Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 17

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 at Via Negativa or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack (where the posts might be truncated by some email providers).

This week: words with friends, a loving attendance on the world, histories of brokenness and violence, lithium wasps, the Mouth of Hell volcano, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 8

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: active hope, the anti-ship of Theseus, knocking the brain off its pedestal, smutty Persephone poems, slow stitching, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 7

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

This week: Fat Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, a blog’s birthday, a book’s birthday… as the world steadily becomes more terrible. Poetry remains one of the very few effective antidotes to despair.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 5

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

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

This week: a journey to the underworld, an allotted plot, becoming your own god, finding joy as a writer, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

This edition begins and ends with small trees, and features tongue fire, a dandelion seed, a shirt soaked with life, little pooping monsters, and magic shoes, among other signs and wonders. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 51-52: Holidaze edition

Poetry Blogging Network

Happy 2024! This edition of the digest—a personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond—takes us from the winter solstice to New Year’s, with year-end summary posts, favorite books, and plans for the year ahead as well as reflections on the season. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: autumn, bombs, books, cancer, bombs, the bees in Liechtenstein, theology school, and bombs. Enjoy.


A mouth becomes a stone.
A child cannot stop shaking.
Bombs fall on hospitals, schools,
Churches, mosques, homes.
Numbed, frozen, bulldozed.
The images haunt my sleep.
Over and again, what
should I do? What could
I do?

Bells ring in, what exactly?
Ring for, what exactly?

Bob Mee, WE HAVE NO IDEA, NONE AT ALL

i’m not coming out
of this poem
i am staying here
forever
and
ever

once i did
once upon a time
never
again

there were wars
and babies crying
and dying

ok
in here it is raining
but it is cosy warm rain

Jim Young, sunny boy

Trees are shedding their summer hair.
What a tiny comb was used for grooming –
tufts pile on the sidewalk, bright and seething.

Where were we when we lost our crickets?
Softly, softly they left us without a sound,
darkness falls hard on hard ground, the cushion

they made gone, no love or jangle to soften
obsession, cool nights, bombs, part of the ear’s fabric. 
You can never put the shriek back in the throat of the cricket. 

Jill Pearlman, Back to Hard Ground

who taught our darkest river to drink from the sea

who put silence inside shadow inside seed

how many who are dreamed want only to sleep

Grant Hackett [no title]

Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

For me, the hammering and chiseling of revision is writing—the source of the initial gesture is from somewhere beyond regular consciousness. I often experience poetry, both reading and writing it, as something very embodied—it begins with a tingling at the base of my skull and ends with a sometimes pleasurable, sometimes sheer feeling of exhaustion when the poem is finished with me. One of my friends joked that I have “poetry ASMR,” which I love, but I’m hesitant to give the place where poetry comes from a name. I don’t really think in terms of books or projects because of feels like each poem is its own animal. If shaping a poem is one of seeing what each line might have to say to each other, shaping a book has been one of seeing what different poems might have to say to one another. […]

What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I’ve made a nightly ritual of reading one poem by Dickinson and one by Rilke. Dickinson surpasses Shakespeare in possessing the greatest wit in the history of the English language, and something about her synapse-snapping speed of thought and formal mastery juxtaposed with the occasionally ostentatious, more often profound mysticism of Rilke in his castle keeps me in touch with the simultaneous wide specturm and discrete nature(s) of poetry. I likewise seem to return to Ashbery, Merrill, Schuyler, The Tang Dynasty poets (Li Bai, Du Fu, and co.), Blake, Terrance Hayes, Don Paterson, Richard Siken, Anthony Madrid, Hafez, CAConrad, Ariana Reines, Sylvia Plath, Eduardo C. Corral, The Odyssey, and the poems of my friends and mentors back home in the orbit of Canada, which I can’t bring myself to list out of fear of missing someone whose work I love. I like to think my desire to feel the world and the word in these various ways informs both my poems and thinking. 

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nathan Mader

I hear the sweet voice of a young woman
making love. “Oh!” she says, “Oh!”

The birch trees tremble with sparrows. Yellow
leaves and seed husks flicker to the ground.

Sharon Brogan, Neighborhood Mid-October

In this poem, I am accepting how it is as I say ‘let it have me’ and acknowledge I want to ‘keep it here.’ It sounds unusual, but actually I am aware of what is happening and know that at the moment there is no cure. I now turn the dark into a real person, quite sinister and let it feed on my body: ‘my body is a table so now it can feed.’ I want to keep the curtains closed to literally keep the dark in the room and get rid of colour: ‘I don’t need the glare’ and again, am perfectly happy about this.

Drop-in by Julie Stevens (Nigel Kent)

The iceberg is back.
It looms out of its coat.
It shivers its keys onto the
silver tray, and drifts toward
the table for what seems like
a thousand years.

Jon Stone, Untitled iceberg poem

Each night,
darkness settles more deeply into itself and fans

open its card deck of prophecies. My hand used
to move quickly, almost involuntarily, toward choice.

Now I understand that toward the end, it is good
to take time, to tend the slow simmer of soup.

Luisa A. Igloria, Fall

Yes, I paused in the hunt for ripe raspberries this morning to listen to what must have been a catbird running through its repertoire, yes, I note a neighbor’s lilacs confusedly in bloom, noted the neighbor apparently reconciled with the wife and dog walking together. But what have I missed?

Whatever it is must be what x is equal to. And I must keep looking. It may be the next thing I need to make the poems or essays sharper, more exact, or at least, a clearer equation through which to regard x. The unknown, possibly unanswerable: life and its puzzling questions.

Marilyn McCabe, How do you solve a problem; or, More on Paying Attention

Yesterday my daughter stepped outside to play with the four-year-old boy who lives next door. As she was leaving, I heard the boy ask my daughter what her mother’s name is.

My daughter replied, “My mom’s name is Becky. But sometimes people call her Rebecca…Because she’s a writer.”

I laughed, of course. Yes, that is I! Rebecca of the Pen!

Becky Tuch, Do editors pay attention to a writer’s name?

October is my month, my favourite month. Autumn in full swing, brazen colours and spice. Wet and slowing down. I bake, I cook, I begin to build a nest to hibernate in. It’s also our autumn school holiday, so I’ve actually been able to do all those things which is more difficult when I’m working.

October is also #scotstober month. Scotstober is a challenge to learn and use a new Scots word every day. Here’s the Twitter post for this year.  I love it, some are familiar to me, and some are new. I have done various takes on the challenge, sometimes finding poems that use the word, other times writing my own few lines. This year I’m doing the latter and creating a poem using some of the words. I can’t keep up with all 31 words, but it’s Day 22 and I have most of a poem written. 

As with most of my Scots poems, I prefer to use words I’ve heard in context or am comfortable with. Some words in the Scotstober challenge are older and not used much, so they don’t feel right in my poems. So as I’m bringing this together as a poem, I’m changing some words to suit me. I’m grateful for the inspiration Scotstober brings. […]

Day 6 ettle – to try, to strive

ahm ettlin tae no sing thi same thrain,
but thi rain an its pebbly sklyter
drouns oot mah will

Gerry Stewart, Autumn’s Brewing – Scotstober 2023 and When the Readers Don’t Get A Poem

A lively and intriguing title for a poem sequence by our guest poet Lydia Harris. Her work has featured here before (March 2019). This sequence is from her new collection Objects for Private Devotion, beautifully produced by Pindrop Press, published last year. Lydia lives in the Orkney island of Westray. Many of the poem sequences in her new book focus on local culture, people, nature, objects – such as the prayer nut which provides the cover image.

The sequence about the fieldfare is inspired by the great Serbian poet Vasco Popa. The Blackbird’s Field is also a sequence, from Popa’s Collected Poems, close on 400 pages – drawing on folk tale, surrealist fable, personal anecdote, and tribal myth. […]

Lament

I’ve lost my folk,
my night ships,
my dear blood,
thick then thin,
night bird, stray bird.

Tongue

A whip of liver-coloured flesh
sheathed in the coffin of his beak.

Fokkina McDonnell, Fieldfare, blown off course, early spring

I have mentioned before that there is a kind of pressure to – not only survive cancer – but to somehow turn it into something people call a “blessing”: a catalyst for a better life. This isn’t new to me. CSA and a bipolar diagnosis carry with them the same kind of pressure to excel: to reach a point where you say that your adversities were a “blessing” that made you who you are. That is a lot of pressure. You can’t say that and be average. Not only is the bad luck yours to deal with, it is yours to justify by way of being “better than” in some way.

Health – mental or physical – shouldn’t a competitive sport. Resilience so admired as to give us secular saints for a capitalist economy. I have to remind myself of that. It doesn’t have to be a means to an end: just a means to enjoy each day on its own terms. Have we always been such a performative species? Is it just me that sees it this way? It very well could be just me.

But there are a surprising number of cancer survivor gurus/coaches/teachers who will guide you through the process to find your better story. It is an entire industry. And it is so very seductive.

But I am not going to see this time of my life as a blessing. I do hope that I am learning things, but I have always hoped that I was continually learning to be a better person.

You know, if anything, maybe I am learning that all this effort at “improvement” is unnecessary: that maybe the clearest view is from a point of average.

Mundane even.

Invisible.

Ren Powell, I Failed at Chemo

The weekly ritual of bathing, of cleansing before church on Sunday which the son duly follows. However, he self-harms using his father’s razor. The reasoning is given in religious terms, the release of blood a sacrifice to atone for undefined and unspecified sins. Whatever those sins or perceived sins were, they seem to have triggered depression. A later poem in the same section, “The Stone In My Shoe” describes the stone as, “suicide never lets me go./I walk with its stone in my shoe”. The drugs listed in the poem are anti-depressants. It’s also a “language of this limbo.” Later, “The Idiot’s Guide to Suicide” lists unsolicited and unhelpful advice, such as “It’s just a bad mood.” “get a grip”, “keep a happy diary”, “You need to try Yoga” or “Be kind to yourself.” All things that never should be said to someone in the grip of depression.

Next section, “the universe”, a poem called “The Crab” is about avoiding saying aloud the word whose astrology sign the crab represents. The word cancer was treated as taboo as if saying it could make it contagious. Treatment leaves the sufferer,

“I’m now scared, scarred, and unable to pee.
They cut away cells, cells, and dignity
and, still, I cannot say its name.”

Emma Lee, “Red Rite Hand” Adrian Harte (in case of emergency press) – book review

The drag I was feeling when it came to writing appears to have abated and maybe it’s all because I have been consuming more than creating for a couple weeks..horror films and the Poe series and Frankenstein through dance. If these things have enduring value centuries later, maybe not all is lost in a sea of feeling unseen and unheard in the moment, a struggle all artists and writers feel at some point. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/21/2023

Ten poems, read by 14 young poets, dazzled the packed Perspektiven Raum with brilliance and bravery. 14-year-old Grela Rabi’s as yet untitled poem that begins, “am boden kleben sie fest,“ was selected by our panel of three judges to win the 500 CHF gift certificate to Wenaweser Fahrradcentrum in Schaan. Congratulations Grela! The 500 CHF donation to the climate-themed charity of their choice, was split between the classes from ISR and Liechtenstein Gymnasium. The ISR classes chose to donate to “the bees in Liechtenstein.”  All participants received a book of poetry (from previous Word to Action participants) and a potted plant to take home. Class teachers received books on composing poetry. […]

My reflection is this: the poems were moving in different ways. It was interesting to see that the poems were different based on age group. The youngest were sad but optimistic about the future and used fantastical imagery to get the point across. Some were totally realistic about the trouble the planet is in. And the rest were a bit alarmed and made a call to action. This last category seemed to move the judges the most. At Word to Action we know that poetry physically changes those who hear it; it can move us to take action.

Cathy Wittmeyer, WTA Blog 15 Oct 23 Contest Results

Poetry can be so healing precisely because it springs from that deepest place of reckoning with what it means to be human — the place we seek with the intellect but touch with the intuition. And down there in the depths, we don’t much differ from one another, sharing the same basic longings, the same basic fears. Clifton reflects:

Poetry can heal. Because it comes from a heart, it can speak to another heart.

[…]

Somebody asked me why is it that I want to heal the world. I want to heal Lucille Clifton! And fortunately, I am very human just like all the other ones, all the other humans.

With an eye to what it means to be a poet, she adds a sentiment equally true of any creative endeavor:

I didn’t graduate from college, which isn’t necessary to be a poet. It is only necessary to be interested in humans and to be in touch with yourself as a human.

Complement with Clifton’s classic “won’t you celebrate with me” — a living testament to this poetry of personhood turned art — and her spare, stunning ode to the common ground of being, then revisit Wendell Berry on how to be a poet and a complete human being and Anne Gilchrist — Whitman’s most beloved friend — on inner wholeness and the key to a flourishing soul.

Maria Popova, How to Be a Living Poem: Lucille Clifton on the Balance of Intellect and Intuition in Creative Work and the Healing Power of Connection

Sometimes I feel like all religion is a search for order in the world. Maryann Corbett’s recent collection of poetryThe O in the Air, offers order to a disorderly world; or rather points out the order within the seemingly meaningless details of life.

I started reading Corbett’s poetry with her collection Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter and made my way through all of her work last summer. Less familiar with formal poetry, I was mesmerized by the meters of her work– the surprising yet inevitable conclusions of her poems. A free verse poet myself, I felt like someone who only sings folk songs listening to someone singing opera and totally nailing it. […]

A Tennessee girl raised in the Bible belt, I kept drawing together the marriage of her Catholicism and formal sensibilities; liturgy, rhythm, and tradition are deeply connected to the spiritual in her book. Whereas in the country churches I was shuffled to growing up, we were more likely to have an impromptu testimony or sing verse four just ONE more time—and here I am, a free verse poet. Church traditions and poetry traditions can learn from each other, I believe, and I found myself learning much from yet another inspiring collection of poems by Maryann Corbett.

Renee Emerson, a review of The O in the Air by Maryann Corbett

On October 12th, I announced a $200 donation to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) who will provide aid to displaced and fleeing families in Gaza. Today, and retroactively for purchases from 10/12 to date, I am going to forgo all income for the press and donate that money to Medical Aid for Palestinians. What this means is that the $3 I would normally keep from each sale will instead be donated. In addition, I am going to match that amount with a personal donation to the same org. In other words, each book purchased gives $6 to Gaza. […]

Additionally, I call on all of you who are able to donate money to one of the following organizations:

As an added incentive, if you email me (deadmallpress@gmail.com) a receipt for a donation of $20 or more to one of these orgs, I will send you all four of my own chapbooks for free (including shipping). Just be sure to include a mailing address as well. I know it’s not much, but it’s what I have to give.

R. M. Haines, New Fund-Raising for Palestine

Human animals are still animals. We have evolved over thousands of years to be incredibly sensitive to our environment. We have evolved to survive at all costs. Our beautiful big human brains can’t tell the difference between anxiety caused by something far away, and anxiety caused by something in the room. They are one and the same with the same flight or fight response. If we are feeding ourselves a constant diet of news, which is, invariably bad, terrible, frightening news, we are constantly keeping ourselves in a place in which we feel we have to be hyper aware of everything that is happening because at any moment we may need to act.

It is good to be informed. But there is a limit to what you can actually do to help, understand, prepare, protect. I feel like even saying this is a kind of failure, a sort of cowardly way of looking at any situation. But it is a realistic way of looking at the situation of the world being on fire. […]

I don’t know any single person that isn’t in pain from watching the world burn. But pain is a counterbalance to love and I don’t know any one person that isn’t feeling immense love and a fierce desire to protect and help their fellow people, fellow world citizens. To be alive and aware is an act of resistance. Help where you can, be kind where you can, but that includes yourself.

Wendy Pratt, Know this: Your life is Precious Too

When I run away to theology school,
I will turn off the news. I will submerge
myself in books from an earlier age.
I will abandon the controversies
of our current time to lose myself
in arcane arguments of past heresies.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Teaching Observations and Theology School

So there I was. Sunday morning, in a suitably poet-like dress ( I restrained myself from the Byron sleeves this time) the comfort of chunky boots and my jade pendant that goes with me to every scary situation. This was going to be the first time reading in real life. I shook ( just the one leg bizarrely) but my voice stayed steady, I managed to look up at my audience, pause where I wanted to pause and even breathe occasionally. In hindsight perhaps choosing to read a poem about one of my last conversations with my Dad added a layer of difficulty I didn’t need, but I’ve never been one to take the easy route. Unless I’m hill climbing. Then I’m scouting for it before I set foot on the path.

I felt lovely. Energised, and pleased to have spoken my poem as it needed to be spoken, with the added boost of praise from a poet I really admire. I’ve put off reading in public for a very long time and realise that it is something I desperately want to do – to hear the sounds of the language I have chosen, and to test out the impact or effect on those who are listening.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Taking a step forward

I am overcome & rejuvenated by imbalance – complexity
it blocks out the constant nitter-natter, and is oddly calming

or watch a chipmunk pack its cheeks

Pearl Pirie, New chapbook: cento

4. Then there are poems about love and lust and coming of age, perhaps. As if all life is visceral even at its most tender. “O minute hand, teach me / how to hold a man the way thirst/ holds water…” – A little closer to the edge.
5. And then of course is the end that is possibly the beginning of the narrative, the whole narrative. The look within: “Ocean, don’t be afraid. / The end of the road is so far ahead/ it is already behind us.” – Someday I’ll love Ocean Vuong and “& so what— if my feathers / are burning. I / never asked for flight” – Devotion. These are the last two poems. As if the book is waiting for its sequel. Not to tell the reader more. But to tell the poet just a little bit more.
6. This is not a quick read because you will keep going back to read some poems. You can fill your senses with lines like “The way a field turns / its secrets / into peonies.” – Into the breach or “How / does anyone stop / regret / without cutting / off his hands?” – Seventh Circle of Earth or “I enter / my life / the way words / entered me— / by falling / through / the silence / of this wide / open mouth”. – Logophobia. You always leave the page wondering if it is about the past or the future, about beauty or violence, about a person or a people, and if the one is actually possible without the other.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading list update -17

Numbers. Begin with
one thousand four hundred

news-worthy names shared
world-wide. Not Beit Lahia’s.

There, leaflets, like birds,
still fall from the sky,

where the cries of dogs
become lullabies;

pots and pans, rockets.

Maureen E. Doallas, A Poet’s View (Poem)

Three or four years ago, I knew I wanted to write about the footballing heroes of my childhood, those lower-league footballers who triumphed and failed before my eyes, who evoked a sense of masculinity that was hugely different to today’s view of men, whose team generated a sense of belonging among the local fans. In short, I knew I wanted to write directly about Aldershot F.C. footballers of the 1980s, but indirectly about far more. However, I didn’t know how to go about putting such a group of poems together. And that was when I read Stanley Cook’s excellent poetry for the first time.

Cook wrote two separate pamphlets on the back of his time working as a schoolteacher, Form Photograph (Phoenix/Peterloo, 1971) and Staff Photograph (Peterloo Poets, 1972). In each case, he created a set of vignettes. The first batch, of course, were pupils, while the second were teachers. He generated these portraits of individuals within a specific context, building a wider picture of society through the implicit dialogues that were generated among the poems, accumulating his effects via verbal collage.

On reading Cook’s poems, I admired them immensely and suddenly realised I could adapt his technique to my footballers. And rather than using a photo, I was drawn to the team sheet that appeared on the back of every programme, and thus ‘Starting Eleven’, the second section in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t, started to take shape. Thank you, Stanley! I’d like to think you’d enjoy my poems too…

Matthew Stewart, From ‘Form Photograph’ to ‘Starting Eleven’

One of the things I’m working on now is an essay, ironically, on lyric essays, so I’ve been doing some research, reading some books of lyric essays. It’s weird for me, since I’ve been a journalist, a technical writer, an ad copywriter, a book reviewer, and a poet, but until the pandemic I didn’t write personal essays or lyric essays. Even though I’ve had some essays published I certainly don’t consider myself any kind of expert.

But on Facebook I put up a query and got some really interesting answers, from people who definitely are more qualified than me. And as a poet I’m attracted to the idea of an essay that isn’t necessarily: theme, point, point, conclusion. That allows for leaps, long parentheticals and ellipses – in short, essays that mimic poetry in a lot of ways.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Review of Flare in New Pages, Pumpkins and Typewriters, Halloween Mystery Parties and Thoughts on the Lyric Essay

I sometimes send stuff to US paper journals. I don’t know my way around very well, and depend on online ranking lists etc. As in the UK, US paper magazines are disappearing (e.g. Tin House and Glimmer Train – 2 of the top 5 in one list), and the online replacements don’t have the same impact. I think more of their journals are university based. And there’s the pay-to-submit issue.

I have trouble understanding currently fashionable US poetry, so it’s the short story market I focus on. There’s a wide range of journals. The most recent one that I was in paid me $20 for a piece of Flash and sent me (expensively, unexpectedly) a contributor’s copy, cover price $18. But it’s only 290th in one list I found, and in another list it’s categorised as Tier 4, Respected: usually small circulation, one or more “notable” prize mentions, sometimes payment.

Tim Love, Breaking into the US market

I first started thinking about this post not long after writing the last one…probably sometime around the Tuesday when I started reading the book from which the poem below is drawn from. The poem below reminded me of sitting in my garden a few days before…just sitting on the edge of my patio and staring into space. It had been a rough day at work—there have been a few of those of late, but the future is hopefully looking brighter—and while I was contemplating my naval opportunities (basically setting off to sea and not coming back, a wasp came sidling up to me like some sort of stripey spiv. A fucking wasp, in October!! I ask you…

The sight of the wasp had me at this time of year had me worried about global warming, but also had me harking back the summer when another one of the apocrita critters had stung me on the back of the neck. I was also nervous having also been bitten on the back of my leg by an ant while sitting in the same spot a couple of weeks ago. What have I done to upset the insects of my garden?

Mat Riches, Stripey Spivs

The concept of ambition in poetry, and how one defines that word in relation to poetry, is something I first encountered in Donald Hall’s 1988 book Poetry and Ambition–still in print from University of Michigan. I read this book of essays in 1991, in between changing diapers and coordinating naptimes for two children under the age of four. It was difficult to feel ambition about career at that time, and a career in poetry was ever a pipe dream; but the notion that a writer could feel ambitious about the work she might be doing in learning about and endeavoring to craft really good poems, even should she fail most of the time, felt encouraging to me. I recommend this book, as there’s also a good deal one can find to disagree with in it, and debate is useful for thinking.

Fast-forward to today (time does seem to move in fast-forward), and I find myself retired from a career on the fringes of academia, where I taught composition to students less-prepared for college and ran the writing center at a university. But I did not teach poetry or creative writing and was staff, not professorial/tenured; so the need to be career-ambitious through poetry was null. That suited my personality well. Maybe too well. Yet somehow I managed to get a reasonable amount of my work published (see the sidebar of this page) and to get several chapbooks and books into print (see the My Books tab here). I had my own form of ambition.

What now, I wonder? I have so much work to revise! Recently, I submitted an experimental, historically-based chapbook to a publisher, and I’m working on getting a new book of older work, though not as old as The Red Queen Hypothesis‘ poems, into print. Will I spend the next few years just catching up? Possibly. Is that “ambitious”? Nah, just means I wasn’t ambitious enough to get to it earlier!

Ann E. Michael, Once again, ambition

An AK-47 claiming he’s the delivery boy and a knock-kneed tuba tuned to the key of gloom.

Bad weather, lousy music, and World War III bearing a bouquet of bombs.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a clogged toilet doing a crappy Bob Dylan impression.

A half-dressed serial killer wanting to slip into something less comfortable.

Banging on my front door: droughts, diseases, and all the bad poems I’ve ever written coming back to haunt me.

Rich Ferguson, Banging On My Front Door

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 37

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: changing seasons, ailing mothers, famous poets, non-fungible tokens, unfashionable metaphors, and much more. Enjoy.


Back from a scorching hot week in North Wales, to which we took waterproofs, heavy duty walking boots and woollies, none of which we needed. Thankfully we also took shorts and sunscreen!

The Llyn peninsula is a long way to go, further than Land’s End (I looked it up!) but it was worth it. What a beautiful, unspoilt part of the British Isles. […] It would make an excellent place for a writing retreat. Quiet, surrounded by nature and with a very poor phone signal.

While we were there I started reading Byron Rogers’ compelling life of RS Thomas, The Man who went into the West, which I’ve nearly finished. He was clearly a puzzling and contradictory man. Although I knew the name, I’ve never made an effort to read his work, which I’m a bit ashamed about now. Especially after Gillian Clarke, on a course at Ty Newydd, exhorted all of us to go away and read him. My podcasting poet pal Peter says he met RS when he was a student, and was struck by his presence.

At Aberdaron, in the little church where RS preached for some years, they’ve made a sort of shrine to him, with newspaper articles, copies of poems and other material.

Robin Houghton, In the land of RS Thomas

The night of the new year
gathers up cat cries in baskets
made for apples, lopsided and sweet,

rolling downhill fast as barrels.
All these nights are the same, heavy
with waiting for those starry eyes

to outshine the dawn.

PF Anderson, Tonight, Waiting, and Waiting

The Torah table’s in place. The chairs are arranged, and the music stands, like one-footed angels. The microphones, angled just so. The Torahs are wearing white holiday clothes. Prayerbooks wait in tidy stacks. Rolls of stick-on nametags sit beside baskets of printed holiday bracelets. The piano is tuned. The slide decks are ready. The sermons are ready. The blog posts are ready. My white binder of sheet music sports a rainbow of marginal tabs, colorful stepping stones through each service. As for my soul? Just now a spoonful of honeycake batter called her back from distraction, saying: ready or not here we go.

Rachel Barenblat, Ready or not

Walking the lane this week has saved my sanity as I simultaneously finish edits on the manuscript for The Ghost Lake, get issue 09 of Spelt Magazine to the printers and hand in a complex Arts Council England grant application for some Spelt projects. Despite their pledges to ensure all people can get support to apply to the arts council, I still found the application system clunky, off putting, frustrating and not in any way transparent or helpful. It literally gave me a migraine trying to get through it. Usually I would have a big rant here about the difficulties that working class people in particular find when putting applications like this together, but I’m wasting no more time on it. I have books to finish, projects to start and the glorious cool autumn air to experience. Stepping out into that air, walking the old dog through the already falling leaves and the beech mast has been like someone putting cool hands on my fiery brain and soothing it directly.

Beech masts – the fallen nuts of the beech tree are everywhere in the village right now; a carpet of nuts that crunches pleasantly when walked over. We are a village of lime trees in the newer part of the village, at the top, then beech trees in the lower part, over the marshier ground. The word Mast comes from the Old English ‘Mæst’ – the nuts of trees fallen on the ground and used for feeding animals, especially for fattening pigs. My village is an ancient one, its name has viking roots and roughly translates as hamlet of the pig keepers. This is one of those facts that is like a door opening to the past, a thin place where I might step through, know myself as one of a long line of villagers. Here are the beech trees, and here, in the very naming of the place, the tree-ancestors, the pig herders moving their woolly sided pigs between them over the marshy, boggy ground. And back, further back, here is the bronze age burial ground on the cliff edge above the village, and here, the path that goes from the lane of the beech trees up to the burial ground. I imagine the villagers of the bronze age making their way up to their ancestors with offerings. There is a peace in the continuity of habitation. I like to walk here and know myself within it. I like to remind myself that people have been surviving here for thousands of years. The autumn air and walking in this place is helping me to connect to The Ghost Lake, helping me find my way through the edits, sharpening, honing, bringing the book home. It’s a beautiful process. One day I’d like to simply do this for a living, to walk, to write.

Wendy Pratt, Beech Mast

I’ve started a series of poems on Finnish animals, really animals in Finland as none of them are particularly Finnish, hares, cranes, elk, magpies. I haven’t written about the norppa seal or reindeer, animals I connect with Finland, though I might. The creatures I’ve chosen take on a Finnish persona, though they are animals I know from elsewhere. I’m mixing my love of nature with my focus on belonging to a place. The animals are guides, gods or representations of myself, moving through Finland with the will to understand, if not accept, the world around them.

These new poems have made the Finnish collection change again which is intruiging. Its early incarnations were about me struggling to adapt to living here in connection with my family, hanging on to the remnants of my life in Scotland. As I said, these new poems are not necessarily about accepting my life here, but more just listening to the voices of Finland more intently. Stepping out of myself for brief wanders.

All this sounds like I’m writing a blurb for the book, but it’s nice to sort out my thoughts on it. And who knows, it might be useful someday as a blurb.

Gerry Stewart, Slow Motion

The middle of my days are usually a rhythm of homeschooling, a break for lunch, then work for a half hour or so during quiet rest time, then activities / play time with the kids in the afternoon. As my kids have gotten older, we have more outside the house activities, but I keep them to the afternoon so we can have a consistent school day (Except for bible study–that does intrude on one of our mornings, but we feel it is worth it).

I also do my writing either in the early morning (if work allows), or in the quiet rest time, or in the afternoon–right now it is kind of getting squeezed in. It isn’t ideal–during many seasons in my life, I had writing in that 5AM workout spot–but I’ve just been committing myself to make sure the writing gets done everyday, even if it isn’t happening first thing. When my classes are out for the semester, I’ll put writing in that morning slot for work.

Renee Emerson, My Time-Saving Mom Routines

My basement yields an oddment of jars
and the large blue pot that waits for this occasion.
I whet my favorite knife,
find cutting boards and colanders
and blues on the radio.
The tunes remind me of hard times, when canning
meant peach jam for toast in winter,
and women wore aprons.

I put mine on
(a gift from my husband before he knew better),
wash vegetables, and start to work.
I pare and core and chop and mince,
humming with Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith,
peeling the next apple, and the next.

Sarah Russell, Green Tomato Chutney

A summer has slipped by. And now the world is changing shape again.
In the mornings, the orange-brown pine needles scattered on the trail
stab at my imagination like a thousand accusations:
You should have used the time better.

Repented. Repayed. Served Something Other.

***

I know some of us are driven by fear. Sometimes I think every choice I’ve ever made comes from a place of darkness: an empty room with cracked vinyl floors; a smooth-surfaced pond, cold currents rising suddenly between my legs.

How many of us can’t remember our heart stopping when we reached up to grab our mother’s hand only to see a stranger’s face staring down at us?

Ren Powell, The Courage to Look Inward

There were nine contestants – three first round games would produce three winners who would then tape a two-game final round. Yes, all five games for a week are taped in one day. You have to bring clothing changes in case you win for that reason. When I arrived and met the other contestants, I knew I was in trouble. This had nothing to do with the people in the room. Everyone was kind and friendly, excited to compete, cheering on the others, encouraging and calming to those who were nervous. (Raises hand.) But I felt clearly out of my league. Let me explain.

How did I prepare? Honestly, I didn’t. I did some review of the sciences and world geography (my weakest categories) and took some of the Jeopardy final question quizzes on Sporcle, but I knew that my 61 year old brain was NOT going to learn a whole plethora of new things in only a few weeks. But I soon discovered that several of the other contestants followed Jeopardy religiously (beyond watching the show), had been on multiple game shows, belonged to trivia leagues, entered crossword tournaments, were collegiate Quiz Bowl champions. They all knew about things like a Coryat score (I had never heard of it) and one person—-I still don’t know who—had a study packet the size of a ream of paper sitting on one of the tables.

So I decided to try not to pass out, to do my best, and to be bold.

Donna Vorreyer, I’ll take FAILURE for a Thousand…

I guess this is what I am doing in the way of poetry lately: a Mother Tree. Visual, 3D poetry–a small branch anchored in a vase with glass pebbles, hung with ornaments from her life: earrings, baby bracelets, a nostalgic love pin nestling in the tree as if K-I-S-S-I-N-G. There are two tiny skulls to represent her parents, who lived with my parents for a time in their old age. So did my dad’s grandfather, at one point. My folks were very generous people, also taking in a high school student, whose parents moved his senior year, and a young man from Mali. They are living now in a retirement community, in independent living but with lots of home health care, and I am slowly but surely clearing out the family home while it is for sale. Lots of laundering, donating, recycling, redistributing, and rearranging. I feel like my mom!

Kathleen Kirk, Mother Tree

In phone videos,
she shakes her head or calls
the names of her ghosts;
sometimes she has no clue.
We say no more to the constant
drawing of blood, to the checking
of sugars. The body is folding into
itself like its own prayer, heedless
of time however long the transit.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Caregivers

Very honoured to have KHÔRA feature my work. This poem was dedicated to my mother after her brave battle with brain cancer. The videopoem was created by Michael Lewy as inspired by the poem and my digital collage. The publishing honorarium was donated to the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. https://www.corporealkhora.com/issue/26/passport

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, KHÔRA – Passport for Zita

When the same word floats up from the most disparate-seeming characters.  My yoga teacher. My poetry mentor. A black hat rabbi. The list would be disparate enough without Baudelaire – but the dark prince poet was at the forefront in demanding we slough off our lazy habits that inure us to precision and keep us from paying – drum roll please – Attention!  Attention – the practice my yoga teacher, poetry mentor and rabbi insist we devote ourselves to rather than allow slothful addiction to routine to cloud perception of what is. 

The reason I think about it is that this weekend: Shofar!  The curly ram’s horn provocateur is regularly blown on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  One prayer: May the cry of the shofar chatter our complacency. Another: May the cry elicit the response, hineini, I’m in the moment.  As Maimonides said, “Awake, O you sleepers, awake from your sleep! O you slumberers, awake from your slumber.”  

Then there’s the fact that this Saturday, the shofar took a Shabbat rest; the routine that breaks routine was broken. The rabbi compared us to attendees to John Cage’s 4:33, walking into the hall expecting a blast – and instead we hear silence. Or non-silence: coughs, shoes, heavy breath, pulse of the universe.  Dereglement of the senses.  Music/life in the white space.  Or rather, music/life is the white space.

Jill Pearlman, Blasting Complacency

Kodak, Blaise Cendrars’ series of American vignettes, was published in 1924 by Stock.The edition – much sought after on the rare book market now – included a portrait of the poet by his friend Francis Picabia. In Kodak Cendrars employs a literalism consistent with his intention of reproducing in words a collection of snapshots of 1920s New York. I’m beginning with the first eight poems. […]

Waiters grave as diplomats clad in
white lean out across the chasm of the town
And the flowerbeds are alight like a million tiny multicoloured
lanterns
I believe Madame murmured to the young man with a voice
tremulous with suppressed passion
I believe that we might do very well here
And with a sweeping gesture he displayed the vast sea

Dick Jones, KODAK by BLAISE CENDRARS

At the time, I thought of the poetry I was writing as a quite narrowly focused topical intervention, but in the last 4 or 5 years (partly with the greater clarity with which the Brexit heist can be now seen to have been foisted on the country), the poems have come to seem less dependent on their times and more capable of being read as a series of observations – and passionate pleas – for a more generous, open-minded, less extremist, less egotistical UK culture. It was Hesiod’s pre-Homeric poem, Works and Days, that suddenly felt oddly familiar: in it he is not harking back to an already lost era, nor to past heroic (in our case imperial) events. Instead, Hesiod talks about his own, contemporary workaday world, offering advice to his brother because the pair of them seem to be in some sort of a dispute with each other (a squabble over limited resources – that sounded familiar).

So my developing sequence took over from Hesiod the idea of familial disputes, the importance of the persistence of Hope (in the Pandora’s jar story), the idea that we need to understand that we are living in an Age of Iron (not idealised Gold). Poetry can never be summarised by its own conclusions but the poems seemed to me to be arguing the need to work hard – to have patience – not to buy into fairy tales of a recoverable golden age that probably never existed anyway.

Martyn Crucefix, Influences on ‘Between a Drowning Man’ #2

I just finished “Traversals: A Folio on Walking,” guest-edited by Anna Maria Hong and Christine Hume for the summer 2023 issue of The Hopkins Review. Walking and poetry have so many intersections: they foster observation, thinking, feeling, and talking; prompt unexpected encounters; depend on rhythm; and sometimes resemble each other even structurally, because meditation and meandering are associative as well as linear. When I give poetry students a walking-based writing prompt, their work often gets better. But I’ve hit pause on that assignment for a while because taking a thoughtful ramble isn’t safe or possible for everyone, and I’m pondering how I can reframe it.

This folio opens the field brilliantly. (Speaking of prompts, the co-editors offer amazing ones here, and excerpts from the folio are here.) “Traversals” contains a wide variety of poems and essays that riff on pilgrim, flâneur, and man-in-wilderness clichés, often exploring walkers’ vulnerabilities. Rahne Alexander writes about walking in recovery from a vaginoplasty. Petra Kuppers, a disability activist as well as artist, discusses how she “gets more jeers when walking upright than when whizzing along” on a scooter. The title alone of Willa Zhang’s essay “Young, Asian, Female, Alone” defines powerful parameters. Other pieces trace paths informed by grief or trauma.

Lesley Wheeler, Walking: a footnote

We walk up the road and over the hill.
The yapping is even louder. Even louder
and louder still, as the road winds down
between high hedges and round bends
so narrow and tight we can’t think
and the moon is just a basket of light.
And as we reach the house – it must be
this one, we agree, it’s so stunning, so
perfectly blue and so bright – we know
that there is no dog, no yapping, only
silence, and there we are, all of us
with no idea how we’ll ever get home.

Bob Mee, TEN PIECES WRITTEN OVER THE PAST WEEK ON THE ISLAND OF ISCHIA

One thing people ask about a lot is endings: How do you know when a poem or essay is done? How do you find the right moment to step out of a piece? How do you avoid either stopping short or overshooting the target?

The short answer is intuition. With experience, you often feel when the piece has found its most resonant, compelling landing. But it’s also true that some exit strategies work better than others, so today I’m sharing one of my favorites.

Whether you’re working on a poem, a story, or an essay—or even a longer form piece like a novel or memoir—experiment with ending on a significant image. Let the detail release meaning.

You can use a new image at the end of the poem, or return to an earlier image, so that the piece is somewhat bookended. I like how this move gives a sense of coming full-circle—a sense of closure and cohesiveness—without relying on exposition. You don’t want to oversell the closing or spoon-feed the reader; after all, a poem isn’t a fable with a moral at the end.

Maggie Smith, Craft Tip

A few years back, Nell from HappenStance sent me feedback on a poem. She told me “I like it, Matthew, but the title’s dead.” That phrase has stuck with me ever since. What did she mean? Well, the implicit conclusion is that the title wasn’t contributing anything extra, not drawing the reader in, not adding an extra layer, not coming alive. It was simply there as a placeholder, as if for internal use only.

And I was very much reminded of this exchange when we went through the process of deciding on a title for my second full collection. My initial suggestions were perfectly neat, summarising key themes or bringing them together, but Nell rejected them all, one by one, explaining once again that they weren’t bringing anything to the party.

She then came back to me with a list of potential alternatives. One of them leapt out at me. The one that she might not have expected me to embrace, the one that threw caution to the wind but worked perfectly: Whatever you Do, Just Don’t.

Matthew Stewart, What’s in a title? How and why we decided on Whatever You Do, Just Don’t…

In Acumen 107 (Sep 2023), Andrew Gleary writes “There are poets who would use metaphor had not all metaphors been workshopped out of their writing because metaphor is presently unfashionable.

Maybe so. Metaphors go in an out of fashion. There are extreme views about their value –

  • the damn function of simile, always a displacement of what is happening … I hate the metaphors“, Robert Creeley
  • Metaphor is the whole of poetry. … Poetry is simply made of metaphor … Every poem is a new metaphor inside or it is nothing“, Robert Frost

20th century UK Poetry had Surrealism, [political] Realism, The Apocalyptics (Dylan Thomas et al), The Movement, and Martian poetry (Craig Raine, etc). One could interpret each as a reaction to the previous movement, though no doubt influences were more complex than that.

If metaphor is unfashionable nowadays, it may be because the poet and the poem’s subject matter have a higher priority. It feels to me that we’re in an age where previously suppressed voices are being given space. Minorities (by virtue of race, sexuality, mentality, etc) are out of their niches and have something to say which can be as important as how it is said.

Tim Love, Poetry trends – Metaphors

For its entire history, dating back to the days of scribes writing books by hand on parchment, literature has been forced inside a copy-based economy. The entire point of books and poetry as technologies is that they can be copied relatively easily. For any author to make a living, they have to reach a wide audience, selling as many low-value copies as possible. This has been the state of affairs for so long that it’s hard for writers to imagine an alternative.

That alternative, though, is easy to see when thinking about visual art. A painting or sculpture can’t be copied—the piece is a unique original that only the artist could have created. While the artist might make prints as an additional means of income, the original retains value and becomes collectable, creating an entirely different economy, with collectors and art lovers buying and selling the works, injecting revenue into the industry. This is why art museums have elaborate galas while libraries resort to used book sales.

Collectability offers more than just money—it’s fun! From baseball cards to Beanie Babies, collecting things that we enjoy, participating in a community, and treasure-hunting as we build our collections, is something human beings like to do. Everything from model trains to postage stamps have trade shows, where people love to swap their wares and brag about their latest finds. With a copy-only economy, literature has never been able to fully participate in the world of collectables. A rare book market exists, but it takes so long for a book to become rare, and the artistry is so far removed from the physical product, that a wider interest never develops. Published as NFTs with provenance linked directly to the author, collecting literary artifacts suddenly becomes an accessible and fulfilling hobby.

Which brings us to the most common criticism of NFTs: “Why would anyone buy something they can copy without paying for it?” This is the “Right-Click Save” argument, and every person that harnesses the potential of this technology has eventually pushed beyond it. Just as technology is constantly shifting, what it means to truly own something has evolved as well. To illustrate this, if you print a copy of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, do you feel that you own that painting? Of course not. Your printed copy has none of the value of the original. And yet the ubiquity of those prints only increases the value of the original painting, keeping it in the public’s consciousness, which is part of why there tends to be a crowd of selfie-takers surrounding famous impressionist paintings. Speaking of which, MOMA, where Starry Night lives, has incorporated NFTs into their collection.

Making the leap back to the literary world, the ability to collect and display an original piece of writing, connected directly to the author’s digital wallet, completely reverses the economic incentives of publishing. Rather than hide our work from each other, hoping to create a scarcity that will force readers to buy books, we can share our poems and stories widely—the more people who read and appreciate the piece, the more potential value that digital, collectable original, accrues. This technology encourages writers to share their work more freely without the drawbacks we’re used to, creating an environment where all the incentives align, and literature can truly flourish.

Katie Dozier, A Notebook for the Future: NFTs

6 – 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?

One of my foundational assumptions is that art gives our lives meaning. So, on the one hand, that idea alone compels me to write. Writing is a spiritual practice, as being a poet is part of my identity, not just a task I complete. Making something new, art for art’s sake, can be very gratifying. On the other hand, there’s a lot going on, locally and globally, that’s very disturbing. In recent years, I’ve found myself addressing some of those concerns in my poetry more than I used to. Much of my current work is environmentalist; living along Lake Superior makes that almost inevitable I think. But I’ve also written poems honoring George Floyd and addressing immigration at our southern border. So I guess one of a poet’s primary questions is “Who am I?” not only as an individual, but also “Who am I?” as a member of a community, and where do the boundaries of that community lie: with my immediate family? with my neighborhood? with my country? with my planet?

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Our responsibility is to tell the truth. So many people we encounter are intent on obfuscating reality. Writers lack access to many conventional forms of power—most of us aren’t rich, and we don’t walk the halls of corporate headquarters or national governments. But our facility with language provides us with a different kind of very potent power, and we need to be willing to use it.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Lynn Domina

Someone recently observed, bemusedly, that I don’t have any people in my poems. I was bemused by their bemusedness. (It’s not entirely true; I do have people poems. But it is true that they are mostly unpeopled, unless you count me.)

I thought of this today as I was out for my walk. I grabbed those old binocs on my way out the door. I often see little birds that I can’t quite identify, or high circling things. It is my engagement with the natural world that moves me to speak. My encounters with humanity generally leave me with little more lyrical to say than wtf. But I still see them — the people I encounter, directly or indirectly. I wonder about them, try to maintain a level of empathy toward them. They interest me as representatives of our species, our part in the natural order. But I don’t look at them in quite the same way as I look around me when I’m outside. (Plus if I train my binoculars at people, there may be a..er…problem.)

I don’t regret leaving that job. Even though I blew through that retirement savings and lived many nerve-wracked and uncomfortable years. Never bought my own home. Never achieved a career goal. Do not have my own pension. But looking, seeing, and thinking about it all, binoculars weighty in my hand. Yeah. That’s a life.

I dropped the binocs several times over the years and some mirror or other is rattling inside, so they don’t always show me things with clarity. Ain’t that the truth, though. Confusion makes art too.

Marilyn McCabe, You’re a butterfly; or, On Life and Looking

Some decades ago, I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts—in a rent controlled apartment, on a traffic island in Harvard Square. I was at the intersection of Bow, Arrow, and Mt. Auburn Streets. I felt both in and out of the poetry scene, although mostly out. My family struggled financially and there were no expectations placed on me except to marry a Jewish man and have children. So far, I’ve failed on both accounts.

Life as a poet was not something my parents could imagine for me, nor something I could really even imagine for myself. In Cambridge, in the 1990’s, if you were a poet you needed to be rich, brilliant, and most of all, if you were a woman, you needed to have ass-length hair.

Jorie Graham, Marie Howe, and Lucy Brock Broido: they were known as the hair poets. One favorite rumor was that when one of the women interviewed at Columbia for a tenure track position, the academic conducting the interview asked her what she could bring to the job which the other candidates couldn’t. The question came at the end of a day of many meetings, a teaching observation, and endless forced smiles. Before the poet could stop herself, she blurted out: hair. That week they made her an offer and yes, she took it.

But the poets’ reputations didn’t end with their beauty or brilliance. It was that supreme confidence that most intimidated me. Today we would call it “white privilege”, which it certainly was—Harvard undergraduate degrees (in some cases) paired with youth, beauty, hair and a supreme confidence deep in the hipsway and in their DNA.

Once, I saw Lucy Brock Broido read at M.I.T. draped in standout attire that hasn’t faded from my memory even 30 years later: a cream-colored form-fitting blouse with high collar and a soft grey jacket covering a short short skirt. Emily Dickinson meets Twiggy. Sitting in the audience, I estimated that the clothing, the boots and modest jewelry had to cost at least $1,000. In 1990, a bit more than my monthly salary.

Susan Rich, Lucy Brock Broido

It’s been a while since I had any anthologies to review, and now I have two very contrasting examples of the genre to look at. Both books are well described by their subtitles; Blood and Cord is a thematic anthology of poems and prose dealing with the experience of birth, parenthood and early loss, while the Griffin prize anthology offers representative samples from five of the shortlisted titles. Interestingly, most of the work included circles around themes of death and grieving.

The latter opens with a bang, an excellent long prose piece by Naomi Booth called ‘What is tsunami’ which traces a child’s language development as experienced by a mother, from the mutual incomprehension of speechlessness to the different, but equally difficult, incomprehension that comes with fluency, brought together at the end by the titular question and its answer:

What is tsunami?

The crash of her words. Pouring in of world.

Prodigious wash that draws her in close, and sweeps her far, far away.

It’s a genuinely impressive piece of work from a writer who is, I regret to say, new to me.

Billy Mills, A review of two anthologies

The moths in the poem begin as “quiet words”, but the eyes of the lovers also turn into “moth wings”, disinterred from their context (“like a land that is locked, or lost”). So moths here are pieces of memory and language which fade away, but in doing so whirl and flare (they are “ecstatic with decay”). I think this makes ‘Small decrees of dust’ a poem about trying, fitfully, to love yourself, to gather up the evidence that will allow it, including the evidence of having been loved by another.

Jon Stone, Single Poem Roundup: Crowson, Crowcroft, Blackstone

‘Gleaming scars’. Draycott’s rapidly unfolding images pull ideas together in startling ways, refreshing perception by breaking down compartments and prizing apart conceptualisations that deaden awareness. She does this here by directly describing the process of kintsugi instead of simply referring to it. The phrase ‘the ancient art of the broken’ combines punchiness with a vast, vague and ambiguous suggestive reach. So vividly described, the process is made intensely and tantalizingly present to the imagination and, at the same time, as remote from daily life as something in a fairy tale. The last two and a half lines, returning us to the freezing river of the claim, put ‘the ancient art’ out of reach in a more physical way, with the repeated ‘all you needed’ sardonically emphasizing the gulf between aspiration and reality. Finally, those ‘gleaming scars’ bring the animate and the inorganic together in a way that creates a disturbingly unstable sensation, like touching something one expects to be dead and finding it alive or vice versa. What’s imagined as mended with scars of gold isn’t just a broken pot but the labourers and the bird in the living scene that the pot opens onto, and the shattered mind it represents. ‘Shining seams of precious metal’ doesn’t simply give a more vivid idea than ‘gold’ would have done, it specifically emphasizes gold’s metallic inhumanity.

Edmund Prestwich, Jane Draycott, The Kingdom – review

I only had to read the first three poems from Street Sailing by Matt Gilbert (Black Bough Poetry, 2023) to know that I had found another poet to add to my list of favourites! It is a remarkable work for a first collection: thoughtful, profound, engaging, beautifully crafted, fresh…: the sort of debut which makes you wonder where the poet can go from here, but let us leave that for another day. Let me tell you more about Street Sailing.

The collection is structured into a sort of physical and psychological journey of three parts that begins with a sudden awakening, as if the poet has been punched awake. There is a sense of shock, of disorientation, of confusion: ‘memory sent scrambling/ for her trousers: What – the hell – was that?’ (Awake). In the second stanza the narrator tries to make sense of the unanticipated experience: ‘Panicked synapses fumble/ for a trace’ and so begins a journey that will take us through both urban and rural settings and will lead in the final of three sections to poems of new understandings, of tensions resolved and of ‘Acceptance’.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Street Sailing’ by Matt Gilbert

You are a poet, writer, teacher and now also an editor. Tell us about Sídhe Press; how it came into being, its ethos and editorial vision.

Annick [Yerem]: I had thought about a press for a little while and during a slow art project with Sarah Connor, where we sent poems back and forth in letters, Sarah mentioned that she was thinking about putting a book together. So I just went with my gut and asked her if she would trust me with it even though I had no idea what I was doing. This was last June. And then everything came together, I found a name, found the picture for the logo thanks to an old friend, Aida, and then found Jane Cornwell, who agreed to work with me and design and format the books. Due to timelines I ended up doing the anthology on dementia first and found my wonderful co-editor and now friend, Mo Schoenfeld, to work with me on it. I have been incredibly lucky to work with Jane, Sarah, Mo, Larissa Reid, and with so many wonderful contributors. For the next anthology, I will be working with Mo and Sarah again, and also with Sue Finch, Róisín Ní Neachtain and Giovanna MacKenna. Have veered from the course a little to re-publish an amazing book by Nikki Dudley, now called Just One More Before I Go.

It´s been a very steep learning curve and of course I make mistakes, sometimes mortifying ones like writing poets´ names wrong, which happened a few times in the last anthology. The whole process teaches me a lot and it´s also something I can do although I´m sick, bit by bit and with a lot of help. I want Sídhe Press to be a safe space and a press that poets can trust. Am aiming to be transparent about mistakes and own up to them, and to be transparent about the process. 

Marian Christie, Poem by Poem: An interview with Annick Yerem, Editor at Sídhe Press

I had a sudden recollection the other day of a reading given by Brian Patten. It could have arisen because my interview with Brian is on the popular posts list. 

Memory

it’s a Friday evening
West Somerset

Brian is saying:
fuck you Stephen Spender
fuck you for what you visited on Stevie Smith
fuck you who remembers you now

that was years ago
and Stephen Spender
is not even a reflection
in our collective rear view mirror

A word about the people mentioned. Stevie Smith is a perennially popular poet who gave the language the phrase not waving but drowning. Stephen Spender was from a privileged background and became  communist before being knighted. If I have to choose a side then I’m with Brian. 

Paul Tobin, NOT EVEN A REFLECTION

I talk often of those sorts of tether points that connect certain eras or memories of our lives with others. My past self, 19, and just beginning to send out poems and my current self, also sending poems out in submission and the vast ocean of time between them. Or my 90s self, listening to certain songs or doing certain things and suddenly there is the same song and I am doing much the same thing, just 30 odd years later. At the drive-in last week, there was a string between my current self waiting excitedly for the movie and my child self waiting for the sun to set in the back of the car while my parents sat in the front.

Kristy Bowen, webs

This month, I’m entering into my third year of retirement (sort of, mostly) from education. A fair number of people asked me, when I left, if I was going to do more writing or focus on writing. It was a thing I always thought I would like to be able to do. It was a thing some part of me thought I probably should do. But any time I thought about it, I felt nothing but ambivalence. There was nothing much I wanted to say, and no goals related to writing that I could feel myself caring much about. Given that, writing hasn’t been something I’ve given much time to. Other things felt more compelling.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve been writing about renovation and Louisiana, I’ve been feeling a shift. I don’t have a goal in mind, and I don’t have something particular to say. Instead, I have questions I want to think about, and this week it occurred to me (in a duh! kind of way) that questions are always my best way in, the best reason for me to write.

I’m not feeling ambitious or dutiful or purposeful. I’m feeling curious. That, too, feels like going home.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Maybe you can go home again

毬(いが)は海を 海胆(うに)は林を夢想して 伊丹啓子

iga wa umi o            uni wa hayashi o musōshite

            a burr dreams about the ocean

            a sea urchin dreams about woods

                                                            Keiko Itami

from Haidan, (Haiku Stage) a monthly haiku magazine, September 2017 Issue, Honami Shoten, Tokyo

Fay’s Note:   There is intentional space in the Japanese original.   It is a style of her haiku group founded by her father, Mikihiko Itami (1920-2019).

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (September 16, 2023)

Before our Labor Day travel and our COVID infections, I was getting into a poetry rhythm.  I had actually composed a poem or two to completion.  My more usual practice over the past year or two (or more?) has been that I write a few lines, have a few more ideas, write a bit more, run out of time, never return to the draft.  My older process was to think the poem to completion before writing anything–I did wind up with more completed poems, but I lost more ideas too.

Obviously, both approaches have pros and cons, but I do wish the poetry part of my brain was feeling more inspired on a daily basis.  I was going to write that I should try reading more poetry, but I’m actually reading quite a bit of poetry as I prepare for my in-person class each week.  

I tend to be hard on myself for all the scrolling and internet reading and online ways of “wasting” time.  Some that time could be better spent.  Some of it is class prep.  Some of it will come out in poems in interesting ways.

I am grateful that I’m no longer spending time, so much time, getting ready for accreditation visits and doing the documenting that is required of administrators.  I do not miss that kind of writing, although I was skilled at it.

Let me do what I always do:  trust that my processes are at work, while also looking for ways to have more writing in each day.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Ebbs and Flows and Writing Rhythms

So, Monday I was healthy enough to get my antibody infusion finally, so I spent four hours with a needle in my vein, getting my temperature and blood pressure checked, and getting antibodies I can’t create put into my body. No major problems yet—still alive, as the pictures will prove—but I was knocked out for at least four days. I know some people with MS get these things once a month – as well as cancer patients, and people with immune problems like mine – but this was my first “infusion center” experience. […]

For now, just grateful to still be kicking and hopefully better off with the antibody treatment, ready to get out into the world and do a poetry reading with a friend at a cool indie bookstore this week, grateful for people reading and reviewing Flare, Corona in this busy world where poetry is so easily overlooked. Grateful for good weather, and flower farms near and far.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, An Infusion, A New Review for Flare, Corona, an Upcoming Reading at Edmonds Bookshop, and Spending Time in Flower Fields

Since my accident two years six months ago, I am growing stronger again and don’t have to pre-plan things quite so much. Mentally, my skills are returning and my brain is no longer having to focus quite so much on healing and regaining confidence. I keep trying things that push me a little out of my comfort zone, and each time I succeed, I feel more confident. The pain is less too, most of the time.

So for me now, September feels like a new start, even though I no longer teach. Some of the groups I belong to are starting up again, and I am excited to meet up with new friends I am making them, while still cherishing old friends.

We are starting to tidy the garden for winter and plant some bulbs. I am still sad that gardening is so very hard for me. I can do a lot sitting in a chair but if I try anything standing, I have to sit down fairly often. But at least I can easily get into my shed, although I can’t fetch anything out of it!

Apart from using my walker or my stick, and needing my grab bars and handrails, I am more or less back to my old self, and can take independent steps when I feel safe, though never outside (trip hazards!). Caution is still required because of Covid, but I am actively looking to lead poetry workshops and give readings now. I much prefer face to face. I am looking forward to reading in Shrewsbury next month, a 10 minute slot at the launch of Festival in a Book Anthology, edited by force-for-good Liz Lefroy, and meeting up with some poetry friends from that area.

There are a few exciting publications in the pipeline that must stay secret for now, but I am feeling happy and optimistic for the future.

Angela Topping, Summer Slips Away

who hides in the blessing that darkens a bloom

can the bones of birth become another’s life

does the moon still long for sight

Grant Hackett [no title]