Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 18

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.

The end of Poetry Month last week prompted not just progress reports and posts about favorite books and poems, but also led a number of poets to ponder larger questions about productivity, ambition, and the nature of work. Several wrote about sleep and insomnia, and others talked about the importance of writing in community. And as usual there were a few miscellaneous posts that didn’t really fit anywhere but were too damn fun to leave out. Enjoy.


Today I clicked on a random link to a recent poem in a fancier journal (someone liked it, I’m not sure why) and reading through was kind of embarassed for the journal for publishing it.  (and kinda for the dude for writing it.) It committed the cardinal sin in my poetry church–the breaking of sentences into lines with no real “poetry” quality about it except it looked like one on the page.  Also, it was boring, and in places abstract and cliched. The venue in question misses the mark quite a bit, but this was supposed to be one of the poetry world darlings, someone who people hold up as an idol (not me, but other people).  I started laughing and literally could not stop for about 5 minutes.

I realized for every time I think to myself, question myself, that I do not know what I’m doing…my own work, even at it’s very throwaway worst was far better than this sampling.  That yes, maybe I totally DO know what I’m doing and am doing it pretty damn well.  And in fact all of us–poet friends, dgp authors, the mss. I help out with –ALL of us are doing so much better than this fancy poet with our work.  If this came across my desk as an editor it would be an immediate “no” not even a “maybe.”  I’ve met poets who have been writing for a year or less who are considerably stronger than this.  Don’t worry, we got this.

Kristy Bowen, poet pep talk # 786

We can get used to all sorts of fashions and default settings in poetry, getting comfortable with psalms, and sestinas, and free verse, and minimalism, and stanzaic bits of ekphrasis and sonnets, and narratives. Which reminds me of a writing course I went on where elegant lyricism and exquisitely crafted velleities were the name of the game, and, en passant, one lady of letters remarked, languidly enough: ‘The anecdotal, the bus-stop conversation, has its own charm.’ by which I understood that it has no place in serious poetry at all.

This set me to think of my own predilection for narrative in poetry, and my inability to engage with, or be engaged by, self-referential stylistic games with fleeting moments, and the fragility of, say, a lemon. It also made me think of what does engage me. Emotional and intellectual surprise and challenge… that grabs me. I like novels like ‘The Name of the Rose’, and ‘Tristram Shandy’. I like MacCaig’s outrageous similes. I like the Metaphysicals. I like early Tony Harrison. I like ‘The Waste land’. I like to be out of my comfort zone, put slightly off -balance; I like creative disturbance. And so I came to like Yvonne Reddick’s idiosyncratic take on the world and its multifariousness.

The first time I met her was (regular readers, you can now roll your eyes and get it over with) at a Poetry Business Writing Day. After all, that’s where I get all my new poetry and poets. I may be wrong, but I think that was the one where she brought a distinctly eccentric poem to workshop. The title gives you due warning: Holocene Extinction Memorial. Nineteen irregular stanzas, each of which might be an idiosyncratic label in a room full of unnervingly strange exhibits.

‘The Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse from Indefatigable Island wants to be invincible’

‘The Hacaath of Vancouver struggle with smallpox’

‘The quagga hopes Burchell’s zebra remembers her’

I have no idea if she made some of them up, or all, or none; I could Google them but I have no desire to find out. The thing is, she read with such emphatic conviction that I had no choice but to be convinced. I have no idea if anyone else was as taken as I, or even if it was ‘a Good Poem’. All I know is  it was unexpected, and memorable, and that’s not the case with everything you hear in a workshop. It was like the poem equivalent of the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford before it was tidied up and curated into rationality. Like the cabinets of curiosities beloved of the incumbents of Victorian rectories.

John Foggin, A polished gem revisited: Yvonne Reddick

I have returned to the poems in QUANTUM HERESIES many times in the last two months. How can a debut  collection of poems be so arresting, so superb?  One answer is that Mary Peelen has been hard at work on her craft for years; she is not a dilettante but rather a true poet. Also, she has lived a fascinating and hard-won life.

Take for example these lines from “String Theory,”

Here at the horizon of theoretical extinction,
we cut flowers for the table.

We sing the way weary mourners do,
praising geometry as if miracles could happen.

The environment, mathematics, love, and loss in two couplets. I am in awe of these lines and from many other poems as well including: “x”, “Unified Theory,” and “Sunday Morning” to name but a few stellar examples of Peelen’s deft and spare language.

Elizabeth Bishop once said that what she liked best in a poem was “to see a mind in motion.” And she then added that this was of course an impossibility. That the poems that did their best to mirror the mind’s movement were working hard to display such ease.

Susan Rich, Mary Peelen’s QUANTUM HERESIES is here and you want to read it!

I confess that I love finishing books because it gives me a chance to move to another one on my to read pile. That pile grows like the National Debt. But I’ve finished another and will be looking to start another. I’ve finished reading The Veronica Maneuver by Jennifer Moore.  I will be doing a review of the book soon. (adding to my growing to do list).

Goat Yoga. There is such a thing. I kid you not. (no pun intended) Yesterday I joined others at Paradise Park for a session of goat yoga. The cute little things wander around among us and challenge our focus. They will occasionally have accidents. My mat was missed by inches. Their poop looks like Raisinets.  See photo to right. Aside from, the experience was fun and we did get some light yoga in, which at this stage is about where I am at in the yoga experience overall.  Anyone who knows me well quite possibly knows my affinity towards goats.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – OM to the Goats Edition

Jeannine Hall Gailey’s terrifyingly useful PR For Poets is packed with ideas completely new to me, even though this is my third book. (Or fifth, depending on how such things are counted.) […]

Like nearly every other writer I know, I’m a friendly hermit with a serious allergy* to self-promotion. So I didn’t follow most of Jeannine’s good advice, like developing a PR kit or getting a headshot. But her book did foster another idea. “Hide in the house,” I said to myself. “Make something fun to help sell the new book.”

Book swag can include postcards, magnets, bookmarks, t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, pens, custom-decorated cookies, toys, and more. All the stuff most writers, let alone most publishers, can’t possibly afford. Jeannine calmly explains postcards and business cards are the most useful, and how to produce them at a reasonable cost. Of course I wanted to do something complicated. […]

Initially I hoped to create tiny replica book necklaces that could open to a poetry sample, somewhat like this project on Buttons & Paint. The time required, however, was too daunting, especially with time constraints like my actual editing job.

Then I decided to make book pendants that could be worn or used to mark one’s place. It seemed simple.

Laura Grace Weldon, How Not To Make Book Swag

Here are my thoughts as I read, and reread this poem.  What caught me up first was the detail of slow description of what is a fairly brief event: details like noting when the boy is seeing the bulbous end or the tapering end of the carrot.

Second, the word choices.  “Bulbous” is not a plain word. I particularly notice the way “whisker” is used as a verb and applied to the carrot, not the white hairs on a chin.  The “same glints” on the two caught my attention also, because I’ve seen such glints in early morning sun.

Another good touch is the delaying of the boy’s age until the short second stanza.  Now we meet the one for whom this very ordinary event is not ordinary at all.  And when the poem ends on “the world outside this garden” how could this garden not be Eden?

John C. Mannone has contributed to Sin Fronteras Journal, of which I am one of the editors.  I look forward to seeing more of his work wherever it appears.

Ellen Roberts Young, Reading a Poem: Mannone’s “Carrots”

When pondering what to post today, the last day of April and therefore the last post in this series of Great Poems for April—no pressure!—I realized a strange thing. Even though I’d been concentrating on going through my own trove of favorite poems through the month, I hadn’t really thought about which one poem is my very favorite. You know, that one that accompanies you through life, whose lines remain with you like bits of a song that you find yourself humming while doing dishes or driving to work. As soon as I thought that, I immediately knew which one was my favorite: “After Apple-Picking.”

What I love most about this poem is its unusual rhyme scheme. This being Frost, of course there’s a pattern. But it’s so erratic, so—dare I say—rebellious that I wonder if Frost was thinking, screw the establishment; I’m gonna go all Picasso on the old end rhyme. And he was a master of the old end rhyme. And yet he was young when he wrote this. And probably somebody out there knows what that was all about, but I’m kind of glad I don’t know, in the same way I’m glad I don’t know for sure what the different kinds of sleep are that he talks about. Or whether this is about the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the banishment from Eden. Or about the burdens of fame (that’s my go-to—“I am overtired / Of the great harvest I myself desired”—but again, he was young, so I’m not so sure). And if you want to see what other people think about all those things, spend an amusing hour or so surfing the internet, looking at the different theories. Those people are all so sure they know what this poem means.

What I do know about this poem is that it’s beautiful. Phrases of this poem are, I think, among the best in American poetry (“ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,” “load on load of apples coming in,” and that low-geared, four-word musical breakdown of a line, “As of no worth”). I love the way he changes up the rhythm and sentence length, and of course those erratic line lengths that sneak the rhymes in there among all the truncation where you can barely hear it. The phrasing is so memorable that I literally can’t pick up a stepladder without whispering “My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree / Toward heaven still,” or cut open an apple without thinking “Stem end and blossom end.” And this line—“Essence of winter sleep is on the night, / The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.” I can go back and read that for a lifetime and never get tired of it.

Every year that I reread this poem, it means something different to me; I find some small part I hadn’t thought much about before. (Right now it’s the “pane of glass / I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough”—can’t you see it? Don’t you sometimes go a whole day, unable to rub that strangeness from your sight?) Loving a good poem is like a friendship. You go through time together, and even though you never know everything about that poem, you keep discovering things that it didn’t tell you before. And your relationship with it changes too. If it’s really a great poem, the poem weathers the changes. And so do you.

Amy Miller, 30 Great Poems for April, Day 30: “After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost

As we come to the end of National Poetry Month I wanted to share with you a few poems I read and absolutely loved this month. Do yourself a favor and read them.

This one is an old poem – published in April 2017. But I only just discovered it earlier this month and it’s worth sharing:

I try to say—
I am lonely.
I try to say—
I want to come home,
to Earth, to Ithaca.
That this
was all a mistake.

~ from Yellowshirt Elegy by Meghan Phillips, published by Barrelhouse

Another one that was published back in July but thanks to the powers of Twitter, I just discovered it this month:

An analogy:
Pac-Man fills his mouth with pellets: you fill
your house with wine, your head with songs.

~from Nine Ways in Which Pac-Man Speaks to the Human Condition by Katie Willingham, published by Paper Darts

Courtney LeBlanc, Read These Poems

April is finished, thank goodness, it’s been a tough month for a variety of reasons. Now I can do a review of my efforts over GloPoWriMo, the Global Poetry Writing Month – my attempts to write at least one, sometimes two poems a day for my two online courses.

I wrote 22 poems that I consider done or almost done and 12 poems that still need a lot of work or will probably never make it past draft stage. There are also some drafts that I couldn’t count as going anywhere, so I haven’t counted them. That’s just over 30, so I’m very pleased with that. Some days I wrote nothing, some I wrote two, but I sat down regularly enough to have a poem a day for the month. 

Forcing myself to write a rough draft of a poem a day has pushed me to not avoid difficult subjects, to delve deeper into moments that have weight for me, but might not necessarily be an interesting telling on the face of it at first. I have pushed myself to write even when I’m not in the mood or don’t like where my writing is going. Sometimes just ranting on the page or exploring those emotionally charged subjects helps me to deal with them in a healthier way than bottling them up and letting them fizz inside me until I explode over nothing. 

Gerry Stewart, My April GloPoWriMo Assessment

I wrote 30 poems, one each day, as a sonnet cycle. It was surprisingly easy to keep going, as every day I had a prompt from the previous poem. By about 4/12, I found that I didn’t have to count lines, I just wrote 14 and stopped. The form entered me. I will be working on revisions for a good while, but I’m hopeful that I have something here. The cycle starts and ends with this line:
It was a warm day in April when the coleus died.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with My April Roundup

& so, I did what I set out to do: I exercised the necessary discipline to draft a poem a day during National Poetry Month, and I pushed against my “comfort zone” by publicly posting those drafts as they came to me. Usually I do not share my initial drafts with anyone other than fellow writers in my writer’s group or a few poets with whom I correspond. This was an interesting experiment on the personal level, therefore, a sort of forced extroversion as well as effort in productivity. I now have 30 new drafts to reflect upon, revise, or ignore.

It has been years since I came up with that much work in four weeks’ time. For the last decade or so, my average has been closer to six or seven poems a month. And I would not have posted any of them as they “hatched.” I would have waited until I spent some time with them and figured out how best to say what they seemed to want to say.

That’s not an unwise approach in general; I see nothing wrong with letting poems stew awhile. And quite a few would have ended up in the “dead poems” folder. Nevertheless, trying something innovative tends to prove valuable. The takeaway is that I am glad I finally managed the NaPoWriMo challenge. A few of the poem drafts you may have read here stand a chance of evolving into better poems. Maybe some will end up in a collection (years down the road). That result feels good.

The takeaway is also the realization that I no longer worry about how others judge my poems, the way I did when I was starting out and discouraged about having my stuff rejected by magazines. Not because there’s less at stake–indeed, I feel as invested in my writing as I ever was. The difference comes with the kind of investment, the ambition to write something meaningful or beautiful, and not viewing the poems as results waiting to be determined as valuable by someone more authoritative.

I’m 60 years old and well-educated in poetic craft, style, purpose, analysis. I’ve been writing poetry for over four decades. At this point in my life, that’s authority enough.

Ann E. Michael, The takeaway

Here’s wishing you a happy May Day and hoping that you enjoyed a marvelous Poetry Month.

In the photo, you can make out a couple of stones. Those make the line between the lawn’s lush green abundance and the scraggly patch of winter rye. Okay, some lawn grass is mixed in between the rye and the irises. But it’s had me thinking about what we cut and what we keep, about censoring and not censoring, about how we tend our writing. Even about where I’m putting my energy.

In thinking about writing, I’m seeing the two kinds of grasses not as separate things but as the different attentions required. There’s letting the creative rush run over, there’s perhaps (for me, always) the need to trim, to shape, and there’s the need to tend, to wait patiently.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day four

If you’re reading this, it must be some time between 3 -5 am and I am up listening to Vampire Weekend’s new song “Harmony Hill” on repeat.

I’ve written 2 poems and answered a few emails. I haven’t spoken to anyone in 36 hours, and this is the gift of the writing residency. I wonder–what if I didn’t talk to people for days in real life, would I have more to write? It seems the less I talk, the more I have to say when I write.

I know it would be almost impossible to achieve this at home, but it encourages me on my next retreat to see how long I could go without speaking.

Solitude, when chosen, is a gift. 
Solitude, when forced upon someone, is a punishment. 
Solitude, when not wanted, is loneliness in disguise.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Making the Most of Insomnia…

So we know all kinds of stuff about how the mind works, but we don’t know what this feeling is of knowing. Which makes me so confused I feel sleepy. And, let me tell you, from all the articles people insist on forwarding to me, we really know very little about sleep — how it works, why it works, why it works the way it works, and what’s going on when it doesn’t work, not to mention how to fix it. So we not only don’t know what this thing called “I” is but we don’t know why “I” can’t sleep. I’ll tell you, it keeps me awake at night.

Marilyn McCabe, Wake Me Up When It’s Over

One after the other you fall asleep
as the light moves on and wakes up
the ones at the other end of the line
We move so fast that we cannot see
A merry-go-round of dreams

Magda Kapa, Globally Speaking

Staying up most of the night working on poems. Oh Lonely Bones – can’t you rest? Why should I? Even now now a strong wind carries some pine seeds to the earth. Even now the boats slide down the long Sacramento River to the bay. A new day begins and I am alive.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Staying up most of the night working on poems.’

The buzz bang clatter shatter whooshing rush
of restaurant chatter. I just smile and nod.
This is not an aura, but a shockwave
pulsing against my skin with each heartbeat,
an auditory strobe staccato sheet
of porcupine pins flying in close shave
formation, grinding at 300 baud.

PF Anderson, On Aurality

The wipe-out of my hard drive and the subsequent computer clean-up continues. I went into my main drive this weekend to organize my years of fiction and poetry output, and was at once heartened and saddened by it, the sad part of which threw me immediately into the throes of writing self-pity, a very unbecoming state of being in which I lamented the failure of my novel, wallowed in my fear that writing poetry about my new-found passion for shooting will be roundly rejected by anti-gun leftist poetry publishers everywhere, as poets are almost universally anti-gun leftists, and lamented the  fact that I am hopelessly prone to writing run-on sentences. But I am also proud to report that I was fairly pleased overall with my review of my previous work. I read some things that I had forgotten I wrote and that can firmly say I stand by to this day, despite their thickness and amateur-ness. To balance this, the most hopeless amongst them were unceremoniously deleted. So it’s been a mixed bag.

Kristen McHenry, Fun with Projection, Ear to Mouth Ratio, Self-Pity Sunday

I’ve been ruthless this week, in a way that feels quite alien to me. I’ve shelved so many jobs in order to stick to my goal of writing two (yes, just two) pages of my notebook every day. The things I’ve put to one side include reading (poetry and prose, weekend supplements) making art/ collages, cleaning the bathroom, weeding the garden (although the weather was against me on this week). Still, you get the picture. What’s interesting is that because my target is quite low, in terms of word count, I’ve exceeded it nearly every day. This has been really positive. It’s given me that ‘Can do’ feeling, and made me keen to carry on, so much so that yesterday I treated myself to a new notebook, in anticipation of finishing the current one. I’ve stuck to A5 so I can keep the momentum – there’s something about turning the page that makes me feel I’m being more productive.

Writing is important to me, and I’ve said for a while now that I’ve embraced distractions as a way of feeding the work, but the bottom line is, if you’re not setting aside time to do the work, then anything you’ve gleaned from these distractions isn’t being given a fair chance to flourish into something new on the page. So, instead of finding excuses (or allowing the distractions to take over) I’m concentrating on finding ways to fit my writing into what seems, at times, an impossibly short day.

Julie Mellor, No excuses

Many years ago the doctor told me the best thing I could do for my mental health was to keep a routine. Take the mornings predictably, and slowly.

So since my kids hit their teens, I have been up early to run, write and do meditation. And for the past year, I have included a morning flow sequence.

How I wish I had done this when my children were young. I’ve spent most of my life – all of my adult life – obsessively attempting to be productive. The unquestioned belief being that my life would be of value only if I left something important behind; that I am somehow required to justify my time on earth by creating works of art. On days, and during months scattered with rejection slips from publishers, I’d rethink my life’s choices and feel obligated to toss my humanity degrees and get a nursing degree, or a counselling certification: the kind of thing that makes a person valuable, makes them the kind of person who can sign up with Médecins Sans Frontières and do good in the world.

Ren Powell, An Art of Living – Day 1

After that glass of wine, I walked home through a small town under construction and swarming with alumnae/i, pondering ambition. It was very much on my mind in my mid-forties, when I started writing the poems in my forthcoming collection. My current working title for the latter is The State She’s In, but whether or not my editor ultimately agrees about that, I’m polishing the ms now and the book will be out in March or April 2020. The collection, in fact, contains a sequence of five list-poems called “Ambitions,” and I considered whether I could or should incorporate the word in my book title. I guess I was asking common midlife questions: what is all this striving for? Am I on a path towards something good, goals I genuinely care about? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities to other people, to my work, and as a citizen–not the trivial stuff, but the deep obligations? Then an ambitious woman ran for office, and a man who despises women trumped her, and some of my struggle over that episode is in the book, too.

As I veered off Main St. onto the smaller road that leads home, I realized I may have turned a corner where ambition is concerned. I’m not sure how much of the change comes from turning fifty, or other revolutions in my life, or even just the fact that three books I worked on for years all have contracts now, so I can afford to be less anxious! Maybe my state of relative equilibrium is temporary. But while I still think many kinds of ambition are good and important, and anyone who’s nervous about ambition in women is a sexist jerk, I find I’m not fretting about productivity this summer, for once. I can’t even drum up worry about the reception my poetry book will eventually meet (the novel’s a bit different–still feel like an imposter there). I have a number of writing projects percolating, and I’ll be helping my kids launch into college and the working world, but I’m mainly grateful that a summer slow-down is allowing me to strengthen these mss and plan for how I can help them find audiences. My chief ambition, I’m realizing, is to make the books as moving and crafty and complicated and inspiring as possible.

Lesley Wheeler, The ambit of ambition

I’m thinking about trying to start a series of get-togethers at my house, since it’s become more difficult to get out and about but I’m still an extrovert who gets inspired by spending time with other creative people. My house is pretty good for entertaining, and Glenn is good at making snacks. Should I try to create a new writers feedback group, like the one I was in for thirteen plus years, or try salons, with a bunch of different kind of artists? I’ve been finishing up a series of Virginia Woolf letters, and I’m inspired by the way, though she was limited in the amount she went out or went to London, she brought a circle of artists around her houses, not always together at the same time, but encouraged them, published them, provided tea and conversation. She really did get inspired and enjoy helping others.

I was thinking about ways to help others and maybe start working again, a little bit, from home. But what? Technical writing or marketing writing? Offering manuscript consults again? Or perhaps some coaching for doing basic PR for poets with new books? When I’m feeling good, I’m pretty effective, but I do have these “slips” in time that happen when I’m sick, so I need something that’s flexible.

Women Writing Despite…

In fact, many of the “major” women writers that we read, including Flannery O’Conner, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Lucille Clifton, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, and Charlotte Bronte, all had limits on their health – physical and mental illnesses, constraints on their time and energy. They still managed to produce a ton of work, not just published books, but tons of journals and letters that I find fascinating and great research for women writers – how they succeed, how they struggled, how they maintained friendships and family demands. (Frida Kahlo is kind of the patron-saint of sick women creatives, too. Not only is her art getting more attention these days, but I read that her garden was recently restored – how I would love to see that!)

I think one reason I’ve been attracted to researching the lives of these writers is that they succeeded despite. Despite family opposition, money problems, health problems, during a literary time that was – shall we say – unfriendly to women’s voices. How they guarded their writing time, and struggled with “doing it all” – a woman’s problem for centuries, not just now, the expectations that women will be supportive of their family’s needs, domestic work, taking care of spouses or family members, plus write and spend time and cultivate connections with other creative people. So what I’m saying is, really, in this age of phones and internets and social media, it’s easier for me than it would have been for any of those writers, despite my illnesses, the physical limitations I might face, the frustrations I feel.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Another Birthday, Spring and All, Thinking About the Modern Salon and Writing Groups, Women Writing Despite, and Planning for the Year Ahead

As I’ve traveled, from AWP a month ago to the creativity retreat last week, I’ve been thinking about tribes, the tribes we choose and the tribes that claim us.  I saw many AWP posts that talked about the ecstasy of being back with one’s tribe, but I don’t feel that way at AWP.  I’m a different kind of participant, with a very different kind of non-writing job for pay than most people there.  I still have a good time, but it’s a much more industrial feel for me–it’s not the sigh of relief, the “I’m home again!” feeling for me.

Last week’s retreat was that way.  Let me preface by saying that I don’t always feel that way.  I’ve been coming to this retreat since 2003, and I’m not sure why some years it’s easy to settle in to the retreat rhythm and some years I never capture it.  This year I felt like I knew fewer people (in part, because we had a larger crowd with more new people), yet surprisingly, I had that return to the tribe feeling.

I don’t have many areas of my life when I’m surrounded by people who are interested in the intersections of creativity and spirituality; in fact, this retreat might be the only place where I am in a larger group of those kinds of people.  There are a few at my local church, but at the retreat, I’m with 70+ people who are.  And we’re interested in a wide variety of creative expressions.  It’s exhilarating.

It does take me away from poetry writing, which is strange since the retreat almost always happens during National Poetry Month.  But it’s great to be distracted by a retreat, not by the drudgery of administrative work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Tribes and Poetry and the Focus of a Month

This week I submitted a proposal for AWP 2020, which will take place in San Antonio, TX. I haven’t had a panel picked up for the conference in a few years, so maybe I’m due. I hope it’s accepted — it gives me a chance to collaborate with a couple of my friends: one from college, J.C., who is a playwright and TV/film writer and essayist who lives now in Los Angeles. The topic is on DIY residencies and retreats — granting yourself time and space to write — and she’s been doing these kinds of things for years now; also with C.Y.M., who completed an Artist Residency in Motherhood a short while ago.

M.S. and I have been planning, and putting the final necessary pieces in place, for doing our own Artist Residency in Motherhood this summer, for a week in July. We have all of our kiddos signed up for day camps, and we’re renting a tiny apartment not far from the camps. We’re going to use an apartment booked through AirBnB as a joint workspace. The plan is to use 3-4 hours in the morning for work on writing and art-making, break briefly for lunch, and then either go back to work or go on some kind of excursion we wouldn’t normally be able to do with three kids in tow. Also, our work, our writing and art, will be focused around a joint theme — so that possibly we can exhibit or publish it somewhere together. Or maybe we won’t. We’re trying not to put too much pressure on the week — just enough to provides some focus or direction.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Returning to Blogging, More Bathroom Renovating, DIY Residency Planning, and a Cover Reveal

windless our sails of blood and bone become moons in a jar

when all else is emptied your name takes on the shape of a swan

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, seq. 30.04 2019/sekv. 30.04 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 13

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: world-building and destroying, drafting and revision, travel and homelessness… “How do we go on, heart open, in the presence of mortality?” as Jessamyn puts it. Let’s join Josephine Corcoran in toasting: “Here’s to poems, wildflowers, insects and weeds.”


My mother was the earliest form of Google I knew.  People called her with questions all the time. She kept files of clippings with financial advice, addresses of agencies, lists of experts, research findings — all updated with her ballpoint wiki. She had her travel skills to reference, her training as a registered nurse to summon, her experience with the dying to share when, inevitably, people needed her counsel.

Before the Internet, people were our search engines.

Laura Grace Weldon, Humanity is a Search Engine

I spent most of last night on Mars. All of it, actually. And the night before that. And the night before that. And the year before that …….

Colonizing Mars, actually, although that sounds grander and empowering than the experience. Let me tell you, Mars feels a lot like Kansas or Nebraska during the Dust Bowl. Well, except for spacesuits and cold.

There’s this grinding isolation, which I’m okay with, surprisingly, but it flattens everything. A numbness that comes with having a really predictable daily experience. I guess kids can adjust to all kinds of things as long as it seems normal to them. It was normal for me to study, do my chores, watch threads of wind scour the flat plains, lift the dust, and drop it back down.

PF Anderson, Mars Memories

In Los Angeles, I had to forget that entire tent city I’d seen five minutes before arriving at a gorgeous art space, Hauser and Wirth, forget the waste spaces of highway with people like driftwood, to get to the art.  The scale of homeless population reflected the west – vast, long vistas I wasn’t prepared for.  We’d landed an hour earlier.  Welcome to confusion.

The art, fortunately, didn’t exclude life – Annie Leibovitz’s retrospective was excessive and marked by raw vital messiness, mostly of another era of culture clash, the 70s, both seemingly more violent and more innocent.  The humanness of desire and struggle was poignant, marking a swath of human history.  In the maelstrom was music, drunkenness, ecstasy, sadness, communion.

It took me a while to get onto the thing about LA – the wastespaces and no-places are the thing, and the places where people gather to eat, drink, play are little happenings.

Jill Pearlman, One Big Tented L.A. Thing

There’s a story here:

Something was built.
Something was broken.

That’s the essence of story, but I have no idea of the particulars.  Make them up for yourself; the possibilities are numerous.

Ellen Roberts Young, Spring Walk and Story

I find whenever I’m in Portland and especially in Old Town, someone interacts with me–all the interactions have ended up okay, but there have been some odd moments (Note: not all the interactions have been homeless/drug user related, there is just an energy to this city I can’t describe, but it usually shows itself by feeling as if you’re in one big impromptu improv event.)

An example of what I’m talking about is once I was standing at a crosswalk and a man jumps out of nowhere, puts a cup of “water” ?? (I hope) over the head of a friend I was with and then directly in front of my face and yells, “You are hypnotized!” before deciding we were not hypnotized and wandering away. While these moments make me laugh afterward, the “that was weird” part of the trip, they remind me to tell you to keep your eyes open and do travel with a buddy, especially if you’re a woman.

Again, I have been to Portland numerous times without incident, but every. single. time. It’s something. Someone wants to dance with me on a sidewalk, someone is yelling something my direction from across the street, someone is shouting “let me hold your kneecap” out a car window, someone is blowing bubbles at everyone who passes by, someone has decided to ask random people their favorite type of shoe. It’s both inspiring and tiring. It’s “I’ll use this in a poem” and “I think we’re done here.” 

Kelli Russell Agodon, #AWP19: Need a break? My Favorite Things in Portland

On a flight crowded with sleepy creative writing professors—the kind with teaching-intensive jobs who can’t escape to the AWP convention until late on Wednesday—I probe for existential dread the way you tongue a loose tooth. No, not sore, not yet.

This surprises me, given how my children’s current transitions have predisposed us all to panic. My daughter is applying for jobs plus finishing her senior honors thesis at Wesleyan; her adviser is moody and keeps missing meetings. My son will hear about the rest of his college applications while we’re at the conference, and he’s anxious, too. I’m not actually worried about either of them, not in the long run, but suspense is keen.

This is my first AWP since stepping off the Board of Trustees and even though I have a few residual duties, I feel giddy. Or is that jetlag? On Thursday morning before heading to the convention center, I pull out a small sewing kit I’d packed, intending to reattach a button on my favorite velvet jacket. The needle has rusted from disuse and I can’t thread it. I’m having issues with orderliness and containment.

Lesley Wheeler, Time out of joint at #AWP19

Last Sunday, 3 members (myself and two others) of our poetry club, Casa los Altos, collaborated with the PoetrySlam group of our city in their annual “Grito de la Mujer” (Woman’s Scream) live performance event. This year, it was held in our Central Park.

Guatemala consistently ranks, unfortunately, as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. This annual event invites poets from our city and the surrounding region, both men and women, to give voice to the often invisible and unspoken fears, heartbreaks, hopes, desires, experiences, spirit, anger, and more that we are often called upon to suppress. The power of the written and spoken word to shine light into places that affect us, cannot be overstated. This event is not for poetry that is merely “pretty” or that sounds “nice.” Our presenters this year talked about being mistresses, about balancing motherhood with career, about being accosted in the streets, about being young, about being men trying to navigate a world where power dynamics are changing.

Marie Anzalone, “A Woman’s Scream” Live Poetry Event

The first session I attended in the afternoon was Revelation or Resistance:  Form or Narrative at the End of the World.  I was less interested in the authors reading their works than in the discussion that followed.  It was a good discussion, but if you know me, you know that my Apocalypse Gal self can talk end-of-the-world for days and never get tired of it.  I wanted more conversation about what to do in terms of retirement planning and the knowledge that the world is seriously screwed, but I understand that not everyone has floor boards that are 2 feet above sea level.  One of the presenters did early on present information from the latest, most serious climate report that came out a month or two ago; I’ve only heard from a few people who have actually read the whole thing, and he’s one of them.  He mentioned 20-30 feet of sea level rise in the next few decades, which is a much more compressed time frame than originally thought and a much greater volume of water.

I made lots of notes of my own thoughts during this session, and they ran along the lines of future generations who will be aghast at the fact that we spent lots of time and money in fancy conferences talking about narrative form and planetary destruction and not much time actually working on the issue.  I do agree with the one presenter who observed that this slow motion apocalypse on many fronts is moving so slowly that it’s impossible for us to react effectively.  It’s not like a world war that might galvanize and mobilize us.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, AWP:  Report on Day 1

What an inspiring day! The March meeting of Bath Writers and Artists was co-chaired by Sue Boyle and Peter Reason. Sue began the morning workshop by reading a thoughtful and passionate essay by Chrissy Banks, “The Place of Poetry in a Time of Catastrophe”. Are we fiddling, she asks, while real people burn? […]

I came home with an altered (less anthropocentric, I hope) perspective and a heightened awareness of “hyper-objects”: things that are everywhere but too big to see — like anthropocentrism and other habits of thinking and feeling that lead, not deliberately but inevitably, to disaster. I think I have already demonstrated that I can morph into a fictional post-apocalyptic unicellular extremophile, but it’s time to face the apocalypse head-on and do something about it. The expression it’s not the end of the world has gained a horrible new relevance.

Ama Bolton, Of Trees and Tygers and Catastrophe

From one perspective, the idea that art needs to wallow in the ugly that we want to avert our eyes from is condescending in terms of respecting the life experiences that other people have and how they choose to deal with them.

Not everyone needs to be confronted with a mimesis of each of life’s horrors, nor do they need to be overwhelmed with expressionistic/exhibitionistic sharing of other people’s feelings in order to “understand” or “appreciate”, or feel empathy for other people.

Not everyone is healed by a performance of their pain.

Isn’t the drive to create a beautiful moment from the complexity of such an experience as real and as authentic as it is to focus on the ugly? Can’t a glam shot of a new mother in her clean sheets also be interpreted as an expressionistic portrait of the joy inherent in the moment?

Staged is staged. Regardless of the fact that we seem to unconsciously hold up the “ugly” as authentic, and the beautiful as false or narcissistic. Could a case be made for our fascination with our own flaws as being more honest than our filtered selfies?

Ren Powell, March 31st, 2019

Of course, there is no real risk. I know that. I can save each and every draft, if I want, and trace my way back if I get lost. But reason has no standing where irrational fears hold sway. What I am really fearing is that I’m not up to the challenge. No longer a careless writer of what comes to mind, no playing child, but an editor, choicemaker; which words will I befriend, what voice will I take on?

And will any of the strangers I meet like the result? In editing mode, that question rises, grim as the sun on the hot sidewalk on the walk to the first day of school.

I wonder if other people share this editing dread. It’s normal to fall in love with a fresh draft of something exciting and new. Why mar the lovely face of this beloved with some virtual red mark of the editing pen? Surely it’s brilliant as is. First word, best word. And maybe it is. Maybe it is. But I won’t know until I voyage into the process of questioning what’s there — does this belong? does that sound best or is there a better way? does it contain more vitality if I turn it upside-down? — and come to the destination on the other side.

Marilyn McCabe, Off We Go Into the Wild Red-Penciled Yonder; or The Hesitant Editor

And what do we do as writers but build worlds? I suppose this applies to poets as much as fiction writers, maybe even creative non-fiction.  Some writing may have more in common with the non-created world, may live and breathe inside it, may exist alongside it simultaneously and occasionally wander back and forth.  Things may be plucked from reality and stretched or bent into the shape, even amongst the most autobiographical work. These are perhaps the most interesting kinds of worlds, the ones that disorient you somewhere along the way, not sure where you are–in fact or fiction, and that confusion is part of the point. 

Kristy Bowen, worlds within worlds

I’ve been waiting in my writing, setting poems aside, picking them up again, panicking because I might not have the most recent draft. Sometimes, the poems grow on me, and I see opportunities for nuance, for the subtle shadings. Sometimes, I grow tired of them, convinced that they are terrible. Time for waiting is running out, with just over a month before I turn in my thesis. But I can still get close to the ground of them, inspect their stems and blades, their rhythms and imagery (and I suspect that imagery is at the root of my worries). A garden is always in revision—something for me to keep in mind as I keep working at these poems.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day three

Once I get past the initial rush to lay out images or the plot, I love the fine tuning, the balancing of all the finer points of writing, playing with the language, weighting words by their placement, drawing out imagery. I try to keep the reader in my mind, what they need, how much I want to lead them and how much I want them to run off on their own with my words. But also giving precedence to what I want the poem to do and say. It’s a delicate act of balance above the poem while stepping within it. 

Sometimes it works and sometimes I focus too much on what I want, the ‘thing’ I’m trying to make the poem do that I force it into shape and it shows in its reluctance. This is when I need mentors, writing group companions and other readers to step up and tell me something isn’t working. I find it so helpful to have these dialogues because I am mired deeper within my own writing than another reader and often I cannot see where the problem is, even though I may have a sense of their being one.

Gerry Stewart, Finding Balance

Go easy on yourself: NaPoWriMo is a bit of fun, not another chore. If you miss a day, start again the following day. If need to take a day to catch your breath, same. Don’t write off the whole challenge because of a couple of missed days. At the end of the month, you will still have achieved much more than you normally would or had even thought possible.
Manage your mindset: The challenge is derived from NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month in November, where the focus is on quantity, not quality. Think of it as a 30-day scavenger hunt – you want to spark an idea, capture the essence of it and move on. Switch off your critical voice. Knowing that these are fast first drafts takes the pressure off. As Jodi Picoult says: ‘You might not write well every day but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.’

Angela T. Carr, Surviving NaPoWriMo: Tips for a 30-Day Poetry Challenge

Among other things, I’m teaching ancient Near Eastern epics this semester. I don’t often get to do this, and it’s my favorite.

My students read the Enuma Elish. They read the Hymns to Inanna. They read my beloved Epic of Gilgamesh. We study archetypal character and archetypal story, the role of catharsis in human survival, the integral nature of creation/destruction and eros/thanatos, sacred marriages and descents to underworlds, hero’s journeys.
 
I say, and say again:

The question at the center is: how do we go on, heart open, in the presence of mortality?

Heart open. Not numb.

In the presence of suffering and death.

At the intersection of medicine and Humanities, heh.

How?

JJS, Two Years: An(other) Open Letter to my Surgeon

When Depression Talks Over Me by Lannie Stabile in Kissing Dynamite – This is one of the most expressive poems I’ve read about depression and anxiety that doesn’t slam you like a sledgehammer. No, it’s calmly desperate which is a large part of its strength. Lannie is a poet to watch.

“I remember the first time I unhinged my jaw,
            vomiting the swollen stories,
            watching them gurgle in the open air”

*

Burn Barrel by Allie Marini in The New Southern Fugitives – This poem begins with how to assemble an actual burn barrel. It caught my attention because when I was a kid in rural Mississippi, we had a burn barrel and it was my chore to burn the household trash. As the poem progresses the barrel transforms, becoming a metaphor for the poet’s own suppression. It’s so very skillfully written.

“refashion yourself

into something clean & less—become a grate, a burn cover, become hardware cloth & trap hot cinders in

your mouth. limit the risk of combustion. just swallow everything down.“

Charlotte Hamrick, First Quarter Favorites: The Poets

Never passed it on to me
who watched her pinching
pastry: butter, sugar, flour;
how it fell from her fingers,
how it fell through the air.

She tried. She did. But grew impatient
with the way the mix would clump
and stick. O, give it here she’d say.
The pastry would flake, and fall.

You need cold hands she’d say.                    
Yours are too warm.

John Foggin, On Mothers Day, for my mum, Marjorie 1911-2007

At the end of shiva I wrapped myself
in your monogrammed sable stole

and walked around my neighborhood,
blinking like a mole bewildered by sun.
Like my child, still wrapping himself
in the plush blanket from your funeral

carrying you with him from bedroom
to living room sofa and back again.
As I prepare to leave this first month
I’m still learning how to carry you.

Rachel Barenblat, Four weeks

Editing poems at night
Under the influence of hot chocolate.
Life opens like a flower.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Editing poems at night’

When I was much younger, I considered myself “spiritual.” I stopped using the term once I began a more serious exploration of my life and began to study philosophy, psychology, aesthetics, phenomenology, and consciousness more intentionally. But the crucial components–connection, relation to and with others (sentient and not), and love–those I have always understood as necessary. Even though my ego has never “dissolved” quite the way [Michael] Pollan describes [in How to Change Your Mind].

So maybe I can go back to considering myself somewhat spiritual. At this moment in life, Nature and Others matter more than accomplishments and outcomes.

Welcome Spring, welcome Spirit. Namaste, Amen.

Ann E. Michael, Book review, mind review

I’m not taking part in #NaPoWriMo as such but I am going to make a concerted effort to sit down with my notebooks every day and work on some new poems. […]

Meanwhile, we’re trying to encourage more pollinating insects into our garden so we’ve abandoned our lawnmower for the time being – although we (I really mean Andrew since he is the chief gardener in our house) have mowed a sort of path around our wild lawn.

Roll on April – here’s to poems, wildflowers, insects and weeds.

Josephine Corcoran, #NaPoWriMo

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 8

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

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

Julie Mellor, Crossing the line

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

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

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

Joannie Stangeland, The end of one practice…

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

Which we did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beth Adams, Exploring Delphi on Paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

She shakes her head, pushes the sleeve of her tunic

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

Uma Gowrishankar,How a mother processes a terror attack

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

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

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

A Good Clear Out

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

And Lastly, What I’m reading:

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

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

Sarah Stockton, Disrupting the Cycle of Despair

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

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

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

Carey Taylor, Rupture, Light

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

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

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

Sarah J Sloat, Loose Ephemera

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

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

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

James Brush, Dead Letter Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Revision, re-audition

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

Ann E. Michael, On revision (again)

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

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

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

Charlotte Hamrick, I Need a Jump Start

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

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

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

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

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

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

January Gill O’Neil, Hoodie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Casting Deep Shade

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

complaining about the turbulent water.

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

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

Ren Powell, February 6th, 2019

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

This time next week I will be having surgery. 

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

Garden gloves huddled

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

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

Anne Higgins, Dreaming of Spring

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

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

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

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

Joannie Stangeland, Poem as snow

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

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

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

John Foggin, Keeping up with keeping up

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

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

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Discomfort

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

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

Grant Clauser, The Poem is the Question

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

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

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

Josephine Corcoran, A few poetry notes

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

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

This morning, I wrote these lines:

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

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

I made a change to make the rhyming easier:

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Poem for Anna the Prophetess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uma Gowrishankar, Tree Talk

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

Crickets.

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

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

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Mary Oliver & Crickets

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

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

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Ursula Le Guin and Eagles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

twisting down the mountains
ran a river road

we knew it so well
knew it wouldn’t end

but we’re clocks
& we cannot tell the time

James Brush, Pony Express

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week, many of the poetry bloggers I follow have been reflecting on the life and poetry of Mary Oliver — more even than I’ve included below. Not too many snobs in this corner of the poetry world, it seems. (But really, how can you not admire poetry of such subtlety and power?) Others wrote about such perennial topics as what they’ve been reading, how they’ve been teaching, the practice of writing, and the business of being a poet.


Mary Oliver’s poetry shows us how to pay attention, how to enter into a more deliberate state of attentiveness regarding what is unfolding in nature’s time. Her work is loved by so many because of this quality of intimate stillness simultaneously infused with life’s passionate urgency; her poems explore the path toward a balance of both, a fusion which delights and heals and transcends. Some have argued that poetry such as hers is too divorced from the daily realities we struggle with as a culture and a body politic, but I believe that there is an opportunity in every encounter with people, animals, and nature to deeply connect. Trying to articulate what that desire for connection, and the experience of it when it happens, feels like, looks like, is an important poetic pursuit. Her poems teach us how to bear witness to what really matters: the connection we are all trying to get back to, in one way or another.

Sarah Stockton, Mary Oliver and the Poems We Need

[Andrea] Wulf’s book [The Invention of Nature] begins as a biography of [Alexander] Humboldt but closes with several chapters on others who were inspired by his work; she makes the claim that Humboldt’s ideas about the deep connectedness of everything on earth laid groundwork for environmentalists and the discipline of ecology. Indeed, Darwin, Thoreau, Marsh, Muir, and many others found his texts revelatory and transformative. His writing is supposedly poetic and emotional–he did not think the earth and its denizens deserved less than awe and appreciation. Even though his books are packed with measurements, comparisons, careful botanical descriptions, and minute observations of practically everything he encountered, he allows space for admiring the view. Or, so Wulf’s book says. Now, I suppose I shall have to do a bit of reading Humboldt!
~
Along these lines, the lines of the natural world’s connectedness and relationships–ourselves among these, despite our frequent destruction of them–I find myself thinking of the recent death of poet Mary Oliver. I so admire the work and the woman, or what little I knew of her from a few appearances and through friends who studied with her. My social media feed has been alive with tributes, postings of her poems, and some critique about her standing as an American poet, as if that would matter to her (I doubt it would).

I can just make note that her poems have encouraged me to continue to write about nature, even when I’ve been told nature poets are unfashionable, uninteresting, or unnecessary. Her work taught me how to observe closely, like Aristotle at the tidal pools or Haeckel peering at radiolaria. First notice, listen; then describe, then try to obtain more information, and all the while percolate what experience has created within the observer herself. Maybe nothing earth-shattering comes of the process, but sometimes  there’s a poem…

Ann E. Michael, Observations

I heard her speak at Seattle University about five years ago. She was as generous a speaker as I have ever heard. She told us how she trains herself to write and how she’s kept going over the long haul.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Write about it.

These lines are imprinted on my course syllabus and I hope, give my students the sense that poetry is for all of us. They worry so much that they are not creative enough, that their vocabulary isn’t as big as the universe. I try to tell them that they just have to enjoy; just have to have a conversation with themselves. I need to share more Mary Oliver with them.

Here’s a recent interview with Oliver that I read today. It’s time to go out for a walk.

Susan Rich, Poems, Poets, and Posterity

I don’t think I had ever read [Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”] before 2018; those first three lines made me woozy with a variety of emotions.  And yet it’s not a poem that encourages us to hedonism–no, it calls us to be more attentive, to be present.

Before our Lenten journaling group, I hadn’t realized the spiritual nature of so many of her poems.  During Lent, we read “The Poet Thinks about the Donkey,” a poem that considers the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem, an event Christians celebrate on Palm Sunday.  As with many of her poems, I thought I understood it on the first read, and then it stuck with me much longer than other poems that are more complex.

During one of our sessions at church, my parents were with me, and later  my Dad called to get the name of the poet we’d been reading.  One of the things I admire about Oliver’s work is its wide appeal to so many people.  The poems are profoundly moving–and yet so quiet, so easy to grasp.

 I love that the poems are short–easy to read in a single sitting. I love that the natural elements draw us in to hear the central message.

I love the theology of these poems. It’s a theology of love and respect. It’s a theology that tells us that we are worthy. It’s a theology that tells us we don’t have forever, so quit wasting our precious days. It’s a theology rooted in nature, but in the every day kind of nature, not the travelling to a distant mountain slope with sherpas to assist us kind of nature. It’s a theology so understated that many readers likely don’t even recognize it as a theology.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Farewell, Mary Oliver

Many of the people who I saw mourning Oliver’s passing yesterday were not members of capital P Po-Biz. They were just folks who ran across a handful of Mary’s poems when they needed a lifeline, when they needed a poem that said you are part of this world, your life is precious. These people felt seen by Mary Oliver. They carried her poems on folded-soft paper in their wallets, taped them to their computer monitors, and probably never bought a copy of one of her books.

Mary Oliver had little to do with Po-Biz. I always appreciated that about her. She wanted to be outside in the wild wind more than she wanted to stand in front of adoring crowds. A goodly number of the Po-Biz world looked down their noses at Mary Oliver’s work. Some of that had to do with the fact that she was a woman, a lesbian, a person who didn’t often go to glitzy parties. They said she was soft, sappy, a (god-forbid) nature poet.

Yesterday, I looked at the world a little differently because of Mary Oliver’s passing. Yes, the world felt less observed, as if a spark of love for it had guttered. But also, I thought of all the times I was warned off writing about the natural world. Poems I’ve written about trees have been held up in workshop to ridicule. Even folks in the “eco-poetry” world have suggested that my poems need more of a call to action about the environmental crisis. These are the same folks who dismissed Oliver.

I’m not arguing that everything Mary Oliver wrote was genius. But, I am beginning to connect the dots in the denigration of women (soft, gentle, spiritual, accessible, adjectives used to signify not serious), the destruction and desacralization of the natural world, and some of the poetry that is lauded in our current Po-Biz culture. And I am thinking deeply about the (at this moment) 601 people who shared the graphic I made of Oliver’s “Instructions for Living a Life” on social media. How deeply we need to be reminded of astonishment, of our duty (dare I say sacred?) to share with each other what will buoy.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, One wild and precious life

Last night I finished Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter, from Small Beer Press. My favorite bits from the writing of her last decade were an essay called “Disappearing Grandmothers,” a diary of her time at our local Writer’s Retreat Hedgebook on Whidbey Island, “Learning to Write Science Fiction from Virginia Woolf” (whose letters I have been reading,) and some of her reviews, including Philip K. Dick. Quick quote from “Disappearing Grandmothers:”

“We really can’t go on letting good writers be disappeared and buried because they weren’t men, while writers who should be left to rot in peace are endlessly resurrected, the zombies of criticism and curriculum, because they weren’t women.”

I get the feeling I would really have gotten along with Ursula. And her commentary on Virginia Woolf made me realize why I’d been picking up her writings again – she really did have a way of approaching old subject matter in a singular way. I’m learning a lot from reading non-living writers, and coincidentally, a friend just sent me a collection by Mary Oliver, who recently passed away. Of course, we should appreciate and cheer our living writers, both friends and heroes, too! But it does feel fascinating to be reading letters from Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and essays by Ursula Le Guin – like the most terrific conversation with women writers across time.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem in Star*Line, Supermoon Eclipses, A Little Seattle Color, and Surviving January by Reading Writers’ Words on Writing

THE LETTERS OF SYLVIA PLATH, Volume 2:

First, you should know, I actually love reading other poets letters. Many many years ago, I read Elizabeth Bishop & Robert Lowell’s and Zelda & F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters (note: there is are many more Zelda letters than F. Scott given that Zelda didn’t bother to keep many of his letters–a fact I find rather funny and it worked for me because I have always been a little more interested in Zelda anyway). 

What I love? How Sylvia sometimes signs her letters “Sivvy,” and how as I read her letters I get a better since of her voice.  I love her boring details such as “I’d love vitamins! I’m convinced everything the British sell is without nourishment whatsoever” and “The Rice’s sent us the strangest Christmas card!…an ominous rhyme with all sorts of mixed metaphors. Well, no doubt they have good intentions.”

For me, this is my favorite parts of reading letters–the details of all of it. Plath’s words bring me into her world–which was SO Ted focus–(note: this is a LONG book, so I’m still just dabbling through it), but Ted this is and Ted got a poem here and … it’s a reminder how so much of Plath’s life was catering to Ted. Even one letter her has her telling her inlaws she made Ted eggs before sending him off.

I see the struggle as well as the joy in her writing and I can get lost in this different time very easily.

Kelli Russell Agodon, What I’m Reading… @MichelleObama @JenniferWeiner & Sylvia Plath Letters

A new episode of New Books in Poetry is up, in which I speak with poet and performance artist Ivy Johnson about her book, Born Again.

The poetry and prose in Ivy Johnson’s Born Again (The Operating System, 2018) beautifully dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, this collection gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. The work blends sensuality and spirituality, merging the grounded reality of existing a physical body in the world with a sense of worship, prayer, and spell casting.

“I submerge my hands in ink and smear them across the wall
I cover my body in rich purple paint and rub against white paper
I place a sticker of the Virgin Mary on my bedroom window next to the fire escape
She hurts with the glow of blue frost
I race down the stairs to make snow angels in the dog-piss
Fill the silhouette of my body with marigolds”
— from “Take a Moment to Gather Yourself”

You can listen to the episode here.

I’m still in the process of figuring out how to be a good interview podcast host, how to shuck off my own nervousness and dig up confidence enough to feel strong in these interviews. But whatever limitations I believe I have at this moment, they are more than surpassed by the intelligence and insight of my guests so far.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Born Again by Ivy Johnson

The blurb is a frequent anxiety-laden topic of discussion on Facebook. Some people have made alternative suggestions, e.g., putting a poem on the back cover. That’s a cool idea, but for now most publishers want you to obtain blurbs. So just go about it sensibly and trust that it will work out. Then later when some other poet with a new book coming out asks you to write a blurb, remember the poets who said yes to you and say yes to the poet who now asks you to do a blurb. 

Diane Lockward, The Blurbification of Poetry Books

So much drama in the Twitter writing community lately. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. We claim to be supportive, understanding, solid. We say we support emotional and mental illness or distress. We exclaim our inclusiveness and support for diversity. We’re open-minded……until someone’s opinion isn’t in line with ours. Or someone’s emotional state leads them to do/say something unacceptable or questionable. There’s no understanding or forgiveness then. Apologies are ignored and a lifetime of goodness rejected. And Twitter stays on the soap box for days and days and days, gaining momentum as it goes. I try hard to stay out of the drama and I try hard not to condemn the condemners. I don’t want to be that person. But, obviously, the whole situation bothers me. The hive mind can be a judgmental thing.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poem: Support is Conditional

Mimic claws cutting,
but imaginary
and shivering. Touch

the wound and it isn’t
there. No scar, no scab,
no knife. Shadows that mute

and marble light like waves
under water. Shadows
that blunt and block, black.

Shadows that stab the light
like spines of a cactus.
The thin blade of dusk

that separates sand from
dark. Bright at my back,
eyes that glitter and close.

PF Anderson, Anamnesis

The one class I teach on Fridays, Protest Poetry, was also hard. On Wednesday I’d taught poems about the death of Malcolm X and while most of our discussion was productive, there had been a couple of bad moments–nothing ill-meaning, but students making insensitive comments as they thought aloud about deliberately disturbing poems. I had anticipated the need to discuss a homophobic slur in Amiri Baraka’s “Poem for Black Hearts,” and that went fine, but I hadn’t anticipated pushback, for instance, against anger itself. (We’d been reading about Emmett Till, the Baptist church bombed in Birmingham, a mounting death toll and litany of abuses–in what world is anger not inevitable and utterly just?–but as present politics continue to teach us, we don’t all live in the same world, and many of the students in my classroom are like Ursula, full of verve but not yet alert to the reality of other perspectives.) I responded in the moment, but in retrospect I realized I hadn’t responded strongly enough. So I began with an apology, asked the students to freewrite about a recent time they felt angry and what they did about it, then handed out “The Uses of Anger” by Audre Lorde. The discussion that followed was raw, messy, respectful, persistently oblivious, emotional, and awe-filled by turns, and I ended up having a couple of intense follow-ups with students afterwards. It didn’t do all the necessary work but it was a start.

Lesley Wheeler, Information and energy

While I want to do more with this poem, to lead them through it, I know that if I do, I’ll kill whatever has occurred organically. Some students will feel less competent if we reduce this experience to “look to the teacher.” I want them to feel competent in their abilities, that they (or anyone) can notice what is present in poems. To know what’s present in poems, one must be present with the language of poems. This is what they’re learning how to do.

They are beginning their journey as readers of poetry; they are noticing language and are beginning to make connections that are interesting and surprising. And they are all rooted in the language itself to do so.

The majority leave happy. I leave happy. A successful day one.
I walk out of my room into the hallway, energized by the learning that’s taken place, by their recent immersion in a small, beautiful poem on their own terms. I know this is setting them up for more of this good stuff of poetry that is to come. I know they’ll advance to larger and more complex poems. I know that we’ll have to get to analysis and all the ways one must learn to write about literature. However, today they slowed down and noticed what was there. Today they felt what it was like to really be present with poetry.

Scot Slaby, Day 1: Being Present with a Poem

I’ve stopped waiting for the magical ‘writing time’ to manifest itself. It rarely does. I work full time. Weekends are often busy. I walk the dog. I enjoy swimming. I hate housework but like things to be clean and tidy all the same. Somewhere in all this is my writing: a sentence written in my notebook is writing, a headline cut from the newspaper is writing, half an hour typing and editing a poem is writing, attending a day’s workshop is writing (luxury), watching a documentary about Blixa Bargeld’s work with German experimental music group Einstürzende Neubauten and transcribing some of that interview is also, for me, writing. It all goes into the mix. I  often write things I’m not happy with, but I’ve come to accept that as part of the process. It bothers me less and less. What’s important to me is that I’m doing the work and that occasionally I produce something good. I’ve gained more faith in myself and my work through this approach. As [Eric] Maisel says [in Fearless Creating]: ‘Working means starting’ (p.93) so I try to cut through any blocks and just do it, allowing myself lots of very small opportunities to ‘start’. That way, even a single word gleaned from a book or an article, or overheard in the pub, has some value. Making a note of it means I’ve said ‘yes’ to the work.

Julie Mellor, fearless creating

In November, after reading memorials to Lucie Brock-Broido, I took out her book Stay, Illusion and started a practice of pulling one image or line from a poem and writing from or in response to it. Will any of this turn into “real” poems? Maybe. The point is less about the results and more about showing up to give her poems time and attention and to experiment, play, and try writing in a way that doesn’t feel familiar to me.

I confess that I have not followed this practice strictly. Some days, other poems insist on being written. Some days, I fail to carve out the time. Most days I have a momentary panic that nothing will come. But it’s a practice, so I take a breath and start with something, anything, because I do believe in showing up, in reading as much as possible, in writing as close to daily as possible, in helping poetry to get into my body so that when the magic happens, I’m there for it with my whole self.

Joannie Stangeland, Pick your practice

I haven’t felt like doing much but now I’m coming back to life and revisiting old notebooks.  I’m beginning to assemble new poems.  I finished my commission for Ginkgo Projects/Bloor Homes and I think that some of the poems I wrote for this project will sit well in my next book.  My poem ‘To Bring Me Luck’ about older women and ageing might also belong there.  At this stage, I’m gathering poems and being open-minded about a possible theme.  I would dearly love my next book to feel coherent and thematic and my aim is to be able to articulate this.  I recognise that I really struggle with explaining to anyone what my work is about.

One thing is sure: I feel more determined about shaping my next book but that isn’t to say that I’m trying to force a theme upon it.  That would be a dreadful mistake.

Josephine Corcoran, Slow January continues

Have you ever wondered what it costs to be a poet? This year, I am tracking my readings: earnings (or lack thereof), expenses, book sales, etc. in an Excel spreadsheet.

Now, I’ve always done a bit of that for tax purposes. But what does it really cost to travel to a reading, not receive any payment, and sell one or two books? I’m keeping the numbers and making comments about each activity. I really want to know how much the effort is worth in the life cycle of a poetry collection. Here are some questions I want to know in the first year of a book’s publication:

1. Of the books I bring to readings, how many do I sell?
2. Will I peak in sales in my region, but decline towards year’s end? How can I counteract that?
3. How many readings do I participate in annually? How many free readings? 
4. If I cover travel and expenses, does that cancel out the stipend?

Put aside that poetry is an art, and it is a privilege to participate in this community. I’m looking at the numbers.

Will update you in a few months. April seems appropriate. 

January Gill O’Neil, By the Book

I think I’m going to create a new folder called Hold It! (I’m a great creator of folders…) and put in it every new poem I’m excited about, and I’m not allowed to look at them until at least a month after I’ve put it in the folder. AT LEAST a month. Six months is probably better.

In six months I’m a different person than I was six months before — new skin, blood, colon, fingernails, as cells replace themselves throughout the body at varying rates. So surely the new me will have some fresh insight.

But I’ll have the same eyeballs, though, and mostly the same brain, but new neuronal networks. So in order to shove myself along developmentally, as the pink-faced new poems cool their heels in the Hold It! folder, I should work on my eyesight and my memories. Which means to me that I should read more and widely in poetry especially, and when I find a poem that makes me say “wow, that is good work,” spend some time taking a look at how it works at working. But also other kinds of written work, because all kinds of literature can feed perspective. And I should also look at art, listen to music. And probably dance a little, even if it’s just in my kitchen.

All these kinds of inputs have the possibility of opening my brain to new ways of seeing, new ways of communicating, new ways to imagine. So when I open that folder again, I can see with altered vision and new light.

Marilyn McCabe, How Do I Know?; or, Learning to Assess Our Own Work