A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: secondhand books, Hafez divination, translating Villon, devil riffs, encounters with bulls, and much more. Enjoy.
All night the wind, the muffled bark of a dog-fox
All night the clatter of branches, the shuffling of a badger
All night the shared memory of screams burrows us into our blankets
Bob Mee, IT’S TOO LATE
Rather than await an “eagerly anticipated” book, why not rummage on secondhand shelves?
Many of the books I buy are years old, found by chance in charity shops. Charity bookshops nowadays even have sections for “Short stories”, which is more than some high street bookshops can manage. The books below aren’t really neglected masterpieces, but they’ve stuck in my memory longer than the more recently published books I’ve read. Many of them are the author’s first books, which may explain why I was impressed by them – they lack padding, and even the pieces that don’t work for me have interesting parts.
Tim Love, Some books
- “The weather in Kansas: short stories” by Crista Ermiya (Red Squirrel Press, 2015) – short stories. One was in “Best British short stories”. There’s a Borgesian piece. Most involve marginal people who are as likely to look from a distance at normal people as to look for ghosts or Self.
- “all the beloved ghosts” by Alison MacLeod (Bloomsbury, 2017) – short stories. A wide variety of types, though many are based on real people. One story (the least meta/essay one) was in “Best British short stories”.
- “Basic Nest Architecture” by Polly Atkin (Seren, 2017) – Poems from Magma, from her prizewinning MsLexia pamphlet, etc. 3 1st prize winners, 2 2nd prize winners, 3 3rd prizewinners and many shortlisted poems.
- “So many ways to begin”, Jon McGregor (Bloomsbury, 2006) – a novel. I prefer this to anything else he’s written. I’ve read it 3 times.
- “Truffle Beds” by Katherine Pierpoint (Faber and Faber, 1995) – poetry. Having been published by Faber, she became Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year in 1996. I’ve hardly seen her name mentioned since. A shame.
I have to stop and run back to take a second look
at what I think I’ve seen through the trees –
the horns of some monster, a bouldered head
and shoulders of beaten silver. And there he is
grasping a spear and a blade, Defender of
the post and rail fence, fields and house beyond,
Guardian of the small metal pig at his feet.
Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Saving ourselves
Courtney LeBLanc came to town in September, and I got to read with her at the CHE Cafe! What a brilliant poet, and what a wonderful space!
At the end of September, I hosted PLNU’s 25th Annual Poetry Day. I had the idea to have an ensemble reading of 25 poets for this special occasion, and we pulled it off! San Diego poets and a few guests from LA turned out for this incredible event, and we filled the auditorium. People stayed around talking for a long time afterwards too, and that’s how I know it was a good time. The whole evening felt magical.
In October I was a featured reader for Hafez Day in San Diego alongside some incredible poets. I chose the poems I read that night using Hafez divination: I opened the book of poems and let the lines I landed on point me toward which of my poems I should read. (I loved this! I need to let Hafez choose poems for me more often). This was such a beautiful night of poetry by a gorgeous variety of people.
Katie Manning, Publications & Reviews & Readings… Oh My!
To the creaking of deck boards underfoot,
I hear heaven’s prayer: Earth, earth.
The muscles of awe flex, and I stand
as still as the empty sky.
That is my closest name.
Soon I’m pulled back to tasks and lists.
Rachel Dacus, Thankfulness and Seasonal Gratitude
Yet the grind of trucks outside
on rattling roadways
carries hints of That grateful silence.
For her fifth full-length poetry title, Vixen (Toronto ON: Book*Hug Press, 2023), Ottawa poet and editor Sandra Ridley blends medieval language around women, foxes and the fox hunt alongside ecological collapse, intimate partner violence and stalking into a book-length lyric that swirls around and across first-person fable, chance encounter and an ever-present brutality. Following her collections Fallout (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2009) [see my review of such here], Post-Apothecary (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2011) [see my review of such here], The Counting House (BookThug, 2013) [see my review of such here] and the Griffin Prize-shortlisted Silvija (BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here], the language of Vixen is visceral, lyric and loaded with compassion and violence, offering both a languid beauty and an underlying urgency. “If he has a love for such,” she writes, as part of the second poem-section, “or if loathing did not prevent him. // A curse shall be in his mouth as sweet as honey as it was in our mouths, our mouths as / sweet as honey. Revulsive as a flux of foxbane, as offal—and he will seem a lostling. // He came for blood and it will cover him.”
Set in six extended poem-sections—“THICKET,” “TWITCHCRAFT,” “THE SEASON OF THE HAUNT,” “THE BEASTS OF SIMPLE CHACE,” “TORCHLIGHT” and “STRICKEN”—Ridley’s poems are comparable to some of the work of Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy for their shared use of medieval language, weaving vintage language and consideration across book-length structures into a way through to speak to something highly contemporary. As such, Vixen’s acknowledgments offer a wealth of medieval sources on hunting, and language on and around foxes and against women, much of which blends the two. A line she incorporates from Robert Burton (1621), for example: “She is a foole, a nasty queane, a slut, a fixin, a scolde [.]” From Francis Quarles (1644), she borrows: “She’s a pestilent vixen when she’s angry, and as proud as Lucifer [.]”
rob mclennan, Sandra Ridley, Vixen
Weather throbs and sunshine appears, warms the skunk’s foreparts. A patrolman on an off-day partakes in wink and simulation, then parked cars dissolve. An airship, low above the night table, fills with rivers, accepts me as a discoverer.
Gary Barwin, Breathe Moss and a video for my new book, Imagining Imagining: Essays on Language, Identity and Infinity.
Folks, I am so, so excited to announce that I have two poems published in “Purr and Yowl,” an anthology about cats! I am super-stoked about this, not only because the editor is one of my favorite people, David D. Horowitz, but because it’s an excellent anthology, and I’m published along with some true literary heavy-weights, which makes me feel both proud and humbled. The publisher, World Enough Writers, put together a beautiful publication, full of humor and horror and joy and anguish–all things associated with owning a psychopathic furball. I received my contributor’s copy a few days ago, and I have been reading it with awe and delight ever since. Hint, hint: It would make a great Christmas present for those cat lovers in your life. You can order your copy here:
Purr and Yowl
Kristen McHenry, Toxic Waspulinity, Bread Fail, I’m Published in “Purr and Yowl”!
if you haven’t been laying on a roof
Robin Gow, 11/25
at some point we have nothing in common.
i would pluck stars & put them
in my ears to hear something good.
i try to inhale & i breathe in
coal perfume & boyhood. don’t get me wrong.
there are worse things than
Some days I don’t want to go into life,
though the alarm is insistent,
it’s easier to stay outside,
close the eye-blinds,
turn off the ears,
stopper the scream,
don’t smell the smoke,
don’t touch the flame,
don’t taste the ash.
Some days I don’t want to go into life,
Sue Ibrahim, Some days
but I write my name on my helmet,
and I go in anyway.
One is a beekeeper.
Jason Crane, POEM: Palestine Corner
One is barefoot.
One is from the Bay Area.
One is Kuwaiti.
One is a daycare worker.
One is from Iraq.
One is a boxer.
One is a nurse.
One is a newbie.
One is an old head.
One is a singer.
One is a guitarist.
One is trans.
One is bi.
One is a dad.
One is a mom.
One brings coffee.
One brings honey.
They hold signs.
The cars pass.
In Khan Younis, beyond the border fence,
no one dances dabka. In Nablus, a farmer
hugs her tree, and cries; another watches,
his grape vines crushed, his fingers broken.
A city center’s oil spills. A boy’s toy
Maureen Doallas, Uprootings (Poem)
plane soars from a concrete balcony
just seconds before the blast
of a white phosphorus bomb.
The afterlife the Witnesses sell is eternity on earth in Eden conditions, no want, no pain, no death or sickness. In the years since I’ve left I’ve thought that it would be a much more successful pitch if they didn’t demand so much of their followers in return, in time, in fealty. It’s more concrete than the heaven of their Christian brethren, after all.
But the fundamental problem of any afterlife is the question of what you do with all that time when there are none of the things that help us make time pass for better or worse. What does happiness mean when that’s all there is?
But heaven allows only jubilance
Possibly the angel needed to return
Human: with feelings, tears and laughter
Or find a way to shape the sadness into
A moment of beauty when the angel’s wings
Spread and flight moves to breathing
Full of vision. There the angel’s tears bond
With the visitor’s fear, awe.
It feels a bit like Spears Jones could be referencing a piece of art, which she does in other poems in this collection, but my internet search skills couldn’t narrow down a specific piece, even with the mention of Berlin a couple of lines later. But I want to focus on the seraphim, the feeling of needing to replace perfection with the broken and then create beauty from that. It’s a very human need, to transform moments and objects from one emotional state to another and to live in a state where that transformation can’t happen would be hollow. Maybe we want perfection because we haven’t really thought about what it would do to us to have it, about what we would lose in gaining it.
Brian Spears, Search for community, search for beauty
Thank you to Ailsa Holland for contributing this first blog post in honour of James Schuyler’s centenary.
James Schuyler’s ‘The Bluet’
‘The Bluet’ has changed for me this year. I used to see in it a recognition of the transformative magic of blue. It made me think of the best blues of my life — the precious lapis of the medieval manuscripts I fell in love with as a student; the shining silk handkerchief a young man wrapped round a milk bottle filled with daffodils; a blue gate with a silver-green pear tree in front of it, which I used to gaze at in perfect contentment; Patrick Heron’s window for the Tate on my daughter’s first visit to St Ives, the day she first said ‘blue’. And of course all those skies and seas of sunny days. I still wonder whether blue in itself can make a moment happy, or whether blue has a special power on memory, making those incidents shine out from the general murkiness of the past like Schuyler’s bluet in the Autumn wood.
In February of this year my mother died. She was a Quaker. We buried her in one of her favourite t-shirts, covered in small blue flowers. Now when I read ‘The Bluet’ I see her, a small woman with a stamina I only began to understand long after I left home. A woman who stubbornly refused to let the brown-grey of the world stop her joy, even though she felt her own and others’ suffering and grief so keenly. She knew that we are always in a season of dying, that we can still, freakishly, be ‘a drop of sky’, whether by marching, by baking scones or by writing poems. To be a Flower, as Emily Dickinson said, is profound Responsibility. And I see my mother on her last Christmas Day, watching my kids play rather unrehearsed carols in her room, her blue eyes bright as springtime.
Anthony Wilson, James Schuyler at 100: The Bluet, by Ailsa Holland
I came of age in the era when nearly every high school girl I knew read The Bell Jar and claimed it as her own story. Weren’t we all disaffected? On the edge of a mental breakdown? How could any young woman be “okay” in a social climate designed to keep women down?
We felt so much and could express so little. This novel allowed for points of connection, for a sense that we (okay—young, white women) had been seen. Strange sidebar: Plath wrote this under a very English pseudonym, Victoria Lucas, in 1963 (published unfinished in the UK, the year she died) and it arrived without fanfare. In 1973, it was republished under Plath’s name in the States. I read it in 1975, perhaps that’s the reason it felt so immediate. So palpable.
And although Sylvia Plath lived her first years in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts then Winthrop, and eventually attended Smith College, there is more than a generation between us. We never physically met. Yet her beautiful ghost followed me everywhere I went. In every poem I wrote, her genius mocked me. I wonder how many Massachusetts young women chose not to be poets? The fear of ending up a suicide felt all too real. Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton committed suicide just a little over 10 years apart — years that bookended my youth.
Susan Rich, And let us not forget Sylvia Plath:
The weird thing about this part of the book writing process, the part at which your manuscript has been handed gently over to the professionals for their guidance and advice, is the strange nothingness of it, which is interspersed with EXTREME EXCITEMENT, followed again by complete normality and quiet living. One day I am walking my dog down the lane in ten year old leggings, a too big coat, bobble hat and wellies, like the crazy village eccentric I am, the next I’m being invited to a swanky author party at the Ivy in London. I can’t go to the party, sadly, due to distance, trains, money and the elderly dog needing so much care and attention. But I have printed the invite out as a small career marker and I shall put it in my scrapbook to mark this place in my author journey. It is thrilling. I have to stop myself from saying “who, Me?!” when something like this happens.
This week double book excitement – firstly, the design for the map that will go in the front of The Ghost Lake arrived so that I can see if everything is in the right place. It’s beautiful. The map was a complex concept as it is a map of several layers of time in the same place, so needed to cover geographical, historical and personal places of note. It’s so beautiful that I think I will get the map printed up and framed to hang on my office wall. The second big thing was that we – myself and my brilliant editor – moved onto the next set of edits, which means I get to see a ‘clean’ copy of the manuscript. What does that mean? It means a copy of the manuscript with all edits so far, with the layout as it will be. There is still work to do on the book, but by reading a clean copy I get a feel of how it will read, without the clutter of a million suggestions in the margins, or highlights by me or the little reminders to myself where I have forgotten what it was that I was talking about and have instead, helpfully, left a series of ???? in a comment box. This is the closest it has been to an actual physical book so far. It also means that I’m at the stage where I will need to allow my mum to read it, and my husband, who both feature in it. I will also be sending chapters to people who have been interviewed for the book, and experts who I have talked to. In short, this is the first time the book creeps out from the safety of the publisher’s office, into the hands of people who have never seen it.
Wendy Pratt, Ghost Lake Rising
The Worlds End of rob mclennan’s title is, we are told in an epigraph, a ‘pub on the outskirts of a town, especially if on or beyond the protective city wall’; a space that is both convivial and liminal and a tone-setter for the book.
As a poet, editor, publisher and blogger, mclennan is a key figure in a world of poets, and this community is reflected in the fact that most of the poems that make up this book have individual epigraphs from writers, the regulars in the World’s End. A sense of poetry as being intrinsic to the world weaves through the book right from the opening section, ‘A Glossary of Musical Terms’:
The Key of S
Hymn, antiphonal. Response, response. A trace of fruit-flies, wind. And from this lyric, amplified. This earth. Project, bond. So we might see. Easy. Poem, poem, tumble. Sea, to see. Divergent, sky. Deer, a drop of wax. Design, a slip-track.
This melding of the natural and domestic worlds (hinted at by the slip-track) with the world of poetry and language is characteristic of mclennan’s work here, with frequent pivots on words that can be read as noun or verb (project). The carefully disrupted syntax calls out the sense of observing from the margins. This can lend a sense of Zen-like simple complexity, a tendency towards silence:
Billy Mills, Recent Reading November 2023
Present, present, present. Nothing in particular.
I’m enthralled by this book of poems by Oregon poet Debra Elisa. My first impression was that her poems made a good contrast to mine, choreographed differently, her language distinct and pocked with color. But as I read more deeply, I began to see how our subjects and themes overlap: childhood songs, mothers and grandmothers, kitchens, birds, dogs, backyard gardens.
We also—if I can extend my interests beyond my new book—share a fascination with Emily Dickinson, as this cover blurb written by Allen Braden makes clear, calling Debra’s style “as idiosyncratic as Emily Dickinson’s with poems flaunting ‘breath and tiptoe glory and Clover.’”
And so much more, poems about social justice, poems about peace. Consider these lines:
You write often of Trees Dogs Birds
she says and I feel disappointed because I wish
her to tell me You challenge us to consider justice
and love in all sorts of ways.
In short, this is an eclectic, surprising collection of poems.
What makes You Can Call It Beautiful a coherent collection (too) is the way Debra weaves her themes throughout, and unites all of it with her gift for sound and color.
Bethany Reid, Debra Elisa: YOU CAN CALL IT BEAUTIFUL
Selima Hill’s Women in Comfortable Shoes is different again [to O’Brien’s Embark and Gross’s The Thirteenth Angel]. The poems are all short – many if not most six or fewer lines. They’re grouped into sequences but even within these I think they largely work as separate units. They have the punchiness of epigrams but unlike epigrams what most offer is not pithy reflections on life in general but flashes of extremely subjective response to another person or to the speaker’s immediate circumstances. She appears at different ages, as a child at home or a girl in a boarding school at one end of the book and as an old woman at the other. She comes across as highly intelligent and observant, vividly imaginative, prickly, rebellious and uncompromising, perpetually embattled with others and often conflicted in herself, bewildered by other people’s feelings and behaviour and sometimes almost as much so by her own. In some ways this collection is like Hill’s previous one – Men Who Feed Pigeons – but I felt that in Men the accumulation of impressions emerging between the lines of a given sequence encouraged me to achieve a sense of what the other characters in a relationship were like in themselves, independently of the poet-persona’s reactions to them, and to ‘read’ her and their reactions in that wider context. I feel that much less in this collection.
Although their economy and clarity suggests the application of deliberate art, in other ways most of the very short poems have the air of immediate releases of thought, lightning flash spontaneity and truth to the impulse of the moment. This gives a sense of honesty and makes us – or made me – feel very close to the poet. It goes with a willingness to express unworthy feelings without shame or apparent self-consciousness.
Edmund Prestwich, Selima Hill, Women in Comfortable Shoes – review
Perhaps merely writing poems isn’t enough? What does it achieve after all? “Fate”, the final poem has an answer as the poet visits a dollar store and gets shoved to the back of the shelf where no one will see her. However, her poems,
“slip themselves into various
I trust them to start
singing at the perfect,
most inopportune moments.
This is how, they assure me,
new poets are born.”
Change can happen, one poem and one shopper at a time. Poetry is thought-provoking, a sly vehicle of change. And that’s what Kyla Houbolt has achieved: a set of cerebral poems designed to get the reader thinking and responding to the questions raised without being dictated to or guided towards a specific conclusion. “Surviving Death” is quietly generous in spirit.
Emma Lee, “Surviving Death” Kyla Houbolt (Broken Spine) – book review
It was actually a rather beautiful house, in a very beautiful setting, and I can at least say that I loved the hills and the sky. I knew the dirt roads and the trails intimately, I would like to live somewhere beautiful again, before I die, though it seems increasingly unlikely that I will. I’m glad I knew the night sky before it was littered with satellites, and glad that I learned black oaks by climbing them and griming my hands on their rugged pelts. That much of the lost world I do have in my blood.
Hush, now, and listen for the breeze that comes up at first light: watch for the bloody sun to spill over the hill crest and make the oaks into calligraphy against the pink sky. Not much longer now. There are not many threads to pick up, but I’ll gather what I can.
Dale Favier, The House my Stepfather Built
Rob Taylor: François Villon was, to say the least, a character. A criminal and cheat, both his poems and life story are filled with misdirection, subterfuge and gaps. In the acknowledgments to After Villon, you write that you began translating Villon shortly after first encountering his work in 2009. What was it about Villon that drew you in so quickly and so fully?
Roger Farr: It was precisely those things you mention. That and the fact that Villon, a medieval poet, was the first to erase the separation between his art and his life, which arguably makes him the first avant-garde writer. But for some time before I read Villon, I had been interested in political and aesthetic discussions about visibility, readability, and clandestinity, topics I wrote about for anarchist publications. When I was working on a piece for Fifth Estate about the work of the Situationist Alice Becker-Ho, who introduced me to Villon, I learned about his poetic use of coded language, deceit, and slang, and I became deeply intrigued.
RT: Villon’s influence on After Villon is obvious, but as I read your book I started to think of the title as being composed of two parts, with the “After” actually pointing to Jack Spicer, whose After Lorca—with its loose translations and “correspondences” from Spicer to Lorca—served as a template of sorts for your book. Did you ever feel tension in trying to honour all three “contributors” (Villon, Spicer, you) in one book? If so, how did you manage that?
RF: As soon as I started to see my accumulating translations as a book, I knew I would use After Lorca as a template. I have always found Spicer’s poetics difficult to comprehend, which is no doubt part of my attraction to his work. But I thought the correspondences he writes to Lorca were a brilliant way to elaborate a poetics of translation without resorting to overly expository prose. So he was mostly a formal influence, at the level of the book. Ultimately, my eyes and ears were always attuned to Villon.
Rob Taylor, The Poem’s Hum: An Interview with Roger Farr
What am I without the shroud of poetry that covers my nakedness. It is the only way you could have known me: translated into a poem. Into a shroud. Some verses, some lines, some words are lost. Replaced by spaces. A person, a part, a poem, a word, in the end, becomes a space. Space something else will occupy. Loss is white. The colour of erasure. The colour of forgetting.
Rajani Radhakrishnan, Weariness has the same texture as cloud
I have been reading novels, which affects my state of mind, makes me dreamy and distracted, foggy-headed, and full of the conflicts in their plots. Or maybe the weather is what does it–too much lovely late autumn sun and not enough rain, which feels “off” for our region; and once the rain finally arrives, it is a dour and chilly dousing I have to convince myself to feel grateful for. Likely the news cycle has not helped my mood. My nine-year-old self emerges from a distant past, crying, “People are so mean!” My parents can no longer sit down beside me and offer comfort.
Time to switch to the poets. I’m finally getting around to reading Ocean Vuong’s Time Is a Mother, a collection that’s been on my to-read list for far too long. The very first poem, “The Bull,” startled me into reading it twice. “I reached–not the bull–/but the depths. Not an answer but/an entrance the shape of/an animal. Like me.” Enough to jolt me out of my fiction-induced haze, especially on a day like this one when I feel the anxious dreamy child in me more than I wish. The prose poems later in the book intrigue me, as well: a very different prose than is found in most novels.
Ann E. Michael, Practice
The first stop on the river cruise I took this month was Arles. Arles makes a very big deal of the time Vincent Van Gogh spent there, with placards set up around the city. It does indeed have wonderful light, and the white stone of its monuments adds to the effect. I, however, was more interested in the Roman ruins, ancient walls and other buildings. The amphitheater is quite grand.
In the old hospital in which Van Gogh lived after his ear episode, the garden is maintained to match his paintings. But it was November, so the appearance was a bit drab. I took this picture because I felt like I should.
Ellen Roberts Young, Visit to Arles
I just got back to chilly Ohio after a couple of days at the Miami Book Fair. Sunshine, palm trees, tostones, mojitos, energizing conversations with writers, and so many books, books, books. Plenty of joys, even in harrowing times.
In Miami I had a panel discussion with Hannah Pittard and a powerful conversation with Dani Shapiro for her podcast Family Secrets. If you’re in the mood to listen to a podcast this week, I especially loved this incredibly moving episode of Family Secrets, and I had a terrific conversation about ambiguity and “grounded hope” with organizational psychologist and NYT bestselling author Adam Grant recently for ReThinking. (I even forgive Adam for being a Michigan wolverine.)
Grounded hope. Yes, please!
Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff
I have just spent much of a week in a house with no internet access–no, not mine, but the ramshackle house that my family rents each year. In the past, we’ve been given a hotspot from the camp that rents the house, but last year, we discovered that they no longer provide that service. We used our smart phones as hotspots, and I had the highest mobile phone bill I’ve ever had, since I don’t have unlimited data.
Last year I learned how much data gets used when the phone is a hotspot, so this year I was more careful and intentional. No more mindless scrolling of sites in the morning before everyone else work up–I read a book! No more checking various sites in the afternoon because I was bored–I went for a walk or started up a conversation.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Low Tech Thanksgiving
And it’s not over. This is the peripeteia. The point in the story where everything turns. It is the apex of the drama, where things slide towards a new kind of normal. What follows is all denouement. A theater lecturer once described it as the part after the final commercial break of a sitcom. The reassuring little bit to let us know life goes on.
I know it may not be that easy. The side effects of radiation aren’t predictable. I see already that, while I thought my nails had made it through chemo, my toenails are now falling off. Surprises keep coming.
But in terms of symmetry: there were the retrospective cancer-free 57 years, the breast cancer (1 known and 2 stealth buggers), and this is the new cancer-free part of the story it resolves at least one theme of the bigger story.
A few months ago I heard a podcast about narrative psychology. They talked about how it matters where you start and end a story. Where we choose to do that, how we frame our experiences, makes a big difference in how we handle the potential trauma, and how we create meaning in (and I would say with) our lives.
As always I retain the right to change to reframe all of this.
Ren Powell, “Paripeteia” & In Praise of Partners
I was glad to be asked to write an essay on a new biography of Jane Kenyon (and Donald Hall ) for The Poetry Foundation. The two are a legendary pair; they loved each other, period, and that love, like all love, was as messy as they each were, and exercised as purely and gently as they could bear it. You can read the full essay here, but below is an excerpt that will help set up my next two points:
The many pains of Kenyon’s life had the effect that fog does on light. As a fog refracts and lifts, it catches impossible variations; as it clears, what’s there to be glimpsed is seen with a clarity whose insight is hard-earned (“The soul’s bliss and suffering are bound together,” Kenyon wrote in “Twilight: After Haying”). She believed in—embodied—a spirit of resurrection and regeneration, having so often experienced a miraculous return to sanity and ease. Her fiercest rejections of dogma and her own discomforts led to her greatest gentleness on the page, deepening that inner resilience and vision, giving a shape and a reprieve to suffering through writing. Her desire for repute—“I can’t die until I have a reputation,” she insisted—was paired with a profound spiritual selflessness. “To love and work and to cause no harm” was her motto. Her attention was brilliantly suited for the focused, idiosyncratic attention needed to filter a large world through a narrow aperture, making her short lyric poems containers for what she called “the luminous particular.” She saw poetry as a vehicle for reporting on the inner life, and she delivered that vital news.
Something strikes me about the way that Jane Kenyon metabolized her hardships and gifts, as all poets must finally do. She suffered from severe, often debilitating depression, feeling angry and isolated throughout the majority of her childhood.
And yet, Kenyon had a rich and varied romantic life, one that, despite its early moralistic indoctrination (a widowed grandmother who espoused apocalyptic Christianity), repression, and her own unyielding psychic anguish, proved companied, exciting, and sensual. Despite her early experiences—and perhaps as a result of them—she developed a capacity, willingness, and appetite for the opposite: tenderness, flexibility, love. It strikes me that “The Life,” which biographers rely upon for insight into poetic output, yields curiously and differently to each poet’s affinities, vision, and voice.
Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday
I had started working on the devil riffs in 2011 after reading Luc Ferry’s A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. In it, he referenced the idea of “diabolos” or “the who who divides.” I remember writing that down in my notebook and thinking about it every once in a while, riffing on ideas of division and duality in freewrites. The more I wrote, the more I felt that I wasn’t writing about religion directly, instead taking the devil on as a lens, how we humanize the devil and project onto them everything from our misdeeds to an idealized swagger and power. So, the breakthrough of using one narrative as a lens with which to approach other narratives was practiced with the devil first.
When I began working on what would be the first draft of this book, the devil riffs naturally came to mind as an element to put in play. It was around this time, too, that the moment happened where the word devil was confused for double—a natural moment in conversation that made it into the world of the book. Every draft of this book had these devil riffs (I keep calling them riffs as they never felt like poems but more that they borrow from philosophy and aphorism) scattered throughout. They always stood out to folks who read the manuscript, the reactions a mix of confusion and amusement. The idea of bringing them all together under one title came late in the process, and was born after reading an article about books that don’t exist. As I read it, it occurred to me that the devil riffs were their own book within a book, so I tried a draft with it. Once I saw them all together, I was inspired to add some further riffing, turning out what you see in the final version.
This book within a book allowed for a different voice from the main speaker of the manuscript. This shift also allowed the devil voice to address a “you” which is both me and the reader of the book, which is eerie (I hope). Suddenly the devil is not just the usual projections and excuses (the devil made me do it) but also devil as conscience, devil as speaking in a more assertive register than the speaker elsewhere. Note, too, that the devil says things that L turns out to have said, and also riffs against some of the speaker’s own words. Here, again, the idea of the double. The play of “Devil or nothing” was one of the final things to be written. I suppose that the manuscript is abandoned in order to enact the “nothing” half of it.
José Angel Araguz, Ruin & Want interview excerpt, pt. 4
Two years ago an exciting new online journal made its appearance on the literary scene. Uniquely, the voidspace focuses on interactive arts: the website itself is an invitation to dive in and explore through a series of alluring portals. I spoke to founding editor Katy Naylor about the voidspace, her sources of creative inspiration, her poetry, and her plans to set up a new press.
– Katy, you’ve described yourself as growing up in ‘a house full of books’. Tell us something about your creative development and the influences that inform your writing.
Katy: I actually spent the majority of my life not thinking of myself as a creative person at all. I wrote stories as a kid, as many people do, but as I grew up I became a reader, a viewer and a player: a consumer of art rather than a creator.
My mum was an English teacher, so literature was always part of my life. I was a real theatre kid, going to see Shakespeare with my mum regularly, and even making yearly pilgrimages to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare and other plays. I was also keenly interested in history (particularly mediaeval history – I even spent a few years practising early mediaeval crafts, combat styles and building methods, and learning how to sail a longship) and folk music (I spent some time as a Morris dancer!).
When I got older I discovered immersive theatre – Punchdrunk in particular – and the multi-layered and multi-sensory storytelling I encountered there blew me away.
I’ve also been interested in adventure and narrative games for a long time, as a player before I was a writer. As I kid, I loved text adventures on the computer and in choose your own adventure books, and I even taught myself some BASIC coding in order to try to write my own. A British kids’ TV show, called Knightmare, had a huge impact on me as well. It was essentially a Dungeons ‘n’ Dragons type game, but using a mixture of actors, props and early blue-screen technology, you could see one of the players seemingly physically present in this elaborate fantasy world (and seemingly falling off imaginary precipices, if they weren’t careful). It really captured my imagination.
As an adult, I discovered interactive theatre, which combines game mechanics with a theatrical narrative art, and found my own online DnD group. In its purest form tabletop gaming is a form of collaborative storytelling, but it releases players from the sense of obligation to “perform” and polish. As a result of that freedom, you often get incredible stories growing organically, that would never have happened had players consciously thought that what they were doing was writing. That’s the energy I try to bring to the voidspace – that sense of creative playfulness.
It was during lockdown that I discovered that I could actually write. I think having the time and space to think and experiment woke something in me. When we were only allowed out for a short time every day, I’d take long walks by the sea where I live (the sea is another abiding influence) and the ideas would come. Once I started to write, all the influences I’ve talked about: theatre and gaming, the past, music and folklore, the songs of the sea – all came back to me, and still form the backbone of my work.
Marian Christie, Step into an adventure: An Interview with Katy Naylor of the Voidspace
This time of year also brings on my informal year-end evaluations—what went well this year and what didn’t, things I want to invite into my life and things I want to do less of. It’s easy to forget the accomplishments and successes of the year in cold, stark November—so I try to keep track of those too. On the writing front, I had the book launch for Flare, Corona in May (and a preview of it at AWP, where I connected more than ever with the disabled writing community, which was great), and I turned 50—there were many more family visits than in the past seven years, and I reconnected with friends that I wanted to see again who had sort of slipped out of focus. I’m prioritizing friends and family, my writing work, and my health in 2024 for sure. I also want to make sure that I do less unpaid labor (and look for more paying opportunities) because my financial health is becoming a priority too—especially as my health care becomes more specialized—and more expensive.
I love the poetry world but one thing about it I don’t love is how it relies on writers’ unpaid labor (and submission fees, etc.)—usually the people who can least afford it—to prop it up. I’ve been volunteering as a reviewer, editor, fund-raiser, PR person, etc. for over 20 years. Isn’t that crazy? If I acknowledge that I have limited time and energy, then I need to volunteer…less. This also means being pickier about venues for submitting poetry and reviews, as well as maybe trying to write more essays. (And a big thank you to the journals that pay reviewers and writers and the folks who organize paid readings and classroom visits!)
Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Eagles, Thanksgiving Celebrations, a Poem in JAMA this Week, Guest Appearance at Washington and Lee University, And Year-End Evaluations
Driving home from my son’s orchestra practice
in the dark of rural Vermont, mountains
a slightly different deep blue than sky:
sudden sense-memory of dancing with my father
at my wedding. Nat King Cole on Spotify,
probably a song our hired jazz trio crooned.
The marriage and my parents are both long-buried
but I remember my father healthy and strong,
his arms around me, the crisp sheen of his tux.
I wish I could have that back. My parents,
Rachel Barenblat, Blue
and how everything seemed possible, for all
whom I love. The griefs I didn’t yet know.
You want to know how it is possible to sustain
attention over broken periods of time, how to find
again the cord of your lineage and the emblems
of not-darkness in the rubble. You want to know
where the birds with emerald plumes went
after they abandoned the garden, and whether
someone remembered to save the seeds
Luisa A. Igloria, Sometimes You Want to be Stronger than Fate
from the fruit of once abundant trees.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
How did she know? How did she know that singularity of each of us, the separation that the Self defines, the pain of it sometimes?
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
This is the line that moves me to tears. Why is that? The generosity of the world, perhaps, its offer to me, the risk involved in loving, in loving the world, and the excitement, and the reward in taking that risk, in opening myself, my imagination, to all that is possible in this incredible life.
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
With the geese, with the soft animal of my body, with you, wherever you are, connected through out imaginations, through our connections to the world, each other, the wild, the roots, branches, the wings, clouds, the wind, the world. Of and in and with.
Marilyn McCabe, Geese
and then i found you
Jim Young [no title]
with your hand on a book’s breeze
lost in the turning