Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 35

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: transitions and metamorphoses, realizations about why we write and for whom, and much more. Enjoy.


that moment
between summer and autumn
without a sound

Jim Young [no title]

I get up to let out the dogs and make coffee. I quietly appreciate my dear spouse who kneels on the kitchen floor trying to entice our 16-year-old dog to eat a few morsels of meat which my husband regularly buys and cooks for him. I look out the window, delighted to spot a great blue heron in the pond.  

I try to stay in the moment, just watching this creature’s prehistoric-looking countenance and admirable patience as it waits to spear a fish, but here it comes again, my awareness of what we’re doing to this beautiful planet. Nearly half the world’s bird species are in decline due to degradation of their habitats as well as to climate change. In North America alone the bird population has dropped by nearly three billion birds, a decline of 29 perfect since 1970.

Okay, I’m going to stop with the reality overflow. I simply want to acknowledge this is how the day goes for many of us. We’re fully enmeshed in our ordinary lives — getting to work on time, stopping at the grocery store, making supper, keeping up with family and friends, trying to pay bills, hoping to get a better night’s rest than the night before. At the same time we carry the weight of guilt and anxiety over the state of the planet.

E.B. White, author of much beloved books such as Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, as well as The Elements of Style co-author, once said,  “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” I have to disagree with the late Mr. White. I don’t think we can save it without truly, wholeheartedly savoring it.

Savoring, for me, is about awe. It’s about seeing relationships between what is and sensing the expansiveness of what’s just beyond our rational minds. It’s about connection. It’s about what my friend John C. Robinson calls partnering with Creation.

Laura Grace Weldon, Shifting To A Kinship Worldview

my mother is tired
of picking blueberries

meal moths fly
out of the pantry

I step out of the pool
and my weight returns

Han VanderHart, Notes in August

Dear Oxfam Bookshop Customer,

I doubt I’ll ever know your name or face, but I do know that you visited the Oxfam Bookshop in Chichester at some point between Easter and August this year, pulled my book, The Knives of Villalejo, from the shelf in the Poetry section, and decided to buy it. I’m left to imagine you browsing, picking it up and flicking through the pages, perhaps pausing to skim-read a poem or two before taking the plunge, maybe wondered who Camilla might be (the person to whom I dedicated this copy of my book when it began its first stab at life).

I only discovered my collection had gone when I visited the shop last month, checked its old spot, and found it had vanished. It was no longer sitting in its slot under S for Stewart between other books that used to accompany it and are still left waiting to be chosen (see picture below!). 

There’s a thrill to giving a book a new owner, another reader, and I hope you’ve enjoyed your copy. The unanswerable question now, of course, is whether you’ll keep it, go back to it or even let it go again in due course to another charity shop. For now though, I’d simply like to thank you for granting it a second chance.

All the best in a shared love of poetry,

Matthew Stewart, A letter to an Oxfam Bookshop customer

We decide to do a “braided” reading or what I call a “living anthology” where one poet reads, the second follows, then the third and so on. It’s a great way to create energy in a reading and you can’t have a “set” playlist because you end up responding to what one poet read with one of your own poems. Which is what happened.

John read a poem and talked about his kid, which made me read a poem I wrote to my non-binary kid called “Love Poem Where Nature is Non-Binary & Uses They/Them Pronouns.” I was not planning on reading this poem tonight at all—it’s not in Dialogues with Rising Tides, so I had to pull it up on my phone from Dropbox.

During the reading, I saw one younger human really leaning in and after the reading, they came up to me and said, “You have a non-binary kid, I am a non-binary kid.” There are some humans that you run into that you see still move through the world with only love and connection, it’s as if all the things that could harm them have bounced off their love force-field. This person was that circle of love.

We talked for a bit, they shared their new name, and then they said, “I would like to hug you, may I?” As a mom, when a teenager/preteen asks for a hug, the answer is an absolute yes! (Though actually, I don’t think I’ve ever refused a hug to anyone.) I told them what I believed–that we have so much to learn from non-binary & trans humans who *know* who they are and who are brave enough to speak it and claim it.

This beautiful person’s mother was there, and she was crying. She said, “We weren’t supposed to be here, we dropped in to say hi to the owners then you read your poem and honored my child.” We all hugged and I realized immediately that was why I was there–that poem was for them.

This was exactly where I needed to be. Poetry readings have a magic to them that I’ve forgotten after 2 years of no in-person readings. And to think, when I was leaving the house today, I was thinking–this is a long drive for nothing.

Understand, we do not know who our poems will touch. Quality over quantity. For me, this was a moment that will always stay with me. Love your humans and support them. This child had a mother who supported their journey and their whole self. And I so appreciate those who honor their non-binary/trans children. I loved how supported this young non-binary human was. I wish all trans/non-binary folx had this love and support–they all should.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Your Poems Do Matter & Why It’s Important To Read Your Poems in Public: A Memoir

The poems from The Small Door of Your Death are all written in what I might call a minimalist style. Because they dealt with the death of my son, I couldn’t bear to imagine ornate poems that pointed more to the skill of the poet than the subject of his death. The title comes from a line from an untitled poem [it comes down to this] about the moment of his death:

you choose the vein
in the back of a hand
to carry

this last intimacy
a puncture mark

the small door

of your death

I imagine, here, that small mark in his vein, as a kind of door to his death. I have thought a lot about this image and wanted to render it in cloth. I’ve made some thirty or so pieces that contained the door as a symbol, but none of them felt right. They were somehow too busy, too elaborate, too forced. I have cut up or discarded these pieces, so I can’t show them to you here.

But a few months ago, in a class with Claire Benn on working with earth minerals, I painted a piece of canvas with black ochre. I meant for it to serve as a background to another piece, so the edges were darker than the center: [photo]

But with the help of others in the workshop, I saw that there was something happening in the cloth that I hadn’t intended. There was the suggestion of a door. I decided this piece might work on its own with only minimal stitching. Here it is with one line of hand-stitching. Today I quilt it with black thread that mimics some of the lines–like veins–that are the result of wrinkles in the fabric. Then I’ll iron it and see where we are.

Sheryl St. Germain, Minimalism and The Small Door of Your Death

I take out the seeds and pith, slice them into thin
half-moons; salt them generously like bodies

for a long keeping. I was taught to save
everything I can, though I might not know

to what earthly use I might put a bathtub
full of fermented cabbage, a jar of gelatinous

spores. I’ve kept the stumps of my daughters’ birth
cords, a few yellowed baby teeth; their impossibly

small first shoes and cotton camisoles, snippets
of hair, toenail clippings. What will happen to my own

body when I separate the withered from the green,
the wrinkled from the supple, firm, or measured?

Luisa A. Igloria, Preserve

The two pictures of very different birds—the gigantic, dinosaur-esque pileated woodpecker with its bright head, and the tiny, fairy-like immature hummingbird—represent something about literature and book promotion that’s very true—it’s not always the biggest and brightest writer, flower, or bird that wins the evolutionary race—sometimes it’s the smallest, most camouflaged and flexible. My best assets as a writer now at 49 are different than they were at 32. My poems are different, my experience of the world, and my outlook. So, I guess it makes sense that I’m a little nervous this time around, sensing that my book—and my person—have been changed, that I’m a little less certain, less confident but quicker to shift gears and adapt. In most fairy tales and myths, the protagonist is often changed against his or her will be their journey—sometimes literally into birds or cats or white deer, sometimes by their actions, like Gretel’s quick dispatch of the witch that threatened her. No one comes out unscathed from their magical journeys, even if they disappear into the haze of a happy ending.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Visiting with Seattle Poets, Welcome September, and Planning for March/April Next Year and Thinking about Post-Covid Book Launches and Book Marketing (In an Uncertain World)

The last book this August is Swan Song, by Armen Davoudian (Bull City Press, 2020), which seems a perfect way to end this Sealey Challenge, with a sad, gentle, glorious burst of song at the end. And I read the whole bundle from Bull City Press, and its Frost Place Chapbook Competition. A fine gathering!

The poet grew up in Iran, and it was lovely to find that the title poem is a ghazal. Subtle yet tight rhyme ripples through the book. Ah, but the sad irony of the closing lines of “Persian Poetry”: “Yet I study English poetry / because Persian would have been too obvious.”

Swans drift through, or paddleboats in the shape of swans, as in “The Yellow Swan” and “Swan Boats.” I found the coincidence of blue in “Swan Boats”: “Time out of mind, this was our turquoise blue

     mind out of time, watching white thoughts come, go
     across a mirror which, unchanged by them,
     itself was change and could reverse the down-
     ward wish of light, the headlong wash of stone
     skipped on its current.

Lovely language, lovely reversals there.

This morning I woke early, found a wishing star on the horizon in a dip of trees, and wished what I always wish. I hope it comes true.

Kathleen Kirk, Swan Song

The stars move
at terrible speed

and we move with them,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (299)

[Pearl Pirie]: So Monty, what have you read lately that’s lit you up?

[Monty Reid]: There’s always something lighting me up. I really liked Jorie Graham’s breathless Runaway. I liked her early work, but after a while everything she wrote just became so routinely portentous its power faded.  But Runaway, urgent with climate change and so many failures of meaning, is inspired work.  

PP: (Let me interject: her opening poem about rainstorm is particularly apt at time of writing.)

MR: For the past few years I’ve been making a point of reading poets from non-anglo languages (mostly in translation) in part just to get away from our overwhelming self-regard.  One of my recent favorites is Antonio Gamoneda’s Book of the Cold.  A Spanish poet, who grew up in (and resisted) the Franco era, taught himself how to read by studying a book of his father’s poetry, worked in a bank for some 25 years and went on to win most of the literary prizes in the Spanish speaking world, his Book of the Cold has only recently been translated (by Katherine Hedeen and Victor Rodriguez Nunez).  A chilly hell, full of remarkable imagery, it charts the instability of post-Franco Spain, and more broadly. A snowball earth, as opposed to an overheated one.

I’ve also been dipping into Dionne Brand’s new Nomenclature, New and Collected Poems.  I wasn’t familiar with some of her early work, so I’m grateful to have it all in a single volume.  A particular pleasure to read the epigrams from 1983. And it’s intriguing to trace some of her language from the early books to the new incantatory long poem – ‘Nomenclature’.  

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: With Monty Reid

When I started blogging — about three blogs ago now — and well, these were different times, but I had a rule for myself that I wouldn’t quote from anything that I hadn’t read in its entirety. This is a pretty sound practice in general, still though, right? I don’t stick to it one hundred percent, but I do like to sit and sift through my beloved books and then actually type out the quotations or poems. It’s a way of inhabiting, for one thing. Learning. I think the practice has also made me a better writer, having done this for so many years. People who do this more religiously call the practice, “copywork.” It hearkens back to the days of the commonplace book. In a volume I love, Index Cards, by Moyra Davey, she resolves herself to: “Refrain from quoting authors I’ve only read secondhand.”

And so that was a bit of a tangent, and maybe just a way of saying that there may be typos ahead, haha, but below you will find 4 poems that sort of fell into my hands as I perused some poetry from my home library this morning. Rather perfect for the first day of September. I hope you enjoy them! They’re about looking back at the huge and sudden summer, that land of green, and taking stock. It’s fitting also, to end up on the couch, or in my case the chaise longue, which is where I’m headed after writing this post, to just revel and remember and daydream a little about all that has happened and all that I loved.

Shawna Lemay, 4 Poems About Summer’s End

there’s a sadness humming
in the skylight corners
a wind song looking
for a tune
it’s all melisma

my blues
for busted sleep
and burgled dreams

Dick Jones, nightwalking

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?

Poems’ processes vary for me. Of the poems in The Clearing, some tumbled out fully formed. “Ways to Describe a Death Inside Your Own Living Body” took maybe ten minutes to write. Maybe less. It was inside me and needed nothing more than a valve to land on the page. “Memento Mori: Bell Jar with Suspended Child” was a different story. It was originally about ten lines long – really just the opening image of an old Victorian glass dome with a landscape made out of a dead child’s hair. A year or so later, I revised it into a sonnet; then I realized the poem was resting in what it knew vs. striving for what it could discover – so I decided to try pushing it toward a long poem, sustaining it over many sections and pages. From start to finish, with several months-long breaks in between, that poem took probably three years as it found itself. Each poem requires its own line of inquiry and its own fresh methods, at least for me; and that’s something I love about poems – the constant reinvention. “Flight Theory” took several months, too. The long-line contrapuntal form required tiny syntactical articulations. But again, each poem teaches its writer so much about how to build a form unique to that poem’s utterance.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Allison Adair

It is Labor Day weekend. Summer’s drought has not ended, but the slower pace of the university summer schedule has. Crickets are creaking, the swallows have departed, afternoon shadows grow longer, and the students are back on campus. I am busy.

Meanwhile, three sets of friends have had their elderly, beloved canine companions die. Dry leaves fall from the tulip poplars. Each week, my mother seems to lose a few more words from her lexicon. The jays scream every day at 4 pm.

I have been feeling a bit run dry myself. Like a small stream that needs a thunderstorm or, better still, a few good wet days to replenish it. As in: not writing. Yet I have found Charles Simic’s 1994 The Unemployed Fortune-Teller: Essays and Memoirs quite inspiring, if “inspiring” in this case means nourishment for the mind and heart without actively producing anything in terms of output. The book is part of the University of Michigan’s wonderful, decades-long series Poets on Poetry.

Simic writes, “A poem is an invitation to a voyage.”

Oh, let me never get so busy I cannot go on such voyages!

Ann E. Michael, Run dry

Words as soft as silence. They
might have laughed. I didn’t tell them it was also
how I imagined love. Because a cloud wasn’t a

wrapper that hung empty after all the rain had
fallen. The cloud was the entire rain. I put things
like that in my notebook between poems.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 11

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The greatest challenge with poetry for me is writing it. I get distracted by my daily life. Cooking, cleaning, interacting with people, keeping up with the news, and all that we do to manage our lives. I need nuggets of inspiration and quiet time to spark poems. The pandemic has helped keep me inside and in touch with my deep self. I think my monastic existence enabled me to write my poetry book, Three Penny-Memories: A Poetic Memoir, which is forth-coming from IEF (Experiments in Fiction) this fall. 

Moreover, once I write a poem, I do a great deal of revising, wordsmithing, and refining of format. You might say that I communicate with the poem. I don’t consider myself prolific as I need time to remaster first drafts. I go for quality, not quantity. 

Another challenge I face is digging in deep for the truth. Sometimes I feel blocked by my topic as I can’t face the truth or fear offending someone. When I was writing Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir, I grappled with the taboo notion that I might not love the woman my mother was becoming due to Alzheimer’s. I was her caregiver. I realized she couldn’t live with me as I had a full-time job. My husband was at home teaching music lessons daily and it would have been unfair to him to make him responsible for her. And we had stairs she couldn’t manage. All through out my care and oversight, I felt incompetent. Maybe this is how she felt raising seven children. Maybe she had to love me regardless. I wanted to share my heartfelt journey with her into her end of days. This required examining our relationship honestly. I tend to be codependent, so my fears of displeasing people blocked me. Once I let go of those fears, I realized how powerful poetry based on authentic truth is. 

Thomas Whyte, Barbara Leonhard : part three

Needless to say, I’m over the moon to have a haiku in the current issue of The Heron’s Nest, but more than that, I’m in awe of this beautifully quiet yet expansive haiku by Frank Hooven:

dinnertime
one sandal
under the swing

I love the simplicity and tenderness of the scene, the way what’s left behind is enough for us to construct a whole backstory. No wonder it’s the editor’s choice – if you follow the above link you can read her comment in full, and it says much more than I could so I’ll leave it at that, except to say that the issue is packed full of superb poems and I feel very humble to have my haiku alongside them.

Julie Mellor, The Heron’s Nest

The past month was full! We crammed in as much last-minute summer break fun as we could (and I’m still a bit sore from two nights of all-you-can-play laser tag) while also trying to prepare for the new semester. Last week was full of meetings, and this week we all started school again!

The end of July and the month of August still found me immersed in poetry though. Highlights include a week in Asheville at the Glen Workshop, where I took the lyric essay workshop with Molly McCully Brown and had so much fun with writer friends. It was especially fun to be there when Agape Editions announced that they’ll be publishing my second full-length poetry collection, Hereverent, in Spring 2023!

Katie Manning, Glen Workshop, La Playa Books, SDUT Festival of Books

Of course, I tried to figure out the why of my temptation to call her done.  I think she is, for all intensive purposes. It is September almost, a time which I imagined I’d be starting new. (and actually I have in bits and pieces I am excited to  move to if this is it.)  But not at the expense of Persephone and the sirens I have spent three months with now, sometimes moving fast, sometimes not moving fast at all. If I call it done, it’s still going to require a bit of reordering, line edits, and just proofing my shitty typing to be anything like ready to show anyone.  I have been sending some of the early, already edited pieces out for publication and snagged an acceptance for September, so they will likely start filtering into the world. 

Of course, nothing says I can’t set it aside and maybe return, but I never really do.  I have a strange relationship with work in which I will write like mad and then shut it away for months and months to come back to it fresh, so by the time I circle back around, it will feel done whether it was or not.  I will have already moved on to some new nonsense, no doubt….

Kristy Bowen, endings and other uncertainties

This morning, I looked at the date on my computer:  September 1.  We all have different seasonal markers, and one of mine is September 1 as the date when many literary journals open for submissions after a summer hiatus.

In the past, long ago in the past, before online submissions, I would have had a stack of submissions ready to be mailed on September 1.  I had a plan and a purpose, and I needed publications.  I had a vision of a better teaching job or maybe a life of a freelance writer who got grants and speaking engagements and great tax deductions.

My submitting life is complicated now.  I am astonished at how expensive submitting fees have gotten to be.  I have problems with a $3 fee, and now many of them are $4 or higher.  Several stamps, paper, and printer ink cost far less in terms of money.  I was one of those people who used to send out poems/stories again and again, on the same paper, so my submission costs were even cheaper.

That said, I do prefer online submissions.  I just don’t want to pay so much money for such a slim chance of my creative work being accepted.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, September Submission Strategies

My new poetry book is out! 

Very grateful to the essential rob mclennan for this first review of my new book. If a book is published in a forest and it isn’t reviewed, is it even there? rob makes sure so many books are there, are heard.

He quotes the poem Brainsnail from a suite of Lucretius “translations”in its entirety. These translations are more transcreations, reimagings rehabitating some aspect of the original. Haroldo de Campos spoke about giving the poem a blood transfusion. There’s an interesting article on Cannibal Translation here.

I only knew the term transcreation from its use by contemporary poets, but here’s a longer history.

My technique/process often involves using Google translate (moving the poem through many different languages), sometimes N+7 (I use the automated Spoonbill N+7 which gives 14 versions, each one more distant from the original.) I almost always then revise the poem freely. The idea for me is that these initial transformational processes generate material for me to consider, material outside the greater limitations of my immediate imagination, but that then enable me to listen carefully and open up another part of my imagination, listening for interesting or engaging moments, resonances, possibilities in the generated text. Something of the source material inheres (certainly formal aspects, but other things too, and I am aware of my source and its context–this has an influence on my revision and writing, too.) There’s a frisson between the original and my version, inviting the reader to consider the connections or relation to the source. Also imagine the process and what it might mean. How did we get here from there? In what way does these new version retain aspects of the old, in what way is it diametrically opposed or divurgent?

I like the portmanteau “Brainsnail.” In what way is a brain like a snail? It can be slow. It leaves a trail. Something in the coils of both. Maybe brain is to snail as a translated poem is to its original. Or is it the snail of the translator moving through the brain of the original? 

Gary Barwin, The Most Charming Creatures — New Book! — and a note on the Brainsnail of Translation.

I appeared in Australia last Friday. Having reduced my university teaching hours so that I have more time for creativity, I said ‘Yes’ when invited to read my poetry at 9am here, 6pm there, on screens in and around Castlemaine, near to Melbourne. I appeared in Australia last Friday at Ross Donlon’s online event, marking my first poetry touchdown Down Under. 

My preparation for this reading was admirably early. I refer you to my geography project, compiled in LIV26 (when I was twelve and there was no national curriculum). Given a free hand by Miss Smith, I made the most of having cousins in Western Australia. These cousins, never having met me (not then, not now) posted samples of Australia over to London (postcards, tourist brochures, leaves, pressed flowers, merino sheep’s wool). I included them in my Australia project. […]

I’d also liaised with my friend Darren Mason in the matter of making sure I was ready for this important debut. During the first 2020 lockdown, I wrote a poem about my bicycle and the freedom she gave me in those first strange days, which Darren went on to animate beautifully. The advantage of the reading being online was that I was able to share it with my audience 10,577 miles away. See the film here: Shrewsbury, Friday Morning 27th March 2020 

Liz Lefroy, I Appear In Australia

Our tomatoes are going bananas. We can’t keep up with them. I don’t know the things I need to know to preserve them, and we can’t eat all of them before they rot. (If you know me in real life, let me know if you’d like some.)

They are SO good. So much more flavor than grocery-store tomatoes, even the ones at the produce stand that sells local goods. Last night we had a dinner of tomatoes with basil and balsamic vinegar, accompanied by ciabatta and fresh mozzarella.

This week was the first in our almost new-normal. Cane had his back-to-school inservice days, and for the first time in 32 years, it was not back-to-school inservice week for me. I am doing a small curriculum development job for his school (the one I taught in last year), so I did go to some meetings, but it was nothing compared to how this week has felt for me in the last 3 decades.

It felt amazing. Freeing. Calm. Busy in a good way.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Overabundance

I like to buy second hand books, sometimes to feel the years that are worn into the pages – foxing, old coffee or blood stains, a fold, maybe even a tear – and sometimes to wonder about the inscriptions. The poet John Robinson once wrote about spending 10p on a copy of Samuel Butler’s The Way Of All Flesh from the cheap boxes on trestle tables outside a shop, taking it on holiday to Greece, and opening it to find the inscription ‘John Major, London 1959’. It may or may not have been the John Major but the poem was lit by the possibility contained in that joyous moment.

I thought of this as, in a Stratford-upon-Avon coffee shop, I looked at a poetry book I’d bought a while back in a sprawling second-hand shop in Los Angeles, not far from Skid Row or Desolation Row or whatever this week social commentators called the hard streets where people slept and held together their lives in bags or shopping trolleys. The book was called Down At The Santa Fe Depot, sub-titled 20 Fresno Poets. It was published in Fresno, California, in 1970.

Before I began reading, I looked at the biographical sketches. I do enjoy these. One poet revealed he had been stuck in Fresno for 24 years. I understood that. I’d been to Fresno for a week and it felt like six months. Another one declared he had been raised in western Pennsylvania and had gone to various schools. […]

I settled down with another large coffee and began reading the work of poets who were writing in 1970 when they were young and had something to say. I read it from first page to last.

And so – of course, I did – I googled one of them, Roberta Spear, whose poems seemed honest and kind, and discovered she had died of leukaemia in Fresno in 2003 – the year, incidentally, that I was there, and who was considered important enough to have an obituary in the Washington Post. She also had a website that described her as mother, wife, poet, dancer, friend.

I was sorry she had died. I would have liked to have told her that I enjoyed her poems.

Bob Mee, A BOOK HAS A HISTORY… Alternatively, Googling in a Coffee House in Stratford-upon-Avon

Some days, those strange headlines rush and tumble into our lives, shatter our personal alphabet, then leave us to pick up the pieces of broken lives and languages.

I remember days when we used to read poetry to one another on the front porch of my aorta. How every line would beat a distinct pulse of love.

I can still hear it now.

It’s a comforting feeling,

like how I know my daughter‘s old baby cradle won’t wake up one day to realize it’s a nest of grenades.

Rich Ferguson, Read My Lips

Summer can be poetry without the words.  A sweet peach cuts through time and puts you right in the everlasting camp of the gods.  A tomato is a love apple, pomme d’amour.  The spume of the sea drenches with spent force and effervescence.  This is real, just as drought is real and dog days are real that swelter through any and all summer months.   

 I always want to keep my finger on the pulse of this life force in reality, this apprehension of elemental life.  Along comes so-called “real life” with its go-go energy, rage of politics and urgency of injustice.  Poetic receptivity feels quavery in the shadow of this, so I reframe the question: What should poetic attention be attentive to?

I ask a poet what to do. “so little joy — sister of the gods— in our poems Ryszard,” Zbigniew Herbert writes in “To Ryszard Krynicki — A Letter.”  “too few glimmering twilights mirrors wreaths ecstasies.”  Both poets lived through World War II and Communist takeover of Poland. 

A line earlier in the poem says: “we came too easily to believe beauty does not save.”  The poet later asks: “what forces of the spirit do we need/ blindly beating despair against despair/to ignite a spark a word of atonement/that the dancing circle might last on the soft grass…”

He calls it a riddle and so do I.  Though beauty is wide and inclusive.  Reality is inclusive.  Imagination is not the fairy tale version, but an existential feature of survival. 

Jill Pearlman, Saving Joy

when did our poems cease writing the sea

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 33

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 were mostly back from vacation and gearing up for the fall, but life is throwing curve balls at some. I guess it’s the perilous times in which we find ourselves, but there’s a certain feeling of malaise in many of these posts. But exciting new books and works in progress continue to motivate and inspire.


April 19, 2022. 11:35 am. A pile of calendars, datebooks and diaries heaped in the middle of the yard. A red gasoline tank. Gas poured. A match lit. The huge, the huge conflagration of everything that has happened. Also, because represented in the burning heap were days, weeks, months and years that were yet to happen, they too are gone, turned to fire, heat, ash, crackling. My face flushed. Clouds puffy in the sky. The sound of traffic on a nearby road.

Gary Barwin, Thursday

I have this “image” in my mind. Except it’s not an imageI think it’s a sensual memory. Indistinct. Life of some sort in the palm of my hand. I curl my fingers inward to hold it, but carefully. This thing is delicate. Easily disfigured.

Easily killed.

A heartbeat flutters sketching a ghostly sonogram on my skin. It’s a game of peek-a-boo and “careful-careful” and I feel like a toddler not knowing how to control my body with tenderness. I feel like a toddler confronting the wonder of it all.

But these moments pass so quickly. Something shiny just out of reach catches my eye. And “living in the moment” too often means a singular attention focused on this immediate thing. Too often the drama.

And it means something irreparably damaged. Lost before I knew what it was.

Ren Powell, Holding Life Loosely

melt me
like ice in a
cool drink

linger like pie
steaming in a window

haunt me
an explorer for a fool’s
soft lies

Charlotte Hamrick, Small Death

I took the summer off, almost entirely, from any of the familiar measures of writing productivity.

I fought this break early on. (I’m often really hard on myself.) But then I embraced it. As we say in my home state of Maine, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” So, much like the weather (especially the weather *these* days!), my POV on what success means to me in my writing life fluctuates WILDLY.

Here’s my best guess at what happened.

I got close to finishing my Gertie poetry manuscript and had a crisis of confidence. Instead of despairing — ok, I despaired a bit (wherever I go there I am LOL) — I went with it and reflected on priorities, asking questions like

– Why do I want to finish this manuscript?
– What do I want from the writing life?
– What does success look like for me?
– Does it matter how many times you pause and start over?
– Are those separate attempts or part of one long life’s work? (and does it matter? who’s counting?)

I weighed the answers against everything going on — most notably summer vibes and tectonic shifts in parenting — and decided that writing wasn’t currently at the top of the list. It was freeing!

I’ve continued to dabble, taking myself on a DIY writing retreat and tackling a low-stress daily challenge from Sarah Freligh this month. However, I let go of the “musts” and “shoulds” and stopped obsessing over finishing the damn book.

So what did I do instead? EVERYTHING.

Carolee Bennett, what does success even look like?

Today’s feature at Escape Into Life marks nine years of showcasing artists — emerging, mid-career, and established — from around the world. It also marks my last Artist Watch column for the magazine. Nearing age 70, though still without a bucket list, I know it’s time to pass the virtual pen to a new editor.

As Artist Watch editor, I have given significant virtual room to artists who are women and artists who work in highly varied media. I owe a debt of gratitude to the many painters, sculptors, photographers, paper-cut artists, portraitists, installation artists, mixed media artists, collagists, illustrators, printmakers, and digital art wizards who accepted my invitations and generously shared their marvelous work. They made creation of my monthly Artist Watch columns a joyous endeavor and filled with beauty my days (and nights) of looking at art. Joy and beauty, especially as found in art, remain the two essential things I look for each day.

Maureen E. Doallas, New Artist Watch Feature at Escape Into Life

The pandemic has made it difficult to think expansively over these past few years. Our emphasis has been on hunkering down and surviving. But I came into the summer with something like Big Hope, in part because a next nonfiction book (a collection of essays in unconventional forms) has been coming into focus. After the brief spring “tests” of driving first to AWP in Philadelphia back in March, then a literary festival at Clemson University, I lined up substantive summer travel in the form of two residencies–first ten days at A.I.R. Studio in Paducah, Kentucky, and then all of June at the Storyknife Writers Retreat in Homer, Alaska. Both offered responsible options for quarantining (if needed) and staying safe, while also furnishing the community I’ve craved.

Those residencies were amazing. Full stop. Storyknife, in particular–we were on the Ring of Fire, with volcanos on the horizon! in the solstice season, meaning, 20 hours of light a day! six women writers, gathering around a dinner table!–took my breath away. 

I used my time at these two residencies to read, write, and refresh. So there’s no easy way to segue to what came next: on my last full day in Alaska, I got the call that my husband was in the hospital back in our home of Washington, D.C. He spent most of July in the ICU. Now we’re wrapping our heads around what comes next. I had to resign my Visiting Writer-in-Residence position at American University for Fall 2022. I had to defer a plan to join the faculty of the University of Nebraska’s low-res MFA. I have no choice but to slow down, to be present in the moment, and to be grateful for the company I’m keeping. (And, in a brief nod to the fickle cruelties of the American medical system: to remember, money isn’t real.) 

That’s the thing about life–it keeps changing, right out from under us. 

Sandra Beasley, Buckle Up

I’ve written two poems about this over the week that we were losing him. I feel like my brain is trying to process his very quick demise. I’ve been thinking about whether it was the right thing to have the operation, to take that risk, worrying that we pushed him into it, worrying that my mum will always wonder what would have happened otherwise, if we’d chosen death by cancer, had turned down the chance the operation offered. But we didn’t make the decision, how could we? No one made a decision for my dad, dad made all his own choices, whether we disagreed or not, and it was him that chose the chance to be a whole person – vital, present, capable of another fifteen years to complete his projects, to have holidays, to build memories. When they tell you the risks in an operation, they are real risks, not just something they have to tell you to tick a box. And this was a very high risk operation. But still, so quick, so hard to align the vital presence of my dad, with the old man who looked so much like my grandad, in the ITU.

When he left us, striding across the car park, he’d removed all his jewellery. The letter he got from the hospital told him to bring nothing but himself. He took them literally and didn’t even take a mobile phone. We had no contact with him at all. I thought at the time how it felt like some sort of religious ceremony, a baptism perhaps; the stripping away of all worldly goods. But actually, it was much more primal than that. Much more like a warrior facing a final challenge. Much more like a man going into the desert alone. Something he knew he had to do himself, a rite of passage. He entered into a place where there were only two outcomes. I don’t see that as losing any sort of fight. His faith gave him two options, not one death and one life. And I have never met a braver person in my life, how brave must you be to make that decision, to take that chance. That was the bravest thing I’ve seen anyone do. He did it for himself and he did it so he could continue to be married to my mum. And he was a warrior, did fight this, with every sinew, he fought to keep the life that he had with my mum. He fought to continue to suck the marrow out of every experience. I like to think of life as a journey, and our job within that life, as we move around it in the vessels; the bodies that we are in, is to experience every part of it, to find joy where you can, to be compassionate, to live a full life. My dad did that. I like to think of him continuing to journey. Journey well, dad, journey well.

Wendy Pratt, Saying Goodbye to Dad

I can frame my own space
now, hear my own voice. But the
universe still reveals no premise for
why something is, why it wants, why
it is denied and why it grieves into
poetry. There is also no explanation
for why a monsoon sky is the colour
of a sonnet, why a heart breaks in
the way day doesn’t, why a moment
shapes the poet when the poet shapes
the moment, but in the reverse
direction, as if time and poetry
are mirror reflections staring at
each other from opposite worlds.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 09

Here in August, during the Sealey Challenge, I love the immersion in lives, languages, and cultures not my own. In this book, The Wild Fox of Yemen, by Threa Almontaser (Graywolf Press, 2021), I also loved tracking the wild fox, its brief appearances, its changing meanings…and, as keeps happening, tracking the coincidences–how the books or images in them keep connecting, or how my mind is doing that. I encountered the Tooth Fairy in the nonfiction book, The Tales Teeth Tell, but I was surprised to find her here, in the very first poem, “Hunting Girliness,” “It is not tasteful / to fuck with the Tooth Fairy, baby teeth planted // in the oleanders.” (And I just made the connection that she is “hunting” girliness, like a fox!)

Teeth again, and precise dental terminology, in “Recognized Language,” “Now the words shed from my mouth like deciduous teeth.” 

Kathleen Kirk, Wild Fox of Yemen

My favorite line in John Palen’s new chapbook is unpacked in the final poem, “Riding With the Diaspora,” which is the shared title of his book. He writes, “At 6:00 on a winter evening / we’re all diaspora, all a little homesick.” Even in the thick of summer, in the wander-about in full sun and high temperatures, this line takes me straight into the heart of winter, into that collective confusion from where is it we actually hail.

Kersten Christianson, The Great Scattering:  Reading John Palen’s Riding With the Diaspora

Another poem I like from the same haibun is this one:

day and night equal:
as celandines close
the stars come out

What I like here is how much is implied, rather than actually stated. The shapes and colours of both the stars and the flowers are there, but not in words! And in the context of the haibun they also colour the prose and bring the landscape and Cobb’s journey vividly to life.

As you might have guessed, it’s been a bit of a haibun week, both in terms of reading and writing. How fortunate I feel, to have reading and writing time. Two weeks to go before the start of term – and believe me it always comes around too quickly. So, I’ll finish with this fun haiku, taken from the haibun ‘The School Christmas Show’:

a child blows
into a balloon
the balloon blows back

Cobb, David, Business in Eden, Equinox, 2006

Julie Mellor, Business in Eden

“The Yellow Toothbrush” is a searingly honest, literary exploration of trauma and the burdens that fall to mothers. The speaker does not condemn her daughter, seeing her as a victim of circumstance, unable to seek help for lactation psychosis due to the fear of losing custody of her baby son who was loved and wanted, after a series of abandonments. Her daughter’s imprisonment seems to be punishment enough. However, the speaker does not abandon her daughter. She still visits. Though the question remains: how much [of the] responsibility for that fatal night was her daughter’s or is blame to be laid at the feet of a society that works against mothers, and what about the baby’s father, the daughter’s father? It’s a tough, non-judgemental read.

Emma Lee, “The Yellow Toothbrush” Kathryn Gahl (Two Shrews Press) – book review

People talk a lot these days about the divisions in our country and our world. With good reason, they lament the brokenness we see among a large swath of the population, and the despair many feel that the “normal” world will never be regained.

I have a different view. I come at this chaos with the idea that we are making a hairpin turn in civilization, and won’t be returning to “normal”. There will be a new humanity to live in a new world. And poetry will record the changes of the heart.

Such abrupt changes in often leave behind a lot of broken crockery. Even broken earth. But within the human heart lies unity. If I did not feel that, know that every day, I could not get out of bed. I would not want to wander such a lonely world. Reaching the broken ones with kindness can go a long way to heal the rifts and fill the gaps in those hearts. It reminds me of the Japanese practice of mending broken ceramics with gold, a substance even more precious than what you are mending. Kindness is the gold to mend our broken world.

Rachel Dacus, Mending Our Broken World with Gold

Some see God
in the suddenness
of the sun
out of a cloud.
Surprised by
an event so much
bigger than
the monotony of
thought (the telling
of the same
old story of
doubt and fear),
they glory in
this brief gift
of external light.
For me
when caught
unawares
I understand
in the moment
that the light
that matters
is always
bright within
and the shadows
are of your choosing.

Dick Jones, Dog Latitudes §22

Last week, I was finishing up a lesson on Rachel Carson and Silent Spring, a woman who started off an English major and wound up switching to Biology, the reverse of my trajectory. I was once a bright-eyed 18-year-old convinced she could save the world by saving the oceans. A year later, being terrible at math, I sought other ways to save the world. By the time I graduated I was less bright-eyed and fighting to live in the world, let alone save it. I feel like this happens to most of us.

Kristy Bowen, postcard from a thousand miles

Some years ago now I visited Orford Ness Nature Reserve, a strange and mysterious place on the coast of Suffolk. Strange in the same way as any place with ‘Ness’ in the name, mysterious because of its history as an atomic test site and before that as a place of experimentation in radar and ballistics. Even though wildlife has reclaimed this marginal sweep of land, the area is dotted with derelict structures and unexplained features some of which are still off-limits to the visiting public.

A few months later my poem ‘Searching for the Police Tower, Orford Ness’ won the Poetry Society Stanza Competition 2014, fuelling my (long-gone) belief that I was destined to be the Next Best Thing in poetry. I had no idea at that point that a zillion poets had already ‘discovered’ Orford Ness. Those were heady days – that period many poets go through, in which you imagine yourself being snapped up by Faber and consequently winning the Forward Prize. Although I now see the folly of it, I would never laugh at anyone for having such a dream. Rejoice in each and every early or small success! Live for that moment, as it may never return!

Anyway, my point is that even your oldest, earliest successes can have a longer shelf life than you think. A few weeks ago I got an email from someone at the National Trust who had been looking for poems about Orford Ness to display in the Visitor Centre there next year, as part of some kind of festival. She’d discovered my poem on the Poetry Society website and would I mind if mine was one of the poems to be displayed. Why would I say no? It’s so nice (and unusual) to get such a request. Will anyone waiting for their ferry ride over to the Ness in 2023 bother to read my wee poem, up on the wall with plenty of others? And will it enhance the enjoyment of their visit? Will they remember (or even read) my name? Who knows. But there’s no harm in imagining it.

Robin Houghton, Orford Ness

Magma has published my poem ‘Seen while walking: one high-heeled boot, black suede, in a public flower bed’ in its ‘Solitude’ issue. This is my first time in Magma after submitting multiple times. This poem was one of a series I wrote last year while taking part in ‘Walk to Write’ an online course offered by Sarah Byrne at The Well Review. It coincided with a time of being alone or with my immediate family for long periods, during various lockdowns, and going for daily walks around the town where I live, noticing and sometimes taking a photo of things I saw. Apparently there were over 5000 poems submitted for consideration so I’m feeling very lucky to have sidled in this time!

Josephine Corcoran, Two New Poems in Magma Poetry and Raceme magazine

As life has afforded few spare moments of uncluttered mind-time in which to write, I’m back to scribbling notes, phrases, and ideas on random pieces of paper and in my journal. This fallback method works well for me, an old-school pen & paper poet. Quite a few colleagues-in-poetry use various smart phones and electronic devices to write notes-to-self and even to draft poems, but when I resort to that–on the rare occasion that I have my cell phone but not a writing implement or bit of paper–I forget about my ideas, which are filed somewhere “in there” (on Samsung Notes’ app). It’s a good thing I am not considered a significant author whose work is worthy of preserving, because my poet-life drafts and mementos would be challenging to archive.

For the moment, my writing has a work-centered locus: curriculum, to-do lists, meeting schedules and agendas, orientation and presentation scripts, group emails to announce this or that Important Thing that likely 80% of the recipients will ignore. I get home, eat dinner, pick beans, tomatoes, zucchini, and zinnias. And I read. The one thing I always seem to have time for!

Ann E. Michael, There’s always a book

It’s another day when boredom is looking for its passport to have an exciting adventure in a strange land.

Perhaps it’ll visit a house made of hellos.

Maybe it’ll date a crossword puzzle.

And while, at first glance, the puzzle may appear to be blank, just below the surface are wisdoms waiting to be discovered.

Once boredom finds its passport, it opens its front door and looks out upon the land.

A voice lingers in the air:

this is a collect call from the world. Will you accept the dream?

Rich Ferguson, A House Made of Hellos

Moving my way through the stunning new collection On Autumn Lake: The Collected Essays (New York NY: Nightboat Books, 2022) by American poet and critic Douglas Crase, I had foolishly presumed I hadn’t actually heard his name prior to this, only to discover I’d read his essay “Niedecker and the Evolutional Sublime,” included as part of the late Lorine Niedecker’s Lake Superior (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2013) [see my review of such here]. Moving through that essay once more, the cover price alone. As the press release for On Autumn Lake: The Collected Essays offers: “On Autumn Lake collects four decades of prose (1976-2020) by renowned poet and beloved cult figure Douglas Crase, with an emphasis on idiosyncratic essays about quintessentially American poets and the enduring transcendentalist tradition.” Some of the essays collected here, truly, are revelatory, and he writes repeatedly, thoroughly and thoughtfully on poets such as Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970), John Ashbery (1927-2017) and James Schuyler (1923-1991), among multiple other pieces on an array of literary activity, centred around his attentions across some four decades. […]

There is such a delight in his examinations, offering a joyous and rapt attention and passionate engagement on very specific poets, poems and moments, while simultaneously able to see how the threads of his particular subject’s work fits into the larger fabric of literary production, culture and politics. As he writes as part of the essay “THE LEFTOVER LANDSCAPE,” “Much of art is the struggle to make emotion less embarrassing.” There is something quite staggering in that simple, short sentence that Crase manages to get, and get to. Honestly, go to page 135 and read the whole paragraph that sits at the bottom of the page. It’s breathtaking. And read the whole essay. And then read the whole collection. This is easily the finest collection of prose I’ve read in years.

rob mclennan, Douglas Crase, On Autumn Lake: The Collected Essays

[Pearl Pirie]: […] What’s your life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?

[rob mclennan]: I spent much of July re-entering the novel manuscript, set aside since November or so, as I worked on poems, until I had to return to reviews again, where I am currently (my list of titles-in-progress include poetry books by Polina Barskova, Krisjana Gunnars, CJ Evans, Gary Barwin, Nicole Brossard, Laynie Browne, Su Cho, Joshua Bennett, Billy Mavreas, Janice Lee, etcetera).

PP: mentally notes: Nicole Brossard and Billy Mavreas have something new?

rm: Our young ladies had various day-camps throughout July and into August, which allowed me a different kind of attention, so I was attempting to take advantage of that, for the novel. I’m hoping I can spend the rest of August pushing a few weeks ahead of reviews on the blog (and periodicities) to be able to return again to fiction come September, once our young ladies return to in-person schooling (something we haven’t engaged with since March 2020).

I’m also working on a handful of further festschrifts through above/ground press, as well as a variety of other projects in that direction, including a third ‘best of’ anthology to cover the press’ third decade, scheduled for release next fall with Invisible Publishing.

PP: Ooh, you heard it here first, folks, probably.

rm: Otherwise, I’m currently spending weekdays with our young ladies at their outdoor swim lessons, sitting a daily hour poolside with notebook, books and pen at Riverside’s RA Centre, a building I hadn’t actually been in or near before, despite years of driving by. Not long before my widower father died in 2020, I discovered my parents actually held their wedding reception there, so it’s a curious space for me to engage with. A very retro-vibe. Very calming, even despite the array of greenery leans up into the back windows of a government building. Perhaps today I might wave up at them.

Pearl Pirie, Checking in: With rob mclennan

As I drove through the mountains from my house in North Carolina to the DC area, I thought about the coming year, how it will be both familiar and different.  I’ve taken seminary classes before, so I know that I can slip back into that rhythm.  But this year, I’ll be taking a mix of online and in person classes.  This year, I’ll live on the campus, where I hope to have amazing opportunities.  But I’ll also be living by myself for longer periods of time when my spouse is fixing up the house in North Carolina.

Yesterday as I drove through the mountains, I thought about how I could structure my days and weeks.  I want to get back to doing more creative writing.  I’d like to do that early in the morning, and then go for a walk a bit later, like I have been doing for the past month.  I’d like to do more submitting to journals, if I can still find some that don’t charge high submission fees, which I define as anything that costs more than a few stamps would cost.  I’d like to spend afternoons either going to class or getting ready for class.

And of course, I want to make sure I explore DC.  The other day, as I read an article in The Washington Post about the re-opening of the Kennedy Center and what it means for restaurants in the surrounding area, I thought, I wonder if there are still any tickets to Hamilton, which is in town for two more months–and there are!  In the past, there used to be a way to get great same day prices on tickets that hadn’t sold yet.  I never figured out a way to do that in South Florida.  I’m going to figure out how to see some great theatre in the next 2 years while I’m here.

I know that I’m claiming a huge gift.  I will likely never be able to afford to live in a city like DC again.  I want to make sure I squeeze everything out of it that I can.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Move In Day!

My goal this year is to get 100 rejections. You heard that right. So far I’ve managed 98 submissions of poetry, essays, or my poetry ms. And I’ve had (I’m guessing) about 30 acceptances. That means I still have at least 32 more submissions to make — and (horrors!) if any of those are accepted, then a few more for good measure.

Someone else gave me advice — and sent an adorable video of a three-year-old to illustrate it — of what might be called “radical acceptance.” The idea is to spend some time each day saying, “I LOVE my house,” “I LOVE my car,” “I LOVE this plant…this kid…this dog…this ratty old couch….” You get the picture. Just to flip that usual mode of noticing what isn’t okay, isn’t good enough, etc.

I love these rejections and how they’re helping me get closer to my goal of 100 rejections this year.

Well, it all sounds rather silly, now that I’m typing it up. I get bogged down by big stuff — and why shouldn’t I? Just like everyone, I often get caught by the little stuff and do some serious whining. On the other hand, sometimes I already practice this. A grown daughter hijacks a day when I really wanted to get other things done, and I decide to embrace it. My husband gets in a fender-bender, and I’m shot through the heart with gratitude that it was just a fender-bender and not anything worse. I get a headache and a voice from somewhere says, “I wonder what that’s asking you to pay attention to?”

Bethany Reid, Rejection City

I haven’t been up to much this week as we had several days of 90 degrees and not-great-air quality, so it was nice today, a slightly cooler day, to get out and about – I got my hair cut (see left,) walked around Kirkland a bit admiring some roses, and stopped by our local garden to pick up sweet corn. Even that much exhausted me – summer is not a great time for MS patients, as you may know if you have any MS folks in your life – the heat and humidity can feel like a nauseating weighted blanket. I haven’t had as much energy for writing or submitting as I wanted, but I’m hoping to get back in the groove by September.

I’m also considering starting up an hourly PR coaching business, maybe just a few hours a month to start, to help people get going on their books, small businesses, or projects. What do you think? I feel like I want to do more than just freelance writing, something that helps people, and also something that helps me dip my toes back it the working world. Even with MS, I feel like I have more to give than I’ve been giving, if you know what I mean.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Poem Up On Verse Daily, AWP News, Hot Air Balloons, Hot Weather and MS, Woodinville Read Between the Vines Book Club

We’re listening to Ani DiFranco as I wash the dishes following another of Christian’s amazing meals. Talking about the heady days of the early ’90s when we drove from town to town in the northeast following Ani and Andy the way others followed Jerry and Bob. In church basements and college halls and small-town theaters that used to be vaudeville houses we joined in with ever growing groups of fellow misfits, trying to figure out where the hell we belonged. I think of how young Ani was then — the same age as us, just a few years older than my kids are now — and how wise and powerful she seemed. Not seemed, was. Black tape on her fingers, slamming against the strings. Head shaved except for one wild lock of hair. I was probably the squarest person in all of those rooms but that guitar and those lyrics and that voice and those drums started to sand down the corners of my box. Now it’s thirty years later and all that’s left of the box are the occasional lines I draw for myself. The music, sadly, is still as relevant as ever.

Thursday night in Ithaca
dozens of us on a concrete floor
not even noticing

Jason Crane, haibun: 17 August 2022

I am giving up my current day job, no more market research for me…No more data tables, no more questionnaires, no more significance testing, etc. Nope, not for me, I’m now a car mechanic. I will be fixing cars for a living.

This is categorically not true, but I am proud of myself for finally fixing the boot of our car yesterday. It’s only taken me the best part of two years to do it. Four hours of swearing, sweating and repeated viewing of what may be the best video ever on YouTube has saved me the best part of 400 quid. I am happy. Are there any other poet mechanics? Come on people, announce yourselves.

In other news, there isn’t really any. I’m home alone this weekend—Come over if you fancy it—so in-between the mechanicery (I’m getting the lingo now) and the cleaning, drinking, etc, I’ve managed to work on some poems for the book. I think I’m almost…ALMOST…done with the second pass at them all, so it will be time to get them all in order again soon and go again…

I’ve finished a review and sent that off. I was so close to being up to date, and have somehow ended up agreeing to two more, so I now have 4 to do. Bloody heckers, like, Riches…learn the word no..

I managed to “attend” via Zoom/YouTube the launches of Jess Mookherjee, Ramona Herdman and Tania Hershman midweek. All three were amazing. I’ve not managed to buy Jess or Tania’s books yet (I will, I will, Jane…), but I got Ramona’s last week and read it quickly this week. It’s a wonderful thing. I love her work. It’s one of the four reviews I need to do, so I’m looking forward too going back over it in more depth and to revisiting her other work for context (and basically because it’s bloody great).

Mat Riches, Mechanicals, Blade Runner & A Brief Note About Reviews

Barbara Leonhard’s work appears in Spillwords, Anti-Heroin Chic, Free Verse Revolution, October Hill Magazine, Vita Brevis, Silver Birch Press, Amethyst Review, anthologies Well-Versed, Prometheus Amok and Wounds I Healed: The Poetry of Strong Women. Her poetry collection, Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir, will be published in the fall of 2022 by IEF (Experiments in Fiction). Barbara enjoys bringing writers together and has been sponsoring informal open mics on Zoom during the pandemic. You can follow her on https://www.extraordinarysunshineweaver.blog.

What are you working on? 

I’m currently polishing a manuscript to submit to my publisher, EIF (Experiments in Fiction, a company in England owned by Ingrid Wilson). It’s called Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir. The poetry collection is about my mother and me. Our lives were interwoven in many ways. We each suffered from conditions that affected memory. Hers was Alzheimer’s and mine was encephalitis. Also, she was able to have seven children, but I was infertile because she was prescribed diethylstilbesterol (DES) when I was in utero. As I was the eldest daughter, she chose to move close to me so that I could help her in her senior years. 

The trigger for this collection of poetry was my uncle’s question, “Do you love her?” The very thought that my love for my mother was questioned sent me into grief counseling. Throughout my care for her as her case of Alzheimer’s developed, I doubted my worth. To understand our relationship, I reviewed the ways my mother’s life and mine intersected. Could I grow to love the stranger my mother was becoming? 

The book title is based on an experience I had in Mom’s last few days. My brothers and I were going to grab lunch. When I was stepping out of the car, I saw three shiny new pennies lined up perfectly on the hot asphalt parking lot. Mom would always pick up pennies and insist that I do the same. However, I would refuse, which caused some conflict. I knew these pennies were a message, and indeed, she died on April 3, 2016. 

The book is a poetic memoir, so it has an arc. I set the book up in three sections: Light (my years with Mom before she moved close to me; Dust (her time in an independent living facility and her decline due to Alzheimer’s); and Echo (her move to assisted living and death, and the resolution of the existential dilemma about my love for my her). 

Thomas Whyte, Barbara Leonhard : part one

there it goes again
the angst of a long summer
in that one song

Jim Young [no title]

These days are loud, though:

the billow of wind, the sermons
of thunder; the undercurrent of all
nostalgias turning into something

we only think we understand. O trigger
releasing a spring, tensing a mechanism,
seething with too much feeling.

O outrigger. I am an island and you are
an island and everyone else is an island
and we could be an archipelago.

Luisa A. Igloria, Outrigger

6. Yikes. I’m also Department Head (seven-hour chair’s retreat Friday, oy); about to teach two writing-intensive classes; and trying to finish an article on creative criticism, a version of which has to also become an ALSCW paper for a seminar on “confession” run by Gregory Pardlo, to be submitted in early September. Also also, I have a body with limits and a life. My personal and professional to-do lists grow like the reddening Virginia creeper in my garden, to which I am intensely allergic and so are a lot of other people, so I can’t seem to hire someone to dig it out. To do.

7. On the subject of spending money, my son begins his senior year at Haverford shortly, so our house is about to become much quieter. We had to buy a car, which I advise against, if you can help it, in this inflationary, troubled-supply-chain moment. New cars, at least economical, fuel-efficient ones, are not to be had for love or money. We scored a slightly used one after much research and a billion dollars.

8. On the bright side, I also bought a long-wanted new sofa to replace the stained, cat-shredded one. It’s a lovely shade of blue, and velvet, a fabric that cats, they claim, are less interested in using as scratching posts.

9. I’d like to read more poems on my new sofa, #sealeychallenge and all, but it’s been hard, given all the creative criticism I need to catch up on and the state of my in-box. The last I finished is Jenn Givhan’s Belly to the Brutal, which I highly recommend. I think it’s gonna win some prizes, at least if the judges can handle its emotionally intense explorations of motherhood, sexual assault, fatness, and tarot cards.

Lesley Wheeler, To do, poetically–or just some human sleep

The weather has been crazy hot this week, like much of Europe. Finland’s not used to reaching 30C in August. Thunderstorms are promised for today, but it’s still clear blue out there. Need to go water my allotment. 

I recorded three poems with Helsinki Open Waves recently as part of a project with Helsinki Writers Group.  This weekend I have been going through my takes, choosing how to put the poems together. I’m getting used to hearing myself read my work, but I’m not sure if I’m very good at it yet. I usually only need three takes to get a decent read-through, though we’re lucky that the audio technician is happy to cut and paste bits together so I don’t need a perfect take. What I’m still learning is how to emphasise the poem and read it with some expression that suits the words. It’s strange to hear something that you put so much energy into that by the end your body was a tense mess and to realise it didn’t come across the airwaves like it sounded in your head. Hopefully, he’ll be able to make it sound better with a bit of tinkering.

Gerry Stewart, Back to Busy Catch-up

As we were getting ready to come home, I reminded Cane that I almost didn’t make the trip because of the issues with my back. We had such a rich and wonderful two weeks with his siblings and extended family, a longer stretch of time than he’s had with them in decades. I expressed how glad I am that I didn’t miss it.

“You know,” he said, “if your back had gone out a week later, I’m sure we wouldn’t have bought the house.”

I’m sure we wouldn’t. Life swings on the smallest of chances sometimes, on serendipity and luck and things you didn’t know you were looking for until you found them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Life is funny. And short. Seize the day.

we broke all the glass
in all the windows

no one stopped us
it took time

but the sounds were so addictive
the crack and cascade of glass

eyeless in autumn
a cold wind hummed in the gaps

the snow went wherever it would

Paul Tobin, SUMMER PROJECT

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 32

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: bodies of water, odd jobs, activism vs. contemplation, the Larkin centennial, ADHD and creativity, and much more. Enjoy,


I can hear the sugar, the sweet coffee, as a ripple or a purl in my tinnitus: the sugar makes it sing in a slightly more textured tone. 

Dear love, I tried to explain, but it falls off into hesitancies and silences. That we might think what we are doing, as Hannah Arendt said. Might we?

Or more simply that we might learn to breathe.

Beside the freeway, they are building something huge, and the sound of the pile driver echoes for miles. Every once in a while metal strikes metal: and instead of thudding, it rings like a bell.

I think of the Lewis River, or closer to home, the Washougal: I haven’t seen either for years. I’ve developed a dread of returning to wild places I knew when I was younger. But sometimes you go to such places and they’re still there. And meanwhile, the memories run, on bare feet, ahead of you. They will visit even if you don’t. 

Dale Favier, The House with the White Roses

I dreamed I was a fish
amongst a tenement of reeds.
Green was my truth
and I glided past the fisherman’s fly.

Dick Jones, LIGHT IS A STORY

Water has also entered my life in another way recently: I’ve gone back to swimming because we have a pool in our new building. During the pandemic I haven’t swum at all, and even before, it was really hard for me to keep it up as a regular practice. The best routine for me at the moment seems to be settling into every other day, around 7:30 in the morning. There’s seldom anyone else in the pool then, and I can swim my laps in an atmosphere that feels extremely meditative even when I’m working hard. It feels great to enter the water, and after a few laps, everything sort of melts away as the rhythm of the strokes, the breaths, and the turns takes over.

Beth Adams, Watery

At the bend of the river
there’s a pond we don’t call
the womb of the world, though we could —
this patch of deep water reflecting
tall purple loosestrife.
The pond is a womb, the world
is a womb. Emerge glorious
and dripping …

Rachel Barenblat, Womb

I am at the point with this poem where I am not sure if it is finished. Does it have more to offer? Should I just leave it alone? It feels like I have more to say, but I’m not sure exactly what or how. Once I might have been sure I would sort it out. Now I am just as likely to wander away and never come back to this poem. Is that O.K.? Is some essential part of myself being lost?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Strange and Yet Familiar

Between moon and cloud
I wander a quiet
deep and ancient
as mountain moss
You follow
sweet and light
An intuition
A murmur

Charlotte Hamrick, What’s Past is Never Past

It does not hurt that I feel so much more present in other areas in my life that aren’t the freelance work–in the press, in my own writing, in just my tiny household where I actually get to be at home with the cats and cook actual meals and keep the place from being as messy/chaotic as it once was. What I struggled with in the beginning, a structure and routine, I now pretty much have got nailed down, or at least a couple variations depending on how I spend my days. I do not miss venturing into the world, and outside of a smattering of people, do not miss my coworkers or the work itself. Nor do I miss the way my skills and abilities were taken advantage of without anything like reasonable pay (and the complicated thing is some of those people are the same people). The jump was scary–you have no idea–my stability loving Taurean heart was in knots all through late last year, but once I made the decision, the relief never stopped flowing, even now.

Kristy Bowen, the great resignation and no regrets

If you can throw a cow
over the castle wall
you can have the job,

the old monk told
the applicant.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (280)

How does a poem begin?

Since I was in elementary school, a poem has always begun as a bodily sensation. I tend to feel it in my calves and arms, this transcendental itch that carries my focus into the mind, and uses my hands to gather words, lines, and thoughts and write them down quickly. It is messy and difficult and can really make a poet cringe. If you’re lucky, you might have the poem completed in your first draft. I live for those poems, I will wait on them for the rest of my life.

Thomas Whyte, Bianca V. Gonzalez : part five

Roses bloom backward to reveal to you the secrets of the underground.

When you venture out on your own, certain memories will be pregnant with broken mirrors.

Days may sound strange because their lips are parched from kisslessness.

Rich Ferguson, The Road Before You

Last night Rachael and I went to see the majestic Kamasi Washington play at The Troxy, and I’m not sure if the mixing desk was being warped by the heat or the temperature was just bending the sound, but something wasn’t right. It could have been everyone in the building looking like they were on the cusp of evaporating, or the permanent beads of sweat decorating my top lip and forehead, but the sound was off. It was a shame as Kamasi and his band looked to be bang on form. I did get to hear him play his song Truth though, and that’s one my favourite things in existence, so we’ll call the night a score draw. […]

The big news of the week, and to my mind it’s absolutely epic (NB a Kamasi Washington album is called The Epic, but that’s by the by and is absolutely not me trying to hamfistedly force a connection out when there isn’t one to be had) news, is that the latest issue of Bad Lilies has been published. And not only that, but issue 9 is called Feral Summers and features Kathryn Simmonds (who I note is Norwich-based), Jessica Mookherjee, Rebecca Watts, Taz Rahman (his work was new to me, but I love it, and note we were also bedfellows in Honest Ulsterman back in Feb), Lisa McCabe, Geraldine Clarkson, Erin O’Luanaigh, Chris Emery, Nikita Azad, Alex Jenkins, Gareth Prior and they’ve only gone and included me too. My poem, The Summer Job is sat in the middle of the issue, and so far be it from me to suggest it’s the sun around which everything else orbits, but I’m also not not saying that.

Mat Riches, Coyote Time & Luminescent Prompts

[Pearl Pirie]: Apart from music, what is underway, or forthcoming? 

[Phil Hall]: This fall (2022), from Beautiful Outlaw Press: The Ash Bell—a book-length poem in thirty parts within parts.

PP: Oooh, writing that down on my buy list. And what intrigues you these days?

PH: Susan Sontag’s Introduction to A Barthes Reader is the best thing I’ve read (again) all summer. 

The thoroughness intrigues me. It teaches me how to read Barthes (again). I wish I could write as well as her! (And him.)

And why such writing gives me such pleasure in the reading act, despite or besides its usefulness, its cargo—that why intrigues me too. 

The kinetic tension of a sustained critical sentence followed slowly like poetry: Sontag, Hugh Kenner, Marjorie Perloff, Peter Quartermain… 

~

Also, asemic writing in all its wayward forms. Gesture alluding to Alphabet.

And also asemic in its original meaning, from Barthes: words that by error make a new word without any official meaning, but vaguely suggesting odd meanings…

Here are a few I’ve made the mistake of finding & being intrigued enough by lately to record:

becomerang

poorine

obmutescence

tomen

Such asemicisms seem like poems in nugget to me. Syntax can’t get to them! Even music can’t get at them — too dense to lilt.

They hope to leave Meaning flapping its gums.

PP: As meaning should be left. I wrote in my poem Montague, the machine changed it to Mina guess. Autoincorrect is the new machine asemic. 

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: Phil Hall

My spouse, Chris Gavaler, and I met while working on a Rutgers undergraduate literary magazine, The Anthologist. We were both chiefly poets then, shaping each other’s opinions in long Sunday night arguments over submissions (and sometimes over a twelve-pack). After graduation, we moved in together, after which followed many years of reading each other’s drafts; helping each other revise and sometimes hurting feelings in the process; sharing info on magazines and presses; and encouraging each other to persist when trying felt futile. I earned a PhD and dragged him to a small town in Virginia. He earned a Masters in Education, taught high school, went on to an MFA in fiction writing, then started in teaching in the English Department I’d joined years before. What we’re working on, as writers and teachers, usually varies wildly. But there have been synchronicities.

In May, I published Poetry’s Possible Worlds, a big milestone: in process and genre, it blends my scholarly training with a newer commitment to creative nonfiction, and it gestated for 10 years. His newest book, The Comics Form, is likewise the culmination of many years of teaching, writing about, and making comics. It begins with the question “What is a comic?” and encompasses comics’ history, style, conventions, and formal qualities. The book’s own style–clear and precise but intensely philosophical and theoretical–is very different from anything I’ve been up to lately. It amuses me very much that he, the MFA, has the deepest scholarly publishing record in our department, and I, the PhD, have the longest creative vita (although he gives me stiff competition). Somewhere along the way, we crossed paths and raced off in our own directions.

Lesley Wheeler, Not only close but intimate reading

Back then, reading books everyone was reading: Rand,
Gibran, Hesse — imagining perfection, imagining that
misunderstood idealism was some kind of quiet
rebellion, a secret counterculture. Until it came apart.

First innocence was fractured. Like a faraway rumble.
A misheard oracle. The truth is not always true. Then
the heroes turned themselves inside out. This too was
endured like a blood-letting ritual. An inevitable rite of

passage. Home is a variable construct. The cracks grew
wider. And deeper.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 05

The girl takes your card
and asks Soy sauce, duck sauce? It’s
the usual cornstarch-dredged pieces
of chicken with a smattering of sesame
seeds; rice or noodles on the side.
“Happy Family” is still on the menu:
that dish with three kinds of meat
smothered in some kind of brown sauce,
a chaos of vegetables seared in the pan.

Luisa A. Igloria, Happy Family

The full-length poetry debut by Edinburgh-born Ottawa poet Rhiannon Ng Cheng Hin is Fire Cider Rain (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2022), a collection set in four sections—“Evaporate,” “Condensate,” “Precipitate” and “Collect”—that examine the relationship between a mother and daughter amid an evolution of movement and displacement through the metaphor of water. Across the narrative thread of Fire Cider Rain, Ng Cheng Hin writes of migration and arrival, examining what is gained and what is lost, and what can’t help but be left behind. “as if by ritual, I enter a polemic / of loss,” she writes, to open the poem “HUMAN DISSECTION LAB,” “wherein the axis of grief / lies stitched to the vein of every / hemlock, every arthropod, every / woman’s coarse throat.” Stretching across multiple geographies—from North Africa to Mahébourg to “the edge of Lake Huron” and a Greyhound bus along the 401—there are elements of the tonal structure and familial content reminiscent of another poetry debut from earlier this year, Nanci Lee’s Hsin (Kingston ON: Brick Books, 2022) [see my review of such here], both of which offer a lyric examination on mothers and daughters, loss and exodus, paired but perpetually untethered and seeking to connect. “like mother like daughter like matter like water –” Ng Cheng Hin writes, to close the poem “THE LAWS OF THERNODYNAMICS I.” Writing again of the narrator’s “Māmā” to close the poem “SEAMELT II,” she offers: “I will begin where she left me / with the sound of // water on tile.”

Her opening poem, the sequence “COEFFICIENTS OF FRICTION,” immediately sets a scene of descriptive thickness and full-bodied phrases, offering a lyric density very much aware of its own music and rhythms. “what breakable, half remembered bodies,” she writes, “bent with small attritions / stratospheric relics gliding north / in radical heaps              away from purled trees / broken porchlights, the long ache / of the autumn island fire – […]” There is a staccato pulse of accumulated phrases and lines, writing moments of delicate, subtle music, one atop another until the larger shape begins to reveal itself.

rob mclennan, Rhiannon Ng Cheng Hin, Fire Cider Rain

I’m currently trying to decide on 3 ‘water’ themed haiku to send in for the British Haiku Society’s members’ anthology. I admit I’m finding it hard to come up with anything original (most of my water poems are about rain – something we could badly do with at the moment)! And that leads me to my second plug for Presence: Matthew Paul’s essay on Caroline Gourlay, which is informative, incisive and highly readable. Here’s Gourlay on rain (as quoted by Paul):

listen!
the skins of wild damsons
darkening in the rain

Paul’s right to describe this haiku as extraordinary: on the sound patterns imitating rain, the power of the adjective ‘wild’ (I’m paraphrasing his comments here). For me, there’s a sense of a secret being imparted in this haiku. Despite the exclamation mark, I imagine the speaker whispering, a slight hush in the voice, a sibilance replicated in ‘skins’ and ‘damsons’ that might also imitate the sound of rain that Paul mentions. I also sense a relationship being played out (between lovers perhaps, or just friends). I go back to the words ‘wild’ and ‘skin’. To see those damsons darkening is to be out there in the rain, getting soaked to the skin. The command ‘listen!’ implies the moment is shared, that there is someone else in the scene. And the reader? Well, the the reader is being allowed to overhear, to be included in the experience. Yes, it’s an extraordinary poem, and Paul’s essay makes me want to revisit Gourlay, which hopefully I’ll have time to do over the summer.
So thank you Matthew Paul, and thank you Presence!

Julie Mellor, The Coffin Path

Rob Taylor: So many of the poems in blue gait feel timeless: they deal with abstract, existential questions that we as a species have been asking of ourselves since time immemorial. But another stream of poems in the book is tightly bound to the political world of the here and now, centred around particular injustices (such as the confirmation of the 215 children buried at Kamloops Indian Residential School or the ongoing actions at the Unist’ot’en Camp). In these poems you speak very specifically and politically.

These two “modes” seem to mirror your larger life, in which you work as both writer and activist. Could you talk about these two “modes” in your writing: the abstract/eternal and the political/immediate? Do you think of them as distinct from one another, or as part of an indivisible whole?

shauna paull: Thank you for this question, Rob. I think I mostly resist separations between art and world. In the presence of my community work, which was political as well, my most fervent hope was to create access to abundance for the highest number of people. It’s natural then that the work emerges from ontological concerns and enlarges to encompass the concerns of those whose lives are marked by xenophobia of one sort or another. I am aware that some of the poems that address what is present in the “here and now” are doing so because the stories of alterity that open in them are longstanding.

I think song is the one thing that can cross just about every barrier — what moves a space of air cannot be contained by any regulatory or political body, or set of convictions. For me, these poems are a small attempt at creating song-space for witness — my own. This space is limited in various ways, but my hope is to honour what remains alive in the communities I am engaged with and hope to support.

The root values of well-being, autonomy, and dignity for all, will likely always be central to my thinking and making. It’s possible that a practice of paying attention with one’s heart is present in the work, too. Nobody is really safe until we are all safe. At this point in time, I carry an awareness that witness will always be needed, but also celebration and beauty and kindness, all of which are under-sung in the dominant myths of our country and in capitalism. Simplicity and relational attentiveness take time and care and it seems to me, from almost every direction, these benefit humanity.

Rob Taylor, A Gift of Mystery and Many Hands: An Interview with shauna paull

Of course this is written thinking about the recent attack on Salman Rushdie. In addition to the horror of this violence against a writer and against our right to speak our truth to power, to critique, investigate, reconsider, remix, explore, reinvent, inquire, I am also thinking about how the present world seems to be fracturing before our very eyes, even as we know that it has, with the except of climate change, always been like this in one way or another. I feel like this is a series of essay questions in a high school exam: Is the present really worse than the past? In what way? Is there any point comparing? How are we feeling at this moment? What now? What IS possible?

Gary Barwin, EVERYTHING ALWAYS IS POSSIBLE NOW

o think i missed that tomato splitting on the vine
when all the time that last coffee at the roadside cafe
grew as cold as the conversation’s turning
as narrow-eyed tutt-tutted teeth clenched
the moment held
would not let go
our sweat trickled
as slowly
we got up to go
nowhere

Jim Young, this one last long hot summer

This one had poem after poem of gripping intensity and experience unlike my own, so I read it as if looking into a new world. Hard Damage by Aria Aber, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and the Whiting Award (University of Nebraska Press, 2019). But it is my world–America with its covert actions elsewhere in the world (once her parents’ homeland) and full of privilege (of which she and I both partake). And it isn’t my world: it is refugee camp, Afghanistan left behind, and languages I don’t know but deeply appreciate, as explored in these poems.

Here in Hard Damage I find grenades compared to turtles and also “grenade” connected to pomegranate in etymology:

                        Grenade, its shape
     so much like the fruit they named it after,
     pomegranate, from Latin pomum granatum
     (apple with many seeds), something
     I can harvest and pick from a tree–
     a comfortable taste in my mouth, and yes,
     fruit of the dead, or of fertility, depending
     on whose sustenance to listen to.

I find connections, of course, to the other books I’ve been reading here in August for the Sealey Challenge–for instance, a mention of the month of August itself, in the poem “Foreign Policies,” one that moves from and shifts back to the more personal poems in the book to the more political: “August, too, was a mastermind, distracting me / toward your lima bean eyes.”

Kathleen Kirk, Hard Damage

I can’t really not mention Larkin, since yesterday was the 100th anniversary of his birth. Last week, I spent a few days in deepest Holderness, the flatlands of East Yorkshire between Hull and the North Sea.

It’s the area celebrated in ‘Here’, the opening poem of The Whitsun Weddings, and which ends in one of trademark, secular-mystical epiphanies:

                             Here silence stands
Like heat. Here leaves unnoticed thicken,
Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken,
Luminously-peopled air ascends;
And past the poppies bluish neutral distance
Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach
Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.

Nowhere is that sense of ‘unfenced existence’ more apparent than along the spit of Spurn, which protrudes three miles into the last knockings of the Humber estuary, much in the same way that Southend Pier does at the end of the Thames.

From Spurn Point at the end, you can see Bull Sand Fort, a derelict First World War fort guarding the approaches to the Humber. I wonder if it’s what inspired the strange phrase in Larkin’s ‘Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel’: ‘How / Isolated, like a fort, it is’.

What’s for sure is that Holderness is little changed from Larkin’s time. Since he was still alive when I first became interested in poetry, I somehow think of him as being more contemporary than he is. It seems hard to credit that he was born in the same year as another great writer who inspired me to pick up a pencil, Jack Kerouac, though he, of course, had died long before (in 1969) I came of age. They both inclined to melancholy, and both loved jazz, though Kerouac’s hero Charlie Parker was a figure of hate for Larkin. But I digress. Neither has remained a great, direct influence, but bear repeated, pleasurable re-readings.

Matthew Paul, On Mary Mulholland and Larkin

I increasingly think the urge to disassociate the man from the poems leads to some strange places. Every now and then I read one of Larkin’s advocates arguing for a clear division between the man and the work: the man was a rotter, but the work expresses (in the words of one TLS writer) ‘universal truths’. Or you have the late Clive James, Larkin’s loudest cheerleader, who spoke of the way he ‘went narrow to go deep’, avoiding social issues in order to plumb the depths of human nature.

This isn’t my Larkin. For me, the poetry has always contained a sustained, consistent criticism of post-war society – its obsession with youth and beauty, its endless consumerism, its failed promises of freedom – all of which is contrasted with the realities of aging and increasing social isolation. There is a kind of willful turning away from so much else that was going on in the published poems, and a grim reactionariness to certain letters (there’s the throat clearing again). This is where critics who see Larkin as a poet of post-imperial self-pity have a point. But to either describe Larkin’s poetry as soley a matter of fuzzy nostalgia, or to defend it on the grounds of its unique insight into human nature (or its form alone) is to miss the point: Larkin wrote about limits – and his approach to limits clearly had something to do with who he was and the times he lived in.

For me, that particular sensibility – the concern with limits – never felt like something from a bygone age, despite the period fittings.

Jeremy Wikeley, ‘Born Yesterday’ (Philip Larkin)

Not liking a book is not a reason to not write a review. A reviewer can’t be the target audience for every book published or even every book published in their favourite genre. But every reviewer can write about the book and give the review reader, who might be part of the target audience, enough information so they recognise the book is for them. Once when a music reviewer hated a new album, I would rush out and buy it. When the same reviewer praised a new album, it went on my ‘never, ever buy’ list. We had opposing tastes. But because he was consistent and give me enough information in the reviews for me to know I’d love what he hated and vice versa, the bands he hated were never going to lose sales because the reviewer didn’t like their music.

Emma Lee, A Bad Review is not when the reviewer didn’t like your book

No poetry collections so far for the Sealey Challenge. I’m beginning to doubt I’ll manage much. I read fiction before bed. It’s my wind-down activity before sleep. I can’t read poetry then or not a whole collection as I can’t focus well enough. Fiction keeps me engaged just enough to last a half hour until the melatonin kicks in. I think I’ll maybe read a poem a night from a new/old collection I’m excited about. 

Gerry Stewart, Scottish Book Tour Part 4

I’ve been trying to fix these aspects of myself for decades. I’ve had dozens of articles published about mindfulness and adopted (then dropped) all sorts of practices to help me slow down my busy mind. I do inhabit my moments, often get immersed in my moments, but it’s a comfort to know that my skittering mind isn’t something in need of repair. It is the way I’m made. Non-linear attention lets me see all sorts of interrelationships between disparate ideas. This can’t help but show me paradoxes and patterns that help me generate new approaches. The drawback is this doesn’t lead to clear path forward and it can really antagonize those firmly in the doing-things-the-way-they’ve-always-been-done camp. It probably explains my weird sense of humor. It’s also why I have started dozens of writing projects that, with some sustained focus, could be finished – yet instead my focus drifts to ever-newer projects.     

I can only speak for myself, but all the charts, apps, and other attention hacks don’t help me. Instead they handcuff me to the stress-inducing norms of a commodified culture, where productivity and not character are the measure of a life. My son’s ADHD, by the way, didn’t impair his learning in any way once we took him out of school. In fact, it likely enhanced it.

Laura Grace Weldon, What Does Your Attention Deficit Look Like?

FAVORITE LINE AT THE COUNTY FAIR

“The Beautiful Child Contest is now underway at the Cow and Sheep Barn.” 

Last night I went to the Schoharie County Fair with my husband and youngest–Demo Derby! Royal Hannaford Circus! Gaudy rides! Crazy carnival eats! And all the joys of beribboned rabbits and hares, cows and sheep and friendly goats.

Marly Youmans, Wordishly

Live Encounters kindly reposted a few fall poems of mine from a little while ago…maybe it will remind you that many writers’ favorite season is on the way! I hope you enjoy them. And enjoy this pileated woodpecker [photo]—we also had deer visitors who ate the last of my roses. I hope that August will be kind to us the rest of this month…

The poems, “Last Flowers,” “Charmed,” “Halloween 2018,” and “November Dark” are available at this link. 

Jeannine Hall Gailey, What a Week! Some Fall Poems, More Info about the Woodinville Wine and Book Club, Woodinville Wildlife and Flowers, and More

“There is another world but it is in this one,” said Paul Eluard. 

This one, here, celui-ci in the heavy glittering mid-August summer.  Sometimes the tree has one cicada that shatters the insistent sun.  Sometimes the chêne has one cicada that cries its passion, shrieks its desire over the noonday field, the shadowless yellow grass.  Sometimes a tree full of cicadas will work a trance like gentle dancers. 

We are not on our way to over there.  We share a house with others in our origin story.  We shift around, one thing displacing the next in the everchanging present.  The cat takes shallow breaths as it sleeps by the red bicycle in the shade.  

Jill Pearlman, Here, the Heavy Glitter of Now

airborne invisible
they circle the world

one of us may catch
a whisper in the ear

some write down
the words they hear

he simply gave thanks
for every poem that chose him

Paul Tobin, NO ONE STOPPED US

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 23

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 saw some sadness and outrage in the poetry blogs but on the whole the mood felt celebratory. As Jill Pearlman writes, “These are dark times, / Open the window, the sun shines today for 15 hours 10 minutes.” Opening windows is kind of what we’re all about, I think. Anyway, enjoy!


This morning, I woke up with a vague fear of abandoning my poet self. I thought about how I would feel 20 years in the future, if I stopped writing poetry, stopped submitting poetry. And then I wondered what led to this early morning quasi-panic.

I feel like I haven’t been writing poetry, but that’s not strictly true. In April, I did a lot with poetry for my seminary class project.  I’ve been continuing to experiment with my collection of abandoned yet evocative lines. I can’t write the way I once did because I have a broken wrist–or to be more accurate a wrist in a cast which limits my use of my dominant hand. 

I’ve had time periods before when I didn’t write. I’m thinking of the summer of 1996 where I wrote exactly one poem. That time was followed by a time of fertile poetry writing. […]

I think of other types of identity that are tearing the nation apart:  gender, sexual attraction, political affiliations. I think of religious identities that shape a person in deep and abiding ways. I don’t spend much time reflecting on these identities and what they mean to me. Is it strange that the writerly identity is the one that wakes me up at night with worries of losing it?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poet and Other Identities

As soon as we arrived at King’s Cross and I felt that unmistakable London vibe; a mix of voices and languages and styles and music and smells and street food, I felt invigorated. The exhibition itself was just incredible. I am so glad I got to see it. I’d been wanting to do a research trip to the [British Museum] for the new poetry collection, and the non fiction book, so it was great to be able to combine a little day out with that very necessary part of my creative practice, which is to be physically present around the things I’m writing about. I was awed. I felt connected to the people who I have been writing about in a way that is hard to describe. This object in particular (below) which was found just outside Scarborough, at a place that I have visited several times, a place that I have written about and whose people I have tried to imagine being near and being connected to, I found particularly moving. Its use is uncertain but most likely it was used as a lamp, or as a ritual offering bowl, the light passing through the carved holes. It is the first piece in the exhibition, displayed simply, elegantly, with a plain background allowing the piece to speak for itself. I feel like I know these people who lived near where I live, and to see object, held in their hands, see it all the way down in London, in this enormous museum with all those people looking at it, admiring it as the opening feature of such a beautifully curated exhibition made me emotional.

Because the exhibition was so well organised I was able to linger around the artefacts and look at them from every direction, getting up close to the backs of them to see the way they were worked. One day I dream of having access and permission to engage with and look at things like the Star Carr headdresses (picture of one above) with no glass between myself and the object. Perhaps on a future project this might be arranged. But the next best thing is this elegantly put together exhibition that allows space and time to look at the objects owned by our ancestors.

There is something quite beautiful about writing the poems for the new collection. I am feeling, with these last series and sets of poems about ancestry that I am somehow drawing the collection together, like a string being pulled taut through the eyelets of a cloth bag.

Wendy Pratt, To London and the World of Stonehenge exhibition

Since the end of the semester, I have been trying to settle myself  into a routine of reading and writing and creating. Last night, I attended poet Michael Czarnecki’s weekly poetry sessions.  This session, Michael read a selection of his spontaneous poems and the opening of his lyrical memoir; then opened the reading to an open mic.  The poets and friends who attend these weekly sessions are some of my favorite people. Their poetry is stunning: lyrical narratives that embrace, history, mythology, identity, travel, cultures . . . I get goosebumps listening to each and every one.

I am so grateful to this community.

Since [the] end of May, I have been writing every day.  Have a fistful of poems now, a few 100 word stories, too. I think beginning each day with the intent to accomplish: gardening, writing, drawing, walking, daydreaming will restore my soul that has been banged up in the last 100 days.

M. J. Iuppa, June 2022: 100 Days of Healing

As a pastoral caregiver I know that both laughter and tears are normal in a hospital. (Not just in a hospital; always! But emotions are heightened at times like these.) Sometimes I could lift up and let the current carry me. Sometimes I sank to the bottom and crashed into the riverbed rocks. 

On erev Shavuot I joined, via Zoom, the festival service I had planned to co-lead. I sang Hallel very quietly. I may never forget singing לֹא הַמֵּתִים יְהַלְלוּ־יָהּ וְלֹ֗א כּל־יֹרְדֵי דוּמָה (“The dead do not praise You, nor all those who go down into silence,” Ps. 115:16) attached to a heparin drip and cardiac monitors.

Now I am home, learning about MINOCA (myocardial infarction with non-obstructive coronary arteries), and preparing to seek out diagnosticians who might be able to weave my strokes 15 years ago, my shortness of breath, and this heart attack into a coherent narrative with a clear action plan.

After my strokes, I saw specialist after specialist in Boston. Eventually I leaned into not-knowing, into taking Mystery as a spiritual teacher. But now that I’ve added a heart attack to the mix, I’m hoping anew for a grand unifying theory. For now, I remain in the not-knowing, with gratitude to be alive.

Rachel Barenblat, Heart

Where death is, I am not: where I am, death is not,
said Epicurus. But still the cognitive theorists aver
that an autopoietic system
cares for itself. Willy nilly. Say when.

Love comes late and untidy
bold and crumpled, crooked and strong:
it’s a tune now hummed under my breath: it needs
no voice.

Dale Favier, Deaf

How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

I think my first book, Punchline, which came out in 2012, gave me a sense of relief. Not validation necessarily, but I think it freed me to write when I wanted, rather than write as if life depended on it.  My newest book, The Forgotten World, is my third, and by far my most personal book, and my book most rooted in the real world, rather than any sort of metaphysical space. Being the Executive Editor of Atmosphere Press, which is not tied to the academic calendar, gave me the opportunity to explore the world more fully, and that exploration made for a book set in places, rather than in the one place of the abstract. […]

Where does a poem or work of prose 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?

I’ve done both, and for The Forgotten World it became clear along the way that I was writing a travel book and a book about the intellectual struggle of being American while not in America, and respecting cultures that have been mistreated by people who look like me. Once I realized that that was the subject matter I felt compelled to write, I just had to spend the years it took to go the places I needed to go to learn. This book is a product of years of feet-on-the-ground research in a way my others weren’t. […]

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

[…] I think one of the greatest roles of writing is to make the writer a more satisfied and content person. People often look to the value of a writer in relation to a reader, but I think the contrary view of what the writing does for the writer is more interesting. If all these writers weren’t writing, would they be less fulfilled individuals? Of course, the role of the reader is where this question would usually go, but as someone who helps writers every day with Atmosphere Press, it’s the satisfaction that writing can bring an individual that is at the forefront of my mind. Writing as art is a public service to the creator as much, if not more, than it is to the outside viewer of the creation.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nick Courtright

waves
the familiar anonymity 
of these thoughts

Jim Young [no title]

The collection is broken into seven sections and currently has 100 poems. It may have a few more or a few less as I continue to play with the sequence and figure out what can stay or go. I was fretting over the length of the book, but since this is likely my last full-length collection, I decided what the hell. 

There are selections from all of my previously published collections and chapbooks, but it leans more heavily on published-but-uncollected poems and never-before-published ones. It feels right, but there is still quite a bit of tinkering to do. We’re still on track for an Autumn 2023 publication date. Stay tuned. 

Oh, and the new header of this site and that I’ve used on my social media is not the cover of the collection. That’s simply a fun little placeholder while the final artwork is completed. 

Back in the early part of the spring, I had a massive infection in the scar tissue around the incision area for my cancer. Apparently, something bit me right behind my ear (where I still have no feeling) and it set up cellulitis. A trip to urgent care, an injection, and a round of antibiotics eventually cleared it.

I just passed the one-year anniversary of both my surgery and moving into the new condo (which I think I’m finally getting used to) and I’ve got another MRI and CT scan coming up in a couple of weeks to see if the cancer has metastasized to other parts of my body. Fingers crossed. 

I’m absolutely thrilled that Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” – my favorite song – has topped the charts around the world 37-years after its first release thanks to its use in crucial scenes from Stranger Things 4. A whole new generation is discovering Kate’s music and it has been absolutely wild to see so much news and hear the song everywhere. I’ve contributed a brand new essay about Kate for the 40th anniversary issue of her fanzine “HomeGround,” which will be out any day now.

Collin Kelley, A small update on my work, health, and Kate Bush

as if the houses
were to be drawn across
the loose earth on which
they stand and go down
as if the trees that shield us
were to shake once
and follow the houses
roots up and branches down
each the mirror of the other
as if the sky already broken open
were to fold and fold
and swallow itself like water does
as if we were to stand on nothing
watching the symphony up
to its last echoes and wonder
what now
what to do
whether to step back
or step forward
or like the houses trees
and sky itself just fold
and fold and swallow ourself
like water does

Dick Jones, Dog Latitudes §16

So, I set about making some visual collages, adding Spongebob (ShvomBob) into what seems like perfect Ashkenazi tropes. I was also thinking of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry. Why? Well, I’d listened to a couple podcasts about him (for example, the London Review of Books series about canonical poets.) I’ve also played with riffing off his poems, adding in internetspeak, colloquial language, and other contrasting tones. There’s a leaping electricity with playing with the contrast between his densely tactile hypercharged inscape-fueled language and other language which has its own world of associations. And so, I made the poem that appears below. It has a kind of Flarfy energy and, strangely, a bit of Celan-like sound to it. I also was intrigued to put the poem beside the image. It’s not quite an ekphastic poem — the poem doesn’t quite describe the image — but it does have a relation to it. That’s another kind of leaping.

Gary Barwin, All Shall Be Well with Spongebog Squarepant and Julian of Norwich.

Or the mouth keeps opening
in sleep, dreaming of bats
with indigo wings

opening and closing, closing
and opening with the uncertainty
of miniature parasols.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Palimpsest (4)

For a writer who has published over 30 books of poetry and prose in his native Germany, we have had too little of Durs Grünbein in English. Michael Hofmann‘s Ashes for Breakfast (Faber, 2005) introduced some of the earlier work and described Grünbein as possessed of melancholia, amplitude, a love of Brodsky, a love of the Classics, plus wide-ranging interests in medicine, neuroscience, contemporary art and metaphysics. John Ashbery praised Grünbein, identifying his subject as “this life, so useless, so rich” and the challenge to any translator is precisely this breadth and ambition. Happily, Karen Leeder is proving to be a really fine conduit for Grünbein’s work and here she triumphantly tackles his 2005 sequence of poems about the firebombing of his hometown, Dresden, by American and British planes in February 1945.

Porcelain is a sequence of 49 poems, 10 lines each, rhymed and grounded in Classical metre and given an air of Classical elegy by its subtitle, ‘Poem on the Downfall of My City’ (‘Poem vom Untergang meiner Stadt’). But if resolution, consolation or summing-up might be expected, this is, definitively, not what we get. The title, of course, refers to the Meissen pottery which, from the eighteenth century on, brought Dresden its great wealth and fame. But it is also a pun on the poet to whom the sequence is dedicated: Paul Celan. In Celan’s poem ‘Your eyes embraced’ there is an effort to swallow the ashes of genocide but they return to the throat as ‘Ash- / hiccups’, an image repeated in Grünbein’s opening poem: “It comes back like hiccups: elegy”. The sequence does indeed hiccup in the sense of its jerky shifts of tone, its multi-faceted images of Grunbein himself and in its close to choking articulation of the horrors of the Dresden bombing.

Martyn Crucefix, Ash-Hiccups: on ‘Porcelain’ (2005) by Durs Grünbein

Massive news for me: HappenStance Press will publish my second full collection in November 2023. I’m delighted/chuffed/overjoyed, etc, etc, to have the chance to work again with Helena Nelson, one of the best editors around.

What’s more, HappenStance books are gorgeous objects in themselves. Now to keep chipping away at my ms, only sixteen months to go…!

Matthew Stewart, My second full collection

I don’t take breaks from writing very often–hardly ever–I am a very diligent writer, since my time for writing is limited by the responsibilities of being a homeschooling mom of five kids, and my online adjuncting, and, and, and. There’s always something or other trying to nip away at any time I have for writing, so I typically hoard it pretty jealously and am loathe to give an inch of it.

However, writing 30 poems in 30 days plain wore me out! I ended up creating a chapbook out of it (which I just signed a contract for–hurrah!–and more info soon!), and I’m happy with the work I did, and the couple of poems I wrote in May.

I think I can get sort of bent on “output” and productivity as a poet though, and lose site of just letting myself sit, wonder, daydream. I need to refill with long walks and working in the yard and swimming in the neighborhood pool.

Renee Emerson, Summer Break

June that is succulent sin, the swell of mangoes,
the smell of wet mornings, the spell of every word
as it circles under a ceiling fan,
each word a world, finding an orbit, a speed,
each word with its own day and night
and horizon
and season for lovemaking.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Till the end of June

Had the pleasure of reading Melissa Studdard’s new book from Jackleg Press, Dear Selection Committee. This is a book of exuberant, joyful, and heck, sexy and fun poems set into the framework of applying for a very specialized kind of job. Some poems are heartbreaking, taking on contemporary tragedies. It’s an inspiring book, too, making me want to write for the first time in ages.

Here’s a short excerpt from “My Kind,” the opening poem: “I am my own kind. I’ll learn to play piano. Like Helene Grimaud, / I’ll see blue rising from the notes. I’ll be an amateur bird watcher,/ a volunteer firefighter, a gourmet chef, a great/ humanitarian. I’ll plant a prize-winning garden,/ grow a pot farm. My hair is on fire. I’m running/ out of time.” The cover art by Karynna McGlynn is also amazing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Zoo Visits, Crowns, and Family Emergencies, Melissa Studdard’s Dear Selection Committee and Setting Boundaries in the Lit World

I wrote this poem in 2015. Seven years later the problem of children being killed by guns in America has only escalated. How much mental illness in fact begins with living in a country where it does not feel safe to go to the grocery store, first grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, high school, college, a movie, a doctor’s office, your place of employment, a concert?

As poets we write about what we feel and witness. As poets we record-keep the actions of a culture. As poets we express in a few words the horror and beauty of this world. May the horror move you to action. May you find a way to preserve the beauty of this world, so that our children have the chance to bear witness to it.

Carey Taylor, Land of the Free and Dead

How come the preacher
is so good with a gun,
the old monk wondered.

Tom Montag, IN THE NEWS

These are dark times,
Open the window, the sun shines today for 15 hours 10 minutes.  

And windy, 
a piece of lettuce is blowing off my lunchplate.

Gesundheit, 
we say to the sneeze heard through the open window.

On my summer reading list is “In Defense of Ardor”
and intention to pronounce Zagajewski

Jill Pearlman, In Defense of Ardor

When I finally returned to a real, traditional classroom, I was reminded of what I did love about working in higher education, and why I returned, semester after semester, despite all of the other infuriating bullshit: sharing literature, talking about the craft of writing, connecting with my students. It was so much better than the asynchronous Blackboard discussion forums, where students and their instructor (*cough*) struggled to keep up, or even the synchronous Zoom classroom, where if I was lucky students would participate over the microphone, since almost no one participated with their cameras on.

So what I’m saying is that, well, it’s odd to be leaving for sabbatical after having just returned to some semblance of the before-times. (I had only one regular traditional class in the spring semester — everything else was some form of online teaching, due to student demand.) Of course, I’m still going to take sabbatical — I’d be a fool to walk away from this opportunity. And I’m hoping that when I return in spring 2023, more students will be turning away from the hellscape that is remote learning, and back in a classroom where we can make eye contact and speak to each other in the ways that humans were meant to communicate — face to face, person to person, focused brain to focused brain.

(That “focused brain” might be wishful thinking, for both my students and me.)

Sarah Kain Gutowski, See Ya, SuckYear 2021-2022; Hello, Half-Year Sabbatical. I’ve Been Waiting a Long Time to Meet You.

I walk another block past my grandpa’s
high school; I wore his graduation ring
on my pinkie for years,
marveling at his small hands.
My own hands are too big now.
It no longer fits.

Jason Crane, POEM: Hand-me-downs

I want to tell you that she was a good dog, as obituaries generally require us to speak well of the dead, but she was not, by most objective measures, a good dog. She paid attention to our words and wishes only when she wanted to, she was never reliably housebroken (not because she didn’t understand or couldn’t comply with the expectations, but because she really preferred, like the humans in her pack, to go inside), and she was notorious for getting her longtime companion, Rocky, all worked up over nothing. She was a fan of the grudge poop (middle of the hallway, where it couldn’t be missed), and she had no fucks to give about things we might have felt important that she did not.

Which just goes to show that you don’t have to be good to be loved–because love her we did, unconditionally and deeply. Sometimes we loved her more because she wasn’t “good,” and she had us laughing even as we scolded her (such as the time we caught her on the kitchen table, licking butter from the butter dish). She was funny, and strong-willed, and sassy. She did what she wanted. Lucky for us, one of the things she wanted all the time was to be as close to one of her humans as physically possible.

Aside from being with us, her favorite things were eating and taking a nap in a patch of sun. We could all learn a thing or two about living a happy life from her. (Take the nap. Eat with gusto. Love what you love without apology.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, Daisy May Ramstad, 2007-6/6/2022

It’s been a strange week, creatively speaking. The highlight of the Bearded Theory music festival, for me, was Patti Smith, especially when she read Ginsberg’s ‘Holy’ – I think I’m right in saying it’s the litany that comes at the end of Howl. Such a brave and committed thing to do, to recite that to a festival crowd who, let’s face it, aren’t there to hear poetry, although maybe these lines held some resonance:
‘Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace peyote pipes & drums!’
You’d think, spending last weekend at a festival, then having the week off work (half term) I’d be buzzing with ideas. However, as I said, it’s been strange, creatively speaking. I’ve jotted down about four haiku, one I like, the other three contrived and not really going anywhere. I’ve had a guitar lesson, but not given over enough time to practise. I’ve walked the dog, but dutifully, rather than enthusiastically. I know that’s how it goes sometimes. You just have to accept the peaks and troughs. And I know you can’t force a poem, although I do believe you can facilitate it. Writing this blog post, I’m trying to do that, because I realise it’s important to acknowledge success, especially when you think you’re hitting a fallow patch. So, I’ll leave you with this poem, which is one of three (I was amazed when they accepted three poems) recently published in the May edition of the British Haiku Society’s journal, Blithe Spirit:

dawn across the allotments
beads of coral spot
on last year’s pea sticks

Here’s hoping for further inspiration!

Julie Mellor, Tinywords etc

My colleagues in academic support–my university department–are still housed in the basement of the main classroom building. I miss them, and they envy the fact that I now have a window (and that it’s not freezing up here). But while I would never knock the value of a window after 15 years under the frost line, I’m happiest about having my work office located in my favorite building on campus: the library. Books make me comfortable. When I need a break from my computer screen or from meetings, I can take a deep breath and walk around the stacks in silence. It’s perfectly acceptable to be rather introverted in a library. And the people who surround me are as enthusiastic about books as I am.

I plan to take a short breather from blogging and work-related stuff to visit a far-away Best Beloved and am already plotting which paperbacks to pack for the tedious flights. I hope to avoid silverfish and viral stowaways. Wish me luck.

Meanwhile, embrace your inner bookworm!

Ann E. Michael, Thysanura

We mambo through rainbows laced along the Retiro
and two-step into the Garden of Earthly Delights,
where swallows burst through pink eggshells
and Adam plops down as though stupefied on the grass.
God, dressed in red velvet robes, stares at us
as he holds Eve’s wrist and takes her pulse.
We shed our clothes— drag queens expose
their statuesque torsos, and I reveal my pale potbelly,
my breasts like empty soup bowls. Here,
shame has drifted out to sea in a soap bubble.
Naked together, we are whippoorwills circling fountains
frothing with limonada, sangría, tinto de verano.
We are owls with pineapples on our heads,
symbolizing nothing, fizzing with delight.

Christine Swint, After the Pilgrimage, We Enter the Garden of Earthly Delights

The bad news is you will not become a marine biologist as planned. You’re too bad at math and too good at other things like words and books and that pretend play we call theater. Later, you will badly want to be a lawyer, a politician, or a psychiatrist. Then a teacher. You will read so much you never would have thought possible. The poems you wrote in your little blue diary with the lock, the ones you scribbled on pen pal stationery, they will become your own kind of gospel, and you will pick them up at intervals. In a year, you’ll typing a skinny poem on the electric typewriter you will buy in the next few weeks and sending out submissions. They will all be no’s, and you will get a lot of no’s in your life, so you’ll get used to it. College will be a lively time full of late night rehearsals and hours crouched in a cubicle in the library reading.

Kristy Bowen, letter to my 18 year old self

Chris James has a marvellous ability to create whole worlds in a few well-constructed lines. Each poem here carries with it subtle layers of experience and depth and ask questions that take it beyond whimsical fantasy. Some of the settings are stark, as in The Buddy Holly Fan Club of Damascus. We painted a pair of Buddy’s glasses on a twenty-foot portrait of Bashar-al-Assad./ Bombed out of our basement, we took to the hills… on every shattered tank, scratched True Love Ways.

Yes, there is a gentle humour in Sherlock of Aleppo but it’s another look at how in darkest times people have the capacity to invent escape routes, if only in the imagination. Their home is 221b Al Khandaq Street, a bombed out paint shop. Victor plays a violin with no strings. […]

As is usual in his work, there are characters here, endearing, sympathetic, sometimes psychologically strange. They do odd things – The Goldfish at the Opera begins: My grandmother took a goldfish to the opera; she let it swim in her handbag in a few inches of water. One of my favourites is Dorothy Wordsworth Is Sky-Diving: She emerges from a cloud,/at a hundred and twenty miles an hour./ In her black bonnet and shawl, she is/ a spider dropped from space. .. As she nears the ground, she’s a girl again/ in the house in Cockermouth, riding bannisters/ of sunlight, spilling down to the garden.

Bob Mee, THE STORM IN THE PIANO, New pamphlet by Christopher James

In twelve chapters, Lesley Wheeler discusses twelve poems. Her method is personal, though it’s also informed by her academic and poet cred. The reader feels immediately as though they are in good, capable, empathetic, poetic, and also nimble hands. The life of the writer is intertwined in the readings, and isn’t this the case for how most of us read poetry? If we spend a lifetime reading poetry, then our life is going to be brought to our reading a poem. I remember in poetry workshops back in my university days, where sometimes the entire critique or discussion of a poem would be about mechanics, when the subject of the poem was something incredibly heart wrenching. This was probably also at a time when “reader-response” was buried in favour of “critical theory” in the rest of the English department. I could never understand why we couldn’t have both…

In putting together this book, Wheeler says the process “helped me to consider what poetry is good for and how its magic operates.” I loved the discussion around “gut feelings” in the first chapter, where “gut feelings keep you whole and enrich your interactions with other people.” Wheeler says, “we should trust our guts about books, too.” All through Poetry’s Possible Worlds I felt as though I’d met a kindred spirit, someone who reads poetry in the same way that I do.

Shawna Lemay, On Poetry’s Possible Worlds by Lesley Wheeler

Yesterday’s programme of words and music was a celebration not only of Eliot’s great work but also of the collaboration and friendship of twenty four writers and performers, some of whom had never met in person before. Faces remembered from on-screen boxes turned into three-dimensional human beings with extraordinary skills. We have been working on this for the best part of a year, mostly on Zoom. The five editors got together twice in a cafe in Bath to work on a script collated by Sue Boyle, who has inspired and guided the project from its beginnings. Some excellent writing had to be omitted due to the limited performance time. I don’t doubt that it will find its place in the world.

Ama Bolton, The Waste Land Revisited

Kory Wells: One of the first things to strike me about Design is how color infuses this collection. The epigraphs introduce white and green through the words of Frost and Lorca, and soon the reader is drenched in color: the yellow of a magnolia goldfinch, a hosta “blue as a lung,” turquoise storefronts, the gray-greens of dreams, a burgundy dress, and so on. You even have several poems with color in the title—“Green,” “Embarrassed by Orange,” and “The New Black”—the latter of which I want to talk more about later!

So I really want to know: Is color as important to Theresa Burns the person as a whole as it is to Theresa Burns the poet? For example, what colors are in your home? Do your rooms mostly share a palette, or do they differ wildly? Do you dress in bright colors?

Theresa Burns: I love your question about color! It is important to me, and I think it’s become more so as I’ve gotten older. It’s probably rooted both in my kids’ enthusiasms when they were young and also what excites me in the landscape.

When my daughter was a toddler and we asked what her favorite color was, she genuinely couldn’t decide. “I love all the colors,” she’d say, helplessly. (Though I think she’s now settled on yellow.) The older I get, the more I’m with her on this. Why do we need to choose? My son, when he was young, loved purple most, then orange. The poem “Embarrassed by Orange” is about him helping me get over my adult need to push color away, blunt it somehow; he gets me to share his unabashed joy in it.

Color has a huge psychological impact on me. If I’m feeling a little depressed or dulled, I run out to find some orange to bring into the house. Orange tulips, a bowl of tangerines. And everyone in my house knows that if they spot an American goldfinch at the feeder, I must be summoned immediately. So colors make their way into the book, too.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Kory Wells Interviews Theresa Burns

We were the beginnings of a Monet
bursting to be an O’Keefe:
vivid, exuberant, grabbing forever
in fistfuls.

Charlotte Hamrick, As glasses were raised

Following up on last week’s post about Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, I want to talk about another Eastern European poet, Charles Simic, who was born in 1939 in what was then Yugoslavia.  I first read his poems in about 1970, when I was just beginning to write seriously, and his work opened doors in my mind that I didn’t even know were there.  That first excitement only deepened over time.  The tone reminds me some of Szymborska’s in its humor in the face of great tragedy.  But Simic’s work also summons up the magic of fairy tales–the impossible described very matter-of-factly.  In addition to his numerous books of poetry, he’s also published several that collect his essays and memoir fragments, which I find as compelling as his poems.  He won the Pulitzer prize in poetry for a collection of prose poems, The World Doesn’t End, which remind me of Joseph Cornell’s boxed assemblages.  Simic wrote an insightful book on Cornell’s work, and I think of Simic’s poems as similar to those boxes. 

Sharon Bryan, Charles Simic

[Pearl Pirie]: How did you get first find to haiku and haibun?

[Skylar Kay]: This is actually kind of a fun story! So the university where I did my undergrad, Mount Royal University, had these events where they would take old books that nobody took out from the library anymore, or books that were being replaced, and would sell them for a dollar. During my second year I stumbled across a copy of Basho’s travelogues. Looking back, the translations were not the best, but it still got me totally hooked! I was just so enthralled with just how much could be captured by such a short and seemingly simple form. I began to view haiku almost more as a philosophy than just a poetic form, and let it take over my life completely.

PP: Wow, that is a cool encounter. How did the form help shape the manuscript?

SK: As with many collections of haibun, Transcribing Moonlight follows a chronological progression through the seasons, through shifting lunar cycles. This was a perfect opportunity to use these poetic tropes to reflect and augment my own experience as a transgender woman, allowing my own phases of transition to kind of be swept up into the changes that one sees throughout the year. Beyond that, however, I felt that I needed more than just haiku. While I love the haiku form, and think it can capture a lot, there are quite a few instances of my life that I could not totally put into a handful of words. The longer length of haibun allowed me to provide a bit more detail and express myself more fully than I could have done otherwise. It took me a while to learn to write the prose, but I think it was a great experience!

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Skylar Kay

I was feeling a little let down before traveling because it is so so hard to get big media attention for a book, and I’d been pitching furiously. Then I read descriptions of exhausting, demoralizing book tours by bestselling authors in Hell of a Book and Sea of Tranquility–just a random coincidence, I chose the books for other reasons–and was reminded that big-time writerly success has drawbacks. When your work becomes “product” that makes money for corporations, it’s both lucky AND a ton of work and pressure (and media training–yikes). The gift economy less famous authors participate in has plenty of problems, but it’s also kinder. Mott’s and Mandel’s fictional writers, in fact, throw away the brass ring they’d grabbed in favor of the human connection they need to survive this stupid world. I notice that Mott and Mandel are not themselves making this choice!–but it suggests that both remember their former small-press careers with nostalgia, maybe even a little regret.

Lesley Wheeler, Tendrils, connections, & kindness in publishing

This is how it starts, dictating on my phone. It was going to be a short story, maybe a novella. A little bit of fun with an imaginary person that I throw into an improbable situation. Maybe a problem, maybe a puzzle. One day I will write a murder mystery, if I can bear to live with the idea of a murder for a year. It always takes me a year to write a book. That’s a long time to live with your imaginary friends. But on the other hand, it’s lonely without them. When you send them off to be published.

Rachel Dacus, Starting a New Book — Why Did I Do It?

Goodbye to the broken heart. Goodbye to the heart that crossdresses as death;

the heart that chases ambulances, cheats at Monopoly, plagiarizes skywriting.

Goodbye to the heart of fools gold and busted pianos, book burning and unlearning.

Goodbye to the heart that beats a crooked path in the blood.

Hello to the heart that beats a truer, steadier song.

Rise and continually repeat yourself.

Rich Ferguson, Goodbye/Hello

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 18

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: skylarks and stitchwort, politics and mental illness, pondering the use of the first person in poetry, American Mothers’ Day, and more. Enjoy!


For a year I have been thinking about getting back to fitness with each run I take but back is surely the wrong word to choose when ahead is where the gift of full recovery lies. And today the lane I am running along reminds me that neither word serves and it is only the now of the cow parsley, the fields of beans, the North Downs holding up a sun-bright sky that matters, this moment, this breath  

here now
stopping to listen
to the skylark’s song

Lynne Rees, Haibun ~ Words

Whatever the cause and whenever it began, I am grateful that in this week in which we are reaching, again, for Mary Oliver’s “Of the Empire,” I used my time to eat slow dinners with my family and care gently for our dying dog and meet my students with compassion and skate until my body broke a sweat and sit on our front porch in the early evening sun. I am grateful I had space to write these words for no one but you and me and to imagine going back in time and taking aside that struggling, striving woman I once was and telling her this:

You don’t have to earn your right to be here, to take up space on your little speck of the planet, for the blip of time that is yours. You have no more obligation to the world than a tulip or hummingbird or raindrop does. You, too, get to just be. Make your choices knowing that everything you have and do and love will pass. Everything. The best way to serve the world, probably, is to grow and be guided by a heart that is large, and soft, and full of kindness. That’s a project it will never be too late to start, but the sooner you can, the better. Maybe don’t be so slow with that one, yeah?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Slow Going

I came this way a day ago
and thought I heard a flock of angry geese
it was the screech of machinery
a tractor and plough

today harrows
have broken up the clods
and shattered stalks of maize
litter the furrows

white drifts of stitchwort
in the narrow field-margin
vetch and speedwell
buttercup and herb-robert

Ama Bolton, Sunday walk

You can leave your hometown but still feel a loss when it is wiped out by a tornado.

But these tears are for my grandmother’s America which seemed to be on a path towards a more compassionate culture. When I was in high school, my grandmother thought that the local segregated schools were appropriate, and she once dragged me out of a theater performance of Mahalia because we were the only white people in the audience. She wasn’t a forward-thinking woman. But by her 80s called to tell me about a “brilliant young man” she was going to vote for named Obama.

My grandmother went to church twice a week as long as I was alive. Well – until the pastor retired and a young guy took over and preached that it was the wife’s job to “obey”. That was the last time she or my grandfather went to church. She thought it was a weird glitch. She didn’t imagine it was a harbinger of something that… is here now.

I am glad she didn’t live to see this. This promise of death for the women who grew up the way she did. Hand to mouth. No bus fare to a safe clinic. No safety net of people who will help. Who care. My grandmother didn’t need to say that her friend could have been her. And knowing what I know now about my grandmother’s life, I wonder…

Ren Powell, Sorry for the Discursion

There are people who consider it their job to argue about politics. Fine. I let them. There are American-made celebrities who are so ripe with their own importance and wealth and the rushed necessity of using their “platform” (I dislike that term) that they simply must talk of such things. I am neither of those creatures and prefer to go on using what art I possess to make beauty and truth (though what I make is not devoid of thought and may be known, surely) and so add to the sum of what is good in the world. That is what you might label as my politics–to stand against evils and blight by working in my small, nearly anonymous way to add to that sum of truth and beauty.

Marly Youmans, On being asked for my politics

The schools in Helsinki are on strike, so the kids and I are at home. It feels strange to be in a union and on strike after 30 plus years of working freelance or low wage jobs. Schools in Finland only had the first 6-week lockdown due to Covid, but have stayed open since, so it feels weird to shut them for this. But necessary. 

I’m not sure how long the strike will last, a week at most at least to begin with. I can’t do school work and can’t do much of my research project beside go through literature, but I have so much I want to do, I need to read for my course tomorrow, plant potatoes and onions, tidy the garden after cutting down a tree, clean the house (ok, I don’t want to do that, but it needs doing) and write, of course. 

Vappu (May Day or Beltane) was cold as usual. We tried a picnic with our Scottish Society friends, but it was short-lived. […]

It has felt non-stop with worries these days. Climate change, Covid, Brexit, Ukraine and Finland wondering whether to join NATO and now the possible repeal of Roe vs Wade. I tend to keep away from the political here as it’s so overwhelming and I need a respite, but it feels like we’re sliding towards something dark and omnipresent that’s slowly consuming us.

I started a list poem about the time the Amazon and Australian fires were happening, a list of ‘I can’t breathe’ lines, each a body blow of breath-stopping events from across the world, from George Floyd to the streets of Bucha. It keeps growing, saddeningly. I see no signs of being able to stop writing it, but I need to speak up in my small way.

Gerry Stewart, May Days: On Strike, Out of Breath

PP: What do you consume that keeps play alive for you? What’s the secret to staying so alert?

GB: One of the things that keeps play alive, that helps me feel the possibility of exploration, of being open and also transcending my own self-imposed limitations is error. By making mistakes, but not trying too hard not to, and by being open to what they might suggest, I’m often shown another way to proceed, to consider something that I might not have. Another practice is collaboration. I continually collaborate with a wide range of writers and creative artists. Through this engagement, I can’t hold on to my preconceptions, or my ownership of work and processes, but instead have the opportunity to follow this new process, these other ways of conceiving of the work and the creative process. Of trusting the writing itself and the collaboration. I do try to work on craft and at getting better, to be able to do more things and do them better, but at the same time, I make a point of trying new approaches, of learning about other ways of writing and other approaches. I try to pay attention to what interesting writing is happening or has happened. I try to watch with three eyes and clap hands with one.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Gary Barwin

When this latest dark period struck, the intensity took me totally by surprise. I’d certainly had dark periods before; 2020, for example, saw the end of what I thought would be a lifelong relationship and the start of my life in a van. But this was something different. It was debilitating in a way I hadn’t experienced since the breakdown that put me on meds in the first place.

This period also coincided with National Poetry Writing Month, aka NaPoWriMo. I decided to participate. Over the years I’ve likened poetry and Buddhist practice, in that both help you see the world as it is. That can be great, but when the world is a pile of poop, writing a poem every day is less about observation and more about being slowly buried. Art can amplify the bad as well as the good. Looking back at most of the poems I wrote in April, I can see a terrifying darkness and despair. And I wonder whether writing a poem every day was less about processing and more about wallowing.

Somehow, for reasons I can’t even begin to name, that dark blanket lifted after two weeks, and I’m doing much, much better now. I’ve accepted the reality that I’ll have to live in my van until summer, when I can afford to rent an apartment. I’ve begun to adjust to my office job, and even to find comfort in the nice folks with whom I work and the access to a bathroom and a tea kettle and a paycheck. I can look ahead to a time when I’ve got my own place and feel more stable and secure.

This year’s NaPoWriMo gave me a lot to think about concerning the relationship between my writing and my state of mind. I’ll definitely exercise more caution if this happens again, and I’ll try to pay more attention to the interplay between art and emotion.

Jason Crane, The Art Of Despair

A post I wrote in September of 2018 titled, 10 Poems for Loss, Grief, Consolation has been consistently the top post here on Transactions with Beauty. It has always been popular, but in the last two years, as you can imagine, the stats on this post keep growing. In my intro to that post I said that I hope you had no need of the poems at present. But the thing is, we have almost all needed them, or at least, we have all experienced loss of some sort these past two years, we have grieved for not just our loved ones who have left us, but for so many things. So. Many. Things. We have needed consolation but I would wager that you have also consoled.

The second poem I included with my 2018 post was my own In Lieu of Flowers which can be found in my book The Flower Can Always Be Changing. (My publisher has copies if you need one). And that poem is everywhere — including on a list of poems about losing a loved one on Book Riot.

As of today’s date, the sobering news from CBC: “The World Health Organization is estimating that nearly 15 million people were killed either by the coronavirus or by its impact on overwhelmed health systems in the past two years, more than double the official death toll of six million.” It’s difficult to think in such big numbers, to feel. As the poet Wislawa Szymborska said in her poem “A Large Number,” “Four billion people on this earth, / but my imagination is still the same. / It’s bad with large numbers. / It’s still taken by particularity.” And many of us don’t need to use our imaginations, we know the particularities. We are familiar.

Shawna Lemay, 5 More Poems for Loss, Grief, Consolation

As if I sit, silent, fishing gear suspended over dry
earth, the ocean, far away, pushing against an

indifferent shore. While all the love has escaped
into the sky and become the sun, the sharp May

heat a reminder of what it could be like, closer,
higher, if we dared to leave the shade. I dream of

asking the questions that matter. Not looking for
answers.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The conviction of jasmine

In 2018, at the 100th anniversary of World War I, the Great War, the war to end all wars, I immersed myself in lots of WWI reading and movie-viewing, sort of curating a WWI film festival for the library. So I was well aware of the famous carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, and how she saved the Lost Battalion. And also how she was misunderstood as a “he.” Hence, the male version of her French name. 

Kathleen Rooney develops all this so beautifully in Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, also giving us a full look at the major who led his men into the Argonne Forest, following orders, and doing it brilliantly and efficiently, thus, accidentally, leading many of them to their deaths or maiming. Alas! Part of the charm of this book is that the chapters alternate in point of view, between the pigeon and the major. It was easy to believe in the way pigeons might “think,” how their homing instinct might work, and how consciousness continues–especially if you are taxidermied and live on in the Smithsonian Institution. 

So probably Cher Ami pre-disposed me to pick up Dr. Bird’s Advice to Sad Poets, to find out what a real pigeon/imaginary therapist might “say” to a depressed high school boy. Also, sometimes I am a sad poet myself. And I do love this book’s cover (see above; at hand is the movie cover). I am glad that the boy also gets a human therapist. I watched a lot of movies over the past few years, but only today did I realize that Dr. Bird was released as a movie in 2021. (You can watch it on Hulu. But I can’t.) I liked how the humor in this book ran gently under the depression and family dysfunction, and I loved Dr. Bird!

Here in real life, the sun has come out! I am clearing out gardens, looking at the pink and white bleeding heart and dark lilacs, and birdwatching. Coincidentally, my parents have actual nesting doves at their house!

Kathleen Kirk, A Coincidence of Pigeons

The other day, poet Matthew Stewart tweeted this, sparking off a very interesting discussion about the use of the first person in poetry, and the frequent assumption by readers (and Matthew was talking specifically about critics) that this is the poet themselves.

I don’t have a great deal to add to it, but I do find it odd that this assumption gets made with poetry by people who have no difficulty in accepting that a first person narrator in a novel is not necessarily the writer themselves.

That said, I wonder whether it’s also a question of degrees for poetry readers? If the poem is written in, say, the voice of a historical character, or an animal, the reader has no trouble knowing that the “I” is not the poet. Does the problem occur mainly when the “I” is not the poet, as such, but a character not that far away from them?

Matt Merritt, The first person in poetry

(after Billy Collins)

I think the poem speaks for itself. But for clarity:

When I say ‘I’,
I do not mean me.
Except when I do.
Or when I didn’t,
but it turned out
it was me anyway.

Oh, and whether ‘I’ is me or not
does not mean any of the things
in the poem actually happened,
or that if they did, that they happened to me,
or to anyone in particular.
Though they probably did.

So, for the record:
‘I’ may not be telling the truth
and this will be deliberate.
This may be for the purposes
of a greater truth,
or that I just don’t want you to know the truth.

Anyway, I think the poem should be clear now.

It’s called ‘Me’.

Sue Ibrahim, Introduction

I like writing
a poem that does

what it does
without me,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (196)

Imagine this: A line of women poets stretching back, back through history, back through through layers of crinoline and taffeta and silk and underskirts and corsets and back, and back through kitchens and studies and libraries and maid’s quarters and milking sheds, back and back, all the way back to the oral traditions, to the women we can’t name, the anonymous women of history, their poems; their voices lost. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about those women, and the tail end of that link that is me, and how I sit here, how I am attached and connected to this line, how I sit alongside the other women poets that I know. Last night I met with my regular Fettling group. This is a group I set up a while ago. It’s a small group of just eight people, who meet every two weeks, and the purpose of the Fettling groups is to really focus on moving poems forward with group discussion, but also to find new ways to invigorate the way that attendees write, to find new ways of taking risks and pushing boundaries and comfort zones. Of all the groups, workshops and courses that I run, this is probably my favourite. Last night I brought along some wisdom from Eavan Boland. We discussed the ‘domestic poem’ and the revolutionary act of writing about interior life; how these mostly female spaces had been marginalised, de-valued, how poems about these places were perhaps devalued too, in the wider context of the poetry ‘community’, how that might, in turn, put women off writing the ‘domestic poem’ for fear of not being taken seriously. And then we took the radical act of writing a domestic poem, based on a painting by Eric Bowman. We talked about the term ‘poetess’ and the way that it’s purpose is to highlight the feminine of the poet, how it has become something of a criticism, or at the very least a condescending term that ‘others’ the woman poet, dividing her from the flock and herding her away. There is something to be said for this sort of contemplation, alongside being prompted to write, there is something necessary, at least for me, in accessing the thoughts of other poets in the development of my own self, in terms of becoming a poet. The wisdom of other poets is crucial to me, it connects me to the poets that have come before me and especially to the women poets and authors upon whose shoulders I am standing, precariously, and hoping that I am doing a good job. It was good to be in a group sharing this with other poets. There is something special about the way that a small group can meet on zoom, and open themselves up, how the intimacy of the safe space means that poems shared become as much about craft as they are an acknowledgement of the experience and process of creating the poem.

This morning I read this quote:

I like to think that the customs of friendship, as well as the loving esteem which are so visible in the communal life of women, will become evident in the practice and concept of the poetic tradition also. That women poets from generation to generation, will befriend one another. Eavan Boland

That’s what this is to me, this slow journey to myself. I am finding the connection to other writers and especially women writers and poets to be a kind of befriending. I feel welcomed into this long line of poets, this long line of women writers, and I am cherishing their wisdom.

Wendy Pratt, Women Asserting their Place in Poetry

Windsor, Ontario-based poet, editor, writer and critic Nicole Markotić’s latest full-length poetry title is After Beowulf (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2022), a book of simultaneous translation, transelation (as Moure coined it, via her 2001 Anansi title, Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person) and reimagining of the classic Old English poem Beowulf (c. 700-1000 AD), rifling through a myriad of forms as a way through her own reading of an ancient poem imagined, interpreted and reimagined from Seamus Heaney’s translation to an episode of Star Trek: Voyageur. Reworking one of the earliest of epic poems through English and Danish traditions, there is a swagger to Markotić’s lyric, one propelled by both character and the language, writing a collage of sound and meaning, gymnastic in its application and collision. As is well-known, the old stories adapt themselves to our requirements, and update to meet and suit us [see also: my review of Helen Hajnoczky’s Frost & Pollen, which includes a reworking of The Green Knight], and Markotić works her assembling of language, lyric and permeations of English into a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster, stitching together scraps from a variety of prior adaptations, and a language-hybrid that blends contemporary banter with Old English. “Herewith trespasses / Grendel – no introduction – breaks into / the Introduction,” she writes, early on in the collection, “foul foundling, heaping with narrative potential / (contrast: that ‘one good king’ / repeating line, colossus-driven) / his celebmentia gains real estate / then fades to black, fades / into macabre backstory.”

rob mclennan, Nicole Markotić, After Beowulf

Marianne’s poem is published on the Tinywords website and it appealed to me because I love collecting bits of unusual paper (I have a carrier bag full upstairs). I’ve done a bit of collage, but always thought of it as separate to haiku. Having seen her work, I feel inspired to do something similar, although I’m well aware that there’s a huge amount of time gone into her piece – it’s not just the making, it’s the thinking behind it. These days I’m wary of setting myself up to do something I don’t have time to achieve! Still, her work will stay lodged in my head until the right time comes along.

Similarly with Bill Water’s work, I can see there’s a good deal of time spent not only on the crafting of the fairy doors, and the haiku that go with them, but also positioning them, finding the right space/ environment/ backdrop (call it what you will). Bill has many poems on public display and I like the generosity of that.
Both of these pieces seem to have a playfulness about them. ‘Playful’ is a word that is often applied to art, suggesting some sort of trick, or in joke, but I think in this instance, it’s in the creative process itself; the fun that was had in the making shines through.

Julie Mellor, thread of light

Although not back to how it was before the pandemic, I am increasingly venturing out in the world to attend poetry events and readings, as well as still going to online things. Trowbridge Stanza, the monthly poetry group I organise, is meeting in person again, although not monthly, as we previously did, but every other month (this might change in the autumn). I went to an interesting talk about The Wasteland at Bristol Library last month, part of Lyra Poetry Festival. It was so great to be out and about and to travel home while it’s still light. Spring brings such longed-for delights. I felt the same way last Wednesday in London for a launch of Kathy Pimlott’s debut collection the small manoeuvres (Verve Poetry Press). I’ve followed Kathy’s poetry for several years, bought both of her pamphlets from the Emma Press, and long-admired her precise, original, engaging poems. Her poem ‘As You Are 90, I Must Be 65‘ is published at And Other Poems and is one of those I nominated for the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. It was just terrific to hear Kathy read, she has an assured and unshowy performance style that held everyone’s attention last week in the rather beautiful setting of the Phoenix Community Garden which is (amazingly) hidden within the heart of London’s West End.

I was also impressed by readings I heard at the online launch of books by Betty Doyle, Qudsia Akhtar, Erica Gillingham and Nicki Heinen (all Verve Poetry Press). Unfortunately Nicki couldn’t be there but Geraldine Clarkson read some of her poems, as well as poems of her own. My overwhelming feeling at this event was a feeling that poetry has upped its game since I was last at a reading (pre-pandemic). These are strong, strong poems. I was similarly dazzled at the launch of books by Anita Pati, Jemma Borg and Denise Saul (Pavilion Poetry Press). I will be surprised if at least one of these aforementioned poets isn’t on one or more of the big poetry prizes this year.

Josephine Corcoran, Out and About Again

I’ve written before on this blog about the excellence of Kathy Pimlott’s poetry – a review, here, of her first Emma Press pamphlet Goose Fair Night (2016). Kathy’s second pamphlet, Elastic Glue (2019), was just as good, and contained several poems concerning the gentrification of her neighbourhood of Covent Garden and Seven Dials in central London.

I was therefore delighted to be able to attend the launch, on Wednesday at the lovely setting of Phoenix Garden, of Kathy’s first full collection, The Small Manoeuvres, published by Verve Poetry Press and available to buy here. It was a very enjoyable evening, which included Kathy reading some of the fine poems in the book.

Like the two pamphlets, the poems in The Small Manoeuvres are full of Kathy’s clear-eyed perceptions, a palpable sense of social justice, deep respect for family, friendship (especially amongst women), history and memory, and finely-drawn character studies. They are, in the best way, very readable poems, without any irritating tricksy-bollock nonsense. For these reasons, Kathy is among my very favourite contemporary poets.

Matthew Paul, On Kathy Pimlott

Diabetes has not defined the speaker but it is part of who she is and managing it has forged the adult she has come to be. Her achievements have not come despite her diabetes but because of its successful management.

“Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic” is a contemplative journey from childhood to adulthood of life with type 1 diabetes. Sarah James has a compassionate ear, she never turns to self-pity even when being mocked or describing the sense of unfairness at being disabled: having plans go awry or letting people down because of her diabetes. It’s a journey through acceptance and learning to live with its consequences through powerful, thought-provoking poems.

Emma Lee, “Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic” Sarah James (Verve Press) – book review

In his recent book Singer Come from Afar, Kim Stafford suggests the difference between great poems and important poems has something to to with the occasion of their relevance. He says important poems “are utterances written as a local act of friendship or devotion, and given to a person, shared at an occasion, or performed in support of a cause.” Such a poem may later be considered a great poem, though more often would be relegated to the status of “an expendable artifact of the moment.” Framing poems as expendable artifacts does seem accurate in many regards. A page, that can be burned or shredded; an oral performance, uttered into time and lost thereafter; a digital event, that can be corrupted or invisibly archived in the “cloud”–those fragments and unfinished pieces we let languish and eventually discard. Perhaps important to us once, these poems are ephemera.

Stafford’s recent collection celebrates the local and the relevant, even the immediate, at the risk of not being lasting, whatever that may mean. Published in 2021, the book includes a selection of pandemic-related poems, many of which appeared on his Instagram feed @kimstaffordpoetry. Few of these poems are “great” in the literary sense, in my opinion, but that doesn’t mean they are not worthy of publication; this reader appreciates the urgency in the pandemic poems, the need to connect with others sharing the predicament of “social distancing.” We should not ignore the value of local, person-centered poems, narratives of the everyday. Not every human interaction requires epics, and really–the majority of contemporary poems address the small important events and metaphors that sometimes resonate with larger aims. My own work tends that way, so I’m not one to talk about greatness.

Besides, there are a couple of poems in Stafford’s book that will hold up well to literary explication, poems I have already enjoyed re-reading, such as “Chores of Inspiration” and “Do You Need Anything from the Mountain” with its lines “Bring me that skein of fire/that hangs in intimate eternity, after//the dark but before the thunder, when/the bounty of yearning in one cloud/reaches for another…”

I guess each of us has the capacity to evaluate what it is we consider important and what we consider great. I happen to like the bounty of yearning in Kim Stafford’s clouds.

Ann E. Michael, Important

ND Poet Laureate — 1995 until his death April 28, 2022

While much has been and will be said about this remarkable poet/writer, his ability to be intensely present will be his legacy for me – and a personal reminder to carry that forward in my life. He gave 100% of himself to the conversation or the moment. Like when he said to me, “Sit on this side. That’s my good ear and I want to hear everything you say.” In a world overrun with too many distractions, let’s agree to always give others our good ear and be intensely present.

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Honoring the Memory of Larry Woiwode

Out of the corner of my eye, and not on the syllabus, a small green book, left lying around under ash by Squirrel. I ask to borrow it, take it everywhere. Poems that take my breath away. Wishing I had done him and not Ted Hughes.Poems I have been waiting all my life to read, falling head over heels instantly, insanely. That vase. Somewhere becoming rain.

And now this. A wasted first year, a disappearing act in the second, playing catch-up in the third, just as I realise this might mean something. Mrs Dalloway. To the Lighthouse. Jacob’s Room.

Their greenness is a kind of grief. Oh yes. Like something almost being said. Chatting up Molly at the end of year drinks, Dutch courage mixed with fear, knowing it would come to nothing. Having wanted to say something for three years. Always in the row just behind. The almost cutting through me. Words at once true and kind. Greenness. Grief. A lesson in almost. And now the future.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: The Trees, by Philip Larkin

One thing that took my mind off of the abscess/root canal business was that my author questionnaire for BOA was due on my birthday, and then the finished draft of my manuscript of Flare, Corona was turned in a half-hour before my root canal a few days later. (I knew I wouldn’t be up to much the rest of that day, because they give me some anesthesia – Versed – for the root canal that doesn’t take away pain but does make your memories fuzzy and makes you very sleepy the rest of the 24-hour period. Also keeps you from flinching as much when they’re trying to drill your teeth.)

I’d been working on the book since its acceptance, so there wasn’t much left to do: shifted some poems around, updated the acknowledgements, added a couple of newer poems, and had my mom proofread for obvious grammar/spelling issues, and sent it off to my editor at BOA. Now I just have to wait for edits – exciting! You may think: “Jeannine, isn’t it awfully early to be thinking about your book which is slated for release in spring/summer 23?” But no, it’s really not! My next steps include finding good cover art and starting to collect blurbs!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Root Canal Birthday Week, Work on My Upcoming Book, and Talking about Timing and Poetry Submissions

got my voice back
it was there all the time
one has to be phlegmatic
and curtail your expectorations

the swim to cure my cold killed me
the swim to kill my cold cured me

acute coryza is such a violet word
don’t you think

Jim Young, cold comforts

I’m working on the premise of circa 25 poems will make it in. The current list is at 27, with four more backups. There is so much to do, each one will need its tyres kicking to make sure it’s as strong as it could be, even the more recent ones where I think my writing has improved.

They’ve all got to earn their place, so after (or is it before) the above there’s the process of seeing how they talk to each other. Do I want sections? It’s sort of loosely fallen into 3 sections so far, but are they something to be called out? It seems like overkill in a pamphlet to me, but who knows if that will change? Do I need a theme? No, I don’t think so as yet. Not least because that probably means more poems need to be written and at the current rate of knots I wouldn’t be ready for 3023, let alone next year. Also, as much as I love a themed collection, it can get a bit samey. I don’t have a theme as yet, so it would be forced.

I’ve just reviewed a debut pamphlet by someone where the work seems to either have been written circa 2008ish (at least when it was first published somewhere) or more recently during lockdown, etc (based on the themes of the poems). I can’t tell which poems fell between those dates, but it feels like an old-fashioned debut of the best poems you have available in the best order and that is just absolutely dandy with me.

There will be loads more prevarications, changes, questions, pacing up and down, heavy drinking (not essential, but I like it) and the like to come, but this feels like day one, a marker in the sand, etc.

Mat Riches, The work starts here…

What is it to be a “Southern” poet? Is it merely where you were born? Is it what you write about, or a style of writing?

Let’s say someone lives most of their life in California, and moves to Tennessee. How long before they can call themselves “Southern”?

With all of our moving, I feel a bit displaced as a writer. When I first began writing, I would solidly claim to be a Southern, mid-south poet, but now, when I type out my current address on a submission, I wonder what I can really claim.

How do you define regional poetry? By the poet being from there, currently living there, or writing about the place?

Renee Emerson, What makes a Southern writer “Southern”?

Somewhere around 2010, I taught a class in our four-week May term on writing poetry in forms. One project we did together: after reading more serious haiku and renku, my students had to staff a public booth and write haiku on commission in exchange for donations to the local foodbank. This involved interviewing clients about the messages they wished to send; composing custom haiku based on the interviews; and transcribing them on pretty postcards the clients could send to whomever they wished. To give my students practice in advance, I had them interview me about my mother, and I sent their haiku to her in time for Mother’s Day.

To my amazement, my mother wrote haiku back to my students (English 205). I spotted the sheet earlier this year but wasn’t in any frame of mind to reread them, so I resolved I would pull them out for Mother’s Day 2022. It feels uncanny to hear her voice in them now. She references my daughter dying her hair blue at thirteen; after returning to blondness for more than a decade, my twenty-five-year-old daughter has recently gone blue-haired again. The Lydia in the last verse was my daughter’s closest friend then (I have no idea about “handsome poopface.”) The “cheeky, cheeky boy” is my son Cam (twenty-one and still cheeky).

My mother was a reader, not a poet, other than on this occasion (as far as I know). I’m grateful to have this gift now and smiling as I remember how she upstaged me every Mother’s Day after my kids were born–phoning early to wish ME happy Mother’s Day before I managed to call her.

Lesley Wheeler, My mother’s haiku

We all came from mothers: we have something in common.
Our first act almost unspeakable 
hurtling towards bright lights, causing our Other shrieking pain.
Mothers let us off the hook — 
it wasn’t really our fault —
the pea-green stuff was cleared off, we sucked from the core of the earth,
nestled, smiled, were cutely dressed, learned the Hula hoop, read Nietszche, 
or learned to shoot, worked EMT 
or spent years shooting hoops, opened a laundry

How ridiculous the way life steps in to scatter one ur-motherhood story
it cannot be mastered
as every “birth plan” and over-imposition will veer off course

Let each birth be
or not  
as it wants 

Jill Pearlman, The Howl of Motherhood

Today is Mother’s Day, and I’m thinking about my mother-in-law who passed away this year on April 1, just a week after her 88th birthday.

She spent so many holidays and other visits at my house, and although I would not say she was like a second mother to me, she was a positive presence in my life, and she imparted her tidbits of elder wisdom to me and our family over the years.

At the end of yoga class yesterday my teacher wished us a happy Mother’s Day, and I responded that I wanted to wish her a special day, too, because even though she never gave birth to a child, she has nurtured me and many others over the years as her spiritual children.

I’ve tapered off the anti-depressants that I’ve been taking since my youngest son was three months old. For almost thirty years I’ve been on one kind of SSRI or another, all stemming from severe post partem depression and then ensuing trauma.

Maybe because I’m off the meds, a certain kind of pervasive sadness has returned. I’m trying to work my way through the fatigue and mild anxiety in the hopes that my body will re-learn to regulate itself and I can learn how to let these moods come and go without latching onto the idea that I need the SSRI to cope. Thirty years on these meds is a long time. I want to give my body a chance to heal on its own.

What helps me is going to yoga class with my beloved teachers, listening to guided meditations, and being outside under the wild waving trees who stand sentinel over my garden, these oaks and pines that quiver with nonjudgmental aliveness. And tea. Tea steeped in my MIL’s pot.

Christine Swint, Mother’s Day and the Blues

Thanks to “Range,” the book I reviewed in last week’s post, I recently made the astonishing discovery that in 18th century Venice, there was a famous orphanage called the Ospedale della Pietà (Orphanage of Pity) that became known for producing some of the world’s most accomplished female musicians. For some reason, I was captivated by the detail that outside of the orphanage, there was a stand of drawers. If a baby was small enough to fit into a drawer, it could be left there, and when the drawer was closed, a bell would go off and one of the nuns would come and collect the baby. Many of the babies left there were born of ladies of ill repute, but some were illegitimate children born to members of royal families. The story of how the orphanage developed their young musicians is fascinating, but not as interesting to me as pondering how many times a day that bell rang. I imagine early-morning misty Venetian skies, the mournful sound of the bell, and the mother scuttling furtively away, her figure hidden in a bonnet and voluminous skirt. There is a whole other story to be told there aside from the virtuoso musicians.

Kristen McHenry, Bells of Venice, Latent Strategist, Too Far In

Welcome to the Sunday edition of the pig and farm report. It is bloody cold out here on the island 41° this morning. My lilacs refuse to open my herb garden looks like the saddest bit of vegetable you find in the bottom of your refrigerator bin in autumn and forget about planting tomatoes those ruby beating hearts. Still it is unbearably beautiful when the sun shines and the rain makes my yard smell like the most intense lovely day you can imagine from camp in utter girlhood. Bunnies are still hopping about deer still play statue in the yard and the rhododendrons that grow everywhere in my yard carry on voracious and bright. Spring continues in spite of wool trousers cashmere sweaters heavy blankets and the propane fire blazing from dawn until bedtime not to mention snuggly cats. 

Today is difficult for me. The echo of mother precious mother that is everywhere today strikes my ear as vinegar my mother being the sort of person to prove that just because you can procreate doesn’t mean you should. I guess that’s all I have to say about it but those who know know and those who don’t carry on believing that we all had brilliant loving parents. I did go to the grocery this morning and the smell of flowers and guilt for sale at every cash register was palpable. I listened to John Lennon wailing on my car radio on the way home. Maybe all my dials really have flown off. 

That’s it for today. Look how beautiful my front yard is blazing in frozen sunlight.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Why her mouth always twists
every question into a story. Why the story
wants to pull out everything that is past.
Why the past can’t seem to figure out
it’s only a difference in the SIM card, if at all.
Why all the data in a chip cannot house the world.
One type of world wants to be touched, but never
tasted. Another is entirely made by a frenzy of moths.
Why the paper doll lost its hat, traveling in the mail.
She doesn’t know how to tell the mother
who made her that she will likely never arrive.
The other mother is more like her. She is faithful
to the one script still legible in her mind.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Causative

In this dream I gallop, trot, and prance. Yes, that’s right. Actual prancing. It feels good to be a fast horse. In another dream I was a moose, and in still another I was a dog. There may not be an exact explanation, but there is this – it always feels pretty good. Excellent. In this dream I am a fast horse, moving swiftly across a grassy prairie. The bright sunshine is warm and fine on my back, and when I awake I see the saddle and bridle waiting silently beside my bed.

James Lee Jobe, In my dream I have somehow become a fast horse.

Every morning, the sun manages to find our one good vein, and delivers its dose of roaming gold.

Radiant blood enriches the senses. Dharma oxygen feeds the foolish heart.

Call us dream addicts, jonesing for the promise of another day.

Joy’s ever-wandering junkies searching for that shimmer of clear calm beyond the bottle, bullet, or bad decision.

Lift our bones into the light, their carbon hopes shining.

This life, this love.

When we’re ash, glue us into the book of good intentions.

Rich Ferguson, Roaming Gold

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 14

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, spring was on hold in some places (including here in Pennsylvania—brrr!) and busting out all over in other places. Those participating in #NaPoWriMo still mostly seem to be at it, though I believe it’s beginning to cut into people’s blogging time, as there were noticeably fewer posts in my feed reader than there were last Sunday. But I was still able to find lots of good stuff, and now my brain is too tired to write a better summary so this will have to do.


I found it in one of my mother’s desk drawers. Mostly the drawer contained pens, mechanical pencils, a few thick yellow highlighters. And then there was this little metal case, shaped like a teardrop with a rounded tip. At first I mistook it for a white-out tape dispenser, though Mom hadn’t owned an electric typewriter in years. When I pried it open, I found a vintage pitch pipe. The cylinder is silvery (probably made of tin) with a shape like a stylized cloud at one end, engraved with letters representing the chromatic scale. On the back it says MADE IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA. Crafted there, but engraved in English: it must have been made for export. An internet search suggests that these were common in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Did this one come with my grandparents from Prague in 1939? Did Mom pick it up to sing camp songs with her friends in 1950, the year she returned home and told her parents she’d met the man she planned to marry? There’s no one left who can tell me its story, but its sound is pure and clear.

Rachel Barenblat, Vintage

The snow and ice are hanging on in Finland. Another teacher and I celebrated seeing mud at the edges of the park yesterday at recess when the rest of the world seems to be enjoying bluebells and planting out in their gardens. My back garden is still under half a meter of compacted snow, but the sun is slowly working on the front flower beds. Spring will properly come, later than I hoped, just like almost every year here. 

Amidst the uni deadlines, full-time work and kids, worries of war and whatever else feels like crawling on my plate at the moment, I’m writing. It’s Global Poetry Writing Month and every day I’m scribbling a few lines that might or might not become a poem when it’s grown up. I haven’t been able to do much as I’ve been so overwhelmed and so, so tired so this is a relief. 

But there’s good news. I’ve secured a short summer job that will take me abroad, so that’s something to look forward to. I’ve finally had a few acceptances after a long dry couple of months. The Scottish publisher Crowvus has included my poem ‘Ariadne’s Thread’ in the first issue of their journal Hooded.  And Dear Damsels has published my poem ‘What We Inherit’ in their recent batch. So things are looking up after a long winter. 

I’m writing whatever small thoughts come into my head: old memories, new hopes, nonsense lines, noticing the landscape change, my mood brighten, the days until summer release getting closer. I am writing and that makes it all good. 

Gerry Stewart, Global Poetry Writing Month – Spring Will Come

I am here, on the couch (again? still?),
the dark gritty / bubbling / swaying, sirens
strobing stripes on the curtains above.

I shiver under the arc of stacked books,
swaddled in sweaters and blankets. Light
from the phone glows on my shimmering face.

Across the rooms, in a corner of
a different window, I see the sun
rise behind black pines, so red, coal bright.

First published / posted with illustrations at Luisa Igloria’s Poetry Postcard Project as 05 April ~ Poetry Postcard Project.

PF Anderson, Here

I want to recommend to you Why I Write Poetry, edited by Ian Humphreys and published by nine Arches Press. It’s a collection of essays by poets on (you guessed it) why they write poetry, but also on how they approach their practice and the big and small things that they have done to find their own way, to find their own voice, to be true to themselves, to write authentically. The essays are wildly different from each other. Vahni Capildeo’s essay – Skull Sutra: On Writing the Body – is a piece of incredible creativity in its own right and simply couldn’t have been written by any other poet, such is the strength of their voice that I felt the essay could have been a prose poem. I absolutely recognised the connection to landscape and the way of responding to that landscape that I found in Jean Sprackland’s In Praise of Emptiness: On Writing about Place and Paying Attention, and found myself experimenting with my senses when out walking and writing because of that essay. There are essays in this collection that gave me insights into backgrounds that I could never have known about, Romalyn Ante’s essay – Pusikit: On Working as a Poet While Working for a Living is incredibly moving. I found it inspiring, it made me look at myself and ask myself where my own obstacles were and whether they were truly obstacles, or excuses. I found Daniel Sluman’s essay How I Built a New Voice: On writing and Living as a Disabled Writer astonishingly good also. The idea that a writer would choose to take the risk of stepping away from publication, awards, the striving and comparison that makes up so much of being ‘successful’ as a poet in order to develop a new way of writing authentically about their own existence struck a chord with me, in fact seeing someone else doing this was like being given permission to do that myself. Similarly, the way that Jacqueline Saphra writes about her own journey to poetry from a different career is just beautiful, invigorating. He essay Keep Ithaca Always in Your Mind: On the Journey and value of Poetry is another essay that has allowed me to revisit my own practice but also to remind myself of why I want to write in the first place. I posted on social media that I simply cannot recommend this collection of essays highly enough, it is better, in my very humble opinion, than any ‘how to’ book of craft, because the voices in this book are not talking about how, but why, which must be the most overlooked question in writing. Why do you want to write, what is the purpose? Why does it matter to you that you pull down your poems and set them on the page, or unwind the spool of thread that is your own story, or that you create a place of joy and safety for others in a world that you create. As a species we have always created, it is the thing that separates us from other non human animals, it is the thing that joins all of us together. That compulsion to change and translate experience into art is powerful, incantatory, magical. If you are a poet, you need this book in your life. I read one essay a day as part of my morning routine alongside journalling, morning papers, reading poetry etc. I found such solace in the beautifully curated pieces. It really is one of the best collections of essays i have read and one that I will come back to.

Wendy Pratt, Creativity and the Demon of Pretension

You thought that you would try the villanelle.
The sonnet form just didn’t work for you.
The villanelle has caught you in its spell.

Your free form was… too free, so what the hell,
You thought that you would really turn the screw.
You thought that you would try the villanelle.

You confined yourself to your small writing cell.
You thought that it might take a day or two.
The villanelle has caught you in its spell.

You thought, at first, that it was going well.
You thought it couldn’t be that hard to do.
You thought that you would try the villanelle.

The police were called because of the bad smell.
All your efforts had just made you start to stew.
The villanelle has caught you in its spell.

I’m afraid that it’s a sorry tale I tell.
Dylan Thomas, Auden, Bishop, Plath, they knew.
You thought that you would try the villanelle.
But the villanelle’s a bugger to do well.

Sue Ibrahim, Villanellia

How do we make space for brightness, for the possibility of joy, when we are worried about a war across the world, or about waiting for test results, or a root canal? How do we make space for poetry? I’ve been trying to write a poem a day this week, but haven’t felt super inspired. So when I couldn’t write, I tried to do a submission, or read some poetry instead.

When life keeps handing you problems, pain, rejection, and challenge, prayer/meditation/spending time in nature/purposefully changing your scene can seem stupid, like a waste of time, but these things can also remind us that life isn’t all suffering and pain, give us a much-needed sense of perspective, wonder, gratitude.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Poetry Month! Tulip Festivals, Poetry Podcasts, a Poem in Diode, Snow Geese – and Illness (Plus Broken Teeth) – and The Importance of a Change in Scenery

what is the weight of a letter?

how long is a semi-colon?

what does a semi-colon feel like in the hands?

on the tongue?

what does a semi-colon sound like?

is it possible to make a hyphen reach to the Kuiper Belt?

what if you took off your skin and made a word out of it?

would there be silent letters?

how would you pronounce the freckles?

Gary Barwin, art ± language

Lord the enormous days are hard, lord the contradictions build up, lord the stakes are high and higher, lord the idiocy is hard to drown out, lord we are asked to be kind to the unkind and it is abhorrent.

I had begun a post about renewing my vows to beauty. I had remembered a post from years back where I had renewed my vows to writing.

And then, as often happens, someone else said likely better most of what I wanted to say. From Anne Lamott on Facebook:

“Well, how does us appreciating spring help the people of Ukraine? If we believe in chaos theory, and the butterfly effect, that the flapping of a Monarch’s wings near my home can lead to a weather change in Tokyo, then maybe noticing beauty—flapping our wings with amazement—changes things in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It means goodness is quantum. Even to help the small world helps. Even prayer, which seems to do nothing. Everything is connected.”

Shawna Lemay, Renewing My Vows to Beauty

I woke up today to the music of Beethoven, Für Elise. No one else in the house was awake, so I lay still under the blankets, listening. The notes from the piano were rich and slow, rolling over me the way waves roll over a beach. The ocean water was cold, and the sand was cold on my bare feet. A gray sky, the sound of gulls. And in the distance, a freighter moves out into the sea. A lovely three minutes indeed, and then I rose, and went to the kitchen to make the coffee, black and strong. 

James Lee Jobe, sleeping with the radio on

The pub was noisy, a debate raging over how the
world would end, the degree of inebriation deciding
the vector of war, of climate, of pestilence, of broken
supply-chains. The more grotesque the imagined

dystopia, the more reason there was to drink. The
world-order won’t change tomorrow, someone said,
but you will wake up one morning and the couches
and chairs would have turned away from the

TV to take in an alternate reality.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Around 10:15, last night…

The British National History Museum’s image database is online. I’m researching Ichneumonoidea. And telling myself to keep looking, to become so familiar, so intimate with them that they become beautiful in my eyes.

There are close-up photos of veined wasp wings, and of wasp eyes that look like woven mats. The antennae curl like ribbons shaved with the edge of a knife. Deep black thoraxes.

Or thoraxes as pale as a waxy layer of old Nordic flesh – mimicking the semi-permeable barrier between life and death. Almost translucent, almost obscene.

Maybe there is a kindness in some deceptions. Death comes over the flesh – dappled first, then like a curtain of darkness with the elegance of opera gloves: somehow stuerent (socially acceptable).

The tarantula hawk has a body as black as ink. And wings as bright as persimmons.

Make sense of that emotionally.

Beautiful.

*

In America, it is National Poetry Month. I am not good with everyday constraints, so it is just as well that I am not an American. But I am working every day on this project. Posting or not.

Ren Powell, A Quick Field Note

I used to long to hear the sound of copters
rotors thumping the compliant air
getting louder drawing near

there were times when
such a B-movie rescue
would have suited me

I chose to forget that after the credits roll
the actors return to playing themselves
in the films of their own imperfect lives

bridges are a safer bet
you climb above the trouble
just walk away

Paul Tobin, A PIPEWORK OF VEINS

I’m spinning too many plates right now. Some plates that should be spinning are actually still packed in the box, but I’m limited, and between the ongoing pandemic and the violence in Ukraine, it’s hard to continue on as usual.  Even so, here are some poetry highlights from the past month…

In early March, I got to be a virtual featured poet for Wednesday Night Poetry, the longest running weekly open mic in the country, and it was a joy to share some of the poems for my spouse from How to Play.

Also in March, I received my contributor’s copy of Dear Vaccine, the print anthology created from the global poetry project of the same name. It’s fun to see work by friends in here with me, and I was excited that Naomi Shihab Nye was one of the editors.

At the end of March, I got to release the new spring issue of my journal, Whale Road Reviewand it’s amazing. Even when the rest of life is chaotic, I love doing this editing and publishing work.

Katie Manning, Shows & Publications

I’m learning about Walter Rodney.
Headphones on, listening to
the intertwining guitars
of Remmy Ongala from Tanzania.
This world is its own multiverse.
I have a constant opportunity
to see and hear and taste new wonders,
despite the efforts of my ancestors
to own what cannot be owned.
Water Rodney was from Guyana.
I had to look it up on a map.

Jason Crane, POEM: Walter Rodney

Next week I should receive my advance hard copies of Poetry’s Possible Worlds. I feel like I’m facing a portal, a door to strange woods opening at the back of a wardrobe. I know book launches are lucky and thrilling, but they also ramp my anxiety right up, especially the tasks that involve talking up my book’s amazingness and asking people to give it various kinds of attention.

Other boundaries precede and follow it: a doozy of a Winter Term ended Friday, so onward I forge into grading and revising committee reports. The barrage of university deadlines is slowing, though, so maybe I’ll be able to celebrate part of National Poetry Month for real. I’ll certainly read a lot. Starting to write and submit again, though: that gives me the alarming facing-the-portal feeling, too. I know, as a practically grizzled person in her fifties, that the ability to write and think has always come back in the past and probably will again. But crossing the threshold from busy-busy to slow thoughtfulness is always hard for me. As I tell my writing students, starting from a cold stop is HARD. Once you’re into the swing again, there are different kinds of difficulties–finding structures and words, killing your darlings–but that panicky feeling subsides. Until you’re ready to publish, when it roars back again in altered forms.

When I was finalizing the ms, I fizzed with worry about my last chance to get it right. Now my apprehensions are less about the book’s content and more about my responsibility to give the 10 years of work this book represents a better chance of reaching audiences. With that in mind, I’ve done it: I’ve hired a publicist, Heather Brown of Mind the Bird Media, for a few months to help launch Poetry’s Possible Worlds. Many of us learned via Twitter this year that the top publicists charge something like $30K or more for a book launch, which is a little startling, but I also don’t feel like judging people about those choices. That level of investment isn’t in the cards for me for a LOT of reasons; the publicists I interviewed offer their services at much lower cost and, not incidentally, specialize in small press books. They use their contacts to pitch media coverage; help send out review copies; query potential reading venues; and more, depending on what an author needs. One observation from early in the working relationship is that it’s helpful to have an ally whose job it is to stay enthusiastic when your own confidence flags! I don’t know yet how much success we’ll have; everything is still in process. But it feels like the right career moment to try this strategy. I couldn’t have afforded it as I was starting out, but these days money is easier to spare than time. I’ll keep you posted.

Lesley Wheeler, Hard lines, soft lines

We tell the same
stories

Revision: ocean
dredging up

glass and shells
Velvet kelp

Oracles
from a future

Manifest with
illegible names

Luisa A. Igloria, Mythopoeia

Sarah Mnatzaganian’s first pamphlet, Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter (Against the Grain Press, 2022), is as refreshing as the fruit it evokes and invokes. Of course, as its title immediately indicates, a key theme is origin and identity, but this is not wielded as a statement. Instead, it’s explored via fierce curiosity. […]

The clarity, freshness and light touch of this pamphlet are the qualities that lift it out of the hubbub of contemporary poetry, especially when considered alongside Mnatzaganian’s refusal to take short cuts or reach facile conclusions. For not much more than the price of a dodgy pint in a flash London pub, Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter encourages the reader to pause, breathe in its vitality and return to everyday life, newly invigorated.

Matthew Stewart, Clarity and freshness, Sarah Mnatzaganian’s Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter

In the fifth grade, I decided I was bad at art. I couldn’t draw a vacuum cleaner well enough for my teacher, who pointed out all the problems with it at every turn. Why is the hose so long, Sheila? What’s with the weird cross-hatch thing over here? Is that supposed to be metal? Didn’t you understand the lesson on perspective? I erased and tried again, over and over. I desperately wanted to draw a good vacuum for her! I have lived a lifetime of trying to please teachers. But it wasn’t to be and I ended up dreaded going to art class. Can you imagine? What’s more expressive and freeing and welcoming than art? I turned to words, then, a different sort of art, and have had a beautiful love affair/career with them ever since.

And then, the pandemic came.

These years have made us all a little strange, but they’ve also engendered some surprising delights in my life. For instance, I ripped out my front lawn and installed the pollinator garden I’ve always wanted. For instance, I bought 85 house plants. For instance, I stumbled, tentatively at first, and then with voracious desire, back to visual art–bold, colorful abstracts this time (I am nothing if not a maximalist), with nary a wonky vacuum to be found.

Sheila Squillante, No More Vacuums!

the river is constant here
we mourn through it even when we want to be
shut out children aren’t supposed to die
the mud banks rear and churn daffodil
fields pulse like giant earthlights even in early
spring when the Pacific tide breaks its bounds
we hold grief like stars hissing in our mouths
the tide has no heart for us the lower angels
sink and rise from the smokestack’s painted sides
to the hospital’s last call

Rebecca Loudon, April 8.

Yesterday we carved out a new section of garden and began planting it. In the house, we put away candles and the little lamp we’ve kept on the dining room table to light our morning and evening meals. It’s been weeks since we’ve turned it on. “Candle and fire season is done,” I said, moving a basil plant to the spot where the candles had been and opening the front door to let in fresh air.

The world’s first green is still gold, but the tulips have already begun their wilt, and the willow’s blossoms are turning into leaves. It’s high spring in our part of the world, when the grass needs mowing more than once a week and branches transform from bare to blossoms in two days. If you blink, you miss it. Sometimes, writing is a way of seeing more deeply and clearly, but sometimes it’s a way of blinking.

I didn’t want to blink this week.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Don’t blink

The author grew up in the midwest. Festered beneath sunlight like a blister. Cartwheeled through summers thigh high with lake grass. Couldn’t keep her fingers out of her mouth, the butterflies out of her hair. The author built a church out [of] books and hid inside it for years. Fumbled with light switches and lawn ornaments, and still, the holes in her body slacked and grew larger til she contained so much. BBQ grills and record albums, tackleboxes and bottles of pills. The author would crack open every so often and out would fly a river of fish the size of her palm. The author would go slack with all that wanting, would fold and list in the wind.

Kristy Bowen, napoowrimo #5

My book Little Pharma is my first book. Years ago when my partner got a short story accepted by the magazine he most admired, our friend John called it the “Velveteen Rabbit moment,” after the (very dark!) children’s book by Margery Williams, about certain toys becoming live animals by the force of a child’s love. It’s the moment when someone’s loving regard for you (or your work) turn you from a crumple of cloth and stuffing into “the real thing,” whatever that is. I want not to believe in this – I want, rather, to believe that I would be just as “real” a poet even if no one ever offered me the chance to publish a book – but being a social animal, having a book that can circulate in society has felt like a personal metamorphosis.

Most recently I’ve been working on a hybrid memoir in prose that uses my own development as a medical trainee and a poet to cut a rambling path through the history and philosophy of medicine and art. I’ve always been a magpie of art and history, and sometimes of autobiography. But as a poet, I’m somewhat unused to making arguments that need to stick. It’s a different rhetorical muscle.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

A shallow and a somewhat deeper answer. My first college crushes were all poets, and I wanted very badly to have a chance with them. Longing does wonders for work ethic. But in fact, even as a much younger child I immediately grasped and loved the uselessness of poetry, that it could communicate unstably and without necessarily teaching, that it could say several things at once.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Laura Kolbe

It is National Poetry Month again, and this year, in recognition of the celebration, I have started a practice to experiment with, just out of curiosity and to give myself a nudge. Many of my poetry colleagues invest a month in writing a poem a day or reading a poetry book each week or posting a poem daily on their social media platforms. It’s important to remind ourselves why we treasure and delight in poetry.

I chose a simple project that requires frequent re-imagining/re-imaging. For my starting point, I picked a poem at random from a collection of Fernando Pessoa’s work. I copied the poem, by hand, into my journal and re-read it a few times. Then I turned the page and rewrote it, “revising” it in the way I might revise a poem of my own. My plan is to repeat this process after a day or so, each time revising from the most recent version. In a short time, the poem will have moved away from being Pessoa’s piece–perhaps bearing little to no resemblance to the original…a sort of whisper-down-the-lane approach. The intention is to consciously alter image and voice in each re-imagining of the draft, though I’m not sure how well I can hew to my intentions. We shall see.

Why I decided on Pessoa for this project, I don’t really know; but I think there’s something perfect about using one of his pieces as springboard. Because Pessoa was kind of a springboard for himself–he created several writer-selves who wrote poems and critical prose: heteronyms, he termed them. The poem I used was “by” his persona named Ricardo Reis. Adam Kirsch wrote a good introduction to Pessoa’s peculiar obsession with being a non-person in a 2017 New Yorker article. By revising something by Pessoa in my own voice and through my own images, perhaps I nurture his pursuit of dissolving the self.

It occurs to me now that the poems of several contemporary writers may have induced me to try this writing prompt, most recently Daisy Fried in The Year the City Emptied (which I highly recommend). Her collection consists of “loose translations” of Baudelaire, reimagined in Philadelphia during the covid outbreak while her husband was dying. It’s not a cheerful read–but then, neither is Baudelaire–nevertheless, the resulting poems are powerful and vividly interesting.

Ann E. Michael, Revision practice

Our tiny minds blown by ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’, ‘Spelt From Sibyl’s Leaves’ and ‘As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire’, we found solace in its opening of utter clarity. The cricket season upon us, the big roller on Longmead, time running out on everything we touched. ‘Just a few poems more, then it’s over to you.’ With no idea how to revise, let alone parcel out days into chunks that might mean something more than another wasted study period deciphering Remain in Light on headphones. Anouilh. Camus. The French Revolution (which we had not even covered). The green-eyed monster. Trips to pub theatre in Bath in the back of a Transit to see Zoo Story, Rhinocerous. Phil Smith lecturing us with Paris au Printemps. Generally not having a clue. A fifer. Pub nights, chips and lager, running the whole way back in darkening lanes. The longing to be elsewhere. Wanting to put it off. Discovering Holub’s ‘Love’ in an anthology no one taught from. ‘Sweepings./ Dust.’ What the? ‘When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush.’ Misquoting the line in the paper. This was it. Something to cling onto in the wreckage.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: Spring, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

held breath
first one and then another
cherry blossoms

Jim Young [no title]

Meghan Sterling: The poems in House Bird, which are lovely, have a thread of masculinity/an examination of men and manhood running through them, both painful and yearning. Can you talk about how you came to a place of writing about manhood? What do you feel is most urgent about doing so?

Robb Fillman: To be honest, I don’t believe it was a conscious act. In other words, I did not set out to write about masculinity per se. I think I started writing poems about the relationships I had with the people around me—my wife, my children, my father, my grandfather, my uncles, my childhood friends, and so on—and I started thinking about what it means to be a father, a husband, a son, a brother. And it wasn’t until well into writing that I noticed that I was actually trying to speak the words that had been, for whatever reason, difficult for me to express in conversation.

Sometimes, I think men and boys feel as though they can’t talk openly about their feelings, so we talk around the “thing” we wish to say, or we don’t talk at all. And I suppose, one of the reasons I started writing poetry was because I felt inarticulate. In that way, the poems could speak for me. And really, it was after I had children when I began to think: I don’t want my kids not knowing what their dad thought or felt. I want them, when they are older, to have a map, to know I was (and still am) a “work in progress.” I never want them—my son or my daughter—to be afraid of their own feelings. Poetry opens up that space.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Interview Series: Meghan Sterling Interviews Robb Fillman

RICHARD HOWARD was a towering figure (one of his favorite words) in American literature, from his own poems to his insightful, wide-ranging essays on American poets (see Alone with America and Preferences: 51 American poets choose poems from their own work & from the past), to his numerous translations of French poetry and prose (Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal is one of the best known).

He also cut a figure, in his round glasses and red shoes.  Everyone who met him has vivid impressions of him, and stories that feature his erudition, his wit, and his generosity.  He taught in writing programs at Columbia, at the University of Houston, and the University of Utah.  He didn’t teach workshops, but gave lectures  on campus and invited students to his home for conferences.  He was a true mentor, publishing their work and supporting their careers.

I don’t remember when I first met Richard, but I do remember feeling nervous and intimidated.  He immediately put me at ease–something he must have had to do often throughout his life as he moved among people whose minds were not filled with what one writer describes as the equivalent The Great Library of Alexandria.  He was wrote a blurb for a book of essays I edited, Where We Stand: Women Poets on Literary Tradition, and took part in a translation conference I helped organize.  When I taught for a semester at the University of Houston, I stayed in his apartment there while he was in New York.  Much of it was his favorite color, red–the telephone, a table, a chair, plates, cups, pillows.  Ever since then I find myself sprinkling smaller amounts of red through my rooms–I think of it as Richard Red.

Sharon Bryan, Richard Howard, 1929-2022

THEN COME BACK: THE LOST NERUDA POEMS, Pablo Neruda, trans. Forrest Gander. Copper Canyon Press, PO Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368, 2016, 163 pages, $23 ($17 paper), www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Well. What does one say about Pablo Neruda? Lauded as the greatest poet of the Americas, the greatest poet of the 20th century, influencer of all subsequent generations of … Nobelist … etc. I can’s imagine what I might add.

All I will say is that I attended the Seattle Arts and Lectures presentation of this book — back in those lovely old pre-Pandemic days, and heard a number of the poems, first in Spanish (which was like listening to music), then read by Forrest Gander (a remarkable poet in his own right), the translator. The book is part poetry collection, part artifact, with color plates. It’s funny, and loving, and generally just worth the trip.

I’m compelled to share a scrap from poem #20. Although Neruda died well before our current age of iPhones, it so anticipates our enslavement: “raising my arms as though before / a pointed gun, I gave in / to the degradations of the telephone.” “I came to be a telefiend, a telephony, / a sacred elephant, / I prostrated myself whenever the ringing / of that horrid despot demanded” — and so on (pp. 60-61).

The Prologue, by Gander, is worth reading (and rereading). He tells about how these poems overcame his reluctance to do the translation (“The last thing we need is another Neruda translation.”) And he shares the process with us — not only his encounter with the locked vault of the Neruda archives, but with his own journey through the poems, often hand-written on menus and placemats.

Bethany Reid, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

I wanna create a monument called BookBinge—

a megalithic circle of books set firm within earthworks, towering skyward like Stonehenge.

There’ll be poetry, fiction, memoirs, graphic novels, and more.

You can touch the books, read them, breathe in their history, discuss them fervently with family and friends.

Or you can remain silent within the center of the monument’s immensity and watch the seasons pass.

Time will become irrelevant. You will grow wiser, not older.

Rich Ferguson, Book-Binge

old salt road
filling our pockets
with stones

Julie Mellor, Hunger Hill

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 11

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: dreams and dreamlessness, new books and completed manuscripts, the war, the Worm Moon, the equinox, and more. Enjoy.


My mother once had a dream soon after her mother’s death. My grandmother is calling from an unknown place to let my mother know she is okay. She asks her to describe the place she is in. All my grandmother is able to answer is: a large building, grey, grey. Moments after, a man disconnects the phone after reminding her sternly that she had been instructed not to call anyone. 

If someone asked me today to describe the place I am in, I would answer the same thing: a large building, grey, grey. The earth seems post mortem. 

Someone asks an old woman standing under a lamppost what is sadness? She answers: dreaming of Kalashnikovs made of flowers. 

Saudamini Deo, What is sadness?

The advice in my planner this morning, as I sat down at my desk with the window open, listening to the birdsong in the garden, was ‘Become less connected to the outcome and more committed to the work‘ attributed to Iman Europe. Strangely, this is something I had already been thinking about this week. I feel that stepping back a little from what was a frantic work schedule has given me the space and time to grow into my own writing. Seeing the advice in the planner felt very much like one of those fate moments in which a path that you are following is confirmed to be the right direction by something or someone stepping in to your life at just the right time. Chris and I have both been suffering with Covid this week. Not seriously, but enough to force me to spend time in bed reading rather than working. I’ve been reading Tanya Shadrick’s The Cure for Sleep and recognising parts of myself in it. Not in the parts about the journey through motherhood, though I would hope that if Matilda had lived I would have found my own way though it and grown as a person, but rather the later life revelation of the creative impulse, the casting off of what was expected in order to be something else, the falling off the cliff-of-reality sensation of death, being near death and the unrelenting truth that life is so short, not a day must be wasted somehow juxtaposed alongside the need to find a way of living slowly. I have been forced by the virus to live slowly this week, doing the bare minimum of work and then retreating to bed, propped up with pillows and surrounded by tissues and tea and books while the seagulls drifted past and the birds sang in the garden. It reminded me how much I am in need of this peace-time, and what it does for my own writing. I am a better writer when I slow down and embrace the process, rather than reaching for the end of the project.

Wendy Pratt, Permission to Rest, Read and Grow as a Writer

My third pandemic-era birthday. How am I feeling? I’m not exactly sure; I’ll admit to feeling an unease about moving in through my fifties (although: aging is far preferable to death; remember, that my long-running plan includes an eventual passing at the age of one hundred and five). And, given my fiftieth was scheduled two days after the original pandemic lockdown, I decided some time ago that I would remain in my forties until this whole period passes (it only seems fair), to only enter my fifties once this is over. To enter my fifties, as one might say, “already in-progress.” We are home, we are home, we are forever home. Staycation day #732, by my count, although Christine has begun the occasional day in the lab over the past couple of weeks (including today). The children remain in their e-learning, at least until the end of the school year. […]

My third annual                       isolation birthday. A rehearsal
of inarticulate space,

a glass, reflects. This breath by breath. Half-century, plus. A hand
between palms.

rob mclennan, today is my fifty-second birthday;

We’ve had a colder March than usual, and it’s been gray and rainy, but in fact, spring is springing around us, despite war and pandemic and other apocalypses. Jonquils and hyacinths are up, and the early plum and cherry blossoms are starting to appear. I’ve heard more birdsong; my garden, mostly still asleep, is showing signs that it is actually a garden. And how is it the Spring Equinox already? […]

I’m trying to review a poetry book for the first time in a while – Dana Levin’s Now Do You Know Where You Are, from Copper Canyon. Exercising those reviewer muscles again. The book has made me cry three times. It’s also one of those books you really need to pay attention to and read the notes at the end of the book. It’s not a book you can skim easily and that also might make it more rewarding.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Despite Everything, Spring and Solstice; Choosing an Author Photo Every Decade; and Reviews and Reading Reports

the red wind from the Sahara
had blown a fine sand as far as Blackpool
depositing it all over the paintwork of the cars
parked in the street of our boarding house

I traced my finger in wonder
through the thin rust red layer
on car after car
entranced that I was making contact
with somewhere so impossibly distant

now I know that happened once in a while
back when the weather could be trusted

Paul Tobin, WHEN THE WEATHER COULD BE TRUSTED

In these dreadful times of international crisis, it’s unsurprising that several people I’ve talked to lately have reported that they’ve been having really out-there dreams, worthy almost of the psychedelic effects in Ken Russell’s Altered States, whose star, William Hurt died yesterday. My elder son told me about a dream he had of giant vampiric lobsters. I’ve been having vivid dreams, too, exacerbated by some virulent bug which has made me achy, heady and snotty since Saturday. This morning, I woke up, strangely, with the tune and words of ‘Lunatic and Fire Pistol’, the closing song of Julian Cope’s first solo album World Shut Your Mouth (1984), spinning around my head.

Matthew Paul, On dreams, Julian Cope and John Greening

A dream during the afternoon nap. I followed a winding trail of switchbacks, going up a mountainside. It seemed like hours, and I was tired, worn out. Eventually, I scrambled through some brush and I came out onto a diving board, impossibly high up, maybe fifty feet or more from the pool of water. I was now exhausted, and almost out of breath from my asthma, but I knew I was supposed to jump. I could see a friend below, in the water, waving at me to come on. and I did. I hit the water feet first, far too hard and very fast, and though the water was deep I went straight to the bottom, and curled up on my side, and laid there with my eyes closed. How long could I stay down? I should kick off from the concrete bottom for the surface before my breath gives out. Maybe it was already too late. I opened my eyes and I was awake, in my own bed. Why did I have such a dream? Why was I climbing up? And knowing the danger, why did I jump instead of turning back? And most of all, this – how can I so easily close my eyes in one world and open them again in another? 

James Lee Jobe, A dream during the afternoon nap.

Every day on Twitter I share coffee with a woman named Yaroslava. She writes about her daily life in war-torn Ukraine, calling her diary #WarCoffee. She hopes that through the details of her disrupted life she can connect with us around the world. Yaroslava invites comments, photos of our lives, and conversation. It’s become a lively, supportive community. Join in – follow @strategywoman on Twitter.

Yaroslava wants to affirm our unity as one world. It’s an amazing account via the basics of her life—coffee, work, and the sounds of sirens, other people snoring, and families sharing small spaces.

Rachel Dacus, To Bravery – Writers in War

Wouldn’t you rather the wind wielded
its sharpest knives or that nothing but the sun
detonated its carbon into the atmosphere

Wouldn’t you rather have ordinary
death rather than terror tunnel
through the world

Have only rain and mud
mushrooms and butterflies
stir up graves in cemeteries

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Disregarded Sign

Today I need to get started on my Psalm of Lament for one of my seminary classes.  Here is the assignment, which is a really cool way to help us understand the assignment:

This assignment has 2 parts (Please post as ONE document): 1) Write your own lament, either individual or communal, following the structure of the lament psalm as discussed in the videos, assigned readings, and power points. There is no specified length for your lament. 2) In one paragraph, discuss why you would or would not preach from an angry lament in your ministry setting. Due Sunday, March 20 by 11:59 p.m. No attachments please. Cut and paste a previously written Word document with both parts in it.

I’ve been thinking about the assignment for days, but I feel a bit of hesitancy.  My main hesitancy is that there are so many possible laments:  climate change (it’s 70 degrees warmer than normal in Antarctica, an event which would have been declared as impossible, until it happened–see this story in The Washington Post), the pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine, various refugee crises, so many of my friends moving away, and that’s just the immediate list.

There are advantages to each one, and disadvantages too.  Part of me imagines that all of my classmates will be writing about Ukraine, so part of me wants to do something different.  But Putin is such an easy subject for a Psalm of lament–too easy?  And does climate change have an obvious enough villain?  Could my Psalm of lament ask for a planetary reset?  That’s probably not a good idea for humans, depending on how far back we go. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writing a Psalm of Lament

Maria Prymachenko has stopped
making pictures.

In Kyiv, her yellows and blues
fall from the eyes
of two-headed chickens.

The shelling makes even
her eared beasts to lie down.

Things no longer go well
here. The villain speaks with
his claw of iron,
hobbling the painter’s hand.

Her canvases aflame,
the arsonist moves west,
ash just another mark
on the foreheads of soldiers.

Maureen E. Doallas, How Spring Comes in Ukraine (Poem)

We saw the big old, recently full moon last night, looking like a huge cheese wheel in the sky! Turns out, it’s the Worm Moon, according to the almanac. And it’s not really named for the earthworms that are emerging here as it turns spring, but some beetle larvae that start coming out of tree bark about now. (Read all about it here, in the Old Farmer’s Almanac!) I am happy to see the sunshine on this first day of spring, especially after a gloomy, cold day of rain. I woke up sad and heavy with dismay, my brain scattered with tasks and difficult conversations. The week ahead looms risky, with a medical procedure for my dad on Wednesday, various meetings I prepared for in advance, so I wouldn’t forget, and which I fear, nonetheless, I might forget or feel unprepared for. Is this all part of the atmosphere when spring comes? I think maybe yes. And/or that continuing suspension of time that I felt/feel during the pandemic? Is it a natural part of the aging process? I do, relentlessly, write everything down now in list form, so I can check it off—but it’s not just the satisfaction of checking things off, getting things done, it’s also the need to remember to do the things at all. Is it not all memory rooted? Is some motivation gone, some desire? Has that been lost in the mist? In the dark gray clouds that obscured the big old cheese moon last night before it hung there so yellow and weighty in the sky? I did not see the worm…turn.

Kathleen Kirk, Big Old Cheese Moon

And my father?
Cigar smoke lingers
like priestly incense.

If I can
hear his voice,
remember his laugh

he’s still here
though I can’t clasp
his hand anymore.

We remember Shabbat.
We remember our dead.
The fire does not go out.

Rachel Barenblat, Perpetual fire

It’s a lull time for me; before the real bursting forth of Spring in the garden, though each morning I see a little more green pushing out of the mulch.

Our Mallards are back, too. Two couples so far, two nests under the azaleas. Sister Patricia insists in erecting ugly orange cones on the sidewalk near each nest, though previous experience says that the ducks don’t mind out walking by.  I ignore the cones. […]

In four weeks, it will be Easter.

In the meantime, on the world stage, Russia continues to bomb Ukraine. The Ukrainians continue to suffer, and the rest of the world continues to pray and worry.

Maybe a nuclear war will come between now and Easter.

Meanwhile, the rabbits are cavorting under the full moon.

Anne Higgins, how much was mine to keep

Today marks nineteen years of continuous blogging here, and I find myself at a loss for words. Partly because it doesn’t even make sense to me that I’ve done this for that long; partly because Cassandra — like nearly everyone else — failed to predict the tragedy unfolding in the Ukraine with its huge ramifications for the world’s political future; and partly because — also like nearly everyone else — I am weary, and unable to package things up into any sort of comforting explanation or pretty picture, either for myself, or for public consumption.

But that’s all right. There are times in all of our lives when we simply have to let go of and be still, finding consolation and strength in the simplest things: a raindrop hanging on a branch; a cat playing with a ribbon; the clouds traversing the sky; damp earth emerging from the snow.

Beth Adams, 19 Years

First off, I’m excited to share that my new poetry collection, Rotura, is officially out from Black Lawrence Press. Copies can be ordered here.

I want to thank everyone who has supported me throughout the years, either by pre-ordering this latest book or has simply read a poem of mine and held space for it. This poetry thing is amazing and I’m grateful to be able to share it with so many communities and individuals. Abrazos to each of you!

I also want to thank Diane Goettel for believing in this book and for the wonderful phone call last May. We were in the middle of being forced to move (long story, oof), and hearing that the manuscript had resonated with her meant a lot amid the chaos. Thank you as well to everyone at BLP who continues to be wonderful to work with!

José Angel Araguz, Rotura released + virtual event info

Another milestone passed. The MS is off to the printer on Monday.

Today I did the last of many proof-reads, and effectively signed off on the manuscript of my new collection. We’ve scratched our heads over how to persuade Word to make prosepoems symmetrical and now it’s up to the printer. It’s all out of my hands, and I’m at the stage of staring at the text and wondering what it’s all about. It’s the stage painters know, which has gone beyond the stage of finishing a painting you’re already tired of, but has to be finished, because…well, it does. The stage of looking at what you’ve made and not quite recognising it as yours. Not exactly regretting it, but wishing it had said what it was meant to, and then accepting that ‘meaning’ is largely out of your hands once you start something, because it makes up its rules as it goes along until how it ends is inevitable, regardless of what you intended.

I suspect that what this collection is mainly about is puzzlement, written by someone on the outside, looking in, listening to a language he recognises but doesn’t quite understand, like your reflection in a train window that may just be your alter ego, looking in, wondering about you. Or like looking at a painting and wondering about the mystery that’s looking back. Or looking at moments in your own childhood and wondering if they were actually yours. No wonder that every now and again I’ll settle for looking at a bit of landscape that’s simply what it is and lets you walk about in it.

John Foggin, Pressed for time: more teasers and trailers

Small actions bring sustenance and/or joy to others. But in the pressure of everyday life, it’s possible to overlook our interconnectedness and difficult to find time to consider the purposes behind our actions.

Through “Unfurling” Alison Lock has created a series of meditative poems, exploring how giving ourselves space to press reset and re-focus our attention on what sustains us offers new inspirations and sources of creativity during a time of imposed external restrictions. Each has a prayer-like quality asking us to question and re-frame our lives to create space to consider our actions and their effect on the world around us.

Emma Lee, “Unfurling” Alison Lock (Palewell Press) – book review

Once upon a recent walk, I picked up from a Free Little Library a fragile, yellowing paperback entitled “American Verse from the Colonial Days to the Present.” Until recently, I haven’t been able to actually read it due to the glasses situation being so out of whack and the book’s print being so tiny and faded, but alas! I have finally been able to peruse some of the amazing work in the book and I have been discovering a lot of poets that I knew little to nothing about, Sidney Lanier being the one I shall discuss here, and specifically, his poem “The Marshes of Glynn.” Why everyone on the planet is not intimately familiar with “The Marshes of Glynn” is a crime and a tragedy. It’s a jaw-dropping, epic poem of pure genius and I can’t believe this is the first I’ve heard of it.

Sidney Lanier was born in 1842 in Macon, Georgia. He was as equally fond of music as poetry, and enormously talented at both. Unfortunately, his life was cut short at the age of 39 due to a long battle with tuberculosis, which he contracted after being captured and imprisoned during the Civil War. However, he left behind a significant body of work, including his most famous poem, “The Marshes of Glynn.” It’s a work of spiritually and passion, a love letter to nature, and, I believe, quite possibly an inspiration to some of Walt Whitman’s later work.

Reading “The Marshes of Glynn,” it is apparent that Lanier was musician in his soul. “Marshes” reads like a symphony, with long, sweeping passages that reach dramatic heights, then slowly ratchet down until climbing back up again into grand, crashing crescendos. Lanier uses repetition and pacing in the same way that a musician does, slowing and speeding the work to reflect his deep emotions tied to the marshes—feelings of ecstasy and joy, the soothing of despair, and a deep, boundary-less connection to nature.

Kristen McHenry, Poem Review: The Marshes of Glynn by Sidney Lanier

The following is the seventh in a series of brief interviews in which one Terrapin poet interviews another Terrapin poet, one whose book was affected by the Pandemic. The purpose of these interviews is to draw some attention to these books which missed out on book launches and in-person readings. Ann Fisher-Wirth talks with Christine Stewart-Nuñez about book organization, marriage to another creative person, motherhood and poetry, and being a state Poet Laureate.

Ann Fisher-Wirth: In one poem toward the end of The Poet & the Architect, “Map and Meaning,” you write of the difficulty of learning to make “one’s own map” rather than relying on the maps created by others, and you say that the map you eventually created “marked the spirals of stops along my path.” The book itself is structured into four “Rings,” and each section page that announces a new ring has a little drawing of a spiral. So I’d like to invite you to tell us about spirals. What do they signify to you, both in organizing this book and—perhaps—in organizing the “map” of your life?

Christine Stewart-Nuñez: I’m so glad you asked about the spiral! It’s long been a symbol I’ve used. I kept some of my writing from grade school, and spirals abound in the margins of that saved work. Even now, I use the symbol to show “insight” when I’m annotating the margins of a text. In The Poet & The Architect, besides existing as an image in some of the poems, it also serves as an organizational strategy. The spiral helped me conceptualize how poems could return to earlier themes, picking up images introduced in those poems and broadening or expanding them. I decided to start each ring with the most intimate poems and move outward from there. For example, the first poems are short and set both spatially and temporally before the meeting of the poet and the architect. Next the poems move outward from the intimacy of new coupledom to establishing a family and experiencing life together. “Credo,” which employs syllabic lines based on fractal integers, gathers fractal images from life, nature, and architecture, and ends the book with an invocation of time and space in a much broader context. I think ultimately the spiral captures my sense of time—moving forward yet reaching back to a central core. For example, “Credo” ends by connecting the birth of my son Xavier, the death of my sister Theresa, and divine light.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Ann Fisher-Wirth Interviews Christine Stewart-Nuñez

A bunch of years ago, BFF Jill Crammond introduced me to Emergency Brake by Ruth Madievsky, and I was hooked immediately. I wrote about the collection in 2020, digging into some of what the book and its poems do and calling Madievsky’s use of language “next-level playful.” Her poems bust at the seams with wild imagery and imaginative phrasing.

Turn after turn, her lines surprise me as a reader. And as a poet? I find myself fawning over the work with the highest-of-all poet compliments: “I wish I’d written that!” A review of Emergency Brake in Prairie Schooner calls Madievsky’s poems “bracing yet raucous, vicious yet whimsical,” and a Waxwing review says, “Madievsky creates episodes of surprising disjunctive association and beauty.”

While some of this talent is likely natural to “metaphor maker par excellence” Madievsky (Jill is similarly gifted, btw!), I do believe that learning to trust our own strangeness in our writing is a skill we can develop. So let’s practice! Using some Madievsky poems I really love, I’ve crafted three poetry prompts to get us started.

Carolee Bennett, 3 poetry prompts inspired by poems from ruth madievsky

It’s been a long time since I attended a convention, concert, or any large event. Thanks to covid, longer than usual. This year, I’m braving the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ annual conference–in person, next week–since it’s being held near me, in Philadelphia, this time. Never one for large crowds or rooms full of strangers, given my natural inclination to internalize or curl up in a corner with a book, I have nevertheless attended AWP in the past and have found it supplies me with creative energy in the form of writers I need to read, intellectual ideas I want to explore, and reasons to keep writing. […]

Meanwhile, the month of March does its typical lunge and feint, volt, and passe arriere as it heads toward springtime…I never know what to expect, weather-wise. Today: mild and almost 70 F. I’m hoping we get a string of 50-degree days that permit some garden preparation. But then again, that’s always what I hope for in March.

Ann E. Michael, Conventional

It’s been a packed week, but also kind of a splendid one. I feel more connected to literary people again–and more conscious of how much the first pandemic year, especially, disconnected us.

I returned from a good conference last Sunday to visit with the wonderful poet January Gill O’Neil, who talked to my class the next day and gave a terrific public reading. We had some good conversations not only about poetry itself but ambition, publishing, and publicity. Then on Thursday I spoke on a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville with Cliff Garstang and Sharon Harrigan. The theme was “Uncertainty in Literary Fiction,” and after the logistics of parking and an on-site Covid test, I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation–AND signing a pile of copies of Unbecoming for strangers, which hasn’t happened much in the last two years. Afterward I had dinner with Jan Beatty, long a poetry-crush of mine, and the next day I drove back to C’ville to see old friend Sara Robinson read from her latest collection with Hiram Larew. The loss of my mother last year made me more aware that our opportunities to support each other are not endless. Afterward Chris and I dined on a restaurant patio, enjoying the near-spring balminess.

Those were all highs. I felt like a writer again, reintegrating that part of myself with being a teacher and advisee and committee leader (sigh) and tired secret striver. Now I’m getting my head and my bags together for the AWP convention, this year in Philadelphia, which can be a great gathering but also a challenging one, logistically and sometimes emotionally. I’m participating in more events than I remember doing in the misty past.

Lesley Wheeler, Differently to #AWP22

During a poetry walk led by Steve Ely for our local arts’ week last Sunday morning, I produced the photo haiku above. It’s a while since I participated in this sort of poetry event and it was good to see some familiar faces again, and to hear Steve’s take on the local landscape. However, listening to poetry on the walk, and then at a reading the following evening, made me realise how far away from that sort of poetry I’d moved (given that I almost exclusively read and write haiku now). This is not a complaint, simply an observation. I enjoy words in a different way these days: they need to be less involved with the imagination and more connected to things, more in touch with the surroundings. And I need to feel that connection too. Walking helps. I do it daily, and would probably do more and go further if work/ life didn’t get in the way. I’ve been reading Santoka recently. I admire his dedication to the act of walking, of going forward, following the philosophy of ‘step by step, you arrive’. He spent years on the road; I’m lucky if I spend an hour and a half walking in any one given day. He bedded down in rented rooms of varying degrees of discomfort, whereas I can return to the comfort of my own home.

Julie Mellor, low water

What if, as has happened to me, you’ve read a poem, and you think, wow, that’s brilliant (or some more literary response than that) and then you find out the poet is really not the great person you hoped they’d be (or worse). Yes, people you may not like can actually write poems that you do like. Except now you know what the poet’s like, it’s ruined the poem for you (probably an exaggeration). I’m not suggesting this article on Larkin would have that effect. Whether you like or dislike Larkin’s poems or the man, such as you know anything about him from what you’ve read – and don’t forget biographies (and autobiographies) are selective/subjective too – this new ‘fact’ is, at the very least, likely to prove a distraction when reading the poems. Is that a good thing? 

You will gather I don’t have the answers to these questions. I don’t think anyone has. It’s up to the individual, probably, to decide. But therein lies the difficulty – because people will often write or talk as if their view is right, rather than a suggestion, and also give you information that you didn’t necessarily want (because it’s impossible to completely block out this information – sorry). And, clearly, all of this can affect not just how you read a poem, but how you write one too.  

Sue Ibrahim, How do you read a poem?

This is a really fascinating and excellent response by Sue Ibrahim to some of the questions raised by that article about Larkin I posted about, and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot for a couple of days, mainly because I’m planning for my first readings in a long, long time.

I generally say a few words in introduction to each poem, but it is very hard to hit the right balance, I think. I’m very wary of leading the listener to approach a poem in a particular way, or giving them too much background information, but there are some where I think you need to give the listener/reader a way in.

I once saw a relatively well-known UK poet read (a writer whose work I like a lot), and their introductions started to become explicit instructions for understanding the poems, which rather ruined them for me. It was down, I think, to nervousness as much as anything else, but it’s something to be avoided. Similarly, I haven’t read a great deal about the lives of poets, or at least not until long after I’ve read their work.

Matt Merritt, How we read and listen

My days usually start now with freelance writerly things in the first few hours and editing/design work in the afternoons. While I’ve sold art & design & book things online for years, this whole getting paid to write thing is a delight and something I’ve never felt, so it’s extra exciting that I get to do it. That I can do it. That someone actually, you know, wants to give me money for doing something that almost feels like breathing. Something I want to do anyway. That is entirely new. Somewhere there is a lesson here for writers about valuing your work and the things you are able to do that not everyone else, at least non-writers, can.

Kristy Bowen, writers and value

All of my work the past few years is integrated with a kind of field-guide observational relationship with nature. From wasps to telomeres. My approach to nature isn’t Romantic, rather a method to “ground” the lyric expression in a larger context. 

I want to flip the metaphor relationship of the lyric poem: human experience is the vehicle, and what we consider the “natural world” is the tenor. It is an attempt to move away from an anthropocentric view. 

*

What is horrific is natural. Nature is horrific. Yes, there is the deer in the grove. And there is the blacklegged tick on the neck of the deer in the grove. And in the gut of that tick, the Borrelia burgdorferi move through the tick’s body.

There is a reason designers look to the tiny elements of the natural world when creating their monsters.

Ren Powell, Brooding on (Art) Forms

I’m writing to you from in the company of the black dog. This is fine. In the words of Simon and Garfunkel, “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” A lot of it comes from pure old grief, and we know these days, that grieving takes many forms, comes from a lot of places, and that loss compounds loss. The hierarchy of grief is such that the black dog cares not which rung. My griefs, I know, are relatively small, and the collective grief of the world is large. Still, I invite it in. […]

Things I’m thinking about this morning: the architecture of the soul, photography and witness, Rilke’s line, “you must change your life,” Larkin’s “what will survive of us is love,” Lispector’s “each of us is responsible for the world,” Zagajewski’s “try to praise the mutilated world,” Cixous’s “whoever says: I am alone breaks the solitude and affirms it by this act of speech,” Dufy’s “some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself,” Pessoa’s “to be great, be whole: don’t exaggerate or leave out any part of you.” I could go on. The line at the center of my novel Rumi and the Red Handbag, is “what are you going through?” and I’m thinking a lot about that one too.

In John O’Donohue’s book Beauty, he reminds us of the words by Pascal: “In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.”

Shawna Lemay, On Practice, Poetry, and On Always Carrying Something Beautiful in Your Mind

Meanwhile, on the other side of eternity, death is thumbing through the latest clothing catalog; it’s getting tired of wearing black.

As for the rest of us, the price of living keeps going up each day while the value of human life declines.

Such is the mathematics of humanity, always an odd number in the bunch where things don’t divide up evenly.

All the more reason for a Noah’s ark of the heart—two of everything divine.

Rich Ferguson, Humanity’s Mathematics

How differently we might respond to TS Eliot’s groundbreaking poem if he had stayed with his first title, ‘He do the police in different voices.’ And how different our experience would have been if Ezra Pound hadn’t encouraged Eliot to thin the first draft by almost half. Twenty seven writers have been meeting regularly on zoom to unravel Eliot’s notoriously ‘difficult’ poem and prepare a day of readings and discussion for the centenary of its publication in 1922. Sue Boyle traces their challenging journey and talks about the exciting multi-media performance piece which has evolved from their collaborative work.Sue Boyle

As one of those twenty seven writers, I have been immersed in Eliot’s poem and in our responses to it for months. Much of my recent writing relates to it, directly or indirectly.

The calypso singers are still laughing but the fishermen have thrown down their flowers

And in the captain’s tower
are the poets still at war
Eliot and Pound
turning a line around
deleting a stanza here
adding a fragment there
fine-tuning the sound 
while the great ship goes down?

Ama Bolton, The Waste Land Revisited

“Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.”  Mikhail Bakhtin, Russian literary critic and philosopher 

Today, as crocus are pushing up their thorny heads and shells of war continue fall, I want to raise the flag of Mikhail Bakhtin. Bakhtin and his theory of multiple voices to the rescue!  Bakhtin as Chief Negotiator at the table!  Bakhtin with not one ear but several ears to hear. 

Bakhtin, who knows that the space of dialog is fragile and is annihilated in the rush to annihilate an opponent. Bakhtin, who suggests bringing a humanity to words rather than make a fetish of them.

In quiet moment, whether it is precious pause in an argument or blank space between text, an incipient melody will begin to form in my head.  I start to translate it with my fleshy voice.  Others will pick up a bar, a thread, will hum, together within the hour we will have created a song.   National anthem: Bakhtin!

Jill Pearlman, Standing with Bakhtin

Sometimes you only have to
say a line and that’s enough,
the old monk told the poet.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (59)

is the dreamlessness inside me visible :: to those who will never be

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 9

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 found many poetry bloggers wrestling with some variation on the question What good is poetry in times of war? And several linked to Ilya Kaminsky’s interview with Leah Asmelash on CNN, which I also highly recommend.


This morning, an unseen wind illuminated by an unseen light source manifested as a great bright spume of snow lifting from the peaks across the bay. The mountains lay, as they always do this time of year, like a pale bulwark against a sky that starts indigo and brightens. Wind has smoothed the snow-covered mountains, filling vast folded valleys. The morning was quiet except for the sound of melt water sluicing through the creek below my home.

Almost five thousand miles away, Ukrainian people were (and are) fleeing from an invading force. Lives are being destroyed, uprooted, shorn. This is not invisible. We can watch it happening. And yet where I was, quiet. One thing does not blot out the other. Holding two dissonant thoughts is a challenge. The world can be beautiful and people can do violent, horrible things.

What can we do? We can stay open, we can hold two things. And we can try to help.

One of the things we can hold is that the violence in Ukraine is wrong, but also wrong is the violence in Palestine, the violence that is perpetrated in this country against Indigenous people and all people of color. We can help the people in Ukraine in many ways. We can also help other people who are being systematically harmed. Our hearts can accommodate caring for many people.

Another thing we can also do is breathe. Watch each day’s amazing light show. Go for walks. Plant a garden.

And read the work of many people who are telling of their pain. Open your heart to loving many people so that you cannot look away. Let your heart lead you to support others in whatever way you can.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Holding two things

radio talk
what sort of spring is it
where bombs fall

Julie Mellor, what sort of spring is it …

From Warsan Shire’s brand-new book Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, a stanza from a poem called “Assimilation”:

The refugee’s heart has six chambers.
In the first is your mother’s unpacked suitcase.
In the second, your father cries into his hands.
The third room is an immigration office,
your severed legs in the fourth,
in the fifth a uterus–yours?
The sixth opens with the right papers.

I’m teaching Twenty-First Century Poetry to undergrads right now under the theme “Spacetime,” and we’re reading some Black British poetry next to Jahan Ramazani’s arguments in “A Transnational Poetics” that English Studies too often siloes literature by authors’ nationalities (and by period, as in “Twentieth Century British and Irish Poetry,” which I’m teaching next year). Plenty of people writing in English have deep affiliations with multiple regions and nations; they do hybrid and border-work through their powerful poetry, in conversation with other authors who do NOT write in English. Professors do have to carve the massive sea of writing in English into related chunks to design courses and curricula, but as Ramazani says, we don’t have to imitate immigration and border officials–might there be other ways of grouping books? […]

I didn’t know, when I devised the syllabus long ago, how these poems would resonate within and against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but it’s also true that atrocities are always happening. Sometimes U.S. media covers them with insight, inspiring people to feel with and maybe eventually even help the victims–and sometimes it doesn’t, especially when the refugees are brown and black and poor and queer. I’ve been struggling with how to frame my response to that media coverage, because while what is happening to Ukraine’s people is heartbreaking, it’s not a country whose government I can admire. Check out what Amnesty International says, for instance, about Ukraine in the last couple of years: “Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, particularly in police custody, continued. Security service officials responsible for secret detention and torture in eastern Ukraine from 2014 to 2016 continued to enjoy complete impunity. Attacks by groups advocating discrimination against activists and marginalized minorities continued, often with total impunity. Intimidation and violence against journalists were regularly reported. Domestic violence remained widespread…” (This is true of the U.S., as well: how many of the countries claiming to be democracies really are?) Russia is run by a dangerous lunatic, but there are other, insidious kinds of violence he and others have been perpetrating, without most people calling them emergencies.

Someone said to me yesterday, “I changed my syllabus to teach Ilya Kaminsky today, of course,” and I fell silent. Aside from receiving it as passive-aggressive–ah, academia–I found myself thinking that this was not the only right response to the invasion. I love Ilya Kaminsky’s work. It’s amazing and everyone should read it. But I was glad I was teaching Warsan Shire. And I’m so glad to finally have her first full-length collection in my hands. It looks amazing, too.

Lesley Wheeler, Reading Warsan Shire during a Russian invasion

There are shoes in the streets
of Kharkiv, feet herding

to shelter, children in pink
snow suits handed off

to strangers for safekeeping,
the speech of goodbye tears

breaking the silence
that follows the shelling.

Occupied and occupier

cleave the meaning
of war in Kharkiv,

break it down
into fragments of sound —

one, the whistles of rockets;
one, the louder testimony of loss.

Maureen E. Doallas, War Language (Poem)

It continues to be hard to concentrate.

I’ve been reading little but poetry and the news this past week. We are familiar with the lines by Auden, “poetry makes nothing happen.” But “it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.”

Have you read the interview with Ilya Kaminsky? I would highly recommend it if not. […]

Poetry can hold nuance so well, it can hold irony, it can hold joy right beside horrifying loss. And isn’t this what our lives look like right now, those of us safe and privileged, witnessing from afar but also maybe dealing with our own private anguishes, illnesses, difficulties (or maybe just relatively minor discomforts)? Today I took a book off my shelf, by Julia Hartwig. (A case for owning poetry). In Praise of the Unfinished is the book, the poem I opened to is “Who Said.” It begins:

Who said that during the massacre of the innocents
flowers weren’t in full bloom
the air breathing intoxicating fragrances
and birds reaching the heights of melodious song
young lovers entwined in the embrace of love

But would it have been right for a chronicler at the time
to describe these and not the street flooded with blood…”

Does our watching the news and scrolling twitter change anything? Does reading poems change anything? Does witnessing in this way change anything? How is it possible that we can have one line of poetry about the massacre of innocents and the next about flowers? But of course we can.

Shawna Lemay, Reading Poetry

In the context of events elsewhere, my thoughts turn to Auden’s statement, made in 1939, that ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’. Leaving aside the potential layers of nuance that we could read into his statement (e.g. whether he’s implying that it shouldn’t have to do so), it’s an important point of departure for any discussion of the relationship of poetry to war.

Like any theme, poets (and by extension, readers) can meet it head-on, in political and moral terms, or they can come at it aslant. Both approaches are valid, of course, but I personally prefer to find emotional refuge in poems that at first glace seem to have nothing to do with war.

At first, in the opening days of the war, I felt guilty and self-indulgent for admitting this to myself, for sharing poems on Twitter that appeared far removed from the context of Ukraine. However, as these poems lent me their support, I realised that reading them wasn’t an act of cowardice, nor was it turning the other cheek.

Instead, by treasuring the human significance and ramifications of simple, everyday acts, we implicitly celebrate love, which is the counterpoint to war. And therein lies one of the key roles that poetry can play in our lives, reminding us of what makes us who we are, of the values that keep us sane and might just lead us out of this mess.

If poetry helps us keep our humanity in the face of evil, its importance is beyond doubt.

Matthew Stewart, On reading and writing poems during the war

I think of the watches in Hiroshima that stopped at 8:15…what
does war do to time? That it is frozen, yet flowing? I look up at

the sky. A black kite circles, a cloud waits, the late-morning sun
slants at deliberate angles. 200 miles to either coast, then open

sea. There is nowhere to go. A second kite enters the frame.
They float together. Orbits only they can see. A student is dead,

far away from home, in a battle he wanted no part of. Still. Yet
moving. The cloud stretches. Straightening. A shroud. A moment.

The news is incessant. Time reaches for it with long arms. Have
you heard a kite cry into the quiet? Like a whistle. Like a siren.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Black Kite

Lent begins today: the Christian season of repentance, reflection, and renunciation. I went to the noontime services at the cathedral, and when the priest came down the aisle with the bowl of ashes, I rose — but only reluctantly — to receive them. It probably would have been more honest to stay in my seat.

After two years of a pandemic that has taken so many to an early grave, and convinced most of us of our mortality if we didn’t accept it before, I felt resistance to this reminder, symbolized by the ashes and the accompanying words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” In a time of aggression and horrific war, I do not need a reminder of the human lust for power and too many rulers’ disregard for life. When we are told that we come from the dust of the earth, and will return to it, I already know all too well the intense pressure the earth is under because of human behavior, and what the future is likely to hold because of climate change.

Furthermore, all of these things are related. Like many of you, I’ve been reflecting on the failures of institutions and governments, as well as the behaviors of individuals, for two years now. I’ve felt helpless, and also tried to see where I could be of help, extending myself to others, and feeling immensely grateful for the people who have extended themselves to me. Many of us have tried to do this, and a lot of those efforts have been successful: building and nurturing supportive relationships and groups who have met and sustained each other in creative new ways.

What we do not need right now is guilt, and unfortunately Lent tends to go either in that direction, or toward the superficial, as if giving up chocolate is really going to melt human hardness of heart. Sincere reflection on how we can be more courageous, more loving, more open to each other, and more aware of the interconnection of all living things is always needed and welcome. But as I looked around the sanctuary today, the people I recognized in the pews were people who already do this, and try to live their lives responsibly and lovingly.  These are not people who think vaccines should be withheld from poor countries, or people who don’t recycle and drive massive vehicles, or who support white supremacy, or think that despots who want to overthrow legitimate governments are admirable.

And yet these are precisely the problems we are facing, along with many others. What would make me feel some movement this Lent, instead of turning to individuals and saying “This is on you, admit your faults, repent,” would be to hear our institutions and governments say, “We have been reflecting on how we have failed in our tasks and our mission to you. We have been self-serving, short-sighted and hypocritical, and we want to repent, to reform, to change, to do better.”

Beth Adams, Ash Wednesday, in this Time of Perpetual Lent

Photos of chirpy milkmen
in the Blitz: ciggy in the corner of the mouth,
stripy apron, delivering pints;

photos of the children of Aleppo
and all the other cities under the sun,
the sound of planes high up, the crumpling
of exploding shells a distance off, where people
go about their business among broken stones
in the footings of lost civilisations

and somewhere in a corner
there will be rugs and carpets,
tented blanket walls, and women
who tend small fires, shape flatbreads, patting
soft discs of dough from palm to palm,
and somewhere there is a call to prayer,
and always small boys intent on a football.
In repetition of small things
is our salvation […]

John Foggin, Pressed for time….

A lot of us approach Ash Wednesday as a kind of wake up call, a reminder that we all die in the end, and so we better get on with what we plan to do with our lives.  Because we live in a secular culture that wants us to forget this reality, in many ways the Ash Wednesday message that we’re returning to death is an important one.

But the pandemic has driven that point home in a way that the symbolism and sermons of Ash Wednesday services never quite managed to do.  Almost everyone I know, from all walks of life, is making different life decisions than they would have made three years ago.

The eruption of war in Europe has shifted our attention to the ash part of Ash Wednesday.  We may be thinking of the futility of all that we do, when it will all end in ash and decay.  With nuclear saber rattling happening and mass bombings in Ukraine, do we need to emphasize the “Remember that you are dust” message of Ash Wednesday?

Our church will have a prayer table with candles to light as we pray for Ukraine, and to me, that’s a potent Ash Wednesday symbol too. We are asked to remember that we are dust, but we are not told that our descent to ashes gives us license to forget the tribulations of the world.  Many of us are old enough to have seen that iron curtains can come down, that freedom fighters can emerge from prisons and go on to win national elections. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Ash Wednesday in a Time of Plague and War

In July 2011, a terrorist detonated a bomb in central Oslo before travelling to the island of Utøya to commit a mass shooting. That day 77 people lost their lives (8 in the bombing and 69 on the island) and a further 209 were injured. Many of those killed were teenagers. “Utøya Thereafter” is a collaborative project using court documents and other research, with concrete elegies from Harry Man, where each poem takes on the shape of a portrait of the person the poem is about, and “Prosjektil”, Endre Ruset’s poem presented bilingually in its original Norwegian and English translation, plus a conversation between the two poets. The aim was to foreground the victims and survivors. On the island itself the learning centre has 69 columns of wood as a tribute. Not all of the 69 poems are included here so the names are not used. […]

Endre Ruset observes, “Watching the trial and listening to the names of the victims and the places being read through, all in the order in which the victims had died, it was incantatory, like poetry, but the saddest, most profoundly awful and gut-wrenching poetry that I had every heard. It went right through my nervous system and into my body. I had a bodily reaction to it.”

Poetry is a natural response to extremes of emotion. It can carry the heft of trauma in a condensed form and offer a sense of controlling what seems too vast to grab or get a handle on. Harry Man’s portraits and Endre Ruset’s litany of trajectories offer a respect exploration of the resulting grief and trauma from that day for both the lives that were stopped and the ones that continue, bereft or surviving. “Utøya Thereafter” is packed with compassion and tributes that rightly centres the victims over and above the perpetrator. A remarkable achievement.

Emma Lee, “Utøya Thereafter” Harry Man and Endre Ruset (Hercules Editions) – book review

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

In some ways, I think public-facing writers have a huge responsibility and if your platform is large enough, you can really enact change in people’s hearts and minds. Reading is a great creator of empathy. But I also love the idea of writing being a personal process. Even if it just changes you from the inside out, I think there’s still a lot of power there. I come back a lot to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Bryn Mawr College speech from 1986, in which she says, “People can’t contradict each other, only words can: words separated from experience for use as weapons, words that make the wound, the split between subject and object, exposing and exploiting the object but disguising and defending the subject.” We can only write from our own personal experience, but that experience can transcend space and time, a great dark gulf, to get to the reader.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Holly Lyn Walrath

Times like these, all your tongue wants to do is coat itself in white-out and go hide out; permanent hibernation in a din of white noise.

Times like these, bad juju in a pretty dress seems a far safer bet than that horoscope you bought at the 99-Cent store and ended up using as a brokeass drink coaster on the coast of unmagical thinking.

Should you say everything feels so heavy, it’s not hyperbole.

These days, the clouds above look more and more like battlefields than a case of the feels.

Rich Ferguson, The Feels

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing of the booksellers’ street in Baghdad on 5th March 2007. I was not able to be at the reading/badgemaking event on Thursday at Bower Ashton campus, organised by Sarah Bodman and Angie Butler, but thanks to Sarah I was able to Zoom in and sit for an hour on a book trolley. I read the poem below (from”Flowers of Flame: Unheard Voices of Iraq”); the city is Baghdad, but it could be anywhere. The threat of bombardment never goes away entirely. A ceasefire may last 20 years but is not the same as peace. I made a quick collage at home while those present in person made badges on the theme of Reparation and Repair.

Ama Bolton, Remembering Al-Mutanabbi Street

I’ve been reading the work of a Polish poet whose mind ping pongs, Czeslaw Milosz. A witness of multiple 20th century cataclysms, Milosz followed the tortuous turns of his fractured consciousness.  After he arrived in Berkeley, California, he wrote, “Who will honor the city without a name/If so many are dead and other pan gold/Or sell arms in faraway countries?” He was remembering his hometown, Vilnius, then in Lithuania, later a part of Poland in the poem, “City Without a Name.”  

Blink in the poem, then ask where are we now? We’re in Death Valley.  We are lost in wonder.  Also at the zero point for the imagination.  A place of not extinction but a low buzz, imperceptible murmur, desolate, alien.  A place of immersion. As is true with all darknesses, it is alive with potential. 

I thought of the zero point as Orthodox Christians were celebrating “Forgiveness Sunday.”  To be a fly on the wall in the Orthodox churches! Imagine the buzz inside the heads and consciences of Russians and Ukrainians alike. What are Russians murmuring to themselves? I imagine a descent down to a void, wildness, to experience the howl, a cry of anguish. Radical insight, a shock of recognition.  To be a fly that could make a swerve, a turn in action. The small voice longs to be heard. 

Jill Pearlman, The Ping Pong Mind

You’ve also felt sad and as if incapable of wonder, piteous
and needy in your everyday suffering; forgetful of those
small, uncountable deliverances that came just in the nick
of time when you wished for a door, any door, opening with
the clarity of early morning— But what does one do
with so much grief? O countless hands, pressed
against train windows. Overnight, fields turn into plots
for burying. Smoke billows from wreckage of buildings.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Lines from Czeslaw Milosz

As Ilya’s piece shows, poetry can stay important even in a time as fraught as ours. I’m currently reading Dana Levin’s upcoming book from Copper Canyon, Now Do You Know Where You Are, for a review and her work is apocalyptic in its own way and it delves into her move to St. Louis, where my father grew up. Of course, with the title, I immediately staged a photo picturing Sylvia the kitten going on a road trip with the book as reading material. Ah, some of us have different ways of dealing with stress!

In a way, reading her work was able to transport me and made me think about what poetry is and isn’t able to do. I’ve been writing poems about nuclear war, about the Doomsday clock, about being in a pandemic as a disabled person. Are these poems that will help other people? I can’t tell. But I can say they are what I need to write right now.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding My Way with Poetry and Trumpeter Swans in a Week of War and Anxiety, A Change in Perspective

Life in hills and farms goes on
more quietly than before,
difficult situations held
as they usually are
like a straw between teeth.

The last things lost
are nonetheless changed:
a bounty of curls
on the pillow of a once-shared bed
turns grey.
Linen closets, kitchen cabinets,
the child’s pale room
have altered, become simpler,
more desperate.

When infrastructures fail—
rails, roads, electricity—
we are merely afraid;
it’s when simple things leave us
we have lost all our wars.

Ann E. Michael, What poetry says

fence dances
in the wind
sun on my hat brim

Jason Crane, haiku: 6 March 2022 (#2)

What has changed since my last blog in January? Well, the world has changed dramatically, hasn’t it, but, here in my small corner of west Wiltshire, the news is less distressing. Since I last wrote here, there have been two in-person Trowbridge Stanza meetings, after a break of two years. Our monthly gatherings, on first Saturdays at Drawing Projects UK in Trowbridge, have started up again. It’s been a treat to catch up with old friends and make some new ones.

In February we viewed and talked about the selected drawings in the 2021 Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize and, on 5 March, we met to share the beginnings of poems some of us had written in response to the exhibition. We also had the chance to hear artist and novelist Roma Tearne, one of the exhibitors in the prize, talk about her creative process which often begins with an image, a found photograph or drawing, picked up from flea markets and stalls. Roma shared some of her notebooks, spilling over with lines of text, sketches, and pasted in photos – beautiful objects in their own right.

Josephine Corcoran, Towards Spring

Old barrel keys are heavy in the hand. Most have a round or oval bow, though two brassy ones sport criss-cross shapes instead. All have rounded shafts, pin holes of varying diameter, and idiosyncratic teeth. Shaped entirely unlike the keys I can get copied for a buck-fifty at the local hardware store. One is stamped J. MICHALIK PRAHA. Did that key travel with my mother and her parents in 1939? So did the sideboard where I keep china, the one with a cabinet to which I long ago lost the key. I try every key twice, but the Czech cabinet remains locked. Maybe it’s better that way. I know it contains the silver goblet from my wedding, a marriage long ago undone. No one gets to know what else might be inside.

Rachel Barenblat, Keys

This week in teaching my Latinx Literature class and discussing Rhina P. Espaillat’s poem, “Bilingual/Bilingüe,” I found myself musing briefly on how this poem is a microcosm of some of the controversies surrounding Latinx poetry and the different practices in publishing work in both English and Spanish.

Specifically, I have learned and seen over the years within the Latinx community arguments for and against italicizing Spanish words in a text; arguments for and against including definitions and/or translations with a bilingual text; arguments for and against even mixing the two languages. These arguments hold a nuanced weight and the conclusions are different for each writer because they strike at the core of one’s identity and agency.

In terms of identity, there is much to be said about representation, how having un poco de Spanish can make one feel seen, a little less alone among a sea of English. A decision to include or not include Spanish is often one that factors in audience. Who is this work for? Who has access to it?

In terms of agency, being able to represent one’s full authentic self on the page is essential. More importantly, having the power to make that decision is key to feeling respected as a writer. Often the decision to italicize Spanish used in a text is the choice of an editor or publisher; when this happens, a writer feels othered, made to feel different and exoticized. One need only look at the unquestioned, unothered use of Latin and French phrases in texts to see how these feelings naturally arise.

José Angel Araguz, Latinx Poetry: opportunity and some thoughts

We (myself and Steve Nash) are currently reading submissions for issue five of Spelt Magazine, the magazine I founded just over a year ago. Spelt is a print magazine in which we seek to celebrate and validate the rural experience through poetry, creative non fiction, author interviews, columnists and writing prompts. We’ve made it through a whole year, which is a huge milestone, and we are excited about our second year, which will involve further growth, more platforms and, hopefully, some extra funding. Starting and running a magazine, especially a print magazine, is definitely a labour of love. But It is also incredibly rewarding. It’s a thrilling feeling to be part of the writing and publication journeys of other writers, and to provide a platform for people, and to create something that is so very aesthetically pleasing, it is a great source of joy for me, and something that we are very proud of. It seemed crazy to start this magazine during a pandemic, but it really has helped to give purpose and stability in times when there was none. if you are thinking about starting your own lit. mag, here are ten things that really worked to help us reach our goals and stay motivated.

Wendy Pratt, Ten Things That Really Worked to Help me Set Up a Literary Magazine

I see that more and more magazines are in trouble: closed for a year or more while they deal with piles of submissions, getting more and more aggressive in an effort to discourage wrongdoing (‘any work sent outside of the reading window WILL BE DELETED WITHOUT BEING READ’). On more than one occasion I’ve approached editors of magazines I admire, but that are clearly struggling to cope with submissions, and offered to help them put in place some really simple, cheap/free systems that would benefit both them and those submitting. Or even offered to be a reader, to help reduce the slush pile, or just help with the dreadful feeling of overwhelm. I have never had a reply, not even ‘thanks but no thanks.’ I’m no expert at running a magazine. But I know about marketing, systems, time management, delegating and customer service.

I understand that running a poetry magazine is often one person’s dream, and they want to do it their way. But if the ship is sinking, why not take an offer of help, however modest? More importantly, why not approach (or even just observe) how other journals do it? Not everything is down to funding. Some of the smallest publications have methods worth emulating.

It looks like this is turning into a rant aimed at magazine editors. I don’t mean it to be – some of the nicest people I know edit poetry magazines! And I wouldn’t get so exercised about it if I didn’t care. But I’m asking the question generally. There are many magazines doing a brilliant job; I just don’t understand why there aren’t more.

Robin Houghton, A little tough love for poetry magazines

As presses close and lit journals shutter, especially post pandemic when everyone has been struggling,  there is much talk on the internets about what happens to our work when the things that used to seem inviolate–publishing houses, presses, lit mags–are in flux all the time. I’ve had two presses fold on me, one after publishing one book and accepting a second (girl show, which later found a great home at BLP ) and another (little apocalypse) that made it to the final proof stage and the press, which had published another project, had to close.  (that one I do eventually intend to put into print, but right now, it’s just a freebie read on my website.) My young poet self would have been frustrated with all the uncertainty of this world we call publishing, but now I just figure the work is also fleeting and shifting. There’s a certain amount of responsibility I feel l should take in making my work available if other avenues fail or end. 

There are, of course, poems in the fever almanac I cringe to read, mostly ones that seemed ever so brilliant at age 30 that seem kind of unspectacular now.  But then again, sometimes I cringe when things are published and later soften toward the work.  I remember hearing poets talking about how your work of any given period is simply an example of what you were working on during a give span of time. If it’s not perfect, and you’ve thrown it out in the world, it’s still important in your development and scope of artist.  Even if you hate it sometimes.

Kristy Bowen, her daughters become diction

This is quickly becoming one of my favourite techniques: running a poem multiple times through Google Translate in a variety of languages — sometimes chosen by their first letter, their region, jumping around to unrelated languages, or randomly. What comes out is often very interesting. I then sculpt the results, tinkering with phrasing and images, but usually there are several surprising and arresting images that have turned up and my job is to highlight them, or get the less interesting stuff out of the way. Sometimes I do a little associational thinking,such as changing the line to a line that has some of the same sounds through a kind of homophonic translation, or else changing images so that they rhyme with each other. In the poem below, there were some lines about olive oil and some word beginning with M. I cut out the olive oil line and changed the M word to “Merlot.”

I find this technique very generative. It jumps me into a place where I am exploring and playing and also, feeling this kind of creative looseness. This enables some interesting and surprising form and content but also opens me up to putting in things that are hanging around in my mind or in the zeitgeist. I guess because my role is to “find” the poem in the text that I’ve generated, I’m open to what that might be—what it might refer to and what it might look like. Also, I’m piggybacking on the backs of giants, or at least their word choices and their forms and structure. I’m not tied to either but all of a sudden I’m in conversation with them. And my sense of the original, the sense of the writer, the sense of moment all get folded into it. I find this a very fruitful place to be.

Gary Barwin, After Hopkins

When I was eleven years old, a friend of my parents gave me Diane Wakoski’s 1968 poetry collection, Inside the Blood Factory. Needless to say, the poems were far over my head, but some of the lines stood out to me, even at that young age—from “House of the Heart:” “The sun is being born / with shaky legs, slender as new beans” and from “Rescue Poem,” “You have an invisible telephone / booth around you.”

When I was older, I read the book again, and some of Wakoski’s other work. I was struck by the tone of the speaker in the poems—that of a slightly baffled outsider, trying to negotiate a generally hostile world with opaque laws (I admit, this is how I feel much of the time). Wakoski writes in uneven lines—some short, some long, wrapping across the page, some indented. Her phrasing is unmistakable, original, and still seemed fresh as I read the poems again after all those years.

I would not recommend reading Wakoski to anyone under the age of thirty. Her poems are rich in lived experience, deeply personal, and long—many span pages and require dedicated concentration. It’s difficult to write a poem that keeps the reader’s interest over more than one or two pages, but that’s one of Wakoski’s skills. Her poems weave a powerful spell, and, in spite of their length, seem to end quickly.

Erica Goss, Diane Wakoski: An Appreciation

Robin Rosen Chang: I loved The Feast Delayed, Diane. Congratulations on this gorgeous book. While reading it, I noticed what I consider a tension between the act of living and the act of grieving. On one hand, poems such as “The End of Grief” or “Last Day of September” offer the idea of hope and moving beyond grief, whereas in “Orientation,” the speaker, who is married to an astronomer, reflects about living “in a state of constant orientation.” Is acceptance of where one is oriented at a particular moment, even if it’s somewhere painful, a central concern in The Feast Delayed? Of course, this also relates to the notion of “the feast delayed.”

Diane LeBlanc: I’d love to turn that question back to you because your collection, The Curator’s Notes, particularly the title poem, reflects on the dynamic tension between living with wonder and grieving. Reflection ideally examines the past, analyzes experience, and imagines how we respond to new experiences based on the past. The tension in “Orientation” is between hyper-awareness of where I am and the confusion caused by lack of orientation, or living in rooms painted the same shade of white that blur into one another. So in a way, yes, acceptance of where one is oriented is a central concern. I wrote many of these poems between 2015 and 2020, when the U.S. political landscape shifted, science deniers influenced public policy, and I no longer understood who I was in the changing narrative of America.

Throughout the book, I explore responsibility and my place in a web of being, hoping to measure how my choices move or disrupt other strands of the web. Perhaps the feast is delayed, but the poems find agency in doing things to salvage and to disrupt.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Robin Rosen-Chang Interviews Diane LeBlanc

I remember my publisher referring to books as “ferske varer” – produce that goes quickly out of date. And I get that – in our market-driven system – that is a fact. But I figure there has to be another way of approaching art. A way to avoid being swept up in the attention economy, the consumerist throw-away society.

I don’t think I am advocating preciousness. Just attention.

This is my problem. I’m not making blanket statements about the state of the arts.

I know there are artists who strive to make that one beautiful thing. And there are artists who are driven by other (legitimate) impulses. I think that I have spent years waiting for inspiration, in the sense that I have been expecting that the outside world would cause a worthy reaction: “The artist responds to their culture”, “Art needs to be relevant”. Relevant to who or to what? My culture – our culture changes so quickly. Maybe change itself is the only thing one can honestly respond to.

I need to slow down. Step away from social media’s armchair generals, and the what-I-ate-for-dinner photos. I need to turn off the podcasts I’ve been listening to for hours a day. I need quiet.

Ren Powell, On Not Being a Reactive Artist

I was going to write something about how Flo had finally picked a poetry book up off my bookshelves. It was the collected work of Dannie Abse. However, it turns out she wanted something to help her with a sore back while she stretched out on the floor. Still, he was a doctor, so there’s that.

I was going write something about how it’s possible to construct a fairly helpful poetry writing/performance tutorial from the lyrics of American Music Club’s song, Johnny Mathis’ Feet. (check the song out. Mark Eitzel is an amazing songwriter).

But I didn’t, and now I probably never will.

So much has happened in the last few weeks, the world is all at once a different place to the one we inhabited a month ago. It’s also entirely the same (and that is both good and bad). There’s nothing I can add to the news coming out of the Ukraine (other than solidarity with the people of Ukraine and condemnation of President Putin for his actions) without it sounding like sub-GCSE-level politics, so I’ll spare you that.

I will point you to the work of Charlotte Shevchenko Knight. She is a British-Ukranian poet. I was lucky enough to read on the same bill as her at a Resonance poetry evening, and really enjoyed her work. I will also point you at the evening of Poetry for Ukraine fundraiser she is part of next week. Go, sign up. Donate.

Mat Riches, Clearing The Decks

It’s quite possible that kindness is the answer to everything. Human beings, driven like nails into moldy, rotten wood, into boards that exist for no reason at all. The old, cataloged and hidden away, where the not-so-old don’t have to see what it is that they will themselves slowly become if they can only avoid death for long enough. The young are taught lies and half-truths in order to ensure conformity and compliance. The talking snake, the virgin birth, the resurrection. The white Jesus. The white heroes. Loaded weapons, lying in piles in the streets for anyone to use. Death, at a wholesale price, a bargain rate, or even free. Life, lived at half-mast. Not emotion, but token emotion. Not strength, but anger. Rage. Turn out the lights, it will be better for us to sit in the dark, it will be better if only we can reach out without needing to see, if only we might clasp our hands in the darkness. 

James Lee Jobe, the answer to everything

this morning
the sun is early again
fat buds

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 5

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 saw poets saying goodbye to long-time jobs, grieving the dead, going for walks, collaborating on poetry videos, getting grouchy about new books or their own poems—or even the flow state in which they write, and much more. Enjoy!


It’s February 3, and I just went through the house, changing the calendars from January to February. We are snowed in. Last night’s rehearsal was cancelled, and perhaps tonight’s will be, too, which is really a preview performance, but, egad!–we have barely had a dress rehearsal. Anxiety balanced by yoga. I did not see any groundhogs in real life or on the news (because I wasn’t watching the news), but I did see what I thought was a large owl, hunkered down in the snow, scanning the yard for small prey. It transformed, via head movement, into a rabbit, a huge rabbit, just sitting out there in the snow, flicking its now visible ears.

Kathleen Kirk, No Groundhogs

All this desk work has meant I’ve been walking the dog later in the day and often catching only the last sliver of daylight. This is a good time of day to be walking – the air smells of earth and damp, grass and sheep, hedgerows filled with shouty sparrows preparing to roost. Sometimes the sun catches the tops of the beech trees as its setting, and the branches become rose gold in the light. The windows of the cottages are warm squares and the train, if I see it run through the village, is a gallery of empty seats, sleeping heads, newspapers, books and laptops slicing into the black. This winter we’ve been spoiled by some wonderful sunsets. I like to catch the sunset from a hill at the far end of the village, watch it slide down the valley, then turn and walk back as the dark encroaches, pulling the colour out of it all until the lane is silver, the hills charcoal, the village a brightness of lamps and warm living rooms.

The tax return this year was probably the worst I’ve had to submit in terms of complication and stress. […] Doing my accounts […] is a bit like travelling back in time, I can feel the anxiety and stress and weekend working leaching out of the numbers. It made me ill with stress, but also helped my business (my business being me, effectively) survive the pandemic. I lost work in lots of face to face areas and had to drive up business in the online areas and I’m proud to say that after seven years of being self employed and edging sideways towards making my living from creative writing with some tutoring and teaching, I earned the same in 2020/21 as I did when I left my job as a microbiologist. It was hard, hard work, but I have reached a bench mark that I set myself years ago, and that makes me happy. I’m still working out how to manage my time to give me more writing time, but it is happening. Small goals, small steps with an image of what the main goal is. I’m getting there. Sometimes I am so stuck in the stress I forget that the outside world exists. As soon as I’m out in the weather, though, it’s like I feel real, as if a papery version of me exists in my office, but the real me exists only outside in the dusk and the weather.

Wendy Pratt, Walking at Dusk

The ladder serves the myth
that elevation is a need. Because stars and gods
live in the sky. Because the higher you go, the

further it still is. You move seven squares forward,
dodging a venomous fang, not quite at the
lowest step. It has been raining for days. If

there was a sky, it has collapsed into the ground.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Paradox

It’s winter, nights are in the low teens, and the ground out here is covered with snow. I’m still hiking in the local woods most weekends. My class at Rosemont college is off to a good start–brilliant and insightful students. My monthly local workshop is still going strong after more than 10 years. We’re on zoom at the moment, but we all hope to be back in person soon, as soon as it’s safe.

The writing has been going well, and publishing hasn’t been too bad either. My book manuscript has been a finalist about 5 times so far. I’ve had new poems published by Greensboro Review, UCity Review, Cider Press Review, and some others. Later this year I’ve got poems coming out in Sand Hills Review, Kenyon Review, Louisiana Literature, and Verse Daily, with hopefully more to announce soon.

My 2020 book, Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven, received a very positive write-up in Broad City Review, which you can read here. If you’re interested in checking out the book, you can find it here.

Grant Clauser, 2022 Update

I stared into the sun.
The last thing I remember, tears

were simmering in my eyes and your name
had frozen on my tongue.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 9 – Leaving

I am elated to announce that Mother Mary Comes To Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology has been selected as a 2022 Book All Georgians Should Read by Georgia Center for the Book. Karen Head and I worked for seven years to find a home for this project, so this honor is a testimony to perseverance and to the brilliant poets who contributed their work. And, of course, to Madville Publishing who loved the anthology and has made the whole publication process a pleasure. 

Collin Kelley, Anthology named 2022 Book All Georgians Should Read

I’d like to say a public thank you to Presence for sending me books to review from time to time, and for having faith in my haiku. Sometimes it feels like I’m working very much on the fringes (probably no bad thing). Lockdown enabled me to follow some new routes too, but that has also led to me feeling a bit out of the loop (again, that might not be a bad thing). Nevertheless, Presence has linked me to the haiku community and I really appreciate that sense of fellowship.

Another poetic community is The Poets Directory who have invited me to read at their ‘virtual stanza’ event. So:

Join us on Sunday February 13th at 19:00 for the December Poets’ Directory Live! Virtual Stanza event via Zoom. The event is part of the Poetry Society’s network of Stanza groups and brings poetry into your home every month. With readings from the excellent Chaucer Cameron, Julie Mellor, Damien Donnelly, Rory Waterman and Pascale Petit.

I have to say I’m in awe of the poets I’ll be supporting. Anyway, I’ll be taking a deep breath and hoping for the best! The free online event takes place on Sun 13th Feb at 7.00 – further details can be found here. Hope some of you can join us.

Julie Mellor, Reviews and readings …

A nightmare crossdresses in lullabies.

A hesitation builds dirigibles of yesness.

A quiet, quarantined heart manages a highway hum.

A fleeting second impersonates forever.

Rich Ferguson, Once Upon a Moment’s Noticings

How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to translation)? What do you see as the appeal?

Translation of poetry is on a continuum with writing it, even if, in a sense, it’s also unwriting (taking things apart). Having “translated” only a small number of poems, with only the most rudimentary knowledge of the language of the original (Russian), I can have little to add to what real translators think and do. Even the occasion of my first involvement with translation was a bit of happenstance: In 1989, Lyn Hejinian and Arkadii Dragomoshchenko paired five American poets, of whom I was one, with five Russian poets for a sort of experiment in translation. This was during Perestroika, so before the fall of the USSR, and the enthusiasm for communication across what was left of the iron curtain was high. The idea was to do it transpersonally, not just transtextually. So the ten of us met in Stockholm and Helsinki, and then Leningrad, to talk face to face and, with that dialogue as a kind of substrate, to read and translate each other’s work. “Translation,” on these terms, involved a great deal of talking, eating, drinking, smoking, reading, walking around, guessing, second guessing—being—all activities (except smoking) that figure into my own process. […]

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?

All of the above. Definitely every instance of culture I consume, plus human conversation—the sound of people talking—really anything that crosses my perceptual bow. Lately I’ve been interested in what John Rapko calls “proto-art”—what you might think of as “found” objects in nature (or culture), naïve works, things that were once thought “primitive” or were at one time thought important, now not. The attraction is the lack of finish or determined meaning—the fact that meaning can occur unintentionally or quasi-intentionally. That there can be an unadulterated, unfiltered perceptual reward in something that didn’t mean to be art. Perhaps a weird thing for someone who makes art to say.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jean Day

why are children who will never bear a child :: the lullaby that i sing

Grant Hackett [no title]

Destiny
is rhyme
and spring

nine hells
three heavens

our
remains hard
and sweet sugar.

Ernesto Priego, 3. La calavera

I have begun to think of Higher Ed as a bad boyfriend, who breaks one’s heart again and again, and apologizes profusely and each time, one thinks it might be different. Not an abusive boyfriend, in that one’s face isn’t broken and it’s not bad enough that one knows to run away. There’s potential–one wants it all to be different. But the Higher Education bad boyfriend breaks one’s heart in so many ways.

Let me hasten to say that I feel fortunate in so many ways.  Since we spent much of 2021 thinking I would lose my job, we made alternate plans.  I am so grateful to Feb. 2021 Kristin who went ahead and applied for seminary and candidacy.  I am so grateful that we have sold the house.  I am so grateful that I have a vision of an alternate future.

While I will miss many of my colleagues, I am also grateful that someone else will have the task of leading the campus through the accreditation visit in 2 months.  I was not looking forward to many of the changes that were barreling towards us.

I will return to the campus today for a final time to box up books and load up the car.  When the HR person asked if I had any questions, I thought, I have so many questions.  But the one I asked was “I have more personal stuff in my office than I can get home today in my little car.  How do you want me to handle that?”

This morning, after a night of restless sleep, I woke up with a Meat Loaf lyric in my head:  “I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you.” Thanks Higher Ed Bad Boyfriend! Now listening to Jimmy Buffett’s “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On.” That man doesn’t get enough credit for his skillful lyrics.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Play List for Job Loss: Higher Ed Bad Boyfriend Strikes Again

On Friday, people at work, as goodbye-for-nows were exchanged and tiny celebrations hatched, kept asking me how nice it must be going to be to have my time be my own.  I laughed, of course and said I’d probably be busier than ever, which is no doubt true, but it will feel different.  Especially since, for one, I have the freedom to set my own schedules and routines in a way I have not for, well, really since ever. College was something dictated by class schedules and play rehearsals. Grad school at DePaul had a little more free time when I wasn’t in classes, but was largely a time of full-time study and some writing. Since, I’ve been working full-time in addition to fitting all my more creative pursuits around it (and there was that crazy 4 year span where I was also getting my MFA.) My outside pursuits happened largely in the in-betweens and in odd hours either early or late in the day. My course was entirely dictated by work schedules, which is what will change. 

Over the weeks since I decided to leave, I’ve been thinking about how I want to structure my day, now that I am free to choose when and where to focus efforts.  There will be the freelance stuff…maybe 3 hours a day. The press/shop which will now get 4 hours daily which will be so much more generous than the previous 1-2 and weekends. (which means more on-schedule dgp releases, more time to clear the inbox, better marketing,  faster order turnaround, and new shop offerings.)  Daily writing, time my own writing and art projects, maybe 1-2 hours rather than hits and misses all week or manic sprints to finish on deadlines.  I’ll have the discretion of nights, when I can either do more work if I want or chill as needed.  Same with weekends (this is one thing I am looking forward to..a little more work/life balance…because I have never had it.)  I’ll also be working maybe 8-9 hours daily and not 11-12 so that will be great.  Also, no commuting, but much more ample time for walks. 

Kristy Bowen, of work and time

The present is still raucous

as vaudeville, or extravagant with drama:
clumsy actors stepping into wet cement,

falling on their knees; raising their eyes
to a tarpaulin sky as a calliope whistles

a carnival song, not quite drowning
the sounds of funerals and thunder.

Luisa A. Igloria, Soundtracks

I’m wrangling with a poem right now that was sparked by an interesting tidbit of science research. This is often how poems begin for me. I spun that out a bit and then tried to bring it back home, to me, to my life, and then spun it out again to include a “you.” I liked the movement of it. (Sidebar: I got a sciency poem rejected recently because it was too personal. I thought that was funny. I’m nothing if not a science experiment myself.) But in the end it felt sentimental, that is, there was a superficial emotionality to it that was unearned.

Was it in how the poem landed? Was it a question of language? Was it some problem inherent to the poem’s…what…journey or something, its heart or something?

A friend took a squint at it, rearranged it some, took out a line, made some suggestions. That helped smooth the sentimental edge but the poem still didn’t quite…what? It didn’t do whatever it is I want a poem to do: Transcend its details or ask an unanswerable question that needed to be asked or flip my thinking on its head or suddenly rearrange the world in a new way or…well…any of those magical things a poem can do.

It’s funny, isn’t it, what a poem can do, and how a poem can fail to do “It,” that poemy thing. Such a small figure, a poem, and how vast it can be. And how confounding.

Marilyn McCabe, Cruisin’ with a six; or, Anatomy of a Revision

If I pick up a new poetry book, I want to find images, language, meaning, that provokes me into sensing or knowing something I didn’t sense or know before I began. This is a fairly basic and generalised summary, yes, but it’s a fair test. I don’t mind a lot being asked of me – in fact, it can be thrilling to find yourself immersed in poetry or writing that challenges you on several levels. I’m happy reading experimental writing where you sense the poet isn’t even sure where the poem is going, or where some images connect easily and others are hard to pin down, or is doing something that at times is just plain mad. (See previous reviews of the work of Peter Finch and Michael Kriesel.) Part of the fun of reading poetry is having to work at it. I want to sense that a writer is really trying to work at their craft – and not just in a technical sense. More often than not I find the restraints of ‘form’ tiresome.

It’s also plain that not everyone can produce something extraordinary, even once in their lives – and even the best writers can and do release stuff that is sub-standard, that is published because of who they are, not how good it is. That happens in all areas of publishing: look at Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait album, for example, when as I understand it he had fallen out with his record company and just bashed something out that he knew very well was a long way short of what he could do. People still ran out to buy it. Me included. So, to a certain extent, if you want to go on reading poems, you have to allow for some forgiveness and tolerance.

However, I think the problem I found was that all six of the books I read felt similar. It felt as if they were all coming out of some kind of collective mindset, that ‘this is what poetry is and this is the way to write it’ as if they were a part of some kind of club where everyone knew what the limits and boundaries were and created collections that sat safely within them. It felt as if they had all read the same ‘How To Write Poetry’ manuals.

Bob Mee, I BOUGHT SIX POETRY BOOKS. NONE OF THEM INTERESTED ME.

I first met Dana Gioia at the West Chester Poetry Conference somewhere between 2008 and 2012. I was wearing a name tag that included where I lived at the time, Frederick, Maryland, a small city north of Washington, D.C., most famous for being the resting place of Francis Scott Key.

Immediately after we shook hands, Gioia launched into reciting “Barbara Frietchie” by John Greenleaf Whittier. It was a delightful connection to have made! I knew that Gioia had been head of the National Endowment for the Arts and had founded (with Michael Peich) the poetry conference I was attending. What I didn’t know was how his precise recitation in that slow baritone could at once captivate and soothe.

In high school when I first decided that the rest of my life would be this lifelong journey with writing, I cherished the book Letters to a Young Poet, given to me by my sophomore English teacher as a graduation present. I’ve carried that book with me everywhere I’ve lived and worked — from the east coast of U.S. to the upper Midwest to Shanghai, China and most recently here to Hong Kong. This is part of the reason I share Dana Gioia’s six-part series below. In the same vein as Letters to a Young Poet, Gioa’s new YouTube video series is a good place to start if you’re embarking on a writing life or simply beating yourself up for not writing as much as you would like. Unlike Letter to a young Poet, Gioia’s series provides practical wisdom on engaging (or reengaging) with a writing life given the busy demands of working full time.

Scot Slaby, If you want to help anyone start their writing journey, show them this

One of the best things about sharing creativity online is when other creative folks make something beautiful and new, arising out of / inspired by / in conversation with something that I created.

Like this right here, created by two longtime blogfriends:

The Gifts from Allan Hollander on Vimeo.

The audio recording is by Allan Hollander, and the animation is by Alison Kent.

The poem was originally published in my first book-length collection of poetry, 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia, 2011). If you don’t have a copy, I hope you’ll consider picking one up wherever fine books are sold. 

Rachel Barenblat, The Gifts – video

Some years back my old high school friend Hilary McDaniels Douglas invited me to write some music for her aerial dance company Project in Motion, based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She requested that I set a poem by Rilke and of course I couldn’t resist. I also included a poem whih appeared in my book Moon Baboon Canoe that I’d written and that felt appropriate. The overall theme of the piece was to be about water. 

Last night I began exploring a video clip of moving letters. (Full disclosure: I stole it off the Internet.) I transformed it: I layered it, expanded and contracted it, changed the colours and the movement and generally played around with it. It was riverine. It reminded me of the flowing letters in Justin Stephenson’s spectucular film about bpNichol, The Complete Works. 

I loved how the letters moved and replaced a poem that I’d stuck over top with an audiotrack of a funky distorted saxophone-based track that I’d made with a video of my hands moving. I realized that I’d need a much more flowing audio track and remembered the Rilke track that I’d made for Hilary. It was all about flowing, movement, and in my poem, it mentions hands. The whole thing worked so well together. I began transforming the video to be all about the Rilke track. I’m really thrilled with how it turned out. From a series of associations and accidents, this lovely thing that I stumbled on. [video link]

Gary Barwin, On Fishes: a video setting of a poem by RIlke and another guy

My uncles worked the Ship Canal
tugmen, exempt from The Call Up
free to drink each St Monday dry.
My mother was at war with them
the hostilities endless.
I could never fathom the reason
and she was not the kind to ask
even when I was grown and she frail
with aching hands of knotted oak.

Paul Tobin, DRINK ST MONDAY DRY

This morning I learned that 65 species of animals laugh. A few years ago I wrote Are You An Anthropocentrist? with examples of our fellow creatures making tools, doing math, demonstrating altruism, and so much more. Pretty sure laughter is just the iceberg edge of what we don’t yet recognize…

Laura Grace Weldon, Where I’m Finding Delight This Week

it’s about opening your mind
unbotting the furnace
raising the sluice gates
watching the leaves rush
down to the sea’s page
too fast to stop
too fast to review
emptying the lake
that never empties
screaming the silence
of devil may care
the never ending cataract
of clenched teeth in rictus

Jim Young, flow ~ now what’s to know

For those poets who aren’t on Instagram yet, or do not feel confident using it, I have to say, I was so grateful for this Instagram book review yesterday – and unlike some reviews, this generated sales – at least as well as I can measure on Amazon sales rank – right away! What a shock!

Thank you to TheBookshelfCafeNews for the shoutout and poets, go get on Instagram and let’s start talking about poetry books there. I am still getting used to the medium (sometimes I forget hashtags, and I’m still not confident in my ability to post “stories”) but think it is definitely worth being on there. There’s less of the negative vibe that can sometimes get overwhelming on Twitter, plus as many pictures of baby animals or cool art as you want to include in your feed. Yes, it’s still owned by evil overlord Facebook (or Meta) – but seems slightly less evil? Maybe this is because I only follow poets, Ina Garten, and a lot of red panda, fox, and zooborns accounts. Anyway, I encourage you all to give it a try. You can follow me there at @webbish6 – I mostly post pics of birds and flowers, the occasional selfie and poem – a lot like the blog, without all the words. Also, if you have helpful tips for others (and me) who are writers on Instagram, please leave them in the comments!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy February, Inching Towards Spring, Hoping for a Better Month, A Nice Review on Instagram (and Thoughts on Instagram for Poets)

The world iced, every inch glistening in the sun.

Zigzag tracks of our house cat that has walked away.

Across the bay, a tanker moves at a glacier’s pace.  

V is talking — the garage door pasted shut,

my eye straying to those lights, frozen droplets

in the branches — champagne.  

If I didn’t have myself, where would I be? 

A moment deep and wide for drinking.

Jill Pearlman, driveway Olympics

I’ve been reading proofs for Poetry’s Possible Worlds, so this is a busy and stressful moment. I’m always mildly panicky at this stage, wondering what errors I’ve overlooked, but it’s about time to type up my list of necessary fixes and send it back to the designer. It makes me think of my mother’s advice on housework: just keep the counters and other eye-level spaces clean, nobody looks at the floor. What would the floor be, the bibliography? Sigh. Some reviewers, especially any scholars who may read the book, will TOTALLY call you out on a dirty floor.

Proofing this particular book makes me think of my mother in other ways. It’s about reading poetry during a time of crisis, especially focusing on my father’s implosion. I only realized late in the game that it’s also very much about my mother, and not only because she was the one who discovered his string of affairs and called quits on the marriage. She was the person who gave me piles of books as well as the habit of reading for pleasure, consolation, education, and imagining future and alternate lives. Poetry was always in the mix, too, often long poems like Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. I read Chaucer in the Penguin translation as a middle-schooler, not knowing I should be intimidated. They were just stories.

Lesley Wheeler, Pretending the house is clean

When winter is over,
then we will grieve.

Wait for the rains of spring,
the buds on the tree branches.

James Lee Jobe, hold it all in for now

My friend Jon Appleton died on Sunday evening at the age of 83.

Yesterday afternoon, a brilliant blue day, we drove to Mont St-Bruno and took a long walk around the Lac Seigneurial; it was the right thing to do. I may write more about this eventually, but for now, I’ll let Tomas Tranströmer speak for me. Jon loved Sweden and poetry, and although he also spent a lot of time in warm places, such as California, Hawaii, Tonga, southern France, I always think of him in the north: Vermont, Sweden, Moscow. One of my most vivid memories of him is from a visit to us in Montreal some years ago, when there was an absolutely huge blizzard, one of the heaviest and stormiest I can remember. Being Vermonters at heart, none of us wanted to stay in, so we bundled up and decided to go out and see if we could find a restaurant that was still open. I can still see Jon, wearing his Russian fur hat, cavorting in the snow-filled street and laughing with delight: “This is aMAZing!”

He was a person who lived life as fully as possible, and who for many of his students and friends was — as this poem says – “a half-open door leading to a room for everyone.” Like Tranströmer, Jon suffered a stroke toward the end of his life. It affected his speech, which he gradually recovered, but he wasn’t able to continue composing music. During our last visit to him, he showed us the art studio in his retirement complex, where he said he was enjoying doing some painting. And even in the last two weeks he was writing with great pleasure about a new recording being done by Yoshiko Kline of some of his piano works, and working with an editor on the final draft of his autobiography. The creative spark never went out, and the best way I can remember and honor him, and what he gave me, is to try to do the same.

Beth Adams, The Consolation of Snow

I didn’t know that my cousin’s favorite food was pierogis. My aunt Darlene is making a batch of them to take to the dinner after the graveside service. “She won’t get to eat any, but it’s the last time I can make them for her, so I’m doing it.” I remember my aunt Violet’s cabbage rolls (they are one of my specialties). But if I ever had pierogis, I don’t remember. So, I told my aunt I’d make them, too. She told me how she makes them — in great detail —  and then said, “You can find a recipe on-line.”

I thought of that poem by Grace Paley, “The Poet’s Occasional Alternative,” about making a pie instead of writing a poem.

Bethany Reid, Pierogis

I have definitely entered a new phase of life. Where people I love, from 25 to 70 are grappling with mortality. And there are people, too, whom I do not love, but featured in a few revenge fantasies. I’m seeing how poorly written my fantasies are, how unrelated they are to real emotions. Thin storylines with hollow characters.

The wonderful – literally wonder-filled – thing about this is that I see how unfinished I am. It’s like I have opened the door to a new world. Moved from black and white to color, from a sunset projected onto flat walls, through the doorway to the “real world” which is too big to take in, and too immediate to ignore.

I want to hold someone’s hand, get my feet wet, and listen.

I read the chat messages in a quiet moment. I pay attention to the few songbirds that have overwintered near the lake. I almost wrote, “lonely songbirds”. I figure if I can learn to stop projecting, I can better see the world as it is: its brooding, its illness, death, and its love.

Ren Powell, Existential Helplessness

One last line opens,
the old monk said,
and one last line closes.
It works either way.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (126)

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]