Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 4

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, I made the questionable decision of trying to set up a new phone at the same time as I was compiling the digest, so what follows may seem more of a jumble than usual. If so, my apologies. All I can say with confidence is that there’s a lot of good stuff here.

Snow covers the beach
and drifts over dunes
like a ghost sail. It falls
without a sound,
without an echo—
shapeshifting summoner
that locks hundreds
of travelers for hours in
their cars, on the black
ice stretch of highways
from south to north.
Even in this world, light
can have a thousand
names. Cypress and pine
and fir link arms,
reminding me of green.

Luisa A. Igloria, Say Winter Without Saying White

“Make it new!” It’s been over 20 years since I got my MFA, but that command still resounds. I remember learning it from Liam Rector, of blessed memory, then the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars. Liam was big and brash and often urged us to “make it new,” though the thing he said most often was “Always Be Closing” — words that took on new resonance after his suicide.

“Make it new” comes from Ezra Pound, or so I learned at the time. It turns out those words are quite a bit older, and I’m glad to know they originate with Ch’eng T’ang, since Pound turns out to be a fascist and an antisemite.  The poets to whom I most frequently turn are masters of taking the familiar and making it new. Naomi Nye, Jane Kenyon, Mary Oliver: they make it look easy. 

This requires both noticing (like Moses at the burning bush) and craft. I want to do what they do. I want to weave something luminous and lasting out of the threads of daily life, like the cloak of mitzvot the Zohar says the righteous will wear in the world to come. But sometimes I sit down at my loom, as it were, and the threads break in my hands. This week is one of those times.

My father’s been in the hospital with COVID. I’ve been bracing for a death that has miraculously not come. (The miracle is the vaccines; his doctors said so repeatedly, as though we needed convincing.) It’s not clear what “recovery” will mean, but I’m not racing to Texas for a funeral. A week ago, I was sure I would be. Finally I can exhale. But I don’t seem to have poems in me now about that.

I don’t have poems in me now about the terrorist attack at the synagogue outside of Fort Worth, or about how it’s rippling into Jewish community life. I don’t have poems in me about what it feels like to sit with my community and talk about what we would do if. Someone can probably make great poems out of balancing spiritual vulnerability with a panic button, but not me, not now.

I don’t have poems in me about the spike of adrenaline every time my child has a symptom, or I have a symptom, or a loved one has a symptom, after two years of pandemic. I don’t have poems in me about the constant sense of living in Schrödinger’s box: is that an ordinary virus or is it COVID? Should I use one of our few at-home tests to find out? If I use a test, can I trust the results? 

Rachel Barenblat, Making it new

For this poetry prompt to help you write a love poem to a word, start by reading “Lover” by Ada Limón and give some thought to what you like/admire.

My affection for this poem starts with how Limón manages to write what reads to me as a pandemic poem* — as many of us have tried! — without mentioning the pandemic at all. She adeptly describes feelings I recognize as the despair and haze of lengthy social-distancing practices and lock down:

– “nothing, nothing is funny”
– “an oblivion-is-coming sort of way”
– “this gray waiting”
– “I trust the world to come back”

Limón’s instinct here is brilliant: the pandemic can’t claim sole ownership of those ideas about the world. As much as I hate to say so, there are and will always be plenty of reasons to despair. If Limón is in fact writing a pandemic poem, she wisely limits those references to subtle gestures, extending the shelf life of this poem. The poem is vaguely set in our current pandemic moment, but it isn’t about the pandemic.

The poem also isn’t about the narrator’s lover/s. It’s not really about lovers at all. Instead, it’s about the word lover.

Carolee Bennett, choose a word and write a love poem to it

gentle in January
folding and sticking
it’s an ideas month

a genetic thing
a revelation
most reviving

Ama Bolton, ABCD January 2022

In “Notes on the Danger of Notebooks,” an essay in Synthesizing Gravity, Kay Ryan writes, “Isn’t it odd to think that in order to listen we must be a little bit relieved of the intention to understand? This, of course, is the danger of notebooks. They are the devil’s bible. They are the books of understanding later.”

Notebooks are “a shell to protect us from loss,” Ryan declares, in an existence where “almost everything is supposed to get away from us.” As beings constantly moving through time, we keep notebooks as letters to our future selves about what’s already happened. 

Ryan, a practitioner of what she calls “derichment,” the opposite of enrichment, advocates radical simplicity. Only then, she says, will we really notice change, which leads to ideas and creativity. “Change will enter and twist like a drop of ink, the tiniest bit of new per old.” About enrichment, Ryan asks, “Children, it is often maintained, must be enriched; bread must be enriched. Weren’t they rich already? Wouldn’t you have to degrade them somehow in order to make them need enrichment?”

It’s not notebooks, or “spiral hinged objects,” as Ryan calls them, but “getting stuck in them.” We write things in our journals that strike us at the moment, but upon reflection, these notes to our future selves may or may not—usually not—deliver on the promise of a new idea. 

I say this as a dedicated journal-keeper for many years, with stacks of notebooks filled with my jottings, lists, sketches, and freewrites to prove it. I absolutely advocate and am a practitioner of journal-writing, but, as Ryan notes, with some caveats.

Erica Goss, The Danger of Notebooks

I will admit to mixed feelings about prompts. Prompts can act as shortcuts to the process of composing, but I am the kind of writer who prefers the long haul; for some reason, the struggle of finding something to say, and an interesting way to say it, assists me in writing poems. I’m not in a hurry. I revise frequently. If it takes a long time to get to the finished poem, so be it. Sometimes I’ve followed a prompt and produced quite a nice poem, but maybe the voice or style or approach does not feel like my own. That’s a potential downside to prompt use. I have read poems by other writers that sound like prompt-produced poems. Some of them are fine work and yet…

This isn’t to suggest prompts lead to inauthentic or cookie-cutter poems (though that can happen, especially with inexperienced poets new to the task). I think it depends on how the prompt is presented or written and, in addition, the environment surrounding the process of thinking about writing. What works best for me is a prompt that makes suggestions I have to complete or devise for myself. Ambiguity with specifics, if that makes any sense–or specifics with ambiguity.

The environment in which I’m currently working includes a group of seven people, with whom I had not previously been acquainted, meeting online, and a moderator/leader who makes observations non-judgmentally and asks questions concerning where this poem draft could go next. And yes, there are also prompts. What I like about Elena Georgiou’s prompts is their open-endedness. Because none of us are beginning writers, we feel free to disregard any part of the prompt that doesn’t appeal to us–or to follow it closely to force us out of well-worn poetry habits–depending on our internal environment on the day we happen to be tuning in or trying the prompts. We are a group of independent people who are collectively thinking about writing. That’s something of value.

Ann E. Michael, Prompted

For me, midwinter is a time of introversion. I’m three weeks into my university’s winter term, so I’m planning and leading discussions and meetings constantly, but they’re usually based on study and solitary thinking–not extroverted stuff, even though there’s a social, performative aspect to the work.

The class based on NEW reading and thinking is an upper-level seminar on Contemporary Poetry. I think of it as a spiral: we start locally, broaden out to work from other countries, and finally cut back to North America again to end with Joy Harjo. The first four weeks are based on books I’ve never taught before: the anthologies Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia and CounterDesecration: A Glossary for Writing Within the Anthropocene, and the very new individual collections White Blood by Kiki Petrosino and The Adjacent Possible by my near neighbor, Julie Phillips Brown. (You’ll see below a poster for a reading this week pairing Julie with my colleague Brenna Womer; February readings are only advisable in iffy winter weather when the authors are REALLY local!) All this was a little ambitious: 10-20% revision of a syllabus is advisable to keep things fresh, but 50% means a lot of work, and it’s not like there’s criticism yet to guide my thinking. Teaching White Blood last week, I didn’t find any reviews that extended my ideas, although they were good. There was, however, an interview with Petrosino in The Adroit that helped enormously. Since the book contains three erasure poems based on an ancestry test, I also had my class try their hands at erasure based on a segment of the university’s website explaining why Washington and Lee is still named after the leader of the Confederate army. One of my students created a particular cutting one, implying that the decision was all about money. His was much better than mine!

Lesley Wheeler, Mind of winter (not)

The fun of digging out is that we are digging out from what we are seldom digging out from.   We are not working our way out of spates and chains of email, nor piles of snail mail, nor escaping oppressive debt, nor solving social tangles of our own absurdity, nor pulling back from excess of adjectives or superlatives that have piled up in a crush of ecstatic emotion, a dizzying sense that this equals that — therefore the more metaphor, the more alike the underlying structures of the whole world.

Phew! We are digging out from snow.  Two glorious feet of it.  With shovels and muscle and terrifically repetitive motion.  Some with snow blowers, and some with plows attached with pickup trucks with brackets. We are scraping off layers to get to deeper layers that will eventually yield a familiar bottom.

We are digging out. The spinning that we often do, as poets, is calmed. Replenishing, never static. We can feel ourselves like birds gathered in trees, shaking off the branches, thinking of nothing but delight.  

Jill Pearlman, Digging Out, Literally!

We are living in a new Age of Authoritarianism, and it is incumbent on all of us to fight its oppressive spirit wherever we find it, even when it is within us. Technology has created new tools for state surveillance, mass disinformation, and capitalist exploitation, but it has also given us new means to highlight injustice, organize resistance, and express solidarity. The Civil Disobedience Movement in Myanmar does not concern just the Burmese, but all of us. One year after the military coup against a democratically elected government, if we permit the Burmese dictatorship to legitimize itself, we reinforce the powers of totalitarianism and weaken the forces of liberty everywhere.

We need to heed the voices of resistance in this vital anthology, Picking Off New Shoots Will Not Stop the Spring: Witness poems and essays from Burma/Myanmar 1998–2021. The voices are many and various, but they all say, Courage! Fatefully, eight days before he was shot dead by Myanmar security forces in a protest, the acclaimed poet K Za Win wrote, “The fuse of the Revolution/ is either you or myself!” The gauntlet is thus thrown down to all, like me, who would claim to be poets. A schoolteacher too, I cannot help but be moved by Min San Wai’s poem, dedicated to Pan Ei Phyu, a 14-year-old girl who was killed by a bullet that penetrated her home. “There’s a hole the size of a pencil tip,” Min writes, “in the bamboo wall of our house.” Pan Ei Phyu will never hold another pencil, but we can hold it for her, by writing her story large.

Gaudy Boy is honored to publish this necessary collection of witness writings in the US—together with ally publishers Ethos Books in Southeast Asia and Balestier Press in the UK—and pledges to donate all profits to the Civil Disobedience Movement in Myanmar. We will take to heart the courage of these inspired defenders of democracy.

Jee Leong Koh, “Tyranny Needs No Companions”

No God but capitalism,
the new religion, fascism disguised
as businessman, always male,
always taking what is not his.

Brute heart, not enough stakes
to keep you dead.
We thought we had vanquished
your kind permanently last century
or was it the hundred years before?

As our attics crash into our basements,
what soft rains will come now?
The fire next time,
the ashes of incinerated bodies,
the seas rising on a tide
of melted glaciers.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, International Holocaust Remembrance Day

I watch the presenters on wildlife/nature programmes, walking through the empty countryside, enjoying the beautiful views, the flora and fauna, and I think: I want to be there – or at least out and about. Some people can get out into nature. Some can’t. Access to nature is a topic covered in numerous articles and official papers and is a vast subject. This is just my view, doubtless coloured by how I feel right now. 

It’s not a straightforward issue, because different people want different things, obviously. For example, how do we protect the feeling of actually being in nature? If everyone has access to nature and uses it, then you could find you’ve gone out into a crowd rather than into nature, unless you go somewhere really wild, and, oh yes, less accessible. Difficult to reconcile the two. There’s also the issue of protecting nature, not damaging it, while out enjoying it.

I am very lucky in that I live near the sea, on an island with wonderful habitats for nature, where, theoretically, I could walk for miles or just sit and observe. But I can’t walk for miles – I have MS, my legs are not as strong as they were and I have real balance issues and can fall very easily. Many of the places I want to see I need a car to get to, and some places now charge for entry too. There are other issues as well, which I’ll get to. But I’m still one of the lucky ones, because, with help, I can still get out and about, but oh, how nice it would be if I could do it on my own. Oh, and I have a small garden, so I can go there.

But large numbers of people don’t have a garden, or a local green space, let alone access to nature reserves or the wide open spaces of the countryside. And if they can get there, will they be able to get about independently? Wheelchair users and people with disabilities of all kinds may find navigating open spaces difficult, if not impossible, on their own. Many places are not accessible by public transport and most places where you go by car, if you have one, now charge for parking and/or entry, so it’s also a question of whether you can afford it.

Women often don’t feel safe alone on the streets. There is no good reason why they’d feel any safer in natural open spaces. You could go in a group – which can be great, if you’re a group sort of person – but what if you’re trying to get away from everyone and everything? You just want peace and quiet and nature. Some people like groups, some like crowds, but some want to be on their own, at least some of the time. And if you don’t feel safe, you can’t.

Sue Ibrahim, Access to nature

Years ago, I was involved in a long, drawn-out poetry competition wherein one poet was eliminated each week over twelve weeks. It caused me a fair bit of literary trauma and it is an experience that I shall not deem to repeat. It was frankly quite vicious and soul-destroying, and it’s when I first learned that poets are cruel. That having been said, I came in fourth overall, and I won a few of the weekly challenges. This poem is one of the winners. I can’t recall all of the specifics of the assignment, but we had to write a poem about Dolly Parton using phrases from some of her songs. My poem was deemed by the All-Knowing God King of Poetry Judges to be the best one that week. The following week I got completely brutalized, of course. Nothing like a little psychological abuse to keep me on my toes. Enjoy! […]

When did you love Dolly most?
When she was a raven,
bedraggled with sorrow,
and I sought soulfulness to borrow.
My first in-love-with, Lady Lament.
We sang together of sweet descent;
baptized anguish, but never drowned.
Little sparrow, little sparrow,
your voice has that high, lonesome sound.

Kristen McHenry, Poem of the Month, Ah, Memories

[YouTube video]
About 25 years ago, I wrote music to a childhood poem one of my closest friends wrote when she was in her early teens. At her funeral a few years before — she committed suicide in her early 20s — this was the poem that was used to memorialize her.  

I’ve been wanting to make something with this poem and this tune since then as a tribute to her and to somehow capture something of my memory and grief over her loss, now about 30 years ago. I still think of her often. I hope this captures something of the beauty, sensitivity, and bittersweetness of her words and that there is something of her in the music. My sister-in-law sang the beautiful vocals for me and I’m grateful to have this tune sung so hauntingly after all these years.

Gary Barwin, Geese of the Wild: In memoriam Margo Sim

Yes, she is a poet made of bird feathers and truth. 

She writes on the blank page as if she were creating 
the flag of a new nation, as if she were drawing 
the sky from memory. 

James Lee Jobe, creating a flag for a nation

My tip for today is to mine your curiosities (and obsessions!). What are you thinking about a lot? Listening to podcasts about? Reading books about? Perhaps, like me, you may have a range of things catching your interest right now (mine are Puritans, Pokemon, MFK Fisher, Wendell Berry-esque homesteading).

So, let’s take Pokemon for example (gotta catch them all). Let’s say you are interested in all the different little creatures, and how did they think of so many, and what inspired the show, and why are some of them really close to animals but some are more human like, and isn’t that weird for a trainer to train the more human like ones (like Mr. Mime)?

Research the crap out of all that stuff! Then start writing poems about it. And maybe you write like three pokemon poems, and it’s over. Obsession faded, something else prettier walks by.

But maybe not! Maybe you write 100 poems about Pokemon! And you start sending them to journals, and you make a collection, and all of a sudden you have a poetry book “Gotta Catch Them All!” that wins some hoity toity prize.

And it all started with your obsession. Actually — your curiosity. So want to write more? Get curious!

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Follow your Curiosity

A few weeks ago I received an email from the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) that an occasional poem I wrote for the Emma Lazarus Project: Poetry Contest was the first of two finalists, along with a winner. I was most delighted due to the fact that my poem “Dear American Lady” will be archived with Emma Lazarus’ original sonnet “The New Colossus.” 

In her acceptance email with the AJHS, Manager of Programs & Operations Rebeca Miller wrote, ” Our judges had an incredibly tough time choosing from hundreds of incredible entries made from across the country. Only two finalists were selected for each category, and in honor of this accomplishment we have posted your poem on the AJHS website in our Poetry Gallery…[and]your poem will be placed next to the work of Emma Lazarus in the AJHS archive to be appreciated for generations to come.” (italics mine) 

I have to say those are pretty stellar digs for my poem to be archived with “The New Colossus.” 

And coming on the heels of my intentionally taking a break from writing/publishing the whole of 2021. 

As defined by the Poetry Foundation, an occasional poem is one written to “describe or comment on a particular event…,” and generally not considered the most pleasurable of endeavors to execute, as the subject matter is handed to a poet on a prescribed platter and while not distinctly uttered, a party line is courteously insinuated. That said, “I acknowledge” the latter half of the last line of “DAL” is a party line. I felt the need to wrap it up, and I was sorely limited to 14 lines, a truncation of my natural narrative poetic voice.

Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow, Onward 2022

We come from the stone age:
the magic happens here.

It is medicine,
nutrients, seed,
sauce

cornerstone

sediment of history
the centre
holds

heavy
cold, totemic-
it is everything

multiple
make, serve,
be.

Ernesto Priego, 35. El molcajete

One thing I did do this week was think about cover art! BOA sent me an author questionnaire and also some forms about cover art for my upcoming book, which sent me into a deep dive and thinking about what the cover of “Flare, Corona” should look like. First, I found out there’s an anime character from a series called “Fairy Tails” named “Flare Corona.” So that was a discovery. Then I found out it’s sort of hard to find a perfect picture of an eclipse with a corona and solar flares, and even if I do, does that really convey the ideas that the book contains? In other words, does it do what good cover art should do – make you want to read the book? I also thought about using a close up from an MRI of a brain lesion, which is only black and white but sort of cool, a black hole with a white halo, but ultimately nixed the idea as too depressing. Most of my books have an identifiable human female on the cover, so going more abstract would be a departure.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Still Sick with Ice Fog, Thinking About Cover Art, And When Will the Pandemic End?

Many decades ago, there were places in the US/UK that published snippets of prose – I think Readers Digest had little pieces for example. But these outlets dried up so the authors of these short texts, if they wanted them published, had to send them to poetry magazines. Putting in line-breaks helped. Of course, prose-poetry existed, but that term was reserved for surreal, discontinuous works. Also popular was the idea of making all the stanzas of a poem the same size of rectangle, as if there was a metrical/rhyming pattern. Read Paul Durcan’s poems to see how it’s done.

Then Flash emerged, providing a natural home for short narratives again. Various other short prose formats became popular too. Authors of short pieces no longer needed to add gratuitous line-breaks. Some authors have taken advantage of this. Carolyn Forché has re-published her famous “The Colonel” poem as prose. […]

Nowadays poetry readers seem capable of not caring about line-breaks. When they start reading a poem I think they decide whether it’s the sort of piece where line-breaks matter and read the piece accordingly. Neither do they care much if there’s obvious prose in a poetry book. I suspect it’s been going on covertly for a while. I read a U.A. Fanthorpe book recently. It looked like a mixture of poetry and prose. Her famous “Not my Best Side” is like the prose I try to write. I doubt if the Trades Description Act can be applied. That said, I think Poetry judges could be braver.

If you can’t beat them, join them. I have prose and poetry versions of some pieces. I’ve short-lined and long-lined versions of poems. I’ve even (shame on me) taken a paragraph from a story of mine, added some line-breaks, and had it published in a poetry mag.

Tim Love, Mixed genre poetry books

My hiking shoes punch into the crusted snow. I’m not hiking, just walking across the landscape of what might be my next stop. The barn is empty. The education center is empty. The bathrooms are open. The lights are on in the welcome center, but the sign in the window has been flipped to CLOSED. No matter. I want to get the lay of this land and I don’t need to talk to anyone to do it. At the end of the plowed path are two hopeful solar panels, pointing up through the clouds. An act of faith. A sign tells me to watch for beavers. I don’t see any.

spiked soles
pull the ground up
through the snow

Jason Crane, A hopeful haibun

I ran before writing this morning. Heading out, we heard a songbird along the trail, and turning back I saw her in a beam of light from the trail lamp. A chaffinch. I think it’s another six weeks before they all return. Another three months before we see the sunrise on our runs. Until then, the crows squabble in the dark. And on occasion, a duck laughs and splashes.

A lonely chaffinch chatters.

This morning there is something tight in my center. A clenched fist shoved under my diaphragm, and I have to keep my mouth closed. I am still not sure how I feel about observing this separation of emotion and intellect. I know this is something I am cultivating for a reason. But often I just want to rebel against my intellect and scream. There is a steady stream of soft curses coming from my mouth these days and it surprises me. My vernacular is unnecessarily colorful, though impassioned. I used to tell my kids not to curse unless they needed to. That powerful words lose their cathartic magic when they are overused and worn thin. Yet, here I am now. Under my breath, on the breath, rolling through my inner monologues.

I blame the darkness and the cold that makes a body tense.

Leonard is curled on the rug. Part of his body slipped under the desk. He loves lying under tables and in corners. Like most dogs, I suppose. Why can’t I be more like him? To curl into the darkness and cold, tucking into himself. Relaxing. If I could I would head off to a dark cabin and light a fire and curl up with a notebook. Womb-safe.

Ren Powell, Prayers and Curses

The thing is, I don’t have a problem with titles. What I do have a problem with is the business of working on a full collection. Because (I think) I’ve just finished one. I realise that it’s the first time I’ve admitted it in print and that it’s the first one that I’ve done that wasn’t the result of winning a competition or of putting stuff together to submit for a competition (or the one that I had to do for an MA that I hated doing). Quite simply, it arose from the realisation that I’m running out time, and the accompanying sense that I’d like to tie up loose ends and leave everything neat and orderly. It’s the kind of urge that had me stripping my classroom at the end of each term, cleaning, sweeping, ready for a new term and new ideas, or, if I was leaving, a new occupant. It’s a collection that includes a sequence that’s taken me at least five years to fettle. Whether it works or not, I can’t say, but the two authors I shared at the beginning made me think I’d like to reflect on why it took so long. Here we go.

Nearly six years ago I wrote a post called “Please, Miss, I don’t know what to write.”

I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now, a lot less sure of myself;  I said, brusquely enough, that if you can’t write right now, if you’re blocked, or whatever, it’s because there’s nothing you urgently need to say, and you’d be better off going out into the world and collecting memories and experiences.

I need to rethink this, because the problem as often as not is not having nothing to write about, but possibly too much.

John Foggin, Watching the river flow…..

Yesterday, I put the final touches on the galley and cover for animal, vegetable, monster and uploaded it, which means it is one step closer and I should have a proof copy within a couple of weeks. No doubt there will be much tweaking once I see that before it’s finalized (margins are always a beast) but I am getting speedier on the process than I was a year ago when I was working on feed, which took significantly more trial and error to come into being (and even the end result still had a couple errors I plan to fix when I order a new batch of copies, but for the moment am well-stocked..) dark country was definitely better, despite the changed up trim size that made it trickier.   I am getting the hang of it, which, if all goes well might mean some anthologies might be possible on the horizon (that is, once I am able to knock out the book art-ish one devoted to mermaids I may actually finally have time to make happen now that I won’t be at the library so much of my days.

I am also getting more comfortable in this strange world of self-publishing (well, longer books, I’ve been issuing my own work for a couple decades now in smaller installments.) There is something great about working with a press to bring a book into [the] world, but also something singularly enjoyable about this. (I wrote a comparison last year that sums it up.) I hope I will continue to be able to do a little of both–I have many, many projects and some earmarked to submit / already under consideration elsewhere. Someone asked me recently if I wasn’t worried a little about that nasty little hobgoblin “legitimacy” but really, at this point, I really just want to get things out there for interested readers, which blissfully, since I am not tied to tenure tracks and other limitations is how I conduct this crazy little thing called po-biz. I’m not saying I don’t occasionally need an editor’s fine tuning hand, but also it’s finally middle age is paying off in how many limited fucks I really give about what people might say. Which is all a little hilarious since I spent so much time in my baby poet days fretting about it and now it feels exactly like it should be. 

Kristy Bowen, the self publishing diaries

I’m charmed by the prose sweep of Davis, California poet Katie Peterson’s fifth poetry collection, Life in a Field: Poems (Berkeley CA: Omnidawn, 2021), winner of the “Omnidawn Open,” as judged by New York poet and essayist Rachel Zucker. Peterson is the author of This One Tree (New Issues, 2006), which was awarded the New Issues Poetry Prize by judge William Olson, Permission(New Issues, 2013), The Accounts (University of Chicago Press, 2013), which won the Rilke Prize, and A Piece of Good News (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2019). As her author website writes, Life in a Field is built “as a collaboration with the photographer Young Suh,” a photographer who also happens to be Peterson’s husband. As Rachel Zucker begins her piece to open the collection: “I found the book you are about to read delightfully easy to enjoy, and yet I find it difficult to explain what I love about it, and why I knew, with conviction, that from among a group of extremely strong entries, I would pick this manuscript for publication. Like most great poetry, Life in a Fieldis impossible to summarize or paraphrase. More than most poetry, it eludes formal categorization. Life in a Field is hybrid, mongrel—part allegory, part parable, part fable, part fairytale, part futurist pastoral set in the past or an alternate reality. In this short collection, Peterson has created her own original, heterodox form.” Peterson’s texts exist as the best kind of collaboration, in that the connections between text and image aren’t obvious or even replicated between them. These aren’t pieces depicting in photography or written word, for example, what is offered in the other form; it is as though the text and image exist in a curious kind of conversation with each other, each in turn reflecting upon and building beyond the other. As Peterson offers, herself, towards the end of the collection: “I have always thought that the opposite of chance was focus.”

In this story there is a girl and there is a donkey. The girl approaches the donkey because the girl has something to say. What is it?

Through blocks and stretches of contained prose, she writes the narrative of the donkey, and the narrative of the girl: two threads that run throughout, occasionally meeting, mingling and spiralling out again, in among the other elements. One could offer how Life in a Field is a story of how perception works to telling a story, or how narration shapes perception, whether the truth of the donkey or the truth of the girl, or the truth of the girl within her church, and the boundaries such offers, contains and constricts. “Because we are so far past this story,” she writes, “I wish to linger on it. This story is not your story. You are not meant to relate to it. You are meant to pitch a tent inside this page like a down and out person might do by the American River, under the trestle tracks, where the outgrowth and heat and greenery and shade in proximity to water makes a drought as unlikely as a marriage of equals in a century where women can’t read. You are meant to believe you can live there.” Between text and image, this is a book of mood, tone and shifts, writing far more than the writing might first offer, and threads of narrative that float, rather than hold, hang or pull.

Peterson writes of a donkey, and of a girl. One could almost suggest the collection as a whole—prose poems, poems and image—is constructed not as a narrative-per-se but as a collage across a large canvas, one that speaks around privilege, love, labour, time, decay and empathy. The book, Life in a Field, is simply the final, completed single image; one simply has to stand back far enough to get a good look, and take it all in.

rob mclennan, Katie Peterson, Life in a Field: Poems

I’ve been feeling bad for poets whose books were released during the Pandemic, poets whose book launches were cancelled or never scheduled, poets who haven’t been able to do in-person readings. I asked myself, Aside from buying lots of books, what could I do, especially for my own Terrapin poets? So I devised an idea for an interview series. I invited all of my Terrapin poets to select one poet whose book had come out during the Pandemic. They were invited to choose a poet whose book they’d read or wanted to read and then to come up with five questions for that poet to respond to. The response was wonderful! Thirteen poets offered to do a Q&A. Some of these were poets with a Pandemic book themselves but some were poets without a Pandemic book. Lots of generosity among my poets! Yvonne Zipter was the first Terrapin poet to volunteer; she chose to interview Heather Swan about her Terrapin book A Kinship with Ash.

Yvonne was also the first poet to complete her interview. Here is that Q&A.

[…]
Yvonne: Your love of nature is evident throughout A Kinship with Ash. Have you always loved nature? From where does this appreciation spring?

Heather: I feel like I have always been a part of the natural world. I spent so much of my time outside as a little girl. The studios where my mother and father worked were luckily near spaces I could explore with my dog. I moved from the prairies and woodlands of the Midwest to Colorado where I lived in the mountains. Later we moved again to a town on the east coast by the ocean. Because I moved so often, my human friendships didn’t last long, but my dog was a constant companion with whom I explored these landscapes and this allowed a deep connection to the birds, the insects, and the land. All the beings we encountered in those spaces led interesting and important lives and spoke in languages I didn’t understand, but recognized as valuable and mysterious.

Yvonne: A number of the poems in this collection grapple with the effects of pesticides and climate change. They are all both heartbreaking and beautiful. What does writing such poems afford you?

Heather: The experience of loving this beautiful, fragile, miraculous planet at this historical moment also means being in touch with enormous grief as so many species are going extinct, as forest after forest is being killed, as fish are struggling to survive in toxic waters, as frogs and insects are disappearing. When I write, it is part elegy, part plea. When I write, I want to remember that while so much is being lost there is also so much to be grateful for. I hope that my poems are an invitation to readers to pay attention to the outrageous beauty and vast number of different intelligences out there as well as to question our impact on the world.

Yvonne: Your sweet motherhood poems also showcase your love of nature. My sense is that this entwining is part of what fuels your anxiety about the state of our world. Can you elaborate on this?

Heather: Funny, this question made me tear up. Yes, of course. I am a parent and a teacher. My children have grown up on trails, in trees, in canoes spotting birds, insects, and frogs. A part of their community. They ache knowing so much of what they love is at risk. I invite my students to connect with each other and the planet, so they will be invested in the work of care. I think all the time about the next generations. Will polar bears still exist? Will the oldest trees survive? Will the coral reef thrive? I want so much to be a responsible ancestor, not just to my children, but to all humans and non-humans. I would like my work to offer an invitation to intimacy with the earth and also hope that we can change things for the better.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Yvonne Zipter Interviews Heather Swan

Yesterday was the memorial service for my poet friend Bill. What a lovely event, and we read several of his poems aloud. His wife and sons spoke, colleagues, and a close friend who is a retired Unitarian minister. Bill was not a churchgoing man, but he wanted her to say his eulogy. His son and grandson, opera singers, sang! Laughter and tears. Cello music. Veterans presenting colors. Masks. Exactly what was needed. Life goes on, and loss is part of it.

Kathleen Kirk, Bathsheba and the Stinkbug

Today I want to talk about making marks, making your mark, mark-making. If you’re an artist or writer or creative person, you’re making marks on a regular basis. But everyone makes marks, even if it is on a screen. I’d like to make a case for the simple joy of making marks on a regular basis.

I love what Lisette Model said of the snapshot (photo), “We are all so overwhelmed by culture that it is a relief to see something which is done directly, without any intention of being good or bad, done only because one wants to do it.” And then there is the Andy Warhol quotation that gets a lot of airing out: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

So I believe that that is extremely true and useful at the same time as I believe that we need to hold art and artists up to the highest standards. Art is not easy; art is not hard. Don’t let yourself off the hook. But also, just make your marks, and worry later if it’s just for you, or which ones you want to discard, which you want to show to your circle of friends, and then possibly a larger audience.

Shawna Lemay, Make your Mark

Beneath the four-count of a jukebox moon, we strip down to our underwear, bras and panties.

We navigate the slap and caress of cool summer waters, a feeling of liquid electricity shocking us crystal clear despite the smoke and booze in our blood.

We paddle through the post-pubescent murkiness:

blossoming acne, body hair, raging sex drives.

We push one another under; we lift one another up.

We swim away our blues.

We swim away the future.

We swim to outrace that strange feeling inside us, the ache of a deep blue empty.

Some of us glide effortlessly through the water; others swim with all their might—

caged birds discovering their first flight beyond the bars.

Rich Ferguson, Teenage years of nightswimming with friends in our small-town lake.

to dive into that wave
not the next one
but this one now
to gasp at the grasp
of a life resurfaced
seething in angor animi
ashore being assuredly
as absurd as this sea is
home to that thought

Jim Young, the sea swimmer

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 52 + New Year’s 2022

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

The last week of the year always has a kind of aimless, limbo-like feeling, as several bloggers observed, so I was impressed by how many still managed an end-of-the-year post. The selection below doesn’t quite reflect how many of those posts included favorite book lists as well, so really, quite a lot of riches for those with the time to click through.

Here’s hoping 2022 brings a bit of peace and sanity, but if not, there’s always poetry. Happy New Year.


Years ago, I worked for an organization that always closed down during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and as such I became habituated to taking those days off and have made it something of a tradition. Nothing is going to get accomplished in that time anyway. It’s an informal national “down week” as it should be, because these are frozen, dead, throw-away days in which humans are not meant to be functional. Hence no post last week. I’ve been off since December 23rd, doing nothing but loafing around and making a full-time job of trying to keep warm in the 15-degree weather in our under-insulated apartment, shivering in a turtleneck (thanks, Mom!), a hoodie, a knit hat, and double socks.

Kristen McHenry, Days of Loafing, Re-Discovering Dorothy, History Buff

It’s the break of day, New Year’s Eve. I’m writing from the warm, night-morning-darkness of my living room, the only light is that of decorative twinkle and the snow glow outside. My holiday boon is scattered on the nearby table, gifts that are already page-tabbed and folded open. I’ve finished Amy Butcher’s Mother Trucker, and working through Robert Hass’s Time and Materials by day and by night, Ken Gould’s mystery, Death’s Grip, along with Kerstin Ekman’s Scandia Noir read, Under the Snow. As is the case with readers, these are 4 named titles. Waiting in the background sit short stacks of 24 additional titles, patiently awaiting their own cracks in spine. There is a new blank book awaiting rough writings in chicken scratch scrawl, bright beaded earrings, magnetic haiku and coffee poetry sets, and real coffee from a friend to accompany all of these wild ways to spend winter time.

Kersten Christianson, New Year’s Eve: Closing the Book of 2021

at the end of every verse
leave a promise —
what shall we do with sleep
without a morning to wake up to
what shall we do with rain
when skin cannot endure the wet
what shall we do with all this
longing, without the grammar
of hope —

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Leave a promise

I have begun and started this post so many times in the last week. Usually I really look forward to writing the end of year blog, to look back at the good things that have happened. But this year it fels really different – every time I look at my 2021 diary at the months that have passed I feel sadness at all the things that didn’t happen, all the people I didn’t see, all the times when my daughter missed out, when I missed out.  And I also know that I’m lucky because I am healthy and I’ve been able to do some things.  I can’t stop thinking about friends who are still isolating, still unable to leave their houses.

It’s hard to look back on a year that has been threaded through with a low hum of anxiety, but I have had some lovely things happen this year. Probably the most obvious one of those is the publication of my second poetry collection All the Men I Never Married.  But perhaps more than any other year, it has felt like a year where I’ve been able to try out different ways of my work reaching a wider audience – so I’m going to list a few of them here, just in case there are other people out there with slightly more time on their hands than usual, in this strange gap between Christmas and New Year.  

Kim Moore, END OF YEAR BLOG

Today I undertook one of my favorite and also least favorite projects of the year–transferring all my random slips of paper and no-longer sticky post-its into a new sketchbook/planner for 2022.  Good because its bright white blank pages are sort of exciting, least because it just makes me remember all the things I never got a chance to get to.  I started the post-it system after years of lost to-do lists and actual planners and trying to understand bullet journaling and a million things that did not work to keep my mind organized.  The premise was simple..the front pages sort the days of the week, the coming weeks, the coming month, the coming year.  As things arise, I write them on the 1 inch post-its and stick them to the corresponding day.  Obviously stuff gets moved and transferred to coming weeks and I suppose gets done eventually if if ever does. 

I have spreads for dgp projects in the works, including columns–layout-cover designs–proofing–so that I can see at a glance what is happening with each book. I have a section for monthly goals, though as the year goes on, I usually lose track of filling these pages out, but occasionally they help me finish up things. The worst, though, is a section titled “PROJECTS’ where every idea I have –for poems, for art projects, for shop lovelies–usually just sort of go to die, only to be moved to the next planner every late December. I also have pages for the library and things happening there. Admittedly, I didn’t even change books between 2020 and 2021, since so much was just lingering from the previous year. There are ideas for art & design projects that I’ve been moving from book to book since 2013.  Also writing projects.  Occasionally, like unusual creatures, I finish them eventually, but more often not. I might seem productive on occasion, but not half as productive as I’d like.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new planner

The fae character in my novel Unbecoming was, I now understand, incredibly fun to write because in imagining her, I got to inhabit the person I might have been if I were thoroughly, deliciously selfish, unworried about anyone’s future. I rarely consciously knew what she would say or do next; instead, I would take a break from writing and hear her whisper her next lines. The last dictation I received is her last quotation in the book: “I don’t know what I want, but I want it very much.” Word.

Speaking of traces of the past: one last magazine issue with a poem of mine slid under the old year’s wire. “You Know Where the Smithy Stood by the Clinkers” just appeared in the new National Poetry Review. It’s based on a lecture given several years ago by W&L archaeologist Don Gaylord. It immediately helped me see the buildings I work in in a different way, but I had to revise the poem many times, mostly by paring it down, until its architectural bones became clear. The past is always present, even when you suppress difficult memories.

Lesley Wheeler, Sacrifices, gifts, and a year in reading

It’s become a tradition and a privilege to spend New Years Eve with L. and B.

L. is the one who invited me to eat 12 grapes at midnight. She and B lived in Spain for a few years. I believe that to make a wish with each grape is her own twist on the Spanish tradition. Today I reread the blog post from 2020 and realize that my 12 wishes last night were nearly identical to those two years ago: synonyms and shifted specifics. New perspectives. New approaches.

I’m not sure what to make of that in terms of my personal growth. Walt Whitman contradicted himself because he contained multitudes. I repeat myself. I think that is because I contain a multitude of threads as well, and am on a dialectical path. Where it ends doesn’t seem to be as important anymore. Only that I keep moving towards something.

The word “ease” had come up a lot over the past two years. Maybe the past three years. But this morning I read the word “gentle”.

I lingered on the word gentle.

I read Dylan Thomas’s poem again this morning with more empathy – and a different understanding – than I’ve had before. It’s wonderful, because for the first time I see the specific context of the speaker’s perspective. I see the words “old age” (would that Death allowed us all that experience), and the speaker’s projecting his own fears onto his father, and onto every other old man’s evaluation of their worth in the world. I think I’ve read this poem always making way for the poet/speaker’s greater wisdom, and I read the advice in the poem as a kind of sutra. I am thrilled no one deprived me of this discovery: that this (projected) perspective is not wrong, but is only one perspective. A true perspective, but not the true perspective. And that is not to say that no one has ever analysed the poem this way, explained it, described it to me. But if they did, I wasn’t able to take the lesson in.

Long live the hyper-realistic beauty of the unreliable narrator.

Ren Powell, What Falls Away Gently

As 2021 stumbles to a close, it might be obvious to anyone who was paying attention (and I don’t know if anyone was) that I was not writing in here much in recent months; to be precise, since September. In many ways, September and onwards was a big improvement over the rest of my life since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. I got a new job working with children’s literature – so far, on course to be my best job ever – and before starting, I had time to visit my family in Canada. I also spent September weekends as part of the Sea Reconnection exhibition, which as an art-and-poetry exhibition was a first for me and certainly a highlight of the year.

I haven’t felt much like writing, though. My pandemic experience has avoided the worst that many have experienced (severe illness, death of loved ones, prolonged unemployment, etc) but at times I feel like it’s sort of flattened me out. I hope to get back into more of a writing frame of mind in the months to come, even in small ways, which I think will help.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Ten years of The Stone and the Star

Pull out the drawers,
and balled-up socks
sigh of their own accord.

Throw open the windows
and huddled shapes
of air unfold

forgotten wings. Old
beds of ash retire
into the soil so flint

or a match could strike
a small yellow flame
to brilliance.

Luisa A. Igloria, Encadenada

Yesterday we went for a long walk at Parc Jean-Drapeau, site of Montreal’s Expo 67: this geodesic dome, designed by Buckminster Fuller, was the United States pavilion for Expo, and is now a museum dedicated to the environment. But yesterday we were pretty much the only people on the two islands in the middle of the river, and even though it was a grey day, it was just what I needed. Lots of wildlife tracks in the snow, many birds including a huge flock of robins (what are they thinking?), the St Lawrence roiling along in its winter mood, red rose hips against the snow, junipers loaded with blue berries, overgrown plantings, a greenhouse where large tropical plants were being overwintered, and many odd graphic images from the desolation of winter and the decay or remnants of structures built for Expo that have fallen into disuse. I hope you’ll enjoy taking this walk with me, and I wish you all the best for the year to come.

Beth Adams, A New Year’s Walk

I have got a great deal out of writing this blog this year. The feedback is as immediate as social media, and far more fulfilling. There is always a chance someone will read it, so it never feels pointless. I write about whatever I want, however I want: that anyone is listening at all is a luxury! Yet, having had a month or so away from blogging, I can see how my relationship with it might have some things in common with submitting poetry to magazines, or using social media: that feeling that I need to just keep publishing; that fear of rejection, which only feeds the desire to publish more.

Is there a solution? Jonathan Davidson suggests we broaden our understanding of what sharing poetry entails to include a greater focus on different kinds of reading (e.g., out loud, at special occasions), and on reaching more non-poets. I agree. Davidson’s focus is largely on collections, but I think the insight can be extended to individual poems. Why should the default ‘end point’ be publication in a magazine?

For most people I know, poetry is a marginal art, so it’s a fair assumption that by placing a poem in a magazine you will have a greater chance of finding an appreciative reader (i.e. another poet) than sharing it with someone you know. But the end result of this way of thinking isn’t just a self-fulfilling prophecy which keeps poetry on the margins: it effects our idea of what a poem even is.

There are ways of rethinking how we share poetry among regular writers, too. I suspect a lot of writers engage with poetry groups and workshops, at least in part, as steps towards publication. But there is no reason why they have to be. I attended a regular poetry evening when I was at university. I have never produced so much rubbish in my life, but I have rarely felt so much like I knew why I was writing.

My own solution over the last few years has been to try to publish less poetry, and more writing about poetry. I can see this wouldn’t appeal to everyone. It may end up with me not publishing any of my own poetry at all (which isn’t necessarily a disaster). But I’ve also found that I appreciate poetry – writing it and reading it – more, not less.

Jeremy Wikeley, A Year in (Not) Publishing

Imagine how it feels when the sky is dark and you’re the first star. That’s Frank’s trusty Tree Service. You’re the first tree. You’re reborn. You’re a tree and you’re reborn as a tree. And soon you’ll be surrounded by a forest of trees reborn in a forest reborn and filled with trees.

Gary Barwin, Rise Up, Trees: Frank’s Tree Service.

year’s end
bald pines hold
the sky in place

Julie Mellor, year’s end

I was sad to read that Kirsty Karkow had died, on Christmas Eve. She was a fine haiku and tanka poet. I had some correspondence with her twenty or so years ago and had been in online kukai groups with her in the late ’90s. She’d lived in Maine for many years but was born and educated in England. On Curtis Dunlap’s old ‘Blogging Along Tobacco Road’ blog, which was always a pleasurable read, you can still find Kirsty’s admirable contribution, here.

Matthew Paul, On Sylvia Kantaris and Kirsty Karkow

I cannot recall where I learned of Byung-chul Han, but I’ve had the pleasure of reading one of his books of philosophical essays (The Scent of Time) recently, and seldom has a philosophy text resonated so immediately with my circumstances. In this book, Han argues for contemplative time. He says it is essential for humans and human society and claims the “acceleration” of everyday life robs us of the value of reflective thought and “slow time.”

Raised and educated in Germany, where he now teaches, Han invokes the works of several German philosophers to provide a starting-point regarding the acceleration of time. He draws on Nietzsche, Arendt, Husserl and, to a larger extent, Heidegger…but Derrida, Aquinas, Aristotle, and others as well. He also quotes from quite a few poets, such as Celan, Hölderlin, Büchner, Handke, Ch’iao Chi, and spends two chapters on Proust (but of course…).

Han posits that the point-like, algorithmic availability of information runs counter to knowledge and wisdom, which require experience, which in turn requires duration and connection rather than arbitrary retrieval: “Promising, commitment and fidelity, for instance, are genuinely temporal practices. They bind the future by continuing the present into the future…creating a temporal continuity.” He criticizes the very technology that permits a person like me to learn about his work (I am certain I heard of him online somewhere). That criticism says the faster we go, the further we are from our earthiness–the airplane removes us from earth’s gravitational field as well as from the soil, “estranging the human being from it.” He adds, “The internet and electronic mail let geography, even the earth itself, disappear…Modern technology de-terrestrializes human life.”

Strong opinions, large claims. But oh, I thought at once of Whitman and his long expansive drawling poems when I read, “Instead of leisurely strolling around, one rushes from one event to another. This haste and restlessness characterize neither the flâneur nor the vagabond.” The whizzing about leads to anxiety and a lack of durable relationships. People hover instead of connect, swiping left or doomscrolling, feeling bored–which is a kind of empty-mindedness. I observe this trend of rushing and hovering in my students and among my colleagues. I have not found much Whitman-like lounging in current poetry publications, but a great deal of anxiety appears in contemporary poems. Writers reflect the times. Context shapes us.

Ann E. Michael, Slowing time

year’s end
waiting for candy
in the rain

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 December 2021

Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota by Amelia Gorman

This gorgeous chapbook explores the ecological dangers of Climate Change and the emotional impacts of human nature. These poems flirt with the speculative, presenting a near future that feels nurtured by the here and now, offering visions of what could be while feeling anchored in what has been. The pairing of botanical illustrations with these lush poems is the kind of book I love to have and hold in its physical form, so that I can flip through its beautiful pages.

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2021

The end of the year rolls near and I am just lifting my head towards my blog. It’s been forgotten in the shuffle of working life and as that end-of-year-in-review feeling rolls in I have to be honest with myself about several things. 

Where I am at geographically, career-wise, with a view to my family and my energy levels means I cannot place much focus on my writing. And 2022 will be even more difficult. I’m starting my teacher training course in January while working full-time at a school and raising my kids. I’m currently fitting writing in at the weekends, but soon that will be taken over by my course. I will continue to try and do a bit of writing, but compromises will be made. 

And it hurts to think I will have to put it aside or squeeze it into the cracks. I would love to be working as a writer even part-time, but I need to focus on a career that I know will give some financial security. I’m finishing off a commission for some poetry this week and coming to the end of an editing job. I hope other small opportunities present themselves, but I will have to protect what little time I have to study and spend with my kids as much as I can.

My book will obviously not be published in 2021. I knew this was the case from early summer as nothing seemed to be moving forward, including communication. Maybe something will happen next year, but I no longer hold out much hope. My book was accepted about the time my decades-long relationship fell apart, so it felt a positive part of my renewal, a reason to look forward and celebrate my hard work. Then Covid and Brexit and Time bulldozed on through and here I am, still waiting, trying to be patient. 

Gerry Stewart, The End of 2021 Draws Nigh

2021 was also the year I launched a book during a pandemic! What fun! Strangers came out in April, and was formally launched in May, with an online event featuring Sadiqa de Meijer and Sue Sinclair, and hosted by my editor Luke Hathaway. You can view that here. Unable to tour the book, this summer I took my tour local, with readings around Vancouver (even those were fraught – one was canceled by a record-shattering “heat dome,” another was rained our and had to be moved into the overhang area of an elementary school playground… normal stuff!). I loved getting to hear new poems from fellow pandemic-launching poets – eleven total guest readers over the course of the series. Readings at the Vancouver Writers Fest, Word Vancouver, and the Real Vancouver Writers Series kept me busy all fall, and helped me feel like it might really be reaching readers out there in the world! Reviews of the book and also interviews about the book kept me afloat despite the lack of in-person connections. Thank you to everyone who spent some time with Strangers in 2021 – it meant a great deal to me.

Rob Taylor, the 2021 roll of nickels year in review

I’ve been thinking as I look at my stats for the year that there’s some sort of link between my running this year and my writing. Correlation isn’t causation, etc and I don’t have the charts to hand (the wherewithal to tally up each month to make the chart),but I know that up to June this year I finished 10 poems and was roughly averaging 40-50k a week, and between July and now I’ve finished 5 poems and am averaging about 20K a week.

I’ve also run less overall. Last year it was 1600K, this year it’s just over 1500. I was aiming for 2000K, but

I think the reason behind these declines are that I was up a lot earlier in the first half of the year, and using the time after the runs to work on poems. I was training for Race To The King, and when folks mentioned I’d be struggling for motivation after that I didn’t believe them. How right they were. A combination of injury before the race, and exhaustion after has left me struggling to get back into the right frame of mind. It’s been the same with writing, the mad kick bollock scramble of the second half of 2021 has just left me with no interest in picking up a pen. I have no doubt it will come back. I can see a draft I started a coupe of weeks ago staring at me and I know I want to get to it, so I have faith.

Mat Riches, Run on lines…

When I look back at previous goals and roundups from around this time of year, I can see that pretty much every year I say I am going to cut back work, live a healthier lifestyle, live a ‘less chaotic life’ and have never quite managed it, until this year. My favourite mantra of this year, and one I’ll be taking with me into next year is ‘Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want different outcomes, make different choices.’ Changing habits, changing learned behaviour, thought habits, unhealthy coping strategies etc is not about will power. Will power plays its part, but rather than being a shield you use to protect you from cravings, will power is tool you can use to reinforce the positive habits, affirming to yourself that you are worth change, that you are worth nice things, good health, a happy work/life balance. This year I managed to over work myself to a point at which I triggered an underlying heart condition and very high blood pressure. In fact, what I’d thought was the menopause turned out to be my body struggling with what I was doing to it. The doctors I spoke to told me I needed to cut down caffeine, alcohol and stress to manage it. Reader, I did not know who I was without caffeine, alcohol and stress. I cut back caffeine consumption to just first thing in the morning and the occasional afternoon cup of tea. Knowing I could still get my Wendy strength coffee first thing meant I was happy to cut back for the rest of the day. The stress and the booze were much harder to cut down. I enlisted the help of a personal health trainer to help me change my terrible relationship with alcohol, which you can read about here and reader, it worked, it continues to work. I had my first hangover in four months this week. I’ve taken the brakes off a little over Christmas and drunk more than I have been doing and amazingly found that I don’t really want to drink much anymore. Which makes me a cheap date and a complete and utter lightweight. This is my biggest achievement of this year. I know there will be people who don’t really understand that cutting back booze is a big achievement, it’s not like I have gone Tee Total, but the change in my health, my happiness, my anxiety and my self confidence is noticeable. I’m not going back. I’ve done this before and never quite managed it because I gave booze up completely without changing my thought process around it. This time it really does feel different. I have altered my thinking, altered my motivations.

Wendy Pratt, 2021 – My Year in Review- Best Books, Best People, Best Moments, Best Foot Forward

even when I did not know your name, sparrow,
I knew your song, the particular way
you break the silence

Han VanderHart, Bird Song Sounds Out of Tune Only to the Human Ear

Do you remember at the beginning of the pandemic there were all the jokes about the line “I hope this email finds you well.” And let’s face it, for the last couple of years, we haven’t been well, or at least not all the time, and certainly not in all the ways one would wish to be well. What even is wellness now? I don’t want any easy and pat wellness advice myself because this stuff is hard and recurring and complicated and we can be more than one thing at once, anyway. One thing I do know, is that what we normally think of as wellness is not this steady stream. Sure we can be resilient but we also get to take breaks from being resilient. (Which is perhaps a form of resiliency). So what I hope for you in this coming year is that you find your way to a wellness, and in the times when things are more crumbly, you find ways to return and return to a space where you feel okay and sometimes even content and happy.

Shawna Lemay, Keeping Your Appointments in 2022

Let me be the photographer staring down into the lens
of a Box Brownie, let me really see my mother’s red hair,
my father’s best trousers, my brother’s barely lived in skin,

our white socks and Start-Rite sandals, or deeper still –
the cotton handkerchiefs in our dress pockets, Dad’s tattoos
hidden under his long sleeved shirt, the sand beneath

the soil and grass under our feet, the scent in the darkness
when we opened the coalbunker door, what we knew then,
what we didn’t know, what we were unable to even imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ 1963

Palpable: what else to call poems with lines such as “I RUB MESSAGES INTO THE WALL B/C I KNOW / SOMEDAY I WILL BE DELETED.” The urgency implied in the typographical choice to use all caps (here and consistently throughout the collection) brings with it the implication of presence. Words in all caps are emphasized, given more presence before the eye. Such emphasis and presence are more often associated with brand slogans, protest signs, even text messages–a set of seemingly incongruent examples that yet are totally in line with the world interrogated by Abi-Karam. Only that these are poems, and the poetic space is flexible enough to hold a human pulse despite these implications, and resilient enough push back, to voice and be a voice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Villainy by Andrea Abi-Karam

The first poems in Danger Days by Catherine Pierce (Saturnalia Press, 2020) lead one to expect that this book will be all about end times and apocalypse.  The fourth poem dispels this idea: “High Dangerous” is the name her young sons give to hydrangeas.  But there is danger there too: the bees in the flowers.

Pierce finds danger in many supposedly ordinary places.  In motherhood, for instance, in “How Becoming a Mother Is Like Space Travel.” (Both find themselves rearranged.) “Abecedarian for the Dangerous Animals” covers five kinds of animal: bees, bats, the cassowary, the golden dart frog, and humans. […]

One set of poems addresses the history of words, in a series she calls “From the Compendium of Romantic Words.” In each poem she explores, deconstructs and plays with a particular word.  My favorite is “delicatessen” which begins:

Noun.  Notable for a sibilant elegance heightened
by the suggestion of cured meats.  Not deli,
a vulgar nickname, a fly-den, a swing-by, but
a long sigh of syllables, a time machine.  Inside
its languid hiss: flannel suits, stenographer glamour.
When the word is uttered, a skyline materializes.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Danger Days by Catherine Pierce

Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens [by Corey Van Landingham] brought back to me memories from January 1991. I was visiting friends at the University of Maine in Orono (UMO) and trying to rekindle a romance with a boyfriend from high school. He refused to see me, so I met friends in the Bears Den where we ate and watched TV. It was the night coalition forces launched the attack on Iraq. A screen in the corner of the room in the student union broadcast the bombardment. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the moment: “The war marked the introduction of live news broadcasts from the front lines of the battle, principally by the US network CNN. The war has also earned the nickname Video Game War after the daily broadcast of images from cameras on board U.S. bombers during Operation Desert Storm.”

I can’t recall if we were horrified but know for sure we were mesmerized. And, even though I was just 18 at the time, I’m ashamed to admit that I was more pained by the romantic abandonment than by what I saw on TV. Even though the scenes from my UMO visit have stuck with me, I never bothered to include them in a poem. If I had, I’d probably have written about the boy and not the televised introduction to war in my lifetime. It’s a daunting task to consider even now.

I’m still not writing much about world events in my poems, but thankfully my interrogation of our complicity in them has evolved, and Van Landingham’s poems support this necessary and difficult line of questioning. In “{Pennsylvania Triptych},” she writes, “To participate in the demolition is to be a part of history. Is what I tell myself…” She goes on, “As if, ante- / bellum, white and wealthy, with your father’s / father’s sprawling fields, you wouldn’t have let the / house staff serve you pheasant.” We must come to terms with our participation in dehumanizing others if we are to understand how to stop it.

Carolee Bennett, “the body becomes a downloadable thing”

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
It was completely administrative! I decided to apply to MFA programs last minute and the deadlines were coming up. I had to put together a portfolio and figured it would take less time to write poetry than to write prose (ha!). I became a poet thanks to early deadlines. But I kept with poetry because I love its sparseness— it’s a form in which what you don’t say is as important as what you do say. Absence speaks, it’s mystical— a fairytale in itself. […]

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In writing: act as if everyone is enlightened but you (Sandra Alcosser).

In general: “Dlatego dwie uszy jeden język dano, iżby mniej mówiono a więcej słuchano.” It”s a common Polish saying, loosely translated: “you got two ears and one mouth to speak less and listen more”. In fact, come to think of it, this applies perfectly to writing too.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Anna van Valkenburg

An interesting poem shows consideration-in-process. To “consider” means “be with the stars,” doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want that from a poem?

Poems in which the poet knows too much at the outset can tend toward flatness, I have found. The movement, if there is movement, in such a poem is of a busy person through a room who gives you a brisk nod. “Oh, there goes old whatsisname. Hunh,” you think. And that’s that. A more interesting poem wanders in, sits down with you, says something unexpected, ponders, ask you something, maybe, tells a tale, perhaps, shows you something, and in some way you share the moment.

You still might think, Hunh. But it’s a lingering hunh, a “I want to think more about this” hunh, or a “I never looked at that way before” hunh. You might want to call that poem some late afternoon and see if it wants to go get a beer.

Marilyn McCabe, Don’t stand so close to me; or, On Poems That Know Too Much

I am feeling forlorn this New Year’s morning.  Forlorn weather –  53 degrees and pouring rain, and likely to do so all day.

Last night I went to a New Year’s Eve gathering with eight other old folks –  55+ on the menu at Perkins Pancake House.  Very subdued.  It was a long table and I was the last to arrive and I didn’t get to sit with the friends I enjoy conversing with.  Not even any wine.  We closed the place at 8PM.  Sigh.

I drove home, remembering the New Year’s Eves of my wild youth:  in Philadelphia several with Patrick and his friends, in Baltimore in the apartment at Wellington Gate, and on Barclay Street, even a few in the early years of life in the Daughters.  Sigh.

So it goes.  I keep teaching Slaughterhouse Five to my Modernity class, now on Zoom due to COVID.

Anne Higgins, The times are nightfall; look – their light grows less

But for today, let me not focus on all that is coming at me/us in January.  Let me enjoy one more day of tropical drinks by the pool.  Let me focus on reading fiction, since I won’t have a chance to do that much once my seminary classes get underway.  Let me enjoy meals with loved ones and views of a different coastline.

And perhaps I will write a poem.  A few days ago, I made this Facebook post:”It is oddly foggy on the west coast of Florida this morning. It looks like it snowed overnight–or that something dreadful has happened to a lot of mermaids.”

Since then, I’ve continued to think of mermaids and sea foam and the death of mermaid dreams–or is it the resurrection of the girlhood dreams of mermaids?   I came up with this line to begin a poem:  Some days it is better to be sea foam.

Yesterday, the morning fog that looks like sea foam was tinted in different colors, which made me think that maybe sea foam doesn’t represent one eternal idea, but many.  

A poem is percolating, and I want to remember.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Soft Ending to Vacation

I know it’s a little cheesy, and harder during a pandemic year, but I still went through the steps of doing my yearly inspiration board, and using my hands to cut and glue things makes me feel like a kid again, and there’s something innately…optimistic about putting up words and pictures that make you feel happy and hopeful. This year, words like “friends,” “inspiration,” “magic,” and “happiness” made appearances, along with images of foxes, pink typewriters, blooms and butterflies.

Anyway, I encourage you to try it yourself, even if it’s just a temporary one on a corkboard, or posting inspiring things on your fridge. What could we look forward to? What are the best possibilities? I’m far too good at looking at the dark side.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy New Year! Snowed-In Seattle, Inspiration Board for 2022, Variant Problems, and Late Celebrations

We are born into this life with all its bombs & birdsongs, diseases & deities, poverty & purity. Born into criminals & kissers, debtors & creditors, greed & generosity. Born into freedom & detention, flowers & fault lines, climate change & genocides. Dancing, singing, weeping, raging. Slaving, building, crushing, creating—the beauty & brawl of it all.

Rich Ferguson, Into This

The lines of this poem are a factory that employs
the dead. Ghosts of people that walk
on concrete floors, their eyes
like blank sheets of paper. Do you
have a pen? Me neither.

What is a day? Rows and lines
of broken things – dreams, hopes, love.
No, that’s too hard and I reject it.
A day is you with your shoes off.
You are running toward me
laughing. You are telling me
about some poet from The Gaza Strip
or Kentucky.

James Lee Jobe, Their eyes are like blank sheets of paper.

How lucky the kitchen was stocked with tiny marshmallows and French chocolate
waiting in dishes for guests that would never come…
a list of movies, a fireplace with stacks of crackling logs
six-point crumpled Kleenex fluttering as paper snowflakes in an infinity of patterns
tables littered with bottles —- cough syrup, elderberry, zinc —
and cake vying for room with white test kits

We laughed into delirium when time was a stream of barely noted
notches in the inevitable: 
and talked of dreams, Rebbe Nachman, how to organize notebooks
not optimists but expecting each day would get better

New Year’s Eve was a muted affair; 
even if historic and global, we could say we did it in our pyjamas
in our own creaturely language
although we were still stuck in the indeterminacy

Jill Pearlman, Merry Quarantine

In spite of this, I’m starting this year feeling more optimistic than last year. Perhaps misguidedly. It’s not as if there’s a safe pair of hands in charge in the UK. But there are signs that the covid virus might be becoming less dangerous, which is something to feel hopeful about, even though we are still far from being in the all clear. On top of this, I have my own creative projects ticking away, and time to work on them, and my husband, Andrew, and our two grown-up children are well, we’ve navigated our way through the past two years and we’re still talking to each other and supporting each other’s plans. I’m so glad we’ve all been here for each other, at the end of a phone, if not always in person.

Josephine Corcoran, Light Ahead (maybe)

So, there we are. A year of recycled poems, stocking fillers, stand-ups, long-delayed appreciations and reviews, and far too much about being unwell and sorry for myself. And let’s be fair. In the world ‘out there’ it was a truly horrible year, a sleep of reason beginning with a failed putsch by morons led by a moron in the USA, and ending with tsunamis of incompetence, criminality and sleaze in what passes for government. What keeps me sane? You do. You and the poets whose work makes the world a better place. Go well. Stay well.

John Foggin, 2021: That was the year that was

You find the edge
of the wind right

where it ripples,
the old monk says.

You can almost
taste the sand.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (93)

 the extravagance of sun after a swim

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 50

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This edition was compiled in a bit of a rush, so I apologize if it seems a bit more disorderly than usual. Some posts about childhood led me to posts about the holiday season, favorite books (and blogs!) of the year, writing advice, po-biz pondering, and more. Enjoy.


The field was a living space. We walked through the field to get to the woods. Its edges were important to the shape of our days. Other children had parks, community centers. We had our field and a good half-hour of driving in any direction to reach a gas station.

As a living image, as personal history with land, the field to me is pure potential. It is unmarked by play structures. There would be fields in my future that my father fenced for our goats and chickens (I remember how impressed my parents were, when I was in college, and I told them my friend fenced—they thought only of farm skills, not athletics), but this field was different. This field was unfenced.

If you got down low in the field, there were field mice in grass burrows. There were wild tomatillos growing, tiny green fruit in their paper lantern wrappings. If you crouched or lay down, you could disappear from sight, the sedge grasses waving in the wind above you. There is a specific sound of wind through the grass before a storm—the sedge billowed like a copper sea.

I can trace my poetics back to this unfenced field. I spent five or six years practicing meter and formal poetry, until I could write iambic pentameter without thinking about it. Paradise Lost was like home to me. That is the fenced field. I return, as I must return, to the field of pure potential, unmarked by wire and posts. The only electricity that hums there is that of the person in the field.

Han VanderHart, The Field and Poetry

childhood running
we caught all the butterflies
and killed them

Jim Young [no title]

To Mr. Typist’s great bemusement, I went down a John Denver rabbit hole this week thanks to a casual comment on one of my Facebook posts. I hadn’t listened to John Denver’s music or thought about him for many years, but the comment inspired to me go and watch his concert footage from the 70’s, and I was awash with memories. I tried to explain to Mr. Typist that when I lived in Alaska as a young child, during the summers hippies would emerge in the early evenings on porches with guitars and play John Denver songs, and all of us children would gather around and sing along. We had no idea what the lyrics meant, but we knew they felt good to sing. I don’t know why there were hippies on an Air Force base in Alaska, but there were, in greater numbers than you might imagine. And they have an unerring instinct for twilight and children and catchy, emotionally compelling songs about mountains and nature, so there you have it—spontaneous 70’s John Denver porch concerts on an Air Force base in the middle of Alaska.

Kristen McHenry, John Denver Rabbit Hole, Bike Embroilment, Frozen Shoulder

Charlie, bald head, sullen sage, you say our lives are cartoons to be puzzled over again and again. What are we equal to and what do we translate? Like Schrödinger’s Dog, the dog is always there but what about us? Sisyphus and Lucy kissing in a tree. The kite’s a twisted bird in the branches. Ancestors, Charlie. All these years. What’s the best thing about rhetorical questions? 

Gary Barwin, Charlie Brown’s Body

A prohibition….

….lifted on the stroke of midnight
on some special Eve, Midsummer, say, or Christmas.

Then, it’s said that stones, or trees, or owls can speak.
Or toys piled pell-mell in boxes kept in lofts, in attic cupboards;

and also things that hang in Christmas trees,
like fairies, snowmen, angels, and wind-up clockwork toys.

What is it, do you think, they say, just once a year, just for one day,
This is the truth of it. The dark that lasts all year, the silent dust

that settles bit by bit, grows coarse and gritty, will clog their tongues.
Listen. They’re as mad as stones and deaf as owls. They’re let to speak,

have forgotten how, and what, to say. Stay silent
till the twelfth night. And then they’re put away.

John Foggin, Christmas stocking fillers

It’s all really depressing. I won’t be eligible for a booster until early January. More restrictions are likely to be imposed, and in my opinion, far too late. The federal government of Canada is requesting that all international trips be cancelled, and it sounds like border restrictions will be re-imposed soon. “Rethink your holiday parties,” is both lame and ineffective, but people are desperate to be with their families, too. Sadly, we had already cancelled our plans to be with my father in upstate New York today for his 97th birthday, and obviously we won’t be seeing our American family members for Christmas. I have to just try not to think about what that means. Meanwhile, in the U.S. and many other places, people seem to be doing whatever they feel like, and counting on their vaccinations to protect them from serious illness. I hope it works, and wish them well.

So, all I can say, from this interior space where I will be for most of the next few months: color helps. And reading. I’ve been working on a new print, which you’ll see eventually: the carving was complicated and absorbing, and the repetitive process of printing is calming. I’ve been grateful for it.

I want to think not about breakthrough infections, but about breakthrough color: the way primary red and yellow, and gamboge and intense cobalt blue and viridian push aside everything else we’re obsessing about, and make us stop and look, make us feel something emotional and positive.

Beth Adams, Christmas Fruit, and Breakthrough Color

As night falls, no one
says crepuscular or eventide.
As the orphaned child sobs under
the mother tree, no one blames
patriarchy. The crone isn’t wise, only
bitter. The young are either desperate
or lost. The last page delivers a verdict
reputed to be the will of the gods.

Luisa A. Igloria, Reasons to Disrupt the Narrative

This past week I’ve been flashing on Penelope Fitzgerald’s scintillating descriptions of preparing a house. Her novel “Blue Flower,” set in the 18th century, is full of the bright crush of domestic detail, the half-laborious, half-ecstatic ritual of organizing a home. As I was dashing around, making way for my grown kids and friends to migrate, I heard Fitzgerald’s echo — “great dingy snowfalls of sheets, pillow-cases, bolster-cases, vests, bodices, drawers, from the upper windows into the courtyard … into giant baskets.” I’m not firing up the old Maytag with anything but a switch; still, I note my excitement to make a nest, a safe haven through methodical hands-on work. I bent my head as I came down from the attic, carrying unrolling stored mattresses, shaking goose down through the corners of comforters, slapping pillows to life so they seem just born, cutting flowers for vases.

Jill Pearlman, The Home Groove

how can night air on a branch of december :: have turned its face to me

Grant Hackett [no title]

My first idea was for a haunted house and I would put all the regrets that haunt me on the boards of the house. But I made the house too big, with no room for all the ghosts and monsters that I envisioned circling the house. And then these other aspects appeared: the woman on the side of the house, the stuff going on in the attic (not exactly sure what’s going on there), the plants and pumpkins and cats and the table inside that’s ready for tea.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Six Weeks of Sketch Responses to “Crisis Contemplation”

Out from the corners of night, shadows gather like hungry soldiers at mess. To the west, these shadows slowly eat the Vaca Hills and roll down easy to the ocean to drown.

Veterans sleep in front of TV sets, numbed by beer and weak programming.

From the south, a chill breeze races up the delta lands and marshes, the estuaries. Herons shiver in the cold water, wading and hunting. Dragon flies race; they are fighter pilots in a Hollywood movie.

This breeze makes a lonely sound, like a saxophone on the radio. Like a child crying for something it cannot have.

The corners of night square off into a box. The lid is shut now. It will not open until morning.

James Lee Jobe, numbed by beer and weak programming

red barn     long shadows
rust-colored hawk descends
and vanishes

Ann E. Michael, Few words

Last week, my daughter, who is planning a Christmas celebration across a continent and ocean with a young man she loves, asked me about our Christmas day traditions. “I remember the advent calendar and decorating stockings before Christmas, but I can’t remember much about the day itself other than opening presents,” she said.

“Oh, honey,” I said. “I was always so wasted by Christmas day I didn’t do much more than make a breakfast and clean up the wrapping paper and take a nap. And some years we spent the day in the car.”

I told her about staying up long after everyone had gone to bed, wrapping gifts. I told her, laughing at myself, about the year her dad and older sister had built a train table for the Brio set, and I was painting the little town scene on the base of it until after 2:00 AM on Christmas morning. I told her about the year I made her a dress-up trunk. “I had to find a trunk, and the clothes to put in the trunk–which I got from multiple visits to Goodwill–and the flower and letter decals I put on the lid of the trunk.” I told her about how my favorite moment of Christmas was often the one that happened in those middle-of-the-night hours, when everything was finally done and I would sit by myself in front of the lit tree in our dark living room and sip a glass of wine and relish the calm. I even told her the story of the laptop year and the afternoon at the dentist.

“Well, you know why I wanted a laptop,” she said. I told her I didn’t.

“I wanted to be like you,” she said. “Every morning when I got up, you’d be downstairs on your computer.”

“Really?” I said. “I never knew that.” I remembered those years when I used to get up at 4:30 in the morning so I would have time to write, and how that time often ended when she, like me, always an early riser, came down our stairs to find me sitting on the couch, tapping away. I both loved and dreaded the sound of her footsteps.

She paused. “For someone who’s so aware of so many things, how could you have missed that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I suppose it’s because missing things is what we do, especially when we are in the thick of it.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Not exactly a Hallmark holiday movie

Although they are two very different debut collections, Inhale/Exile by Abeer Ameer and Mother, Nature by Aoife Lyall share a number of similarities when considered together, the most obvious being that they are both concerned with notions of Home. In Inhale/Exile, Home is Iraq, or perhaps the more ancient Mesopotamian homeland, ‘the land of two rivers’, from which her own family and many of the characters in her poems fled during the days of Saddam Hussain’s totalitarian Baathist regime. But Home is also the UK for a poet who was born in Sunderland and raised in Wales; and so, much of the work is suffused with both a refugee’s paradoxical longing to return to what is now an ‘alien land / called home’ (The Fugitive’s Wife (vi) return) – Ameer uses the evocative Welsh word hiraeth in her acknowledgement of gratitude to the Iraqi diaspora community – and an understanding of non-belonging in a land which remains foreign: language errors, for example causing a recent exile, who I take to be the poet’s father, ‘an awkwardness he’ll know well’ (The Waiting Groom). The awkwardness is not Ameer’s as a second generation Iraqi immigrant to the UK, but that of her parents’ and her grandparents’ generations, for whom Inhale/Exhale stands as an impressive tribute. For Lyall, simultaneously celebrating the birth of one child and mourning the loss by miscarriage of another, the speaker/poet herself is Home to her surviving baby: ‘I am your home / Hold me close and you can hear the ocean’ (‘Hermit Crab’). The ‘I’ and the ‘you’ of these poems exist in a state of symbiosis, their mutual dependencies are the fabric that binds them and protects them from the outside world. They are the universe drawn inwards, and for a time (painfully short for the mother) they are hermetically sealed and yet all-containing. But this is no smugly beatific Earth Mother; the Mother-as-Home in Mother, Nature bears all the pain and responsibilty of nature’s personification: ‘…I tried not to cry. I felt your stomach fill / with the violant sting of golden milk. / My body bled for you.’ (‘3oz’); ‘There is no room for error / (…) / …If I open / my eyes to the chance of falling / I will fall. And down will come baby, / cradle and all.’ (‘Trapeze’). And the grief of a mother’s loss, Lyall shows us, is an emptiness which is far from metaphorical; it is of course the all-too-physical reality of an unoccupied womb, ‘this house your home in me a hollow place’ (‘Ithaca’). This is a truth we may have already known, but Lyall’s language begins to make us feel it.

Chris Edgoose, Two debuts: Abeer Ameer and Aoife Lyall

Over the last dozen years or so, Angela France has developed into a seriously good poet. I was thinking about the collections I’ve read this year, wondering which I preferred – and then her book, Terminarchy (Nine Arches Press, £9.99) dropped on the mat with the bills and early Christmas cards.

Within a few pages – I have a strange habit of beginning books I don’t know at the back as well as the front – I thought this seemed so confident and assured I wanted to read it all, there and then. As is so often the case, it wasn’t possible. For a start, hens had to be cleaned out and fed, the home-made pig-sty, known to family as Pig Ugly, needed to be upgraded to deal with winter, given the arrival of four new inhabitants at the weekend. I was also writing a (bad) long poem, which eventually failed to survive ‘Delete’, and which took up a stupid amount of time before its demise.

So, when I finally settled to read Terminarchy, from front to back this time, it was with a fresh eye. And after two readings, I’ve found it the most pleasing new collection of my 2021. By that I mean that so much is published each year it’s impossible to read everything. I also have a tendency to re-read old, familiar books that have been on the shelves for decades. Nevertheless, acknowledging the limits of the statement, Terminarchy is top of my relatively lengthy list.

Bob Mee, POETRY COLLECTION I’VE ENJOYED MOST THIS YEAR – TERMINARCHY BY ANGELA FRANCE

The highlight of my recent reading continues to be Gillian Allnutt. I love the polished simplicity of her poetry, which makes much contemporary poetry look and sounds overwritten in comparison. Take these lines from ‘Tabitha and Lintel: An Imaginary Tale’ from her 2001 collection Lintel: ‘Snails have crossed the doorstone in the dark night / secretly as nuns, at compline, in procession’. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it.

Matthew Paul, It was twenty years ago today

I’ve been reading in that want-to-underline-every-sentence way (not that I’ve ever been an underliner, except in college when it seemed like that’s what everyone did and so I thought that’s what “studying” meant, a skill I had never learned) an essay by Daniel Tobin in the anthology Poets on the Psalms (edited by Lynn Domina, Trinity U Press, 2008). Tobin, whose poetry I only recently encountered, speaks movingly — and so eruditely that I have to really slow down my usual impetuous reading pace — of how the psalms are the crying out of the human need to be heard and seen, in this case by a God who has seemed to have removed itself.

But he’s also indicating that communicating itself, speech, writing, is an incantation to create an other, or an Other, as a way of becoming oneself, of confirming being. Or maybe I’m going too far here, but it interests me, this idea. I think of hearing coyotes howl in the woods at night. I thought they howl after a kill but that’s apparently a misunderstanding of this act. It’s a “sounding,” that is, the individuals of the pack locating themselves and each other in the dark. So the psalm — and the poem, and the song, the story — are how we say “I am” and ask “Are you?” (And if the coyote howls and there’s no response?)

Marilyn McCabe, Captivity required from us a song; or, On Daniel Tobin and the Psalms

I simply don’t believe that poetry blogs are anachronistic in 2021. What’s more, when compiling my annual (subjective and incomplete) list of the Best U.K. Poetry Blogs, I was reassured and reminded by all these amazing bloggers’ efforts that the medium is very much alive and kicking, offering a more substantial and less ephemeral format than social media.

This year’s list even includes several top-notch newcomers, some of whom have been blogging for years but have only appeared on my limited radar this time around. Let’s start with them…

Matthew Stewart, The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2021

As far as retreats go, it was a small group, just eighteen people plus myself and, surprise surprise, all women. I’m not sure what it is about me that puts the men folk off working with me. (because I refer to them as ‘men folk’ perhaps?) I do get the impression that I’m not really taken seriously as a writer or workshop facilitator by some men, perhaps because I write about, or have written about baby death and pregnancy and infertility. Traditionally ‘women’s issues’. Maybe it’s because I am ‘friendly and approachable’ which seems to translate as fluffy and inconsequential in some circles. There are, of course, women writers who don’t take me seriously either. Although it irritates me slightly; this feeling of not being taken seriously as a writer/facilitator, I have an inkling that it might well be more about my own insecurities. You can’t please all the people. And I know I carry my working class background on my shoulder, not like a chip, more like a parrot; always telling me that I don’t fit in and am not good enough. The same parrot tells me all sorts of awful stuff about how ugly and fat I am and how I won’t fit in because of that too and how I am totally unlovable. I’m not going to lie, the parrot is a nasty little bitch. But I’m sort of used to it now, the parrot, and mostly it is fairly inconsequential to me, mostly it doesn’t rule me, mostly I find that a bit of kindness to the parrot goes a long way. Maybe it just wants a cracker and a dark cover and some sleep in a safe place, I don’t know. I have stretched the analogy of the parrot too far now. It is dead. It is no more. etc. Anyway, back to the retreat. To be honest, to be able to share the week of the retreat with an all woman group was something very special indeed. What I’ve learnt as a facilitator is that to be able to provide a safe, warm, welcoming place where people, and in particular women, can just be, is important. And that’s what the retreat was like. We had people from all backgrounds, people with all sorts of personal life difficulties, all looking for something special to them. I wanted to create a place that felt like a retreat in the true sense of the word, where just for a few hours in the day, people could come and prioritise themselves and their writing. There were opportunities to hone writing skills, to be prompted to write new work, but there was also plenty of opportunities for quiet, no pressure, group activities, just writing together, talking, sharing our thoughts. And, of course down time/writing time. The evening reading events were a real highlight, in particular our last guest of the week, Jonathan Davidson, who’s honesty about the writing world, about the working class poets who never got their chance, about his own journey and the people who he had met on that journey was filled with love and humour.

Going back to the deceased parrot- I’d happened to mention that I was feeling a bit bruised by my book not having made it onto any lists – not award lists, not book of the year lists (It is continuing in great strides to not make it onto any lists at all by the way) – and how, even though I knew I had done what I needed to do with the book, that I felt it covered what I wanted it to cover in a way that made sense to me, it still stung a bit, but that as writers you are not meant to really say that out loud. As writers we are supposed to be slapped in the face by rejection after rejection and just get on with it, because it’s part of the job. And we do, but do you know what, it hurts still. Why wouldn’t it? Every poem has a sliver of yourself in it, especially the personal ones. What I got back from sharing this was such good, solid, kind, appreciative feedback, because the people on the course had read my book. They had heard poems from it in workshops, stuff I didn’t know anything about, and I can’t tell you how much it lifted my spirits to hear that the book, the book that launched in a pandemic, was finding its way around the writing community and being used in workshops and doing good stuff for people. I do not need the lists, I need this, these moment of recognition from readers. I had been a bit blocked and that seemed to free me to be able to work on new poems for the new collection. It shut that god damned parrot up.

Wendy Pratt, Retreating from the World

38. Recognize the Value in Silence

This one at first will not sound heartening. C.D. Wright has written a piece called “If one were to try to describe the heed that poetry requires.” (And I honestly thing you could replace the word poetry with and art making process). It begins, “Barbara Guest called it orchid attention. She felt the poem should tremble a little.” She talks about the “uncountable hours” a poet will spend in their lives on their tender observations, on their craft. She compares it to scientists spending a lifetime cataloguing and observing one small niche subject. Wright says, “As with most scientific papers, silence may be all that is at the other end. Maybe silence itself has value beyond being humbling. Maybe the record being made is its primary worth, and the rest of our temporal span is meant just for living and for the attention it commands.”

The truth is that even if you receive some attention for your books, the great majority of writers live mainly in obscurity. We live with a lot of silence on the other end. We do our work knowing that it may very well be met with silence. So it’s good to figure out what the value of silence is for you. Yes, it’s humbling. But it’s more than that. And the deeper you go into it, the greater the value.

Shawna Lemay, 20 (More) Pieces of Advice for Writers

I just finished writing a poem, and I’m worn out. 

For days I walked around in that weird stage I call “pre-poem anxiety,” which feels almost like a period of mourning: what the hell have I been doing with my time, not writing a poem? I’m plagued with morbid thoughts: what if I died tomorrow and I hadn’t written the next poem? What if the last thing I did before (awful thing happens) was NOT write a poem?

This catastrophizing mood comes over me when the interval between finishing a poem and writing a new one has dragged on too long. I search through my journals, make word lists, read poetry, looking for anything to spark an idea and get me writing again. 

Eventually something starts to gel. This leads to the next phase, where it almost feels like you have an itch in your brain. It’s a physical sensation, this itch. It comes over you while you’re going about your daily tasks. I walk around in a semi-daze, forget where I am, ignore my to-do list filled with deadlines and commitments. Before I’ve written a word, I enter a state of hyper-focus. 

Then I write the first line. I think it’s the most beautiful line ever written; I’m in tears, struck by its brilliance. I can’t believe it came from my brain. There it sits, on the page in front of me, vibrating, fresh, and unlike any line I’ve ever written before. I read it over and over. I’m as proud of it as a new parent whose child has just uttered her first word.

One line leads to the next. I’m in a state of semi-mania, writing hundreds of words, most of which will be deleted and rewritten.

Erica Goss, The Emotional Stages of Writing a Poem

The main way that I have been able to continue writing while homeschooling and being home with five kids is the “Open It Everyday” method.

EVERYDAY open your writing notebook. Even if you just glance over what you read last, or put it down and read something else, pick up the book and open it and look at it, Every Single Day. I used to say “five minutes a day” but honestly even less than that can still work.

Inevitably I write something in the notebook (maybe just a line or a few words). Inevitably a poem forms.

Over the past 7 years, amidst having babies, losing babies, three moves, and many, many classes taught, I was still able to write enough poems to produce two poetry books I’ve published (or are forthcoming– Church Ladies!) and one manuscript unpublished (as of yet). And also a middle grade novel, and the countless poems I tossed out because they weren’t good enough for a book (hundreds).

I’m not really a fast writer, I’m just persistent and consistent. Being persistent will get you further than you think.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: #1 Open It Everyday

I’m also watching poetry Twitter, as usual, and recent posts about some beloved poet, unnamed, who paid $25,000 for a publicist to promote their first collection and, as you’d suspect, did pretty freaking well. (It’s probably terrible to ask you to message me if you know who the $25K person is–I’m just crassly curious.) I don’t have that kind of money burning a hole in my pocket, but I have thought about smaller-scale consulting with a publicist, and I know other friends who have, as well–it’s suddenly an open secret that many writers find audiences by investing cash upfront in the process. It’s one way of managing another huge time commitment, I guess, as well as a way that the publishing playing field will never be level. Certainly applying for reading series, festivals, etc. is work I strain to get done. It’s the usual quandary of whether to play the system as it exists or step aside into an alternate artistic economy. I get the arguments for both strategies. I like to think that if I spent some money and gained prominence from it (which can’t be a given, right?), I’d use any power I gained to help other writers. In some ways I already do, but that is certainly a rationalization–if your real goal is to help others, you don’t start by hiring a publicist. Anyway, as I slow down and look around, it’s one of the things that seems to be on my mind.

Lesley Wheeler, Shenandoah, #DisConIII, biobreaks

I think the bulk of the negative reactions were 1) a purity test for poets that we don’t hold fiction and non-fiction writers to (they often hire publicists with no static) and 2) a class envy response – who has $25,000 to spend on promoting a poetry book? Most of us do not. My first thought was “$25,000 is a car!” I didn’t grow up wealthy, and don’t consider myself someone who could easily justify coming up with that kind of money to promote my books. Heck, I have trouble spending $150 on an online ad for my book!

But, having interviewed a few publicists for my book PR for Poets, and having researched book publicity, there’s really no reason a poet can’t hire a $25,000 publicist – although most publicists don’t work with poets, don’t know poetry’s markets or reviewers, or just don’t see enough money in it to do it.

Am I pretty excited to have a publisher for my seventh book who has an in-house marketing and PR person at last? Absolutely. I’m used to doing everything myself, with varying results for varying amounts of time, energy, money, and hustle. I think that’s the experience of most poets – getting together their own mailing lists, asking bookstores for readings, maybe even sending out their own review copies. The prospect of marketing a book during a pandemic – which is something a lot of my friends have already had to do – is daunting indeed. There are already whispers of cancellations of people and publishers who had been planning to go to AWP 2022. I already took a class on Instagram to get that account going before my two new books come out. I do take this stuff seriously.

I am hoping AWP 2023 – which is, yay, supposed to take place in Seattle – will be safe. I really enjoy seeing my old friends – and I’d love to meet my two most recent publishers in person – the editors at Alternating Current and BOA Editions. And do a reading or two, take friends out to see parks, bookstores, and coffee shops.

So, when I wrote my book, PR for Poets, I said for most poets, spending more than $5,000 – the going rate for a publicist for one month – on promoting their poetry book probably doesn’t make sense. Most royalty rates and poetry sales will rarely net more than $1,000. (It’s happened for me on a couple books, but certainly not all.) But if someone has the money lying around, and they really want to advance their poetry careers – big fellowships, tenure track jobs, visibility that makes them more likely to get well-paid speaking and teaching gigs – I mean, who am I to say they shouldn’t?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding Holiday Cheer, a Few Thoughts on Poetry and Publicity, and a Few End of the Year Book Suggestions

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

As a dog owner, I do a lot of walking. I don’t listen to music while I walk or look at my phone. I pay attention to the dog and the natural world and lines come to me. That happens whether we’re on city streets or in the woods. In Fredericton, the dog and I walked often along the Wolastoq river. Fredericton has a wonderful system of trails that are usually almost entirely people-free. I learned that the river is different every day, even in the winter when it’s frozen. The river didn’t necessarily make its way into my poetry, but those walks helped me to think and allowed lines to come to me. Now that I live in Victoria, the dog is very old and can’t walk as far or as fast. We do make it fairly regularly to the off-leash dog park on Dallas Road though. There, I let the dog take his time sniffing weeds and grass and other dog’s butts, and I enjoy the view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympics across the strait and the sun on my face. And lines often come to me.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Sharon McCartney

hill farm
the curlew’s long call
over the lambing shed

Julie Mellor, Presence

I haven’t been to Texas since the unveiling of mom’s headstone. The backpack I use when traveling has been in the closet a long time. In its pockets I find paper remnants from the Cuba trip in 2019.

I also unearth my pocket Koren siddur which I had given up for lost, and a wooden coin that reads (after Simcha Bunim) on one side “for my sake was the world created” and on the other “I am dust and ashes.”

Flying for the first time in almost two years was always going to be strange. Flying for the first time during a global pandemic, even more so. Thankfully no one is belligerent about wearing a mask.

To make the day even more surreal, it turns out my local airport has been redone. New parking garage, new traffic flow, new everything. Delta still flies out of the B gates; at least that hasn’t changed.

On the first plane I watch Roadrunner, the Tony Bourdain film. I loved his writing, and the way he brought the world into our living rooms. I loved how much he seemed to love the wide world.

There’s a sense of dislocation in the film. The dislocation of travel, especially the kind of travel he did 250 days a year. The dislocation of a world where his light shines now only in memory.

Rachel Barenblat, Dislocation

maybe it was only about
that moment of knowing, enduring,
of that certainty of surrender —
knowing the sun would melt our wings
knowing that falling was another
becoming,
remembering that within the clouds
we too smell of unborn lake —
but that wasn’t the plan, was it?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, No way back

In other news, I’ve been greatly enjoying the bit of freelance work I’ve been dipping my toes in.  Last week, I got to write about installation art, this week, a short story I had not read previously by Kate Chopin.  Next up, fashion in the Great Gatsby. I don’t know what next year will bring, but a little extra money around the holidays is a great help. I’ve been doing these other types of writing instead of poems in the morning, along with some more work on some short fiction, but I am getting itchy to get back to poems after the new year (or possibly during the brief holiday break. Tonight, I attended the release reading for Carla Sameth’s WHAT IS LEFT, and her work and the guest readers left me incredibly inspired to get back to it.  This week brings much assembling the last round of releases and new layouts on the very last chaps of 2021. I will also be finalizing details on next year’s selections, sending out agreements, and getting started on some other little bits I have planned. I am also in-deep on my advent project, which develops a little more each day. 

It gets dark so early, especially on weekends when I tend to sleep in and then have only a few hours before the night descends.  I light my small tree and the faux candles and try to do cozy things like make cookies and soup. Last night, a feast of stuffed pasta shells and garlic bread and holiday romance movies. I try to be festive while also still being anxious. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/12/21

I hear the voices of loving defiance refusing to perish.

bell hooks once said, “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.”

Before that, Paul Robeson:

“… I belong to the American resistance movement which fights against American imperialism, just as the resistance movement fought against Hitler.”

All the voices of benevolent intransigence will forever transmit across history’s airwaves.

Far beyond my life, they will grace the ears of others.

Courage is timeless. Intransigence, ageless.

Rich Ferguson, What Echoes Through the Ages

When I’ve filled
the emptiness

with poems,
I’ll be done,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (46)

the ferry departs
to the whistle’s shriek
morning snow melted

Jason Crane, haiku: 18 December 2021

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 49

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: death, loss, religion, work… that sort of thing. Enjoy.


I find myself living more and more in the spaces between things that have words to describe them. It’s not that I don’t want to write, but that I want to find a way to write without naming experiences. Without sorting my life into the labeled bins. This year I am teaching theater history a bit differently, having put the students into small seminar-style groups to discuss the curriculum rather than use a lecture/assignment model. I’m finding it helpful with ideas I struggle to understand myself: like Artaud’s ideas. I’ve been talking about how Artaud didn’t want the audience to experience a catharsis, but rather take the emotional disruption home with them. Invariably, the students describe it as Artaud wanting the audience to “reflect” on the theatrical experience. I guess it is due to an assumption that theater-as-therapy is theater-as-talk-therapy: the intellectualizing of experience as the route to understanding and processing/neutralizing. After all, what other kind of understanding is there?

There is poetry.

But so much of this kind of exploration is the antithesis of formal education. And even in a small group, an attempt to discuss this just frustrates and confuses the students, who want to/have to sort the information into the bins, to tuck the words away neatly into clear sentences that click like a tumbler lock to open the door to university. Which is what they are here for. What I am here for. There’s no room for negative capability when the exams are scored blindly from a central clearinghouse of random examiners. Sometimes I think there is no room for negative capability in the culture at all.

Ren Powell, Tolerating Witches

After today’s burial
my friend the undertaker

asks about the meditation labyrinth
behind the synagogue.

It’s a contemplative practice,
I explain. It’s not a maze

where it’s easy to get lost.
There’s only one path.

Take your time, notice
where your footsteps land.

We don’t know how or when,
but we all know the destination.

Rachel Barenblat, Destination

It is October as we ride the Beltway in the glaring morning sun.
Emily Dickinson, what do you say about the angry red cars,
the roaring black four wheel drives that loom behind me?

What do you say about this walled city of streaming metal
and gas fired speed?
Will the flickering brake lights
make you sink to the floor of the car, sick with vertigo?
Will the hissing of rubber on asphalt, the tumult of a thousand engines
make you want to disappear behind the tan concrete walls?
Will we drive all day in this exhausted maze?
We’ll both be burned.
Will we reach Carmel, and stroll in the lost country of prayer?
Oh, Emily, frail and sherry-eyed, lonely scribbler,
what relief did you have when the carriage stopped for you?

Anne Higgins, On a Superhighway in Maryland

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, except for the last two days I’ve been wondering how I can work this anecdote into a poem. It’s easier to imagine a challenge for the fiction writers in my group:

Write a scene in which a character attends a church service and hears a message that makes him or her uncomfortable.

I hadn’t been too sure about this trip, but the church service itself didn’t make me at all uncomfortable. My brother and sister and their spouses were there (my brother said at lunch that he was surprised the church didn’t fall down); also one my of aunts (age 86), and about a dozen of my cousins from all over Southwest Washington. Lots of music. I did a complete flashback to my childhood and wept. Much has changed (the drums and guitars up front), and I knew only two of the people in their small congregation. But there was a time for personal testimony, and an altar call at the end — both could have been scripted from a service when I was seven.

I’ve been rereading Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, and this morning I underlined this line:

“our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost” (p. 6).

That’s kind of the space my thoughts are hovering over.

Bethany Reid, Christmas Stories

–It’s been interesting to be writing my final papers for seminary classes while also grading the final papers of my students.  I’ve always been a fairly generous grader, so I don’t think it’s impacted me that way.  I have been the kind of grader that didn’t put much in the way of comments on A papers.  As a woman who writes A papers, I’m realizing that a more developed comment might be appreciated.  Have I written that more developed comment as a teacher?  Not yet.

–I am a poet who delights in making interesting comparisons.  I am aware of that personality trait of mine, and I try not to let that part of my brain run wild while writing papers for seminary.  Still, I think my poet brain sees things that other might not, and my seminary papers are stronger for it.

–I am a woman who has juggled many activities through the decades:  teaching, reading, writing, administrator work, church work, a variety of volunteer jobs, family, friends.  I am used to grabbing every scrap of time.  If I only have 15 minutes, I’ll write a chunk of seminary paper or read the next part of the text.  I am not waiting for huge swaths of time to get things done.  Huge swaths of time are not coming.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Blogging Poet-Seminarian Who Teaches First Year Comp

Our husbands passed death
between them like a soup–
true brothers. Can we pass life
between each other now, Ruth?

Take it to your lips, the good strong
drink—come even with me to my mother’s house,
where we can weave white flowers
into each other’s hair and torture
the hearts of young men,
tender as rabbits snared in wire.

Renee Emerson, poem from Threshing Floor (Jacar Press)

No-one, nothing, prepares us for this loss,
the disappearance of the people who

brought us into the world, who made us.
Gratitude slowly eases the grief. I carry you

like I might carry the most precious, the most
priceless of gifts: knowing I was loved.   

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ for Mam & Dad

Last week, I didn’t write here about the school shooting in Michigan. I wrote about a Christmas tree stand, which was my way of writing about hope.

Last week, a friend sent me a poem, written by a father whose daughter is an art teacher, that was, in part, about his wife spinning wool in the wake of the school shooting, and I felt the deep pull I have been feeling for years to leave schools and take up useful, concrete work I might do with my hands, so that I, too, like the poet’s wife, might “disappear” into “gentle quiet.”

Last week, though, I stayed at school and didn’t take up wool-spinning. I went to school and taught the lessons I’d planned not knowing there would be another school shooting. (Know that, for me, school shootings are not unlike my migraines, in that the question is never if there will be another, but only when there will be another. I try not to let them dictate too much of my life.) I taught my students about the media bias chart because it is a tool I am asking them to use to evaluate sources of information. To be able to comprehend the chart, we had to dive into conceptually-rich vocabulary: liberal, conservative, fact reporting, news analysis, propaganda, fabrication, extremism, reliability. I divided them into groups and asked them to find sources to verify their definitions of the terms, something that proved valuable when we realized that different groups were sharing different, sometimes contradictory ones for the same words.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Last week

The paintings in this post were done 17 months apart; the one at the top just a few days ago, the other in July of 2020. The objects on my desktop look pretty much the same — the jars of brushes and pens, the skull – memento mori –  atop the carved wooden box, the bowl of nuts and pine cones, the Chinese fans and Mycenean cup. But when I studied the two paintings I did notice a significant difference: in the more recent one, there are images of people. I had moved both the Persian painting and the postcard of “mourning Athena” (a relief carving I love from the Acroplis Museum in Athens) onto my desk fairly recently, and I think it’s because I wanted to see images of humans. All right, Athena is a goddess, but she is always portrayed as a woman, and the mood and attitude of this carving seem particularly appropriate these days. And the Persian painting of lovers, with its delicious colors of blue and lavender, salmon and pink, its soft pillows and patterned fabrics, reminds me of love and languor and gardens outside the window, in suspended, storybook time.

I wasn’t comparing the two to ask myself if I’ve made “progress” in an artistic or technical sense. Actually I think the bottom one, the earlier painting, is probably “better”. But I don’t keep a sketchbook and do paintings solely to try to move ahead that way, or judge myself. It’s also to keep a visual diary, which often ends up telling me things I hadn’t realized. The newer painting says that I was missing people, and wanted them near me. Thankfully, this fall and early winter we’ve shared some indoor dinners, and it’s been a real happiness to be together that way again. At the same time, there are friends and family members I haven’t seen for two years, and that’s genuinely painful; there are others who have left us who I’ll never see again.

We need, I think, to be less concerned with progress, and more with allowing ourselves space and time to grieve, to accept change, and to start to think about what’s next for us only if, and when, we feel ready to do that. In the meantime, in the present moment, let’s look around ourselves and see what’s there.

Beth Adams, What Means “Progress”?

One charming cliche pops up when you are going on a trip — people ask, can you pack me in your suitcase?  When you’re returning, it’s a moot point.  Or is it?   

I wouldn’t have known it when I was boarding the plane, but now that I’ve unpacked and am reorienting, certain things did ask to come back.  I’d call them mute things.  They are live elements that I encountered, with which I shared space and shared alert, vibrant moments.   They are inanimate but have subtle voice and life.   These things called and intersected my perception.  They cracked open staleness, cracked open language that was carrying pragmatic messages without carrying surprise, and winged across the abyss. Many, many aesthetic happenings that happened inside and out.

The energy of traffic that moves like the ocean’s surf, its waves of energy roaring forward, pulling back, lulled by a lazy club beat.  A dull blue bucket in moonlight as an old woman lowers it on a pulley from her terrace.  Active volcanos that grow like children and move towards the sea. The soft bee sound of motorbikes.  Color that is there beyond us.   A recognition of the brilliant chaos that swarms us, reminding us that we are participants but not masters.  If we listen, we get it.  They travel with us.  Carry on.

Jill Pearlman, What Asked to Come Back from the Trip

In the absence of
a compass, the birds argue about directions.
Lines curve through the countryside,
fading where the horizon is a jagged
edge in the hills. It’s only one
flower, but its redolence convinces you
there are others like it in the world.

Luisa A. Igloria, Phenomenology of Endurance

I know I’m late giving accolades to this Pulitzer-prize-winning book, but I finished reading Tyehimba Jess’ Olio recently and: wow! This 2016 collection goes on my must-keep-&-read-again shelf (okay, that’s not a real shelf in my house, but it should be).

How to describe the experience of reading this book? The poems are mostly lyrical, largely persona pieces, yet the scope of the book as a whole is encompassingly narrative. It takes readers from the mid-19th century through the late 20th century through poems that imagine the voices of slaves, ex-slaves, singers, composers, musicians, performers: all of them real people. It’s part history, part fiction, interspersed with dynamic prose that suggests interviews and letters and song lyrics; furthermore, the sureness of Jess’ use of classic and experimental poetic craft astonishes.

Plus, the stories are just so compelling. Inspirational? Sometimes. Sad? Often. Entertaining? That, too. The title comes from the term that means an amalgam, a mish-mash, and which was used to describe the various acts of minstrel shows. Yet Jess’ book does not feel like that sort of random “show.” It holds together like a carefully-sawn jigsaw puzzle or a masterful collage.

In the midst of the “entertainers” who voice the poems in Olio, there is the unavoidable pain of Black lives in the United States. It’s depicted clearly in the words of the speakers of these poems, and sometimes more subtly, as in the litany of Black churches burned, bombed, or shot up that appears under the choir poems.

Most awe-inspiring for this reader is the section about the conjoined twin girls Millie and Christine McKoy. What Jess does here, besides a spectacular imagining of the characters of the twins (born into slavery and exhibited in “freak shows,” they sang duets!), is to create sonnets that are twinned, star-shaped on the page, syncopated in meter, rhymed and off-rhymed, and–here’s the kicker–that can be read across each line or on each side, (columns or linearly). How did he come up with that form? It’s so suitable to the lyrical aspect of the pieces, which are interwoven into a kind of unexpected crown of sonnets.

Ann E. Michael, In awe

Do I dream of you or do you dream of me?
Mist conjures this and that.
The great trees grow through the temple.
I reach down and help you up.
You sit beside me and we watch
the apparition of horses becoming horses,
steaming, unmoving.
Your smile travels with me.
Your smell, your touch.
We didn’t ask for much.

I walk out of the cafe into the wind.
My legs struggle through shadows.
On the high road, heading north,
the only light is the drifting snow.
A thousand years of miracles.
Just one, I’d wish, for a child.
It’s too late, I know, but still…

Bob Mee, A DIFFERENT WAY TO BE

I’m pleased to report I have an article on The Friday Poem this week, titled “Beyond the Bubble – how can poetry reach out to a wider readership?”. I do hope it encourages positive debate. The first paragraph reads as follows:

Over the twenty-five years that I’ve been following the U.K. poetry scene, I’ve witnessed countless hands being wrung at the side-lining of poetry by society. However, this act has then been followed by most stakeholders (poets, publishers, arts organisations, etc) sitting on those same hands and complaining, as if outsiders’ lack of interest in the genre were their own fault. One analogy might be the disbelief that some feel at so many other people voting for Brexit. In politics as in poetry, nothing will change unless we all take the bull by the horns and engage with society on a regular and permanent basis…

If this extract has piqued your curiosity, you can read the article in full by following this link.

Matthew Stewart, Beyond the Bubble on The Friday Poem

finding more light
folding bits of paper
you get trapped in it

our lifespans are not enough
brilliant but difficult
eaten by termites

Ama Bolton, ABCD December 2021

It is a poem [of] winter, the season we are now triumphantly (for some) living in. It is a poem of ‘crusty dishes’, a ‘clogged’ ‘kitchen sink’, smelly drains and no sign of a plumber to rescue the situation. As the speaker says, this is the ‘everyday’, that she and her now deceased brother, the book’s protagonist, have spoken of, a line we receive with no extra contextual information, other than that it happened in the past.

I have had similar conversations with the near-to-dying myself. They are simultaneously difficult and utterly ordinary: the ‘everyday’ will keep breaking through the verbiage of the things you want to say and somehow never get round to. I try to see them as a gift.

The poem is also one of sky, ‘a deep, headstrong blue’ and ‘sunlight pour[ing] through / the open living-room windows’, an image of winter at its most benign. The relief is only temporary, however. We soon learn that the heating is on ‘too high […] and I can’t turn it off’. It’s not long before we are back in the world of dropped ‘groceries’ and and spilled coffee. The ‘everyday’ annoyances that make up most of where most of us live.

Anthony Wilson, It’s winter again / I am living

So, yes, I’m very excited about Flare, Corona coming out with BOA Editions in the fall of 2023, by which time I hope we will have better solutions for this covid thing and life will have somewhat returned to normal. Maybe I can even have a book party at a winery or something fun like that!

This book manuscript is very personal to me – it contains poems about getting diagnosed with what they said was terminal cancer back five years ago, and then six months later, getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and as I gradually recovered from the shock of those two things, the pandemic crept into our lives.

But I swear it’s not a depressing book – there are supervillains and fairy tales in the poems, as you might expect in my books – and there’s lots of humor. And I cannot imagine a better press to bring out this book.

And I’m also thankful to Alternating Current Press for bringing out Fireproof in May 2022, so I have something to focus on for the next six months. Fireproof is about witches, Joan of Arc, genetics, fairy tales – it’s a little edgy, a little feminist, and little political. A very different book than Flare, Corona. I’m about to be at the stage where I’m asking for blurbs (eek!) and deciding on cover art. The web site will probably get a little makeover based on the next two books as well.

It’s been five years since Field Guide to the End of the World came out, so to suddenly have two books on the horizon is a little bit of a shock – but a good shock.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy (Pandemic) Holidays, More About BOA and upcoming books, and Wishing You Health and Safety

Later, the band will play slow and solemn, stepping down
the narrow street that smells of trodden leaves,
the priest in lawn and linen will walk before the band 
and its slow sad music, blessing every doorstep.
The town follows quietly after, believing in miracles.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers.. stuff gone missing in 2021

Wine-tasting has its vocabulary. So does poetry appreciation. Orbis magazine has many pages of reader feedback which provide a useful sample. In the recent issue 198 I noticed that the most popular phrases are about

– how well the poet collected the data/experience: “precisely observed“, “beautifully observed“, “precise observation

– the conversion into words: “captures” was popular (of “a moment“, “the past“, “the essence“, “the intensity“). There’s “compressed energy

– the artifice/craft of the words: “constructed” appears twice (“beautifully constructed“, “well constructed“) and there’s “exquisitely crafted“, “well made” and “clever“. “precision of language” appears too – see my Poetry and Precision article.

– the effect on the reader (getting the original data/experiences back): “evocative” appears more than once. There’s “immersive” and “relatable“. Also “amusing

These phrases suit the idea of poets having experiences that they try to communicate to readers using expertise which ideally can be measured. I think the poems in Orbis have a wider aesthetic range than this, but only certain types of poems attract comment, it seems to me.

Tim Love, The vocabulary of poetry appreciation

Turn off the porch light, the darkness is like ink
And our lives are like paper;
There must still be something left to write.
I can’t tell you how often I have dreamed of the dead,
Dreams that are more like small visits.
Do you find it hard to really trust people?
Aren’t there some secrets that you are willing to carry
All the way to the grave?
When the porch light goes off, do the lives of the moths
Still have meaning, or are they lost and confused?

James Lee Jobe, Don’t close the windows tonight, if someone is coming in, just let them.

So then maybe the goal would be to not necessarily work MORE, but SMARTER. I’ve been seeking out and taking on some freelance copywriting work. I am not taking on as much as I could just yet in the off hours, but it’s paying me, per hour, about twice what I make at the library. That dream life? Obv since I’ve cast my lot with poetry, it will never get me there entirely. But I can work to trim the work that I do to help foot the bills to something I am getting paid more to do–work less hours to free up time for all those other things I feel I should be doing–could be doing–if things were different. But I never get there. So many people post-lockdown are reevaluating where and how they work and I am probably no different. Maybe it’s just this weird place called mid-life and this is my own crisis. I feel like I’ve spent years devaluing my own skills and abilities and perhaps it’s time for a change.

Kristy Bowen, the perfect life

How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I try to write into an unknown space for as long as I can before calling it a “project,” lest I cut my imagination off too soon. This is an impulse I’ve had to work towards, to learn, as my MFA (like most, I would think) coached me to write a thesis, a chapbook, a book, as opposed to writing into something you can’t fully yet see or name.

The pandemic has corrupted my writing practice, for sure, but I’m finding my way back by writing in small spurts early in the morning, by hand, a few days a week when possible.

My poems change a whole lot in revision, especially when I’m going from a first draft or a pre-draft into a second or full version. I work from notes, reading, and research heavily, even if I’m not “researching” something deliberately. I also do a lot of opening beloved collections to random pages and writing back to a line or two, especially when I’m stuck. Striking up a conversation, perhaps. […]

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
With The Naomi Letters, I felt preoccupied by the question What does who you love, and how you love, tell you about who you are? In the new space I’m tentatively writing towards, the question has become What does my brain’s suffering mean, and how does it matter? I’m feeling more drawn to examining the stakes of my mental illness, of connecting fear, joy, and grief together along the thread of my particular biochemical inflections. […]

When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
The work of other poets I love. A closed computer, a long walk.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Rachel Mennies

Sometimes
I have to cross

to the other side
of the street

to avoid what
I’m thinking,

the old monk says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (75)

In my mid-twenties, it was I who was groping toward a poetic identity. Like Larkin at that age, I had a model; unlike Larkin, my model was Frost (though in the blindness of youthful pride, I wouldn’t have confessed to having any model whatsoever). So it isn’t surprising that the poems I was writing back then had country subjects—until it occurred to me that I didn’t know the first thing about the country. On recovering from this realization, I started writing poems about New York City, where I’d actually set foot. These poems emerged in a voice that no longer sounded like Frost’s (not that it sounded anything like my own). This was progress—stepping away from something was a stride of a kind—but a new problem arose: as damning and/or inexplicable as this may be, there wasn’t anything I really had to say about New York. This deficit led, for a time, to my not writing any poems at all.

Meanwhile there was at least one thing I did have to say, if only to get it off my chest: that my lack of poetic production didn’t mean I wasn’t working on the problem (and that a solution might not be working itself out in me). At some point it crossed my mind that this could itself be said as a poem. I undertook to execute on the idea—and found that I couldn’t. Every stab at the envisioned opus (and there were a number) seemed off somehow; seemed somehow too…elevated? I still remember the opening of one of these attempts:

What it never was, was indolence;
Not for an epoch all but given over
To idleness[…]

After some weeks of this futility, a kind of exhaustion reduced me one afternoon to just speaking out my burden the way I actually would, poetry to the side—whereupon the lines above had morphed into the first sentence of a little poem I was able to finish:

Notice

Indolent I wouldn’t know because
I never was that, forget how
It ever looked. What I was was getting
Ready, and the getting’s over now.

This was the first poem of mine that sounded like me, or at least like the Lower East Sider in me. Not coincidentally, this was also the first poem of mine that said something I really had, in a couple of senses, to say.

Finding Your Voice – guest blog post Daniel Brown (Trish Hopkinson)

There are always articles floating round that try and define the poetry experience, or what is poetry, etc. I can’t think of any that have ever precisely nailed it. I’m not sure there ever will be, or even needs to be, but I quite enjoyed this quote from Roy Marshall this week.

While it’s not a definition of what poetry is, I think this as close to a definition of writing a poem as I’ve seen for a while. NB other definitions are available and your statutory definition rights remain unaffected. I liked this particular note as it reminded me of two moments from across the years.

The first being the young me shoplifting some ink cartridges from Roys of Wroxham‘s stationery department. I must have been no more than 10, but needed them for the fountain pen I was already using because I thought I was a poet then. Arguably I was more of one then than I am now, but let’s gloss over that. Oh, the giddy rush of stuffing them up my jumper sleeve and meeting my parents in the car park…I’d attempt some sort of reference to Shoplifters of the World Unite, but Morrissey is a twat, so I won’t.

Mat Riches, Cats and Shoplifters

I am not generally prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but this December has felt especially oppressive, dark, wet and cold. I find myself hiding under the covers when the alarm goes off, in profound disbelief that human beings are expected to be awake and functional at that time of the morning, when it’s literally pitch black outside and freezing rain is aggressively beating on the windows. Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way, My trainer says that most of her clients are suffering from really bad winter blahs and are having a hard time getting to the gym. I get it. I awake in darkness and I arrive home in darkness after long days, and getting to my regular gym session requires iron will and a fair bit of nagging and prodding from Mr. Typist. My trainer, who I believe suffers a bit herself from the SAD, has given me cart blanche to bail on my sessions any time I want to in the name of winter blues. I think that’s because she doesn’t want to show up for them either, and I don’t blame her. I believe that there should be a total moratorium on human productivity from mid-November to mid-January. No alarms, no work, nothing. It should be a national time of Lolling Around Watching TV and Huddling Under Blankets. I plan to put a bill before Congress.

Kristen McHenry, Unpacking “Unpacking”, Lens Relief, National Days of Lolling

Sing something sweet. Sing so others may eat.

Sing to soothe all scavenged bones.

Sing to crack the code of loneliness.

Sing to break down inner prison walls.

Sing so you may be released.

Sing to help others be free.

Rich Ferguson, Sing

the cat is in and licking the night away
to the soft music of all this
fluttering of the hazel’s last leaves
a drip drops
morning has arrived
dawn is now a dunnock
pecking pecking
away with you
coffee soon

Jim Young, dawn

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 48

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: holes and wholeness, blogging about not blogging, clearing a space for the ancestors, and much more. Enjoy.


You are digging a hole in the hard, dry ground. The work is slow. you struggle, and no matter how hard you work, the hole only barely grows. Just a little at a time. You sweat and curse. You are tired, and your back aches. The neighbors are gathering at the fence. Why are you digging? Are things alright? Do you need some help? After several hours the crowd is huge and the hole finally large enough for you to enter. You go down, closing the earth behind you like a door. Now it is quiet. The sounds of the people watching have been silenced. You can hear your own breath. Reaching out, you find that the earth is quite cool to the touch, and that the darkness is a blessing. 

James Lee Jobe, This work is slow.

Not to interrupt the darkness
we breathed slowly, exhaling
almost invisible smoke.
We had rolled cigarettes
with cold hands, shared fire.
Nothing happened for a while.
Then the stars started falling …

Magda Kapa, Voices

I’ve eased out of bed this morning and made the mistake of reading the news before sitting down to write. I guess our morning walk and then my run will be all about shaking it off. Jack Kornfield says “After the Ecstasy the Laundry”. But there is also the question of after the Compassion… what then? I suppose it is akin to the obligation we feel to hold on to grief. To “keep a space” for the pain. And there is the guilt we may have when we find ourselves laughing during a period of a new loss.

I remind myself of the obligation to acknowledge the wholeness of the world. I can put down the conceptional understanding of things happening halfway around the world, and I can appreciate the nuzzling of a dog’s snout insisting on breakfast, my husband’s footsteps approaching as he comes in to [sit] in the chair beside me, drinking his coffee while I write.

Heading out now for a run. I’ll be quiet turning near the edge of the lake. I’ll be listening for the ducks, who invariably laugh just before dawn.

Ren Powell, The Weight We Give Things

 I once wrote a poem where the first two lines were:

The wind blows Novemberly
to the finger-snap of season change…

( I forget the middle of the poem, but it ends with)

The creek,
a ribbon of tinsel
through the leaf-gone trees.

How sad is that that I can’t remember the rest of the poem, and can’t find it anywhere in my piles of paper?

Anne Higgins, A cold and sunny end of November

Perhaps you were born with this hand like an uneven fence. Clasping, your whistle was as uncanny as an owl. Or you made wings of your outstretched fingers. Bird that has almost but not entirely evaded the gun, a feather’s breadth from near certain death.

Gary Barwin, ABRAHAM JUDA “SHORT FINGER” FUKS

The cluster of yucca plants by my driveway has bloomed twice this year, each time many stems grow tall, bloom and fade and I cut them down.  Then this one stalk appeared, but something about the weather or the season prevented it from stretching above the leaves, so it bloomed surrounded by the plant’s green.

It’s a late bloomer, like me.  Most people who know me now have no idea how slow I was to learn to think for myself.  I got good grades and succeeded mostly by doing what I was told.

I began thinking of myself as a poet in my 20s, but it did not occur to me that there is a teachable craft to writing until I was able to join workshops – not classes – many years later.  (I don’t mean things like grammar, which are important to communicate; I’ve known those rules since childhood.)

Once you know the rules of a craft, it’s much more fun to learn how and when they can be broken.

It makes possible surprises like these well-shaped blooms surrounded by green.

Ellen Roberts Young, Late Bloomer

The fall issue of AWS landed in my mailbox today! At 25° my mailbox is usually always frozen shut, so it isn’t a grand unveil without a lighter and some lock de-icer. As a poetry editor I love seeing how work morphs from draft form in Submittable to layout to printed paper copy. The cover photo is titled Open Sky by Becky Strub. Mandy Ramsey’s art is scattered throughout the pages and writings celebrating the celestial. I do enjoy volunteering for AWS for all the good writing reasons and for supporting northern women writers throughout Alaska. If you have an interest in volunteering, drop me a line. We are in need of an organized person to keep our email sorted and our mailing list updated. And you, too, would get to work with an amazing group of volunteers who also life up this sweet, sweet journal.

Kersten Christianson, Alaska Women Speak

It does feel good to have completed it, to have proved to myself that I have been able to write a work of fiction of that length, when I had not thought it possible. Apart from non-fiction books, mostly written to order for money, I have concentrated on relatively short pieces of writing that come within the rough borders of poetry.

Beyond that sense of personal satisfaction, what is there? I doubt I’ll ever read it again but hopefully, over time, some will ask for it to be emailed to them and, again hopefully, they will find something to enjoy in it. (If anyone reading this wants to, you’re welcome to email meeswood@aol.com)

There is, of course, a substantial gap between the writing of the thing and the reading of it. Not just in time, but in the experience of those involved.

Already, when it’s hardly been read, I’m getting on with other stuff. ‘Real life’ things like rolling the land ready for winter, making sure the hens are ok inside their inner pens to conform with avian flu regulations, preparing for the arrival of new pigs. And going off as usual to watch our beloved West Bromwich Albion home and away.

As to writing, it’s been surprisingly difficult to switch from the mindset necessary to create something of length to writing short pieces again. I wrote only one poem in the 79 days afforded the novel. At the time that felt like a huge release of air. Now, though, it’s taking time to settle into it again and find links between thoughts and images. I’ve started and scrapped dozens of attempts.

Bob Mee, SO YOU FINISH YOUR NOVEL… WHAT THEN?

You may have never given a poetry book as a gift. Most people have never bought a poetry book for themselves either. Yet a wealth of excellent poetry awaits, with more books coming out every day, each one capable of creating new poetry lovers. When I give a poetry book, whether to a poetry lover or a doesn’t-really-read-poetry friend, I like to pair the book with a related present. Here are a few suggestions based on books I’ve read recently. (Many are anthologies, a great way to entice readers.) Let these ideas inspire your own ideas. And please share in the comments what gift you’ve paired with a book, or what you’d like to receive in tandem with a book.

&&&&&  

The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink edited by Kevin Young (indie link) is a nourishingly hearty 336 page anthology with works by Elizabeth Alexander, Tracy K. Smith, Martín Espada, and others. It’s also perfect to pair with food-related gifts. Consider gifting it with something flavorful, like locally roasted coffee or spiced nuts. Or really step it up with a legacy gift like these salt boxes made from trees milled and shaped by the crafter. If you have the time, you might instead gift it with something you’ve cooked or baked yourself.

&&&&&

Maggie Smith’s Goldenrod (indie link) explores parenthood, nature, and memory with a uniquely sharp tenderness. Somehow I think a picture frame goes well with this gift, a way of honoring what’s dearest to your recipient.  

&&&&&

Ohio’s current Poet of the Year, Quartez Harris, is driven by his work as a second-grade teacher as well as by his students’ experiences with gun violence, poverty, and racism. I’d pair We Made It To School Alive with a gift certificate, maybe one that allows the recipient to give toys, games, or books purchased from black-owned businesses like Kido, Little Likes Kids, Paper Play and Wonder, or Puzzle Huddle to a loved child or to donate them to an area daycare, school, or afterschool program.

Laura Grace Weldon, Paired Poetry Gift Ideas

It’s been a hell of a week, for reasons I’ll describe in some future post, when I’m not so desperate. For now: an essay of mine on a poem by Cynthia Hogue was just published by The Account. Called “Closure, Irresolution, and Cynthia Hogue’s ‘At Delphi,’” it interweaves meditations on a beautiful poem–contained in Hogue’s brilliant book about chronic pain, The Incognito Body–with narrative about a different kind of pain and crisis, involving harassment and bullying at work while I was serving a difficult term as department chair. Pain alienates you from other people and makes it difficult to speak at all. This essay appears many years after the incidents it describes. It’s gratifying, if maybe slightly alarming, to see it published and slowly receive responses, mostly from women who have experienced similar things. I struggled with how to portray my then-boss’s behavior without aggrandizement or melodrama–and then received brilliant edits from nonfiction editor Jennifer Hawe, very very gently pressing me to be more direct about the stakes. It’s useful, to the writer and often to readers, to be exact about the damage, insofar as that’s possible. My life wasn’t “ruined,” but I sustained a lot of harm, and no one involved will ever apologize or make amends. How to walk through and past it?

Poetry helps. See the poem “At Delphi” here (scroll down a bit). It’s also quoted in full in the essay. You’ll have different touchstone poems, ones that consoled you or gave you company at a bad time. This is one of mine.

Lesley Wheeler, Nowhere to go but through the ruins

before the house sale was agreed
buyers demanded the ghosts be removed
so contractors were appointed, a date set
an amount shaved off the price
and the workers arrived to divest the property
loading reluctant specters into sealed skips
then driving them away to wherever unwanted memories languish
that ambushing taste on the tongue
a face half glimpsed in the crowd
the 4am telephone that rings and rings and rings

Paul Tobin, RINGS AND RINGS AND RINGS

I’ve been writing a lot while I’ve been on the road. Hundreds of haiku and many longer poems. I got on the road after the end of the relationship I thought would last the rest of my life. All this time alone and all these words on the page have been essential to processing that loss and moving … forward? Moving, anyway.

Along with the decision to find a normal job and a stationary place to live, I’ve also decided that the past 25-plus years of living a very public life need to come to an end. I’ve been on the radio and on social media and on podcasts for nearly all of my 20s and 30s and 40s, and I’d like to slide into my 50s with quieter media. I’m going to keep making my current podcast, A Brief Chat, but I’m going to do it much in the style of this blog. I’ll keep putting things out there but not doing much to promote them. If people find their way to what I make, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s just fine, too. I described it to a friend as an attempt to live a quieter life. I think that’s what I mean. We’ll see what unfolds. I don’t have much practice at living out of the public eye. I keep thinking of good Tweets and Instagram photos as I move through each day. I’m hoping that urge will pass soon.

Jason Crane, Saying goodbye to van life

It would have been the perfect time to light the log burner, and I nearly did, except that I’ve got two massive holes in the upstairs chimney breast because a couple of weeks ago a jackdaw got trapped in the chimney. I was sat at my desk, in my office upstairs, when I heard the sound of scratching and frantic wing beats. It sounded like it was just behind the wall, like the house had developed its own heart, had grown something into itself. In the silence of the mid afternoon I listened to it scrabbling about and to the other jackdaws up above calling down to it. I feel like I have a relationship with the jackdaws. They’re a constant, a background to my work. I watch them arrive from their tree roosts on a morning to settle and squabble on the roof top, they nest in the chimneys during spring and summer and in the evenings one of my favourite sights is them returning to the trees, calling and cawing. Occasionally I will look up and see one leaning over the guttering to stare in at me. I watch them attempting to drive the seagulls away, having arguments with the local crows. One crow (is it the same one each time?) likes to creep up on the jackdaws and pull their tails. I watch them moving around the village, living their lives. They have their routine, I have mine. Occasionally I’ll throw food for them onto the shed roof, in the hope that the cat won’t get up there and go for them, because I think he would. He’s a bit of a bruiser. There wasn’t much I could do about the bird in the chimney, to start with. My first thought was to phone the RSPCA but they wouldn’t come out for it, and then I had to teach, so the day got away from me. I realised as I was teaching that I hadn’t heard it for a while and hoped it had managed to get out on its own. Earlier, when I’d gone outside to see what the other jackdaws were doing, I could see them calling down and even dropping bits of bread down to it. They’d been calling back and forth during the day, but then while I was on zoom there’d been nothing. Silence. By the time I’d finished teaching it was dark. The roof jackdaws had returned to their roosts. I switched my computer off. Sat silently for a minute. And then I heard it calling softly. I put my ear to the wall and listened, barely daring to breathe. I could hear it moving about, and then, again, that soft call. It was quite heartbreaking.

The next morning as soon as the sun was up, the jackdaw was moving about and its family were back, calling down to it. I realised they were making the same sort of calls that they make to chicks when it is fledging time, and I guess that makes sense. They were trying to fledge their friend from the chimney, encouraging it to fight against the bricks and twigs and get out into the air. I rang my dad for advice, and rang the Whitby wildlife centre, who were great. But the only real option was to tear a hole in the chimney breast to get to it. Lots of people kept telling me there was no option but to leave it to die, and I couldn’t understand that, or rather I could imagine understanding it, but couldn’t imagine myself doing that as, clearly, there was an option, it just meant making myself and my poor husband uncomfortable and destroying a part of the house. My dad came up with his tools (despairing of my lack of tools), and he knocked a massive hole in the chimney breast upstairs, and the chimney breast was full up of fallen nesting materials. So we started gently pulling it all out as fast as we could until we realised there was no bird in the chimney. The bird, it seemed, was on the other side, in the chimney breast that ran through the other bedroom. My dad had gone home at that point, and I was clearing up the mess. Initially I thought it might have gotten out by its own accord, but soon it became apparent that it was, in fact, still there and not in the chimney in my office, but the chimney in my bedroom. I live in an ex council house. I’d never thought about the amount of chimneys it has before. It has a lot. My dad came back, which was very good of him, (though I do think he likes knocking big holes in stuff, especially if he’s not doing the cleaning up), and we knocked another massive hole in the other side of the chimney and went through the same process of pulling stuff out and then, suddenly, there was the jackdaw, both matt and silk, claws and beak and eyes tight shut. It must have died just before we got to it. I had the chance to look at it up close. Female, I think, not as big as a male, its neck was ruffled, its feet were beautiful, slate clay and each toe ending in a serious hook of claw. It was not in great condition and I wonder now whether it hurt itself trying to get back out, whether it was poorly. I’d used gloves to handle it and disinfected them thoroughly. What strikes me most is how fragile it was, how strange it was to see this vital, clever, sociable creature so still, screwed up tight against what must have been terrifying banging and noise in its last minutes. It made me incredibly sad. But I did the best I could and feel happy about that. My husband is a very understanding person. He says he likes that I stick to my principles. I hid the worst of the chimney holes with bookcases. All pain can be alleviated with books, in my world.

Wendy Pratt, Jackdaws

I’ve been happily ensconced in two books of poetry recently, paging through randomly, reading steadily through from beginning to end, exploring back through. So much of the poetry I read I have nothing more than a vague reaction to, somewhere on the spectrum between hunh and hm. But these give me active pleasure and remind me why I love poetry.

One is Chris Dombrowski’s Ragged Anthem, which came out from Wayne State University Press in 2019. I learned of Dombrowski through friend David Graham’s poem-a-day emails, and I’m grateful. I chose Ragged Anthem of Dombrowski’s three or four collections randomly, and will be happy to dig into the other ones at some point. He writes out of his Montana or sometimes Michigan environment as a fisher, a guide, a father, a lover, a watcher bemused by the world. (Plus he’s buddies with one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Jeffrey Foucault, in a small-worldish sort of thing.) His poems, often long and lingering down the page, cast a spell woven of vivid descriptive detail and lyrical meditation, sometimes funny. […]

The other book is Jessica Cuello’s Liar, a tangle of punch-gut poems of the bewildering isolations of being a child. It’s just out from Barrow Street Press, chosen by Dorianne Laux as the prize winning entry.

Marilyn McCabe, Long Distance Calls; or, On Reading Dombrowski and Cuello

And much of what I’m feeling this week is rooted in my tiredness.

And I feel guilt about my tiredness.  It is World AIDS Day in the midst of a different plague, and I am deeply aware that my situation could be worse.  My tiredness is temporary.  It is the anniversary of the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.  

This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like.

In fact, for generations, people had prepared for just such a moment. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.

Those folks had reasons to be tired in a way that I do not.

So, in this age of a new pandemic and old injustice, let me get ready for the day.  There is work to be done, but first, a walk and some time for contemplation and prayer.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Tired and Weary

i wanted to post a poem by Burkard. been reading & thinking about his poems, him, again.

& i guess i’m thinking of Michael’s love for notebooks, the mess & flaw & goodness of them. writing without trying to make a publishable thing. i still need that. i continue to need that. and something outside of social media, too, as much as twitter has become a blog of sorts for me. but yes, outside of that, outside of publicness & retweets & likes & “hearts,” all that. a more private space. meditative.

& i guess i was afraid of posting on LJ again bc i’m nervous that it might just go under, go defunct, go away, gone, at any moment, i don’t know. should i be saving those posts? or should i practice letting them go? my wild ephemera? my internet scraps?

Chen Chen, from the archives :: How did I know an angel from denial? / It took me years. / It took me years.

This week has had a couple things dovetail very nicely into each other and it has me thinking about the purpose and approach of the things we make. On Tuesday, we had our panel discussion with Bad Art: Kitsch, Camp, & Craft artists, many of whom wander in installation pieces and non-traditional forms–ie the screenprinted underwear on the 2nd Floor, or the giant dog made out of recycled plastic bags.  It came up a couple of times: the idea of being able to watch how audiences interact with such installations and when presented with such work.  I was, at the same time, working on my first freelance lesson writing project–for which I had chosen installation art as the subject. (out of many different options in the arts and humanities.) But I spent a few hours doing some research and looking up good examples, and writing about the ways we experience installations, particularly outside gallery/museum settings. A friend talks often how she likes to make the sort of work that is part social experiment–to see what lathers, to witness how the viewer responds.  

As writers, it seems a very different thing.  I get super awkward when people start talking about my work and how they respond to it.  There’s a distance that the page allows between artist and audience.  When they creep too close, I just get weird. But we do still like to hear something make contact, just maybe from a distance.  A new dgp author told me this week that she had one of my older poems tacked to her wall and it made me so happy on a day that was feeling especially hopeless in terms of feeling like anyone actually reads what I write–anywhere…here, in poems, in books, on social media. But at readings, I usually tried to get away as quickly as I could after reading. When I used to do craft shows, people paging through my zines, my collages, my prints, similarly made me uncomfortable and I wanted to run away, even though I wanted them to look and buy of course.  I usually don’t go to the openings of the shows I’m in. When we used to do Library general shows and I kind of had to, I was especially skittish and spent a lot of time hiding in the bathroom and escaping downstairs with my plate of snacks.   And we all want to feel like their is an audience and interest in our work. Even at the panel this week, though I had my black velvet pieces in the show, I was more comfortable just being moderator than talking much about my practice.  

I guess, moreso, I love building worlds, but how and when you encounter them is up to you. 

Kristy Bowen, art, audience, and distance

It is impossible not to delight in the near two hundred pages of American poet John Yau’s latest, Genghis Chan on Drums (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021), a book that follows nearly a dozen poetry collections across more than forty years, as well as numerous chapbooks, works of fiction, criticism, collaborations and monographs. This is the first of his titles I’ve gone through, and I’m immediately struck by the clarity of the direct statements in his poems, especially the ways in which Yau returns years’ worth of racist comments, microaggressions and injustices back in the most powerful ways possible. The poem “On Being Told that I Don’t Look and Act Chinese,” opens: “I am deeply grateful for your good opinion / I am honestly indignant / I am, I confess, a little discouraged / I am inclined to agree with you / I am incredulous / I am in a chastened mood / I am far more grieved than I can tell you / I am naturally overjoyed [.]” There is a confidence and a strength here, one he knows when and how to play, push or hold back, from a poet who clearly knows exactly what it is he’s doing, and what tools he’s working with.

Structured via nine sections of poems, plus a prose poem in prologue, and two poems in epilogue, Yau appears to be engaged in multiple conversations, including a section of poems in which he responds to the previous administration, including the former American President, responding to history and culture as it occurs. “There are no words to express / the horrible hour that happened,” he writes, to open “The President’s Third Telegram,” “Journalists, like all fear, should be / attacked while doing their jobs [.]” Weaving in elements of culture and current events, much of which touch upon larger issues of fearmongering and racist dog-whistles, Yau’s is a very human and considered lyric sense of fairness and justice, composing poems that push back against dangerous rhetoric, outdated or deliberately obscured language and racist ideas and ideologies. In his own way, Yau works to counter the ways in which language is weaponized against marginalized groups, attempting to renew human consideration by showcasing how inhuman and destructive language has become. “We regret that we are unable to correct the matter of your disappointment,” he writes, as part of “Choose Two of the Following,” “We quaff mugs of delight while recounting the details of your latest inconvenience [.]”

rob mclennan, John Yau, Genghis Chan on Drums

I have a new poem, ‘Here is Bernie Saunders in Mittens’ on The Friday Poem.
The piece is a bit different from my usual stuff, which generally, although not always, takes the form of a shortish lyric poem. I wrote it around the time of President Biden’s inauguration, when the image of Bernie Saunders became a viral meme. I was intrigued by how quickly the image was manipulated in a myriad of ways, and how responses to these internet memes were received and interpreted. The subsequent down-to-earth responses to the viral images from Saunders and the woman who made the mittens were in stark contrast to the madness around the election and the insurgency at the Capitol. I’m pleased the poem has found a home on the excellent TFP, with a lovely astute introduction from the editors. You can read the poem here.

Roy Marshall, New poems online

The radio
woke us up this morning with news
of another rising wave of contagion,
a winter of pestilence and affliction—
your dark attendants, your retinue
and signature. But tonight,
around a fire in a neighbor’s backyard,
we are invited by a shaman to make
of our bodies a field shook with lightning;
to clear a space for the ancestors to enter
with their gifts of remembrance and healing.
What we pass from hand to hand around
the circle: not just flower or stone, not twig
with its tip of glowing ember.
Loosen the heart, and the tongue
might follow. Loosen the fist and the hand,
and the towering pines lean a little more
away from our small houses on the ground.

Luisa A. Igloria, Dear rumor of recurrence,

The recent death of poet Robert Bly brought to mind his book Leaping Poetry; I have this edition of the famous little book, which I bought in Grand Rapids Michigan in 1978.

My dear friend Ariel Dawson recommended this book to me. I have read it many times–my copy’s pretty beat up. A 1975 book of his prose poems influenced my thinking about poetry’s many forms, too; I love my copy of The Morning Glory: Prose Poems. The thing I love about this book is its open-endedness, by which I mean that Bly embraces ambiguity in poems by suggesting readers–and writers–examine the gaps, the leaps, the surprises that encourage curiosity. Free associations into the unknown can lead to obscure and unreadable poetry; but they may also offer a way in to the unconscious, the emotive, the innate–what, in previous decades, was called the “primitive” and associated with non-Western religion and ritual song-poems. When I was first writing poetry more seriously–as a craft, an art–Bly’s little book helped me to reflect on what I was doing. It gave me new direction.

The Morning Glory poems moved me into researching what poems feel like on and off the page and how poets have used forms in different ways through thousands of years. Haibun, for example.

In subsequent years, I have read persuasive criticisms of Bly’s translations and of some of the concepts in Leaping Poetry; certainly there is much one can criticize concerning Bly–because he wrote so prolifically and took a certain joy, I think, in standing out. I made a point of going to his readings and presentations when I could, just to hear what his latest enthusiasms would be. (I must admit I never liked the way he read his own poems, but I often liked the poems themselves.) I am grateful for his work and have been recalling going to hear him and reading his poems over the years, discussing them with friends.

The book itself is an old, dear friend. I think it’s time to read it again. Each time anew.

Ann E. Michael, Robert Bly

I feel like my blog posts have been especially flimsy of late, which frustrates me, because there is actually a lot going on in my life, but I am not at liberty to discuss most of it. Just know that I am having numerous internal and external meltdowns and yet I am forced to blog about things like tiny popcorn and bad contact lens prescriptions because I can’t tell you what’s really going on. There are days when I just want to move to a hot, friendly Southern state and get a job as a friendly receptionist in a car dealership and live out the rest of my life in relative peace instead of struggling with the relentless and ever-increasing madness of working in an inner-city hospital during a pandemic. In addition, I’ve been experiencing the painful realization that I’m not some big, leader-y career woman. At heart, I’m just a friendly receptionist. I didn’t ask for advancement. I had advancement thrust onto me, and it turns out I’m not a fan. I don’t see what’s wrong with simply being competent at what you do and sticking with it, but apparently no one can leave well enough alone these days.

Kristen McHenry, Choke Me in the Shallow Waters

The helter skelter of others’ sweltering moods discolor our temperament from time to time.

It’s like catching someone’s negativity as if it’s a nasty cold—

our sanguinity suffering sniffles, unable to shake the aches of another’s rage.

Low-grade fever and chills inherited from indifference.

Combative body language invoking unusual drowsiness or lack of appetite.

Political aggressions and conspiratorial digressions causing congestion.

Rich Ferguson, Aches of Another’s Rage

A poem which is a list of remembered former boyfriends turns out to be not exactly a joke at all, but the beginning of something which is both playful and seriously important. […]

I remember hearing her reading it for the first time at The Chemic in Leeds, I remember the way this phrase stopped me in my tracks and stayed with me ever since

.how we lay twice a week in each other’s beds
            like two unlit candles

and I remember also the impact of the growing seriousness of the poem’s long incantation, as though the poet were realising something for the first time, learning something essential, or, at least, knowing she had to find out what it meant. Over time I heard her read more and more of the poems at various venues, becoming also aware of the way she was understanding how they challenged her audience even as she challenged herself from the moment it all turned on that one phrase are you judging me yet?

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Kim Moore’s “All the men I never married”

Well, I can’t tell you my big poetry news yet…but I will post it here (and on social media) tomorrow!

But in the meantime, thank you to Rogue Agent for publishing my poem “Enchantment” in their latest issue, which also has poems by friends Ronda Broatch and Jen Karetnick. It’s a very spooky fairy tale poem, which I thought worked well with this photo of winter apples – which always look so bleak and beautiful to me – and it’s also going to be in my upcoming book from Alternating Current Press, Fireproof.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem “Enchantment” Up on Rogue Agent, Winter Scenes and Surviving the Holiday During the 2nd Plague Year, and Big News Tomorrow!

So really, it’s thanks to sandwiches that I’m feeling more myself.

Also thanks to reading this by Adam Zagajewski in his essays, Slight Exaggeration, where he talks about how art shouldn’t remove itself from what is “painful, even ugly, that every quest for clarity, radiance, must proceed through full consciousness of what constrains us. This might be one definition of rapture: rapture means to forget pain, ugliness, suffering, to focus only on beauty. But purely rapturous works provoke only my opposition or indifference. Precisely the endless battle between heaviness, suffering, and illumination, elevation, forms art’s essence.”

You see, I had sort of pledged to meself that I would try to keep this space filled with more joy, more radiance, more goodness, and more uplift! And I still do pledge this very thing. But I also know that to come to something more artful, art-full, that it’s going to need to proceed through that “full consciousness of what constrains us.” Otherwise, it’s just gonna be fake anyway. There’s just no way you can live in this time, (or really any time ever) without experiencing the flip side in one way or another. As AZ recognizes, when we’re only ever fed joy or rapture, it is going to start feeling not so great. And I don’t think we need to belabour things, but just acknowledge the constraints, the black clouds/clods of whatever visiting despair, so that we can get back to the business of uplifting one another, back to joy, rapture, radiance, and yes, fun.

So yah, the black dog came, I fed it a sandwich. That appeased. And here we are.

Shawna Lemay, Sandwiches and Radiance

I don’t remember much of my ancient Greek, but a pandemic project has been to study some of the modern language. When we made our first trip to Greece, I was completely engrossed in sounding out all the Modern Greek signage; and at ancient archaeological sites, I would spend a lot of time looking at bits of inscriptions and was thrilled when I could actually understand a name or a word, but frustrated that I couldn’t communicate much at all. Now I do at least one lesson a day on Duolingo, often two. My first uninterrupted “streak” ended after 200 days or so when, somehow, I simply forgot; today will be day 320 of the next streak. As I wrote earlier in the pandemic, it’s a lazy and not terribly effective way to study a language if you really want to become fluent; I still believe you’ve got to put in the hard and boring work of memorizing conjugations and lists and grammatical rules, and I haven’t done much of that. But I know a lot more than I did when I started, even if I’ll still be tongue-tied if we ever make it to Greece again. I’d be a lot faster now at knowing what I was looking at in signage, be able to read a menu, ask some questions, be polite, but I’m not sure how much useful material I’ve actually learned, and very much doubt I’d understand much of what was said to me, at least at first.

What has kept me at it, I think, is this strange desire to be in the presence of those ancient letters every day and live in their world, which is not the world of Roman letters, is not at all English or French or German — though those languages all owe a great debt to Greek — but a set of symbols, descended from the alphabet of the seafaring Phoenicians, that have been used to write the Greek language since the 8th or 9th century B.C. That, alone, is incredible to me.

Obviously these letters have been used to represent a lot of things over the years, especially in mathematics and science. And now, we’ve got virus variants named for Greek letters, so that geographical places can avoid the stigma of attachment, and subsequent blame. I wasn’t too upset about Alpha, or Delta — both of which are overused letters in fraternity names, and therefore seemed like fair game — but Omicron? Omicron rather upset me. I like the word itself, and am very fond of the letter, which is so…round, simple, elemental. It’s one of the few letters of the Greek alphabet that remained entirely unchanged in the Roman, precisely because of that simplicity and the universal necessity of its sound.

I had better steel myself: we’re probably in for a slew of variants, and Greek variant names. For me, though, omicron will remain first and foremost a letter, a sound, and a form: the universal circle. Something beautiful, written by human hands, almost forever.

Beth Adams, In Defense of Omicron

So, there we were at the hardware store late on a Friday afternoon at the end of the long week after Thanksgiving, facing the same question we’d faced all those years ago when we were buying a stand for a tree for a different house and a different kind of holiday than the ones we now have.

Our choices? A cheap plastic stand for $19.99 and the most solid-looking, no-plastic, old-fashioned tree stand I’ve ever seen for $70.00. There were several left of the cheap ones, and only one expensive one. The box for the expensive one had “Lifetime” printed in large red letters on every side of it.

What is a lifetime? I wondered. How can we possibly we know what we’ll need for a lifetime?

I thought about how so many young families now talk about their desire for “a forever home,” a concept I don’t remember from my own early days of homeownership. Although I lived in one house from the ages of 4 to 18, I’ve lived in and owned five different homes in the past 30 years. I’ve been married three times. I really couldn’t tell you how many lifetimes I’ve lived. Even though Cane and I love the house we now live in, we know we could well be somewhere else ten years from now. Our holidays could (likely will) be different again, our health could be different, our financial situation could be different. We might not have the desire or capacity for the kind of tree that needs a heavy-duty stand. We know, in ways we couldn’t have known when we bought our last stand together, that ten years from now one or both of us could again be facing the tree question alone. Ten years, or months, or days from now, everything could be different.

So, what to do? How to spend our money? What future to bet on? I suppose that for many people, perhaps most young people, a tree stand is just a tree stand, and buying one is only another item on a long list of holiday to-dos, but sometimes, late on an early-December Friday afternoon in the aisle of a neighborhood hardware store, for a couple of more old-than-young people who know that loss and change are the warp and weft of every life, a tree stand can also be an embodiment of faith and hope and love.

We bought the good one.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Lifetime guarantee

That’s not the lunch bell —
it’s time for silence,

the old monk told
the visitors.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (44)

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: living with poetry brain, surviving the holidays, burrowing into books, and much more. Enjoy.


to live among & within & through words or more vitally, caring attention—that’s the daily practice, not writing poetry 24/7. but living with poetry brain, which could be the same, depending on the day, as laundry brain or long-talk-with-good-friend brain or soup brain

Chen Chen, i mean what could be more BEAUTIFUL

I mean, first of all, I’m proud to have published works in the plural about which to have opinions! And I really liked the process behind that most recent collection, and I’m pleased with its innovation: poems that unfold as erasures of themselves, with an essay that scrolls across each page. But I don’t really think the poems, for the most part, work. I’m really pleased with the video I created that allows the erasures to disappear on the screen. That took a shit-ton of work to figure out. This collection won a contest to get published, so SOMEONE liked it enough to make it the winner, and for that I’m very grateful. So much to feel good about!

But the actual poems? Eh.

I have to assume that all artists who have created enough stuff look back at some and think, oh, dear, what was I thinking. I won the important battle I often have with myself: I loved the process.

What’s the takeaway? Well. I’m not sure. You win some; you lose some? Sometimes even if you win some, you lose some? Love the process, beware the product? Good process doesn’t always assure good outcome? (Conversely, I presume, good outcome can be birthed of crappy process?) All of these?

Marilyn McCabe, It’s not unusual; or, On Artistic Regret

I realized this weekend that November is the 15h anniversary of the release of the fever almanac, my very first book progeny.  In November 2006, amidst a fall which included heartbreak (and the start to a long dysfunctional entanglement that took years to disentangle) I was mostly euphoric and very sick –with what turned out to be mono, though I didn’t know it yet.  As fitting to the title, the time around the release was a sort of fever-both literally and metaphorically.  The trees were crazy gorgeous that year. There was a fire a block from Columbia that sent us home and whose smoke gave me a headache for two days.  I was falling for someone I would find out later was married and a compulsive liar, but that November I was still under the illusion that he was my soul mate, despite inconsistencies and occasionally missed dates. While I had dated a bit before, had myriad flings,  and even had a 4 year open relationship that had dissolved in the summer, I was convinced this was wholly different.  the fever almanac itself was mostly a collage of bits of my romantic life in my twenties, with some spinning for the sake of art.  I had not yet really had my heart broken to that point. In some ways, it was whole book yearning for that sort of loss–losses that would inevitably come later. Kind of 13 year old me listened to sad songs and thought about being devastated.  The devastation was the point. The wreckage, while just theoretical at that point, the goal. 

But the book, the book was beautiful.

Kristy Bowen, november and other fevers

My reading of late has been my usual mixture of systematic delving into poetry collections with non-fiction on the side. I hugely enjoyed Henry Shukman’s One Blade of Grass, which made me question, in a good way, the value of writing poetry in the grand scheme of things, but also flagged up the importance of meditation: how it had helped him with the clarity of his poetic vision, back in the days when he still published poetry. It’s a real shame for me that he no longer publishes his poems, but his book explained over the course of many years’ spiritual journey why he doesn’t.

I’ve been intrigued too by the poetry of Gillian Allnutt, whose 2013 collection Indwelling I bought in Nottingham a few months ago. Her poems are sometimes so short and gnomic that I find them disconcerting, in a beneficial way. Whilst at Lumb Bank, I took the opportunity to read more of her books and will continue to seek them out. I’ve enjoyed too, a conversation she had with Emily Berry, here, and another with wonderful Geoff Hattersley, here. In the latter, Allnutt compares the gaps in her poems to the holes in her mind which she wrestles with during meditative practice.

Matthew Paul, November news

After a variety of solo and collaborative chapbooks, including his full-length collaborative volume with Gary Barwin, A CEMETERY FOR HOLES, poems by Tom Prime and Gary Barwin (Gordon Hill Press, 2019) [see my review of such here] (with a second volume forthcoming, it would appear), London, Ontario poet, performer and musician Tom Prime’s full-length solo poetry debut is Mouthfuls of Space(Vancouver BC: A Feed Dog Book/Anvil Books, 2021). Mouthfuls of Space is a collection of narrative lyrics that bleed into surrealism, writing of existing on the very edge, from which, had he fallen over completely, there would be no return. As a kind of recovery journal through the lyric, Prime writes through childhood abuse, poverty and trauma. “I am awarded the chance to die / smiling,” he writes, to close the short poem, “Capitalist Mysticism,” “clapping my hands [.]” Prime writes a fog of perception, of homelessness and eventual factory work, and an ongoing process of working through trauma as a way to return to feeling fully human. “I died a few years ago / since then,” he writes, to begin the opening poem, “Working Class,” “I’ve been / smoking cheaper cigarettes // I like to imagine I’m still alive / I can smoke, get drunk / do things living people do // the other ghosts think I’m strange / they busy themselves bothering people [.]” Or, as the last stanza of the poem “Golden Apples,” that reads: “if I loved you, it was / then, your pea-green coat and / fucked-up hair—staring out of nowhere / your cold October hands [.]”

Through the worst of what he describes, there remains an ongoing acknowledgment of beauty, however hallucinatory or surreal, and one that eventually becomes a tether, allowing him the wherewithal to eventually lift above and beyond the worst of these experiences. “we trudge across fields of hornet tails,” he writes, as part of the sequence “Glass Angels,” “planted by hyper-intelligent computer processors— / the moon, a Las Vegas in the sky // glow-worm light synthesized with the reflective / sub-surface of cats’ eyes [.]” Despite the layers and levels of trauma, there is a fearlessness to these poems, and some stunning lines and images, writing his way back into being. “life is a ship that fell / off the earth and now // floats silently in space,” he writes, to close the poem “Addictionary.” Or, towards the end, the poem “Immurement,” that begins: “I’m a large Tupperware container filled with bones [.]” The narrator of these poems has been through hell, but he does not describe hell; one could almost see these poems as a sequence of movements, one foot perpetually placed ahead of another. These are poems that manage that most difficult of possibilities: the ability to continue forward.

rob mclennan, Tom Prime, Mouthfuls of Space

[Matsuki Masutani]: When I was told I had cancer, I panicked. I had no idea what it was like to be a cancer patient. I thought I could avoid cancer by avoiding the word cancer. So I wrote chemo poems to show what it is like to have cancer for people like me. That was a new beginning for my poetry writing. I was seventy-three. 

[Rob Taylor]:  Has Parkinson’s changed what you want to write about in your poems?

MM: After my cancer treatment, I thought I would go back to normal, but Parkinson’s changed all that. I felt it wasn’t fair. Once I’d adjusted to it, I noticed that the world had changed. There is a lot of sickness, suffering and death in the world. This is depressing, but I found it made life somehow more real and sacred. This is the world where angels appear and miracles happen.

Rob Taylor, Salvaging My Old Dream: An interview with Matsuki Masutani

We don’t typically imagine having to perform acts of intimate care for another, yet, when put in that position for someone we most love, we get on with it as if we’d forgotten we couldn’t imagine doing it. There’s a tenderness here, undermined by the pulsing cut where the imagery is more of passion and desire.

“a single window” is a generous opening into a confined world of disability and chronic pain and pain management. Through it, Daniel Sluman demonstrates that this small world is still full of complexity, love, compassion and tenderness as well as sadness and the trials of managing the side-effects of drugs and lack of outside care. He shows that intimacy and love are still possible in the bleakest of moments and the will to survive can renew. “a single window” is not a polemic or a rant. The poems are closely observed and crafted reflecting the isolation and resourcefulness central to the lives of too many disabled people.

Emma Lee, “A Single Window” Daniel Sluman (Nine Arches Press) – book review

So in ‘The Informer’ the narrator (in a Kafkaesque sort of world) has been invited to attend a ceremony to select the ‘finest informer’. There appears to be a confident pride in the way he dresses up for the occasion. In the hall, the candidates (those you expect to be on the ‘inside’) are in fact excluded. It turns out, in a detail suggestive of the elusive nature of truth and the levels on levels of surveillance in such a repressive society, that all the seats are to be taken ‘by the officers responsible for informing on the ceremony’. There is a calculated bewilderment to all this as is also revealed in the oxymoronic title of the eponymous poem, ‘The Kindly Interrogator’. Nothing so simple as a caricatured ‘bad cop’ here:

He’s interested in philosophy and free verse.
He admires Churchill and drinks green tea.
He is delicate and bespectacled.

He employs no violence, demands no confession, simply urging the narrator to ‘write the truth’. The narrator’s reply to this epitomises the uncertainties a whole society may come to labour under. He cries, ‘on my life!’. Is this the ‘I will obey’ of capitulation or the ‘kill me first’ of continued resistance? Is this the repressed and persecuted ‘life’ of what is, of what is the case, or an expression of the inalienable freedom of the inner ‘life’? [Alireza] Abiz is very good at exploring such complex moral quandaries and boldly warns those of us, proud and self-satisfied in our liberal democracies, not to imagine ourselves ‘immune from [the] temptation towards unequivocality’. Fenced round with doubt, with a recognition of the need for continual watchfulness, with a suspicion of the surface of things, perhaps these poems never really take off into the kind of liberated insightfulness or expression of freedom gained that the Introduction suggests a reader might find here. Abiz – the ‘melancholic scribbler of these lines’ – is the voice of a haunted and anxious conscience, a thorn in the side of repressive authorities, as much as a monitory voice for those of us easily tempted to take our eye off the ball of moral and political life nearer home.

Martyn Crucefix, The Kindly Interrogator – the poems of Alireza Abiz

I’ve been intrigued of late by the increased incidence in magazines, and also in workshops, of prosepoems (which is sometimes indistinguishable from flash fiction), and also the business of playing with white space, breaking up lines, making apparently abitrary line-breaks. I’m happy to accept that rules are there to be tested and stretched and broken, if only to see ‘what happens’, though less happy to see an accompanying tendency to view regularity, orderliness, evident craft and form as a bit passé. I guess my ‘rule’ is simply to ask: does it work? I’m spectacularly conscious that at the moment a lot of what I’m trying to write doesn’t work. I didn’t set out to do it, but a lot of what I write has ditched the word play, the allusiveness, the obvious rhythms and the imagery that I used to enjoy. It’s gone more reflective/introspective/personal/conversational but that’s a lot harder to do than the complicated stuff. It always was.

Whatever. I’m a regular reader of Julie Mellor’s poetry blog, and also of Anthony Wilson’s latest Life-saving lines after his welcome return to blogging. I learn a lot from their willingness to share their struggles to find new directions and forms, whether it’s haiku or finding a language that will share the experience of depression. It’s humbling.

John Foggin, Breaking the rules…harder than it looks

The full haiku was going to read:

the neighbour’s pine
wreathed in sky
snowswirl

However, too much text made the photo very busy so I plumped simply for snowswirl (with more than a nod to John Wills’ iconic poem:

rain in gusts
below the deadhead
troutswirl

(in Where the River Goes, edited by Alan Burns, Snapshot Press 2013).

I’m now hoping for a quick thaw – it’s been so cold this weekend!

Julie Mellor, snowswirl

I have been thinking a lot about the poetry of Julia Darling this week. Her work became essential to me a year before I had cancer, when a friend introduced me to her first book of poems Sudden Collapses in Public Places. And when I entered remission, hers was the first poetry I read with my rediscovered concentration.

Lately, I’ve been rereading her posthumously published collected poems Indelible, Miraculous, which is as accurate a title of self-description as I have come across. As the Arc Publications website says, her later poems are about her experience of breast cancer but are not morbid and not only aimed at women. If you do not know her work, it’s time you did.

In particular I’ve been thinking of a line towards the end of that collection’s title poem. It’s a poem of ‘early morning’ virgin spaces: a ‘cold’ pane of glass; an ‘untouched’ patch of grass; a ‘deep pool of silver water’; a beach swept clean after a storm, ready for new footprints. The poem is one of direct address, to the ‘indelible, miraculous’ friend of the title. While never less than affirming of the Psalmist’s knowledge that ‘joy comes with the morning’, it is also a poem of sending out, of encouragement to keep living, even though that will mean ‘danc[ing] alone’.

The poem is able to assert that ‘we all matter’ and ‘we are all/ indelible, miraculous’ because it has successfully persuaded us, via its gorgeous language, of the never-ending tension between celebration and lament. This is what I go to poetry for: an awareness that affirms life in all of its complexity.

Anthony Wilson, We all matter

One of the beauties of my pandemic-long poetry practice has been finding a poem by a different poet each week to use as a model—sometimes more of a jumping-off point—for my own work. This week it’s a poem by Gregory Pardlo who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for his book, Digest. After reading this NYTimes piece, and having a look at him at Poetry Foundation—“The Pulitzer judges cited Pardlo’s ‘clear-voiced poems that bring readers the news from 21st Century America, rich with thought, ideas and histories public and private’”—I’d like to read more. […]

I admit that I’m struggling with what I’ll write in response to this assignment. I mean, how do you follow, “I was born in minutes in a roadside skillet,” or “I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry”? How about “I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves”?

But I’m about to open my notebook and see what will happen.

Bethany Reid, Written by Himself

In some ways, spending a Thanksgiving where sickness and death keep intruding is a potent reminder to be grateful for the time we are given and to keep trying to make the most of it.  Small children do that too, and I confess that I prefer the small child to deliver the message that time is fleeting.

As I’m writing, I’m thinking of other messages that came our way during the day.  I’m thinking of Shanghai Rummy, and the message that even if you’re winning or losing, one decisive round can change the outcome; it’s a hopeful message or a sobering one, depending on which hand you held.  I’m thinking of the minimalist fire pit my spouse made and the fire that refused to catch flame.  I’m thinking of the bird that baked for hours but the juices still didn’t run clear at meal time; however, fifteen more minutes at higher heat made for a cooked turkey that was still tender. 

I suspect that every day is full of these kinds of reminders and metaphors, if only we had the eyes to see.  When people wonder why I continue to write long blog posts, that’s one reason, that it helps me to pay attention.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Important Reminders from a Stranger Thanksgiving

My old dog whimpers when we come in the door on Friday after two nights gone. She’s too fragile to travel now, and she stayed home with my son, who spent the holiday with his dad and his siblings who have a different mother. I have to hold her for a good long time before her body stops trembling. I wonder what she felt while I was gone, if she wondered if I’d return. I hope not.

That night we watch Ted Lasso who says, about parents, that he has learned to love them for what they are and forgive them for what they’re not, and I wonder how things might be if more of us could do that about all kinds of things. I wonder if we could, or should. (I wonder if my children will do that for me.)

Maybe that’s an idea that makes it easier for those with relative comfort to remain comfortable.

Maybe not.

I don’t know.

My son sits down on the couch next to me, to check in with his old dog who isn’t leaving my side. I’m so grateful he was able to care for her while I was gone. I’m so grateful he’s here.

I think about the year he was in second grade, when, the week before Thanksgiving, I read him a story about Natives and Pilgrims and the origins of the holiday, and he told me it made him sad, that he didn’t feel good about the holiday. As his nose touches our old girl who now, like a baby, wakes mostly just to eat and poop, I remember all the versions of boy and dog each of them has been, and I want the moment to last forever, even as I know that all I might hope to hold onto is an image of it, and that the wanting has turned the moment to memory before it is even over.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Why I celebrate holidays I no longer believe in

Speaking of thanks, Jia and I were also extremely grateful for this amazing review of Gravity & Spectacle from Shannon Wolf at the Sundress Blog:

“There is something both cheeky and somber about Baker and Orion’s united perspective. 

 Orion’s poems are as close to punk rock as we can get in 2021.” 

You can read the full review at https://sundressblog.com/2021/02/08/sundress-reads-gravity-spectacle-by-shawnte-orion-and-jia-oak-baker/

Wolf mentions that a few of the poems reference legendary skateboarder Rodney Mullen, so here is some of that backstory: The central art piece in all of Jia’s photographs was made by artist JJ Horner. Since JJ co-founded the skate company Pyramid Country. We wanted to make sure to pay some homage to those roots, through our photos and poems. So we made a few trips to the skatepark next to Cowtown Skateboards.

Since Rodney Mullen is brilliant on a skateboard and in conversation, I tried to cut-up some fragments of language and phrasesfrom his interviews and biography “The Mutt: How to Skateboard and Not Kill Yourself” and shape them into new out-of-context found poems… the same way skateboarders use his techniques as building blocks for new tricks.

Shawnte Orion, Thankful for this Book Review from Sundress and some Rodney Mullen clips

Much to my delight, the video I made with Tasos Sagris and Whodoes, The Life We Live Is Not Life Itself won the Avant-Garde prize for the top film in Fotogenia 3 international festival of video poetry and divergent narratives, held in Mexico City 24-27 over November 2021. The whole festival was a magnificent feast of diverse forms and voices. The finalist list included some of the best videos I’ve ever seen. So to come out on top is incredibly humbling. Massive thanks to Tasos Sagris and Whodoes for entrusting me with their fantastic words and music and the Institute for Experimental Arts in Athens for supporting the project.

The video was a major technical challenge that developed out of the collaborative nature of the work. Capturing the feeling of Tasos’ poem and the mood of Whodoes’ music required careful scripting. Nearly all of the footage was taken specifically for this project. An important part of the video includes a series of animated faces that were derived from a library of source images generated by artificial intelligence. Nearly every scene is composited from multiple sources – with a few exceptions, none of the scenes exists at they look here in real life. The irony is that the real people, observed going about their business, often appear twice in the same scene, side by side, or following themselves. The AI generated faces watch on from window and picture frames. Is this the life we live? Are these the people we meet again and again? Who can decide between the imaginary and the real as we traverse a world full of conflicting desires, politics, dreams?

Ian Gibbins, The Life We Live Is Not Life Itself wins Festival Fotogenia 3!

We took the endless road,
no signs, no map, not a single soul.
The winter around us
grinding his teeth to the unlucky ones,
the ones with no caravan.

Magda Kapa, Caravan

We had a mild autumn that seemed to stretch longer than usual. Today, a dusting of snow and temperatures not much above freezing, gray sky, a meadow in beige-brown hues and the trees mostly leafless. According to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, the next few weeks are 小雪 xiǎoxuě, or “minor snow;” it is already winter. The jiéqì seasons follow the agriculture of northern China’s plains, and it’s striking to me how closely they resemble the agricultural seasons here in eastern Pennsylvania.

Lately, I feel the seasonal transitions physically. My body responds to the changing weather–not always a good thing, but not necessarily a bad thing, either. It connects me with the environment, reminds me of my necessary relationship with the world and its many beings and aspects: seasons, weather, water, plants, insects, bacteria, trees, other humans…

More than ever, I recognize the value in those relationships and treasure how varied they are. And I am just another part of the things I love and experience.

Ann E. Michael, Minor snow

we need witnesses for our being
for our enduring
not for the parts we share but
for what we speak with the moon at
two in the morning
for what has broken and healed and
broken and healed
scar tissue plump with unwritten stories
for the falling, for the failing,
for the days we built ourselves
calloused hands shoring up our souls
an old sweater stuffed into the hollow
left by a missing brick
#RIP my friend

Rajani Radhakrishnan, #RIP – my friend

At the intersection of Bull and Rutledge,
a woman stepped off the curb
on her way to the river.
At the intersection of Franklin and Center hill,
the sirens met the soldiers.
At the intersection of Laurel and Eastern,
I fell in love with geography.

At the intersection of sense and syntax,
I visit the house of silence.
Where paradox crosses paraphrase,
I write.

Anne Higgins, First Boy I Loved

In the middle of all of this I went in for my now standard one day a week in the office with a view to bringing home some of the stuff I’ve accumulated over years. Our floor is being closed down as work wind down our occupancy of our current building, and so I looked a bit like I’d been made redundant as I lugged a cardboard box of rangham* home.

The box mostly contained work-related books (Statistics for Dummies, etc), pens, mugs and the like. But I also remembered to rescue the poem that I had pinned to the divider.

Contingencies – Aidan Coleman

Your
sentiment

tangles
with data

where
analysts

covering
bases

uncover
fresh

affronts
A well

rounded
baby

wakes
assuming

parents

I don’t know or remember how I first found this poem, but it fits perfectly with my day job – where sentiment tangles with data. I know nothing about Aidan Coleman, but I now discover he has a wikipedia page that I’m sure wasn’t there when I first found this poem (about 5 years ago, I think). It looks like I shall be working out how to buy books in Australia.

* I’m not sure I’ve spelled this right, but it’s a word my wife taught me that means detritus and accumulated dreck.

Mat Riches, Why MBA…

Over my own life, writing these journals (especially the blog) has changed and helped me, and the bonus is that through the blog, I’ve met you. For although I value and crave solitude and contemplation, I’m not a hermit by nature, but someone who needs and loves other people, and wants to talk, interact, and share. I also have a degree of healthy skepticism about my own thoughts; it’s through reading and conversation and argument, as well as reflection, that we’re able to sharpen our ideas and come to a greater understanding of what it means to be human, and also how to be a human in this ever-more-complicated world.

Where to find that balance and space is a question for all of us to ask, and the answers will differ. I do see that, for me, a withdrawal has been necessary, partly because too much noise and too many words dissipate my reserves of creative energy and positive thought, and partly because the companies that control those spaces have become increasingly predatory and toxic; I can’t continue to participate and hold onto my integrity. That means accepting less interaction in a quantitative sense, but nurturing and being grateful for higher-quality interaction here, or in letters, calls, or in person.

But there’s more to it than that. To be honest, this period of time has been one of the hardest in my entire life. I was OK for the first year, and then things started to feel much more difficult — though they are now feeling less so. At times I’ve felt despair about both the present and the future, as have most of us — but I haven’t wanted to write about that here, where I know people often come to feel a little better, or to see something beautiful, or to be encouraged. And also, in real life, I’ve been responsible for other people and groups, and that has taken precedence. I simply haven’t had much creative time or energy, or anything extra to give. Is that an apology? Yes…but it’s also a statement about the reality in which many of us have been living. Things changed for almost all of us, and they may not be going back to the way they were. Loss, grief, letting go, and acceptance are all part of that, even as the world seems hell-bent on returning to “normalcy”.

Looking back ten years into that old computer was instructive, as I consider the next decade. For me, it comes down to this: if I’m fortunate enough to still be here, ten unpredictable years from now, I don’t want to look back and realize I wasted whatever precious time I had, either for myself, or for the people and purposes that go beyond me and give life meaning — of which this blog and its readers have been one. That means making decisions, setting clear priorities, and cleaning out my spaces so that there is room, both figuratively and literally, to grow and change, and — one hopes — to have something to say.

Beth Adams, Looking Back at Ten Years Ago, and Facing Forward

E. is putting in a new ventilation system in the house, which means he has taken down some of my bookshelves in the little library. Books are piled on my desk. The little rug is folded and laid on my chair. And the floor is littered with power tools and bits of shiny who-knows-what.

And it has been an excuse for me not to write in the mornings.

Now I find we are well-past the midpoint of November and my mind is months behind in terms of getting myself together. Leonard is still struggling with the fact that E. and I are back at work most days. He’s still having accidents if we leave the house in the evening, or – weirdly – when I am gone for days and then return. He’s taken to pinning me down on the couch and refusing to let me even look up.

I get it.

I pull the thunder-shirt tight across his belly. Then I wrap myself in a huge sweater and sit down in the office to try to write. The walls are white, not the deep green of my library. I hear the traffic, not the blackbirds. And I tell myself that this is okay. I tell myself to take a deep breath. I inhale the damp from the rosemary oil. What are the morning requirements, really?

Ren Powell, Clinging to The Good Life

But despite all this bad news and dismal cold wet weather, I feel…cautiously optimistic about next year. It is a fact that most viruses evolve towards becoming more transmissible and less deadly.  Pfizer has an anti-viral pill I’m feeling positive about with good data, even though the FDA hasn’t approved it YET. (Faster, FDA!) Scientists are continuing to figure out what works and what doesn’t with this coronavirus thing. It has been two years since I first read headlines about China putting a doctor in prison for talking about a strange new virus (and I wrote the poem “Calamity.”) Vaccine makers are already looking at updating the vaccines.

We’re spending the holidays in a pretty isolated manner again this year, which is not ideal. I have an inkling, however, of hope, of light at the end of the tunnel. I have a new book, Fireproof, coming out with Alternating Current Press after my birthday in 2022, which will be almost five years exactly since the release of Field Guide to the End of the World. I know in a poet’s life a new book is a big deal, but especially during the pandemic, not a big deal to the larger world, but still, I feel a little excitement. I don’t know if my readings will be in person or on the dreaded (but now normal) Zoom. Will I be able to celebrate with friends and family in person in late spring? I don’t know if the “roaring twenties” of our century will ever actually roar. But I hope so.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Holiday Weekend, Sign Up for a Speculative Poetry Class, Interview with Jason Mott at The Rumpus, New Poem in Los Angeles Review, Pushcart Nomination at Fairy Tale Review, and Feeling Hopeful Despite

Some magic in the landscape has put me under a spell. I see your face on the tip of a bare, winter tree branch; an oak tree that is full of faces, and every one is different! There is a magic in this valley that captures me. The midwinter Tule fog on the marshes and the rivers is an old friend come to call. We pour the tea and sip together, friends under the same spell. Yes, I love the valley, and I love the cool winters that we have here, and I have seen many of them.

James Lee Jobe, magic in this valley

the man
with a book on his face
has rich dreams

Jim Young [no title]

I will take all the pages from my books and build trees—

abundant trees, robust trees, indomitable trees.

No winds can move these trees because they’ve been made mightier by Corso, Vollmann, and Joyce Carol Oates.

When birds build nests in these trees their young will be well nourished by Neruda, Audre Lorde, and Langston Hughes.

And when axemen try chopping down these trees, they’ll be obliterated by Burroughs, Bukowski, and Zora Neale Hurston

before they can even swing their axes and yell:

“Timber!”

Rich Ferguson, These Trees

Allen Ginsberg into
Charlie Parker into
snow against the windshield

Jason Crane, haiku: 26 November 2021

Three books that are really hitting the spot for me of late are The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters by Priya Parker, The Lightmaker’s Manifesto by Karen Walrond, and a book I’ve mentioned several times before here on TwB, On Art and Mindfulness by Enrique Martinez Celaya. What they all have in common is that they question the way we always do things and ask us to re-imagine our practices, whether in life, art, or work (and don’t those three things often overlap anyway?).

In a recent conversation with Kerry Clare about my own book, Everything Affects Everyone, we talk about something I’ve often said here which is, what happens when we consider the opposite? It’s a bit of a mantra I have for myself: “Consider the opposite.” It’s a phrase that helps me get out of the mud sometimes, and has helped me conceive of and form a lot of my writing. These three books have me looking at things from a fresh angle.

Shawna Lemay, On Gathering, Making Light, and, On Doubting Your Integrity — 3 Books to Light the Way

Unbearable things: how a voice can speak

into your ear about where its mind has gone,

how its body was left behind. How sunlight

passes through a prism and breaks.

And still we call it beautiful.

Luisa A. Igloria, Prism

Walking through Paris in the (imagined) aftermath of a pandemic, I had the uncanny feelings of déjà vu, that things had disappeared and been replaced, leaving behind a residue of scented melancholy.  The gap between then and now ignited a play of imagination, of desire.  I had the sense that a great poet had walked this terrain before….voilà Baudelaire!

Baudelaire, delicate but so durably modern, was a visionary of things shadowy, emotionally complex and fugitive, errant.  He was a vagabond in the city he inhabited, an internal exile as he moved roughly every two years due to poor finances. An exhibition, “Baudelaire, la Modernité Mélancolique” at Bibliothèque Nationale lists some 20 of his addresses all over the city.  More trenchant, he retained memory of Paris as it was cut asunder by Baron Haussmann and remade for a new world.  The poet was brilliant at giving presence to things absent.  He created images that were less precise rendering than color of a memory. 

Baudelaire sang.  One of the youthful letters in the show, he complained to his mother that erased his primacy in favor of her new husband.  The calligraphy of “à moi, à moi” — what about me! — soars with doubled underlining and accents graves that fly like the crescendo of musical notations.  The emotion is real, the emotion is all.  

Jill Pearlman, Baudelaire Walks Pandemic Paris

A shed, far back in the wood, with doorhandle hardware as elegant as utilitarian New England always is, and extra-braced with a stick as New England sheds must be: inside, water. Risen above the stones of the stone well walls. Deep, dark, green; coolness rising with that cleanest scent of what sustains us most essentially.

The color here—especially now, in late November, when color is merging into itself to become one single ochre, then russet, then brown, then greyish sludge—does something to me. The waters rushing belowground, too.

I am steeply affected by reminder of thriving land, wild and alive, and what it is to be rooted in it, making art. By reminder of color palettes unlikely and yet truer than reality, more the thing than the thing itself: a soul rendering of what it feels like, that light, that tree, that slant of earth, that red, that death, that falling ecstasy.

JJS, paint, water, well

won’t we sleep every night of our death :: one stone away from the moon

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 45

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, though I tried to avoid finding common themes, they found me nonetheless—a recurring focus on time, several posts on Covid poetry, and a lot of wrestling with writerly dilemmas such as “Why write?” and “How do we survive?”


I have so much to say on days I can’t make time to sit here in front of the computer. So much to say while I’m running on the beach or sitting on the train. All these thoughts pressing to be sorted and seen. And most days if I can’t catch them, sort them, form them and pin them down in a way that later will seem both true and strange, I worry that I will never have really existed. I will have let myself slip through my own fingers. Wasted time.

Ren Powell, Following a Lead

What is it that peeps from the book at the shelf?
A slip of the sky to mark the page: a day in early
November, winter dormant between sepia covers.

Uma Gowrishankar, A Window

Reader, I have contracted it. All for a few luscious days away on my birthday, not a moment of which I regret. We went to Bristol on the train, revisited Nick’s old university haunts, explored the Georgian terraces and the harbourside, had a lovely day in Bath, ate and drank well. We’re now two days off finishing our ten-day quarantine. We’re both feeling tons better than this time last week, even the sense of smell is gradually creeping back (starting with smells I’m not keen on, like coffee, maddeningly!)

Someone on Twitter commented that ten days enforced isolation gives you all the time in the world to write – but frankly I haven’t really felt like it. I have done some reading and research in preparation for the forthcoming collection. At the moment the difference between a planning a pamphlet and planning/producing a full collection feels like the proverbial yawning chasm. I can do this! And yet I keep printing off my notes, usually with headings that might motivate me, like ‘Why I’m interested in writing about X’, and ‘Key themes and identifying the gaps’, then staring at them with nothing to add. Meanwhile all the new poems sit there looking up at me like baleful dogs desperate for a walk. I try to tell myself they have promise, even though they seem tired or lacking in originality. And then I go back to reading, avoiding Twitter or wondering if I need to just do a bit of yoga.

Robin Houghton, Notes from the sick bay

[Rob Taylor]: Writers seemed to divide into two camps during the first year of COVID-19. One group wrote prodigiously while the other wrote little or nothing. You’re certainly in the former group, writing all these new poems (especially, of course, your thirteen-part crown sonnet, “Corona”). What drew you to writing about COVID-19 head-on and with such energy? 

[Barbara Nickel]: The “Corona” sequence was the main work I completed during the first part of the pandemic. With the exception of four other poems written in 2020, most of the book had been written years before.

Maybe I was poetically prepared for the series when COVID-19 came along because I’d already written a sonnet corona for Domain; the “room” sonnets you’ve mentioned formed a sort of circular foundation to my book about the reach of my childhood home. Like so many households across the planet at the start of the pandemic, ours was stressful and chaotic. Suddenly everyone was home at the same time and space felt limited. Computers (including mine) were in high demand. I was constantly washing my hands and reading the news and stressing about it.

The idea of writing a “corona for the Corona” had been simmering for a little while. Looking at images of the spherical virus with its spiky crown, I knew that these physical and poetic shapes would need to merge; how couldn’t they? Then late one night I couldn’t sleep for desperately itchy hands (from all that washing), and I decided enough is enough, this project needs to begin.

Rob Taylor, That Prism of Perspectives: An Interview with Barbara Nickel

Rather than worry about all the inevitable books about the pandemic, it might be worth thinking about the books which won’t be written, because nothing else is on people’s mind, or because what they had been going to write doesn’t make sense to them any more, or even because their whole life has changed and writing doesn’t seem a priority right now.

To put things very crudely, again, we are good at remembering wars, but perhaps less good at remembering their aftermaths. We see the casualties, but we don’t always see the long-term impact on the people left behind. I don’t think Britain likes to see itself as a war-torn nation: war is something that happens only to soldiers, and only in other places.

I don’t think we like to see literature as circumstantial, either. It is more gratifying to talk of stories or poems as things which change lives, rather than something made by them: it gives both the writer and the reader more freedom. Think of all the Covid books implies a kind of (understandable) despair that the pandemic ever happened. It did. But we can still chose how to respond.

Jeremy Wikeley, What’s next?

I find myself captivated by Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm: Poems and Essays (New York NY: Astra House Publishing, 2021) by Chinese poet Yu Xiuhua, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. Born with cerebral palsy in 1976 in Hengdian village, Hubei Province, China, Yu Xiuhua was, as the book copy offers, “Unable to attend college, travel, or work the land with her parents, she remained home. In defiance of the stigma attached to her disability, her status as a divorced single mother, and as a peasant in rural China, Yu found her voice in poetry.” The collection opens with the now-infamous poem “Crossing Half of China to Fuck You,” a poem that became an “online sensation” in 2014, and thus launched Yu’s career as a published writer. “Fucking you and being fucked by you are quite the same,” the poem begins, “no more / than the force of two colliding bodies, a flower coaxed into blossom [.]” I’m fascinated, as well, by how this book is structured, offering, after the opening poem, essays by the author as section-openers, which allow the possibility for more of the author’s own thinking around history, language, morality, suffering, disability, politics and poetry, and of exploring the possibilities therein. I don’t know if this was structured by the poet herself or her editor, but it allows for a collection built as a singular unit, incorporating the essays in conversation with the poems; as an essential part of the text, instead of the usual offering of including them at the end, almost as afterthought.

Set as eight essays, six of which open sections of poems composed as abstracts through direct statement, as the author writes her own way into being. “Yes, it can’t stand on its own,” she writes, to open the poem “Dust,” “so it leans west in the wind [.]” There is a meditative and even wistful clarity through these poems, as well as a self-deprecating humour, through a poet who writes of the erotic, of love and the land, and of her immediate and imagined landscapes. She writes with a clarity and a humility, offering her meditations in line with the nature poets, attentive to the movements and shifts of the world around her. There is something quite compelling in the way Yu writes, through Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s attentive translation, against such forces that would erase her voice, whether through her disability, her poverty, her gender or as a divorced, single mother. Through these poems and essays, she claims her own space in the world with an openness that refuses to be contained, while remaining a humble and quietly attentive observer, even of her own life, thoughts and experiences. As she writes to close the essay “I Live to Reject Lofty Words”: “I am desperately in love with this inexplicable and obscure life. I love its conceit, and the haze that surfaces at low points in my life. I am grateful for being well and alive, and all because of my lowly existence.”

rob mclennan, Yu Xiuhua, Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm: Poems and Essays, trans. Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Loneliness
and its blessings
so fill my hut
I can barely
move around,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (58)

I’m not going to lie: this has been a tough week. The weather has been a series of emergency alerts: wind storms that knock out power, rain that brings flooding and mudslides. Absolutely no outdoor time for me this week, even on my deck or to get mail. My computer (six months old, too expensive) is on the fritz and looks like it needs replacing already. I’m worried about my parents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, many of whom had health crises this week: falls, hospital trips, illnesses, house problems. The news isn’t so cheery these days either. Three snow leopards at a Nebraska zoo died of covid. Damn it covid, stay away from our snow leopards! A GOP school district in Kansas banned books by Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Alice Walter, among others. Book burnings next? Yikes.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Gloom: Too Many Storms and Rejections

Today the skies are heavy. Rains come and go, as do high winds. I suspect the autumn leaves we marveled at yesterday are on the ground now, beginning their journey toward becoming mulch. Challah dough is rising, soon to be shaped into a spiraling six-pointed sun or Jewish star.

I wonder whether we will look back on these years as the end of something, or the end of many things. The end of when we could have stopped the global warming juggernaut, the end of the myth that “red” and “blue” America actually understand each other — or even want to try.

I think about climate grief and rising authoritarianism and mistrust. I’m so ready for Shabbat, for 25 hours of setting worries aside. All I can do is trust that when I make havdalah, I’ll be ready to pick up the work again. That the fallen leaves will sustain growth I can’t yet know.

Rachel Barenblat, Leaves

Tell them that the winter is here.
If they want to visit,
they must wear their thick skin,
forget about the virtues of the sea,
and wait until the fog clears
for the surprised birds to sing.
Tell them we are here.

Magda Kapa, Windows

As we consider Climate Crisis and other world issues, such as Covid-19, we become acutely aware that it is in many senses only now that we have the opportunity to make things change. The past has happened. Tomorrow is uncharted territory.

Caroline Gill, Thoughts on conferences, COP26 … and birds

I have been thinking a lot this week about a line from Tomas Tranströmer’s masterpiece, ‘Alone’. (I have also blogged about it here.) Driving alone at night, the speaker’s car spins out across the ice and into the path of oncoming traffic, with its ‘huge lights’:

They shone on me while I pulled at the wheel
in a transparent terror that floated like egg white.
The seconds grew – there was space in them –
they grew as big as hospital buildings.

Just as everything slows down and sound goes missing from the action, as in a film, ‘something caught: a helping grain of sand/ a wonderful gust of wind’, and the car breaks free.

I have been trying to practice gratitude this week for the helping grains of sand in my life: the kindness of a colleague talking me down from the tree when I fail to understand the new digital platform we have started using; the kindness of a poetry editor friend for helping me make my work half-way presentable; another poetry friend getting in touch with an encouraging email; an old school friend writing to update me with his news; a meal with friends; Simon Parke’s blog; a blogger from the other side of the world writing to say hi; the colleague who listens to and sees me; The Joy of Small Things, by Hannah Jane Parkinson.

There are other perhaps more famous grains of sand, William Blake’s or Wislawa Szymborska’s for instance, but the helping kind is what I am reaching for this week, behind the wheel or not.

Anthony Wilson, A helping grain of sand

A book with a thousand minds. Counting backwards through a thousand dreams. Why are you crying? I don’t want to tell you. You won’t have me around if I show you the teeth of the dog. A thousand dogs, hermanas y hermanos, and each dog has a thousand teeth. Growling and howling. A poem with a thousand hard lines. The most cruel blows on the flesh of the most quiet child. Why are you running? I have to run. Something is after me. Music that brings death. Not joy. Death. The face of the priest that melts into the face of the devil. Do you pray? God isn’t watching the sin as it happens. Just after. When it is far too late. We all have free will. Then what do you do? I run, I cry. The dreams are sometimes ugly, and I record them all in this book.

James Lee Jobe, a thousand minds

My editor helped me locate and rewrite the crisis moment Susan Forest describes. At the outset of Unbecoming, the main character, Cyn, refuses to recognize her own strength, magical and otherwise. And when you don’t admit the power you have, others get harmed in ways you could have mitigated, or maybe even headed off, if you had your wits about you. Cyn does come to terms with power and its consequences by the end, but the choices she makes about how to use her magic are problematic: some good, for sure, but some ethically questionable, to put it mildly. The problem she faces lies in the nature of magic–by definition, power is inequity, right? The MOST ethical thing is to give up your magic/ privilege, to redistribute it, but that’s ALSO hard, for a million different reasons. In short, I’m sympathetic to Cyn, but I don’t entirely like her.

A book of poems creates characters, too, some of whom are strong or strongly-written. Eric Tran visited campus this week, and while his poems seem intensely autobiographical, he emphasized their fictionality, how many of them rely on invention rather than personal history. One of my favorite’s of his is “I Tell My Mother About My Depression” (scroll down at the link and you’ll find it), and, interestingly, that was the one he chose as an example of writing in persona–not what I would have expected. Yet all poems fictionalize, even when they hew closely to fact. How you experience your life, after all, changes all the time; the you who writes the poem won’t exist in the same exact way tomorrow. I often feel distant from and critical of earlier poetic selves. Some of the poems in my most recent collection, The State She’s In, like “The South,” involve a version of me looking back at an earlier mindset and telling Former Lesley off.

Lesley Wheeler, Writing/ being a “strong female character”

Time, you beckon. Before
you were a proliferation of billboards;
double-armed streetlights rising
                        from a continuous median,
evenly spaced parade of réverbères
going down a crowded avenue.
Checkerboards of light fell
                        out of buildings where, in each
square someone was working
or doing sums at a table, someone
was reading a book or ironing
                        a shirt, washing potatoes
in a colander, or singing
a child to bed. Today, I watched
a neighbor load bag after bag
                        into a van, and still
there was more—a lifetime’s
accumulation of things.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with a Line from Neruda

Sometimes that heady frenzy is the point, and it’s enough just as it is. Maybe you’ll walk away from it, grateful for some thing it helped you see or know or remember. Maybe it was just an itch you needed to scratch. Maybe it was nothing, and you can see that and it’s fine, just fine. It was what it is. You go back to walking the dog and buying groceries and picking up library books, perhaps more primed to notice the world’s glances that come your way, that spark that could turn into a real poem.

Sometimes, though, you know it’s the beginning of something more than words scrawled through some feeling’s heat. It’s something you could sustain, that could sustain you. So you turn toward it and hold on.

Rita Ott Ramstad, How to write a poem

I am starting to write again, after losing our unborn son Shepherd a few months ago. It has been slow going–a few minutes here and there, a long, very long, time spent on a single poem. Writing has always been a helpful way for me to process and take note of my emotions, to process what happened, to understand it. But I have found myself avoiding it for a few months, not ready to get back into it again. I didn’t actually–it came back to me in the waiting room for a follow up appointment. There have been so many times I have said, Well, now is the time I will stop writing, but it does always come back.

Renee Emerson, writing while grieving

The birds gossip to the breeze.

The breeze buzzes to the trees.

Tree roots chitchat to the earth.

Earth’s deep dirt talks to coffins.

Coffins, in their quiet way, discourse with the great unknown.

And well before we’re born, the great unknown whispers into our seed of an ear.

Sing a song for the living, it tells us. Sing a song for the dead.

Rich Ferguson, Hum

My grandma, Ethel, who went deaf, who sat
with her head in the swelling horn
of the wind-up gramophone.

Listened to the scratchy tinnitus
of brittle shellac records until
they hissed like the sea on a shingly shore.

Who drowned herself, a poor Ophelia,
in the beck that ran hot from dyehouses,
than ran blue and plum and crimson red.

John Foggin, Armistice Day

Veterans Day 2021, the second year of a pandemic, when I can feel case numbers ticking up, as surely we all knew they would once colder weather arrived and people went indoors to breathe on each other.  I think about the forces that shape society:  disease and war and random terrorism that catapults a culture onto a different trajectory.

Before Veterans Day was Veterans Day it was Armistice Day which celebrated World War I, the war to end all wars.  Except it didn’t.  Research the amount of death in World War II and try to process that many humans gone in just a few years.

Will we some day say the same thing about these pandemic years?  Which is the more efficient killing machine, war or disease?  They so often go hand in hand, so it’s hard for me to know.  And I know it depends on the war or the disease.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Veterans Day in the Second Year of a Global Pandemic

Your ceramic bird fell and shattered like our dreams of a long, shared life. I didn’t mean to drop it – my fingers went numb. As numb as I’ve felt since you announced you were leaving. You opened the bedroom door and I quickly shoved a few pieces under the sideboard, fluttering wings beating in my chest. I am exhausted after hours of my tears and your tantrums, your shrill recriminations keening through the house. I am bombarded yet I stand here clutching a ceramic shard in my palm. As you brush past, I grab your arm and raise mine. A sharp blue feather flies to your heart.

Charlotte Hamrick, Clipped Wings

If you’re a writer, artist, musician or other creative, how do you get noticed? Is it enough to be good? How will people find you?

One way that’s become popular in the age of the Internet is to send out bits and pieces of your creative process, sharing the project as you work on it. This approach claims to be an alternative to the more direct forms of self-promotion, and even has the potential to help the viewer, or reader, or listener with their own artistic projects. (Austin Kleon wrote a delightful book about it called Show Your Work.)

With this method, you give others access to your process with the aim of building a following of fans who are just dying for the next sketch, chord, or draft.

I used to think this was completely fine, even innovative, but lately I’ve changed my mind.

This sharing/showing, meant to create a group or fan base, is still a lonely and energy-draining endeavor. You, the creative person, must constantly curate what you’ll share with the world, which not only adds to your workload, it drains your creative energy. It obliges you to explain and answer questions about what you shared. It gives the impression that you’re available for discussions about what you’ve shared, especially if you’re posting about your process on social media.

Not only is it harmful to you, the creative person, in terms of time and concentration, to share these tidbits with others, it might even be harmful to those who come across your shares.

Erica Goss, Should You Show Your Work?

falling
into a bed of emojis 
forty winks 😉

Jim Young [no title]

In my efforts to rekindle my enthusiasm for just about everything in life, I often find myself sometimes thinking about 2001.  I was 27 and had been living back in the city for a year. Why this year as opposed to others?   Why then and not, say 2002? Or 2003? When things really began to happen in terms of publishing and doing readings, and starting my MFA studies?  2001 was sort of this strange calm before the storm, a period of time when I was just discovering online publications and starting one of my own.  A time when I was creating my very first websites and learning about design while working the night shift at the circ desk.  A time when, having no internet at home, I was still mostly offline much of my life otherwise. At home, I’d read and journal and write late into the night. I still drafted every poem by hand on yellow legal pads or spiral steno notebooks then typed them into my e-mail at work. 

It was also the first rush of excitement to be connecting with people through poems.  Those online publications–the really nice fan letters that sometimes appeared in my inbox. Every online journal publication would find me printing out the pages and tucking them carefully between plastic sheets in a binder for safekeeping (a practice I eventually stopped.) I didn’t start a blog til 2003, so my journaling happened in more private spaces. Since we were years before even MySpace, most of my interactions with writers happened on discussion boards and listservs. Later on blogs.  

It feels a little more pure though, since it was very much a space unpolluted by some of things  that later muddied my waters. Mostly, I thrived on writing and sharing.  On finding readers and placing poems in journals. I’m not sure I would have persevered or written half as much as I did in the vacuum of print journal culture, which seemed to put so much distance between writer and editor, and even more between writer and reader.

Kristy Bowen, twenty year itch | 2001

Thanks to the Madwomen in the Attic (out of Pittsburgh), I recently had the opportunity to hear Denise Duhamel read from Second Story (her newest collection) and to participate in a craft talk/Q&A with her. As a result, I took a walk down memory lane to 2009 when I was still a baby poet attending a generative workshop Duhamel led through Louder Arts in New York City.

The hope I tended back then about who I may become as a writer and what I may accomplish is a sure cousin to the self I pictured in Tucson and BFF to the writer who opened this blog post with a question about why we keep writing.

I haven’t achieved half of what I imagined back in 2009, and that’s ok. I still hold a flame for that earnest girl. The self I love now is the self who creates for its own sake. I still want to publish book after book after book, but for me, in this dreary world, it’s enough to make things new — to discover new selves and new worlds in which she may live. The self I’m constantly chasing is intoxicated by wonder and tension, by words and bodies, by questions and heat. That self can’t contain curiosity and passion. They spill onto the page.

Like you were being saved.

Carolee Bennett, why do you keep writing?

Raindark woods and the step of deer. Coyote arias. There has to be a way forwards but I can’t find it: all I know to do is tell the truth, if I can find that. It sits, I guess, at the center always, but sometimes even Cassandra can’t read, even peregrine can’t see, even jaguar can’t feel: I’m scoured, food makes me sick, I cannot swim or smile, there is no thirst, no light. I ask for compassion, not instruction: just let me fail to be a superhero for a minute, I say. Trauma stacked so deep I can’t see over the boxes full, piled too high and I’m stuck in the center. Hopeless, I scour: am extracted, everything used, for no hope of reciprocity. Somehow stacked so deep I don’t care anymore: I try to, I say it’s wrong, state what is right, but I need the paychecks. After they strip me, I expect to be discarded now. Everywhere I look I’m a temp. Clouds of anger form, dissipate rapidly into grief again, cirrus wisps over yellow November moon. There must be a way but I do not know what it is. There isn’t even silence. Just a cold snap, bone and branch fallen underfoot.

JJS, pit

We sat in her apartment in the assisted-living wing and arranged the flowers I’d brought. Then we spent 20 minutes in a kind of conversation, to which I’ve become accustomed, during which she tries to convey information about something she needs to have done. In this case, after much of the usual (really, rather humorous at times) confusion, I deciphered that she wanted some sweaters taken to the dry cleaner.

Such minutia. And yet, so difficult to get across, across that divide of language and cognition. The incredible concentration and effort it takes her just to dial a phone number to call her ailing sister. To tell the nurse aide that she needs more yogurt. Anything.

Then she surprised me. She pointed to my forehead and then to her own. “This,” she said. “Is wrong. For you. What?”

Was she reading a crease in my brow? I told her I had not been feeling great. She wanted to know, so I told her details, the way one tells one’s mother. Even though I am never sure quite how much gets through.

“Lie down. Take off the peaks.” By which she meant shoes. Why not comply? We both took off our shoes and spent the visit relaxing. We even indulged in a glass of wine because she loves to offer wine to her guests. Never mind it was 11 am. My mother has lost that rigid cognitive sense of time that the rest of us spend our lives obsessing over. There’s something valuable in that loss, though it is a loss.

She’s still teaching me things. Other ways to live with loss (my dad, her “normal” brain, mobility, words…).

Ann E. Michael, Getting through somehow

where is the grave of the autumn :: from which i never returned

Grant Hackett [no title]

they come to the flower bazaar

for jasmine, for marigolds, for roses —
for funerals, for weddings, for worship —

at night, the unsold flowers
become this city’s story
of all that did not happen

Rajani Radhakrishnan, City Cherita – XII

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 44

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, I found a number of posts touching on the relationship between art and poetry, as well as seasonal meditations, considerations of politics in poetry, musings on mid-20th-century poets (Eliot, Larkin, Dylan Thomas), and more. Enjoy.


The coleus plants that have overflown our window box since August withered in days, and the pumpkins on our front porch seem suddenly garish. One afternoon I stepped outside to carry our old Daisy down the steps she now too often stumbles upon and was surprised by the cold that bit me right through my sweater. In just a week our corner of the world went from glorious to grubby and grim.

So now we turn inward, toward candlelight, simmering soups, woolly socks, and soft blankets. These are the weeks–this short lull between holidays–for sitting away a whole afternoon in a cafe with an old friend. For playing a game in front of a fire, and clearing a table to hold the pieces of a puzzle. It’s the beginning of wondering where another year has gone and of pondering what we’ll make of the next. Tonight darkness will descend before we’re ready for it, and we’ll feel something inside ourselves hunkering down for the long haul of winter, even though its supposed beginning is still weeks away.

I’m more than a little sorry to let go of what feels like true autumn, those afternoons of kicking crisp leaves with boots that feel new simply because it’s been so long since we’ve worn them. But this late stage is just a different kind of true, one that tests our loves in ways that easy days never do.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Hello darkness my old friend

These are the days of Cat’s Cradle: Darkness will come earlier now. The air feels significantly cooler. Time to bank fires in the wood stove. Only 4 weeks left in the Fall Semester. Everything is starting to pick up and slow down at the same time. I feel caught in this warp speed. Held still in the commotion that circles me constantly. I am suspended in this hour that promises me a bit more time. To accomplish what eludes me daily.

M.J. Iuppa, November: Time to Fall Back!

The mirrors are still at last, and you are so tired. You are listening to the wheezing breaths of the smokers. Even your mind is tired, and you don’t really want to think anymore, but you don’t know how to stop. From a dark corner of your consciousness you sense that the animals are slowly returning to the forest, and you wish that you could join them. You will die one day and until then you will never be free of this reality. Yes, there are cracks in time, you’ve seen them, but they are too small to slip through and escape. Your life is a slender being, moving from shadow to shadow, slinking in memory and loneliness. The room smells of disinfectant and the nurse with the cart is bringing the medication. You check the mirror one more time and then look up at the plain-faced clock and see that three minutes have passed since the last time you looked.

James Lee Jobe, the mirrors are still at last

Outside every
door, oil lamps burn. The wind holds its
hands around them like safe parentheses. I
search for spaces. The space you occupied.

The space between your arms. The space
between possibility and semicolon. Between
being and full stop. Where does the
emptiness end? Where does the next sky

begin?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, This city as punctuation

Today it was so bright and sharp and autumnal I decided to down tools (working the weekend, again) and take him down to Filey bay. We’ve not been down to the beach together for over a year as I wasn’t sure his back legs could cope with the hill. I keep him on an extended lead these days because he’d run off if I let him, and not being able to see me or hear me calling him back would be a problem. His recall was never great, now it is non existent. On this cool autumn day with the sand blowing up the beach and the light landing pink on the waves he was reborn, as a young dog, prancing and galloping and into everything. When I was crouched looking for fossils he came and knocked me over, snuffling into my hand to see what I had. He played with other dogs, said hello to children, snuffled at pockets and dug in the sand. He had a good day. Only one time did I feel we might have walked too far, and that was when he fell backwards trying to jump out of a stream, his back legs failing him at the crucial moment, and then he simply stood looking confused, waiting to be rescued. We made it back up the hill slowly and he was still able to get back into the car. He’s absolutely wiped out downstairs now, fast asleep on the sofa.

Wendy Pratt, Beach Walking with Toby

Yesterday was All Saints’ Day, and, in Mexico, the Day of the Dead. A few days before, we made our annual ofrenda in our home, and each evening, we’ve lit the candles, eaten our dinner, and sat with our dear departed ones. I’m surprised how comforting and welcome this ritual has become, connecting us both to our friends and family, and to Mexico, which we miss very much too. The tradition is to put little offerings of favorite foods or drinks or pastimes in front of the photos of each person to encourage them to return to be with the living for the evening, so the whole thing ends up becoming poignant, quirky, and personal. I didn’t have marigolds, which are a traditional part of everyone’s altar in Mexico: the color and pungent scent are supposed to help guide the dead on their journey. But we did have orange zinnias, sunflowers, dahlias, cacti and herbs, copal incense, Mexican pottery and textiles, and small reminders of each person.

And because my sketchbooks are becoming a visual diary of my life that feel more and more significant to me, I decided to do a drawing of the central section of the ofrenda too. What a complicated and busy sketch it turned out to be! I liked the black-and-white drawing, but the color made it all make more sense, and the process of doing it was one more way of connecting to the people and the tableau we had made.

Beth Adams, All the Beloveds

The brain wants to get all up in art’s business.

I would start drawing, and my brain was clicking away. I could feel it, trying to control my hand. Careful. Don’t be derivative. That’s too Miro; people will notice. Don’t try that again—you’ve drawn so many bad horses! And then, without my noticing, that language center would shut off. Things got very quiet, and for a while I was all body—my hand scratching at the wet ink, flicking grass or branches onto the paper, my face contorted, my voice whispering to itself—rounder, darker, right here. I would sit back and see the balance of the scene, see what it still needed. It felt just like I was playing deep into a tennis match—all motion, intent, instinct, the body doing what it knows how to do. It was also just like being in the middle of writing a poem—the editor had fled and the subconscious was now driving; that’s always the interesting part. Oh, the brain came back later to criticize what I’d drawn, and sometimes it hurt me. This is a place where art and poetry differ: A poem can always be changed, but ink is pretty much forever and leaves an ugly stain when you try to fix it.

Amy Miller, Inktober: Shut Up and Draw

I had a lovely weeklong writing retreat which encouraged me to again, for the millionth time, start a daily practice — of some kind of making. Anything. Just do any freaking thing for a little tiny bit each day. So every day for that week I did a quick sketch self-portrait, and a quick writing exercise. See? How hard was that? And I’ve been able to sustain it…mostly…now that I’ve been home for a couple of weeks.

The self-portraits are pen sketches or watercolors, and they’ve been hugely fun. But then I saw a Facebook post (you know about the research that shows reading Facebook can leaving you feeling wretched about your life?) that undermined my pleasure. Some chick had posted a wonderful watercolor self-portrait and talked about how a weekly painting session she’d been involved with had really helped her handle some technical issues in her work. And I thought, oh, is that what I’m supposed to be doing, actively trying to get BETTER at this stuff? Consciously seeking to address technique? Uh-oh.

And then I realized, calm down calm down for crying out loud, technique is only one aspect of any kind of making. What I’m trying to do with these daily selfies is play, to remind myself every day that making is playing. Every day I try a different approach to the portrait — ink and wash, crazy colors, different angles. They’re rapidly becoming a collection of what I think of as demented self-portraits. And gloriously so. I’ll work on technique some other time. Right now the focus is on doing and playing. Phew. Off the hook again. Perfection be damned. All work and no play… well, we know how THAT turns out.

But…all play and no work…? Hm. I’ll have to think about this.

Marilyn McCabe, Shine a light on me; or, On Practice Makes…Practice

Louth argues Rilke’s journey towards the poetics of the New Poems began in the period he resided in the artists’ community in Germany at Worpswede. A lot of his thinking there concerned images of man and landscape. For the majority of the time, humans and nature live “side-by-side with hardly any knowledge of one another” and it is in the ‘as if’ of the work of art that they can be brought closer, into a more conscious relation. These are the thoughts that preoccupied Rilke when he moved, in 1902, to Paris, in part to observe Rodin at work. Louth is right that the poet’s move towards a poetry that cultivated the “earthly”, the world of “things”, was already well under way. He then looked to Rodin’s methods for “dependability, concentration and craft” and in a poem like ‘The Panther’ the fruits of more compactness of diction, a more supple articulation of syntax, a lexis of more precise, everyday words and an increased emphasis on the visual are clearly seen.

Here is my translation of ‘The Panther’:

The Panther

in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

With this pacing the bars’ back and forth, his gaze
grows so weary there is nothing it can hold.
To him, there appears to be a thousand bars
and beyond the thousand bars, no world.

The lithe, smooth steps of his powerful gait
(in the narrowest of circles he spins round)
is like a dance of power around a point
at which an immense will stands, stunned.

In moments only does the pupil’s curtain
sway noiselessly open – an image enters
and drives through the mute tension of each limb
into the heart, where it disappears.

Under Rodin’s influence, Rilke became a more self-conscious labourer in language. These are the poems that are held up as examples of ‘Kunst-Ding’ (art-thing). In August 1903, Rilke wrote to Lou: “The thing is definite, the art-thing must be even more definite; taken out of the realm of chance, removed from every unclarity, relieved of time and given to space.”

Martyn Crucefix, Charlie Louth’s Rilke + new Rilke Translations (Part II)

“The public does not realize, perhaps, the amount of work that goes into one painting before I begin to set it down on canvas. In my last picture, I spent two months–fourteen hours a day, including Sundays–sketching, making notes, rejecting ideas.” –Grant Wood

It’s all very wise and was meant to encourage me to push through a rough patch. But it really just made me feel  the complete opposite of encouraged. I wanted to go back to bed.

On a whim I googled “DELIGHT,” and it took me straight to J. B. Priestley’s book Delight, published in 1949. Not long ago my husband and I watched the 2018 film of Priestley’s play, An Inspector Calls, so this seemed like one of those synchronicities that we ought to pay attention to. I bought the book, downloaded it, and, well, was delighted.

In the preface, Priestley begins, “I have always been a grumbler.” He goes on to explain the benefits (the delights?) of a good grumble. But then we get 114 short chapters on what delights him: reading detective stories in bed, lighthouses, waking to the smell of bacon, the ironic principle, orchestras tuning up, making stew, departing guests. Some of it is a little dated (the stereoscope, wearing long trousers, and several chapters about the delights of smoking). But it’s also a window into Priestley’s time (1894-1984), bits of a lost world.

Bethany Reid, Writing from a Place of Delight

I’d liked to have written about the talk I heard this week by Lavinia Greenlaw and Neil McGregor, and their discussion about vision. I had hoped to throw my twopenneth, for what it’s worth, in about the article this week written by Rory Waterman about “Good Person Poems“, published at Poetry London, and I largely agree with Rory and also some of Jon Stone’s response. Some of the responses to Rory’s article have, to me, been unnecessary, misinterpretation (wilful or otherwise) or just odd. Others carry a grain of truth, but I am not clever enough to get into it. I think it also over-shadowed Camille Ralph’s two-part essay. I am working my way through that, but anything else to day is a case of: Nope, too hungover this week. Damn the fireworks party.

Today is not a day for achievement. It’s something of a miracle that I woke up today.

At present I am just venerating water, which puts me in mind of this Larkin poem. I could be all fancy and get into the questioning of religion or look at the beauty of “any-angled light”, but I shall just settle for making a god of water

Water

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

Phillip Larkin, Collected Poems

Mat Riches, Water thing to do to yourself

In a reissue of his first collection, The North Ship, Philip Larkin says that after the book was published he threw off the influence of W. B. Yeats’s symbolism in favour of Hardy’s more plain style, paving the way for the ‘mature’ voice of The Less Deceived and The Whitsun Weddings.

Critics have by and large gone along with this dichotomy, only suggesting Yeats’s influence might have been stronger, and continued longer, than Larkin himself let on. But you don’t, I think, seriously admire a writer, to the extent of identifying yourself with them as Larkin did with Hardy, without also engaging with their broader vision. Which makes the differences to their pessimism particularly telling.  

Two key themes that Larkin and Hardy have in common is their attentiveness to suffering, and their tendency to attack the sexual morality of their day. Hardy is in some ways a good Victorian liberal, holding out for ways of alleviating pain and for a time when people can love according to their true selves.

For Larkin, on the other hand, suffering and sexual privation (for him the two are usually associated with one another) are not problems to be resolved, but states which offers insight into the true nature of life, and provide the starting point for his poetry. Larkin takes Hardy’s qualified hope back into the realms of mysticism.

Jeremy Wikeley, Two Types of Pessimism

Today’s (returning) guest is someone I first met about eight years ago at the Monday night workshops of The Albert Poets in Huddersfield. Like another poet at these workshops, the much-missed Mark Hinchcliffe, she has a unique voice, and one that I didn’t quite tune into until I heard her do a full guest reading a year or so later. You may have had moments like this, when you suddenly hear what you’ve been missing, when you hear the tune that brings the meaning and the passion along with it. She’s a poet who has the quality of what Keats called negative capability, that ability to en-chant a place or a moment that bypasses the writer’s personality. It’s a voice that takes you on walks into, along and out of the imbricated valleys of the West Yorkshire Pennine, and along moorland tops; on walks at the edge of things by seashores and dunescapes; on walks through the thin places of the world, across thresholds. It’s the kind of quality that’s hinted at by the layered, ambiguous title of her latest cornucopia of a collection On the way to Jerusalem Farm.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Carola Luther’s “On the way to Jerusalem Farm”

[Rob Taylor]: The limitations of what language can and can’t accomplish is certainly another theme in the book. One of the (darkly) funniest lines in CREELAND comes in “Entry Four”: “Every time I write “kôhkom,” / some settler, somewhere, / cums.” We’re in a time where there is a desire among many settlers to understand and “consume” Indigenous culture, but this engagement happens under the consumer’s terms. Certain subjects/words are fetishized, others ignored (your poem “Curriculum of the Wait” explores how “every ndn poem / is about residential schools” – alongside every novel, play, memoir, etc.). All writers face the mixed blessing that their words will go out in the world, unchaperoned, to be used and interpreted as the reader sees fit, but in your case this process seems particularly fraught. 

Could you talk a little about how you would ideally like the Cree language, as presented in CREELAND, to be engaged with by settler readers?

[Dallas Hunt]: The language is going to be engaged with however the reader sees fit. One thing I do like, though, is that more people appear to be seeing Cree as a “living language,” so I guess in the grand scheme of things, as long as people see our languages (and us) as alive, there really isn’t much more I could hope for. I do think that there are “particular” forms in which Indigenous peoples are legible (like through language), so that’s something I do try to complicate in the collection. If people take notice of that, great, but I do have a bit of an ambivalence toward it, too (not to be overly obscure or combative!).

RT: Fair enough! Could you talk a little more about complicating the ways Indigenous people are “legible”? 

DH: I think that non-Indigenous peoples are more than willing to interpret us through particular lenses (e.g., language, residential schools, “culture”) but are far less willing to take our political assertions seriously. I think whether we’re in rural, reserve, or urban environments, Indigenous peoples are constantly asserting a politics that is so summarily dismissed, sometimes in favour of something as capacious as “culture,” that we’re not being really heard or engaged with. Engage with us—our politics, our assertions, our communities. We’re not going anywhere, so it might be prudent to do so.

RT: What do you hope for Cree speakers to find in these poems?

DH: The collection is about everyday Cree economies of care. I hope there is some recognition there, disagreement, even contention—we are vast, complex and varying communities, so I hope some Cree people (and other Indigenous peoples) appreciate the writing. But I also hope that, if I were there, Cree and Indigenous peoples would argue with me about some of the articulations or interpretations of things in the collection. That’s what being in community or visiting as a method is all about.

Rob Taylor, Gesturing Out to Different Horizons: An Interview with Dallas Hunt

It is tornado season again in the South. This year the storms blow in alongside a pandemic. I call my mother in Clearwater, Florida, among the palm trees, from my home in North Carolina, among the Loblolly Pines. In the early morning, my family slept through a tornado warning in Durham County—my spouse and I waking as the loudspeaker blared its warning announcement from the nearby high school. The winds and rains pass us by, bringing cooler weather behind them. We bring our potted vegetables into the garage at night.

My mother and I talk tornados and storms. We measure our life by storms in the South—by the names of storms that share their names with us as women: Fran, Katrina, Isabel, Florence.

My mother says: “You have never seen a tree as evil as a palm tree looks in a storm—like black fingers against the sky.” And I laugh at my mother’s Southern-Gothic-meets-New-England-Complaint description. A dramatization—who knows why.

But when I go to write down her words—a hazard of having a writer in the family—I pay more attention to the color black, the personification of the palm trees as a Black body. I start to write a poem about the storms as a marker of days in my life—“This calendar of water / and wind, bent trees”—but I circle back to my mother’s words about the palm trees. “Like black fingers,” sits at the end of a poem like a lead weight. The poem cracks under it.

Han VanderHart, Storm Season, or White Supremacy and Imagery

It’s a gorgeous autumn day. Leaves are at their peak and stand out against vivid blue skies. Temperatures are an unseasonable 67 degrees. Even my light sweater is too warm.

On my left I pass a place that still yanks at my feels. For years an old house with a rotting roof stood there, surrounded by weeds and junk cars. Despite its decay, this was a home. It lifted my spirits to see laundry on the line and light in the window. That house surely survives in the memories of those who lived there. It also hangs on in a poem I titled, unimaginatively, “House On Smith Road.” Here are a few of its lines:

There are people who keep going
past all predictions,
chewed up by cancer
or rattling with emphysema.
They hold things together
for the daughter struggling
with heroin, the spouse
wandering through dementia.
I think of them as this house
slides ever closer to the ground,
plastic flowers still blooming 
on that brave tilting porch.

The old house was knocked down a few years ago and another home stands there now. I wonder if the new residents sense the energy fingerprint left by everyone who ever lived there – the old farmhouse most recently but also all who came before, back to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and back before them to the earliest peoples.  

Hills I drive over were carved by glaciers thousands of feet thick. The ice sheet was so heavy that earth’s surface is still rebounding from that long-ago weight. Between these gentle slopes lie fields of dry soybeans and baled hay brilliant in the sunlight.

Laura Grace Weldon, Contemplative Errands

Do not carry your remembrance.
Instead, cut it into pieces for the wind,
or surrender it to the crepe myrtle tree.
Give it to the poets stenciling their words
onto sidewalk squares, then return to see
what paint colors they’ve used. Do you
wonder how the sky’s chalkboard bears
all manner of equations? There are rumors
some of them have been solved.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with a Line from Lorca

I first encountered Arne Naess’ work in 2012 (see this post), and I regret that I failed to follow up by reading more of his “ecosophy T” (deep ecology) and philosophy. I am finally getting around to his very late book Life’s Philosophy, and I love how it speaks to me on many levels. His claim that human emotions can and should be components of human reason makes so much sense that I wonder why so few researchers look into it; some folks on the edges of neuroscience and psychology seem to venture there, but few others. The concept of “relationism” resonates for me, too. It reminds me of the Dali Lama’s teachings that all things in the world are intertwined and valuable, even non-sentient beings.

Relationism, as Naess uses it, acknowledges the vast and impossibly infinite complexity of the universe, more strictly life on earth, and–can I use the word “celebrates”?–the interwoven strands of animal, vegetable, mineral, bacterial, cosmological, emotional, rational aspects of a life in the world: ecology on steroids (he would not have phrased it like that). My urge for balance in my own life makes this philosophy relevant: the opportunities for play and for imagination as well as for seriously abstract concepts, for the importance of emotions as felt in the human body and as interpreted or contained in the human intellect; the necessity of listening to even the tiniest sounds, of savoring the small moments, of not needing to be big or grand or successful but to be mature in how one feels with the world.

The incredible difficulty of saying any of this. Which Naess also acknowledges, saying the difficult job of conveying being felt in the world leads to music, to art, to sitting with the natural and sensing beauty. I might add: Poetry. Though poems are made of words, they often operate through images and felt moments rather than intellectual logic.

Ann E. Michael, Norway’s Philosopher

As she packs up her office,
she thinks about habitat loss,
those orphaned animals stranded
in a world of heat and pavement.
She wishes she had saved
more money while she had a job.
She knows she will lose the house.
She wonders what possessions
will fit into her car.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Resources for the First Days of Climate Talks

will mice come to live in every room of my death

Grant Hackett [no title]

California-based “conceptual and experimental artist working in photography, writing, and hybrid forms” Robin Myrick’s debut full-length poetry title is I Am This State Of Emergency (Dallas TX: Surveyor Books, 2020), a project shaped through interviews and conversations with friends, acquaintances and eventually strangers across a wide political spectrum. As she writes as part of her “Author’s Statement” to open the collection, I Am This State Of Emergency is, first and foremost, a listening project, one that attempts to articulate how conversations and thinking around politics have shifted into a discourse that is far less civil than it had been, at least in recent years. “Cite your sources,” she writes, to open “67,” “please / and thank you / and fuck you [.]” She records conversations, arguments, beliefs and consequences, and the ideological distances that exist, whether newly formed or long-held, between individuals and communities. “The problem is now you see yourself,” she writes, to open “11,” “not how we see you / On an unrelated topic, someone’s been eating our porridge / On an unrelated topic, someone’s been gaining weight [.]” Her project shapes these conversations into poem-shapes, narrative sketches collaged into a numbered (and not titled) sequence slightly out of order: the collection opens with “19,” and then to “36,” “50,” “8,” “14” and so on. Some of the declarations made are quite terrible, and others enlightening: “I’m terrified of being outnumbered [.]”

I’ve long been fascinated by conceptual projects, especially those that include some kind of human component; one that allows for the ways in which words interact with each other and provide meaning, however stripped of context. After all, as Meredith Quartermain once wrote: words can’t help but mean. Through I Am This State Of Emergency, Myrick offers a poetry based on response and belief in an effort to, I would presume, understand just how vast the distances have become, whether as long-held considerations or newly-formed. “I am so tired / of this anger / it isn’t me / I tell myself / but when it happens / it is,” she writes, to open “99.” And as anyone might imagine, it is impossible to approach such a breach in civil discourse without careful study; without, first, admitting how deep the distances might be.

rob mclennan, Robin Myrick, I Am This State Of Emergency

was it then and was it just there
that he saw the colour of saying
and in its saying laid the windless nights
wrenched the candle’s songs
down the laboured layers of his poems
flooding estuarine
saturnine watered
beer-soaked
milky-breaded to sleep
was it just for us that he wrought alone
i thought the thought
that he might have done

Jim Young, dylan’s writing shed

Dear Tom. 

I’ve thought about it and you’re right, April is the cruelest month. I think of you all afternoon at the bank, the sleeves of your dress shirt rolled just above your wrists, holding the short stub of a pencil bent over the massive wooden desk, wiping your forehead and beginning again to write. Oh Tom, my nerves are bad tonight. What are you thinking? When summer came it wrecked me. I dreamed of clairvoyantes and tiny pearl eyes for weeks. Your voice a yellow fog that licked its way up and down my spine. I wrote poems about coffee spoons and clties crumbling around me. I imagine you the calmness surrounded by tempestuous women and hundreds of unruly cats. I have known the hours, known them all. But really, that is not what I meant. Not at all. 

Kristy Bowen, back to the source

Years ago I started imagining a saffron harvest, conjuring up the process of hundreds of humans, with their hands, turning fields of flowers into an essence, a spice, dried stigma so concentrated it’s almost like a drug. Time passed.  As I let it float, it took on disorienting dimensions.  I imagined it as a Dionysian foray into color, or a metaphoric turning of one matter — flower — into another — a spice.  Or one color — violet — into another — deeply inbued red-yellow. An ever-expanding chain of one sense – color – becoming another — scent — and another — flavor.

Someow I found myself in Consuegra, a small town in La Mancha, Spain, for the celebration of this year’s saffron harvest.  It was mysterious.  It rained.  We sat in an activity hall while children competed in saffron plucking contests, as if a spelling bee or lego competition.  The elder women peered over shoulders of the children — the spectacled, the quick, the chubby — until the first jumped up, having separated the pale violet petals of the autumn crocus, picked that morning, into a pile of zingy red threads.  Did the girls know these were the female organs of the flower?  

Probably as we are in the world of the farm, field and deep senses (and windmills — Cervantes set Don Quixote in this wonderfully stalwart land).  How arresting to see the old women sitting with meditative patience and impeccable eyesight extracting the silky threads.  Color becomes the sound of a talking drum, something tribal communicated across time and space for tradition has run in these towns for centuries.  That evening, as in the past, women toasted red threads in their kitchens to take away moisture, then packaged and sold as the world’s most expensive spice.  Alchemy! Red gold. A Dionysian foray into color? We’ll have to wait for the poem.  

Jill Pearlman, The Alchemical Saffron Harvest

We gather bushels of blue into breath. Song breath. Breathsong.

If you lend your name to the air, it comes back to you far brighter, like an open heart and all the light it offers.

The beauty of it all is enough to recall those darker, riskier times when we traveled through night on just the moon’s siphoned kisses.

Times when hitchhiking ghosts took the shape of our wildest dreams.

Renewal is sweet. So is a baptism in pools of hallelujahs.

Song breath. Breathsong.

Carry one another skyward on each breath of hellos.

Rich Ferguson, So bountiful the sky

Over the last few days, I have been unwittingly pelted with poetry. I received two books of poems from an old friend of mine in Ireland, and I also revived my temporarily-slumped role reading submissions for the upcoming Fall issue of the travel-themed literary magazine I volunteer for. I had almost forty submissions to catch up on, so it was a marathon few days of being inundated with poems. I was ignoring poetry in my deep preoccupation with untenable work stress and other issues, and it flew into my world like that scene in Harry Potter where thousands of letters pour into his house notifying him that he is accepted into Hogwart’s. Poetry is not just inviting itself into my life, it’s full-on invading, which is a very good thing indeed.

Kristen McHenry, 70’s Theme Song Jubilee, Pelted with Poetry, A Rose Alone

You can read my poem Night Vigil in the latest issue of Cumberland River Review; this poem is about the last night I spent with my daughter Kit before she was removed from life support (about two years ago exactly). It is an intensely emotional and personal poem for me–it touches on but can’t completely tell you what that experience was like. Some things are beyond poetry.

Renee Emerson, new poem in Cumberland River Review

The pain
comes to you

because it has
nowhere

else to go,
the old monk says.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (39)

There’s a spot on the grounds of the Columbia Winery near my house where I can reliably find Fairy Tale mushrooms (or Amanita muscaria) every year, but not until the flowers are nearly done and it’s started to feel like winter. It seems like a metaphor for the hidden beauties of this time of year; sometimes they take a little seeking out.

There was a meme going around on social media, something like, “This month I’m doing a challenge called November. It’s where I try to make it through every day of November.” That feels very true this year, in which we find ourselves confronting the end of the second year of the pandemic, getting booster shots, still unsure of whether it’s safe or not to…travel? see loved ones? have an indoor holiday dinner? It’s deflating to think that we are still dealing with the uncertainty and misery of the pandemic even after vaccines, plus now empty shelves at the stores (supply chain issues,) and a general feeling of malaise that’s hitting everyone from doctors (my brilliant hematology specialist of 18 years is going on “unlimited sabbatical” and my ER doctor friend from Alaska has moved to New Zealand) to mailpeople and retail workers. Don’t feel bad – this is hard. It is not your imagination. Do what it takes to survive this winter, and don’t feel like you have to be your usual ambitious, sparkling, driven self. I know I am casting around, looking for escape – should I move again? Get a job in a different city? Should I just decorate for the holidays way early, put on pajamas for the whole month and constantly stream Christmas specials?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Time Change, A Poem in Waterstone Review, Surviving November in the Second Year of the Plague

I am letting go of the anxiety. The state of “braced for bad news”. Too rigid, I broke under the strain. And that is okay. We break. And we heal. Again and again. Not always stronger. But who said strong was the goal? Supple is an odd word. I don’t care for the sound of it, but it is the right word. Perhaps trying to use physical metaphors to describe the psyche is all wrong anyway.

The wind is blowing this morning. The clouds are lit by the greenhouses. Light pollution, yes, but it means I can see the wind in the sky. I can see the great burlesque of stars covered and dis-covered. Just a bit of the old Hunter’s Moon visible in the dark. Fully present, regardless.

The real world outside ourselves is both ephemeral and eternal. If not the world, than the universe. If not the universe, then whatever it is that has no need to be “strong”. No need to measure existence in successes and failures.

A colleague’s toddler has Covid. And we are scrambling to find the latest guidelines. National. Local. I pull the box of masks out of the cupboard again. But this is no longer exceptional. It is no longer a state of emergency. It is.

These days are passing. From my perspective. The constellations moving. From my perspective. Leaves falling – fallen. Darkness closing in from both ends of each day. A space for deep work.

And it is time to stop thinking about all of this uncertainty, this grief, these fears as a kind of time-out.

Ren Powell, The End of Exceptional Days

The line that’s been buzzing round my head this week is the final phrase from Michael Laskey’s miracle poem of self-care, ‘The Day After’. Though I have blogged about it before, it has struck me with fresh force this week.

In particular, I have been noticing how the poem’s verbs (‘prompted’, ‘argued’, ‘added’, ‘slicing’, ‘came clean’, ‘simmering’, ‘thickened’, ‘startled’, ‘heated through’, ‘notice’, ‘speak’) and nouns and noun phrases (‘raw morning air’, ‘nod of the knife’, ‘wrapped up in themeselves’) combine to talk of food not only as recipe but as therapeutic practice.

The Swiss side of my family (my mother’s) are slow eaters. The other, my father’s (English, boarding school – though not my father himself), tend to eat very fast. I know which I inherited from the most. It is not a habit I am proud of, and one I am working hard to change. Each time I find myself gorging on houmus and cheese straight from the fridge or standing to consume half my body weight in toast after a walk with the dog, I have to remind myself out loud that it is not only ok but important to slow down, or even to let it fall sometimes. ”You’ve got to eat’, Anthony,’ I say, ‘but the how is more important than the how much or how fast.’

Anthony Wilson, The day after

I wish you a beautiful week ahead. I wish that the inner voice no longer tells you you’re fucking up. I wish for you like minds to convene with. I wish for you to intuit what others need before they need it. May your typing devices be beautiful and full of soul. May you have the energy to be generous. May your generosity be well received. May you have the patience and fortitude you require. May your days hold the proper balance of silence and music.

Shawna Lemay, As a Hobby

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 43

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, since I’m posting on Halloween, of course we must begin with some scary stuff: horror films, ghost words, the blank page, a world shorn of mystery and darkness, witchy women, visions of mortality, binge-eating, elections, and “difficult” poetry. From there, we move on to the usual glorious miscellany—which, since we don’t get trick-or-treaters here in Plummer’s Hollow, are the only treats I have to give out tonight.


With Halloween on a Sunday, it almost feels like it’s over before it began.  All the candy eaten, horror watched, the building humming all weekend with parties and elevators stuffed full of costumed Loyolans. Friday night date night, rather than brave an outing we decided to stream the new Halloween from the comfort of the couch instead of a possible crowded theatre.  I was exhausted from the week anyways, so it was a nice respite.  I slept late yesterday, had a zoom call with a class to talk about chapbooks, then spent the evening assembling them and making soup and baking. I intended to curl up in bed and watch more horror, but fell asleep pretty early and woke this morning to coffee and lemon bars that cooled in the fridge all night. Somehow, tomorrow it will be November, which seems impossible. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/31/2021

Today I put up the last chalkboard poem for the month of October. I’ve been going outside in my robe or a long sweater over my jammies to write in the mostly dark, but this morning I waited till closer to 7:00 a.m., and I like how there’s a rectangle of light in the upper left, almost like a vertical postcard, of morning coming, and a light in the window at the corner/curve house, the house where two big trees came down over the past year or so, and where a widow lives, and now several of the poems tie together in very particular, neighborhood ways.

Because of the dark and the damp, I didn’t always see my imperfect erasing. Yesterday, I noticed I was writing an “s” over the ghost of a previous “s.” So these tiny poems have been layered over each other. Ghost words.

On Thursday night, I participated in the Patricia Dobler Poetry Award reading! What a (scary) delight! (I always get nervous before poetry readings and plays, no matter how many times I do them!) Jan Beatty hosted the event, and read a poem by Patricia Dobler. This year’s winner, Shirley Jones Luke, read her winning poem and others. Denise Duhamel, the judge in my year, introduced me, and I read “Fox Collar,” my winning poem, and other mother poems. Then Denise read a set of wonderful poems, including some mother poems. Sarah Williams was our fabulous Zoom stage manager. A lovely event!

Kathleen Kirk, Ghost Words

The blank page. A rectangle of absence, it fills the writer with equal parts expectation and dread. A stark reminder of the writer’s apartness, it demands that you pay attention to it and not your family, dogs, messy house, or whatever else might distract you. 

We could compare the fear of the blank page to the fear of commitment, but it’s more complicated than that. The blank page equals a terrible silence. It shows you the part of you that’s not writing. No wonder its presence causes writers such turmoil.

Erica Goss, Fear of the Blank Page

For Rilke, the successful poem is a space in which the mysteries of things and personal confession are both explored, or revealed, simultaneously. [Charlie] Louth argues [in Rilke: the Life of the Work] that, from the outset, Rilke’s view of this was always positive: “there is no unnerving consciousness of the self ’s arbitrary dependence on chance encounters with the outside world”, but equally, there is “no doubt about the existence of an underlying unity to which the poet has access”. What he feared was ‘the interpreted world’ (‘der gedeuteten Welt’), a world view shorn of all mystery, a perspective that perhaps most of us inhabit, a view in which language has become dominantly instrumental, “narrowing our vision so that life appears cut and dried without any possibility of the unknown and the unknowable”. Louth explains what readers of Rilke value in his work: “poetic language, as he understands it, is precisely a way of talking that avoids directness and allows the mutability of experience and the mystery of the world to be expressed. It releases rather than limits possibility”. Beyond this stands what Rilke might have meant by the term ‘God’. ‘He’ is “an experience of totality, life felt as a whole, in which self and other are not distinct or momentarily lose their distinctness”.

Here is my new translation of an early poem from The Book of Hours (Das Stundenbuch) in which Rilke is developing these ideas:

You, the darkness from which I came,
I love you more than the flame
scoring the world’s edge
with a glimmer
upon some sphere,
beyond which no-one has more knowledge.

Yet the darkness binds everything into itself:
all forms, flames, creatures, myself,
it seizes on them,
all powers, everything human . . .

And it may be: there is an immense might
stirring nearby –

I believe in the night.

Martyn Crucefix, Charlie Louth’s Rilke + new Rilke translations

Last night I met with L. What should have been a leisurely dinner, had I not been so hungry for injera and chilies. She actually told me to slow down. Take a breath. She’s feeling grief now, flowing in like a tide. She’s aware of her own breathing. Her mother-in-law has been moved to palliative care. A matter of days. A matter of hours. The kind of uncertainty that crowds the present with future sorrow. We are both twisting and untwisting – in varying tempos. She’s having trouble sleeping. I understand.

After dinner, we went to see Elizabeth Schwartz dancing several of Isadora Duncan’s works. Schwartz began studying Duncan’s work in 1977. Before that she studied under Merce Cunningham. She is now 72.

She performed the pieces first with music, then with a narration of words to describe each movement: wave, wave, sustain, splash… Then again. With music.

She wore Duncan’s thin, Grecian dress. Two tears in the front panel, running up along her thighs. She desired. She reached-toward. Then she skipped, hopped, arched her back and surrendered. A bacchae, a mother, a comrade. She is exhausted.

Her body wore years of experience, a wisdom in the movements, an aesthetic in the presentation that touches deeper than ornamentation: This is not for you. It is more than you can conquer. It has already survived you and your desire to possess. It beat you to it. Mocks you for your tiny reach. Tiny desires. It is a glimpse of your future. Your impotence.

Doesn’t that scare you? Doesn’t she scare you?

The indigenous people of the Pacific regions say that humans walk backward into the future. I don’t think they mean that as a criticism. Though I do.

Ren Powell, Watching in the Dark

It’s not like you think,
all spells and black cats. It’s something
even better, something that singing
to the seals in the salty ocean taught me
what being asked to step out of life and into
the unknown, death, whatever —
led me to believe. That anyone could fly,
could burst spontaneously into flame,
we could become new forms, birds, trees.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Halloween (and a Spooky Poem,) Living with MS and Selma Blair’s Documentary, and Turning Dark

They ground and drank the bones of kings
in Nineveh. Swollen, I too learn we and submerge
an ocean, capsule, holy vessel.

Brimming, divided heartbeats like misplaced commas
sectioning the lace of my insides.
Moths, despite the darkness,
batting wings against the pane. […]

There are more poems like that in the book, and in my next book too. B says it’s my subconscious picking up on things that I don’t fully register with my conscious mind, but I think I was just writing about my deepest fears, one of which being losing a child, which happened to, later on, happen.

Renee Emerson, poems that know

Before sundown, name the specter that wants
to steal your heart or the heart of your child.

Free the bitter heart from its swimming
pool of bile, or the impostor heart

hesitating in the doorway of its own
home. And all of us have been that girl

told to love her tower-prison because the world
she’s only allowed to glimpse from a tiny window

can hardly be real.

Luisa A. Igloria, Impossible Hearts

Morning finds children gathering feathers, placing one or two of the finest beneath their tongues.

This is how we get through our day, they tell me—light of voice, a birdsong salve for our wounds.

They ask me what my memories are like.

I tell them no better or worse than theirs. I only have more because I have lived longer.

They smile like the sun is balanced on their lips.

Rich Ferguson, Morning Finds Children

The line that’s been buzzing round my head the last couple of weeks is from Robert Lowell’s heartbreaking poem ‘For Sheridan’, from his final book of poems Day by Day. The poem’s opening lines set a tone of mournful, wry regret: ‘We only live between/ before we are and what we were’.

By the poem’s final stanza, the dial has barely moved an inch. If anything, it’s gone backwards:

Past fifty, we learn with surprise and a sense
of suicidal absolution
that what we intended and failed
could never have happened—
and must be done better.

I first read these lines in my twenties, when fifty seemed an impossible milestone. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. Now I can’t get past those two simple words. Partly this is because I can’t quite persuade myself to believe in ‘suicidal absolution’. It just just seems too stagey and performative to me. Not to mention completely abstract. What Seamus Heaney once said of his early poem ‘Digging’, that it possessed something of the gunslinger about it, comes to mind.

But: ‘what we intended and failed/ could never have happened/ and must be done better’: now you’re talking. Past fifty, that is all that is going on. Looking back, wondering if it was good enough (mostly not), and looking forward at what must be ‘done better’.

Learning is taking place here, but it is slow, painful and not glorious-looking, like in the films. Past fifty, like ‘awful but cheerful’ and ‘badly-lit’, is where a lot of life is being lived right now, for me, literally, and figuratively, too. I’d like to think I am learning, slowly to get it ‘done better’. (Perhaps that’s not even for me to say.) Past fifty. Past fifty. I can’t them out of my head.

Anthony Wilson, Past fifty

the recumbent elderly, stuffed like bolsters
into Parker Knoll wing chairs, hard
of hearing, rheumy-eyed, incontinent,
medicated to docility.
Neurones flickering on and off;
there are no spare batteries.
This is how it ends.

And here they come,
the ones with smiles sincere as rictus,
the ones with Casio keyboards,
with tinny snare drum tracks,
chivvying the old and unprotected
into faltering songs of bicycles made for two,
white cliffs, lilacs, sweethearts.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [11] Song and dance acts

on his grave
my poem slowly moulders
into it

Jim Young [no title]

But walking into a cemetery
feels like plugging in, the
internet of souls humming
all around me. And this
exposed rectangle of earth
is just like the one where
two thousand miles away we buried
you. While I sang El Maleh today
one of my hands was twined
in this scarf you gave me,
its silky burgundy tassels
tucked tastefully into the neck
of my sober black suit. I hear
your voice every morning
when I enter my son’s room.

Rachel Barenblat, Local Call

Yet another food binge yesterday. Worked late, skipped my nap. The connection of binge-eating and extended reading is established beyond doubt. This is how I read my way through the corpus of English literature. I ate my way through it. Can I read multiple hours per day without binge eating? Is there some other way to do it? I wonder.

Dale Favier, Naps, Binges, Bright Lines

I’ll close with a Halloween scare: I am full of dread about the upcoming Virginia governor’s election. I voted weeks ago, but the outcome is very iffy because of what they call an “enthusiasm gap” (Trump fans love Youngkin; McAuliffe is the better candidate by miles, but he doesn’t warm the cockles of anyone’s heart). Youngkin, by way of one small example of potential future horrors, is encouraging book-banning. I just started reading the excellent YA novel Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez because local right-wing parents are bombarding the high school with demands to remove books from the collection, including that one. Everyone needs to marshal arguments to keep them in the stacks. As activism goes, that’s definitely my speed, but what a stupid battle to be fighting when the world is burning.

Lesley Wheeler, Rhyme. Activism. Speculation. Revision. Pumpkins.

a shallow life followed by a shallow grave.
mice, beating their tin cups on the bars of their cells.
prisoners.
a tiny, frightened excuse of a soul, shriveled by time and darkness,
whining like a hungry dog in the alley.
the scars of hate and dollars across the flesh of the entire world.
the child with no food, no roof, and no hope
who is crushed under the excellent boots of the americans.

James Lee Jobe, have pity for those who feel greed more than love.

In a discussion among some of my poetry-reading friends, two readers said they feel “stopped” when they encounter unfamiliar words or terms in a poem. They feel poets should avoid writing work that uses specialized knowledge as metaphor, in imagery, or to establish the poem’s context. Their argument is that when a reader feels stopped by anything in the poem–from an unusual line break or stanza structure to an unfamiliar word–a kind of alienation occurs between reader and text, and that when poets choose to employ the unfamiliar they need to explain somehow/somewhere (notes? prose headings?) to guide the reader. But then they added that referring to notes is, in poetry, distracting.

“Some vocabulary and allusions just make me feel inferior,” one friend says. I don’t think they’ve spent much time with Ezra Pound’s later work but imagine this statement by Sam O’Dell applies: “Now, whether or not Ezra Pound intended to make others feel less intelligent while pulling obscure outside references into his poems and essays is up for debate. The guy seems the type who may have enjoyed making sure others knew he was smarter than they were.” (Read the rest here).

Nerdy autodidact that I am, I rather like those stop-the-reader moments in poems–if there’s a payoff. If I learn something new, and if that thing I have learned enriches the poem’s meaning and also enriches me, then I don’t mind feeling surprised or puzzled or even interrupted. Some poems take more work to read than others, and that’s ok. Some novels prove less easy to read than others, and some movies make the audience-experience fraught, unnerving, or strange. For me, the essential work that artistic endeavor does is open new perspectives, present puzzles, invite inquiry. Make me curious!

Ann E. Michael, Physics, poetry, notes

This has been a season of looking over my shoulder, wanting to take stock in where I have been and where I am going, still going.  I am at a point in my life where everything counts or is being counted, and I don’t want to miss those moments of solitude, of taking an easy breath, of standing in a forest, or on a hillside, or in a field, with my arms loose at my sides, and think, This is it. 

M.J. Iuppa, Autumn in Western NY. Gold and Bronze. Time of Reflection.

Having enjoyed reading Jonathan Davidson’s On Poetry (as much, probably, as Glyn Maxwell’s very different book of the same name) and A Commonplace, I very much enjoyed Ruth Yates’s interview with him, here.

I especially related to these sentences:

I would, therefore, describe my role as simply a writer who wants to be read. There’s a novelty. Not to win, to be praised, to be advanced, to be ennobled, to be deified, to be paid, even, but simply to be quietly read by those who might quietly find pleasure in such reading.

I couldn’t agree more with these sentiments. Yes, prizes and competitions help to oil the poetry economy, but as a poet and a reader there’s nothing more I aspire to than to be read and to enjoy reading.

In the summer, I was one of about 15 poets/readers who met up with Jonathan at Grindleford station for a walk round Padley Gorge, interspersed by Jonathan reading his and other poets’ poems, in the spirit of A Commonplace. It was a memorable poetry occasion and the sort of thing which ought to happen more often. After almost two years of Zoom readings and workshops, it felt very special indeed to get out in the open air with like-minded souls to enjoy Jonathan’s drollery, fine poems and good taste in other poetry.

Matthew Paul, On Jonathan Davidson and James Caruth

Selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry is Berlin-based American poet Tracy Fuad’s full-length poetry debut, about:blank (Pittsburgh PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021), a collection of lyric collisions, fragments and fractures through language, the internet and Kurdish ruin. The granddaughter of a Kurdish immigrant to the United States, Fuad composed much of the collection during two years spent teaching English in Kurdistan, as she responds as part of a July 2021 interview conducted by Helena de Groot for the podcast Poetry Off the Shelf: “I was aware that I was Kurdish from a young age, but there was no one really to talk to that about. Because I do think I really, in a way that was quite intended, was raised as a white American. You know, my parents were quite intentional about giving me and both of my brothers very American names because they knew we already had a foreign last name. So, I think a lot of my story is a story of my father’s assimilation and then the next generation sort of uncovering that history. And finding out your relationship to it.”

There is an openness and a curiosity, as well as an expansiveness, to the text of about:blank, one composed through a combination of self-contained poems against fragments, sketches and short lists, all of which interplay into the larger scope of this intricately-shaped book-length interplay between language and culture, ancient sites and technology. From the core of seeking her own relationship to her family’s history, Fuad writes an excavation of cultural and personal spaces and historic landscapes through short sketches and longer examinations. “Applied to a job in Kurdistan,” she writes, as part of “Considering the Unit of the Day,” “Considered whether I wanted the job or wanted to want it / Considered the difference between these; its shape, dimension, texture / Searched for images of reverse sandwiches throughout duration of this consideration [.]” In many ways, this is a collection shaped around conversation, whether between ideas, cultures or languages, writing of the seemingly-contradictory reality of locals with smartphones roaming ancient hillsides. She writes of placement and ruin, and the long shadow of history, as the poem “Report of the Excavation at Tell Sitak” offers: “The ruins here were further ruined by recent war and roots of oak, / but still, beneath remains of modern bombs, the dig reveals a fortress built by the Assyrians: / defensive walls of stone and three stone towers; / a courtyard floor incised with flowers; / baked bricks, a kiln, and iron slags; / in a threshold, three jars of living earth, each large enough to hold a child; / a fragment of a tablet pressed with wedges, / a record of the sale of seven people and a field. / Even then, this land was bought and sold.”

about:blank is an extremely smart book, and Fuad’s curiosity is as engaging as it is engaged, all the more impressive when one considers this her full-length debut.

rob mclennan, Tracy Fuad, about:blank

I did hope that this book might have another path, but it has the path that it does. Maybe it’ll be a slow burn and readers will discover it more gradually. Maybe it’ll have fewer readers but it’ll mean more to them. Maybe when the paperback edition comes out in March, its red boot bedecked bright yellow cover will leap into readers hands. And now that bookstores are open again (ah, how I missed them!) that’s another chance for the book to meet its potential readers. Also, it’s being translated into Romanian! I may not be big in Japan, but Romania? They’ll carry me through the streets of Bucharest!  

There’s that Junot Diaz quote, “In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book.” And in some sense, you have to become the person you need to have written that book, to have that particular book out in the world. And you get to be another person, too. The one who is written the current work-in-progress. I find I have to become that person in order to do that work, and I’m discovering who that person is through the process of writing. 

So, there’s no point in mourning the book that could have been. The reception that could have been. The person that one could have been, that was. I hadn’t thought of that chimerical “son” that we thought we might have. In fact, by not having any expectations of our daughter—who she might be and how—we’ve been delighted by the continual discovery. Now that’s the way to have joy as a parent and as a writer.

Gary Barwin, How when we thought our daughter was going to be a “boy” is like my new novel.

A book I’ve been obsessed with ever since the translation by Johnny Lorenz appeared in 2012 is A Breath of Life by Clarice Lispector. I have made a point of not looking at it though for a while, because I don’t want the magic of it to become dull. I’ve been saving it for a time of need and that time is now. Yes, this might be the most dogeared book in my dogeared book collection. It also opens to a particular page where the binding has been cracked open (yes the light gets in). There is a section in A Breath of Life titled “Book of Angela” in which the Author character says, “Angela apparently wants to write a book studying things and objects and their auras. But I doubt she’s up to it.” And Angela says, “I’d really like to describe still life.”

And

“I can’t look at an object too much or it sets me on fire. More mysterious than the soul is matter. More enigmatic than the thought, is the “thing.” The thing that is miraculously concrete in your hands. Furthermore, the thing is great proof of the spirit. A word is also a thing — a winged thing that I pluck from the air with my mouth when I speak. I make it concrete. The thing is the materialization of aerial energy. I am an object that time and energy gathered in space.”

This is the way it is when you write books: the book that you’ve written emerges and the one you’re writing recedes a little, it calls to you, but it waits patiently and also nervously. And yet, they even sometimes speak to each other. The one I’ll be devoting more time to next is a book of essays on still life. It’s been roughed out for a while, and soon I will be able to concentrate on it again. (As Adam Zagajewski has said, it’s not time we lack but concentration). I know that I need to go into training to write this book: get up at 5am, stop drinking alcohol, work out more on the treadmill, lift weights, eat super healthily. Not even kidding. I need to sleep well and dream well, if I’m to get this book right. I need to eventually sort out my study, so that the angel books I read while writing EAE are back on the shelf, and the still life books can regain prominence.

We need to give our books a chance, though, and so for now I need to concentrate on Everything Affects Everyone. It’s a bit like time travelling. Books, too, are winged things.

Shawna Lemay, Of Words and Things

Yesterday I had the most amazing news. I’ve been awarded a Society of Authors Foundation Grant to help me to develop and work on my new poetry collection. I’ve been working on the collection here and there for a while. Just last week I had a look through my files to see how many poems were suitable for it and found, to my surprise, that I have between fifteen and twenty poems that fit into the concept that I’m working towards. Are they any good? hmmmm some are, some aren’t. I’ve begun to realise of late that my own writing process has changed considerably over the last couple of years. I used to write a lot of poems, I used to have fits of writing that were like purges, poems flowing out of me. These days the process is much slower, much more like waiting for something to grow and quietly feeding it; mushrooms, perhaps, or lichen or moss. I like the idea that the things that I do in my everyday life – reading, contemplating, walking – feed these poems and that my writing process involves trying on lots of different poems before I find the right one, something like burrowing into the poem to find the source.

Between working on poems I’ve been working on the novel a lot, which is a slow business. I invariably have several projects on the go at any one time. I know other writers do this too. I also have a non fiction project which is on the back burner. Sometimes working like this feels a little chaotic, but what I’m learning is that this is my process, this is how I work, other people work in other ways, and that’s OK. I don’t work on all three projects at the same time. It’s more like I have periods of excitement about a project and wear myself out with it, so work on another project for a while; thinking differently, writing differently. Like using different sets of muscles in a workout.

Wendy Pratt, Walking into the New Collection

In cheerful news, I managed to actually follow through on a couple of different projects. One of them was this review, my first for the New York Journal of Books. I read and wrote about Mai Der Vang’s second book of poetry, Yellow Rain, which is an immense accomplishment in terms of form, creative risk, and research.

M. and I are submitting our MS to agents and small publishers right now, to see what interest we can drum up for Every Second Feels Like Theft. This was my first time writing an actual query letter, an unnerving task but an oddly invigorating one — a reminder that it’s good to get out of one’s comfort zone.

I remember reading about query letters when I was fifteen and just beginning to think about being a writer. I bought one of those enormous Writer’s Market tomes that Chris Stuck references in last week’s I’m a Writer But… podcast episode, and, as I was already a lapsed Catholic in my teens, it was the closest thing I had to a Bible.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Perspective

This week saw another return to the “live arena” or the “meat space” to read at the inaugural Resonance Poetry night at The Three Hounds.

I love that my local booze emporium is branching out and doing different things to bring in the punters. They run music nights, games nights, and a running club. I am a founding member of the running club, and had worrying visions earlier in the week that running and poetry club (the first rule of which is….) would be on the same night. The fear that crossed my mind as I wondered how it would look if I ran in, hyperventilating and sweaty, clad in lycra to then begin a poem…dear god..thankfully they were far more organised and had them on separate nights.

The night is organised by the irritatingly young and talented Jack Emsden, and I commend his excellent Stephen Wright-themed poem to you here. He opened and closed the evening with some wonderful and affecting work that managed to touch on the personal and the universal without ever over-simplifying things. I hope we see more by the lad (although not in lycra as he is also part of the running club).

Mat Riches, No, You Are…

depicter of flowers
curator of fruits
witness to birds

embracer of wastes
consumer of carrion
witness to birds

Dick Jones, Dog Haiku §88

The thing is an attitude
of curious nonchalance.

The thing is to avoid
sustained eye contact,

to instead look over here,
what’s this interesting thing,

it smells good, I think
there might have been

a coyote.

JJS, portrait of the immune system as a feral dog

There is a green leaf in the fire.
My flesh, you’ve made the two
of us a blind study. We’ve left
our vortex, grainy and laminated
in space, and we never reach
the summit of suns, big yolk
growths, an autumn phenomenon,
bringing us kilometers of numerical frosts.

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, New cinepoem • Translating Myself

little brown bird crawls into a traffic light

Jason Crane, haiku: 28 October 2021

It began this day, 7 years ago, on the advice of a fellow-writer, while I was stuck at home, unwell, with nothing else to do, knowing fully well the fate of 3 previous blogging attempts on platforms like yahoo and blogger. Who knew then that a new world would open up! Friends, poetry, groups, submissions, books… everything started from that first wordpress post! Thanks to everyone who has stopped by, offered support and encouragement.

Am sharing today a flash fiction piece that I wrote some time ago. Have been trying my hand at this genre while searching for a way back into poetry. Would very much like to connect with others/ groups doing flash fiction, so do drop your blog URL so I can read your work.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, 7 years of blogging

It’s an amazing feature of change.  The twisted winding streets, narrow as crooked fingers, are now lit with happening cafes, cold brew, bars serving Aperol spritz.  The old Jewish ghettos, once places of shame and confinement, are where you’ll find bright faces of the global generation.  It almost doesn’t matter the city, Vilnius, Girona, Krakow, Paris.  

The old Jews would be amazed — very old, depending on the city!  In Palermo, Sicily, where the merchants were thrown out long ago, names of alleyways are trilingual, written in Italian, Hebrew and Arabic.  Amber lanterns light the way for long nights of drinking and circus of socializing.  Palermo considers itself perennially In the Middle — so here Jews are among many of the middle layer of culture. 

 In Toledo, Spain, long famous for its large intellectual medieval Jewish community (ten synagogue, including two truly spectular renovated buildings), old timbered ceilings, walls constructed of tenth century pebbles lend atmosphere to the best small restaurants.  And since it’s Spain, don’t be surprised to see a flashy hoof of serrano ham sitting on the counter of a place with the chutzpah to call itself Cabala!

History is full of its tragedies and ironies, its messy intricacies, its mysterious energies.  Have a drink in the Cabala!

Jill Pearlman, Jewish Ghetto, Airbnb & other Cafe Stories

What I know now is that fear is a terrible reason to stick with anything. Sometimes we have to. Sometimes we have to stick with something until we can find a safe way to escape it. Fear is a necessary emotion that often helps to keep us safe, and I don’t want to discount that or to ignore that, sometimes, quitting is really not an option.

But I am so here for this resignation thing going on, whatever it is. I’m still in process on my journey to a healthier, more manageable life, but I’m definitely getting there, and quitting my old job was a huge, first, and necessary step. I’m grateful, too, for my students’ various ways of quitting the ways in which we’ve always done school. They are pushing me to be a more humane and more effective teacher than I’ve ever been–and it’s leading me to new practices that are better for me, too. Sometimes I can get mired down in sadness and regret over things we have lost and are losing (truly bipartisan legislation, for just one), but this week I am finding value in thinking about things we should quit. I’m glad to be re-thinking the whole notion of quitting, and to rewrite some of the scripts that have shaped me, my life choices, and my feelings about myself for so long.

This weekend I got caught up on reading one of my favorite blogs, and truly enjoyed Bethany Reid’s recent essay about her marriage, written in an A to Z format. I love this format (similar in many ways to collage, a visual form I’ve always loved) and it reminds me of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, one of those books I wish I’d written. And now I’m thinking about writing an A to Z of things I’ve quit, just to see where it might take me…

Rita Ott Ramstad, Take that life and shove it

[Rob Taylor]: You spoke about Patricia [Young]’s role in your writing life in a “Falling in Love with Poetry” essay you wrote for The New Quarterly (“Before I fell in love with poetry, I fell in love with a poet”), and at the end of Smithereens you note that without her “inspiration, love and encouragement” the book wouldn’t have come into being. Could talk a bit about how that encouragement manifests day-to-day? To what extent have Patricia’s attitudes on poetry (or her poems themselves) shaped your own?

[Terence Young]: Patricia is always growing as a writer, and she likes to challenge herself by embracing new forms, new approaches. I’m lucky to be able to observe how she alters her process, how she moved away, for example, from the autobiographical into more fantastical and imaginative realms, areas that allow her to play more. I can still see bits and pieces of our life in such poems, but they no longer take centre stage. They are useful only to the extent that they serve a larger purpose, to add detail and depth to the poem. I still write largely out of my life, but she inspires me to push boundaries a little, to experiment. 

RT: Are you one another’s first editor? 

TY: We will show each other our work when we’re happy with it, but she is far more content than I to sit on a poem for months or longer before she shares it, by which time it is pretty much perfect. I am a little more impulsive, and I probably benefit more from her editorial eye than she from mine.  

Rob Taylor, Wherever We Are Going, We Are Going Together: An Interview with Terence Young

I’m grateful to this book. I’ve been dabbling in essays (both here at the blog and on that other Blank Page), and The Guild of the Infant Saviour [by Megan Culhane Galbraith] is helping to illuminate a path for how I may explore some of my own stories outside poems. I lean toward collage and association vs. strict narrative, and it’s delightful to see one way those elements can be executed in memoir. In addition, its timing is serendipitous, as these things tend to be. I’m in a period of rehashing so many of my own stories and unpacking some of their cultural, familial and historical baggage.

The point of revisiting a thing isn’t to relive the pain, but to place it in a different register, to know it differently. Galbraith writes, “It took time for me to figure out the right questions to ask and of whom” (p. 279), which is exactly what I’m doing. I don’t have my talking points yet, but poetry has taught me that you don’t know them going in. They’re revealed in the writing, a process of telling and retelling that unbinds us.

Carolee Bennett, “there is never easy redemption”

I almost always take my morning walk at the same time, around 6 a.m.  These days, there’s only a hint of sunrise when I get to the lake; we are far from the blazing sunrise of summer.  In some ways, it means I’m not distracted by those intense colors of the morning.  There’s still much to see in the dark:

–Yesterday morning on my walk, I saw a shooting star.  Yes, I know I should be scientifically accurate and call it a meteor.  Frankly, my poet self doesn’t think either of those terms accurately describe what I saw.  I saw a slender sliver of a shooting star, a silver thread.  I knew it wasn’t a plane because of its descent and disappearance.  Did I make a wish?  

–I saw a solitary bird fly overhead, and if it hadn’t made a sound, I wouldn’t have looked up..  When I looked back down, I saw a feather on the grass.  It was wet when I picked it up, so it probably wasn’t from that bird.  I thought about flight and falling and the Emily Dickinson quote, about hope being a thing with feathers.

–From the distance of several blocks, I saw the neighborhood fox trot across the street, fully lit by the streetlamps.  You might ask, “How do you know it was a fox, not a cat?”  In part because of the confidence of the walk, and in part because the tail was held up–most cats don’t hold their tails up in that way when they walk.  You might ask, “How do you know it was a fox and not a coyote?”  I can’t be sure, because I couldn’t see the shape of the tail.  

I am already feeling a bit sad about the end of daylight savings time, about how light it will be when I walk.  I am feeling sad that all these Halloween lights and decorations will be banished soon.  I am sad about how it is still warm, humid, and windless.

But I am happy about the wonders of nature, about feeling like I’m the only one out and about, about having time to ramble, and having mobility, even with the aches and pains that come with middle age and arthritic feet.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Last Days of Daylight Savings Time

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 42

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, poets have been pondering questions of audience and language, questions of vocation and avocation, questions of travel, and more. Enjoy.


As the exhilaration of bringing forth a new book begins to settle, it presents the writer with another empty page. The writing has to being again and the poet, like a child, stares out at a freshly scrubbed world, learning anew, words and meanings, tasting phrases and metaphors, slowly, as if the morning is a foreign language, strange and tempting yet utterly incomprehensible.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What happens next?

This morning I was thinking about books and time and the way we change as authors–not only in the style of our writing, the subject matter, our obsessions, but also how we approach the art form–the commerce (or lack-of)–the bizness of this thing called po. The poet who wrote the fever almanac, who compiled various versions, combined and recombined manuscripts.  Who sent it dutifully off to first book contests and handed over those shiny paypal funds. She wanted to gain some sort of entry so badly. Wanted legitimacy, whatever that meant. And doors opened,  not at all where she expected.  

But once inside (I say this as someone who probably only made it into the foyer of the poetry establishment, not the house proper) things weren’t all that different. Most people in her life barely knew she wrote–let alone a book. She still went to work and cleaned the cat boxes and cried on buses  The poet who writes books now, wants something else, but something almost just as elusive–an audience.  Sometimes, those two things go hand in hand.  One leads to the other–and sometimes it flows both ways. Sometimes, you get stuck between. 

I like to write now, not with an eye to the editors, the gatekeepers, the people who will grant permission to various hallways and rooms, but my perfect reader.  I like to think she likes the same things I do.  The weird and spooky and heartbreakingly beautiful.   Maybe she’s a poet, or maybe just some other creative soul in another discipline.  Her age doesn’t really matter.  She’s something between an old soul and a child of wonder. She lives mostly in her head, though sometimes, through reading, inside the heads of others. She wants everything and nothing, but mostly a lot of sleep. A cat (or several). Some coffee. She probably has a job–something bookish. Or arty.  A librarian or an English teacher.  She’s seen a lot of bad relationships but also some good. She has a couple friends or many in a loose sort of way. Many would say she’s quiet, but can be quite loud when she wants. 

As I think about my books, the ones I’ve written but have yet to publish.  The books I’ve yet to write that are no more than an idea.  A scent in the air. A change of wind.  I picture her, probably not in a bookstore, but opening an envelope in the foyer of her apartment building and slipping out a book–my book. Grazing her finger along the spine. Because she probably reads a lot, she won’t read it straightaway, but stack it neatly with others. 

Kristy Bowen, the reader

So almost everyone I know in real life is not only not a writer, but has little to no interest in poetry at all (Writer friends: this post doesn’t apply to you).

However, when I come out with a book, they feel compelled to try to read it because they are nice to me. I actually feel really awkward when my day-to-day people read my book though–even my day-to-day people I’m very close to and know more about me than I would ever write in my books.

Why is this?

I think it is because I feel like an everyday-person reading my poetry might misunderstand it or misinterpret it but think the poetry is more my authentic self than the self I share with them (which is much more authentic than my poetry–minus my unpublished collection of poems about Kit which is practically my blood on a page and possibly too raw to ever find itself in a full-length published book form).

I guess that I also think that they just won’t like it–and I’m not sad/upset/bothered at all that they won’t like it, I just expect most people to not like or “get” poetry. I could probably find a poem in each of my books that I think most of my friends and family would like, but I know for sure they won’t like the whole collection (this is maybe a question of accessibility to the everyday reader and not the specific Poetry reader?).

Anyway. If you are my sister or my friend from church or co-op or my next door neighbor or anyone I see for playdates and coffee, I’m not saying you can’t read my book, but it won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t.

Renee Emerson, why I don’t want you to read my book

In one of the lectures given while he was Oxford Professor of Poetry, on ‘clarity and obscurity’, the now Poet Laureate Simon Armitage recalled attending a poetry reading with a non-poet friend (all the lectures are available to listen to here).

After the reading, the friend asks Armitage about the mini-introductions the readers had given to their poems: why, his friend wants to know, don’t they put them in the books? In reply, Armitage reels off various defences – a book is a privileged space, that any one explanation might preclude other readings.

“I still think they should put them in the books,” his friend says. “Or in the poem.”

While he doesn’t go as far as advocating for written intros, Armitage goes on to describe how poems can be more or less generous with the information they offer, and suggests that the modern tendency to hold something back – those references which have a personal, or particular, but unexplained resonance – is an attempt by poets to recreate the kind of enigma which form previously provided.

Free verse is sometimes defended as a more inclusive way of writing, so it is curious that it often goes hand in hand with obfuscation, deliberate or otherwise. What, Armitage asks, if obscurity is just another ‘club membership by which the ignorant and uninformed are kept outside the door’?

Several of the examples of the poems Armitage discusses are ekphrastic poetry: responses to works of art. He shows how some contemporary examples require the reader to be familiar with niche works of art (allowing for the fact nicheness is relative). Other poems do not even reference the work they are responding to: only someone ‘in the know’ would know the poem is a response at all.

What, Armitage asks, is the thought process behind deciding not to give the reader this kind of information? And what does that say about our responsibilities as readers?

Jeremy Wikeley, Are we being educated here? [h/t: Mat Riches]

Upon reflection, the reason I feel I haven’t been doing creative work is that I am not generating many new poems right now. Some, but not many. But let’s re-think the process of revision: it’s a process of deciding upon the order poems should appear in a book, and which of the poems ought to be there to speak to one another, to resonate with one another (and with the imagined future reader). Hey, I am using my imagination here, and I am doing creative work. If all I ever do is generate new poems, those poems won’t have a chance to go out into the world and endeavor to speak to other humans.

Figuring out how to make that happen is the creative work of revising, editing, rethinking. Imagining the reader. Striking the tone of each individual poem to see whether it adds harmony, or works with a fugue-like trope, or changes the mood to minor, or unleashes a surprise. The book of poems can have an arc or act as a chorale or zigzag about to keep the reader on her toes.

The collection of poetry, when it is not yet a book, presents problems the writer and editor must solve. Problem-solving requires creative thinking–I tell my students this almost every time I see them in class!

Will the manuscripts find homes? That’s a different “problem.” Meanwhile, more new poems, more revisions, maybe more manuscripts ahead…while I await the first frost, while the leaves turn and fall. All part of the cycle.

Ann E. Michael, Collecting & creativity

I am happy writing what I consider to be poems, short or long, sometimes very long, primarily because they take me on a trip. I can let my mind go where it will, trusting in the process enough to bring out something that, hopefully, challenges and therefore interests me. And hopefully, anybody who reads it.

A novel, though… not a chance, I thought.

And so why have I written only one poem in the last couple of months – and am 77,000 words into a story that has, so far, maintained my interest – and that I badly want to complete. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know what I’m doing. By that I mean I began it with no plan, no plot, no idea how long it would be, where it would end, if I might like it or not. I had an image of twin boys raised in a wet landscape by dour, religious parents who led lives that were separate from others around them. One boy spoke, the other did not.

I gave the boy who spoke the temporary/working name Josef and wrote the first sentences as follows:

Josef, they said, you have to take care of your brother, you have to take him with you.

In those days, my name was Josef.

What, all the time?

Wherever you go.

I had no idea at all what would come next. I made a deliberate effort to write slowly, to settle into the world I was somehow creating. Where was it? I didn’t know. When was it? I wasn’t sure. When I stopped at the end of the first session it was because I didn’t know what to write next. And somehow, eight weeks on, it’s at the point where it feels it might end soon. How I don’t know – and don’t want to know. When it’s done I will allow myself to go back and edit. Until then I’ll go where it leads.

Will it work as a piece of writing? I don’t know, which is the fun of it. If it does, then a couple of bottles of red may be consumed. If not, then maybe a couple of bottles of red may still be consumed.

Bob Mee, ON NOT KNOWING WHERE A PIECE OF WRITING IS GOING

Write it fast,
the first draft,

and make up
the rest of it

later on,
the old monk told

the novelist.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (38)

[L]anguage is a golem, a superhero, a doula, the moon. Language is a kid dressed with astounding style and agency, a kind of fatherhood of the world. And motherhood. Language is a map, a legend, a rocket, a secret plan, a beloved city, an entire cosmos, a marvellous escape and a transformation.

Gary Barwin, Some words on Michael Chabon

on exploring Charles Causeley’s house

we might be buyers with money to burn
this could be a viewing

house all shipshape
bristol fashion

I am in the footsteps of a poet I don’t know
a most modest master

so I search for clues
open drawers look in wardrobes

but you cannot wear another’s words
purloin their inspiration

it doesn’t work like that

*

I think tomb robber is about right for how I felt. I was conscious of the fact that I was looking for inspiration in the very place where most of his ideas coalesced. It was a unique experience and thanks to Annie for organising the weekend.

Paul Tobin, PURLOIN THEIR INSPIRATION

the eternal search
other words for other things
wish coin in the fountain
his mind turning inward
from down in that well
the bucket brought up silver
but when the sun went in
down the bucket went again
perhaps what darkness offers
is the eternal state

Jim Young, reading r s thomas

I’ve reached that time in this thinking aloud post when I wonder what quite it is I’m trying to say. I think I’m just writing in this blog when it’s drizzly and drab outside, after not properly blogging at all for a while, without a proper plan. I hope that’s allowed. Perhaps I’m thinking that writing is a solitary, strange, not always chirpy business, mostly a means of receiving mildly disappointing news. Sometimes, I wonder what it is all about at all. But so many of us just keep on with it, don’t we, in spite of everything.

Josephine Corcoran, End of month, rainy Sunday blog

TRANSBORDA III Q-TV: the response of video art to the quarantine times is part of the Festival of Books and Movies – Alcobaça in Portugal, 1-21 November, 2021. Curated by Alberto Guerreiro, the event features a diverse international line-up of video artists. Amongst so many good friends and colleagues, I’m delighted that two of my videos are on the program: ISOLATION PROCEDURES and future perfect. I also have a component in the international collaborative project, Chant for a Pandemic by Dee Hood.

ISOLATION PROCEDURES was recorded during the 2020, mostly on location at Sleep’s Hill, Blackwood, and Belair, South Australia, where I live, under partial lockdown conditions. The audio samples are made from birds, frogs and voices in the immediate neighbourhood. The text samples advice from various government, business and community organisations. “WE ARE CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE… MAINTAIN YOUR SOCIAL ISOLATION…” After the pandemic has passed, the lockdowns persist: this is the new normal…

In future perfect, we see and hear words stripped of their ornamentation, pared back to monosyllabic cores… Are these the roots of language? Or are they the skeletal remains of a lost form of communication? Who is trying to speak here? What exactly are we being told? Perhaps a coded message. More likely, a cry for help.

Ian Gibbins, TRANSBORDA III – Q-TV: the response of video art to the quarantine times

One year in Theater History, I stupidly stumbled into a discussion about the “facts” of theater history being theories. And that theories can change with new information – thus changing the “fact”. But I can’t get it out of my head that even though I know the hard sciences work this way as well, I want something to be a real – hard & true – fact. Not something made true by the loudest voice, or the most votes.

This fact today: from where I stand, the Hunting Moon is waning in the pale morning sky. The wind is blowing. Leonard is sleeping by my feet. I am yearning for all the vague atmosphere that the word village brings to mind. I want to live there.

And I want this person in my Facebook feed to be comforted somehow. By someone real. To be held – not in thoughts – but in body.

Ren Powell, Facebook is not a Village

It’s been a blustery week – the Pacific Northwest hit with “bomb cyclone” weather patterns – right now, I’m typing as my power is flickering on and off. We tried to make the best of the brief mornings and afternoons of slightly better weather whenever we could. […]

[W]e got a chance to visit with my poet friends (and Two Sylvias Press editors) Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy, who came and met me at the ferry arrival area. We shared carrot apple ginger cupcakes in a gazebo overlooking the water and got caught up on writing news in the brisk outdoors. I also picked up a pack of the Two Sylvias Poet Tarot set. It was great seeing friends IN PERSON again. I forgot how great it is socializing in real life, especially with other writers!

Then we traveled on to see my little brother Mike and sister-in-law Loree at the new house they’re renting on the Hood Canal, stopping along the way at a local park to unpack a thermos of hot cider and snap a pic – only to see a sea lion fighting with seagulls right behind us. We had a good visit, sat out on their beautiful deck overlooking the Hood Canal, had a little dinner, then made the long trek back to Woodinville. Once again, great to see actual family in human form, instead of just over the phone or over a screen.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Blustery Week, Ferry Foibles, Visiting Friends and Family Over the Water

I’m buried, overloaded, drowning in work, but how could I turn down an invitation by a fellow Singaporean to try some cheap and good Chinese food in a place that I knew nothing about? Spicy Village is an unassuming establishment on Forsyth Street, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, whose claim to fame is its da pan ji, or “spicy big tray chicken,” a dish from Xinjiang.

I did not do my research beforehand, so I did not know about the chef’s specialty. Instead, I had soup dumplings (delicious but small), spicy beef brisket hui mei, or handpulled wide noodle (chewy good), and fish balls stuffed with pork (yummy), as my friend and I chatted about the various business scandals that had broken out in Singapore, about FICA, about Singaporeans in NYC doing this and that, and about the trials of New York real estate.

As the evening went on, I was feeling strangely revived in that tiny, five-table restaurant, with eye-watering fluorescent lighting and a sullen waitress. It had something to do with the food, something to do with the company. When I peeked into the kitchen, and saw three cooks, two women and one man, pulling the dough in their hands into long strands of noodle and talking with great animation, the sight was mysteriously energizing.

Jee Leong Koh, Spicy Village

i’m earlobe to your earhart. i’m astroturf to your astrophysics.

jack o’ lantern to your geranium, chthonic to your tonic.

i’m bray to your brie. knurl to your nureyev. i’m squeegee to your tuileries, caw to your kalimba.

i’m dishcloth to your dish antenna. baywatch to your beethoven. i’m dog-tired to your catalyst.

i’m small time to your bigfoot.

Rich Ferguson, you say catechism, i say cataclysm

I still don’t know what I’m doing with my life, but at least I’m doing something. Which is a huge relief. I don’t think I knew just how much being dead in the water was distressing me, till I got a little way on the ship. Just to have a wake again, and the sea whispering under the planks. And maybe, after all it doesn’t matter so much what I’m doing: I’ll figure out what I’m doing partly by doing it.

At present, the most important thing would be either Python or the blog, I guess. The blog. I love writing and being read: but it may be that the blog is a dead end. Blog readership is falling off, for one thing; and for another, I am constrained by my past there, by the speaking voice and choice of topics my readers are used to. How many times can I run my stumbling toward enlightenment schtick? Okay, I’m overwhelmed by the intensity of beauty, and I can’t summon what it requires of me: what good does it do to say that over and over (and to exaggerate it)? My handful of readers loves it, but that doesn’t make it the right next thing to focus on. We have lingered in the chambers of the sea. Maybe the time has come to leave them.

Dale Favier, Getting Meta

Beady unblinking eyes, some red and some white, stare out from my phone charger, coffee maker, speakers, PC, printer, and elsewhere. The average U.S. home has about 40 electronic devices draining power, accounting for around 10 percent of one’s energy bill. Some call this leaking electricity or vampire energy.

Things I used to get done on a regular basis now seem to take forever. I never used to squeak right up against deadlines, beg out of regular obligations, fail to answer necessary texts, forget things like sympathy cards. Never, ever. But I have the last few years, excoriating myself all the while.

Adding up U.S. households, all this leaking energy totals the output of 26 power plants. This in a time when people in the U.S. use more electricity, per capita, than nearly anywhere else in the world. 

Sometimes I cancel a walk with a friend, a walk I’ve been looking forward to, because I just can’t muster up whatever it takes to get myself out of the house. Then I wonder what the heck is wrong with me when surely both my friend and I need the restorative pleasure of time in nature.

Laura Grace Weldon, Steadily Drained

The light on the window sums it up:
This is the year of drought in the city—

Days are endless as the land endures the heat.
Buildings bare sockets, hardly dent the glare
Of the sun harsh on stumps of shrubs, moving

Vehicles:
The river of lives dry and ache of thirst.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Maxim Drawn from Clearing-nut Tree

Word of the Day 18: ‘stour’. Stour has many meanings, but I’ve always heard it connected with dust and dirt. I was excited to learn that my mother-in-law called her vacuum a ‘stour sooker’ which was similar to the Norwegian I learned ‘støvsuger’. I think my MIL would have done well in Norway, with her Scots vocabulary, there’s so many words in common.

A short poem by William Soutar, who was best known for his bairn-rhymes. He was part of the Scottish Renaissance with Hugh MacDiarmid and had a short tragic life. His poems capture the fleeting beauty of life that passed his sick-bed’s window.

Nae Day Sae Dark

Nae day sae dark; nae wüd sae bare;
Nae grund sae stour wi’ stane;
But licht comes through; a sang is there;
A glint o’ grass is green.

Wha hasna thol’d his thorter’d hours
And kent, whan they were by,
The tenderness o’ life that fleurs
Rock-fast in misery?

Gerry Stewart, Scotstober: Days 17, 18, 19 and 20

Back in the 1990s, one of my first published poems appeared in Poetry Scotland. It was chosen by Sally Evans, a co-founder and editor of the magazine, who’s still a stalwart of the poetry scene in Scotland. In fact, I was delighted to meet her finally in person at StAnza 2019 and thank her for her encouragement all those years ago.

Since 2020, Poetry Scotland has been edited by Andy Jackson and Judy Taylor. They’ve kept its unusual format – an A4 broadsheet – while its aesthetic has also been maintained and tweaked to bring it bang up to date (see their website here). As a consequence, I’m delighted to have a new poem in their latest issue, nº102, which is out now. High-quality printed journals still have an important role to play in contemporary poetry, and I hope Poetry Scotland will be around for many years to come…!

Matthew Stewart, Poetry Scotland

[Rob Taylor]: Assuming the poems with place names as titles (like “Manitoba”) were written in those places, you traveled over half the planet in writing this book! At one point you mention that your browser has “thirty flight search tabs” and that you own “more bathing suits than underwear,” so I suspect travel has been central to your life and identity (you note at one point that travel “becomes my greatest escape”). 

[Cicely Belle Blain]: The ability to travel freely to so many places is definitely a huge privilege and something I understood to be a privilege from a very young age. My family made a concerted effort to provide us with the opportunity to travel, even at the sacrifice of other luxuries. I remember in ninth grade my teacher asked me why I didn’t choose geography as a subject to pursue and I replied that I felt like I already had front row seats to the best geographical education. I have always valued and appreciated my parents’ willingness to take risks—they’ve moved from the Netherlands to Italy to Kenya in the time I’ve lived in Canada.

RT: We’ve all had to live life differently since the onset of the pandemic, but I wonder if that isn’t particularly true for you, having lost your ability to travel. How has your time been during the pandemic? Has the requirement to stay in one place caused you to look at the world, or yourself, any differently?

CBB: Over the past year the value that travel holds has changed. It is no longer about exploration and fun and leisure, but about connecting or reconnecting with people, ancestors or culture. This has allowed me to view travel less from a Western perspective of ticking things off a bucket list and more as a sacred opportunity to find parts of me that are missing. I hope when the pandemic is over, I can dedicate my future travels to places like Gambia, Jamaica and other lands where my ancestry lies.

Rob Taylor, Achieving An Equilibrium: An Interview with Cicely Belle Blain

Why Palermo, a friend asked when I was making plans.  To gather the last strands of summer sun, like harvesters with a basket, I said, or something such.  Everything sings in the sun.  Instead, there has been some sun and much storm. The stone streets gleam slick and gray between the medieval buildings; the streets with arms extending out like a wet octopus. 

I might have said more interesting things: I love the mash-up of cultures, the never-finished project of culture building.  When I was 21 and dizzy with discovery, I said this was the first Arab country I’d been in.  Was it the pressure of colors — greens, pinks of fish, oranges, figs, the persimmon I ate everyday with fresh ricotta and semolina bread on a park bench?  Even locals here still talk of their Arab city — the gardens made urban market, sumptuous and overflowing in crowded alleys with fruits, fish, vegetables.  It’s a vision of possibility – a world of overflowing excess – that exists, and exists, no less, in the shadow of crumbling buildings!

The streams of cultivaters — Carthinigians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Arab, Normans, Italians, Cosa Nostra – are all still felt. Along with palm and orange trees, cats, graffiti, conversation, cars, garbage.  This fertile energy threatens to overflow at all moments, is always almost too much, pulls back with its own logic.  To know a thing, you put yourself in the middle. That’s the beauty of it. 

Jill Pearlman, Why Palermo

parked
beside a stream
of traffic

Jason Crane, haiku: 23 October 2021

And we came home with pockets packed with seeds
prickly chestnut hulls leaves and stones
a sliver of slate and the shell of a stripey snail
grains of Quantock soil under our nails
and the day was round and perfect as an egg
and contentment ran like a robin’s song in our veins

Ama Bolton, Desire Lines, continued

This pamphlet is subtitled “Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals reimagined” and was published to coincide with the 250th anniversary of her birth. The journals are packed with description of the natural world and her thoughts and feelings, written over the period 1798 – 1803. Sarah Doyle calls these collage poems rather than found poems because, although the words are Wordsworth’s, the poet has reshaped the prose into poetry and added punctuation where necessary for sense. The original spellings have been kept rather than modernised. The language is far from prosaic. The first poem, “One only leaf,” is short enough to be quoted whole,

“upon the top of
a tree – the sole remaining
leaf – danced round and round

like a rag blown by
the wind.”

Emma Lee, “Something so wild and new in this feeling” Sarah Doyle (V. Press) – book review

I was very saddened to hear of the death of Brendan Kennelly this week. He had been a long-standing presence in my poetic universe, and was part of the constellation of poets collected in that life-changing anthology Poetry With an Edge which I devoured in the early nineties having decided to put poetry at the centre of my life. (If you are new to this blog, I have written about his poem ‘May the Silence Break’ here, and, more recently, ‘The Gift’ here.)

That final phrase belongs to his compatriot Seamus Heaney, who has also been in my thoughts recently, namely the austere quatrains and ‘inner émigré’ monlogues of his fourth collection, North. The line that’s been nagging away at me is from the poem ‘Fosterage’, part 5 of the ‘Singing School’ sequence. The poem is one of three that Heaney wrote in celebration of his friend and teaching colleague the short-story writer and novelist Michael McLaverty.

The poem contains a model of Heaney’s ability to make poetry out of everyday speech:

‘Listen. Go your own way.
Do your own work. Remember
Katherine Mansfield—I will tell
How the laundry basket squeaked … that note of exile.’

I first read it having just finished a big Katherine Mansfield phase, and was sure that the universe was trying to tell me something. The lines ‘Go your own way./ Do your own work’ in particular have been copied into more commonplace notebooks and quotebooks than I can remember.

Anthony Wilson, Do your own work

When I come to write my memoirs

I shall hesitate over many things. Pens
for a start. Inks. Nibs. And paper. Lined or plain?
And a routine. A fixed time every day, like Trollope?
Stop after two hours, mid-sentence, regardless.
Or after two thousand words. Or as things dictate?
Middle of the night, esprit d’escalier. Perhaps
a dictaphone? Though transcription is a bore.
An amenuensis would be nice,
but who would you trust, and they’d want paying,
regular hours. Food and drink and board?
Who knows. Anyway, that’s out.
Notebooks, perhaps. But not Moleskines, in case
people notice, and ask if you’re a writer and then
tell you that they do a bit themselves
and wonder if you’d like to take a look,
and tell you how they’re fascinated
by Temperance, or the evolution of the urban bus.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [10]. Kinda blue

I’m very pleased to see the newly-released full-length debut by Bronwen Tate, an American poet recently transplanted into Vancouver for the sake of a teaching gig at the University of British Columbia. After the publication of a handful of chapbooks over the past few years, including titles published by above/ground press, Dusie Press and Cannibal Books, comes the full-length The Silk The Moths Ignore (Riverside CA: Inlandia Books, 2021), winner of the 2019 Hillary Gravendyk Prize. Through her book-length suite, Tate speaks of children, echoes, stories; writing from the inside of a curiously-paired bubble of text and pregnancy, each of her narrative threads swirling up and around the other. “Any creature with the head of a man will face you differently. Bind the book of autumn,” she writes, to end the poem “NEWS KNOWN / SOONER ABROAD,” “ember-leafed difficulty. Pea coat in the closed, embarrassed, left diffidently. // Can a heartbeat quicken? Mismeasured, I bargained, unmeasured, immeasurable. // Any foreign city can be a mellifluous note. // The true sky was grey.” There is such an interesting and intense interiority to these poems, writing through the blended swirl surrounding pregnancy and mothering a toddler, and reading and thinking. Through Tate, the considerations of writing, thinking and pregnancy are singular, shaping lyric sentences that are attuned to the shifts within her own body. “I could not say I had a daughter. I had a syndrome,” she writes, as part of “THE BEAUTY OF BEINGS UNLIKE / THAT OF OBJECTS,” “missing chromosomes nature mostly culls. A colleague tells me she studies what for me was a sentence. // I had that, I answer. Lost it. Her.” And yet, these poems were not prompted by such shifts, but through an entirely different kind of shifting perspective, as she offers as part of her “ACKNOWLEDGMENTS”:

Many of these poems began with reading Proust in French, which I read well but not perfectly, in search of words I did not know and could not make a confident guess at. I used these words, my guesses based on context, strange collisions, their etymology, French dictionary references (sometimes only to the Proustian sentence in which I’d encountered them), and the guts of my beloved OED for drafting material. While much of what this process generated has been trimmed away in revisions, I’ve gratefully retained some plants, some syntax, some atmosphere, and many titles.

I am fascinated through the way she shapes her poems, whether prose poems or her prose-attuned lyrics, attentive to the shape of the sentence and the accumulation of phrases, and the deep music of her flows and shifts and pauses, breaks. “Now bathysphere,” she writes, as part of “SWEET TEA,” “I house a slow advance. Brain and bone.” Or, as she writes to open the prose poem “AN EMPTY MEASURE IN MUSIC”: “That the dead could linger. Measure to the first knuckle of my littlest finger. Hand-worked guipure, light wool for a shawl. My body a shroud, lost all, lost all. Flicker, spark, and softest fall. // I count the beats in stillness.” Through Tate, we experience a lyric where language and the body intersect, and meet; a confluence of words and cells, each offering their own set of simultaneous possibility. She presents both an abstract and deeply physical and straightforward narrative space, one that articulates how perspective adapts, shifts, stretches and reshapes, from the immediate of the body to what that represents, moving through and against the language of Proust, and such a generous and affirming song of being.

rob mclennan, Bronwen Tate, The Silk The Moths Ignore

–This week brought us the latest adaptation of Dune.  At the same time I was watching Bosom Buddies, I was reading Dune.  Do I remember the plot?  No, but I do remember my dad telling me to give it 100 pages before giving up on it.  I did, and I was hooked, and for years, 100 pages before giving up became my rule for reading.  My other Dune memory is 10th grade art class, where we had a teacher who just left us to our own devices with all the art supplies, and I drew a picture based on my reading.  One of my classmates told me it was derivative of Star Wars, although he wouldn’t have used the word “derivative.”  I can still see the hooded figure (bonus:  no need to draw a face!) and the swirling desert colors and the burnt orange of the sky.  Will I go see the movie?  Doubtful, but it does sound intriguing.

–Another book I read in early adolescence was The Diary of Anne Frank.  On Wednesday, I went out for my early morning walk at 5:50.  Slumped against the concrete column of a downtown building was a man, sleeping in an upright sitting position.  On one side, he had a mostly empty bottle of vodka, on the other a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. I continue to think of him as a metaphor of the human condition, but I’m not quite sure what the metaphor is saying.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Echoes of Early Adolescence

Famine towns spring up,
the farther north one goes.

Flood towns cascade
farther south. The diorama

is a rediscovered art form.
Each boiled grain spared

from a meal affixes moss
to twigs. Once, we had

windows of scalloped shell.
Once, we had capes of bamboo

leaf. Every street corner had
a tiny bread-shrine whose lights

came on behind brown paper
curtains at the crack of dawn.

Luisa A. Igloria, What World

Friday means challah dough rising while I work. Today it also means red beans soaking for mashawa, a soup from Afghanistan. Later I’ll add quick-cooking yellow lentils, bright like the leaves carpeting the grass outside my kitchen window, and tiny moong beans in dull Army green. I wonder what color camouflage American troops wore in Afghanistan over the last twenty years. I know that trying a recipe from someplace doesn’t mean I understand anything about what it’s like to live there, or to flee from there, or to yearn for a there that maybe doesn’t exist anymore. No matter how many news stories I read, I can’t entirely bring the other side of the world into focus. At my work email address, I read and forward another email about resettling refugees. Outside my window the hills are dressed in autumnal tweed. Maple and oak and pine trees rustle. Central Asia couldn’t seem further away.

Rachel Barenblat, Soup

Moonlight, waxing toward full, sweet
Nightfall after an easy Indian Summer day.
My parakeet sings along to the jazz on the radio.
The darkness grows like a healthy child.

James Lee Jobe, the darkness grows