good job of digging into the nuances of it and how this is affecting some of us differently than others, and what that’s going to look like afterwards. Whatever we write now, is going to say something about the time. I was thinking about why I was drawn to this particular image right now. And maybe it is just that I’ve been mulling over the before and afters of where we are right now. The unknowns. Which is the same with the Irving Penn photograph. It says so much, and leaves us not knowing anything for certain.

Someone walks into a room, dines, wipes their mouth, leaves.

There’s a whole life around that moment, an entire long story. A mystery.

Shawna Lemay, The Empty Plate

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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.

One thing I’ll say about the current crisis: it’s certainly made organizing this digest a breeze, since most blog posts these days don’t stray far from a single, inevitable concern. And for many of us who write, I suspect, almost every poem eventually morphs into a pandemic poem, as Jeannine Hall Gailey observes – “The coronavirus has saturated the view.” But views are of course as varied as the eyes that see them; I’m finding the diversity of responses to the crisis really fascinating and inspiring.

One small change to the digest: starting this week, I’m adding Luisa Igloria’s poems here at Via Negativa to the mix, since stats suggest that most digest readers don’t visit the blog much the rest of the week. (I still won’t be linking to my own posts, though, don’t worry. This will never become an exercise in self-promotion.)


In Ptolemy’s
model, where the earth stands still at

the center of the universe, all heavenly
bodies should trace a perfect circle around

the earth. But they also wobble, slowing down
as they move farther away and speeding up

as they come closer again. Secluded now
for weeks in our homes, not going to work or

school or church, not eating out or seeing any-
one except whoever is sheltering in place with us,

it’s as if we share that same eccentricity of
movement: and our bodies quicken at the sight

of other bodies just out walking, trying but
not always able to keep to their own path.

Luisa Igloria, On the Orbit of Socially Distanced Bodies

The man with broad-brimmed hat and bird-mask waits
a moment before entering. His scent
wafts by you, Highness, as presentiment
of what must follow. Watch how he operates

in his full gown. Observe how he inspects
the body, turning it here and there at distance
with his cane, meeting no resistance.
Note how he prods it. He’s the bird that pecks

at corruption. He sees the patient’s hands
are black with the usual buboes. This is all
by the script. It’s the very reason for his call.
The plague is spreading. It makes strict demands.

We watch familiar birds hovering in the air.
They will not ring the bell. Nor are we there.

George Szirtes, FIVE  BAROQUE PLAGUE SONNETS

B is for Brothers. I think of them every day. B is for Boys – my two sons: brilliant, bold, kind, funny, optimistic. B is for the Buns I am baking for breakfast (it’s Good Friday, so they’re Hot Cross, not Belgian) – kneading dough when there’s no particular rush. B is for bulbs, for the hyacinths and daffodils blooming in two window boxes which Mike installed for me. I have compost with which I can work and plan, seeds germinating and growing on. B is for Board Games. B is for Bathroom and my new blue tiles. B is for Book – of course. For the one I’m working on, and the ones I’m reading. B is for Banoffee pie. For Beethoven. And B is for Bob, and Bill, blue tits I have anthropomorphised, who might also be Bert and Brian on some days. They visit my bird feeder, and if I sit in my blue chair, and am very still, I can watch them cracking seeds on the side of the feeder’s perches. B is for Best Friend, a London GP and isolating with the virus. She has described all the symptoms, they include annoyance. B is for brave. B is for better. B is for fit and well, hale and hearty, in the pink, tip top, fine fettle. B is for the camping we will be doing later this year, for risotto, Trangia stoves, Sauvignon Blanc, swims, and our Bicycles. B is for Boudicca, and for Cleopatra.

Liz Lefroy, I Count to B

before breakfast
I walk for miles
hungry, sated

I’ve found writing haiku a really satisfying way of working over the last couple of weeks. The brevity and focus appeal to me at a time when I’m finding it hard to concentrate on bigger projects. I’m not dismissing the magnitude of the current situation, far from it, but it’s important for us to continue to create. Haiku are all about capturing the moment. It’s surprising the things that come to your attention when you force yourself to be still for a while. And the economy of language in these poems makes them seem quite experimental, which is something I’m always interested in.

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown

Here’s my second post on what new or new-ish or new-to-me books of poetry I am reading during 2020 National Poetry Month. This time, newly-released from Tinderbox Editions, Lesley Wheeler‘s collection The State She’s In. […]

Wheeler’s use of haibun forms to explore state’s-rights racism or workplace harassment is something I found startling. I keep returning to these and other poems to appreciate, on each subsequent reading, the surprises in the craft as well as the barely-contained frenzy expressed, and also the keen observations of the world that act to calm the speaker down. A tough balance, that.

On the whole, The State She’s In feels like a fierce call to pay attention, not just to the reader but to the speaker in these poems–she’s finding her route toward sagacity but kicking away at what we take for granted, not wanting to find personal equanimity if it means hiding what she knows to be true. These poems oppose ignorance in all its forms, including the privilege of choosing not to learn (or not to act, or not to act fairly and justly) that gets practiced at the highest levels of the academy, the government, and in any form of society. Wow!

Ann E. Michael, More reading, more poems

An ability to play with the multiple meanings of words is also present in the collection’s title, The Aftermath. Initial readings might offer up religious connotations of life after death. In fact, Wilson is referring to a second life that comes after having faced your own death, a second life in which everything has changed forever.

This theme runs through the collection and marks a step forward in the poet’s thematic concerns. In dealing with his second life, Wilson works to find reconciliation between his inner and outer worlds, as in the opening lines of There are Days…

There are days I lose to knowing
it has come back.

An ache in my back, a run of night sweats.
Then nothing.

I am me again, climbing out of bed
to make the tea…


Physical acts are here portrayed alongside emotional torment, routine seen as a necessary counterpoint to the loss of former certainties.

The Aftermath is far from being a depressing or morbid read. Instead, its poems celebrate life with greater intensity thanks to their acknowledgement of our frailty, encouraging us to seize our days too. I thoroughly recommend it.

Matthew Stewart, Inner and outer worlds, Anthony Wilson’s The Afterlife

We can still celebrate National Poetry Month during a pandemic, despite the lack of the usual book launch parties and poetry readings. There are still books to buy (support your local bookstore if you can) and there is time to spend on poetry, and even some hope to be found. People are doing readings on Facebook Live (I’ve been enjoying talks on Japanese fairy tales by Rebecca Solnit) and offering readings on YouTube and podcasts instead of in-person. I’ve been writing too many pandemic poems. It seems almost impossible to write a poem about one thing and not have it turn into a pandemic poem, in fact. The coronavirus has saturated the view.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, April Hours, National Poetry Month, and Four More Weeks of Quarantine: How Are You Holding Up?

The question these mornings of birdsong
to wear a mask or not
working from home:
intimacy inside out
like a glove
after this- will we all go back
without pretending
there’s no life back home
the commute as space travel
the atmosphere of the real left behind
no crying children, no flushing toilets,
no hammering next door

Ernesto Priego, Face Masks

I’ve been making masks this week. The sewing machine and ironing board took over the living room and dining table, along with bags of fabric, spools of wire, and thread, and elastic. Sewing is almost always a pleasure for me, and I tried to make it so this time, but I’ve never sewn something for such an ominous purpose. Underneath the cheerful bright fabrics lurked the searing images we’ve received this week from New York City, the UK, Europe, Africa, India. Images of human beings trying to protect themselves and others, often with the flimsiest of barriers between the invisible but potentially deadly: my breath, your breath.

This is also Holy Week, the solemn culmination of the reflective, penitential season of Lent. A season that got blindsided by a worldwide pandemic that seems nothing if not Biblical, forcing the religious and non-religious alike to give at least a passing thought to the questions, “What is going on? Why now? Why us?” The past two months have presented all of us with images and descriptions of suffering we will never, ever forget, if in fact we are fortunate enough to survive. One iconic image of this pandemic will certainly be the mask, and, if we are willing to look closer, at the eyes above it, filled with fear, exhaustion, and too much knowing.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 15: Masking and Unmasking – Holy Week 2020

Always – this time of year – I feel the lack of sunshine as physical pain. No. It’s not the lack of sunshine, it’s a lack of warmth.

The sky is blue, and the flowers are blooming in bright blues and yellows and purples, but we are still on the edge of freezing. The wind still pushing snow flurries under my collar.

I need a run, but I’m still taking account of a swollen lymph node. So I settle for another cup of coffee.

Out the window I can see the man left alone in his chair now. Wrapped in a blanket, his face tilted up toward the sun.

Ren Powell, All the Blues

Having cancelled an anticipated spring trip, and maintaining the recommended isolation, I’m experiencing the wakening of wanderlust, as friends south of me post pictures of croci and daffodils but all around me is the bleak of northern early spring.

But isolation is forcing us to roam very locally, trespassing here and there, following logging roads or ATV trails currently quiet. With leaves not yet out the land remains revealed in all its lumps and wrinkles, and we course through it, following streams or the lines of topography, discovering a neighbor’s old apple orchards, a rocky and windy hilltop that seems elf-haunted.

In Boundless, Katherine Winter wrote this: “What if we were to stay in one place, get to know it, and listen? What might happen if we were not always on our way somewhere else?”

Marilyn McCabe, Of Rich and Royal Hue; or, On Writing and Paying Attention

An owl crosses
over, watching the limbs dangling fruit, then headfirst
flies back on wings made of mute, that shed sound as the wet
rejects oil. There is an enormous sound still unheard,
an enormous sorrow set on pause, ready to tilt
and cascade into the frantic arms trying to blur
the moments between gasp and guttering, cold and clasp.

P.F. Anderson, Shekhinah Stands at the Border

For some of us, this particular Easter may feel more like the tomb than like resurrection.  We are still waiting.  We don’t know what the outcome will be:  will this new virus mutate and become worse?  Will our favorite schools, businesses, social institutions survive?  What will the new normal look like?  Can we bring some of our favorite aspects of the old normal with us to the new normal?

In many ways, these questions are the essential Easter questions.  Life changes, and often faster than we can process the information.  We’re left struggling, grasping for meaning, refusing to believe the good news that’s embodied right before our eyes.  We don’t recognize the answer to our prayers, our desperate longings, even when it’s right before our eyes.  We’re stuck grieving in the pre-dawn dark.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Easter in a Time of Plague

What interests me so much more than
those pages of scripture foxed with turning
is his choosing of a blue gown over a white;

his weighing of two stones in either hand, the one
mottled like a perfect moon, the other pale and blind
as a sleeper’s face

Dick Jones, TWO EASTER POEMS

While digging in the dirt, I thought about the stock market crash of 1929, and what it meant to those who were my age when that life-changing event happened. It was followed by the Depression, and then WWII. A person who was 55 in 1929 would have been 72 by 1946, the beginning of a return to life not being lived through prolonged, world-wide crisis.

I realized then that ever since the pandemic reached our continent, I’ve been living on hold, feeling as if these days are some time outside of my real life, a time apart. But the pandemic’s effects and what they have revealed about us aren’t going to to be over in a few weeks or even months. After decades of daily, relentless erosion to the institutions and systems that, in real ways, gave me a kind of security that allowed me to live without developing life skills and dispositions that might now become essential, here we are. We are in the thick of the weeds, and I can no longer ignore them and focus on the pretty parts of the yard. I need to learn how to survive–maybe even thrive?–while living within them. Because they have grown so, so tall, and it will take a long time to eradicate them.

If a person my age at the time of that earlier crash lived “on hold” until the crises ended and things felt like some good kind of normal, they would, in important ways, miss most of the last years of their life. And I don’t want to do that. Out in the garden, I resolved to stop living through my days as if they are, somehow, lesser days than any others I’ve had. I don’t know that it will be years until we feel as if we out from under this, but I do know I don’t have enough left to me to wait for some normal to start really living again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirusdiary #5: Of dirt, weeds, digging, and optimism

While I’m busy not going anywhere, below my feet, down on the ground, there there are insects journeying through the weedy jungle of our garden, in and among the weeds sprouting up on the patio.

What I call ‘weeds’ are really wildflowers, pollen-givers, insect-enablers. Last year, we left our lawn unmowed until August and loved the havoc of wildflowers plaited inside the tall grass.

Daisies grew bigger and bolder, reinventing themselves as they were left unchecked.

Josephine Corcoran, Look Down

As I passed the truck, I realized I was walking through a fine mist. I put my head down, held my breath, and walked until I was clear of the mist, then turned around.

I saw that the mist was coming from an air vent at the top of the truck. The mist had now turned to a spray, and the spray was turning dark gray, almost black, in color. It was blasting against a traffic sign, a yellow diamond warning trucks about the height of the train bridge just ahead, and the sign had turned almost completely black.

It was then I realized I had just walked through a cloud of aerosolized sewage. A literal shitstorm. […]

After getting a new truck and cleaning up the gutter properly, the men washed off the neighbor’s car and hosed down our porch (twice). And while I was nervous for a few days, it seems clear I didn’t get sick from the sewage, nor did any of our family members. It’s possible, if it contained coronavirus, that I could still be incubating it. But the black water was from older sludge on the bottom of the sewer line, not fresh sewage, so I think my odds are pretty good.

Still, walking through a literal shitstorm is not what you want to be doing during a pandemic.

Your Zen teachers will have a field day with that story about the shit mist, my friend Susan said, reminding me of the story about Unmon and the shit stick.

I suppose this is a chance to cultivate equanimity. It’s not easy. But in the meantime, it makes for a good story.

Ordinary mind, Buddha mind. Shit stick, shit mist. What’s the difference?

Can you see the Buddha in a cloud of shit? In the middle of a pandemic?

Buddha mind ::
the doctor holds up a nasal swab

Dylan Tweney, Walking through a shitstorm.

finished with clocks my time stopped morning shook its gold fist at my sloth ticktock Rebecca now the parable of Night Nurse and Bitter Angel crawls sideways across the blue carpet howl yes make your god blasted noise at gravity’s sweet lack ticktock Rebecca where are your steady shoes opaque yellow stockings run now run Rebecca calla lily collided her thick rhizome through your mouth into your lung as you slept rise now now drink from the trumpet spathe the basal leaf cleaved against your whelpy heart now is your time run Rebecca run across the sea salt meadow through the bullfrog palace the blown cattail the blackberry thicket the blackbird’s bright underwing wake up Rebecca wake up run against the world’s cold brass mouthpiece run against the world’s last frozen spring

Rebecca Loudon, corona 13.

In the last rites of most Hindu people, a close family member of the deceased has to take a bamboo stave and break the skull of the dead body already burning in the funeral pyre. It is called Kapala Kriya. What burns before you is nothing but body and so you must destroy it with your own hands.

At the end of puja, the worshipped idols made of clay (that took months to be sculpted) must be immersed into water. They must dissolve into nothing.

There are no graves, no epigraphs, no cemeteries to be visited years after the death. The dead cannot take space from the living. The dead must be forgotten.

The gods’ task doesn’t end with creation alone. What gods created, gods must destroy.

Even the ashes of the burnt body cannot be kept in urns. They, too, must be immersed into water. Your bones will not be found centuries later.

Saudamini Deo, Lockdown Diary / Fragmented notes from the 21st or 22nd day?

The word “pandemic” derives from the Greek words “pan,” meaning “all” and “demos,” meaning “people.”

The etymology of “pandemic” is different but somewhat related to the word “panic,’ which traces back to the French, “panique” and the Greek god Pan, the deity with goat legs, the torso of a man, and goat horns growing from his man-like skull.

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, Pan became an exceedingly popular god whose name soldiers invoked in the heat of battle. Later, the terror and chaos that arises during war was also associated with this god.

During Roman times, Pan increased in importance, becoming “known as the All, a sort of universal god, which was a play on the other meaning of the word pan.

Christine Swint, Pandemic, Pandemonium, Panic, and Poetry

the tomb closes again
god has changed its mind
the thorny corona
of dried blood
on the road to
don’t make us
again
the pain
is just too great

Jim Young, easter hard reset

I don’t think you need to have an especially religious frame of mind to find the notion of wanting to be saved quite appealing, rational even, in the current situation. Nevertheless, it doesn’t feel that wide of the mark to attach such a framework to Roo Borson’s incantatory prayer of deliverance from a modern way of life which is already starting to look antiquated, as far off, say, as those bearded, corseted Edwardians, their world about to explode in the First World War. Part of me wants to take the poem by the scruff of the neck and shout it has no idea what is about to happen to the world it describes. But what we wouldn’t now give to drive down a ‘bleak open highway’ and turn into an ’all-night cafe’ and consume ’ghoulish slices of pie’ just because we can.

In truth, having lost track of the days, I chose this poem to fall on Easter Day a whole week before I knew what I had committed to doing: talking about being saved, from a position of privilege and luxury compared to most of the planet.

Whether you are enduring ‘another measureless day’ or rather enjoying the company of your own solitude, perhaps with loved ones or re-reading Dickens or what Thomas Lux calls ‘painting tulips exclusively’, I hope you will join with me today in envisioning a future, after this is all over, whenever that may be, of increased empathy and of public figures who express that as a matter of course, with humility and transparency, of taking time to relish the tiny overlooked things of everyday life, of family and friends, the weird luxury of sitting at a table and staring into space, rather than at a screen, conjuring a future that has no place for ’insomnia’ or ’nightmares’.

Anthony Wilson, Save Us From

Death is blurrier than people realize. I sometimes think of the moment she had her stroke as the moment she died, since so much of her died in that moment–and all hope for her died then, though it took us (and the doctors) a little while to verify that. None of us wanted that to be true.

I had to tell a neighbor who didn’t know the other day, tell her what happened. She said she thought Kit was inside, being sick (she knew she was fragile) and the weather cold this winter. She had wondered.

I’ve become pretty good at telling the story in a concise way that hits enough of the highlights for someone to understand but doesn’t go deep enough for me to cry. Not everyone wants the whole story, and I don’t want to tell the whole story to everyone. It’s impossible to live like that, so very raw and open.

I am not entirely ungrateful for this Quarantine, this time of isolation. Even though He did not heal Kit in the way I hoped and wanted, I still trust God as the ultimate healer, and I’ve been interested to see, in a sort of passive, observing way, how He plans to heal me after this horrible thing. Now what do you plan to do about this, huh? I pray sometimes.

Renee Emerson, 5 months

The more freedom, the more we struggle
to know what it means. The truth of Exodus
is on trial, in crisis. Salt waters crest
to our chins. Awestruck, we know nothing
can be said though we testify and babble
in quivering attempt. We want to want more keenly.
On high, the Lover is never quite satisfied;
He sees our desire raw, though not raw enough.

Jill Pearlman, A Sonnet for Seder during Lockdown

Each day, new blessings—

like how the bombs haven’t yet gone off, zombies haven’t taken over our streets, the four horsemen are still socially distancing themselves from the apocalypse.

Manson’s ghost hasn’t carved X’s into the foreheads of our best intentions. The machines of sorrow having completely broken down into inconsolable fits of tears.

The wonderful drug they call love hasn’t completely failed in clinical trials.

New blessings amidst these crazy-making days. The tightly wound clocks of us,

still keeping time.

Rich Ferguson, The Bright Spot Behind the Tombstone

Things at the hospital continue to be in a state of preparedness coupled with constant change. It’s not chaos—I don’t want to alarm anyone. We are very prepared. But it is a stressful environment for everyone right now and information changes and evolves by the hour, so we are in constant reactive mode. My well-ordered world is gone, the familiar rhythms of my regular job have been obliterated, and I continue to adapt to ever-changing circumstances in an environment where fear is palpable. It’s exhausting, and I don’t know what is to be on the other side of this. The Word of the Day is “adaptability.”

Kristen McHenry, Defining Confidence, Word of the Day: Adaptability

– In the span of a month or so of sheltering at home my wife has gone from not knowing how to play rummy to being a card shark. A rummy hustler

– My wife’s ankle is messed up; she has to wear one of those immobilizing boots, so I am the cook, the laundryman, the guy who goes out for supplies, whatever. And it’s cool, I am OK with that.

– Though I was rather stupid, I did know enough not to tell a strange woman that I intended to marry her. I introduced myself and asked her to dance. If she had said no this would have been far duller life.

– My only real fear of the virus is what will happen to my wife if I get it. Who will get her groceries? How would she stand long enough to cook? And those cookies she loves; would she just have to do without them? That last one might seem hinky to you, cookies, but after the 5th week, I broke down and cried one day getting the cookies down for her. My god, she’s spent her life with me! She deserves a cookie! 

– I know that real change comes from within, that you have to want that change for yourself, not for someone else, but it was wanting to be a better man for her that got me started. I realized it was actually time to grow up. 

– We lost a (grown) child three years ago. The grief is still there. If I now fall during this pandemic, her pain will be horrible. That scares me more than the thought of being dead. That she would suffer like that again, I can’t bear that.

– As I write this list, tomorrow is Easter Sunday. It is also the third anniversary of the day son, William, died. I am not sure how we will face that odd combination while the two of us are locked away from the world. 

James Lee Jobe, Ten Things during COVID-19/Shelter-at-home

I’m having a hard time writing. Even morning pages are flat. Few poems, little journaling of any kind. I know I’m not alone in this. 

I’m exhausted. Of course, that’s my diagnosis: chronic fatigue. But this is different, more than that. My mind, my heart, my heart-mind is exhausted. 

And I’m outraged, and tired of being outraged. I’ve been outraged too long. I look at my Facebook page and it’s just one rage-inducing post after another, nearly all shared from others, who share my outrage. It’s tiring. It begins to seem pointless. 

I feel so helpless, powerless, old and ill and unable to make a difference. Writing seems beside the point. Others do it better, more clearly, with more passion. 

And I am aware of my privilege. I am housed in a beautiful little house, with someone I love, who takes excellent care of me. I am fed and surrounded by art and books and constant entertainment, should I make use of it. Instead I feed my anger – and fear – with too much television news. I fear for the lives of my friends and of my country. 

I fear being separated from my love as one or the other or both of us are dying. I fear for my young friends, one has “underlying conditions” and others are on the front lines. And what country will the survivors enter into, later? 

Sharon Brogan, Outrage

I was not fully prepared for answering quite so many emails. I don’t know why — it makes sense — and yet it means that I haven’t been able to grade quite so much. I participate in the discussion boards, but if the students don’t respond to my comments I have no idea whether or not they are reading those comments, and those comments are the only supplement I have right now for lecturing and classroom discussion.

Additionally, quite a few of my students haven’t participated at all in the classroom activities. They haven’t answered emails. I’ve pushed back deadlines to give them time — I know that quite a few don’t have regular access to technology, because they are sharing computers with family members or they have spotty WiFi or they are continuing to work through the pandemic, because they are employed by grocery and convenience stores or restaurants that offer take-out or delivery. Some of them have sick family members. Some of them went through surgery just before the pandemic and are in a kind of fraught recovery — their risk of infection is so much greater, and their ability to protect themselves has become so diminished. I’m trying not to lose them, in a figurative sense as well as, unfortunately, a literal one.

And some of them are using email to ask for clarification about assignments, to get feedback for papers, and this is really great. I’m “talking” with those students perhaps more than I would have in a regular semester, and that’s kind of lovely. It’s one of the aspects of community college that I really value — the mentoring, where I can see actual growth and results from my facilitation in their learning, my guidance.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, On Rage, Responsibility, and Resilience

I don’t think there’s a person not wondering how to live in a worthwhile way at this time. How to live and not just wait. How to live and not just worry. I don’t think you can not not wait and you can not not worry. But you can do other things too. You can doodle. You can practice your handwriting. You can tell the truth. I read something the other day that said even five minutes of exercise is better than no exercise. So I exercise.

I’m doing my best to wring another found poem out of Sleepless Night but it is hard going. I’ve also been trying to put together a collage or embroidery for a poem I have finished from Sleepless Night, but the poem is a sensitive thing.

Sarah J. Sloat, From the isolation files

I’ve been keeping a ‘lockdown’ journal, just for my own interest and to remind myself (hopefully in years to come!) how we (hopefully!) got through it. Reading other people’s blogs I get the feeling the initial euphoria of it all has flattened out to more a sense of restlessness or powerlessness, even sadness. I know ‘euphoria’ sounds wrong, but I mean that initial excitement in terms of ‘it’s really happening’ and ‘no-one in the world knows how this is going to go’ and ‘we’re all (kind of) in it together’, plus getting used to all the changes and rising to the occasion. As Mat Riches says in his recent post, “apparently, we’re meant to be using this time to learn Sumerian or how to perform brain surgery and recreate Citizen Kane in stop motion using only Lego minifigs or repurposed Barbie Dolls” – but for many people it’s enough to get through the day and not worry about the family they’re not seeing or the business they’re losing.

Robin Houghton, Tending seedlings & taking comfort from ‘wee granny’

My daily updates on the coronatine have dwindled, dear reader, mostly because one day bleeds into the next. I find myself washing the dishes or emptying the cat boxes and thing “Didn’t I just do this?” and yes, dear reader, I just did. Perhaps the strangest thing about nothing to break up the days is how nothing is delineated by place or event. Normally, the things that happen in 24 hours are split up. I get up. I ride the bus. I go to work. I come home. The day is split into defined times. These are all one thing, now, where I roll out of bed at some point, eat breakfast, do some work, eat lunch, do some more different work. Then dinner, then streaming movies, then sleep. Maybe some cleaning in between or a trip to the lobby for packages, taking the trash to the dumpster. I try to vary it by showering when I first get up or right before I go to bed, but it hardly matters much, since I don’t really get ready to go anywhere. I am not one to complain, mostly since I really like being home and not having to go out, but it takes some getting used to, this new way of experiencing time. […]

I am still having a bit of trouble caring about things I used to quite as fiercely in this world, but I suppose this is to be expected. I promised myself I would keep producing, even if some things sparkle less than they did before. I’m somewhat motivated to work on library things, mostly because justifying my paycheck depends on it, so I’ve been busy working on programming, lib guides, grant applications and such that can be done away from the physical collection. Poetry and art are a trickier matter. I’ve been hammering away on the NAPOWRIMO pieces, but they feel a little bit like doing sit ups or laps around the block. I do it, and it’s done, but it doesn’t spark the way it used to. I’m digging into new layouts and cover designs for the press nevertheless, so hopefully I can fake it til I make it. It occurs to me I would normally be opening for submissions in May, but since this year is out of whack, I might wait til June and hope by then I’ve regained some of my passion for poetry things and will be a much kinder reader.

Kristy Bowen, one month in

Easter Sunday.

On the phone, my son’s excited voice: number 20 is just hatching before my eyes! Loud cheeping in the background. I am almost as excited about my tomato seedlings that have come up overnight. I salvaged the seeds from a rotten tomato only a week ago and sowed them in a seed-tray with scant hope that they would germinate. And the chickpeas that showed no more than bent white necks last week are six inches high.

Ama Bolton, Week 4 of distancing

I know beyond our thin atmosphere
we’re cradled in the vastness of space.
Even when I feel stuck in my skin

in the seclusion of social distancing
cloaked in mask and gloves
unable to touch

the maple and I are breathing together
(you and I are breathing together)
even when I feel apart.

Rachel Barenblat, A part

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 14

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, another onslaught of blog posts in my feed reader as a few more long-dormant bloggers emerged, now to post GloPoWriMo poems. Others, meanwhile, report feeling blocked or frustrated. Some are in domestic productivity mode. Some are fighting the virus. A few are too busy to feel much of anything but exhaustion or rage. By and large, it sounds as if poets are rising to the occasion.


The milk is spoiling, or has finished the job. The apple-a-day calendar is stuck at March 13, when I flew off despite misgivings about flying. Luckily I’d emptied the garbage, as I always do before leaving. The refrigerator and its white noise set to perpetual.

The collage clippings are scattered on the table, the needles are sunk in the pincushion at a courteous distance. Books, clothes… if I’d only thought a little further. My bag was lightly packed.

Sarah J Sloat, The empty apartment

Of course we introverts have feelings.  We know that real grief is sometimes too deep for words.  The Covid-19 plague blew in with a whiplash of emotional states, laced with adrenaline and black humor.  I made jokes, rolled my eyes in the vertigo of each shifting reality, rode the waves of social media — until the torrent of words, emotions, anger, f-words, words, words, f-words, knocked me down.

What exhausted me was the snap mastery, the fear-driven rush to judgment.  Then the need, akin to the Biblical Job’s friends, to mouth all-knowing vindications of tragedy.  It didn’t leave much room for the kind of tongue-tied response of silence and awe that made me sit, shaken and numb and full of longing. I pulled in and pulled from my shelf the books of my companion poets.  In the language game, whose words would stand up to reality? Great artists who had taken harrowing journeys and sent word back.  Those guides brought me across the void, helped me mourn and feel sorrow for the immensity of what is being lost.

The weeks since then have been spinning by.  Spring is celebrating itself.  Pink buds wave towards the future while we are stuck on reruns.  The new reality is taking shape.  It is technological.  It is busy while being stilled.  It used to be a metaphor that if you’re not online, you’re invisible.  Now it is a reality.  

Jill Pearlman, The Introvert’s Guide to the New Reality

Being an extrovert means I get energy from being around other people. This is one reason I love, and very much miss, my gym. It’s not just that the OrangeTheory Fitness workouts are hard and great, it’s that I’m working out with a group of people. And because my preferred time to workout was 5am, I was working out with the same group of early risers every morning. We were a community who knew each other by name and chatted happily, if sometimes sleepily, before starting our workout. Now my days start with a solo run, followed by solo yoga and solo TRX and then a solo hike with my dog. I’m still fit and healthy but I miss people. I miss high-fiving friends after a hard set, or cheering on someone as they push hard on the rower or treadmill or pick up heavier weights than usual. I miss the comradery.

Poetry is what I usually turn to in times of emotional turmoil but lately, the words haven’t been flowing as much as I’d like. April is National Poetry Month and in years past I’ve participated in 30/30 – 30 poems in 30 days, writing one poem per day. This year I’m not setting this goal as I don’t honestly think I’d be able to do it and I don’t want to feel bad or guilty or like I’m underachieving if I don’t write a poem each day. Instead I’m reading a lot of poetry and when the words come, I capture them, grateful to have them and have this outlet.

So I’m celebrating National Poetry Month by being gentle with myself, by being kind to myself, and not setting expectations so high that I’m certain to be disappointed. I’m surrounding myself with beautiful words and hopefully, this will inspire me to write some of my own. But this year, it’s okay if it doesn’t. This year is different from any I’ve experienced and so I’m taking it a day at a time, letting my heart lead me where it needs to go.

Courtney LeBlanc, Celebrating

As a comfort during this strange and difficult time, I am re-reading Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, first read in childhood. I recalled the March family hunkered at home during the war between the states, their father off serving as a chaplain for the army, but little did I know quite how much their situation would resonate now!

When I picked up my book this morning, opening to where my bookmark had fallen in place the night before, the little women and their mother had received news of the illness of Mr. March. Illness in war is common, and our big flu pandemic of 1918 happened in war, and here we are again. So Marmee, as her daughters call her, packs a trunk and heads off to tend him, leaving the little women on their own, in the care of Hannah the cook, and with the protection of the neighbor, Mr. Laurence, and his grandson, Laurie.

The next morning, they wake to the completely changed circumstances. “’I feel as if there had been an earthquake,’ said Jo…” Indeed!

Kathleen Kirk, The Pertinence of Little Women

yes i do kiss you
right now in plain sight
right here on this park bench

in front of the ducks
in front of the trees
still bare from winter

in front of the broken
clouds in front
of the person

biking past
face covered
with a bandana

bandit-style
in front of the person
with the Ronald-

McDonald hair
turning away
from two old people

kissing, standing,
walking this little dog
crowding our feet, one

of your hands filled
with litter collected from
the river bank the other filled

with mine yes do hold
my hand, hold my hand,
hold tighter

Sharon Brogan, Day One of the Pandemic

Strange to move so poorly in these woods, shortened steps so slow: the last time I moved with such caution in here it was my back that was halved. Freshly screwed and stapled, bones on fire and nerve signals still scrambled: the risk of falling was severance, then.

Now, it’s lungs on fire, covid’s chest-spreader cracking sternum on each breath.

But better, today, eighteen days in: enough that I can slow-walk crackle and snap past the vixen’s den and down, all the way to the stream, past vulpine latrine (territory’ edge) and deer, past bear scat and scratches.

Quartz extrusions, some lifted into walls, some still in situ, are bleached to bone.

Near the water, a snapped pine is a hundred years of falling in a moss-encroached grave. It means something different to me than to others here.

In this difference, the severance. The fall.

JJS, Crack

The tradition says each of us is to see ourselves as though we ourselves had been brought out of Mitzrayim. I don’t know about you, but the idea that we are living in Mitzrayim — the Narrow Place; tight constriction; dire straits — feels very real to me this year. If we are feeling constricted, anxious, afraid, uncertain, maybe newly-aware of some of our society’s fundamental inequalities and the harm they cause to the most vulnerable… then we are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be.

When we left that Narrow Place, we didn’t know where we were going. We didn’t have time to fully prepare for our journey of transformation. We didn’t know where we were going or how we would get there. We left the Narrow Place anyway, because it had become clear that staying where we were — staying with the status quo — meant death. If we are feeling unready, unprepared, maybe thrust into a journey we don’t know how to take… then we are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be.

Rachel Barenblat, We are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be

I signed up to receive daily writing prompts from Two Sylvias Press, and I’m planning to go back to them at some point, but I can’t find the release valve on my writing brain to let the words just come.

Instead, I catch myself staring out the window for long stretches, watching the new hickory leaves unfurl. I’ve been walking my dog and letting him get filthy in the pond where pollen pools on the surface like a film of a crushed hard boiled egg yolk. I’m washing my hands probably more than I need to, considering the raw, chapped patches on the left hand.

I’ve re-started my personal yoga practice finally, although I have taken a few Zoom classes. It’s hard for me to pin myself down to a specific time to practice now that the classes are streamed live. When I’m home, I don’t usually keep to a schedule.

But maybe a schedule is what I need, especially if I want to beckon my creative mind. Sitting myself at my desk or out on the back porch with a pen and a notebook every day, just like I roll out my mat. Yoga, meditation, and writing are interconnected for me. One leads to another.

As far as The Wasteland goes, last year I was emerging from a painful depression during April, and I agreed with Eliot’s first line that “April is the cruelest month,” though maybe it was for different reasons than his own intentions for writing.

This year April is also a cruel month. Just when the earth is greening in the Northern hemisphere, thousands of people are dying. It’s a sorrow that’s hard to reconcile with the season.

Christine Swint, Poetry Month

My English A-level was combined Language and Literature. I had a different teacher for each, and each had their own collection of classrooms. There is no denying that studying Thomas Hardy’s poetry from a language perspective was a huge influence in starting me writing my own poems, but a heavily-annotated copy of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Other Poems — not much larger than a pamphlet — was, and remains, a definite influence on my writing. I suspect that if it’d not been heavily annotated then it wouldn’t have fired my imagination. Learning how a poet could hide so many meanings beneath the words was fascinating. We weren’t studying Eliot at all, I found the book at the back of a cupboard, but I took the book home and devoured it!

Giles L. Turnbull, The Top Ten Books that have Inspired me (as a Reader and a Writer), Part 1

We have gained some perspective in the pandemic. We now know that Italo Calvino would have been more useful as a grocer. Clarice should have been an emergency doctor. And, of course, Mark Rothko should have used his time more wisely and become a rich businessman. Mir Taqi Mir should have at least composed a couplet in praise of Dettol’s scent. And Ghalib should have been a manufacturer of hand sanitizers. We have certainly gained some perspective. Pianos should be repurposed into something that will be more useful to society. I demand that from now on no resource should be wasted on the production of canvases or brushes. Every piece of stone should be used to build a useful building. I know I sound a bit radical but – hear me out – I think even flowers should be replaced with vegetables. The pandemic has taught us some important lessons. Alas, history cannot be changed! If only physics had enough funding, we would’ve been able to travel back in time and knock some sense into Bach’s head. Oh what a waste of talent! But at least now we have learnt our lesson. The other day, I don’t know why a man looked at me like I were crazy when I asked him which page of Baudelaire should be used as toilet paper first?

Saudamini Deo, Lockdown diary / 5-6-7-8

My watch conked out yesterday. Suddenly it was half past five and actually it was five to six. So now I live watch-less.

Just as well. I have started reading How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (thank you Shawna Lemay for the recommendation):

Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram act like dams that capitalize on our natural interest in others and an ageless need for community, hijacking and frustrating our most innate desires, and profiting from them. Solitude, observation, and simple conviviality should be recognized not only as ends in and of themselves, but inalienable rights belonging to anyone lucky enough to be alive.’ 

Well, I have been having quite a lot of conviviality and connection right by my front gate, thanks to being in the garden so much. I have had more conversation these last two weeks than I have had for months. Even with strangers.

What is that telling me?

Anthony Wilson, Practice

I have washed my hands for twenty seconds
with soap and music. I have gloves to wear.
I have dreamed up a house with invisible walls
That let me see the sun and the moon and the trees,
Oh let me be trapped there for forty days
And forty nights, like Jesus in the desert.

James Lee Jobe, I have washed my hands for twenty seconds

So how barbaric is it to write poetry during a pandemic? How wrong to suppress a pang of guilt at the thought that there are people dying out there, while I’m fiddling with words? And if I need to keep fiddling to stay sane, should I perhaps hide that discordant, painful music under a bushel?

I keep hearing from friends, family, and the ubiquitous newsfeed in my mailbox that things will get worse before they get better. Things already are unimaginably tragic for so many families around the world. I’m afraid that thinking of worse things yet to come might somehow bring them into being. I must shift my focus or succumb to anguish for my children’s future.

Outside, the birds, the insects, the trees, and the flowers are busy making spring happen. I feel joy and gratitude when I watch them. Their tiniest gestures acquire instant symbolism, becoming a sign of hope, of resilience, of triumph over despair. All around me, nature breathes and sends her messengers to knock on my doors, my windows, my forehead. They all know something I don’t–or have chosen not to acknowledge. Not yet. I must keep watch. Any day now, I’ll find out what nature has been hiding from me. What she’s been telling me all along.

So there it is, my reason for fiddling. I’m trying to bring about spring. It’s the only way I know how.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 0

If you had asked me 3 days ago how I was, I’d probably have broken down in tears. Home schooling is breaking me, but I’ve had a few days respite as the kids were away to their dad’s so I’ve been able to catch up with my studies, go to the allotment, hang some photos that have been sitting unloved for years, do some reading and crafting and, most importantly for the blog, join in with Angela Carr’s new 30 day writing challenge which coincides with GloPoWriMo (or NaPoWriMo if you insist on being US-centric) the poetry writing month which encourages people to write a poem a day. And so far because of the isolation I’ve been able to keep up. Four new rough drafts done and as soon as I hit Publish for this I’ll start on the next one. 

In honour of GloPoWriMo, I usually include a poem by a poet I like. This time I’m including The Hill Burns by the Scottish writer Nan Shepherd. I have to admit I’ve never read her poems before, but I’ve recently started her book The Living Mountain which is part of a online read-along started by nature writer Rob MacFarlane. I  haven’t been able to keep up with the read-along and discussion, but it’s worth following Rob on Twitter and reading his books, he has a lovely way with words and inspiring people to explore nature and to write about it. I’ve only managed The Wild Places and The Lost Words (written with Jackie Morris and with her beautiful illustrations, a magical book) so far as it’s hard to get his books here, but I’m in a queue of about a million waiting for his latest book Underland once the libraries reopen here in Helsinki. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Three – Chinks of Light

nanny state‬
‪the goats take over‬
‪roaming‬

Jim Young [no title]

I finished reading Margaret Atwood’s 2000 book, Cat’s Eye. After ten years of mostly reading and writing poetry, I’ve regained an appetite for fiction.  I enjoyed the book very much and it felt luxurious to spend long days with the same characters, visiting another section of their lives each time I picked up the book.  It’s hard to replicate that experience when reading poetry. However, at the book’s end, I wasn’t hit by a sensation of something profound, exact and transformative.  I didn’t deeply recognise a human emotion conveyed in the story – or, if I did, the poet in me couldn’t help asking  did we need 421 pages to say that?  Could it have been said in 14 lines?

I’ve had some extremely happy moments this week: discovering that both of my now adult children can cook; watching my 19 year old son teaching himself to do handstands and cartwheels in our back garden; being in awe of my 20 year old student daughter’s ability to focus on her academic work in a houseful of people, one of whom plays his music ridiculously loud.  We’re very lucky to be in lockdown together and not alone.  I’ve felt guilty for feeling happy in the middle of an international crisis.

I’ve been trying to write a poem but I’m scuppered by the old adage of a watched pot never boils.  I need to quickly look away and let the poem do some of its work without me.

Josephine Corcoran, Corona Diary: Lockdown Continues

We should have known it well
it thrives. indeed, on being human
our touching each other; hands on face
speak out loud, droplets & breath
hold on to the handrail
move down the carriage,
use all available space
it’s proximity & closeness
shaking hands, kissing once or twice,
(don’t stand so/don’t stand so close to me)
the embrace, the popping in,
the cup of tea, the walk together,
y’alright mate,
saying cheers, give me five,
would you like a top-up,
anytime, here for you.
And they thought we could raise fences

Ernesto Priego, The Plague

Last April, I challenged myself to write a poem a day and posted the drafts on this blog. That turned out to be a useful experience, but I feel no need to repeat it. This year, I want to post about some new(ish) books of poetry. Not critiques or book reviews, just what the poems evoke for this particular reader.

~

First up– Lynn Levin‘s The Minor Virtues, 2020, Ragged Sky Press. The cover’s appropriate to the month: a lovely image of dogwood blossoms. And I have to admit that what drew me into the book is the charming mundanity of the first few poem titles, in which the speaker is tying shoelaces or buying marked-down produce. Most of the poems in the first section begin with a gerund phrase and place the reader in a present-progressive act of doing something. The poems here feel so grounded in reality (quite a few are sonnets), often humorous–grabbing the wrong wineglass at a banquet, trying to think about nothing–that I immediately settled in to the pages.

The topics, or the reflective closures, move toward seriousness at times; her poem “Dilaudid” shook me awake and left me in admiration for a number of reasons (some of them personal resonance–but). Levin’s humor tends to be intellectual–wordplay, allusions, wry asides–and I revel in that sort of thing. Her approach to craft also works for me, because she’s usually subtle going about form or rhyme schemes, so I enjoy the poem for what it says and means and then enjoy it again for how it’s structured and inventive.

I mean, that’s one way I read poems. There are other ways. Some books carry me pell mell through word-urgency or the writer’s rage or passion and some build lyrical intertwining networks of imagery and some make their own rules and some stagger me with their innovation. And I may have to be in the right mood to read a collection.

I was in the right mood to read Levin’s book. It was a good way to begin National Poetry Month in the midst of stay-at-home mandates, taking me gently through a “normal life” and reminding me of all that is surprising there, the riddles and the unexpected, the minor virtues and the actions we take as we practice them. Whether or not we think of them as virtues.

Ann E. Michael, Reading poems

How many hands move to tell the story when
the voice is lost, the voice is a violin throbbing
with loss, the voice has become a ghost, mute
and moving. The hands beat the body like a drum
and hum, the hands beat the drum as if it tells
the stories, the hands beat and are beaten. That
is the tale that must be told, the surprise ending.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah as Sheherazade

And now, the wisdom/advice/guidance comes for all of us to wear masks when we’re out in public. Of course, the nation faces a shortage of medical grade masks that might actually block the virus, but there’s some thought that a cloth mask might help.

I do have a lot of cloth that I could use to create masks. If only I had time to sew.

I see various types of posts from people who are holed up in quarantine who have made thousands of masks or written the definitive biography of Julian of Norwich or made their thirty-sixth loaf of homemade bread with sourdough starter that they created with native yeasts that they captured in their back yard. I have spent this past work week in the office.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Longest Week

Anyway, long story short, I am masking at work now, and it’s weird both physically and psychologically. It feels alien to have a piece of material covering over half my face. It’s hot, it’s vaguely itchy, it smells disconcertingly medical, and I am brushing my teeth and rinsing with mouthwash multiple times per day because I can’t tolerate even the slightest whiff of odor on my breath. With the amount of coffee I’m sucking down these days, this is a challenge. I’ve always been very paranoid about my breath as it is, and I’m one of those people who compulsively pop Altoids and breath gums. Now there is no escaping the smell of my own breath. I’m going to have a get a handle on this neurosis because skipping lunch and living on Dentyne is not a sustainable option.

With the advent of the mask, I’ve ditched the lipstick (the masks go to be reprocessed and they can’t reprocess a mask that has lipstick stains on it), and I have decided to go minimalist on the makeup. I just brush on a little mascara and call it good, which saves me a remarkable amount of time in the mornings.I’ve also taken to wearing tennis shoes because I’m constantly running to our Entry Control Points to deal with issues and my normal work shoes aren’t great for clocking miles on a hard surface.No one’s said anything about the tennis shoes. The way things are going, I could probably get away with jeans and hoodies at this point.This same sort of sartorial breakdown also happened during the strike, with senior management all but wandering around in their pajamas towards the end. The near-total breakdown of professional appearance is an interesting signifier of a crisis.

Kristen McHenry, Reaction Time, Sartorial Signifier, Future Cave Woman

cornmeal into the blue bowl
flour into the blue bowl
my son stands in the kitchen
to tell me the news
no no not now I say the last
of the baking powder
sifts into the blue bowl people
are dying he says no no
I say salt and sugar
into the blue bowl he tells
me about a ship in New York
I stir with my fingers he
keeps talking I add buttermilk
into the blue bowl he says
there is no room for the bodies
I crack two brown eggs
on the blue bowl’s rim
then I pour in honey
my son describes body bags
lining the harbor worse
than war honey rises to the bowl’s
blue lip I keep pouring honey
oozes out of the blue bowl
onto the counter then the floor
I keep at the honey pouring
pouring the floor thick
with it I can barely move
my feet soon my calves
are covered I pour honey
until it shimmers golden heavy
around my waist fills the kitchen
above my shoulders pressed
to my sides the most intense
perfume I pour in enough honey
to flood the yard now I see the sun
right out that window the sun
stupid and round as any
discarded toy

Rebecca Loudon, corona 10.

Still: dead labor asserts its claim. The workers and exploited ones. Slaves and caretakers. The nameless, lost, derided. The invisible. All the others. The child in the cobalt mine living inside your battery. They live in each head as well as in the complex of social fact. An entire civilization is dedicated to consuming and concealing them. How long does something like this last? How long can it? Never to confront the discarded traces. To build an infinity from denial. Acceleration as the energy required to sustain the denial forestalling absolute cataclysm. Who speaks to and for those inside of us, which we ourselves are inside of in turn? Who admits those who refuse to be part of the “I”?

Rimbaud learned early: “I is an other.” The fundamental insight. As revolutionary and poetic truth.

R.M. Haines, Identity and Its Discontents: Notes on Rimbaud

[…]They bring him wrapped, calf muscles buckled
from what the human body is not meant to do –
walk three hundred miles, drop like a yellowed leaf
to be rested under the cassia tree in full bloom
just a mile from home.

The context:
After the 21 day lockdown in India to contain the spread of Coronavirus, the states have closed their borders, bus and train services have been suspended. The lockdown has left tens of millions of migrant workers unemployed. They are from rural India, small towns and villages, but live most of the year in India’s megacities. Believed to number at least 120 million, possibly more, they are walking to their homes, hundreds or thousands of miles away from where they had migrated for work.

A 23 year old man walking from Nagpur in Maharashtra to Namakkal in Tamil Nadu, after completing 500 kilometers in the summer heat of the southern Indian plains, died of cardiac arrest in Secunderabad, many miles away from home.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Walk

I was surprised to see this week that my writing has finally turned. After months and months of writing despairing poems, I can see more light and hope in my work now. I saw a few glimmers of this before the quarantine, but what I can really pin it down to is my daily practice of writing a single description of what is around me–focusing on the here and now has brought about more hopeful poems. I was hoping to get there, to not write the darkest of poems forever (and it felt like forever). The grief is still there, and the loss, and I don’t suspect that it will go away any time soon or ever, but I am so relieved to see the Light there as well.

Renee Emerson, the turn

(lack begins as a tiny rumble), a brand new collection by my pressmate Caroline Cabrera, belies its title: these hybrid poems, almost lyric essays, brim with language that nourishes me. Pain and grief are starting points, but line by line, with amazing persistence, Cabrera digs herself out of those very dark places. Sisterhood helps, but so does a renegotiation of her relationship with her own body. “The womb is a world,” she writes in one poem, clarifying that image with the eye-opening closure, “Our first act is one of emigration.” In many poems, too, Cabrera unfolds what it means to be a blonde-haired Cuban American: “My skin keeps me safe. My blood, it boils in me.” My own concentration is poor these days, but this book riveted me. Bonus: the collection includes great poems about toxic bosses. I really appreciate poems about toxic bosses.

This book, by the way, feels very much in sisterhood with Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen, star of my last salon, but really I’m just contacting people with new books and posting these interviews in the order I receive them. I’m really enjoying this project, as well as the new books it’s leading me through. Virginia’s governor just gave a stay-at-home order. I totally agree with it, but it makes connecting through writing more important than ever.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Poetry Salon #5 with Caroline Cabrera

This is a tough, tough time for all of us. In that context, it’s important to empathise with others such as publishers who’ve seen their distributors close down, festivals/readings cancel (where poetry is most often sold) and new books lose the impetus of launches. Of course, it also goes without saying that the poets in question are suffering too. They might well have been working away on a manuscript for years, only to find that publication turns into a damp squib.

One of those cases is David J. Costello and his first full collection, Heft, which has just been published by Red Squirrel Press. David had a whole host of launches and readings lined up, but he’s seen all of them gradually disappear for the foreseeable future. I was fortunate enough to read a proof of his book prior to going to press, and here’s the endorsement that I provided:

David Costello’s poetry is especially adept at evoking the passing of time. Throughout this collection, he portrays the ambiguities and ambivalences of relationships between the individual and the collective, the human and the natural, the historical and the present, moving his readers in every poem.’

Moreover, you can read three poems from Heft over at Elizabeth Rimmer’s blog, BurnedThumb, where she generously held a virtual launch for the collection. If that then encourages you to get hold of a copy for yourself, you can do so via the Red Squirrel Press website here.

Matthew Stewart, David J. Costello’s Heft

Scientists say the teeny virus isn’t alive,
exactly, just a bit of protein that possesses
our same uncanny drive to reproduce,
replace, and colonize everything
not itself with acres of its progeny.

O, the irony of being done in
by a beast with our selfsame gluttony.

But love, for this moment now,
let us set aside these fears and feast
on eggs and apples, allow me
to nourish you with all the love I can,
every sacred mouthful.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Feast and Fear in the Time of Coronavirus

There are worse places to shelter. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel an enormous sense of gratitude. And yes, it’s time to think about moving back home. We’re ready–almost.

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Blogging keeps me limber. Gives me something to do in between binge-watching episodes of Chicago P.D., and 30 Rock with my daughter. It’s also a good way to open up my brainspace to poems.

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I’m participating in two writing groups for National Poetry Month. Pandemic poetry seems to be a theme in both. Truth is, I have been writing fairly consistently for months. It has certainly ramped up the last three weeks after I broke up with my boyfriend.

January Gill O’Neil, Kibbles and Bits

From the crossweave of the song, I stepped into the cry
of gulls. Sickle wings looped and turned in the dark.
I sat on the wall and thought of home. I lifted my face

into the rain and thought of you and the children. All of you
asleep – your hair auburn-red over the counterpane,
their faces spellbound. And I called along the alleys

of the rain and out across the tenements of clouds
to where you lay sleeping, thinking not to wake you but
just to stand for a heartbeat at the corner of your dreams.

Dick Jones, UNDER BLUE ANCHOR

Despite my frequently dire tone here, I am an idealist and an eternal optimist. (It’s why I’m so often angry and railing.) “This is an opportunity,” I have said to anyone who might listen. “Here is our chance to do things differently, to see our mission differently, to really think about what matters in education.”

Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I mean, maybe. But not this week, and surely not next.

Instead of releasing much of the utter crap that permeates public education, it feels as if our state has doubled down on it (as have many states). We love to talk about “trauma-informed practice” and “culturally-responsive teaching” until we’re blue in the face, but we are about to embark on delivering “education” in a time of tremendous trauma in ways that are likely to exacerbate it, especially for our most vulnerable students.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirus diary #4: the wrong kind of hard

Nearly every day I share stories with a stranger thanks to Quarantine Chat. Recently I talked to an older gentleman in Canada who is staying at his fishing cabin. When we talked he’d just come in from what he said would be the last ice fishing of the season. He reported that, once again, he didn’t catch anything. I asked how often his ice fishing was successful. “It’s always successful, in that I get outside for a few hours of peace. But it’s 100 percent unsuccessful if you mean catching anything after decades of trying,” he said. His good cheer couldn’t help but cheer me. I’ve talked to people in Spain,  Russia, Israel, and many U.S. states — a graduate student, business owner, graphic artist, stay-at-home dad, insurance broker, teenaged musician, police officer. We talk about what we can see out our windows, how our plans have changed, what worries us most, what we’re having for supper. It’s like any conversation, except it’s easier to get past the superficial.

Yesterday’s call was with a retired veteran who said he was really struggling with anxiety. I asked if he had a family story, maybe even from generations ago, that made him feel he and his kids would get through this. He told me about his grandmother, who was the first Black woman in their city to become a bus driver. He called her a “little powerhouse of a lady.” He said she was a woman of faith who also took  “no guff” from anybody. Once, he said, she was robbed as she was walking to the side entrance of her apartment building. She never carried a purse, but pulled a worn Bible out of her coat pocket and told the desperate young man holding a knife, “Take this, it has all my treasure inside.” He grabbed it and ran off, assuming she had money stuffed in its pages. She turned and hurried after him. When he threw it down after rifling it through, she picked it up moments later. The police declined her offer to dust it for finger prints. The veteran said he had lots of stories about his grandmother, and realized he hadn’t told them to his daughters. “I see her in my girls,” he said. “They’ve got her fight and her big heart.”

Laura Grace Weldon, Stories: Now More Than Ever

Don’t socially distance yourself from your inner wisdom.

Don’t wear a noose for a necklace.

Don’t confuse a museum with a mausoleum, or a Cajun with a contagion.

Don’t think Gucci is better than Fauci.

Don’t think life is all one-sided when 6 can be 9.

Don’t confuse your coffee with a coffin, or you may drink yourself to death.

Don’t linger with a bee’s stinger. Don’t hide your wounds when they make you a warrior.

Don’t ask for a half-moon when you want the whole night to shine.

Don’t stop believin’ when self-quarantinin’.

Rich Ferguson, Gucci vs. Fauci

What a difference a week makes… I’ve been attempting to stay positive this week, but it was getting tricky towards the end of the week as work got busier. I heard Susanna Reid (Saint Susanna) mention something called F.O.N.D.A or Fear of Not Doing Anything. A distant cousin of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out – where have you been?), FONDA is a new one of these horrible bloody feelings we’re all meant to have according to the culture sections of broadsheets. Apparently, we’re meant to be using this time to learn Sumerian or how to perform brain surgery and recreate Citizen Kane in stop motion using only Lego minifigs or repurposed Barbie Dolls.

Well fuck that. It’s a lovely idea, and I hope you get the chance to learn a new skill and to make the most of this time. I’ve not seen any evidence of it happening for me yet. I’m too busy, either working or drinking to forget. I can’t concentrate on anything else for long enough.

Add in to this the fact that NaNoWriMo has arrived and that means signs of people being busy/writing loads…It’s almost too much. I’m not anti-NaNoWriMo (despite tweets to the contrary), I just can’t do it.

Mat Riches, Accentuate the positive

Rats in the pantry chew through boxes
of shredded wheat and start in
on the rice. We can’t keep the outside

out, anymore than we can keep
the inside in. In the freezer, a dozen
corpse cows, 40 chickens missing

their heads. How long does it take
to move through that much flesh?
Gnawing our way to hunger with sharp,

angry teeth?

Kristy Bowen, napwrimo  | day 5

Cleaning is what I do when everything else feels out of control. My parents used to ride on me unmercifully for my reluctance to clean my desk, my room, my dresser drawers — I always had something more compelling to do, and it just didn’t feel important; besides, I knew where everything was. Oddly, once I had my own spaces and shared them with a partner, I got neater — though there have always been neglected areas. But when unhappiness or chaos or uncertainty seep into my world, I’ve noticed that I instinctively look for things to do that feel ordered, methodical, and incremental: making a patchwork quilt, knitting stitch after stitch, practicing music or a language, following a complicated recipe, taking the food out of the fridge and scrubbing the shelves. There’s a quiet satisfaction today in opening the door to the spice cabinet and seeing the neatly-labeled jars and tins; maybe today I’ll do another drawer of my desk. It’s all easier than staring at a blank screen, wondering what I can possibly write to make sense of this thing that’s happening to all of us — but, ironically, that time spent doing mundane tasks is when the ideas come, and I’ve learned to trust that, too.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 12. The Spice Cabinet

We are not
what we think
we are

until we
dream: then
we are

what we are,
everywhere
at once.

Tom Montag, We Are Not