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. Bloggers were in a stock-taking mood this week, it seems, with posts about strength and renewal, growing older, finding time to write, and bearing witness to broken things.
Incidentally, there may not be an edition of the digest next week, since I’ll be on vacation in a place alleged to be like paradise. On the other hand, I quickly bore of paradises. And the place we’re staying may well have good wifi…
You sense summer coming to an end. The days don’t smell so much of suntan lotion & Ferris-wheel sweetness but of camphor & time lost. You hop a ride towards the ocean, your bus stop of grace. Along the way, you pass fog-tongued counterfeiters, dead-eyed mystics & heaven-haired girls dressed in plush heartbreak. Once you reach the ocean, a woman on the boardwalk offers you stones & charms, says they’ll ward off ghosts & sirens; keep the blue oblivion at bay. You hold the woman’s offerings in your hand. As the ocean sings its bittersweet song of summer’s end, you count backward from your last bad day & allow yourself to gracefully fall into the coming fall.Rich Ferguson, A Bittersweet Song of Summer’s End
So abstract was my day—
with details, it scorns
any ordering into some
form easily claimed
by memory. I’ve got
the scraps, the tidbits
of flesh and bone, charred,
unlikely to match anything
I’ve gladly stored
in my mind. I must findRomana Iorga, Portrait with Crows
a place for these bones.
One thing I try to remember is that there have always been stubborn people who have continued to do art, read and write books, make music, love and protect nature, cherish and guard all aspects of human culture, and take care of one another even when life felt the most hopeless. Often they have also been the same people who quietly sheltered refugees or the persecuted, visited prisoners, wrote underground tracts, participated in protests, smuggled food for people in need…the list goes on. These are not the people who get written about in history books, but let’s try for a moment to imagine what would have happened if they had not existed. Where would we be? That’s what is meant by action and contemplation as two sides of one coin. People who have found their own sources of strength and renewal — what I like to call “wells” that we are able to go back to drink from again and again — have more ability to see what needs to be done, and help others. So no, I don’t think we need to feel guilty for spending time doing these things, not at all. We just need to try to see the whole picture, and move back and forth between the active and contemplative parts of our lives, keenly aware of what each is, and how they complement each other.Beth Adams, More Sicilian Explorations, and a Watercolor Disaster
The proofs for Tears in the Fence came through for me to check – two poems, one of which I think of as a ‘menopause’ poem. Is there such a thing? Well, there is now. I can’t give too much away about the poem as it’s not been published yet, other than it references Susan Sontag and uses some found text. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve submitted to that magazine, so I was on cloud nine for a while after they accepted the poems. The other good news is that I’ve had a poem accepted by The Interpreter’s House. Again, I was really pleased as it’s a magazine I enjoy reading. Having said this, I’m aware that I don’t have many poems in reserve now. I haven’t written any new ones for quite a while as I’ve been typing up my novel (unfinished, but it feels like it’s nearing some sort of conclusion). So, there’s a quiet sense of dread in knowing that particular well is empty, and knowing the only way to fill it is to knuckle down and write some more. Ultimately, I know it’s a case of priorities.Julie Mellor, Old Woman’s Lane
What I really loved about this book [Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert] was she says a person doesn’t have to quit their day job to fully embrace their creative life. This was something that has been plaguing me – how do I balance my very government-corporate day job with my poetry life, the part of my life that fulfills me in ways my day job never will. While I don’t have all the answers for what my future holds, I am feeling calmer and a little more balanced in how I can move forward.
In addition to doing a lot of reading and studying over the next ten months, I also plan on spending a lot of time thinking about my goals for the future, figuring out how to move forward with my desires, and how to balance everything.Courtney LeBlanc, Mid-Life Crisis
I’ve gotten back into a routine of writing a rough draft of a poem daily in between job searches, attending interviews and writing the article. While I need to financially and want to mentally get back to the real working world, I know I will miss my mornings at the kitchen table scribbling in my notebook and then typing away on the laptop. I need a full-time writing job. Me and lots of other writers.Gerry Stewart, Changing Hats
After my trip to Peru, I started feeling called to write again. I finished an essay that’s out for submission. I revised my manuscript and started sending it out again. And I’ve even written a few poems.
Still, I wonder whether I really want to continue keeping this space. On some level, it’s so deeply connected to a past life: my marriage that ended five years ago, old jobs, old friends, old adventures that are distant memories. I needed that hard break after my MFA, and I am starting to re-emerge as a writer. And yet I don’t necessarily want to return here. When I think about this site, and how much of the past it contains, I’m just not sure I want to keep it.
I’m not making any decisions just yet. Quite frankly, I’d be surprised if there were any readers left to see this after such a long silence. Perhaps I just need a total fresh start with my digital life. I’ll always be writing, but maybe this isn’t the place for it anymore. We’ll see.Allyson Whipple, This Space: A Reckoning
I asked writers who’d published their first books of poetry at or beyond the age of fifty to discuss their experiences. Was there any particular reason they’d waited to publish? Did they think there was an advantage to publishing later in life? How had publishing a first book changed their lives?
The responses from over twenty writers became the subject of September’s “The Reading Life” column in my newsletter, Sticks & Stones, due to subscribers on Monday, September 2. Subscribe here.
There was much more than I could fit into the column, however. I’m sharing some of the best lines from these writers’ answers in this month’s blog.
I hope you’ll enjoy these thoughtful, perceptive, and often humorous comments on the pain and pleasure of writing and poetry as much as I did.
Margo Berdeshevsky: “I’ve long believed that poetry is the language of the soul.”
Donna Vorreyer: “Poetry is one place where the voice of age can ring clear and meaningful in the world.”
Connie Post: “I hope in some way, our poems can help others to understand how we can heal the earth.”
Roy Mash: “Publishing a first book is like having another child, only without having to clean up the diapers.”
[Click through to read the rest!]Erica Goss, Chop Wood, Carry Water: Publishing a First Poetry Book After Fifty
On Saturday, I read this blog post by Jeannine Hall Gailey. She had reviewed Lee Ann Roripaugh’s Tsunami vs. The Fukushima 50. It sounded like a book that would hit several of my reading sweet spots: nuclear disaster, natural disaster, poetry, and a female-centered take on it all. It’s been awhile since I’ve ordered a book of poems, so I ordered it.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Giving Natural Disaster a Voice
It arrived on Sunday. Usually books arrive and go to my ever growing books to be read shelf, but I decided to read it while I could still remember why I had ordered it. So I did.
It’s a great book–but it’s also the kind of book that makes me wonder if I’d appreciate it more if I had more background. There are some pop culture references that I can sense are there, but they’re not mine, like the reference to Watchmen.
There were also some references that may or may not be reference to Japanese pop culture, but I can’t be sure. I know even less about the pop culture of other cultures than my own.
It’s not enough to keep me from enjoying the poems, and also not enough to send me on a quest to know more. It is the kind of moment that makes me feel old–once I knew all sorts of stuff about a wide variety of pop culture, and not just that pop culture coming from my own society. Once I could keep track.
My favorite poems were the ones that gave the tsunami a voice. I thought of Patricia Smith’s Hurricane Katrina poems in Blood Dazzler. If I was a grad student, I might do more with those comparisons. If I was an ambitious woman on a tenure track, I might write a book that explores the ways we give natural disasters a personality.
I am a poet feeling like a dried out crisp. Maybe I need to play with the idea of weather having a personality. Maybe I should start with the August weather that’s leaving me so worn out. Hurricanes get so much press (speaking of which, I should keep an eye on Tropical Storm Dorian down in the Caribbean), but heat waves can kill far more people. Maybe I should write a poem in the voice of the disappearing Arctic ice.
This morning, I went to Jeannine’s review on The Rumpus. I had decided not to read it until I read the book. It’s an amazing review–wow. It does just what a review should do. It puts the poems in context and gives me insight. It makes me want to read the book again.
Earlier this month, during my final residency of graduate school at the Rainier Writing Workshop, I presented my critical paper on how time works in poetry—how, by changing our perceptions, sound and image in poetry create a space where we can step outside of time. Because I’m drawn to music, I started out with sound and then repetition—including refrain and anaphora. While reading poems for this paper, I came across looping and stretching. Someone asked where I found those terms. My answer? I made them up, as a way to talk about these specific moves.Joannie Stangeland, Looping and stretching
We are only at the year’s ninth month, and already 2019 has been, for me, a year of broken things. It began with the broken furnace, then the water heater and the entire water handling system (we have a well); then the septic pump gave out, and the stove broke, too. During the second, and longest, heat wave, our central air conditioning unit fried itself with a snap and sizzle. We had plumbing under the kitchen sink to replace, and hail damage to the roof and porch railings. Also broken hearts at the deaths of people we wanted to keep in our lives. And a few days back, I twisted my foot and damaged a metatarsal muscle–now I, too, am one of the broken things.
It’s “an unusual injury” according to my physician, in that the way I rolled my foot and twisted led to damage (inflammation, at this point) to the flexor digiti minimi brevis muscle, which is not one of the foot muscles people usually injure. While not serious, it’s painful and slow to heal. The first weeks of the semester have arrived, and here I am stumping around campus with a wrapped-up foot and a crazy-busy schedule.
Endeavoring to be mindful of the moment and keep equanimity in my life proves difficult, but I have been working at the challenge by asking myself how we measure our losses and whether there’s any benefit in doing so. After all, that I possess enough things that can break demonstrates that I have considerably more comfort in my life than most human beings on the planet; so who should care if I rant? On the one hand, measuring loss seems judgmental and arbitrary–and there’s no way a broken cooktop can be assessed against a friend’s death. Yet we do need to make some kind of accounting for loss, because if we never acknowledge it, we smother compassion. Bearing witness to our brokenness, our losses, our fears, permits us to feel with others and with ourselves.Ann E. Michael, Twist & shout
Like Noah, we build and build, but the space gets smaller. Nothing can breathe. Least of all me, my lungs stopped up with feathers and the small animals I’ve smuggled inside the body for safekeeping. In the box, we rustle the feathers and bend the bones, but nothing fits, even side by side, stacked vertically in rows. Nothing sits upright or thrives. We name them, tag their tiny feet, and still, nothing moves inside the box. All night we soothe them with sounds their mothers make, but still they sleep and dream of trees.Kristy Bowen, broken things
Back in January of this year, I was supposed to go to FEMA school in Alabama and learn about disaster management and pull life-sized dummies from smoking cars and walk around crisply with a clipboard being a cool head in a crisis while things went bang during mass-casualty simulations. I was relieved to get out of that whole scenario when the government shut down and they canceled all of the classes. But the government re-opened and the classes were re-booked and I got my flight information and now I guess I’m going in a few weeks. I thought I had gotten used to the idea, but I read my FEMA training manual this week, and the nerves rushed back. I know intellectually that this is literally one of the safest things I could do. It’s the definition of a well-oiled machine; a highly structured and extremely monitored operation with government officials there to guide us at every turn and make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to do at all times. For once, I’m not worried about the navigational side of things. I’m worried about my mind. I’ve been worried about my mind a lot lately.Kristen McHenry, Serenity Later
It’s easy for us to forget that we live so close to so many amazing landscapes – mountain ranges we rarely visit, a roaring ocean we don’t see often enough, a whole different menagerie of birds and butterflies. One of the benefits of taking these kinds of road trips is re-familiarizing yourself with the area you live in, the microclimates, the tiny different ecosystems. Also, we listened to almost the full book (and I finished when I got home) of Yoko Ogawa’s depressing with very salient The Memory Police, about the dangers of succumbing to authoritarian governments without too much resistance. (And also the very Japanese emotion of aware – the sadness and beauty of things that disappear – in this case, memories.) We try to get through one book on every road trip. Glenn said it would be easy to do nothing but watch the sea – as the light changes, as the birds go up and down the beach, watching various vehicles get towed off the beach after getting stuck in the sand.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Two New Poems up at Cold Mountain Review and Picturing the Oregon Coast
But I remain attached to Woodinville – the abundance of flowers, especially, and hummingbirds, which were missing in our beach visit. I think of myself more as a tree/forest/waterfall person than a true beach lover. I love the shade rather than sunning. I like the shapes of the leaves overhead.
Shall we sweep the forest clean? Shall we walk across the ocean? We shall. For years we’ve counted the bodies of the dead from our wars, so many bodies. We’ve listened to the leaders tell us that now it will be alright, that now the end is in sight. It isn’t. Lower the flag, it’s dirty. Light a candle and leave it in the window for the souls of the damned to see their way home. Shall we sweep the forest clean? Shall we walk across the ocean? Yes, we shall. Friend, it is a one-way trip.James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Shall we sweep the forest clean?’
So for youDick Jones, HEART SUTRA 1.
for a little
may water run
uphill, may nights
rattle the key
in the lock,
and may love