John Foggin

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poetry bloggers were plumbing some pretty deep waters: genocide, dispossession, mothers and children, writing while parenting, the importance of linking and connecting, the rewards of political poetry, the perils of housecleaning, and more. Let’s jump right in.

I’ve thought many times about the line I’ve heard that goes: To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. I didn’t know the attribution, so I looked it up and found a much deeper sense of its contextual meaning. By luck, I came across a delightfully intellectual blog titled Mindful Pleasures, a literary blog by Brian Oard, and read this particular entry which contextualized and interpreted the quote from its original source, Prisms by Theodore Adorno (1903-1969). I was not very familiar with Adorno, but reading a small sampling of his writings today was fascinating; he wrote philosophy that is both relevant to the litanies of domination and suffering in the 20th century, but also prescient to the 21st. [Adorno was a leading member of the Frankfort school and an important contributor to the development of critical theory.]

I can’t pretend to have much more than a tortured history of attempting to read philosophy, attempting to follow arguments to their conclusions, attempting to live in a way that abides by and remains consistent to a core philosophical stance, but I’ve always aspired to.

With gratitude to Brian Oard’s dense but readable blog post, I am excerpting a larger portion from a latter Adorno text:

Perennial suffering has as much right to expression as a tortured man has to scream; hence it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems. But it is not wrong to raise the less cultural question whether after Auschwitz you can go on living–especially whether one who escaped by accident, one who by rights should have been killed, may go on living. His mere survival calls for the coldness, the basic principle of bourgeois subjectivity, without which there could have been no Auschwitz; this is the drastic guilt of him who was spared. By way of atonement he will be plagued by dreams such as that he is no longer living at all, that he was sent to the ovens in 1944 and his whole existence since has been imaginary, an emanation of the insane wish of a man killed twenty years earlier. (Negative Dialectics, 362-363)

Devastating. I can’t deny the ringing truth in this passage and I have had those dreams. I was surprised how–on reading it–I feel that striving to have a strong social consciousness and a true moral compass are worth the struggle, are still crucially important, might even save us.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Mourning

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Ivanka stands clapping — she’s sixty
miles away — while Mnuchin pulls off

the big reveal: the president’s name
writ larger than the thing it dedicates.

We see it all, live, this Nakba, the burning
tires, the streams of tear gas, a baby

grounded, inhaling dirty smoke in Gaza.
Maureen E. Doallas, They Call it ‘A Great Day’

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Sunday afternoon in The Leeds Library… the oldest subscription library in the UK, celebrating its 250th birthday in the most fitting way I can think of. A reading with the poetry legend from Beeston. The scholarship boy who took a long slow-burning revenge on his patronising old English teacher at Leeds Grammar School by writing two Meredithean sonnets. Them and [uz]. A rallying cry for all of us, that remind the world that [uz] can be loving as well as funny. Erudite, sophisticated and articulate, too. I set that alongside another of his lines in National trust

the tongueless man gets his land took.

Tony Harrison read with his trademark relish for the heft and texture of words; it was a Leeds event and he celebrated with lots of his poems about his mum and dad, from The school of eloquence..which are rooted in his personal history and theirs, but which speak for everyone exploited or conflicted by the class appropriations of language, literacy and education. It was joyous.

Tony Harrison. He’s the reason that I ever thought I might write poems (if not poetry). This comes with stories. In 1971 I moved to Newcastle to be a lecturer in a College of Education. When I took my children to school of a morning, there were very few men doing the same, and one of them was a striking figure..lean and handsome in an RAF greatcoat, very Dostoevskian. Eventually, I asked our Julie (5 yrs old) ‘who’s that bloke?’. ‘That’s Max Harrison’s daddy.’ ‘What’s he do, then?’ ”He doesn’t do anything. he’s a poet.’ I’ve dined out on that story, but the point is that though contemporary poetry meant absolutely nothing to me, then, I mentioned this to a colleague, who invited Harrison to come and read to our 3rd Year B.Ed English students, and so it was that I went to my first ever poetry reading. […]

What Tony Harrison did that night was a revelation. Poetry could be angry, political; it could give back a voice to the tongueless, it could be passionate, it could use rhyme and structure and scholarship as a natural part of its rhetoric. It could be funny and sexy. So I was hooked. I still am.
John Foggin, One of [uz]. An afternoon with Tony Harrison

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The repeated rhymes send the poem galloping forward, the pace accelerates as the poem reveals its truth, threatening to slip out of control the way emotions threaten to slip out of control. But then [Chelsea] Dingman regains control of the poem by shifting perspective – the I speaker asks a question “Is this escape for you?” – and by returning again to the controlled syntax of a shorter sentence and by a reducing of the repetition of that aching long a. Whereas in the center of the poem we heard that sound nine times in four lines, in the final nine lines of the poem we hear it six times: escape, blame, plated, frame, ashtray, ache. Like the sound of breath slowing down after a period of excitement, like somebody who had been crying uncontrollably regaining composure. The poem ends with two sentences that are grammatically questions but which function as statements, as a move towards acceptance: “In any homecoming, what can we do but echo & ache? / To leave ourselves as one thing & return as another?”
Jennifer Saunders, “In the Alcoholic’s Apartment, A Time Machine” by Chelsea Dingham

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She is the water drop on a lotus leaf
no grease marks on the stove
clothes folded away, dishes rinsed
on the sink. Being born afresh
is like dying in the right sense.
Uma Gowrishankar, Remembering Mother

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It has been a while since the blue heron
has shown his face, but I know he will return.
And I know my mother will shriek for joy.
She will bounce on her heels like popcorn
in a skillet. She will wave her hands like a flag
in the wind. Everything will become more real
in that moment.
Crystal Ignatowski, No Matter What Time Of Day

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You’ve heard me say before, poetry saved my life. It did. It does.

Reading and writing poetry, both.

I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon.

And because things were difficult for me at home, many of the poems were about family issues.

Family poems felt important to write.

But the hard part was not being able to share them with anyone.

The content of those poems felt shameful. Secrets that needed to be kept. Too dangerous to reveal.
Lana Ayers, Family Poems Are Hard–part 1

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Margot Kidder eased me through rising panic
every Friday at 1 p.m. as I was deposited
on the sidewalk and mother’s car shimmered
like a disappearing mirage, moving bullet time
away from me.

Margot Kidder was Lois Lane.
Feisty, brave, stubborn, in perpetual need of rescue.
Her dark hair, un-PC cigarette dangling,
whiskey voice, in love with the one man
she could never truly have.

Years later, when she had her publicized breakdown,
was found dirty and wandering the streets,
I cried in front of the TV, wishing I could give her
even a fragment of the comfort she gave me
when I was ten and in need of rescue.
Collin Kelley, To Margot Kidder, With Love

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I am not the hero of my poems; I am the villain. This poem is calling out my own bullshit for whenever I say oh, this time will be different, which of course is a myth that tricks women into performing emotional labor and taking on the thankless and pointless task of “fixing” men. What do we give up when we fashion ourselves to be desired? And, what do we sacrifice when we reject those notions and refuse to be this “dream girl?” Does that subject us to anger? Or, are we called bitter and jaded when we refuse to follow this narrative? These are all of the mental gymnastics I had to perform as I was writing this poem. I ask these questions throughout the book, especially as they play out in the conservative landscapes in Midwestern/Southern places that often rely on women fulfilling traditional roles.
Anne Barngrover, interviewed by Jennifer Maritza McCauley on Bekah Steimel’s blog

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I came across this article by physicist Alan Lightman on the TED web site about quiet time/mindfulness. Here’s a small sampling:

Somehow, we need to create a new habit of mind, as individuals and as a society. We need a mental attitude that values and protects stillness, privacy, solitude, slowness, personal reflection; that honors the inner self; that allows each of us to wander about without schedule within our own minds.

I have paid lip service to these values that Lightman writes about for years — since becoming a mother just over thirteen years ago. They became values because I no longer had an easy way to incorporate them into my life. Infants and toddlers do that to you. There’s little stillness, precious little privacy, and solitude only (mostly) when sleeping. They were aspects of being a person that I took for granted when I had them, and missed fiercely once they were absent.

My children aren’t toddlers anymore. My youngest is five and more self-sufficient by the day. She has her own sense of self. Her own need for stillness and even, sometimes, solitude. And yet my children growing older hasn’t created more space for my own stillness, privacy, solitude, slowness, or personal reflection. There’s less. Far less, even. But my children aren’t a cause, at this point, for my lack of that space.

For the past few years, this blog’s tagline has been “a record of panic, parenting, teaching and art-making.” It’s due for a change. In a conversation with A.P. this week, he reminded me that I didn’t grow up, let alone spend the last decade, thinking I wanted to be known as an educator or even an academic. I want, I have always wanted, to be known as a writer.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Reconsiderations, Reversals, Reminders

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The poem writing time usually comes out of my sleep time, and by the end of the month, I am drained and flattened with exhaustion. I do start the poems on the bus in the morning, jot bits and pieces throughout the say, but I don’t get to actual assembly until my son goes to bed and I have clear uninterrupted quiet time. As he gets older, that gets later, and my NaPoWriMo work gets harder and more exhausting each year. Realizing how much easier the strict form made things, I’m debating about perhaps taking on a sonnet redoublé or heroic crown next year. The risk of taking on too much form is that you may lose the emotional drive to write the poems. If they become overly intellectual, they are cute rather than touching, so I’m not sure about this yet. I suspect I’ll be reading a lot more sonnets while I ponder this.

Usually, I write most of my poetry during April, explicitly because of NaPoWriMo. As a single mom of a special needs kid, with a demanding professional career that is most definitely not poetry, it’s … hard. But I have always been a poet and always wanted to be a poet, and turned down a fellowship in a poetry MFA program to go to grad school in a program with a future that would allow me to support my kids on my own. Each year, I want to keep the poems going, and just become too tired. I really want to not drop out this year. I’m thinking I might be able to keep it going if I try to do one poem a week. I’m thinking probably Sundays. So, watch this space, and see if I can do it. Moral support welcomed!!
PF Anderson, On Writing a Month of Sonnets for #NaPoWriMo

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Unintentional Spring cleaning has come to the Typist household of late, but rather than serving to tidy things up, it’s caused widespread chaos. First, there was the aforementioned filing, which I did actually tackle last weekend, causing allergic reactions from an explosion of dust and masses of toxic ink particles released from shredding five year’s worth of old paper. Then….there was the rat. I’m not going to talk about the rat. It’s too upsetting, and it’s currently unresolved. Experts are coming over to assess. I can’t think about it. I’m just ignoring the fact that the contents of our hall closet are currently strewn all over the living room floor and under no circumstances am I to open the hall closet door.

But the big one is our bookshelf. I shall explain: Those Little Free Libraries that are getting popular are now everywhere in my neighborhood, and they’re like catnip to me. I cannot not stop and browse through them when I see one. I also can’t not take a book that I’m interested in. However, I have been violating the Little Free Library social contract by not contributing books as equally as I procure them, or let’s face it—by not contributing at all. The other day Mr. Typist suggested I “pick out a few books to give away” and we could do a Little Library stroll during which I could make good on my debt. I smiled and nodded agreeably in an attempt to hide my rising panic. “Pick out a few books to give away”??? That would be akin to picking out a few of my children to put up for adoption. My books are my precious. I have cultivated a beautiful, and to my mind, pristinely organized collection of poetry tomes and classics, and I could not possibly let go of any of them. “Pick out a few books”, indeed. What a monstrously callous suggestion.
Kristen McHenry (AKA The Good Typist), Spring Entropy, Bartholomew Cubbins Bookshelf, Hoard Denial

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Last year’s house-to-bungalow move necessitated a massive cull of STUFF that I hadn’t so much as glanced at in years. Operation Study took me three days of hard graft, during which time I faithfully reappraised just about every single sheet of paper in the filing cabinet and heaven knows how many ring binders, lever arch and box files. The poetry ones fared much better than a teaching career’s-worth of policies and planning but I decided to keep only those poems I love, or like enough to go back to (at some point…).

Since The Move, I’ve become firmer with myself about what I keep and what I give away. I no longer keep poetry magazines (I do keep contributor copies, though). Instead I pull out and box-file those poems that jump off the page and ‘grab’ me: the timely or current; those I wish I’d written; those that elicit a That’s it! or a fist pump; interesting forms, etc. In turn, I take some of these for discussion at Soundswrite and stanza meetings.
Jayne Stanton, Collecting poems

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Links appeal to me because they mean connection. The interconnectedness of the web parallels the many relationships among human beings, societies, and environmental entities from forest to desert, as well as infrastructural connections from town to city and across waters and the physiological connections that make life in a carbon-based embodiment possible. And neuro-connections that maintain our pulses and our consciousness–without such linkages, what would we be?

Our genetic linkage influences what we look like, what forms of illness or robustness our bodies possess, and the likelihood of carrying those traits to our offspring.

When we link ideas or concepts or theories, the resulting concatenation can be innovative, revelatory, novel–even if the result is a failure, there’s much to learn from trying to solve the puzzles we encounter when putting together unlike things.

Writing a poem, for example, involves such a combinatory effort. Combinatory logic is a mathematical concept but an intriguing metaphor for what poets do when we mash together observations with ideas and emotions and whatever values each writer operates under.
Ann E. Michael, Linkage

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As I was too sick to celebrate on my actual birthday, Glenn invited a couple of friends over for coffee and cupcakes on this last beautiful weekend, and it was great to watch up with all of them. Roz is a fiction writer, Natasha is a poet (and she’s writing a novel) and Michaela is a visual artist and writer, so we had great discussions about art and publishing and I realized how much it helps us as creative folks to hang out with other creative folks. I am also lucky to have such fun and talented friends, seriously. It helps to remember that each of us is part of a community – we are not actually alone in the artistic universe. It can feel that way sometimes.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Celebrating Friendships and Art, Spring Fever The Importance of Perseverance in Poetry & Looking Forward to Skagit Poetry Festival…

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It was time again for my task as first-round reader for a poetry book contest. Once again I approached with self-doubt and angst. Once again, I learned some things to apply to my own work.

The twenty-five or so manuscripts I looked at were uniformly pretty well-written, which tells me that people are taking the time to learn something of the craft of writing (or at least reviewing the rules of grammar) and the art of poetry.

But I found that several of these full-length manuscripts felt more like solid chapbooks with other stuff stuffed in around them. This is interesting and a useful cautionary tale. I need to examine my own current full-length ms to make sure I have truly a full group of good poems and not a core of good ones and some bubble wrap.

A corollary to this is that it seems like collections are getting longer and longer. And I’ve noted in an earlier post that contest rules are asking for mss that are of higher and higher page count. I just don’t think this is a good thing. I want a book of poems to be a small world I live in, roaming around, revisiting streets and vistas. I don’t want to wander forever in strange terrain. Too many times I’ve encountered collections that after a while make me say “Enough already.” This is not good for poetry, already fighting an uphill battle for readers. Too many poems invites too many weak poems. I favor shorter and stronger throughout. Whack ’em with some good stuff and go.
Marilyn McCabe, Another Round of Notes from the First Round

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A review is generally considered to be a critique, or a work of opinion. That’s true for many reviews, whether they are of literature, film, food, or art. The reviewer is out to convince the reader of a particular point of view; i.e., the book was delightful or boring, the film sensational or regrettable, the meal delicious or average, the art shocking or banal.

In the exploratory review, however, the reviewer’s opinion is less important than the potential reader’s experience of the book. In other words, the reviewer is less concerned with convincing a reader of a book’s worth, and more concerned with making the book available for the reader’s own judgment. This process respects the reviewing triad: author, reviewer, and reader.

When I review a book of poems, I’m not looking for something to criticize. As Anjali Enjeti writes in Secrets of the Book Critics, “I’d much rather celebrate a book than criticize it.” This doesn’t mean that I’m some kind of Pollyanna, heaping praise on every book I review. Nor am I aiming for a balance between the two; i.e., “this was bad” but “this was good.” My goal as a reviewer is to pry open a book of poems and let the light out, or dive deeply into the dark.
Erica Goss, The Exploratory Review

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Seeing pictures of people playing golf in the foreground, with the plumes of smoke from the erupting Hawaiian volcano in the background, makes me want to scream, “Get out of there!” Sure, they should be safe. But there were people in 1980 who went camping near the spewing Mt. St. Helens volcano thinking that they’d be safe. But they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the mountain exploded sideways, which no one anticipated.

I’m also thinking about the first case of urban ebola. That’s a bad, bad sign. But at least the actions being taken have been swift.

Still, it’s the kind of news nugget that makes me wonder if at some point, we’ll look back and say, “We were so upset about the latest Trump debacle that we didn’t see ____________.” Readers of this blog know that I’ve spent time preparing/thinking about the wrong apocalypse. I scanned the horizon for mushroom clouds, not seeing the oceans steadily warming and rising.

Of course, history often works in circles, not straight lines. Perhaps all that time scanning the horizon for mushroom clouds are still ahead: I feel fretful about Iran and Israel and North Korea.

In the meantime, I do the work that must be done: teacher observations, annual reviews, buying food for both school and home, paying bills, making dinner, washing dishes, washing clothes–these tasks too run in circles, making me feel that I’m never done.

My creative work, too, feels circular, not linear. I return to the same themes, the same ideas, but execute them in different ways.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Apocalypse and Other Upheavals

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, I found a lot of Poetry Month post mortems, as you might expect. But several other themes emerged, as well, with posts on interdisciplinary influences and collaboration, translation and “envoicing”, spirituality and religion, and the importance of active engagement in the public sphere.

April’s gone, and the rigour of National/Global Poetry Writing Month is over for another year. So how did it benefit me as a writer?

  • The discipline of producing new writing, daily.
  • Motivation to get started and keep going, from a writing community.
  • No shortage of writing prompts to overcome self-imposed barriers/blocks to writing.
  • New and unexpected learning/discoveries from prompt-related web links.
  • Exploring form.
  • Approaching old poem drafts from new perspectives; fresh starts.
  • Unexpected/surprising outcomes.
  • An abundance of material to work on or cherry-pick from.

Jayne Stanton, After NaPoWriMo

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April wasn’t a different month for me in terms of poetry than any other month. I wrote a few poems and sent a few packets out. I got some new ideas for poems, which always makes me happy. I took a purple legal pad to school–right about the time that my administrator schedule heated up, and I didn’t have pockets of time during my work day to write. But I’ve set a foundation for later.

While getting a Fitbit may not be one of the goals we see in anyone’s writing goals, I do think it’s important to remember that our ability to create poems may rely on keeping healthy as best we can. I’ve spent the last year gaining 15 pounds, and I’m happy to be taking steps to reverse that. More important, I’m glad to have a gadget that will remind me to move away from the desk periodically.

What I’d like to carry with me: I’d like to write poems more regularly. I do admire the poets like Luisa Igloria who write a poem a day, year in, year out. I’d be happy if I wrote poetry 3 days a week. I know there are trackers for that–you don’t wear them on your wrist, but a tracker is available. Maybe I should try that . . .
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Last Day of National Poetry Month

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So, for the last year, I have been writing. When I have the time. Whenever I have the inclination. When there’s something that is nagging at the back of my mind. I stopped submitting poems altogether for about six months. I concentrated on creating work. And guess what? It’s almost summer. And once again, I really do think I may have a third manuscript now. If not, I have a whole lotta poems. And that’s a start.
Donna Vorreyer, Whole Lotta Poems

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My best writing has been done when I wake up with a clear mind and maybe 40 minutes just to dream on paper.

My best writing rarely happens when I am saying to myself, “Okay, you need to make this one excellent, you need to write your best poem ever.”

I have a friend I write with back and forth and on May 1st he sent me an email saying, “I haven’t lost the energy, I want to keep writing a poem-a-day…” And I agree.

So I will continue on trying to write a poem a day, but being happy if I get a poem a week or a poem every-other-day.

Because I love the journey and while I love a draft that leads to a completed work, I appreciate the poems that don’t. They are like sketches in an artist’s journal, practice swings on a baseball field knowing one day, we’ll hit it out of the park.
Kelli Russell Agodon, While I Was a Terrible Blogger During #NaPoWriMo, I Earned My Poem-A-Day Merit Badge… (Plus: Why Quantity Wins Over Quality in First Drafts…)

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In addition to having a goal of writing a poem each day, I also set a goal of reading fifteen books of poetry this month. I came close, reading thirteen books of poetry. A little short of my goal but considering some people don’t even read thirteen books in the entire year I think I did okay. And I read some damn good poetry this month.

But just because the month is over doesn’t mean I’m going to be any less focused on my writing. I’ll use the momentum to keep writing and keep putting words down on paper.
Courtney LeBlanc, 30/30

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The landscape’s brought colors and pollinators and all the juiciness of reproduction cycles into the season’s height. Time to take walks and breathe.

And say nothing.

And let the words subside for awhile, and percolate the way the rains percolate through the wet, warm soil and into the waiting earth.
Ann E. Michael, Wordless

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I love going to poetry readings when it’s clear the poet has studied acting, is a good actor. I’m thinking of Lola Haskins, who reads with her full body, who takes such time and care with her delivery. You see her wanting to do something with her audience with her performance. Beth Ann Fennelly is another poet whose recitations (though she usually holds her book, just to have it in case) are occasions where her poetry becomes something physical through her performance. Saul Williams, of course. Or think of singer-poets, Patti Smith. Or John Giorno. Or Marie-Elizabeth Mali.

Obviously, the whole spoken word movement celebrates performance and recitation, going back to Marc Smith, with roots in the Black Arts Movement, the Beat Writers, going back to Dylan Thomas and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s radio broadcasts, back to workers’ chants and back to call and response, back to Father Walt, oh hell, back to ancient Greek poetry. The beginnings of drama and poetry and ritual, all of this is old, old stuff. It’s because poetry, those words, don’t reside in the brain–to be accessed mechanically–but are in the breath and heart beat, in the body. Performing a poem, then, requires that bodily engagement.
Jim Brock, Recitation

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These are exciting times for the arts: eyes and ears are open wide and there are few if any barriers standing in the way of experimentation. So within these exciting times of relative freedom from the constraints of rigid tradition and strict orthodoxy in style and form, it’s a truism to say that art thrives on synthesis. In all regions of the wide cultural territory that lie before us in the early 21st century, there is abundant cross-fertilisation, the elements of which are drawn from the most disparate of sources and made subject to the broadest of influences. For painting, for music, for dance, for theatre, for poetry, these are, in many ways, the best of days. […]

Whilst driving through country lanes listening to Steeleye Span singing The Dark-Eyed Sailor, I began to ponder this demarcation between the immediate subjectivity of the ‘dramatic’ and the relative objectivity of the ‘narrative’. Suddenly it occurred to me that it might be interesting to tamper with the equation as interpreted by Brecht in his re-articulation of the Goethe/Schiller proposition and extract a poem from that traditional English ballad that moved back through the formalised structures of the rhyming ballad towards the immediacy of the events that inspired the song in the first place. The unifying themes, the sequencing of events and the ‘rhapsodic’ narration would remain the same, but there would be applied to the storyline an element at least of the emotional interactions between the human protagonists themselves and their experiences within the wider context, this forming a kind of ostensible mésalliance between the two oppositional modes that might, in fact, actually work.
Dick Jones, The Famous Flower

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This track has had a special place in my heart over these years and, revisiting it recently, I found myself beginning to make this video with it. In its final form, the piece is a hybrid of music video and poetry film. The images are from Unsplash, a website for highly creative photography from around the world, all made available for re-use on public domain licence. I selected and juxtaposed the images for their associative resonances with the words, and arranged them in an order to tell a kind of abstract, gestural narrative. I built up a visual motif in this video around the colour red, relating to the rubies of the title. In editing I added movement to the stills through zooms, reversal of framing, and jump cuts on the beats, like heart beats with the music.
Marie Craven, Videos: 1000 Rubies, Human Resources, St. Umbilicus

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Last Saturday I was honored to read my poem “Blessing” at Ars Poetica – Where Poetry Meets Art at the Front Street Gallery in Poulsbo, Washington. I had the pleasure to meet Artist Sylvia Carlton, who shared with the audience why my poem resonated with her and why she chose it. I was so moved that it touched her in such a personal manner. Sylvia shared how as a mother the poem put into words so much of what she also felt about that difficult time when we let go of our children and send them into the world. Sylvia captured beautifully the contrast between the tight formality at the beginning of the poem with a dark weaving of limbs and the openness at the end of the poem where the white space and lack of formal punctuation allows the light to come in—light that beautifully emerges from behind the trees.
Carey Taylor, Ars Poetica-2018

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Tomorrow (Monday 7 May 2018) I will be starting a poetry course with the Poetry School. Titled Transreading the Baltics, led by Elzbieta Wójcik-Leese, it will look at and respond to poetry in translation from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I don’t speak a single word of any of those languages but the thought of getting to know the poetry thrills me the way a TV travel show can whet your appetite for visiting a country. […]

As a blind person I frequently need to translate English into English. I personally do not understand the reason why some poets post their work as images rather than ordinary text. A picture of text is not the same as text that can be copied and pasted into an email, for example. Maybe that is the reason for doing it but, as Google Books proves, scanned copies of whole books can still be shared.
Giles L. Turnbull, Lost in Poetry

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Poet Pam Thompson wrote a really interesting comment on the last post, describing what I was doing with some of the poems was “envoicing”. I was much taken by the idea, conflating it, I suppose, with Robert MacFarlane’s idea of “en-chantment”….that is to bring into being, or to call up, by language. I’d always thought of the business of dramatic monologues as ‘ventriloquism’, but envoicing seems much more an act of imaginative invention. I’ve written before about what brought me into it. Basically, I was looking to break out of my own ‘voice’ and its way of seeing, and what unlocked the door was Carol Ann Duffy’s The world’s wife. An absolute revolution at the time, to me, ‘envoicing’ all those female voices in a series of revisionist versions of myth and legend. Eventually it lead me to finding voices for a whole range of sculpted figures…the angel of the North, Epstein’s St. Michael, Rodin’s kissing lovers, one of Anthony Gormley’s figures on Crosby Sands, and so on. But the first project, which produced a lot less than I thought it might, was to explore the relationship between the late Victorian painter, John Waterhouse, and his (supposed) favourite model.
John Foggin, The male gaze (4) “Envoicing”

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Your most recent collection of poetry is Sexting Ghosts. Can you tell us about the project and how it came into being?

The project is an interesting mashup of different things I started writing immediately after finishing my MFA in writing. I was, and am, so obsessed with spirituality, the universe, and where we sort of fit in. I was raised in a religious household and while I largely rejected a lot of the sort of “status quo” ideas of Eastern Orthodoxy (what I was raised in), I do believe in God/the universe, and it is important to me to explore this. I think, for awhile, I felt like I had to reject religion or spirituality, because it alienated me as a queer person — and because of the rigidity of it.

But now I’m comfortable with it, and a fluidity of traditions and approaches — I largely consider myself a witch with a mashup of Eastern Orthodox/Jewish beliefs, which is because of my relationships and upbringing and interest in largely just being authentic and true to myself. So this book is largely an exploration of that as a queer person, using the first part to explore gender and sexuality and dysfunction in the tradition family setting, while the other parts explore this within the technological realm. What does spirituality look like with texting, what does it look like when we look at the universe as a living thing separate from humanity?
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Joanna C. Valente on spirituality and the drive to communicate

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Making Manifest [by Dave Harrity] is a creative writing workbook. you are to read a different reflection each day and complete the writing exercise that goes along with it. the thought behind it is that writing can be a spiritual discipline–and, where i have found the book unique, it blends spiritual exercise with writing.

the exercises are appropriate for beginners and not-so-beginners, and did help me to become more focused on writing as a spiritual activity. i have been slow working through this book–it has taken me about two months to complete–but i have truly enjoyed coming to it each evening, sitting down in an attitude of worship in my writing.
Renee Emerson, making manifest: a review

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Q~How is the poem representative of your new collection?

A~slight faith is a collection of poems that consider ways of creating and finding meaning, ways of seeing the world in all its horror and still wanting to live. The story that my poem, “Bimbo: a Deer Story,” is based on looks to the natural world (a dead doe, the fawn helpless at her corpse) and positions the fawn in an unnatural environment (a woman’s home). The story is simultaneously heartwarming and anomalous. In the poem, the narrator tries to understand who she is under the circumstances she has been dealt. She looks for meaning, which I believe has its core in faith. Many of us who are not drenched in religious life have difficulty talking about concepts like faith, and yet these tropes are found everywhere in art. I’ve learned “god language” through my work in end-of-life care, as a way of connecting with people who speak it. My own experience of faith vacillates between feeling authentic (faithful) and feeling hopeless (faithless). At core, faith says there is meaning. I lose and recover meaning all the time. slight faith is a way of finding peace in that dilemma.

Q~You mentioned your work in end-of-life care, how much does your “day job” influence your writing?

A~There is no doubt that my years as a nurse, witnessing illness, suffering and death, has been a bedrock of my need to write. It has also given me experiences to write about, as I have done in my chapbooks What We Owe Each Other and In My Exam Room (both published by The Lives You Touch Publications). When life seems suffused with sadness, despair and even alienation, poetry carves out a place for these difficult emotions in the world.
Bekah Steimel, Bimbo, a Deer Story / an interview with poet Risa Denenberg

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As with several other poets this month, I had to — I wanted to — read Brock-Broido’s poems over and over. She values image and sound, and she choreographs her poems across the pages. I won’t say they are puzzles, but they are gems, they’re like Matroushka dolls with meanings tucked within meanings. “I am of a fine mind to worship the visible world, the woo and pitch and sign of it,” she writes in “Dear Shadows,” but I had a very clear sense that it was not the visible world that concerned her. “I ache for him, his boredom and his solitude. // On suffering and animals, inarguably, they do. // I miss your heart, my heart” (“Dove, Interrupted”).

I’m reminded of one of my university professors, who once told us, in seeming exasperation, “Stop writing about hearts and moons, it’s been done.” And then to spend day with these poems (and read Brock-Broido’s students’ testimonials upon her death) — it’s fortifying to see how much the heart is still written of, and cared for. It makes my heart glad.
Bethany Reid, Lucie Brock-Broido’s Stay, Illusion

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Keeping quiet such a long time, dry-eyed
and wet-boned, gone all limp and loose and lost.
There’s the little cave they keep you in, tied
to bricks so you won’t float away, arms crossed
over your chest. Is that to hold your heart
in your body? Does it really matter?
Some day, you’ll get out — a black arts jump start
for all the bits and pieces in tatters…
PF Anderson, Zombie Sonnet

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Yesterday, I went over to a friend’s house. I arrived at 4 PM; I left six hours later. In between we drank wine, cooked four pounds of mussels, grilled vegetables, and traded poems. I was grateful for the sunshine, the gorgeous cherry tree flowering in her backyard, and her overly enthusiastic (and freshly washed) pup clambering for pets.

Most of all, I was grateful for the balance of the exchange: two poets who have been following each others’ work for years, with a baseline of respect and appreciation, talking freely about drafts in progress. We don’t have particularly similar styles, especially in our projects of the moment. But we’re able to be frank about what’s working and what’s not on the page, and that’s worth its weight in gold. Everyone needs trusted readers.
Sandra Beasley, Golden Rule

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What’s really sad is that there is not a single bookstore in Tillamook.

Not even a used bookstore.

Though we do have a wonderful library.

But when I asked the library if I could arrange poetry readings there, they said no.

So guess what I went and did?

I asked if anyone in my community would want to join me in a poetry book club.

And 9 people said yes!

We had our first meeting and it was wonderful!!! People had such interesting and insightful comments about the poems we discussed from Lois Parker Edstrom’s Night Beyond Black.

It was so much fun, people want to do it again–the last Wednesday of every month!

I feel so lucky there are so many local folks open to discovering poetry along with me.

I’m not alone with poetry any longer.
Lana Ayers, Sometimes beauty alone is not enough…

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We’re also reading Kevin Young’s amazing long poem Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, from 2011. I think my students are struggling with it, much more so than with the shorter poems we’ve read, and I understand why–Ardency is not only long (250 pages), but Young steadfastly refuses to simplify this vast, complicated, powerful story. Instead, the book riffs on the languages and structures of religion, education, and music, with a section each focused on Covey, the free Mendi translator; Cinque, a captive who came to lead the rebellion; and a chorus of survivors on trial, often represented through letters. […]

Can a poem be a monument? I think so. A book doesn’t have the simplicity of a pillar or the accessibility of a garden, but there’s a public role, too, for the productive difficulties of intensely patterned language. We need to read poetry, alone and together, because it helps us remember (and imagine) what’s lost and imagine (and remember) a way forward.
Lesley Wheeler, May the river/ remember you

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If women writers were given as many chances, as many extra passes, as male writers, I think you would see a lot less sexism and abuse in the system. I see women writers being shoved out of the way, talked over, published less, paid less, treated as less important, and I think: Why do people think this is okay, and why does it keep happening? Of course the literary world is not protected from these incidents – in fact, in my experience, it’s worse than, say, the tech world I used to operate in (I had very supportive male bosses who promoted me at AT&T and Microsoft, in particular.) So if you have power and influence, try using it to help women succeed. I bet it would prevent so many abuses. It occurred to me one of the reasons I wrote PR for Poets is I felt women writers, weren’t reaching their audiences because they weren’t being promoted, reviewed, invited to speak, like male writers. I’ve seen very shy, unself-promoting male writers lifted up by their male colleagues, taken out for a beer and given tips and even having their books suggested to certain high-end publishers, but I haven’t really seen the same thing for shy, unself-promoting women. I wanted all poets to have the tools to help get the word out about their books, but I didn’t realize this was actually a subversive act. It’s subversive to help poets learn how to promote themselves because the literary world wants you to believe that it is a meritocracy, when it really isn’t, it’s a place where privilege and place and class and gender all reflect social norms, which means the disabled, the poor, people of color, and women are going to have less of a chance to really make it. When AWP ignores the needs of disabled folks, that means less chance for us to interact with others. When publishers skew their books to a male audience because male writers “are more universal,” well, no they’re not, unless you make that the case. Readers of books actually skew strongly female, so shouldn’t the authors of books also skew female?

I’m sorry if this tone disturbs you. I like to uplift people. I like to be inspiring. But lately, with the political tone of the country, the repeated shock at many men in power abusing that power, I have started to say: enough of the shock. Let’s do something to make it better. I may not live to see a woman president of America, but I want to make some noise for equality in the poetry world, at least. If I can support other women writers by bringing attention to their work (which is why I do book reviews even though they are time consuming and mostly do not pay,) I want to do what I can to make the literary world a better place. I want to encourage you to take action too.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, My Rumpus Review of Barbie Chang, Guest Post on PR for Poets with a Disability or Chronic Illness, More Cancer Tests, Faerie Magazine Poems, and How the Lit World Can Avoid More #MeToo Moments

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Night pavement, silver-slick with moon.

 

Owl. Mid-road. Blocking the way. Meeting my eyes. Slow, slower: it does not move. Mouse between its talons. Guardian of the veil between the land of the living and the land of the dead.

I drive around it, trembling.

Last time I met you, you were kicking me out: I have the scars to prove it. Head wounds bleed like bastard. Talon strike perforations. I don’t want to go back.

You say: do not pass.

I pass, trembling. Into steeper dark.
JJS, May 3, 2018: what the forest said

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poets were pondering time and memory (well, OK, poets are pretty much always pondering time and memory) in between trading tips on how to start a poem, how to know when it’s finished, how to promote a book, and — most of all — what to read.

Unable to sleep, I sit before
the heartless brilliance of the screen
with the real-world darkness

hovering, fearful but persistent,
at my back. It seems as if time
has packed her bags and left

for the coast and then beyond.
I take off my glasses, knuckle away
the mess of my tears. And then,

like importunate drunks through
a suddenly opened door, the geese
are overhead.
Dick Jones, Their Voices in the Night

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Spring’s been happening in fits and starts–blossoms one minute, wind-strewn petals the next. I walk a nearby trail most mornings, and on Tuesday, Woods Creek churned and roared from heavy rains; parts of the path were massive puddles, and the lowest bridge was half-underwater. The next day was frigid; others have balmy and still. National Poetry Month basically occurs during the year’s moody adolescence.
Lesley Wheeler, News flash: in April, poet feels moody

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Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share on writing?

A~Writing is a solitary act, but it’s equally important to actively seek, and maintain, an outward focus in order to inspire and inform one’s writing. Connect with other writers, both face-to-face and online (it’s never been easier); be an active participant in your local writing scene; attend writing workshops, poetry readings, literary events, festivals; support the work of others (it’s not a one-way street); live life (it’s the richest writing material I know). And, read far more poetry than you can ever write.
Jayne Stanton, interviewed in Bekah Steimel’s blog

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One of the writing strategies I like to use almost every time I begin a draft is to generate a list of words from another source, from a book of poetry or fiction or from almost anything written that’s lying about. Sometimes there’s some intentionality and sometimes not. I look for words that aren’t in my personal lexicon–not that I don’t know them, but I may not think to use them. Then I prop up that list of words in front of me at the computer or on my lap. SOMETIMES a word on that list will generate an entire poem.

I’m always looking for a way in–and about 80% of the time I’d say, my poems spring from a list. There’s nothing proprietary about a list of words from another source, but I love how the list pushes me in a new direction or actually becomes the prompt or allows me to use much fresher language than I might otherwise. It eliminates hum-drum, I hope.

I’ve divined words from poetry books like Break the Habit by Tara Betts and Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, and Pattiann Rogers’ book, Holy Heathen Rhapsody, and even a fiction book, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I still marvel at what gets spit out on the page. I’ve read through entire books circling words as I read or just found and used a single longer poem. Rarely am I looking for a specific type of word for a specific subject. Rather, the goal is to gather words that do not seem to fit together or the subject, if there is one. The list IS my entry to the draft whether I’m writing about Frida Kahlo, the hospice caregiver bathing my mother, or my brother’s childhood clubhouse.
Gail Goepfert, Behind the Purple Door–One Way In

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Of course, invariably, each retyping meant a new re-entry, a complete opportunity to alter, change, fudge, reconsider, letter by letter, the whole poem and its possibilities. Even if you didn’t change a thing, it was a true revision opportunity for the poem. I also enjoyed how it was to re-enter those poems that way, too. Maybe it was the punctuation of the line with the return of the carriage, the clacking of each letter, the meticulous folding the manuscript into thirds to fit into the envelope. That slowness, that luxury, that inefficiency seems so distant now.
Jim Brock, Old Inefficiencies, Old Joys

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A month or so later the audiobook was finished. The recording was done by Lily Ricciardi, one of eBookit’s professional readers. She has a beautiful voice and did a great job. The book is reproduced in its entirety except, of course, for the Table of Contents, the bio notes, and the Index.

I wondered initially how someone might use an audiobook of this sort, as opposed to, say, a novel. But it seems that people are enjoying it as they go walking and as they pound away on the treadmill. Some listen and learn in bed. Someone told me she begins her morning writing session by listening for 10 minutes; what she hears then inspires her writing that day. Excellent! Others listen while traveling in the car or plane. Obviously, I had a lot to learn about audiobooks.
Diane Lockward, The Crafty Poet Goes Audible

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People sometimes ask me how they might know when a poem is “Done.” I resist that term, actually; I think of poems as ideas gathered to the consciousness of the poet. The text on the page (or as delivered live, in readings) is always just the best possible approximation the ‘poem’ available to that poet at the given moment. There’s no one definitive version of a poem.

The practical advantage of that attitude is that I’m pretty easygoing about accepting other people’s edits or even typos in reproduction. Poems aren’t like cars; you can’t ding their bodywork or crack their glass. Poems are clouds you get to ride, if you’re lucky.
Sandra Beasley, Heirloom (Old Poem / New Poem)

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It’s been a while since I read her work, and though I often think of Ruth Stone (1915-2011) along the lines of girls in dresses of Alice blue, and mares beneath the apple trees, I was pleasingly surprised at how bawdy Stone’s poetry is. Men line up like silverback gorillas at the counter of the donut shop. At the bus station, “two couples are not just kissing / they are dry fucking.” In these poems we are not allowed to forget that we have bodies. A younger sister lies in the grave, her breasts, “wizened flaps.” A husband dead of suicide haunts the poems (an insistent “you”). Time doesn’t merely pass, but runs through our fingers as we clutch at what cannot be held onto. The title of the book, Ordinary Words, seems to insist on the humble subjects and (sometimes) plain speech of the poems. But I tiptoe through these poems, never sure where a trap will spring open.
Bethany Reid, Ruth Stone’s Ordinary Words

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I learned to vanish, was saved by my knack
for flying away with fluttering sleeves
and hair through wet grass and over trestles,
falling, and hiding again. A vessel
is coming, I will leave. My mother grieves.
Light and shadows fold themselves around me;
feathers brush my face, erase memory.
PF Anderson, Kaguyahime Sonnet

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Why do some things hold in our memories when others go? Was it less painful for my mother to think of me as the young girl she could dress in nice clothes and whose hair was consistently combed? Was her memory loss entirely organic or was there something else involved? And why, oh why, can I remember so little from certain periods of my life? What have I put into storage and then thrown away the key?

The first poem of Every Atom includes the lines: “The world we are born into / is not the one that clings to us as we leave.” We change the world by moving through it, by the stories we choose to tell, by the ever-widening ripples of our actions. Sometimes, I go back through old notebooks to remind myself of what my world contained during different times. Sometimes, I go back through old notebooks to remind myself who I was in those worlds.

Sometimes I don’t recognize any of it. But there it is, in my own handwriting, like a river ebbing and pulsing, continual and irreversible.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The River of Memory

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An amalgam of ground pecans, chopped apples,
red wine, and nutmeg
primes us to recall the taste of mortar—

the timeworn saga of servitude and how despots’
sovereignties always hinge on slavery.
But instead, it is sweet as honey

and reminds me that all history
is gloss, and how recollection, like nostalgia,
adds false notes of harmony to bitter herbs.
Risa Denenberg, Charoset and Bitter Herbs

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The poet community is one less. I confess I did not personally know Sam Hamil, but I knew of him. I knew some of his rugged past that probably had a lot to do with the person he was. I became acquainted with him during the Poets Against the War lead up to U.S. Bombing Iraq. When I think of Copper Canyon Press I think of Sam. When I think of Sam, I think of Copper Canyon Press. It’s that simple. Sam was all about peace. There was a quiet spirit that resided in Sam, but Sam also had the ability to unleash tremendous indignation where appropriate. One thing I don’t think I ever saw in Sam was much optimism. His worldview of governments including and perhaps especially our own was highly pessimistic. War, hate, violence, greed, corruption. These were things that kept his vision from seeing a reason for optimism. But Sam gave us poetry. His gift to us all, are words that will continue to speak to us if only we will listen.
Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Schizophrenia is in Full Bloom this Spring

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Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I like the poetry itself. The writing, the revising, the reading, the submitting, the independent non-corporate publishing, the sharing, the interpretation, the connecting to others through the poetry. Poetry as expression, poetry as art, poetry as emotion, poetry as questioning, poetry as exploring.

I dislike aspects of the poetry scene that feel too close for comfort to some sort of popularity contest involving group attacks or judgment calls. Poetry can be political in many different, powerful ways, but I don’t like the forming of groups outside of the poetry that take a side and lump other sides together and judge them and try to send other poets to jail.

I’m a small scale individual poet, not a large scale judge.
Juliet Cook, interviewed in Bekah Steimel’s blog

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The conversation in this lovely book between text and image is direct and intense, without seeming constricted or constrained. Although its visual and verbal components are fully capable of standing alone, together they make magic. Seasoned and grave, yet crackling with irony and pleasure, these poems are also erudite, salted with references to Duchamp (a “nude descending an escalator”); Orpheus (a narrator who “turned back to see you disappear”); and Turner (“the red buoy bobbing on the waves.”) Their engagement with the paintings yields a tapestry of responsive, but imaginative, tropes, such as the structure of matter, fragmentation, the entangled relationship between creation and destruction – and, of course, static. This book handily refutes the counsel (mentioned in “where was it I”) of those “frozen in place” to “stay inside the lines.”
This! On “breath to oblivion no ladder no chaser” by Charles Borkhuis–guest blog post by Susan Lewis at TrishHopkinson.com

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Think about Browning’s My last duchess. There’s a poem about the predatory male gaze if ever there was one. But whose gaze is turned on the Duke, and whose on the woman whose portrait the Duke is showing off? What is the poet assuming about the duchess? Or think about Philip Larkin’s The less deceived and how he imagines (gazes on) the little street girl abducted and taken into fulfilment’s desolate attic. At every turn I feel the ground slipping away from under my feet.

At this point, I’m going to go back to an earlier post, (December 2014) in which I was equally uncertain of what I was arguing about or why. I started with a quotation from George Eliot…who had to assume a male persona to get published.

“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary life it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well-wadded with stupidity.”

I went on to write about my response to work by Pascale Petit, Kim Moore, Fiona Benson and Wendy Pratt, and to wonder whether I could access their experience of the world via their poems. I wrote:

“I read these poems, and then I read what I’ve written in the last two years and I see what isn’t there, and I wonder if I have access to what’s missing. Just to explain why I chose that opening quotation from George Eliot; for the last 18 months or so I have grown gradually more deaf. It’s something that can be dealt with, and will be, but at the moment I hear the world through a soft sieve. I miss the point of conversations and questions if I’m not attending. It’s like listening to French. I recognise songs on the radio by the bass lines and drum patterns but I can’t hear the whole tune. And now these poets. It’s as though they’ve shown me emotional registers and harmonies that I can’t hear or feel for myself, as though, in George Eliot’s word I’m ‘well-wadded’. I’m writing rhetoric and well-observed landscapes, and anecdotes, but I’m not accessing the whole picture.”
John Foggin, Here’s looking at you: the male gaze

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The cacophony of voices – high & shrill, low & gruff –
pressed in on her as the knobs of her spine pressed
into the wall, mouths opening and closing
like hungry baby birds, insatiable and demanding.
Beneath the din she heard the whisper of leaves

rubbing in the breeze a promise of disappearance,
of peace caressing her ramrod body. Her eyes
found the door as the sea of prattle parted.
She gathered her resolve and lifted one foot.
Charlotte Hamrick, Not a Party Girl

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Q: Readings make me anxious – how many do I have to do?
A: I say in the book PR for Poets that many poets sell most of their books through readings, and though that’s true, there are plenty of other options that I outline in the book for you to sell books, including sending out an e-mail newsletter, book postcards, or talking to professors about teaching your book. Every book is unique, and every poet is unique. Some people are extroverted and confident public speakers – those people should do lots of readings as long as it makes them happy. But if they’re torture for you, do one or two readings in places you know you have lots of support and see how it goes from there.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Q&A for PR for Poets

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I think that poetry offers what Plato calls psychagogia— “an enlargement of the soul” in C.S. Lewis’ definition, or see John Joseph Jasso’s dissertation chronicling it as “the idea that rhetoric can lead souls to their own betterment; that is, guide them in an ascent along a metaphysical hierarchy through beauty, goodness, and truth to a fuller participation in being.” Poetry provides such enlargement by permitting the reader to imaginatively undergo transformation via images and places the poem offers, to experience the turn in the poem’s rhetoric, to feel ‘along with’ the poem’s nature. The poem is a threshold at which the reader stands and makes the choice of whether or not to enter.
Ann E. Michael, Imaginative, not imaginary

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This is all to say that sometimes dramatic lit does exactly what it’s supposed to do: remove us from our own lives, provide catharsis, and then place us back into our lives with a better sense of perspective, a little more wisdom, and a little more clarity — or even more with more confusion, but a confusion that lets you know a veil has been lifted, and that somehow you’re un-seeing something that was distorted (for you) previously.

And it’s nothing short of amazing these days when something works the way it’s supposed to work. And that’s not pure cynicism — it’s more celebration than anything else. I really love other people’s writing.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, When You Come, Then You’ll See: Real Drama! (i.e. Not My Own)

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And all the cycles in between- the river running dry
for fifteen years, the earth knotted in stubbornness

loops of suffering, the cycle of mourning, the womb
stretched and inelastic filled with the husk of grief.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Cycles

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, a post by L.L. Barkat on Jane Friedman’s blog explained why, five years after she quit blogging, she’s coming back to it again, which is interesting timing because of course it coincides with this blogging tour thing, in which so many lapsed bloggers are trying to re-commit as well. The whole essay is worth reading, but I particularly liked her reason #5 to blog: Blogging as Playground. “The writers who know how to play are the ones whose work tends to be most vital,” she notes. So for this edition of the digest, I decided to focus on blog posts about play or demonstrating playfulness in some way. But it’s a shorter digest than most, because I think so many writers are still recovering from the AWP conference.

During my long years of writing and of having my writing critiqued, I’ve been advised more than once to watch my verbs. I recognize the stylistic impulse and agree that too much to be, too much is, was, or has been, can slow or decompress a poem.

Sometimes, exactly what the poet intends to do.

Other times, exactly what the colloquially convincing narrator or character would say.

A time and a place for every verb.

~

Zhuangzi:

“There is a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is being. There is nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be nonbeing. Suddenly there is being and nonbeing. But between this being and nonbeing, I don’t really know which is being and which is nonbeing. Now I have just said something. But I don’t know whether what I have said has really said something or whether it hasn’t said something.” (Watson, trans.)
Ann E. Michael, In defense of “is”

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I ended the day of [AWP] presentations by going to a session “Superconductors: Poets and Essayists Channeling Science.” It was a great session, but during the Q and A, I was mortified when my cell phone went off not once but twice. I thought I had turned it to vibrate, but I neglected to hit the OK button. I have a flip phone, not a smart phone. On days like yesterday, my phone seems quite dumb–or maybe it’s the user.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, AWP: Thursday Report

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The meaning of life: I don’t know and I don’t care. Bells don’t ask questions…When you’re old you have fewer questions about the nitty-gritty of poems. There are bigger fish to fry. Dying fish.
-Mary Ruefle in “Hell’s Bells,” a talk on tone

You cannot trust the sea.
-Ishion Hutchinson, plenary reading

On the days after the election, I had nothing to say, nothing to write.
-Virgil Suárez, plenary reading

Was was what we were.
-Diane Seuss, panel on persona poetry

African-American writers and other writers of the African diaspora–we don’t feel the sovereignty to write in the personal I, much of the time.
–Vievee Francis, panel on persona poetry

As soon as I put the I on the page I am abstracting myself. I can never be on the page…even the notion we can pin down a dialect seems kind of offensive to me.
-Gregory Pardlo, panel on persona poetry

Forgive me, but you have such amazingly thick hair! Sorry, that was inappropriate.
-very nice editor (with thinning hair) to me, in the bookfair, when I bent down to pull out a business card

Above are some high points from a conference filled with literary geniuses. I can also give you the most awesome Q&A reply ever, useful for all kinds of occasions, courtesy of Mary Ruefle: “That is such a beautiful question I won’t spoil it with an answer.” You’re welcome.
Lesley Wheeler, Heard at AWP 2018

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Last week, I tasked my middle school students with some exquisite corpse poetry (where students build their poem together, one line at a time (while only able to see the prior line)). One student started a piece with just the word “poetry” – and I think this pretty much sums up my relationship with poetry and writing and setting and committing to a routine and all sorts of et cetera:

Poetry
I don’t know
But I do care quite a lot
It was my favorite show
until last week
because last week I stabbed my toe
and my toe still hurts now
why can’t I skip school
Stop being such a baby
or else I’ll spank you
very hard
like a rock.

james w. moore, What is Poetry?

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The earthquake that hit Swansea while I was there on Saturday 17 February was 4.4 in magnitude, enough to be noticed but not sufficient to collapse any infrastructure. But writers in any genre should keep pushing their characters to the limit to find out what they do … I pushed the city to its limit, making the earthquake so strong that the city became uninhabitable and humans and animals alike headed for the hills … and then I dropped a man and a bird into the middle of the city.
Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry Takes Flight

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Maybe it’s all the Skyrim leveling, but for some reason, I have come to think of fjords as romantic, and plus I like the word “fjord”. Fjords seem very fresh and healthy-making, like they would clean out my lungs and strengthen my quads and whiten my teeth just by virtue of me being in proximity to them. And there is one fjord in particular with the poetic name of “Sognefjord” that boasts a sightseeing feature called the “Magic White Caves of Gudvangen.” By name alone that’s a tourist trap that is totally irresistible to impressionable me, although according to internet reviews, it’s just sort of “meh.” The pop-up on the site I was looking at for the Magic White Caves asked, “Do you wish to go?”, and I instantly thought, yes! Yes, I wish to go. And that is my answer in life from here out to all things travel-related: Yes, I wish to go.
Kristen McHenry, Fantasy Travel Blog

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I grew up with that hallowed Bombeck voice in my head, her wry one-liners the gold standard of humor writing (“I’ve exercised with women so thin that buzzards followed them to their cars”). So when I started to write essays and memoir pieces years ago, naturally I tried to make them funny. The trouble was, as soon as I thought “humor,” the card-catalog librarian in my brain immediately went and fetched the Erma Bombeck voice. But my version of it came out in a weird, over-the-top voicey-voice, a sort of quack that was trying way too hard to sound funny.

For a long time I didn’t see anything wrong with that voice, but I did notice that my nonfiction got rejected a lot. (Probably one reason why I turned to poetry.) Then somewhere in the past few years, I was reading one of my old essays and could hear how awful that ersatz-Bombeck voice was, a new clang that I hadn’t noticed before. I suppose my ear had become tuned differently.
Amy Miller, Being Erma Bombeck

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Imagine the crawl from sight to sightlessness.
Even in dreams you wear bifocals.

Imagine not knowing your grandson’s name, or being
lost in a word-salad thicket of sinister trees.
Risa Denenberg, Consolation

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HOPKINSON: Tell me a little bit about Underblong.

CHEN/WEIN: Underblong :: noun / verb / adjective / gaseous state / planetary magique / squishy soul-matter / nefarious sound. The sound of underblong is the sound of honey stirred into a hot beverage, the sound of a tortoise greeting you, the sound of something maybe sort of erotic sometimes, the sound of friends eating omelets while it is snowing outside and raining inside.

Underblong :: A portmanteau of “undertow” and “oblong,” nicknames the editors have given each other based on a long collaborative poem they may someday continue or turn into a multimedia art installation.
Let us underblong to Merriam-Webster for further underblonging.

Undertow
1. the current beneath the surface that sets seaward or along the beach when waves are breaking upon the shore
2. an underlying current, force, or tendency that is in opposition to what is apparent

Oblong
deviating from a square, circular, or spherical form by elongation in one dimension

Thus :: underblong is that which deviates in shape and travels beneath what is usually visible.
Thus :: underblong is a love for language doing bendy, twisty, knotty, naughty things.
Thus :: underblong is a poetry journal.
Trish Hopkinson interview with Chen Chen and Sam Herschel Wein

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Then stones and flowers might come
to know themselves. Day’s-eye, comfrey,
coltsfoot, mallow, vetch, stonecrop, feverfew.
Hornblende, granite, wolfram, flint and gneiss;
valleys might come know their depths,
and becks and burns to know the purposes of rain,
and the ways of the clough and the gorge
under blood moons, hare moons, the moon
when horns are broken. Then.
John Foggin, “For the true naming of the world”, in Where all the ladders start (2)

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Too often I’ve had the experience of a piece of writing never “in the end” revealing to me what it was really trying to figure out, so I loop around and around until I give up, or shove some ending on it like a cork. When I’m very lucky, a poem falls gracefully to some image that opens the whole poem up. Or, and again, this takes luck, I find the ending right there at the beginning, and realize I’ve just written the whole poem upside-down.

As a child I loved to hang upside-down on the handrail of our walkway, or off the couch watching TV upside-down. Lately I’ve been missing that perspective on things, and no amount of downface-dog or head-standing quite replicates the bliss of just hanging around in reverse of the known world. So if you come to my door and think you see feet instead of a head sticking up above the couch, well, I’m busy.
Marilyn McCabe, The Living End; or, On Writing Endings

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Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

A~I learned English as a girl, and I actually hated all the strange rules of it. English seemed like very alien, and I think writing poetry was, when I was a girl, a way to get closer to it. Now, it seems to be the best way to capture the strange extraordinariness of living. I think reading poetry for me is like taking in something so rich and beautiful, as if I didn’t even realize how thirsty I was until I read poetry.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~When I turned fifteen years, my mother gave me Pablo Neruda’s Veinte Poemas y una Canción Desesperada and said, “Estas lista para esto, hija.” It was her copy, a bilingual edition. But, even before that, when I was a very little girl, four or five, my mother had me memorize long poems in Spanish. I think that’s something that kids used to do in Chile once upon a time. She did it as a girl, and so she wanted me to do it. I still have memories of reciting those poems after dinner and at dinner parties when I was very young in Chile. I don’t remember the poems now but I remember the cadences of reciting long, beautiful words. That is how I fell in love with poetry I think, Neruda and Mistral just cemented my life long affair!
Bekah Steimel, The Order of Things / An interview with poet Soledad Caballero

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I often think Florida, at least Southwest Florida, fits me because it is such an end-of-the-road (and not ending at a particularly interesting, colorful place, like Key West). It takes determination, or desperation, to get here, and it takes quite a bit of energy to leave: a place to age out in, to transition into the nursing home, a place that welcomes a white, wealthy flight, a place cheap in infrastructure and expensive with prisons. And so, my mood had gone foul, cynical, and then turning onto 41 back South, I enjoyed the very blue sky, the low humidity, the last hint of winter hanging on, driving back into the sun.
Jim Brock, Not AWP-ing

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

An especially rich variety of offerings this week, especially on the themes of solitude vs. multitude and the making of books.

Sometimes the cloak is praise.

Sometimes the cloak is humor.

Sometimes the cloak is grief.

Sometimes the person doesn’t even realize he (not always a he) is cloaking intent.

Sometimes (s)he/them doesn’t realize what the intent will turn out to be. Sometimes a person is genuine, and yet a charmer, and an abuser, and yet a survivor of abuse, and a valuable poet, and yet a suppressor of poets, all in one. We contain multitudes.
Sandra Beasley, Multitudes

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as universal as love and math
as personal
as the scars of our secrets
we conjure the angels of amnesia
with a cocktail of spells
Bekah Steimel, Addictions

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I want to tell her the history of my family-gods. They are rainforest-hot,
cropland-warm, dark with every-colored skin. They have mouths
that sound like all kinds of countries. I want to tell her these gods
live wild and holy in me, in white and blue cities where my skin
is remembered or forgotten, in cities where I am always one thing, or
from anywhere.
Jennifer Maritza McCauley, When Trying to Return Home

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I confess in general, my real life has been busier than ever, not quieter. I have spent a lot of time with friends–seeing Fran Leibowitz, teaching at Western Washington University, dinners, lunches, teaching a class in Seattle, and other moments that have dotted my calendar.

Yesterday I floated for an hour in a sensory deprivation pod. It was a surreal experience where you feel as if you might be in space, as if you are weightless.

I was hoping for some huge breakthroughs in my writing or my life, what I received was 55 minutes of absolute quiet and relaxation with minor breakthroughs about life.

While I did manage to get salt in my eye and forget to put my eyeplugs in & turn off the light and have to immediately exit the tank to reset myself up, I found that I need just time to meditate, to nap, to sit, to quiet, to float.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Confession Saturday: How To Float

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I knew from the opening poem, “Rootless,” what [Jenny] Xie’s intentions with this book were with lines like “I sponge off the eyes, no worse for wear” alongside clear descriptions of place, “Between Hanoi and Sapa there are clean slabs of rice farms / and no two brick houses in a row.” This was going to be a collection that employed the camera eye, an eye that seems to separate from the self in order to explore the world outside of the self, and yet what I didn’t immediately grasp was how deep into the psyche these poems would also look. As, ultimately, Eye Level is concerned with not only with what is visible, but the endless distances between people and bottomless pit within ourselves.
Anita Olivia Koester, A Solitary Gaze: Eye Level by Jenny Xie

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Yes, I want to be a part of the community–here, the blog revival tour is an example of that. Yes, I want my credentials and awards to be certified and recognized. Yes, I want to be a part of something larger than myself. And yet, the cost of this affiliation? I think the best artists are those who do genuinely and selflessly engage with their communities, but are in continual struggle against that community, sometimes dropping out entirely, occasionally dropping in. For me, it’s about celebrating what is truly errant, digressive, resilient, unhappy, and disruptive, that part of us which is a lousy team-player, an unproductive company-man.

Everyone on the team is rushing together to put out that fire, to be a part of the decoration committee for the prom, to raise that barn–and yet, usually, there is someone who wanders off, who walks away from the commotion, a person who had always been there with us, and who has now disappeared. The committee’s work goes on. The drop out, well, she’s found another road, a pretty distraction, a quiet and uncomplicated space, where she can find something else about her gifted life.
Jim Brock, A Few Odds and Ends, & Self-Protection

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Revolution is never convenient.
Sometimes it arrives too fast
or agonizingly slow.
It’s being televised, incentivized,
trivialized, transmogrified –
from the news cycle spin
to hashtag hagiography.
Truth is elusive in the thrum,
the drumbeat of division
on a loop, on a loop, on a loop.
Collin Kelley, Lift Every Voice

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It’s sad (but perhaps natural?) how much communication can suffer even, or especially, when we’re in the same room with another person. Letter writing is an art that is so necessary — and so rare. Just reflecting on this makes me feel like I should devote more time to it. But with whom? Who would take the time to answer? Blogs are a form of letter writing to the world, to the universe, to the ether, I suppose, but I still like the particular audience, the fully imagined and/or perhaps fully realized Other, the best. Waiting for The Other’s answer makes one feel on edge, more alive — and receiving that answer is always satiating, thrilling, and the opportunity to craft a response worthy of The Other’s attention. A challenge. (The good kind.)
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Sunshine and Blue Sky, Tsvetaeva on the Concurrence of Souls, and the Art of Letter Writing

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After he leaves for the airport
the dust from his shoes settles on the floor

The smell of soap lingers in the room
as I fold the warmth of his body in the blanket

It goes back to the practice from my childhood
when I wandered in the overgrown backyards of people

to collect the thumbai flowers, pinches of moon in my palm
Uma Gowrishankar, The Full Moon: A Love Poem

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This book is careful. Odd. It’s somehow inspiring me. I keep catching ideas of my own out of the corner of my eye as I read his poems. Much of the book feels like that random, disconnected, scattershot approach that I hate in contemporary poetry — but then there are these moments that ring some gong in me. Something mysterious trembles in the disconnections. Damn. What’s going on here? These are philosophical poems, poems of consideration, of why and wherefore, mixed with birds and colors and foxes and sky, blackbirds and twigs, poems of what on earth are we doing here. That’s my question too. It all gives me paws…
Marilyn McCabe, What the what; or, Reading Siken’s War of the Foxes

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The feeling of not believing I wrote these poems uncovers layers of emotions that are erupting now that I am watching the work transition from manuscript to actual book: a lack of faith in myself; tremendous gratitude to every poet on earth, to whom I owe my love of poetry; astonishment that the poems are good; questioning “are they good?”; the anxiety of knowing the next phase (promoting the book) is likely to lead to some mixture of joy and disappointment; and wonderment at the poetic collective witchery that was tapped into in the writing.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with “slight faith” On My Mind

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Through the years, I’ve heard people use this phrase: “The Buddha in me greets the Buddha in you”— by which they mean the idea that every living being already holds the seed for transformation within themselves; in other words, that in every creature, there exists the possibility of transcendence, of going beyond our flawed, imperfect nature.

That spring, quite rapidly (in just under three months) I wrote poem after poem using a variety of “Buddha” personae. Once I started, it felt like I couldn’t stop until I’d exhausted the subject. In each poem I proposed different scenarios: what if the Buddha felt the need for a therapist? what if the Buddha had a child with an Internet addiction? what if the Buddha was a mother in mid-life who had a “wardrobe malfunction” at a public beach? what if the Buddha joined a campus “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” for Women’s History Month?
Luisa A. Igloria, New book release from Phoenicia Publishing: The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis

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This week at Phoenicia Publishing we’ve announced the pre-orders for this new book of poems by Luisa A. Igloria. […] As part of the design process, I’ve been working hard on the cover art, using hand-painted paper, cut and glued onto a painted background as collage. […]

Making art is sometimes a lonely process, filled with doubts, but at other times, there’s inspiration and collaboration. This design was my favorite of four I presented to Luisa, but at first she chose a different one. We took some time, and the next day she wrote to talk about this one with the brambles. Luisa told me what she liked here (the brambles and the ladyslipper) and said she’d like to see a bird rather than an eye. I also knew from her previous responses that she liked bright colors. Putting all of that together, and looking at some photographs of lady-slippers in their natural habitat filled with ferns and grasses in a woodland clearing, I was able to make the adjustments and changes that led to the final cover, which took several days of painting and cutting and gluing to complete because this is a new technique for me.
Beth Adams, A book and its cover

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Then the scribes tugged our pictograms from walls
and with those tongues pushing out a bottom lip,
they penned them slowly, rush-lit night and day,
across the calfskin, line upon line. Golden ciphers,
language wrapped in arabesques, concealed in
foliate compartments, locked into floral curlicues
and stalked by fantastical beasts across the vellum.
Dick Jones, INCUNABULA

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Basically, I’d never written directly and honestly about someone I knew…it’s the kind of thing I avoided because there was always the terrifying possibility that the someone would read it and deny that it was true. It’s a real blocker, the fear of embarrassment, for me at least. But it’s what I think I started to learn about the rag-and-bone-shop of the heart. The shops I knew. But the heart was dangerous territory. There’s a huge release in writing a line like that, feeling it directly..if you’ve not done it before. A leap. But it puts the flames in their proper place, and at this point, the poem expands outwards into everywhere. Julie died a couple of months later and never got to read what I’d written. I know I’m glad I wrote it.
John Foggin, Where all the ladders start [1]

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How is it there is never space for death and time to grieve, that people often end up dead too quickly to say goodbye (my aunt had just been discharged from the hospital – apparently too soon – and I was waiting to call until she felt a little bit better.) I was planning my own funeral around this time last year, I remember taking pictures of the cherry blossoms wondering if I would live to see another round, the death sentence had been passed (perhaps a little early) on me by all-knowing and very experienced doctors, and I was picking out music and where I wanted my ashes scattered, who I wanted to have my books and art (the only things I have worth anything, really.) But then I didn’t die, I’m still alive, still dealing with the messy realities of many many specialist and therapy appointments for my various medical things related to 1. liver full of tumors and 2. brain full of lesions among other lesser issues like asthma. And living is complicated and full of irritations – side effects of drugs, obstacles to our goals, not enough time paid having fun, too much time in lines or working on grant applications or taxes. Life’s little annoyances take up our brainspace, we forget to say “I love you” or prioritize spending time with loved ones doing the things that make life worth living, thinking life goes on forever.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Grieving, Jenny Diski’s In Gratitude, Losing a Loved One, Winter Returns

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This year I’m flying over 3,800 miles to Tampa, Florida, for AWP. It’ll take me two days to get there. Two days (if all the flights go as scheduled). One very full flying day and a four hour time change on the day of Daylight Savings Time switching back to get home. But in Tampa, at the Red Hen Press booth, will be my newest book. I haven’t seen it yet. I haven’t held it. I have a panel, an offsite reading, and three signing slots, all in the space of three days. I’m flying for two days to meet my newest baby. To show her to folks. To see their new babies and listen to their words.

It’s a miracle, really. Every time. An exhausting miracle, but let’s keep our eyes on the smudge of stardust. People go into their heads, pull out words, craft them, send them into the big world, and then we read those words and they live in our hearts. If that isn’t a miracle, I can’t imagine what one looks like.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Keeping the oars in the water- AWP edition

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

Over the past few days I’ve been studying César Vallejo’s poem “Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca” (“White Stone on a Black Stone” in the Poetry magazine translation by Rebecca Seiferle), in which he famously “remembers” his own death, and turns back con todo mi camino, a verme solo — “with all of my road, to see myself alone.” Perhaps conditioned by this, I’m struck by how many poets this week have been writing about facing fears.

Owls wake me in winter. Thin talons worry into my scalp. Time immemorial, time that passes. My days are dark with black ash and bone, the rot settling into sickly flowers. Sometimes, I dream of nectar, sometimes, of blood.
Lakshmi, This Winter Heart: response to a question from another Tumblr user

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In 2014 I embarked on an anonymous adventure, publishing some poetry chapbooks with my super small press Twenty-Four Hours. We did 4 books between then and now, each free of identity-confirming information such as author names, biographies, photos, or anything else that would give away the gender, race, or age of the poet. The reasons were multi-fold. It would take away the puffery of an author bio and force the reader (and the writer) to consider the poems themselves, not the previous accomplishments of the writer. It would also take away any preconceived notions of what a particular work a writer of a certain gender, a certain race, or a certain age is “supposed” to produce. These were a smashing success and the philosophical ideas behind them resonated with many people.

So around this time in 2016, a few weeks shy of Christmas, I decided to make the next logical step and use myself as a test subject. I was going to publish all of my work anonymously.
Josh Medsker (guest blogger for Trish Hopkinson), My year of living anonymously

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Usually winter is a productive creative time for me- the weather is not tempting me outdoors, and the long drag of school days without breaks usually leaves me very eager to think about other things at home. Any other things. But not this winter.

After the poetry writing I did in January at the conference I attended, every bit of writing I’ve done since has been non-poetry related – this blog, reviews of other poets, proposals and lessons for work, etc. The poems are dormant.

I am hopeful that they are dormant in the same way the iris bulbs in front of my house are dormant – sleeping safe beneath the soil of everyday “stuff” but ready and able to push through and bloom when the weather dictates. But there is a nagging fear that, this time, the poems are dormant the way a volcano can be dormant – seething beneath the surface for years and years and years, roiling and alive but never surfacing. And this is a little scary.
Donna Vorreyer, Fear of Hibernation

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I had a dream a few nights ago in which I was touring a new university opened by Donald Trump. I do not know why, in my dream, I was touring a university owned by Donald Trump, but apparently, I was considering signing up for classes there. The building was being touted as “new”, but it was shoddily built and some of the larger rooms were still under construction. I wandered into the staff kitchen to chat with some fellow prospective students and I kept saying, “But what’s the curriculum? I haven’t seen a curriculum.” Suddenly, busted-elevator-style, the entire kitchen sank with a stomach-lurching thud and crash-landed in the basement, right next to the university swimming pool. Shell-shocked, I wandered out into the pool area. Trump came ambling up to greet me, and I explained to him that his school seemed to have some infrastructure problems, as the kitchen just fell through the floor and missed landing in the swimming pool by mere feet. Trump seemed totally unfazed by this news.
Kristen McHenry, Dystopian Round-Up

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This still from Werner Herzog’s ‘Encounters at the end of the world’ has been called ‘one of the great existential moments of modern cinema’. It’s one that has me in tears. For some reason this one penguin has left the tribe (according to wikipedia , a group of penguins on land is called a waddle. Other collective nouns for penguins include: rookery, colony, and huddle. None of them seem to credit their air of social purpose. I’ll stay with tribe). The others are purposefully plodding seaward, towards food and salvation. This one is equally purposefully heading inland to a certain death. The camera pulls back, and goes on pulling back until the penguin is microscopic in an infinity of white. Herzog’s voice-over speculates that the only reason for this behaviour is that the penguin has become insane. It’s heartbreaking.

I should say that I’ve spent the last couple of days in bed, feeling physically done in. A bit like the early symptoms of flu, without the coughing and sneezing. Just very tired and achey. So this post post might be more incoherent than usual. Still. Press on. Basically I’ve been thinking about how to introduce today’s guest poet, who happens to write short poems…not necessarily lyric, but short. I’m very conscious that I don’t do short, and admire poets who do, mainly because I think it takes more confidence and craft and discipline than I have. I suspect I’m afraid of white space, because, essentially, it leaves no hiding place. Every word is exposed, and has to justify itself.
John Foggin, No hiding place…. and a Polished gem: Matthew Stewart

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I face a slice of pink sky and await
words, dormant bulbs interred in dirt. Your absence
invades my slumber, I will die of it. The rawness
is too much.
Risa Denenberg, Nostalgia is an illness you might die of

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I keep trying to write about my impending book publication, about the process of writing, about poetry. But all I can think about are the students and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I spent twelve years in a high school classroom – one as a full-time substitute teacher, eleven as an English teacher.

I’ve taught every kind of student: eager, disinterested, poor, rich, parents overly involved, parents totally absent, some good at school, others disheartened by it. I’ve taught students as articulate as those who are speaking out now about gun reform. I’ve taught students who I know were capable of killing seventeen of their peers.

Every time I sit down to write about writing, I come up dry, because it doesn’t seem important in the face of dead children. Then I remember Alex Schachter reading his son Max’s poem. A poem that Max wrote two weeks before he was gunned down in his high school. I think of how people turn to poetry in times of love, in times of sorrow.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, What can a poem do?

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I find the main themes I return to are mental health and legacy. My first two chapbook manuscripts dissect my mental health diagnosis and my relationship with others with mental health challenges. Because mental health does affect every aspect of life, it’s important to me to speak about it and work against the stigma surrounding it. I feel the need to be very vocal about it because of the silence and stigma still surrounding mental disorders in Latinx communities, particularly the one I grew up in. I feel I wasted a lot of time feeling like something was wrong with me, and I find it important to write to let others like me know they’re not alone. Legacy is also interesting to me to explore, particularly definitions from others and from oneself. I feel most satisfied writing about the complexity of my heritage and am currently working on a few projects questioning my relationship to the colonizer/colonized sides of my family tree. I think a lot about when to use language, and when to use stillness, so I often edit and edit until the rhythm of a poem is evident on page. Some images I return to frequently are surrealism and dreams, and water and all of the implications they can have.
Marisa Adame, interviewed by Shannon Steimel

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I do write about the things that frighten me in life and the world, but I think I am also fascinated by my fear, by my inner demons, by the notion of fear itself. Some of these fears, like sexual or domestic violence are easy to understand as frightening, but I have other responses to things that only take on significance because my psyche associates them with other things. Engaging with fear tends to expand one’s personal resilience and strength, and I think that has great value. The ghost story reminds us to stay strong against thoughts of what we will one day be erased from life and memory. The creature story reminds us that what makes us different isn’t always cause for exile from polite society. And, enduring the trust terrifying world of nightmares tells us that we are stronger than we think, that we have the power to survive the torments our demons serve us whenever they can.

I feel myself, as a person, haunted by the darkness in the world, but in my work I can choose to wear it or face it, and I have the choice of how. Beyond contending with the bigger issues of monstrosity and complexity, I think that some of us just really love dancing in the dark. My poems definitely come from a desire to explore the complexities of the human psyche, the ineffable void inside us all, the flip side of the incessant, banal need to demonstrate happiness in our worlds. Something in that darkness speaks through sharp teeth, reminding us of what is really human, what is authentic.
Saba Syed Razvi, interviewed by Andrea Blythe

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Her arm, absent from sleep,

has great adventures. And then she wakes and shifts her weight,
only to discover something cold and clammy in the sheets beside her,

a lump of flesh she cannot call her own. Her other arm,
the one remaining in her bed, loyal until the end,

investigates by lifting the offending, foreign object
and then, in shock, dropping it.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, “We Surrender Our Dreams to Hunger” (accompanying an interview by Shannon Steimel)

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If you’ve always relied on your brain, rather than your body, for a sense of self-worth and self-respect, and it lets you down, it’s disheartening. It’s frustrating. But one neurologist who specializes in recovering from different types of brain injury (including MS lesions) told me that we don’t really know what the brain can do when challenged, how plastic our memory and abilities. As a writer I’ve tried to continue to write through all the health challenges I’ve had, even when my fingers could barely type. The piece I wrote about the consequences of being raped when I was six (and pondering the long-term consequences for so may girls who have had these things happen to them) was written a few months ago when I was still practicing my motor skills and swallowing, and I hope it will be helpful to someone. Talking about rape isn’t super fun or upbeat, but until we start protecting people and standing up against a culture of “boys will be boys” and “it’s okay for girls to suffer in silence” and “well, it happens to everyone” I’m afraid that little girls will be in the same danger I was in in 1979. As I talked about in my last post, it’s important not to get so fatigued mentally, spiritually, physically that we stop fighting for what is right. I am trying.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, A piece on rape culture on The Rumpus, outrage fatigue, a renovation and accessibility, and what to do when your brain lets you down

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Look, I can’t adequately explain to you what it is to feel terror at frost heaves in the road you’re shuffling, or of curbs, or of a span of loose pebbles, never mind a hill or stairs: what it is to know that uneven ground is impossible, that even that flat-ish forest path is off limits to you, creature of wilds, because one exposed root can end you if you fall: I can’t adequately explain months and months of severed paraspinals screaming and conscious mind explaining to nerves and muscles how to lift, and move, and set down each foot (and please oh please body do it for me without impact that blows the world apart in blinding, nauseous pain that makes me want to die). I can only tell you this: today the water was so still and calm after days of furious winds and violent waves, salt-spray crusting everything in a moment. I can only show you what I saw: this Atlantic, these creatures, this vast sky, this small, irrelevant body in the midst of it so completely sure-footed and strong on loose sand and weathered steps, having forgotten again to take even ibuprofen, still and calm with oceanic joy, moving like it didn’t mean everything.
JJS, February 22, 2018: pause for gratitude

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I needed to write the poems I have written.  I will continue to write poems about the loss I feel each time a person is gunned down in mass shootings in this country.  But I can no longer only do that.  I will stand behind the youth of America who have raised their voices and said You are either with us or against us, because I believe being silent is a form of complicity.  I will be in attendance on March 24th in the March for Our Lives.  I have already made a donation for this event at March for Our Lives/Go Fund Me.  I have begun reading about how our elected officials vote on gun laws.  This is just my beginning.

As a poet, I will continue to process my grief through writing, but with an understanding that my writing is not enough.  I understand we can never eliminate violence—as the arc of history has proven—but we can do more, we can promise to do our best to keep our children as safe as we possibly can, and I will work towards that end until my poem Math That Doesn’t Add Up ends differently, with a line that in the very least suggests— And all our promises of safekeeping are NOT lies.
Carey Taylor, May You Find A Way

*

I spent part of the afternoon fiddling with a sea level rise map, in part because I knew we were meeting our friends for dinner, but mostly because I fell down that internet rabbit hole when I found a news article that says that new research, released last week, says that Miami will experience 2 feet of sea level rise by 2050–not quite far enough away for comfort, since water is rising faster with every report. At one point, the date for 2 feet of sea level rise was 2100.

I think our plan will still work: to fix the house, enjoy the house for 5-10 years, and then sell. We may stay in the area and rent, if my job (the only full-time job between the 2 of us) still exists.

I find it interesting to watch the nation argue about guns, while all the while the sea eyes our shores with growing hunger and impatience. But I also understand the way that a violent event can transform both individuals and communities. I will go with my church tomorrow to a prayer vigil because I’m always going to be available to pray for peace. That might work. I’m not sure that our prayers can change the processes governed by physics or chemistry that we’ve already set into motion.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Prayer Vigils, Planetary Warming, and Other Ethical Dilemmas

*

I’m
tired of being split open
and not knowing how to sew
Kevin J. O’Conner, Undarned (a poem)

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour (plus occasional non-tour poetry bloggers from my feed reader: in this edition, George Szirtes). If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poets were blogging about loss and order, memory and embodiment… In short, they were being poets. (OK, to be fair, they were also blogging about more nitty-gritty, #amwriting types of things, too, I just chose not to feature those posts this week. By the way, if anyone wants to start an alternative weekly digest, I’d be happy to link to it.)

The poem has taken the liberty of interpreting a symbolic hint in the picture. The inverted flame shape, suggested by the woman’s headscarf, is a conventional symbol of death. Even if we do not consciously interpret it as such – and I doubt whether Kertész did, or at least we do not know whether he articulated such a thought in his own mind – once the photograph opens its multitude of doors onto the fields of memory and imagination, the symbol, even though we cannot name it, begins to speak to us and organise other parts of the image into a possible coherent whole. The man’s one leg, the halo of his boater, the absoluteness of those stern planks of wood with their jagged waves at just about neck-level, combine to support the death narrative. There is nothing dramatic in the narrative itself. Nothing is obvious: it is all apprehension, all shudder, all admiration and marvel.
George Szirtes, The Blind Musician and the Voyeurs 7

*

My mother’s history and my own are intertwined. I feel the tugging almost viscerally when I clean. How much it meant to her to give us all a perfect house. How much I’d rather spend time doing almost anything else because I can never do it right. How much our patriarchal culture has colored everything we do, including what we’re taught as children about our roles and values.

At public readings, when I read poems from my book Every Atom, I sometimes find myself wanting to explain my mother, explain myself. Even though the poems explore what our relationship was, honestly, sometimes painfully, I want to defend her, defend myself. Every person is just one domino in a long chain. She became who she was with the input of all the people and events before her, and I have become (continue to become) who I am for a thousand reasons.

So now I’m going to sit down and read a book. Watch the sky. Allow myself to be present in this moment, remembering my mother.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Sunday Cleaning

*

So much of my work involves imposing order, or revealing order that is occluded. Divine the bones of a student’s idea and help her build an essay or a poem that will stand steady, bear some weight. Uncover and tell a story latent in the survey results, the aged manuscripts, the tangle of movements and mavericks that make a literary period. Organize aspirations into weeks of future labor, then write the grant application.

But first comes the mess. Notions, images, daisy-chained phrases with their slightly crushed petals unevenly spaced, like teeth in a first-grader’s mouth. Mess precedes order, often succeeds it too, and some of the best writing remains redolent with it. Mess is smelly and exciting. Noisy and damp.
Lesley Wheeler, Excerpt from a mess in progress

*

The apparent plainness of this and its stripped-down observation draws me, the reader, into a strange meeting, poised between then and now, on the threshold of leaving. The place is studiously real, but what happens in it is disturbing and dreamlike. Haunting. There are little discords that snag. A sack under the tired Xmas lights that’s a grey cowl. The face in the rain might be dream or a drowning refugee. Why can’t the poet remember the face? Why can’t he help? It’s a poem that bothers me and won’t let go. I think that’s what poems should do. At least some of the time.
John Foggin, Them and [uz], or just us…and a polished gem. Ian Parks

*

Louise Glück’s critical eye reminds me of the red-tailed hawks that patrol the highways, sharp of eye, beak, and talon. Even in my car I feel like prey.

In American Originality, a book of essays published previously, mostly in The Threepenny Review, and introductions to books she chose as award winners for Yale University Press, Glück examines the state of contemporary poetry with her baleful eye. Even her praise is fierce.
Marilyn McCabe, Eye for an I; or Thinking About Louise Glück essays and Art for Our Time

*

I didn’t blog last week. I was thinking.

About Neruda. And that was because I was thinking about Burns.

I was not thinking about their poetry.

When I met my partner just a few years ago, one of the first things he gave me was a book of Neruda’s love poems. Since his reading (at the time) was largely restricted to non-fiction and Dan Brown, it meant a great deal to me. He’d done his homework. But just a few months later I saw an article about newly uncovered letters, in which Neruda boasted about raping a woman.

The Neruda poems just sit there on my shelf now. And every few months, I notice them, and consider tossing the book in the trash.
Ren Powell, On Ruminating

*

At the center of this affair is the body. What is it that the body knows? What intimacies and intricate registers of longing exist in the depths of muscles and across the landscapes of skin? What betrayals lodge there as well? [Sophie] Klahr’s poems work to show us the way the body dreams, the way the body stores its longing and often works against our will.

Here, (turn the body)
the spinal column, then buried:
clustered nerve-stars
galloping from palm to cunt to sole, this picture
where the bed is a feeling you can’t shake, a migraine, a cage
containing sea stones,
a script, a string of red lights—
It’s a dream:
there is a girl, a bed, a gun, a fire

Throughout this poem, “Opening Night,” the speaker creates layers of distance from her own body, she considers it in pieces as in close-up photographs, she considers herself as if in a movie she doesn’t belong in, her body having involved her in a story that is working to dismantle her.
Anita Olivia Koester, Desire as Desire: Meet Me Here at Dawn by Sophie Klahr

*

You dream there is a hole in the floor and someone you love falls through in slow motion: you can’t get there fast enough to catch her. You dream a black dog stands at the wood’s edge, still as tree stump: you don’t know what he means to say. You dream your body arcs gracefully through stained-glass air, then shatters. Death comes, again and again—for others now. You live. The sky spits sleet.
JJS, February 4, 2018: ice storms

*

I submit that it is possible to have a body
in this world and not understand the extent of it
to discover its mass and velocity only

through repeated trials, to misplace one’s body
and then find it, by hammering it again
and again against the cage that contains it
Dylan Tweney, my heart

*

Count your heartbeats
one by one as you fold
into your grief. Not as if to say,
“I am still here inside my life”,
but to declare that for as long
as that old muffled bell still booms,
your crazy rainbow self will hear it
and you’ll be, as ever was,
just one heartbeat distant.
Dick Jones, Jacqui

*

Like many poets (and people generally) when I’m under a great deal of stress, I function pretty well, but the stress shows up in dreams, and when I’m able to honor it, through poems. My new manuscript is a departure for me, it is more intimate and risky. It’s full of pain, but also hope. May we all survive this year.

In the crush of regret subject and object
exchange garments. Time is a notion too
liminal to survive. If you’re willing to amend,
there may be hope. For a moment, the stricken
sparrow’s shivering heart still beats. It’s time
to loosen the strangling cord that binds us so
painfully to one another and consider freedom.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Musing on “Moving On”

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour (plus occasional non-tour poetry bloggers: this week, Kristin Berkey-Abbott and Ian Gibbins). If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poetry bloggers mourned departed writers and pondered questions of poetic craft, audience, how to keep the creative pump primed and where to go for renewal.

I am very sad to note the death this week of Ursula Le Guin, whose books I read in high school and who was an inspiration for speculative writers everywhere. She demanded – I saw her speak a couple of times, most memorably on the Oregon Coast during a giant storm where the windows were rattling with wind and thunder – that speculative writing not be put in a separate and lesser category, that women’s writing get equal considerations as men’s, and that poetry be given equal attention as fiction. She didn’t act like any of those demands were unusual or impossible. I still hope to one day gain her bravery and refusal to put with nonsense as well as her ability to imagine a better world.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, What is the Lifespan of a Poetry Book, Saying Goodbye to Ursula Le Guin, and the Value of Little Girls’ Voices

*

It wasn’t just that she had incredible talent; she understood how writing as a woman might be different than what the mostly male canon dictated. Everything she wrote was infused with an incredible generosity that might at any moment turn into a lesson in intelligence as a spear to deflate wrong-headedness. But my heart, my heart lived in Earthsea.

The Wizard of Earthsea was a book that spoke to the deepest part of me. The part that longed to accept that my shadow, the bad self that was so often pointed out and scorned, might be integrated and necessary. The part that admired balance, equilibrium, friendship. The part of me that longed to know the true names of things, to work the magic of language.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, There is no other power. No other name.

*

Is this going to be the year of losing our female literary lights? It’s only the fourth week of the year, and I just discovered the Claribel Alegria died on Thursday, as the rest of the world still mourned the loss of Ursula K. Le Guin.

Alegria’s loss did not go ringing across the literary world. She was not as famous as Le Guin. But I still feel the loss keenly, even though she was 94, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. […]

I did a search to find out more about Alegria’s death, but it’s missing from our newspapers in a way that Le Guin was not. There are plenty of term papers that I could buy–so that makes me happy in an odd way, knowing that she’s taught enough that there’s a term paper industry about her work.

I also discovered this wonderful interview done at the turn of the century in Bomb magazine. It includes a picture of Alegria and Carolyn Forche. I had forgotten that Forche had translated Alegria’s work.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Loss of a Mirror, Claribel Alegria

*

When I found a few years ago that I genuinely wanted to find out what I needed to articulate, I chose to to write poems. Probably because I haven’t the stamina or the invention for anything longer. Whatever. The other thing I was surprised to welcome was the silence of the process. And finding language coming out of a silence in which I wasn’t imagining an audience, and therefore at no risk of imagining argument or opposition. It was just the business of concentrating on the moment, to find out if it was as significant as it seemed. Sometimes it was. More often, not. I found great consolation in this, and subsequently in the quiet company of people who wrote and shared poems.

I don’t know when I became aware that, as in almost any walk of life, there were factions and competitiveness in this business of writing poems; unhealthy kinds of ambition, too, and also envy and mean spiritedness. I do all I can to avoid the company of the vexatious, because what I need more than anything is serenity. But sometimes the noise of it all is too loud, and you can’t escape it. But maybe you can say your piece and walk away. So I shall.
John Foggin, The rest is silence : that P N Review thing

*

Al Filreis may be the world’s most enthusiastic cheerleader for the formal aspects of modern poetry. He’s engaging and entertaining and a bit dorky and funny. He knows more about 20th century poetry than almost anyone I know in real life.

But what I really valued from the course was not Al’s comments so much as the sense of wonder at watching poems unfold over the course of a close reading in a group, like tea flowers in hot water. There’s something remarkable that happens to many of these poems during a group reading.

In the same way that I have found memory to be deeply social, this course showed me that reading poetry is, too. […]

Do we really want to address the modern era’s blurring and confusion of language by crafting poetry that is also blurry and confused? Now that public discourse is getting even more incoherent and multivalent, do we really want our poetry to do the same? ModPo seems to suggest we do. I am not so sure. Personally I would appreciate a return to someone like Oppen, or the Imagists, who sought a more crystalline, precise use of language.

Or maybe we want to think about the ways language could be used magically, in an incantatory way, like Jack Spicer.
Dylan Tweney, A few thoughts on ModPo

*

I’ve always taken issue when someone says, “I don’t have time to write,” because what I hear is, “I have not made time for my writing.” Listen, if you’re reading this, if you have watched a TV show in the last week, gone onto any social media site, stayed up for fifteen minutes longer than you should, you have time to write.

Your life is happening right now, and you can make choices to use your time for writing. Even if it’s only 15 minutes. I have written poems in 15 minutes. Blog posts.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Distraction, Our Time, & My Best Morning Routine

*

Ultimately, if I’m a writer I’m creating work that is intended for an audience, and that’s about purpose more than it’s about the superficial trappings of what we call ‘career’. I guess lately I’ve been thinking about audience and whether or not I have one — and not necessarily in a self-pitying way (although, let me be honest, there’s been a good deal of self-pitying going on in this blog). I’m thinking about who I’m writing for, who I create the work for, whether or not it does any real, good work in the world — otherwise, what’s the point? I want so much for my writing to be useful for something other than my own catharsis, my own navel-gazing, but what evidence exists that it IS serving some purpose other than meeting my own creative and psychological needs?
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Living with Your Work

*

Amongst the racks of skeletons,
the glass-cased arthropods,
the frozen flights of butterflies,
the stalking bear, a jar of moles.

Like a pickled audience, they float,
hands in mid-applause, their mute
approval a thing of palms and fingers,
viscous suspension hiding faces,

lumping bodies into a mass of
saturated velvet.
Dick Jones, A Jar of Moles

*

Writing an inauguration poem wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Once I sat down to do it, I had a moment of clarity about my process: I am a procrastinator. I spend too much time worrying about time lost when I should accept this is where I am and get on with it. And that’s what I did. I wrote it in a day and took three more to revise. You can make the case that I had been writing it in my head all along, but pressure is part of my process. When the poem was done, I felt relieved in a “mission accomplished” sort of way. Woo hoo!
January Gill O’Neil, Legacy

*

I love the idea of video poems providing that extra dimension in trying to represent the strange mental limbo between memory and imagination and forgetfulness… the half-formed images, ideas, thoughts that flit through your mind pretty much constantly: this is the zone where conventional language and linear narrative fails.

All the footage in this video was shot specifically for the project around where I live. It took me months to do, learning the animation and layering techniques that are in nearly every scene… I made all the text animations from scratch, and well as many of the lighting effects. Almost every scene is constructed from several raw images… Almost nothing is as it seems.
Ian Gibbins, heist: what’s going on here?

*

When the pen is stuck, my first inclination is always to read. To crack open a book or journal and roll around in someone else’s words and syntax for a while, let my vision guide me to a key that will unlock something new inside my own lexicon. Being a reader is an important practice for every writer, but I often forget how important it is to use the ear, to listen to the work of others to concentrate the mind and the ear on words that are NOT in front of me, to process them in a purer, more challenging way. I have been doing this electronically through the wonderful Commonplace Podcast with Rachel Zucker, but I always learn something from hearing poets read live.
Donna Vorreyer, The Ear as Portal

*

Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Over the years, I have heard many poets and writers complain about writer’s block, and my suggestion for those who are staring at a blank page is to do something else, like go for a walk, organize a drawer, do the dishes, exercise, go for a drive in the country, take a break from your busyness. Depending on the activity, your creative consciousness can be subtly working on whatever you want to write. It’s quite remarkable how this works. For example, before I wrote my MFA thesis for Rainer Writers Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, I knitted it. Weeding our three vegetable gardens gave me Small Worlds Floating (Cherry Grove Collections, 2016) and This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). This method works, and you accomplish two things.
Shannon Steimel, Restless / An interview with poet M.J. Iuppa

*

Q~How is the poem representative of your work?

A~“The High Road” is a poem that deals with my two greatest obsessions: the terrain of Texas and the terrain of my heart. It’s a poem that focuses on something deeply personal, and the ways in which the personal is woven into the far west Texas landscape, the way in which I am constantly surrounded by something greater than myself. I always find myself returning to the idea of place and space. After both of my chapbooks, I thought I’d said all I needed to say about landscape and its effect on a person, but as I delved into my thesis, I found myself returning to those themes yet again. Geography is, for me, as large and mysterious as God, and the way I wrestle with place is akin to spiritual exploration.
Shannon Steimel, The High Road / An interview with poet Allyson Whipple

*

In addition to our regular months-long summer hiatus in Maine, for the past several years I have also been making regular trips to far northern New Hampshire during the height of winter (which also include detours into nearby Vermont, Maine and Québec). Trekking the ridges and hollows of the Great North Woods, among the chain of Connecticut Lakes hard on the Québec border, has proven a palliative for whatever ails me at the time, and it has helped me put my life into perspective on more than one occasion. I went there to ponder plans to retire only to return home confident it was time to move on with the rest of my life. Regardless of the season, this region has become my “panic hole” which, as defined by Gerald Vizenor, is a physical or mental place offering respite from the real or imagined pressures and stresses of daily life and the responsibilities that go with them. Who could not use one of these? Yet it has been the winter visits when I have connected most to this region. Much as Brodsky did in Venice.
Steven B. Rogers, Winter Dreaming

*

Art-making is our attempt to find and express meaning—and to participate in the cosmic unfolding, whether to revel, rue, praise, lament, witness or question. There’s nothing to really “practice” here, as the urge is innate and happens by itself. We can cultivate awareness of forms and their effect on us as a species and personally. We can remember that we embody these fundaments. My own contemplation leads me to the understanding that all art-making is ritual and spiritual (and functional)—without any effort to make it that way. No matter what, it can’t be divorced from this essence, it can’t become single, alone, unmoored. When we struggle, when our work gets little recognition, even when it fails, it is grounding to remember that we are graced to be working in this archetypal realm, reflecting the cosmos, refocusing and dispersing it like lenses, little prisms. In making art, we are enacting behaviors as old as the human race. And we are continuing the unending re-expression of cosmic order. Underneath our struggles and the more mundane goals we have for our work, that is what we are doing.
Rosemary Starace, The Crocheted Cosmos

*

One night it came to me
as I listened from the balcony
The ocean is the world’s pulse

The beach will teach us
dishevelment and disorder
and how to hang onto light
Hannah Stephenson, Family Vacation

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 Here are a few things that caught my eye this past week. If you’re new to the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, read Donna Vorreyer’s explanatory blog post with the official list of participants (expanded with a bunch of new bloggers on Friday). I may occasionally also include links from other poetry bloggers whom I’ve been following for years, and who may be too antisocial or commitment-averse to join the revival tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, a lot of poets have been blogging about books…

 

I have a little game I play in bookstores. First I find the poetry section. Then I run my eyes along the shelf, head cocked to the right so I can read the books’ skinny spines. I’m looking for a book I’ve never read by an author I’ve never heard of. I’m looking for something new and strange, for the experience that only poetry delivers. I want to be moved.

Yesterday in J. Michaels Bookstore which has a better-than-average poetry section, I scanned the shelves until I found City of Regret by Andrew Kozma. I pulled it from the shelf and held it in my hands. Yes, I felt it: the ripple of intuition informing me that I had found the book.

I tested my intuition a step further. Part of the game requires me to find a poem that is one or more of the following: a) deeply disturbing, but in a good way; b) weirdly provocative; or c) just weird. I opened the book to page 7 and read: […]
Erica Goss, The Bookstore Game

 

The books on the shelves
don’t prefer
one or the other

Their purpose
does not depend
on which words we choose

Their obsessions
and ours
sometimes align
in a game of Concentration
we don’t know
we are playing
[…]
Kevin J. O’Conner, Bookstore Poem #56. A few words about words

 

Recently, I spent awhile browsing the Walter Kerr collection of books in the library of the college that employs me. Kerr and his wife Jean were writers in New York in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s; he was best known as a theater critic and she as a playwright and essayist. His family donated his books to the school, and it occurred to me during my perusal that this section of the stacks seems more personal than the collection as a whole. Here are Kerr’s quirky book choices, his favored influences, his academic interests with a place among the trendier tomes on movies and Broadway.

A personal library acts as a unit, books that are kept together rather than disbursed upon the death (or before-death donation) of the book collector. It therefore parallels–and predates, of course–the social media concept of the curated self[.]
Ann E. Michael, Curation

 

I’ve done just enough archival work to be fascinated by poets’ commonplace books. It’s been more than a decade since I worked among Marianne Moore’s papers at the Rosenbach, but I was impressed by her fantastically crabbed hand in a series of tiny notebooks, recording quotations she liked. At the Library of Congress, you can leaf through Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sparser notes, mixing drafts, travel plans, and lists of poems that might go together in her next collection. And how I wish Anne Spencer had kept notebooks! Instead, I learned last summer how hard it is to date any of her drafts, many of which must be lost in any case, because she penciled ideas on any scrap of paper or cardboard within reach.
Lesley Wheeler, Twitter as commonplace book

 

When I went down to Los Angeles in November last year to empty my storage unit (and do some poetry readings), I discovered that at some point (probably during the terrible rain storms that hit in earlier in 2017), water had leaked from the roof and damaged some of boxes of books I had stored. In total, I lost around 30 books (out of 900) and 50% of a collection of sample issues from different literary journals (roughly 100 items ruined). While I wasn’t particularly attached to the literary journals (they were just representative samples I sometimes use in workshops), I did feel sad that they were all headed to the dump. So I decided to try to find a way to salvage them — then reclaim a line or two from different poems and weave them together into something new. In the end, I choose to use couplets rather than single lines (so these aren’t centos exactly — although you might argue they’re 2-per-centos (gah, I can’t believe I just wrote that!).
Neil Aitken, Project: Cut Up Poem #1

 

Ten years ago, I didn’t write many poems, and the ones I wrote were not worth anyone’s attention. Five years ago I put my mind to it and determined to do something about it. Don’t ask me why, because I’m not precisely sure, but the thing is that essentially, I followed the exhortation of that Nike advert. Just do it. Whatever it is, do it, as well as you can. Don’t put it off, don’t make excuses, don’t talk yourself out of it. Just do it. And then keep on doing it. It’s really that simple. […]

The thing is, you won’t get better if you keep mediocre company. You learn from the company you keep. […] When it comes to poetry, I’ve set myself an annual task/routine. I choose a poet who I like via a handful of poems. It has to be a poet who’s kept on writing and writing. Enough to have a big fat Collected Poems. And then I read X poems every day for a year till I get to the end. So far Ive read Charles Causley, Norman McCaig, and U A Fanthorpe like this, and on January 1st this year I started on David Constantine. 374 big fat pages.
John Foggin, Just do it

 

I received my contributor’s copy of what I suspect will be a very important book—for me, surely—and perhaps for others. How to be a Poet strikes me as not only “a twenty-first century guide to writing well”, but also a guide to living well as a writer.

I also quite like the alternative title proposed in the introduction: “A Poem-Writer’s Guide to the Galaxy.” After all, we contain multitudes.

It features the wisdom of two of my favourite poetry people: Jo Bell and Jane Commane, interspersed with excellent guest contributions by Mona Arshi, Jonathan Davidson, Clive Birnie, and many other well-known names in UK poetry. I thought I’d spend a moment or two thumbing through it on the couch when it arrived. I couldn’t put it down.
Robert Peake, How to be a Poet

 

As a teacher, whether or for a creative writing or literature course, I simply do not use anthologies, just for these very reasons. I also dislike anthologies because they amount to a goofy, disjointed “greatest hits,” reifying the idea that a poem is singular, discrete, and denuded construct. Most poems I know are in direct contact with the other works of the poet, finding some kind of home, some kind of deeper contextualization, in a book. Thus, I order individual books of poetry when I teach a class.

A literature syllabus is really not that much different than your typical anthology, but what I like about ordering individual books is that I end up covering fewer authors–this amplifies the absences, that my students understand that I’m casting a small, small net, and there’s no pretense of being comprehensive. We also get a chance to study the works in relation to other poems in the book, explore the conversations between very good and not-so-very good poems (but where the “mediocre” poems may be more impactful). We erase the editors of collections, the intermediaries, and all their credentials, all their impressive footnoting and bibliographies.
Jim Brock, De-canon, Irish Women Poets, and What I Do

 

I am working on being mindful in my actions and making better choices with my time, and it’s not always easy. I am trying to bring back my deep focus in life. I can be so distracted, so drawn into the shiny object, the quick fix, the impulse purchase, reaching for my phone when I should be reaching for a pen. […]

Technology is wonderful when it’s not zapping our time. I try to use it to my advantage when I can. I know I’ll still get sucked in to some sort of time waster (did you know my high-score on Tetris is 98,000?) but I find the more I care for my artistic pursuits, the less I want to eat the junk food of the internet, the more I reach for the healthy book option and the exercise of writing.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Strange Inspirations: Past Resolutions & Tools to Help You Stay Focused Today

 

Though Silent Anatomies hovers close to the women in the family, it also works to understand the silence of fathers and grandfathers, to understand what is beneath surface of a tongue. Many of the poems are arranged in series, in “Profunda Linguae” the poems are captions for diagrams that reveal the muscular structures of the tongue, these diagrams are arranged over the Chinese-Filipino recipes her mother typed on her father’s prescription pad when her mother first came to the United States. […]

It is a shame that so many book contests specifically state that if a manuscript has images, to leave them out; what a loss it would have been if a book as rich and complex as Silent Anatomies were never published due to such constraints. Fortunately, Ong’s marvelous collection does exist in the world and so our notions of gender, race, culture, and identity are further challenged with grace and precision. In Silent Anatomies Monica Ong has seamlessly woven a multilayered collection that in its form of combining images and text is in itself a revelation, these visual poems intimately reveal the ways in which our bodies are sewn to our families, and our tongues are sewn to our cultures, but also the way art can transcend any boundary.
Anita Olivia Koester, Diagram of a Tongue: Silent Anatomies by Monica Ong

 

Last semester, a visiting writer told the audience that “empathy is overrated.” As you can imagine, this bit of glib frosting wasn’t what I was expecting (read: immediate sinking feeling) because I believe in empathy, I promote empathy, and I knew my very literal students would take this young writer’s word as gospel, whereas I knew he was just being flip. You have to have life experience to be truly cynical, and I personally think that this young writer was given success on a platter. So his ennui was facade. I get it. We all wear masks. He even confessed to wishing he were marginalized. He felt he should be writing about that. But to write about that, I think you need to have lived the experience, right? Of course, all of this plays into stereotypes, which seems to be my battleground– to help my students, family, friends see that our culture reinforces stereotypes in our everyday life. Now, more than ever, we need to question authority. Authority. Just look at that word, with “author” big as life itself. Is the author reliable? Do we believe what we are reading, hearing? I think this is the challenge nowadays, trying to figure out what is the truth. To think we’re all living in a pop-up book.
M.J. Iuppa, Writing from Place

 

Now he’s bedridden and can barely speak. I went to see him for Christmas day. I lay on the bed beside him and held his hand and told him about my travels, about the town where I was teaching poetry in Estonia, where on the Russian side of the river there was a great castle facing another castle on the Estonian side. And how it had been bombed to smithereens during the Soviet occupation. Of course he’d been there. He’s been everywhere in the world. He tried to talk back, able only to say a few words which I pieced together into sentences, just like writing a poem.

I understood two stories, told in a string of words, that he’d once seen an abandoned church in Estonia and had carried a photograph of the ruins with him for a long time but had since lost the photograph. (ruins–church–Estonia–picture–lost) The other was that he’d wandered into the inner courtyard of a museum in St. Petersburg and to his amazement found eighty live bears gathered there. (St. Petersburg-Museum-Courtyard-Eighty Bears).
Heather Derr-Smith, Dear New Year

 

Corpse pose is a preparation for death, not a moment to fear, but rather a letting go. I slide into the velvety, warm blackness, this state of consciousness where poetry is born.
Christine Swint, What I Need Is More Yoga