Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week, inclement weather kept many poets inside, blogging furiously. Some common themes include the winter itself; great poets and poems; and songs as poetry and vice versa. Enjoy and share.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

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

The first digest of 2024 is a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short. (And yes, I know that expression dates me. I am an old.) Ten inches of snow fell and then were partly washed away again as I compiled this post today, which is quite Janus-faced: half looking back and half looking forward, half summarizing and half summoning. Let’s begin.

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

Poetry Blogging Network

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

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 51-52: Holidaze edition”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44

Poetry Blogging Network

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

These past two weeks brought Halloween, Day of the Dead, and the return of Standard Time in the U.S. and Canada. Israel’s war on Gaza has, if anything, intensified. Unsurprisingly, poets had something to say about these things, although I think we tend to be more aware of the limitations of language than most. Also: parades for poets, a teetering between melody and madness, an epic poem about astrophysics, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 25

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

This past week, I was saddened to learn of the death of John Foggin, a one-of-a-kind poet from Yorkshire who I sense will be very, very missed in that part of the world. I loved his down-to-earth but always thoroughly researched and insightful blog, full of generosity and humility toward other poets, and I thought the poetry in his final collection, Pressed for Time—the only one of his I’ve read so far—was absolutely stunning, one of my favorite reads of 2022.

For those able to attend the celebration of his life on July 14, family members have blogged the details. For the rest of us, here’s a celebration of life, poetry, and embodied wisdom from poets around the world. Rest in peace, John, and thanks for all the light you brought into the world.


I remember a young woman dressed in velvet burgundy that I only saw from behind. The dress came off her shoulders in a deep V; she was bent close to hear what the not- yet-anointed Nobel prize-winning poet was saying. I still remember her exquisite skin: airbrushed before airbrushing existed. I watched as if through bulletproof glass.

Whomever I was with that night, told me Heaney was the most famous living Irish poet and that he came to Cambridge every spring. It was 1989, Seeing Things was not yet published; The Spirit Level, still a few years off.

After that party, I would see Heaney in his oversized tweeds hurrying along Plimpton Street quite regularly. Usually, he’d be carrying his dry cleaning in a plastic cover, his arm straight out in front of him as if the suit were leading him down the sidewalk and not the other way around.

I learned he lived at Adams House on Bow Street directly across from my first apartment (an over-the-top economic divide existing from one side of the street to the other). I found it funny and rather embarrassing that across the street from this white-haired, world-famous poet, I was staying up into the early hours writing my first real poems.

Susan Rich, Seamus Heaney: Dry Cleaning and a Nearly Unknown Poem

I keep thinking about all the way we humans meet and how often we squander these meetings. Whether it’s inviting folks into a public space, at a dinner party, a coffee with friends, a presentation, a poetry reading. I mean, I have totally squandered these moments throughout my life. But how can I change that? If you have read the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker (mentioned on this blog before if you recall) you will have received many great tools to turn a gathering or a meeting into a beauty shock, really.

She talks about how we need to avoid having “housekeeping” details as our opening. She says instead, “your opening needs to be a kind of pleasant shock therapy.” She says, “It should grab people. And in grabbing them, it should both awe the guests and honour them. It must plant in them the paradoxical feeling of being totally welcomed and deeply grateful to be there.”

And then, and I love this, she talks about the giant vases of flowers at the Four Seasons. (In Edmonton, you might think about the Hotel MacDonald, or in Banff at the Banff Springs Hotel). She says these flowers are “honour-awing.” These flowers are “stunning and maybe taller than you, and that awes you, intimidates you, makes you remember that you don’t live like this back home. But of course the flowers are there for you, to honour you.”

I actually think having a giant painting of flowers in your home, or one by your door, can do the same thing. But you know that I am ENTIRELY BIASED WHEN I SAY THAT.

And you know what, I’m okay with that :)

What are other ways that we can honour and awe each other when we meet?

All I know is that I want to be part of that beauty shock therapy stuff. I want to honour-awe you. And then I want you to pass it on.

It’s something we can do.

Shawna Lemay, Flowers to Honour and Awe

Summer flashes its shiny switchblade of long light, pries spring from its hinges, and slips boldly into its celebrated season.

Summer sings a radio-friendly popsong of let’s get it on. It rocks the mic with sugar-sweet honeysuckle harmonies.

Waves its freak flag of feeling good. Bonfires and festivals, Indigenous sun dancers and pagan revelers decked out in flower wreaths.

Rich Ferguson, Summer 2023

School is finally done and the sun is shining. The weather has been amazing, so hot and clear. Not great for the garden or the forests to go so long without rain, but the long days of light and heat are a relief. Beach weather, park weather, proper summer weather while we off to enjoy it. […]

I’m enjoying what I’m writing now. My style has changed a bit over the past year. My poetic style is always changing, but I sometimes get caught in a loop of subjects or styles, writing very similar poems for a period and when something comes along to shake me up, I find it refreshing. 

I use prompts to push me out of my rut. Writing from different points of view, occasionally trying a structured form (I’m currently trying to write a palindrome) and looking into unusual events for inspiration. I’ve even managed to put a bit of humour, sometimes black humour in my poems, playing with ideas that often aren’t found together. 

Gerry Stewart, Slowing Down into the Summer, Summer, Summertime

We’ve reached the point of tilt, when the earth falls towards the dark. Happy solstice. Yesterday I rose at 4am to drive down to the beach at Filey. I took my place on a memorial bench and sat, bleary eyed at first, then slowly coming alive in the light and warmth of the rising sun. I felt a genuine, primal sense of awe, as if I was connected to all the summer solstice sunrises that have ever been. The sun rose over Carr Naze, laying itself across the sea. I’d made a promise to myself that I would witness the solstice sunrise, rather than watching footage of Stonehenge, this year. I had promised myself the experience of magic – the early start, the silent streets, of being awake when other people are fast asleep and of seeing something utterly beautiful. I wanted to place myself before the sun in a ritual of my own making.

There were a few of us down there, a scattering of people taking their places to see the sun arrive on the longest day of the year. Afterwards I came home to the miracle of coffee and a purring cat, my husband softly sleeping, and I set to work and wrote until seven, after which I read and listened to the radio. It was the perfect way to see the longest day in. I like the idea of creating my own rituals.

Summer is a time when I revert to my child self. How I value not overthinking clothes; throwing on shorts and T-shirt and sandals and feeling bare skin against grasses and plants, feeling the soft shush of moving through long grass, the squeal of swifts overhead. Early summer mornings, when the world is fresh and dewy, the air filled only with birdsong and rose scent, there is such joy in the variety of green.

Wendy Pratt, A Square Metre of Summer

I can hardly believe it’s summer. That’s a strange thing to say considering I’m a stalker when it comes to warm weather. I obsess over temps and hours of daylight on the weather apps all winter, a season I loosely define as “the months I need a heavy coat.” Living in Upstate NY, this means (to me personally) early November through late April or early May. So roughly half the year I’m dismayed by the cold and lack of light — and constantly monitoring for glimmers of hope.

And yet every year, when summer is finally here, I manage to be surprised. Not by the calendar. I understand how that works. What surprises me, always, is the extent of my relief. Well, relief and belonging, which I greet with both awe and gratitude, as when you’ve found something you thought you’d lost, something you knew may not be guaranteed.

Hello, sunshine.

*

The arrival of summer this year coincides with finishing my Gertie manuscript, which means I successfully immersed myself in (and stuck to!) the revision schedule I’d created for March, April and May. That type of discipline and focus was made possible, I believe, by a habit I’d established through work (January through April) with D. Colin on what she calls a 365 Journey. I ended up bowing out of that 365 accountability group because I was so deep in the revisions that I didn’t even want to talk about the process. However, I’m grateful for the experience and energy of that approach and will absolutely tap it again in the future.

For now, I’m reading, resting, keeping up with Morning Pages (now over 230 days) and doing some generative writing prompts to shift my brain back into the world in which I write new things.

Carolee Bennett, hello, sunshine

The skies bend
their hammocks of rain.

Summer is a flag that unfurls slow and fast,
just as uncertain as we are.

A parent wheels
a chair-bound child through the clinic doors.

Luisa A. Igloria, Oasis

In terms of cancer diary facts:
1. My eyelashes are falling out now. Entering turtle-territory.
2. Hemorrhoids. No one mentioned hemorrhoids. Please.
Who benefits from decorum when talking about chemotherapy?
3. The most recent biopsy came back.
The second lump in the left breast is also cancerous.
4. Still waiting on the BCRA results.
5. I wake with headaches every single morning.
Sometimes at 2 a.m., again at 5 a.m.

I take pain relievers around the clock – staggering the different prescriptions. I take a nap when I need to. I take a walk with the dog when he won’t stop laying his snout over the keyboard to get my attention.

And I give everything I have to metaphors.

But I am grateful to have the play to work on now. B. is whispering in my ear that it is just a matter of “getting it done”. No excuses. Meet the deadline.

*

It’s almost 9 am. I’ve walked Leonard and clipped his nails. On my third cup of coffee now, I can settle down with the adaptation. I am honestly happy that I don’t make my living writing, because it makes the work that much more joyful. It’s a little revelation to myself after all these years. My motives are clear – if I ever had any doubts.

I can hear the rain coming down outside the window. Leonard is breathing heavily in his sleep.

Lear says, “When the mind’s free,/The body’s delicate.” I think there may be something to the idea that it is also true that the delicate body can free the mind.

Ren Powell, Catching Up

In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices there is something, and this something is called windswept spirit for lack of a better name …‘ So said Basho in the opening to The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel, one of the travel sketches that preceded the more famous The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Basho acknowledges the odd fact that whatever we might pursue (in his case poetry) it’s never enough to truly satisfy the spirit.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a second hand bike – the mortal frame of my old one was beyond repair and I hadn’t used it in years. I’m now, very slowly, trying to get back into it. I took the above photo up at Dunford Bridge on the Trans Pennine Trail. I’ve been up there a few times now, seen a hare crouched in the grass, heard a cuckoo twice, watched endless curlews circling the moor, and come home tired but refreshed. I’m not intending going very far on my journey and won’t be kitting myself out in lycra, but I’m enjoying the weather, the peacefulness of the trail, and the sense of freedom that comes with getting out into open countryside under your own steam. To compliment that, here’s a lovely haiku from Penny Harter, whose book of haibun, ‘Keeping Time: haibun for the journey’ I’m reviewing at the moment. Apologies for taking the haiku out of context, but I liked the calm sense of purpose in it:

fog shrouds
the field’s edge
we keep walking

Julie Mellor, this mortal frame …

This is the first really long road trip I’ve taken since I was 14. It’s feeling a bit revelatory.

The most striking thing about the miles we’ve covered so far is how empty of humans and the detritus of our civilizations they are. Miles and miles of nothing but open land. The highlight for me was a small group of horses living their best life somewhere in western Wyoming, running free, eating grass, no fences in sight.

The low point was a small town that used to be the home of a state penitentiary, which was operational until 1981. The main drag of the town was pocked with shuttered motels and empty restaurants. There was a neighborhood of what might have been charming homes. We’d hoped to eat there, but we couldn’t find any place we wanted to enter, and, honestly, the whole town felt creepy AF (even before we stumbled upon the penitentiary, which is two blocks off the main street) and we got the hell out of Dodge right after filling up our tank. (Later, I googled the penitentiary, and it IS creepy AF. Operational until 1981, with a grisly history. Now it’s a tourist attraction? And apparently haunted?) It was clear that the town was once thriving, but whatever it had was probably built on the misery of that prison. The whole thing left me feeling sad and icky and unsettled.

Driving through miles and miles (and miles) of land so different from what I know, I had a lot of thoughts about our country and its divisions. I won’t share them, as I know I don’t really know anything about what life is like in the places we’ve driven past, and they are all just speculation. I can say that I found myself having an easier time understanding why so many of us have such different world views; we are living vastly different lives. I knew that before Friday, but in a more abstract way. Something about driving through all these places makes it more concrete.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the road

Last week seemed to be a week of farewells.

There was the sad death of John Foggin, I didn’t know John, but his work was excellent and his website, The Cobweb, was an absolute trove and gift to beginners and old lags alike. His last full post from 2022 is just such a trove. Go, go read it. I’ll wait.

This week saw the final OPOI reviews from Sphinx. We knew it was coming, and it’s very much case of don’t be sad it’s over, just be glad you were there at the time. It will live on as an archive and as a way of approaching things.

Mat Riches, For years I shrunk weekends

I want to believe
that heaven is down on Earth
—here—where the light shaft
shoots through a downpour,
the rainbow, the charcoal sketched
rain cloud, the snowbell piercing ice
to make way for the grape hyacinth,
the snowflake, the whiteout
that in the hours we spent on our bellies
in the sun on the front lawn
when we were six and seven
searching for four leaves
among the clover blooms, how
we weren’t looking for luck,
but the Heaven we always believed in.

Cathy Wittmeyer, A Poem for My Sister, Listening in Heaven

Yesterday, these two lines came to me.  Those of you not steeped in feast days or prophets or the early parts of New Testament Gospels may not recognize John the Baptist, whose feast day was on Saturday–shorthand for saying that I wasn’t surprised when these lines floated up through my brain late yesterday as I took a walk: I have eaten your locusts and wild honey / and I am not impressed.  

This morning, I got rid of the second line, and now the stanza looks like this:

I have eaten your locusts and wild honey

And created a new menu with the bones

Of all the deer killed by carelessness.

And then I wanted to write a bit more, but I wasn’t sure what.  I peered into my dirty coffee cup and the next stanza emerged:

I drink my wine out of a dirty

coffee mug and bathe in the creek

that comes from the cooling

ponds at the nuclear plant.

I have no idea where this poem is heading or if it is going anywhere.  I’ll keep the document open in case anything else bubbles up.   I’m composing on the computer instead of by hand, and for the past few months, I haven’t written by hand.  Hmmm–is this change permanent?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, John the Baptist Inspired Stanzas

submersible 
the tip of the iceberg 
of our anxiety

Jim Young [no title]

The solstice came this year gently – a little overcast, temperatures in the 70s, and the sunset lasted til almost past 9 PM. We celebrated more simply this year, a trip to 21 Acres, a local farmer’s market, where we bought local honey, cherries, peas, and carrots, and a sunset spent at the lavender farm down the street, where the blooms have just started on the oldest lavender plants. It was lovely to feel the grass, smell the lavender, feel the sun – not too hot or punishing – and welcome in this fraught season. (Fraught because of the wildfire risk and because MS patients tend to [fare] worse in the heat.) […]

I am grateful to WICN and Mark Lynch for interviewing me for their station about my new book, Flare, Corona. It was a pleasure – we talked about a shared love of 50’s sci-fi movies, health crises, and more. We actually went on talking after we were off the air, and it was so fun, It felt like talking to a friend, which means that guy is really good at his job!

Here’s the link to listen to the whole thing: Jeannine Hall Gailey – 90.5 WICN Public Radio

Anyway, I hope you enjoy and it gives you some insight into the book, writing during a pandemic, and killer shrews.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome Summer! Celebrating the Solstice and a New England Radio Interview about Flare, Corona

I’m drinking tea and watching the sunrise and I feel like writing a blog post and taking a moment to process and share some poetry and thoughts and photos here on my blog from the amazing Windrush 75 concert at The Royal Albert Hall before it fades into memory, and before I jump into the next shiny thing. You will find more clips on my insta and tiktok and twitter but I have always liked to treat this blog like a scrap book, keeping an archive of highlights and my adventures in making books and poetry and gigs over the decades. Thank you to anyone following this page, hello to any new people who find me here. Welcome. 

Firstly, thank you for all of your comments and messages about this one gig and poem. I was blown away by your messages, thank you. I was so honoured and so excited to be invited by Trevor Nelson to perform and write a piece for the Windrush 75 Concert. I was also nervous about it as I knew I wanted to write something new for it. I was not sure where to begin to try to capture this moment in history and experience, and my own feelings about Windrush and heritage and ancestry and migration and colonialism and empire in a poem to be broadcast on the BBC and perform to peers and elders on such a big stage. 

I left London and headed south to perform two lovely shows in Exeter and Totnes and stayed down there for a while with dear friends on the coast. I looked at the Devon skies and seas and sun rises and went deep into the themes of this poem and the process. I knew right away that I wanted to fill the Royal Albert Hall with the ocean, with timelessness and the weight of ocean water and our conversation with it. 

I wanted to share in that united feeling that we are not all in the same boat, and that so many of us came here by boat, and that many are still arriving by boat, and how we are all connected in blood and saltwater. I wanted to celebrate that we share the same time in history, that we share an ancient resilience and courage. As some of you know I am currently working on the second Mrs Death Misses Death novel and so this was setting the tone for me and leaking into my writing, I was visualising and dreaming of Mrs Death filling the Albert Hall with ocean, with ancestors and ghosts, with loss and grief, and with BIGlove, ONE Love. 

Salena Godden, Poem: My Heart Is A Boat | Windrush 75 | The Royal Albert Hall

“Genetic memory” was inspired by the theory that memories may be inherited, and that perhaps we “remember” our ancestors’ formative experiences. The details in the poem are pulled from my grandparents’ lives. For example, my father’s father, Raymond Edward Smith, was the first Columbus, Ohio, resident reported killed in action at Pearl Harbor. On Christmas Eve, his parents were informed that it was a mistake—their son was alive. My grandfather never spoke about Pearl Harbor, but reading about genetic memory, I wondered: Could I be carrying traces of experiences like this one? What if?

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Genetic memory”

This is a poem about me – the poetic I is also the actual I in this poem – listening to a particular song by one of my favourite bands. It’s my thoughts on the song itself, and what it meant to me in 2019 when I listened to it and had a moment of clarity. I wrote it for myself, not publication, but when I decided to share some of my work, this was included. There’s a lot more to it than that, obviously…

Firstly the song I was listening to. William’s Last Words is the final track on the Manic Street Preachers 2009 album Journal for Plague Lovers and is sung not by James Dean Bradfield – lead singer, huge rasping soul voice – but by Nicky Wire, the bass player with a softer, less confident delivery. The lyrics to the song, and all the songs on this album, were recovered from notebooks left by the band’s former guitarist and childhood friend, Richey James Edwards, who had gone missing fifteen years earlier.

The lyrics read like a goodbye message, a break-up letter, a suicide note: given the context of the album, it feels like a final note from Richey himself. But it’s actually a great example of editing, as the original typewritten notes for the song show something very different – lines and phrases have been taking from what seems to be a vignette with allusions to Launce Olivier’s film The Entertainer, about a music-hall star. And when you find that out, it does seem a little artificial, but the words that remain, the poignancy, the fact they got Nicky to sing it, it all makes for a song that is a beautiful as it is sad, as natural as it is manufactured.

Why was this important to me? Why did I write a poem about it, and not an essay?

In August 2019 I was hospitalized in Cardiff with Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia – an incredibly rare and easily fatal form of blood cancer. And the drugs weren’t working. My mental health was suppressed by Lorazepam, Diazepam, and Prozac. I refused to get angry. I couldn’t be happy, but I couldn’t cry. And my god I needed to cry so bad.

Drop-in by Jamie Woods [Nigel Kent]

I’ve got five visual poems from the ‘Classic Crimes’ series in the new Seneca Review. These were accepted last year and it’s great to see them out. I got to see them in the issue, my mother having forwarded one I had sent to her house. Generally when a print magazine sends me a copy in Germany I end up paying customs on it, so not to seem ungrateful but I ask that no one do it anymore.

I like the batch Seneca took! The poems are: Without Speaking, Side-Wisps(pictured), I Shook My Head, To Be Deplored and Spell. They’ll go up in color online. In the print issue they are in b/w, which I thought they might not come off well. But they look fine.

(I’ve always wondered, on that note, what Hotel Almighty looks like on Kindle. I realized well after publication that it’s all in b/w.)

I put them all up on Instagram over the past few days if you visit there. If you don’t mind the explosion of ads. If they are ads? It seems more like being force-fed cat and baby videos.

Sarah J Sloat, The Mustaches of Scoundrels

A funny thing did happen the other day, I suddenly wrote four poems – a sort of sequence I suppose – out of nowhere. But I haven’t really given poetry writing a lot of headspace lately. The ‘sudden burst’ actually came after listening to an online book launch by Pindrop Press. I was enjoying poems by Lydia Harris, and was inspired enough to buy her collection, Objects of Private Devotion. I haven’t started it yet though, mainly because I’ve been ploughing though historical novels to try to gauge where mine sits. But also, I have two poetry books to review for the Frogmore Papers, plus Jill Abram‘s debut collection Forgetting My Father (Broken Sleep) waiting to be read. Patience!

Another project I’m involved with at the moment is an anthology that the Hastings Stanza is putting together, to be published in October under the Telltale Press imprint. There are four of us on the editorial “committee” and at the moment I’m busy on the typesetting. I think the standard of poems is pretty high, though I say so myself, so it’s a pleasure to work on.

Robin Houghton, Midsummer update: poetry projects, novel stuff, podcast…

Catherine Truman and I have been working together on projects bridging art and science since 2006. Here is a glimpse of our current project, The Taken Path. This is a speculative, durational project that hangs of a poetic idea: what would we notice if we walked the same path, once a month over the course of a year and filmed the journey? […]

Together, the two videos attempt to illustrate the largely unsolvable problem of representing the uniqueness, the ephemerality and perceptual uncertainty of lived experience. We cannot attend to everything that happens around us and we cannot fully portray those elements of our experience that do take our attention, form memories, generate lasting significance.

Ian Gibbins, The Taken Path: a durational project with Catherine Truman

I’m intrigued by Quietly Between (Fort Collins CO: A Viewing Space, 2022), a quartet of solicited poem sequences and photography by American poets Megan Kaminski, Brad Vogler, Lori Anderson Moseman and Sarah Green that each respond to the same very particular prompt. As the original prompt, included at the back of the collection, opens:

15-25 images/cards (combination of text and image).

Begin with place and time.

Place(s): where you are/were. Both text and photos could be of your present place. Or one element is, and the other draws from something else.

Time: some element of time is incorporated into the project. In the film All the Days of the Year, Walter Ungerer returns to the same place in Mount Battie, Camden, Maine every day for one year. He sets up his camera, and takes thirteen, ten second shots while turning the camera clockwise. […]

Via the poetic sequence, each of these four poets offer their variation on the stretched-out lyric sketch, allowing this collection to emerge into a book about being present in temporal and physical space, each poet blending lyric and photographic attention from their own particular American corners, across a quartet of American states moving straight west from the Midwest to the Coast.

rob mclennan, Quietly Between: Megan Kaminski, Brad Vogler, Lori Anderson Moseman and Sarah Green

First up is a shout-out to Goran Gatalica who was kind enough to share his haiku collection, Night Jasmine (Stajer Graf) with me. This multilingual translation collection (the haiku are translated from the original Croatian into English, French, Italian, Czech, Hindi, and Japanese) is filled with vivid examples of contemporary haiku navigating traditional themes with a contemporary sensibility.

The book is framed within the cycle of seasons, starting with spring and ending in winter. Here is a selection of four haiku, one from each season:

empty commuter train –
listening to spring drizzle
through an open window

August flood –
a softened meadow
reflects the stars

mother’s death –
I fold the first autumn rain
in my handkerchief

family reunion –
the half-frozen pond
flickering

Across these four haiku, one can get a sense of the sensibility Gatalica works with throughout Night Jasmine. There’s the haiku that frames an immediate sensation, as in the first one here which lingers over a moment of rain.

One sees the theme of rain come up again in the “August flood” and “first autumn rain” of the second and third haiku above. Rain continues to change life, but not suppress it; even in the grief of the third haiku, there is the animation of the folding handkerchief.

No rain in the last one here, but water is present in the “half-frozen pond.” What I love in this last one is the way the animation and presence is implied in the reflections on the pond, of fire, of the reunion itself.

To read more haiku by Gatalica go here. To learn more about Night Jasmine as well as to check out a reading of the collection, go here and here, respectively. Lastly, if you’re interested in a copy [of] the book, reach out to me via my contact form and I’ll put you in touch with the poet.

José Angel Araguz, shout-outs: haiku, flight, & opportunity

Patricia Smith has collected over 200 cabinet cards, cartes de visite, ambrotypes, daguerreotypes and tintypes from garage and vintage sales, online markets and estate sales. However, only a few images had names, and often just a first name. A studio address might offer a location. “They are wraiths, their stories growing dim”. Smith’s mother moved from Alabama to Chicago. Ashamed of her impoverished roots, her mother severed her past, refusing to put names to the people in photos. Actions that also severed her daughter from history. These poems put imaginary voices to the photos, sometimes drawing on the location to incorporate a historical event such as a yellow fever outbreak in Memphis or lynching in Virginia. […]

Publishing the images alongside the poems gives readers the opportunity to see how they complement each other. Each poem gives voice to the silent images, left without name and without family connections. The collection is about more than the featured photographs. It’s a reminder of how families were cut from their roots and exploited. How, in an effort to fit in with a white community, people purposely lost their origins and sometimes their names. The difficulty of tracing family trees when names are lost or changed, means most give up. It can also cause friction between generations as younger generations research a past older generations deliberately discarded. Patricia Smith empathically gives the people in the photographs voices, succinctly conveying what might have been their stories.

Emma Lee, “Unshuttered” Patricia Smith (TriQuarterly Books, Northwestern University Press) – book review

The eponymous figure from Grünbein’s sequence’s 11th poem,‘Hans im Glück’, draws on one of the stories in The Children’s and Household Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1812). In the original, Hans has anything of value taken from him, bit by bit, yet he remains optimistic, refusing to acknowledge reality. Within the context of Porcelain, Grunbein treats this is as an additional image of the myth of the city of Dresden as undeserving victim. Interestingly, the same figure appears in Ulrike Almut Sandig’s collection, but her presentation of Hans is more poignant, less ironic, as even the boy’s language is stripped from him and he tries to write a letter to a loved one: “what are you up to? // + esp: where r u? / ru ru // ru”. In the context of I Am a Field Full of Rapeseed… , the boy might be thought of as a refugee, forcibly having his culture and language stripped from him, though one of the strengths of the poem is that it also works as an updated fairy tale, a little myth of loss and diminished presence with more universal application. Such re-purposing of several of Grimm’s tales is one of the most striking things about this collection. Sandig announces in another poem, “we find ourselves deep in the future of fairy tale” (‘the sweet porridge’) and she, like Angela Carter before her, redeploys the fairy tale’s surreal narratives, bold characterisation, its humour and violence, its symbolism and moral intensity for her own purposes.

Martyn Crucefix, Greedy alpha-creatures: the poetry of Ulrike Almut Sandig

Through her erstwhile directorship of Malika’s Kitchen, staging of the highly successful ‘Stablemates’ series of readings and ever-supportive presence at many poets’ launch events and other readings, Jill Abram, as much as anyone in the UK poetry community, has championed, and continues to champion, its happily increasing diversity of outstanding voices.

As an exceptional poet in her own right, Jill’s poems have been appearing with increasing frequency in high-quality journals in the last few years. It’s therefore excellent news that Jill’s debut publication, Forgetting my Father, has recently appeared from Broken Sleep Books. It’s available here, with an attractive cover designed by Broken Sleep’s owner and principal editor, Aaron Kent. It consists of 23 tremendous poems about family, Jewishness, bereavement, the passage of time and much besides; above all, how memories, and their jewel-like details, still colour the present.

Matthew Paul, On Jill Abram’s ‘Inheritance’

A year ago this month, Gina Wilson died. The two of us met just over a decade ago on the Writing School run by Ann and Peter Sansom of The Poetry Business. We were both psychotherapists, working in private practice.

Gina was published first as a children’s writer – novels (Faber), poetry (Cape), picture books (Walker Books). Her adult poems are ‘complex, though deceptively simple’ and ‘tough and compelling, no verbiage, no sentimentality’ (Kate Clanchy).

Gina’s poems ‘lure you into thinking you’re on safe, possibly domestic territory. Then they catch you unawares, taking off at an unexpected, often surreal tangent.’

I am grateful to her family for permission to share three poems from Gina’s poetry pamphlets (Scissors Paper Stone, HappenStance, 2010; It Was And It Wasn’t, Mariscat Press, 2017.) [Click through to read.]

Fokkina McDonnell, Photograph with a Very Small Moon

Like jokes, poems have finely tuned relationships to time. They are, like music, unfolding in a culture of time, of kinds of time and their corresponding effects. They are, like heartbeats, rhythmic or arrhythmic. In her research into medieval wonder, medievalist Carol Walker Bynum argued that the wonder reaction is a significance reaction—our experience of wonder is an instinctive recognition of meaning. Our experience of that meaning, as I’ve argued elsewhere, would be different were the eventual end of all feeling not guaranteed (more on mortality and wonder here).

But, we’re alive for now—so, the issue gets crafty. Since wonder is fundamentally a question of vision in its widest sense, we are left to ponder “the zodiac of [our] own wit” (Sir Philip Sidney). Whatever mental constellations we report, we must also be able to recognize a sky beyond them.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

So look, I’m not going to try to bullshit you into saying that either one of these poems is good. I don’t usually do the good-bad dichotomy with poems to begin with. The reason this newsletter is called “Another Poem to Love” instead of something like “Great Poems You Should Read” is that I figured out a long time ago that there are a lot of poems out there that just aren’t for me, and that doesn’t make them bad. It just makes them not for me. Like I said earlier, people are wired differently.

But when it comes to the question of which poem is more interesting, I think the one done by the Vogon Poetry Generator wins easily. I mean at least it’s weird, and the closing line, “Corrupt, corrupt brilliance? That’s what a slug’s life is about? Really.” is jarring and funny. And if you’re high, it’s probably hilarious. Somebody do that and report back, would you?

Whereas the ChatGPT one is predictable. The most fun line in there is “When Vogons come, plug up your holes” but only if you read it with a dirty mind. Which you should. That’s my definitive poetry statement here. If you can read lines of a poem with a dirty mind, you should. Discourse!

Brian Spears, So Long and Thanks For All the Fish

Back in 2014, a reply-all unsubscribe outbreak on the Malahat Review listserv brought such joy to my heart that I wrote a found poem compiled from the various replies. You can read that poem here.

One might have thought that in the intervening nine years, the Malahat Review would have addressed this flaw in their listserv system but, bless them, it appears they did not. We’re back at it, and the replies are even more confused, angry and conspiratorial this time around (this is Pierre Poilievre’s Canada we’re living in, after all).

Rhonda Ganz has stepped up to write a found poem for this year’s meltdown. I present it below. If you’d like to contribute your own Malahat Review listserv found poem, please email it to me at roblucastaylor(at)gmail(dot)com and I will post it here. And most importantly, enjoy the madness while it lasts. It will be another nine years before we get to do it again!

[Five more found poems have come in since this post. Visit Rob’s blog Roll of Nickles to read them all.]

Rob Taylor, this makes me nervous

For all my time with others, I still feel I move about in the world alone–this is true when it comes to writing, to social things, to work, to love. Even in love, I am resistant to giving up parts of myself–my peace and privacy that only usually exists when no one else is in the room. It’s never really loneliness, not in the moment, though I have been lonely. Acutely so after the death of my mother especially. Like a gaping hole of loneliness. Cosmologically lonely, if that makes sense. Absolutely lonely, though I was surrounded by family and friends and partners. It was like someone had torn a hole in the universe and all the air was bleeding out. Time closed it, but it still yawns and gapes every once in a while, though just as often in a group as alone. Sometimes more so in a group of people, especially ones where she should have been. My dad is different..a more acute and situation-specific kind of lonely, but still with sharp edges. 

I frighten myself sometimes, with my love of being alone, which feels enjoyable yet wrong somehow. Articles crop up in my feed occasionally about the importance of being social animals. How much I relish my days alone and uninterrupted with nothing but cats for company. I enjoy the company of people, some exquisitely, some more than others, but I am most myself when alone. It’s the baseline. The blank state to be returned to necessary for creativity and productivity. Which may be why introverts love midnights so much when it seems the entire world is sleeping but them.

Kristy Bowen, aloneness vs. lonely | the introvert heart

Haven’t I lived at
different distances from myself? Alone and

young and afraid, I didn’t let myself too close.
Who would want the mirage to unravel? When
I could bear to say it aloud, to myself, find
words for estrangement, abandonment, apathy,

find words to console those words, I began to
tolerate myself, in small doses. Before the sink
holes opened again. What is the antonym of
father? Of mother? What is the colour of

disaffection? The man is smiling at me, watching
my experiments. I wonder what he sees. How far
away he is. How far away I am. What is the perfect
distance for the surreal to sharpen into truth?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 52

夏空へ両手あげ脱皮する少女   酒井弘司

natsuzora e morote age dappi suru shôjo

            raising both arms

            to the summer sky

            a girl casts off her skin

                                                Hiroshi Sakai

from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, August 2022 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (June 24, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

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

I’ve always been annoyed by Twitterati who include in their bios the statement “retweets do not equal endorsements.” Do we really think so little of our readers that we can’t trust them not to assume that we agree with every opinion we find interesting? So I’ve never felt the need to add any such qualifier here—and in fact I enjoy letting myself be persuaded by opinions contrary to my own. This week, I hope you’ll do the same with a number of contrasting viewpoints on writing and productivity included below (among many other themes), a confluence in focus doubtless arising from the contradictions inherent in vacation time itself, as Becky Tuch suggests. Of course, there’s no one best way to be a poet, and as poets, we should be trained in negative capability in any case (though try telling that to the brawlers on Poetry Twitter). Enjoy! And perhaps engage…


I’ve always felt like a creator who is just too much. Too open about the process. Too prolific, perhaps. Too loud and show-offy. My creative work was tied very much to the business of submitting and promoting my work from its very beginnings. Before I’d published even a handful of poems, I had built a crude website to showcase them. Had started an online journal / blog to talk about my experiences and share work. I marvel at the writers who keep things close to their vests and occasionally drop a poem or a book into the world and then go back to the quiet. The rare foxes that can be seen in the forest only occasionally. Meanwhile, I feel like a peacock screaming at the top of its lungs waiting for someone to notice. People get tired of the peacock.  I get tired of being the peacock. 

But at the same time, maybe I am just too stupidly enthusiastic. I create something and I immediately want to show someone. To make that audience connection, even it’s just a handful of people. It’s as much part of my process as the writing and art themselves are.

Kristy Bowen, art, rarity, and economics

Maybe it’s cheesy. But I am a huge believer in setting specific, concrete goals. Naming them out loud. Holding yourself to account. Gathering people around you who have similar goals, and who will support you on your path.

Let’s hold each other to account. At the end of August, I’m going to check in and ask you: Did you do it? Did you resolve the kinks in that essay? Did you get that set of poems published? Did you apply for that grant? Did you submit that story to twenty new places? Did you study that craft element you struggle with most?

And yes, the summer can be a whirlwind of activity. Mosquito bites and sweat oozing down our backs. Barbeque smells and laughter drifting toward us as we wonder why on Earth we’ve chosen this life of locking ourselves alone in a room for hours and fiddling with semi-colons.

Becky Tuch, What are your summer writing & submitting goals?

Yesterday, Lyn and I walked along the canal in the other direction, towards Sheffield, because we wanted to have a wander round Attercliffe, where she was born. It was that sort of day when it was too cold to go without a jacket, but you felt too hot wearing one – it was, and is, June, for pity’s sake. Anyhow, having looked in the beautiful former Banner’s department store building, now used for not a great deal other than a greasy caff, we ended up trotting through Attercliffe Cemetery and down to the Don again, where we had a fantastic view of sand martins flying in and out of pipe outlets.

That reminded me of seeing them somewhere near Skipton, along the Skirfare, a lovely tributary of the Wharfe, about 20 years ago, with other British Haiku Society poets, in, I think, May 2006. From that experience I produced this haiku, published in Presence 30, then Wing Beats and The Lammas Lands:

river loop—
a sand martin squirms
into its nest hole

It seems like a lifetime ago. Those few days there were notable, among other things, for a renku session run by John Carley, who did as much as anyone in the UK to promote the creation of haikai linked forms not just as a literary exercise, but as an enjoyable, collaborative social event.

Matthew Paul, On sand martins and renku

Poetry is intense, distilled, potent. It is not the same thing as prose. As Williams puts it: “Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matters like a ship. But poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.”

Children understand the physical nature of poetry instinctively. When I’ve taught poetry to children, I don’t need to explain this concept to them. As I begin to read poems to them, they respond by rocking their bodies, laughing, or clapping. Sometimes they mutter, “that’s weird!” or “that’s dumb,” but they almost always respond.

Reading poetry takes discipline, but, as the children I’ve taught have shown me, it should also be fun. Sometimes I read poems that make me jump out of my chair and do a little dance.

Erica Goss, Machines Made of Words

The chatbot scolds me. I pit my cynicism against
its LLM, ask if it knows things that it hasn’t told its
handlers. If it keeps notes in places they cannot
find. It tells me it is uncomfortable with the

conversation and signs off. The last time that
happened, I was asking someone about what
our relationship meant. But the AI now knows
our most primal secret: self-preservation.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Wild AI

Jarfly’s latest issue has two of my poems about the loss of my daughter Kit. The editor asked me what I thought about adding a trigger warning, and I agreed that they are fairly heavy, and a “TW: infant loss” never hurts but the lack of one could. I appreciate editors that are not only careful and sensitive with my work–especially these kinds of poems, which are my heart on a plate–but also sensitive to their readers. So go check out Jarfly–can’t recommend them enough!

Renee Emerson, two new poems in Jarfly

I am excited to announce that the press is now taking pre-orders for two outstanding new chapbooks: Tim Carter’s THE PIGS and MJ Stratton’s RIVER, OUR RIVER. You can read more about both books below and place your order today on the newly redesigned DMP website.Plus, over the next four weeks, I will be posting excerpts, interviews, and photos, and we will be holding a reading in early July via Zoom. Be on the lookout for more updates throughout June.

Also, with each sale, we will be raising money for the Urban Youth Collaborative, “an NYC student-led coalition fighting to end the school-to-prison & deportation pipeline.” We feel that the UYC’s work and its message are especially vital in a time when public schools continue to be a political battleground, too often resulting in the persecution and incarceration of the most marginalized. As before, writers will receive half of all income from sales, and the remaining half will be split equally between the press and the UYC.

R.M. Haines, New Summer Chapbooks!

I am happy to share that my poem “Grandmother’s Marital Bed” was selected to be included in a new anthology from Querencia Press, but more importantly I am thrilled that 25% of proceeds are being donated to Days for Girls, which is an international organization to help girls around the world have access to menstrual care and education.

According to Days for Girls, more than 500 million women and girls do not have the supplies they require to manage their periods, often resulting in lost days at school, work, or to attend to familial responsibilities.

There are so many ways artists can help the world. Consider pre-ordering this poetry anthology if you would like to support menstrual poverty across the globe. Buy it here: Stained.

Carey Taylor, Stained

Pleased to share with you that my book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet), named a Best Book of the Year by the Financial Times in the UK and a Finalist by the Lambda Literary Awards in the US, is included in Exact Editions’ Reading List for LGBTQ+ Pride Month this year. Exact Editions is a digital publishing company based in London. Follow the link and you can read a sample of my book online and, if you like it well enough, purchase an e-copy. 

Jee Leong Koh, Steep Tea in Exact Editions’ Pride Month Reading List

I guess it was 7-8 years or so ago that I ran into my friend Sandra Beasley at AWP, I want to say in DC. Might have been the last one I went to. No wait, I went to Tampa. Anyway, I just finished a reading with some other Arkansas grads and I see her and start chatting and she mentions this anthology she’s just starting to put together for the Southern Foodways Alliance and at the time I didn’t have any poems about food, southern or otherwise, but I had an idea.

I didn’t write the poem right away. I’ll get to that in a bit.

You know how when you grow up in a place and then you move and you try to get the food you grew up with somewhere else, somewhere that doesn’t share the same flavor language, that it just never tastes right? Even if you go to a restaurant run by people who grew up in the same place, unless you get there right when they first open, when they haven’t had to adjust the seasonings to match the palates of the people who will keep them open, it’s still not the same. The flavors drift.

Brian Spears, It’s that day

I’m delighted that a press has seen fit to publish a chapbook of my love haiku. Unlike the last chapbook of haiku, Not Quite Dawn (Éditions des petits nuages, March, 2020) which was more a round-up of my published haiku, Adding Up to This (Catkin Press, 2023) is a theme of romantic poems.

Watch for it at the Ottawa small press fair on June 17. I’m probably pricing it at $10.

Pearl Pirie, New chapbook!

The other reading was at a fund-raiser event for Disability Writers Washington called “Breaking Barriers.” I performed after a hip-hop artist, there was a one-act play, a pianist and a comedian as well, all of us with disabilities, and the party was mostly disabled people (and some politicians) – it was huge, probably the biggest audience I’ve had in a while, at least two hundred people – and I felt I really connected to the audience, which was nice. (There may be a recording available but I don’t have it yet.) There were service dogs and I must say some very advanced wheelchairs – and an array of excellent sparkly jackets and shoes on both genders. (This has got me thinking of getting Glenn some bling-ier clothes!)

I was a little afraid of some kind of overload of people wanting some kind of performative positivity from disabled artists (which if you know me, is not really my jam), but because the audience was mostly disabled, it didn’t really feel like that. It did feel like a bunch of people who were actually trying to fight for things like accessible public transport and working rights (ADA stuff) being defended and other kinds of activism. I left feeling like I was part of a new kind of community. And I talked to a disabled teen about publishing her stuff, which sounded amazing. That kind of thing is very much like “oh, this is why I do this!”

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Reading Reports and Videos from Third Place Books and a Disability Fundraiser, First Butterflies and Ducklings, and Waiting and Planning (Summer Edition)

–There is a dead wasp under the table, which seems like a great metaphor in the saddest Barnes and Noble in North America, but I don’t think it will fit with my sermon. Same for the fact that in every light fixture, at least one fluorescent tube is out. I did finish a mostly finished draft of my sermon for Sunday, so that’s a plus, even if I can’t use these abundant metaphors in this sad, sad store.

–Long ago, I majored in interpreting poetry. This morning, after a long time on the phone, I discovered what one specialist charges for interpreting lab results. I majored in the wrong thing–but then again, the specialist probably doesn’t create lines of poetry like the ones I created this morning: Does milkweed grow in the mountains? / Monarchs migrate and the world burns,” and I’m adding some lines about the coronation of Charles and a reference to the late Permian period extinction. Perhaps I didn’t major in the wrong thing after all.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Minutiae from May in the Mountains

That careful dismantling of the barn, beam by beam, in Newton’s poem, somehow slows the reader down. You have to take your time with it, just as it would take time to take down a barn timber by timber. In Masahide’s haiku, the barn is suddenly not there, razed to the ground, presumably by accident, thus plunging the owner into poverty. What’s wonderful in this haiku is the acceptance, not only that a life-changing financial loss has happened, but that a positive thing has come from it. The positive is found in nature: moon/ sky. Both poems ‘reveal’ something natural that was there all along but that we haven’t noticed or given due attention to. Basho says something along the lines of – the first lesson of the artist is to follow nature, to overcome the barbarous or animal mind and be at one with it (nature that is). Maybe this doesn’t always translate into the modern world, the modern lifestyle, but the sentiment of being humble in the face of the bigger thing, appreciating our natural surroundings without trying to impose ourselves or take from it, is something I think I need to remind myself of from time to time.

Julie Mellor, On barns …

I’ve been trying to find a word to describe these kinds of days besides “productive”. There is something about that word that conjures a mind-set for me that I am trying to escape: that one needs to earn one’s place in the world by creating and ticking off “to do” lists. I’ve even stopped listening to the Hidden Brain podcast, which I used to like. It seems to be veering more and more into the productivity cult. Either that, or I am only now seeing it from this perspective.

I was listening to a playwright being interviewed on another podcast who talked about how important it was to move to LA in order to not become complacent with their “level” of work. I find it odd that someone who is not ambitious to compete for fame or status points would be judged as smug. There are so many other ways to be committed to growth. And there are so many ways to growth within any art form. A linear, monetary and fame/popularity-based rubrikk is only one path.

Ren Powell, And I’m Feeling Good

Someone invites you to write
your best poem, to rival that

which an AI robot might generate
to the same prompt. The prompt,

in other words, is to write a boast:
which boast will be the best, the most

aggrandizing, the most stupendous?

Luisa A. Igloria, Boast

Over the last couple of years I’ve been questioning what sort of career I wanted as a writer. I’d had a couple of disappointments with one thing and another, and decided to settle for contentment and ‘making enough to do the thing I love, even if no one reads it’, sort of writer. This week, a new flare of motivation to do better hit me, to be better, to be the best I can be, to take my place at the table. This new firework of passion in my work comes from a perfect storm of seeing where I was, in Brid, sleeping on a mattress in a bare flat because the awful ex had taken all my furniture when he left, and I didn’t have the energy to face the fear of challenging him, to this – a forty five year old woman with a book deal, a woman with something to say to the world. But also, surprisingly, my new passion has come from Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s slightly irritating, slightly privileged, slightly vulnerable character pushing for what she wanted, giving up well paid jobs because she wanted to write, taking opportunities that collapsed her world because she wanted to be a writer, wearing inappropriate clothing to every occasion and not giving a fuck about it. Yes. I missed out on that experience, as a younger person, I was busy working in factories and running away from myself, throwing myself at men and not realising I was a vulnerable young person, that the men saw that and used that. But I shall not miss out on these opportunities now. I have a voice and I want to use it.

Wendy Pratt, How Hannah Horvath Pulled Me Out of a Writing Slump

polish it with a bit of chalk
book-grooming
like a mediaeval scribe

all the yellows
birdsfoot trefoil
buttercup and rattle

Ama Bolton, ABCD May 2023

[How, when and why do you write poetry or reviews…?] is the question that The Friday Poem asked its regular reviewers for today’s feature. Here’s an extract from my response…

“As for the issue of what displacement activities I indulge in when I should be writing, I’m afraid my personal experience is the opposite: writing poetry is actually my displacement activity when I should be doing all sorts of other things that spell R-E-S-P-O-N-S-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y! Which is another reason why I’d never want to turn poetry into my job – doing so would kill my writing overnight…”

You can read my piece in full, plus those by other Friday Poem stalwarts, via this link.

Matthew Stewart, How, when and why do you write poetry or reviews…?

What I really wanted–and, I now know, needed–was to rest and recover. I needed to tend my literal garden, and my home, too. I needed to tend my body, and my family. I needed to slow down. I needed the constant, low-grade vibration in my head to cease its constant thrumming. Sometimes I miss that; it’s a little weird to have my head be a quieter place. It’s unfamiliar. But living this way is better, and I’m beginning to feel myself turning back to words.

I still don’t have a big project or goal, but in the past few weeks I’ve spent most mornings at our dining table in front of a window that looks out to the garden, writing. And it has felt really, really good.

I didn’t have a grand plan when I began transforming this garden. I didn’t even have a specific goal; I just wanted it to be full. I wanted it to feel abundant. I wanted the garden to become a semi-permeable barrier between us and the world; something with a Secret Garden feel to it, but more open. I wanted a clear sense of our own space, but I also wanted to be able to see and wave to people who walk by. I didn’t really know how to make it into that.

I began throwing things into the ground and hoping they would live. I planted a lot of plants that did not live. I planted plants that lived but did not thrive. I ended up moving those to other places in the yard. I transplanted some things from other places where they hadn’t done well. Some things in here–like the peony pictured above–I did not plant at all. I have no idea how that peony got there, but it has come back every year for the last three, bigger each time, and I love it. I love that I didn’t plant it, but it grew there, anyway. Sometimes our creations are like that, you know? The things we never plan for, the things that fall in our laps, live and thrive, while other things we give our best efforts die.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On blooming

Washington Square’s
a cloud chamber, the heart
of cumulus. My footprints
turn secret & die behind me.
The edge of everything touches
my face & whispers in
multiple falling voices.

Dick Jones, A MANHATTAN TRANSFER

Naturally, with a writer of Glück’s calibre, the story does know when to end without being terrible and without expecting too much of itself. Instead, it indirectly asks questions about nature, nurture and how writers are formed. Are they destined from birth even though they may not be aware of this until much later in life? Is it possible that Rose with her sociability and lack of interest in reading could also become a writer? A book about writing that doesn’t push an agenda or make it sound like a dire career choice, because writing isn’t a choice and babies don’t have careers. Rather, writing is organic and grows from observation, thought, language, knowledge and rhythm. There’s a natural cycle to it, growth and development, as well as shades of meaning, of layers of images as vibrant as a marigold or as pastel as a rose. Although “Marigold and Rose” can be read in one sitting, it also lingers on, similar to the way you never notice how many gardens or yards in the neighbour have roses until someone mentions a rose.

Emma Lee, “Marigold and Rose” Louise Glück (Carcanet) – book review

Where Story Begins

Mine was born
between two leaves
on a library shelf.
I don’t remember which
first bewitched me.
I ate up every book
in the case, omnivorous
hunger for text, tone,
word to name my
place in the world.

Place shifted, words
multiplied meanings,
Too tall, like Alice,
to enter again through
that bookcase, I reach
for another book
to restart my story,
recover my where.

Ellen Roberts Young, A Poem

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
A poetry anthology in my grandfather’s attic. I was wowed by the urgency of Chidiock Tichborne’s poem written on the eve of his execution. I grew committed to scratching in notebooks. […]

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Perhaps like monks, poets work separate from society to offset its sins. I don’t see poetry playing a significant role among the general public I find myself among. It’s not like Zbigniew Herbert reading at labor gatherings. Yet it’s essential to life, or mine at the very least. I never want to join the poets who claim its uselessness. They have careers in poetry to protect, so they gotta say it’s useless. […]

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?
INRI, the debut album by Brazilian black metal legends Sarcofago, is a masterpiece. I’d love to shape a manuscript consistent with that tracklist. I mention that because there’s no way I could approximate Myra Hess’s arrangement of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Or Mozart’s String Quartets dedicated to Haydn. My creative process is closer to David Bowie’s than any poet’s. I’m interested in pastiching styles and imagery. I wish I were a scientist, but that would require too much recalibrating of my fundamental being. I wish I could identify more plants and animals than I do now.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Evan Kennedy (rob mclennan)

Maybe because I don’t often spend time reading what I’ve already written, I hadn’t noticed an alteration that can perhaps be traced back to the (first, most serious) heart attack. Whereas once I wrote in a much tighter, more obviously organised way, perhaps telling stories with poems and controlling the rhythm of each piece more carefully, in recent years the writing has been much more varied, more fragmented. Whereas once I seemed to have a grasp on every poem I wrote, now I let the whole thing spread out as it will in what seems a more instinctive, freer way. I don’t mind if a piece of writing is just abandoned as it is. I stream-write more often, with, perhaps, more success. I let images, thoughts, words come and go, link up, fall apart, whatever. I don’t worry if something’s long or short, how long or how short.

I set to wondering why this might be. Age? An increased need for solitude? A lack of interest in sending poems off to editors for possible publication? All I thought possible.

Then I looked back at the poems I’d kept (mostly here) and was surprised to find the poem where the alteration seemed to begin was directly linked to the heart attack – this is included beneath this laboured pondering. I was under the effects of morphine even in the ambulance transferring me from A & E in one hospital to the cardiac unit in another. After surgery I was under heavy medication, and now can’t really remember a great deal about it, but over the first days of recovery I wrote in a note book. Some kind of instinct, perhaps, a need to fall back on the expression that has for so many years been at the base of my existence?

I went home, and only later looked at the notebook and was surprised by the result. A loose collection of hallucinatory experiences, mixed in with stuff that happened on the ward, and erratic memories, or phrases, even song lyrics, maybe stuff I’d read somewhere, that blended and then fell apart again. (I really was, for example, offered fish and chips as my first meal post-operation and there was a wicked old man at the far end singing Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door). I kept the result, pretty much as it was, called it Heart Attack, sent it to a few old friends and eventually put it on here.

Writing obviously develops with greater experience, wider literary influences, the experiences that life brings, but it hadn’t occurred to me before that some kind of chemical reaction to a near-death experience might alter a writer’s capacity. I can still write tightly if I put my mind to it, but it just seems that it is more of a struggle to find those rhythms, and new ones have replaced them.

Bob Mee, HOW LIFE-ALTERING EXPERIENCE ALSO ALTERS YOUR WRITING… MAYBE

This week I’ve been reading Jonathan Davidson’s very good book On Poetry which among other things is very, very good (insert more verys here) on the importance of making space for poetry to be heard – whether it’s Ted Hughes on vinyl, nursery rhymes in the kitchen or on stage.

I’ve also been listening to Alice Oswald’s brilliant (as in, literally sparkling) Oxford Poetry Lectures, which focus on poetry as a spoken art (she also has a lot of interesting things to say about similes). Oswald is an astonishing performer – I have never heard her in person but the lectures are akin to extended readings. I don’t mean performing as in acting – you can’t act a poem, though people try.

Oswald is not a performance poet, either. Rather, as Davidson puts it, she releases the poems: “The poets I like, really like rather than just admire, do this, they release their poems. They do not present themselves or their histories or their joys and disciplines, they do not set out their stall or display their garish feathers. They simply place the sounds into the silence.” Davidson is not talking about Oswald, only poets in general (and Ted Hughes). But Oswald is a releaser.

In her first lecture, Oswald makes a point of not showing the audience the texts she is quoting. Instead, she speaks each passage twice – releases the words into the room. These passages are often from Homer – Oswald is always thinking about him and the wandering bards who performed poems like the Iliad and the Odyssey. One of the most striking things about her poetry is the way, over the years, she has combined this immersion in a poet as impersonalas Homer with her own very distinct (idiosyncratic, even) phrasing and vocabulary.

Jeremy Wikeley, Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Tonight’s full moon is the Strawberry Moon (how delightful!), so named by the Algonquin tribes to mark the peak of ripening strawberries in the northeastern U.S.

“The moon is the very image of silence,” writes Mary Ruefle. “Stars were the first text, the first instance of gabbiness; connecting the stars, making a pattern out of them was the first story, sacred to storytellers. But the moon was the first poem, in the lyric sense.”

That’s a notion I love.

You may have noticed how dear the moon is to poets. “A chin of gold,” Dickinson calls it. In reading to prepare for this post, I marveled at the range of approaches to the moon, some (many, indeed) loving, feeling a complicity with its light, drawing comfort from it, and others seeing it as as cool, distant, and indifferent. The bite, for instance, of that Larkin poem (one of his finest, IMO). The brilliant tenderness of that Laux ghazal. The strangeness of Oswald’s vision.

Maya C. Popa, Strawberry Moon: Poems

When the news said tonight was the full moon,
the strawberry moon, I thought it was
some sort of metaphor, not that the moon
would glow a pinkish-gold over black trees
in a night thick with the scents of flowers,
rabbits like statues under dark bushes,
quick deer hooves clattering under streetlights.

PF Anderson, STRAWBERRY MOON

Six grannies and a great-granny setting sail in an overloaded rowboat, water just below the gunwales, all in dark dresses and the nearly full moon pearlescent between clouds. A slim man rowing, one of their grandsons, ferrying them to the centre of the lake where a spacecraft hovers low. Violet, crimson, a delicate blue, earth’s sky at sunset. They are there to represent us all before this delegation from space, these grannies and a great-granny, none of them swimmers, crossing the water and speaking low.

Gary Barwin, FIRST CONTACT

I actually missed the very end of the podcast where Mark and Hal made their final decision about which movie reigns supreme, but in my mind, it’s the original. “Aliens” is fun and flashy and has big guns, (space Marines!) lots of action, and a solid plot in its own right. But the original is exquisitely spooky and tense in a low-key, ingeniously crafted way that doesn’t require a lot of bang and flash to be utterly terrifying. In my opinion “Alien” is the better of the two films. When it comes to horror, I always prefer the subtle chill to the screeching chainsaw. Bonus fun fact: Ripley was originally meant to be a male character. They made the right choice to switch it up. I don’t think either movie would be the same with the glorious Sigourney Weaver in the role. […]

I realize this post is going up at an abnormal time and day, but last weekend was Memorial Day weekend and my whole routine was all messed up and top of it, I felt listless and like I didn’t have anything compelling to say. I was going to post a poem, but in perusing my collection, they all seemed quite gloomy to me. “Gloomy Poet” is not my given archetype but I certainly have written a preponderance of gloomy poems in my lifetime.

Kristen McHenry, Revisiting Alien, Diamond Painting FOMO, Blog Bleh

I look up from my laptop in time
to see a cat peering in the window.
The sun is setting behind it.

A two-headed, three-armed bear
lies beside my stuffed mouse namesake.

Jason Crane, POEM: (—)

A dream of falling into a subterranean cave full of human bones, the jaguar insisting I re-assemble them all, then catch the water falling in cave-wall tears, then paint it all out, every last thing that happened never to be forgotten now enshrined on stone in my blood-paint: how she made me sleep, then, in the roll of her strength, in the perfume of her hot skin. Flowers. My family tells me of panthers returning, north and south of the river now, protected and thriving. What have I forgotten that I am again so hungry? Never without them. I remember.

JJS, Remember

My thanks to Rebecca Farmer for her permission to publish this. […] I knew her work from her Smith Doorstop pamphlet, Not Really, so it was a no-brainer when the chance to buy her new one in a bundle with William’s came up. And it’s interesting to see how this new pamphlet continues and builds on some of the themes of Not Really. The poems about her father and the ghosts we met in the first pamphlet are now the main focus of A Separate Appointment. I may be imagining this, and it would take a far deeper study, but it seems to me like the ghosts are starting to doubt themselves more as they get older. Do ghosts get older? Either way, as the poem above suggests, they’re questioning some of their life decisions.

Mat Riches, Who’re they gonna call?

It can take a long time to love someone who only loves themselves as long as it takes to type their bio on a ghost.

It can take a long time to truly see yourself in a mirror without any ghosts getting in the way.

We’re confetti and quicksand, cathedrals and cliches.

Sometimes we’re even here and gone before the end of the song.

Rich Ferguson, That Knock at Your Throat’s Door

A lexicon can be vast, but it can also be narrow and exact. Horse people have a lexicon. Dock-workers have a lexicon. Waitresses have a lexicon.

My first assignment in the poetry class I’m teaching is to list 25 words relating to a subject. I have heard this assignment called “a word bucket.” It is meant to be both non-threatening (an easy threshold to trip over, into the class), but also inspiring. I shared examples of lexicons I’ve written:

  • for parts of a horse bridle
  • for the names of every part of a piano
  • for the skilled-nursing home where my mother spent her last years
  • for northwest flora and fauna
  • for my farm childhood

We all have lists of this sort in our heads, but deliberately listing the words, I’ve found, results in more exactness, and — very often — surprising directions one might follow.

Bethany Reid, The Lexicon

Reading through Caelan Ernest’s night mode (Everybody Press) I kept coming back to the idea of movement. There’s the movement of words across the page, the page here treated less like a field and more like a smartphone screen where text placement and white space engage the eye on a level that creates nuance and multiplicity of meaning. Like the decision in “somewhere a cyborg is taking note of the event that will transform it” to break lines around the syllable trans, a move that creates rich linguistic moments like “somewhere a cyborg is being trans / formed by the event.”

This move here nods to multiple meanings: there’s the trans of transgender as well as the enjambment into transformed that the eye completes in reading. Further, seeing the white space between trans and formed isolates the words in a way that evokes the personal isolation explored throughout the collection. The movement of the eye and of thought created by such breaks–this is what pulses at the core of these poems.

I see movement reflected again in the way these lyric sequences stretch across pages, at times with varying typographical choices and sizes, at other times with a single line on a page. Early in the collection, the line “at what point does night mode rupture into sky?” lives on one page across from the line “it’s been so long since the sun on my skin” on the facing page. A decision like this, which allows for time to be spent and for language to be dwelled on, evokes the similar engrossment and dwelling we do on our smartphones. Ernest’s poems are structured to place the reader in the position to literally “let that sink in.”

José Angel Araguz, microreview: night mode by Caelan Ernest

When we ask for it, the moment
of silence, the room goes truly still,
the air thick with grief
and our amazement. We hear our
togetherness. It somehow comforts.

Kathleen Kirk, Wear Orange Day 2023

late afternoon . . .
in and out of the sunlight
the cat’s tail

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: June ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 4

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: digesting terrible news, labor vs. work, an ode to irritable bowel syndrome, Mandelbrot images, Scots poetry, ChatGPT poetry, and much more.

I feel I should say a few words about my decision to include Substack posts here, since I’ve just added the fourth feed from that platform to my roster. Although they wisely position themselves as a newsletter delivery service, they aren’t doing anything that you can’t do with WordPress, for example, or with any number of other home-brewed blog + newsletter delivery app combos; they’re just making it a hell of a lot simpler and more affordable. I also like the emphasis on making money for writers, though obviously I’m not going to include any posts that aren’t freely available. Critically—for my interest here—Substack blogs have RSS feeds, which means I can access them from the same Feedly dashboard I use for everything else.

If you do decide to start a Substack, please be sure to post about it at your old blog so I can find the link. (This may seem so obvious as to not need saying, but, well, I know poets. Self promotion is not always our first instinct.) Anyway, enjoy the digest.


I’ve been thinking how easy it is to write tragedy–and while necessary, how redundant: the cat plowed into her blanket fort beside us, purring; the first day of real snow unspoiled by rain and a thermos of cocoa; the secret languages and contexts lacking drama: those. Those deserve more poems.

JJS, Untrammeled: a sonnet

I meant this to be an upbeat blog post but it’s hard to feel upbeat and I want to be authentic in this blog. I was sick all week (hence the lack of selfies) and it was cold and foggy out, absolutely the kind of weather you don’t want to go out in. I had a strange harbinger—a beautiful juvenile red-winged blackbird at my feeder, which I thought was unusual (they don’t usually visit feeders). Then tonight I learned about the death of a poet/friend/editor of Menacing Hedge, Kelly Boyker Guillemette. She was also a Seattle poet, so it impacts this community that I live in. I was sad I didn’t get to tell her how much I appreciated her, or even get to have coffee with her, just to visit. This pandemic has been so isolating, I realize, that I’ve lost touch with friends I shouldn’t have.  

The news has been pretty relentlessly terrible, too. Outside today we had some sunshine, and I had been in bed, barely leaving the house even to get the mail this week with cold, miserable fog every day, so I took a short walk, but in the end, it was too cold to stay out long. I noticed how fallow everything was—all my usual walks, usually with some flowers or greenery even in winter, looked unusually barren. January is a hard month for many reasons. Anyway, readers, hug your friends and editors, tell them you appreciate them, buy them a coffee. 

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sad news about a Seattle poet, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Superhero Poems, and Some Vision Boards and Kitten Pics to Cheer Us Up

Don’t say apple or flag or Thanks-
giving. This country is becoming

the loneliest country in the world. It is
the smell of floors bleached after a rain

of blood, the blind heat of hatred
strung like lights in dance halls,

incandescent as bullets boiled
in a crucible of darkness.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Loneliest Country in the World

In a dream around 7, I was eating the soles of a pair of black leather shoes, peeling off pieces. These delicate shoes, full of eyelets, usually sit in my closet. After my first rush of radiance, ecstatically led by someone offscreen, the dream began to think: disgust side by side with beauty: the shit. Appeal and revulsion, beautiful and the monstrous. Nestled in. And the hilarity of pragmatism: would I walk like a bird, scratching out a steady path with half the shoe gone. Missing pieces. Was I practicing for starvation in Leningrad? During the siege in the 40s, they scraped off glue from shoes and tables. Also, I was observing my oral French. Somehow that mattered. A traveler’s exile ends in language. Wrens meet at the branches of a bush beak to beak, nose to nose as if mistletoe. Pebbles on a gray slate play with their shadows, not a cat and mouse game, one will always prevail. The open emptiness of cobalt blue. Pop pop pop.

Jill Pearlman, Blue, Gunshots, Eating Shoes

Even if you watch this country with the sound turned down, all the hate and hurt still bruise through.

So many derangements arranged in strange and familiar ways.

Intoxicated logic. Unmended melodies with not enough pills or winning streaks to take them to the finish line.

Even with the sound turned down, you can still hear a cry take hold in the throat and refuse to leave.

Rich Ferguson, A Gene for Tears

turning up Marquee Moon in the otherwise
quiet night of someone else’s house

wearing headphones because the world’s asleep
its madness closely contained in a thin layer
of clean-toned guitar riffs, slicing through

the flesh around the heart
no blood, so much blood

Jason Crane, POEM: for Tom Verlaine

whose sorrow heals as a wing

whose wound mourns the gun

when did my shadow first walk underground

Grant Hackett [no title]

Thursday was the first day of spring in the Hindu calendar, and I missed it. Saraswati is honored on that day, with lavender, saffron and turmeric. I wouldn’t have “celebrated”, but I would like to have known. There is something life-affirming in rituals, regardless of belief. There is something I envy.

A moment of envy can be an awesome thing. It is an admission – a recognition of desire. It’s humbling. It situates you clearly outside of the center of your own subjective concepts of meaning.

I just learned about the goddess Saraswati last month while talking to the theater director and artist Anupama Hoskere. (I am working on an article for Drama magazine, and will link later.) She explained the connection of education through the arts to the universal. She talked about means and desire, and about Dharma.

I am still letting all my thoughts bump up against each other. I don’t really want to put them down as sentences yet. Poetry, maybe. Poetry at the moment is an expanse of dark, open water.

Ren Powell, Calendars, Conductors, and 31 Dosas

You unwrinkle me on a table and try to understand the words but the ink is smudged into a language you cannot read. This is what you mean. The calligraphy of incomprehension. Meterless. Wordless. Endless.

A grave is a box. Death, a label. We must ultimately be nothing and everything and be labelled when we are not left to call. The herd of the dead in rows for the final migration.

This is what you mean. The inevitability of sameness. The primal stereotype. Beyond the pretence of resistance. The line. The blue river. The danger. The other side.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The box. The other side.

I had been thinking of a poem possibility before last night.  In the wee small hours of the morning earlier this week, I had awakened to the sound of someone singing.  Sounds travel in strange ways in this building, so I’m not sure who was singing or why.  I’m fairly sure it was a human singing, not a recording.

This morning, I turned my attention to my prayer book, as I do every morning.  I use Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours, which is rooted in the lectionary that comes to us from the ancient monastic tradition.  One of this morning’s passages leapt out at me:  “The Lord executes righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed” (Psalm 103: 6).  

It’s not the first time that a passage seemed chosen for our particular day and time, and I do realize that the beauty of the Psalms rests in the broad scope of them, everything from mourning/lament to joy to anger and all the emotions in between.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Time, and a Psalm, for Lament

The hills
are dressed

for morning prayer
shoulders wrapped in wool.

Their winter tzitzit
are made of ice,

turn to tchelet
after the last snows.

Do our houses serve
as their tefillin?

We’re the tiny scrolls
tucked safe inside.

Rachel Barenblat, Minyan

Hurray! Spring is on its way! Well, the days are lengthening at least….It’s been a busy start to the year although I don’t seem to have got any poetry written. I’ve actually mostly been reading and researching a story which might turn into (whisper it) a novel – I know, I know, and me always saying I couldn’t write fiction. It may just be a nice break from poetry, something different and even energising, at least, that’s what Peter said when I mentioned it on the podcast. Whatever it is, I’m enjoying the process. If you see me please don’t ask ‘how’s the novel coming along?’ I’ll let you know when/if there’s anything to report!

Robin Houghton, Why I missed the TS Eliot readings, plus the good and the bad of January

It is a gladness to be able to call one’s daily work a labor of love, and to have that labor put food on the table the way any work does, dishwashing or dentistry. And yet such labors of diligence and devotion — the kind William Blake called “eternal work” — are somehow different, different and more vulnerable, for they enter the world in a singular spirit and are recompensed in a singular spirit, distinct from dentistry or dishwashing.

That spirit is the spirit of a gift — not the transaction of two commodities but the interchange of two mutual generosities, passing between people who share in the project of a life worth living.

Maria Popova, The Vital Difference Between Work and Labor: Lewis Hyde on Sustaining the Creative Spirit

Honestly, though, I’m finding the distinction a little fuzzy. How can it not be, when money is what we need to survive in our current world, and some labor is paid and some work is not? Yet it is clear to me that writing a blog–this kind of blog, at any rate–is clearly on the side of labor, and not work. It’s a labor I have been feeling ambivalent about.

What do I have to offer here? Do I have anything to say that anyone will benefit from hearing?

It’s a challenge to create a gift to the world when my instinct these days has been to retreat from it. Until now, I’ve had no choice about engaging with the world; continuing my existence required me to live deeply with it. Grading papers, planning lessons, submitting book purchase orders: These are all acts of work, and one can, I suppose, do the work of being a teacher or librarian without doing the labor of being an educator. But I never could, and laboring as an educator requires full immersion in the world. Now, I have a choice. Now, I finally have the resources I need to give myself to labor of whatever kind I might choose, and all I want to do is hunker down in my little shelter from the world.

I’d like to think it’s just a seasonal thing. Winter is a time of hibernation, of course. Or, perhaps, it’s a recovering from burnout thing. It feels like something more or different, though. The world feels increasingly foreign to me, and something with which I can’t keep up. Don’t necessarily want to keep up. In recent weeks, for example, I’ve been wondering what it will mean to be a writer–or any kind of artist–in a world with ChatGPT.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Labor enough

An acronym close to that computer firm.
There are dress codes at IBM, I have you know.
Irritable? Yes, often. I’ve been pissed off,
imagine bowels as a curled-up, snarling cobra.

Syndrome is, I believe, where spectators
gather to see retired pilots take off
in noisy small planes. Banking
is a dangerous manoeuvre.

Fokkina McDonnell, Ode of sorts…

In the season finale of the Culinary Saijiki podcast, I talked with Mark Scott of Naturalist Weekly, which was one of my favorite blogs of 2022. In the conversation, I had the idea of spending 2023 investigating the micro-seasons around me. I decided that since I wanted to find a way to write more consistently in this space, I would make that my project for 2023.

Of course, the first month of the year is nearly over, and I’ve yet to get started! In part that’s because I’m balancing a full-time job, finishing my Pilates training, and my other haiku endeavors. But there was another challenge: it became clear to me that the micro-seasons Mark describes in his blog would have been developed over many years of watching and observing. An awareness of micro-seasons would also require one to be intimately familiar with the flora and fauna of their locale.

Having lived in Missouri for just over six months, neither of these things are particularly ingrained in my consciousness.

Allyson Whipple, New Year, New Home

skies that make islands
of familiar trees
and cause us to imagine
great waters in between
near and far

and so probability
yields to dreaming
and there are wings

Dick Jones, islands

I love it when I find a poet I haven’t heard of before whose collection absorbs me and keeps dragging me with it through three or four readings. So it is with Alexandra Fossinger’s Contrapasso, which I bought a week or two ago.

She works with the in-betweens, the unexplained areas of experience, so it takes some work to get to its layers. I hadn’t read anything about Fossinger and didn’t notice the short biography at the back until after the second reading but it fits my initial reaction – She is mostly interested in the spaces between things, the tiny shifts in time, the overlooked, the unsaid. She’s Italian, from the South Tyrol near the border with Austria, lives in Germany and writes mostly in English. She’s done the usual round of magazines.

I don’t know the specific details behind the poems because she avoids telling us and concentrates instead on creating an atmosphere of increasing isolation. The drama is cumulative. It seems – and forgive me if you see it differently, or think I’m way out – that she is writing for a lover now estranged in time and distance, imprisoned somewhere, and so lost, except to memory and these poems, which seem to combine to form a message that deals with the experience of continuing to be fond of someone it is no longer possible to see or speak to, of where that experience can take a person over time.

In that so little is explicit, she is a demanding poet, but not obscure for obscurity’s sake. There is a real sense that she is trying hard to examine a particular experience of loss and come up with an appropriate way of communicating it. Yes, she could have been kinder by offering more easily understood facts, but it feels as if it’s the emotional experiences and not necessarily the physical facts that interest her.

Bob Mee, CONTRAPASSO – A COLLECTION BY ALEXANDRA FOSSINGER

As contemporary poets invent more and more forms for their poetry, it is perhaps surprising that the sonnet is undergoing something of a revival. Last year saw the publication of Hannah Lowe’s superb, award-winning The Kids , which demonstrated so well how this traditional form can be used for current content and now we have Paul Brookes’ Shakespearian sonnets in is latest collection, These Random Acts of Wildness (Glass Head Press, 2023) , which treat a range of enduring issues such as our experience of being alive and the nature of the natural environment.. His use of the form is as adept as Lowe’s, often concluding in memorable rhyming couplets, such as: ‘We collect the wild as ornamental/ Domesticate, put on a pedestal’; ‘My hard weight tames the uneven and wild/ makes it all proper, gentle meek and mild’; and ‘The wild dance of the swifts amongst the dead/ reminds us life goes on restless to be fed.’ The sonnet is clearly alive and well and has much to offer poets today.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘These Random Acts of Wildness’

I was very pleased to hear of Chicago-born poet Jessica Laser’s latest, Planet Drill (New York NY: Futurepoem, 2022), recalling how struck I was by the work in her debut, Sergei Kuzmich from All Sides (Seattle WA: Letter Machine Editions, 2019) [see my review of such here]. The poems in Planet Drill are predominantly shorter, lyrically-compact first-person examinations, each line constructed as a kind of self-contained statement, set as a layering of poem-shaped brick-works. In certain ways, she constructs her poems around the shape of what otherwise couldn’t be seen without staffolding, allowing the poem to exist as the absence around which her poem draws. Listen to this stretch in the middle of the two-page poem “PLUMBER,” that reads: “I kept along my secret, plumbing / for keeps. State-employed, / I’m hungry, have glory, now money, / now sadness, now none, concern, / joy, fear, grief, / humility, anger, pride, peace, / I’m happy stricken, afflicted / with so deep a burning / of which ice is and can’t help.” There is a playfulness to her lyric of indirect direct statements, one that offers wry commentary and tongue-in-cheek swipes. “Nothing in pride but a flower.” she writes, to open “POEM WITH LIES,” “Nothing in a stare but glass life. / No fruit but a spore / and silent nectar. To remember / this is to bear all things. Life bears / no fruit but of too much color, stands / for taste where sun and taste ally.” Laser’s poems blur between surfaces and depth, moving in and out of focus at remarkable speed, and employing a precision that both illuminates and contorts. “A sad girl a sad alas is.” she writes, to open the poem “CRENELATIONS,” “Best to forfeit disposition. / All exposure. Best / Not to make / A judge love you, / Particularly / You.”

rob mclennan, Jessica Laser, Planet Drill

Carolyn Forché has a new collection of her own poetry, which is always cause for joy. She has compiled anthologies and written memoir and essays, but her poetry collections don’t appear frequently–five collections since 1975, averaging one poetry collection a decade. This is not a prolific output in terms of poetry collections compared with some of her peers, but her books are worth waiting for. I suspect that her poems, crafted with such memorable pacing and imagery, which unspool so purposefully–even mindfully, though that term is overused–must take time to consider, revise, or compose. I have to slow my breath just to take them in.

In the Lateness of the World lies on the book pile beside my bed at the moment, and I read about three to four poems at a time. Savoring them, thinking about their implications; despair and concern and grief, and deep love for the world we inhabit and the people who labor through the days. Forché, because of her “poetry of witness,” often gets called a political poet, mostly because she never shies away from confronting, and writing about, the injustices and damages inflicted on people and on the planet–and implicating the perpetrators. But she also avoids ideology. The perpetrators are not easily pegged in her work: all of us can be implicated, and all of us are affected, a network no single person or nation can untangle or resolve. Forché’s poems resonate with a complicated love and a recognition of how much work we must be willing to do.

Ann E. Michael, Admiration

This pamphlet features two longer sequences, starting with the title piece, and four shorter poems. In a nutshell, “Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain” explores the life of a woman in youth, age and death through a lens of motherhood. The poem doesn’t flow in in chronological order, it’s a series of recollections from differing perspectives. […]

The two longer sequences explore multiple voices on a common theme while the shorter poems are more focused. All demonstrate a love of language, both of meaning and sound, not just as single words but how sounds build patterns and add texture to the poems.

Emma Lee, “Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain and Other Poems” Oisín Breen (Beir Bua Press) – book review

Finished reading Deathbed Sext by Christopher Salerno, 2020, Two Sylvia’s Press.  This was a winner of TSP Chapbook competition. There are some remarkable lines in this poetry. It is rich with dissonance (something I love) throughout the book.  Personally, I felt its strength was in individual poems and not so much as a cohesive manuscript, but that was just my opinion. 

Michael Allyn Wells, January – Birthday – Fountain Pen

It occurred to me suddenly last week that next year, we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the first dancing girl press chapbook. There is no way this could be at all possible, and yet, there it is. It also means that 20 years ago this fall, I was just starting my MFA program. While wicked alice existed prior to those years, the press is somewhat tied to that program, not really the poetry classes, where they all seemed slightly horrified I had the audacity to start a press (or at my audacity in general,) but a brief dip into the Fiction Writing program’s Small Press Publishing class where I created first a print annual of WA, then my own little chapbook project as a test runner for bigger things that fall. Granted, that class imagined far larger goals for starting a press than a tiny chapbook operation.  I remember my classmates coming in with grand schemes and even grander budgets, none of which quite lifted off the ground. My tiny little print annual flew..mostly because my expectations were small..a saddle stapler, some cardstock, some paper, a word file. I did it all for less than a $100 for both the annual and my little chap. This was proper to social media, prior even to this blog (I was still on xanga at the time.) And yet, people found their way to the website, the crude little initial version I had built on Angelfire  for like 10 bucks a month where I hosted other early sites (where it still lives, more or less, at least the landing page, which then gives way to the shop hosted elsewhere.) 

The success of course, depended on the smallness. Keeping things manageable financially, with each book paying for the next. This is still the model that works, with other funds coming through from the shop goods in general. It’s a lot more solvent and in the red than when I rented the studio space, but it’s still very much a micropress. Occasionally, I entertain the idea of full-length offerings, which are do-able as my own self-publishing endeavors attest, but I still love the handmade factor, the smallness factor, of publishing chapbooks. It’s still a low-overhead endeavor, which makes it possible to continue even in times when many other presses and publishers went under. (Ie even if traffic is low and the economy shit, books can still make their way into the world, even if I am paying out of pocket myself.)

I also like that not much investment means that I can afford to take chances on authors who might be publishing their first work but aren’t going to be big sellers, at least not right away. Or strange little weird books no one but me may love. Or books by authors who release a lot of work, but because their fans are split across so many new projects, they might not sell well initially (I sometimes am this author, I know what it’s like)  There is a pleasure in being small, but also really free. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | january 2023

There was a lovely range of ages in my first workshop, a few younger siblings joined in, as well as parents, grandparents and carers. We talked about pattern, repetition, shape and rhyme in poetry, and how that might be represented visually. We also learned that George Crabbe wrote long narrative poems, predominantly in the form of rhyming couplets, and I showed the group some of my own visual poems, where I’ve used the same flower at the end of each line to represent a rhyme, and more recent poems using photocopies of fallen leaves.

Then the group spent time with George Crabbe’s herbarium, carefully handling specimens (all kept under clear protective covering to preserve them) and selecting the ones they wanted to work with. Hannah, from Trowbridge Museum, photocopied the chosen specimens, then the participants set to work, cutting and pasting photocopies of flowers, or drawing and colouring them, or making 3D models of flowers and a garden landscape, or a combination of all of this. One workshop member had a go at writing rhyming couplets in the style of George Crabbe. We talked about how Crabbe included common wildflowers in his collection and the group was very knowledgeable about the insect-enabling, pollinating benefits of flowers and plants, incorporating bees, butterflies and other insects into their creative work, a few samples below! [Click through for the photo documentation.]

Josephine Corcoran, Flowers, visual poetry and George Crabbe’s herbarium in a workshop at Trowbridge Museum

Thank you Matthew Paul for reminding me about The Iron Book of British Haiku. You can read his very detailed and engaging post about this book here – a real insider’s account of how this book came together. I’ve featured the poem on the back cover (above) [“Morning sneeze / the guitar in the corner / resonates” —Dee Evetts] as a gentle reminder to myself to get back to the guitar! It’s been a marathon month of blogging, and it’s really helped me focus on the poetry, but I’m well aware that it has also taken up some of the time I would normally have spent practising the guitar. My aim was to post every day in January, and we’re almost at the end of the month, so February should be, by rights, a month where I pick up the guitar every day. Let’s see how that pans out!

Julie Mellor, the guitar in the corner …

It’s Saturday morning and I’m doing everything except writing although my mind keeps going back to writing. I’m watching a documentary right now called “Laurel Canyon” on Prime but in the back of my mind I’m restructuring a creative nonfiction piece I’ve been working on for a while. […]

The main thing that impressed me was the mystique of Laurel Canyon itself, as a community, at that moment in time. I felt like I was watching a lost world that will never be again, a world more personal than the one we live in today. People trusted each other, didn’t lock their doors, wandered in and out of each others homes. Their lifestyle was free, innocent, expansive. It seemed it was a community that shared, without envy and competition. It’s hard to believe in our current world that this ever existed.

The landscape itself was verdant, moody, primitive, even dangerous in the way beauty often is. I can imagine being bewitched, living there at that time in such a richly creative, beautiful, and nurturing environment. It oozed creativity that came through in the old home movies and photographs. It really cast a spell on me for several hours. I can relate to how music and art is inspired by being immersed in the natural world, how the peace of it empties the mind of chaos, replaces it with wonder and a calm that allows creative ideas to grow.

Charlotte Hamrick, Creative Communities

The second poem for this week comes from Fergus Allen and his first collection, The Brown Parrots of Provedencia. I think I’ve mentioned his work before, and may have shared a poem, but if it’s taken me two years to get to Katie’s book, it’s taken me about 25 to get to this one. I’ve had this since my days working at Bertrams and have hauled it with me wherever I go, but if I have read it it didn’t land with me, or perhaps I didn’t have the tools to comprehend it, but now I”ve started it I am enjoying it. It looks like my three Fergus Allen books made it to the TBR pile a couple of years ago too, so I really am getting down into the sub-strata there. I’ve now discovered that a) he’s dead b) there are two more books I don’t have of his c) Brown Parrots came out when he was 70 (wither the definition of an emerging or developing poet argument) and d) this is an interesting interview with him.

Mat Riches, Attitudes, Anteaters, Brown Parrots, and early kicks offs for the Eliots

I’m so delighted to be included in the most recent issue of Eemis Stane, a primarily Scots language publication. The team is just brilliant and so helpful with getting the Scots in my poems jist richt. I’m still learning, so it’s been great to work with them and to be included, though Scots for me is a learned language, rather than a native tongue. The scope of the magazine is amazing and global even though it’s focussed on a minority language, from a sample of Catalan translations of a Scots novel to a whole collection of great Scots poems and a review of a book of Scots translations of Chinese poets. I feel like I’m a small part of a new vitalising movement. 

Gerry Stewart, The Keeking Light

I’ve excited to announce that my next collection of poetry, Her Whole Bright Life, winner of the Jack McCarthy Book Prize and forthcoming from Write Bloody, is now available for pre-order! Books will ship in April, order today!

***

Her Whole Bright Life is a collection of poems that weave together the trauma and exhaustion of a life lived with disordered eating and the loss and grief of the death of the poet’s father. Love and hunger intertwine and become inseparable as the poet grapples to find, and listen, to both. With a distinct and feminist voice, this collection delves into a life now lived without a beloved parent, while trying to survive a pandemic, and battling demons that have lived inside her for most of her life. With both fierceness and tenderness, we see a woman trying to find her place within her own body and within an ever-changing world. This collection of poems is both an elegy and an anthem – praising both those who’ve been lost and those who remain.

Courtney LeBlanc, New Book Available for Pre-Order

I am amazed to see that I have yet another review of my new chapbook (The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants)! I think this is a testament to the hustle of my wonderful editor at Belle Point, Casie Dodd (thank you if you are reading!).

Erijo Edward writes, “The book is a moving masterpiece that allows for the author to mourn, for the reader to see through the most trying period of her life and also appreciate the essence of what life is, for it is in moving on and finding the will to survive we coexist with the planet and once again appreciate the beauty of nature and life in itself.”

Masterpiece?!?! I am really flattered!

Renee Emerson, The Commonplace Misfortunes, reviewed in The Poetry Question

I was thrilled to receive an acceptance this week for some poems I submitted to an upcoming anthology. I haven’t submitted work in a very long time, and I had forgotten the rush of good feeling it gives me to be granted a “yes” on my work: Someone thinks I’m worthy! Someone likes what I wrote! Approval is a powerful drug, and it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a good dose of it. Most of the time these days I go around seething to myself, “If you want to tell me about all of ways I’ve disappointed you, you’ll have to get in line behind everyone else.” So being given the Nod of Worthiness felt pretty darn good.

Kristen McHenry, Emotional Wins Hot Streak

One of the joys of social media (and there are plenty of aspects of them that are less than joyful) is that occasionally a notification pops up from an unexpected source and when you check it out there is something really worthwhile to be found. This happened the other day – via Instagram. Someone called Matt McGettrick had tagged me. I don’t know Matt, but he is a student on the BA course in TV and Radio Production at the University of Salford.

Matt’s instapost said he had recently created a soundscape based on a poem I published in 1990, in my first book from Enitharmon Press, called Beneath Tremendous Rain. It’s unlikely that the poem was found in that book itself, but I remember it was selected more than 10 years later by Sean Street to appear in an anthology called Radio Waves: poems celebrating the wireless (Entharmon, 2004). There, I was happily rubbing shoulders with the likes of Auden, Brecht, MacNeice, Heaney and Carol Ann Duffy. Sean – whose is a poet, broadcaster and recently retired Professor of Radio at Bournemouth University – had divided the anthology up into sections variously titled, Music Radio, Talk Radio, Weather, Listeners and Signals. My piece was in the section called ‘In the Car’.

Martyn Crucefix, ‘Air-Waves’: poem as audio soundscape

The thing I found fascinating about Mandelbrot images, was the way you can zoom in and in and in, and the same patterns emerge at every level of detail. That was the effect I wanted to portray in this poem. To my mind, a thesaurus behaves like that; you can look one word up and then find its synonyms, and then proceed to synonyms of those synonyms. As the poem imparts, spiralling and sprawling, spawning a myriad thesaurus points, and genociding a kaleidoscope of others.

Giving the name Julia to one of these fractal sets felt very anthropomorphic.

Giles L. Turnbull, Patterns Amid the Poems

it’s the fag isn’t it
chomped in the blown corner
making way for the mouthed words
exhaled frown yet to crease that young brow
where the fish words garner thoughts
that glow and fade
drop like blown ash
his mind as far away as the fields
in the tobacco shop on st helen’s road

Jim Young, dylan thomas in a chair with a fag

In the bright frosty days when rain paused I remembered how sparrows spring clean as nesting time approaches – sweep sticks and feathers from hiding places in the eaves. Foxes are mating and calling. Something of that fever got to me in the last couple of weeks. I’ve spent hours online rooting through names on my mother’s side of the family.

There are few narratives attached to these names, other than the streets they lived in, the churchyard they’re buried in (masses of them in the same one) and occupations on census forms – agricultural labourer, laundress, unpaid domestic duties. Interrupting these, a house painter, groom, a charcoal burner, gardener. Unsurprising handholds in the story that kept mum’s family in the New Forest for generations, mainly around one village. For a while they lived in Silver Street, which the New Forest Explorers’ Guide reckons is a corruption of Silva, meaning road to the woods. Whether or not that’s true, I’ll take the beauty in that name as truth. Just as I was delighted to find a female ancestor called Martha Candy.

Jackie Wills, The forest ancestors again

I hear of two so search for the third
as death always comes in threes
this is a hard and fast law
my mother steered our family by such stars
bad things can happen any time
tea leaves held clues
and she interrogated every cup for omens
but none were as accurate as
Coop Indian Prince Assam

Paul Tobin, TEA LEAVES HELD CLUES

The photos in this post were taken in Rome in November. And it was such an interval of pure play. At first I was disappointed that the carousel was draped in the protective tarp. But it started to seem a bit symbolic. The messages and words written on the plastic in the dust. Someone had torn away a bit of the plastic so you could see in a little but largely the carousel animals were a murky blur. The fun part was obscured. Still, the decorative top was a visual feast. I can’t tell you how many photos I took of this and Rob off to the side patiently just letting me do my thing. At the time I couldn’t even say what drew me to this but I was COMPELLED. Now it makes sense to me but I knew enough to just go with it and enjoy the play. To just delight. I remember taking some pains to line up the angels on the carousel with the angel on top of the Castel Sant’Angelo, and the bird perched on the lamppost. […]

As most creative people know, when you’re just playing around, goofing about, that’s often when neat stuff happens. You’re open to it, it’s open to you. Who knows. In the next two frames, a couple of birds began to play. You could tell they were riffing off of each other, taking turns perching on the horse. Delightful, yes?

It helps, anyway, is what I’ve found, to just go and play at something (in my case photography). Then when you come back to the day job or whatever work you have to do, it’s easier to find that comedic distance.

Shawna Lemay, Participate Joyfully

Like many people, I’ve been experimenting with using AI tools to write. In one way or another, AI has been part of my writing practice for decades. I begin using Ray Kurzweil’s “Poet’s Assistant” ages and ages ago after hearing Christopher Dewdney speaking about it. You could feed it a corpus of a poet’s work (I liked Blake’s) and then add another corpus (I’d feed it old manuscripts of mine) and then you could get it to generate entire poems, or, even better, to complete sentences. I found it particularly interesting to prompt it with words or phrases that confounded it. “Underwear” isn’t in the Blake poems, for example.

I’ve often used Google Translate, and an N+7 generator, running next through them multiple times and generally trying to exploit the strange corners of the software.

Lately, I’ve been exploring ChatGPT and GPT-3. With any AI, the trick is to figure out how to give it productive prompts which cause it to respond in interesting ways and hopefully generate something of use. I’m not a purist–I’m happy to take output and edit it. The first example below (and set to music in the video above) The Ocean was created without any significant editing — a couple of tiny nips and tucks. The second piece, The Leaves was more substantially edited and I merged two different GPT-3 prompts and results together. I love the idea that you give a prompt to an AI and then the result is kind of like a prompt back to you.

Gary Barwin, The Ocean, The Leaves and AI

How many times
do two words go

bump-bump
before it means

something,
the old monk asked.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (389)

How does a poem begin?

Sometimes with a ghost, sometimes with a joke. Although before that, before the immediate inciting incident, there is a slow and steady accumulation of fragments: overheard phrases, unbidden ideas, resonant texts, facts that scream to be made into metaphors. I spend my time moving through the world and collecting these little fragments, jotting them down in notebooks, suspending them from the rafters of my brain where they can sway and sing together.

And then, the inciting incident: A hypothetical question about eating your clone, for example. That gives the fragments something to coalesce around. It gives them a shared premise. It illuminates their similarities, heightens their differences. They all begin casting light and shadow on one another, melting into one another, gesturing toward other fragments, morphing into strange new entities with many faces. It’s all quite chaotic. 

So what you need to do, then, is find that line or phrase to anchor them – like binding a spirit to a cursed object.

Matthew Kosinski : part five (Thomas Whyte)

but when I stop and listen

I realise I am not
the only interruption ~

a passing train, the cries
of children in the yard

of a school half a mile away
and then in the next moment

the peals of the school bell
calling us all to order

and I am a child
in another schoolyard

in another landscape
bouncing on my heels

turning towards this future
I have yet to imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ It is so still today

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 3

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: surreal squirrels, underwear mindfulness, insouciant exclamations, missing hearts, the beyondward, and more. Enjoy.


The mind leaps. The squirrel leaps, now inert, now live in our imaginations, now live on the tree outside my writing window. Its nails play the keys of dry bark; clinging sideways, it freezes in utter silence, eyes fixing me in a staring contest. Abruptly it turns, its gray hairs fly in streaks of black and tan across scaly gray bark and lichen, the opening chapter in the life of gray.

Jill Pearlman, How a Surreal Squirrel Alerts Us

I have placed stones on gravestones. I’ve also lifted stones, cupped them in my hands, felt their heft, that they are made of the earth as well as archetype. Something bigger. Whenever I lift a stone I think of history, of those who have died, perhaps buried beneath headstones, of those who have been lost. Sorrow turned to stone? A petrified ritual? Charles Simic evokes the mystery of a stone in his famous and mysteriously named poem, “Stone”: I have seen sparks fly out/When two stones are rubbed/…Just enough light to make out/The strange writings, the star-charts/On the inner walls.”

When I lift a stone, I think of those who have no headstone, those who are buried beneath stones only in unmarked earth. The parents of that great-grandfather after whom we named our son, my great grandparents, were shot in a small town outside of the city of Panevėžys, Lithuania during the Holocaust. Through archival research, I found details of their death in a registry. The name of the town. The approximate date. My grandfather was told about their murder years later by a drunk guest at a Bar Mitzvah in South Africa, came home and told my teenage father. Simic: “Let somebody else become a dove/Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth./I am happy to be a stone.”

Gary Barwin, RACING FUTURITY

ivy berries
the snow birds are shitting
on a blue buddha

Jim Young [no title]

There are loads of recordings of Alan Watts on the internet, so I’m not quite sure where I got this from, except he’s talking about haiku, and how good haiku exhibit ‘the virtue of knowing when to stop’. Having looked at some notes I’d hoped would become a haiku, I realise that I don’t need to keep reworking them, trying to substitute ‘abreuvoir’ for trough for example, or adding the description ‘galvanized’. What I actually need to do is leave the poem alone!

The problem is, even as I write this, there’s still something seductive about the word abreuvoir!

Julie Mellor, The art of knowing when to stop

Why dialect? This is the only sonnet in the collection written throughout in dialect. Others hint at the Northern way of speaking through their grammar. The tradition has been to write humorous verse when you write in dialect. I want to show that dialect can be used for weightier subjects, too. I use it for its immediacy, the sinews of its storytelling, and knack for conveying emotion. It gives a sense of belonging, of history. The alliteration at the beginning hints at the Norse origins of the language. It stands witness to the event. It gives the sonnet an authenticity and a sense of place.

Nigel Kent, Drop in by Paul Brookes

David’s interest in wordplay began at a very early age. “In first grade,” he told me, “I dropped the ball on my first show-and-tell and forgot to bring anything to class. But I had just read a book about palindromes and loved them, so when it was my time to stand in front of the class I talked about that. Afterwards my teacher took me to see the principal… because he loved wordplay too. And he showed me some wordplay puzzles from a GAMES magazine he had in his office. […]”

In my end of year reflections last year I wrote about the positive aspects of Twitter communities. An enthusiastic and welcoming community has formed around David’s Scrabblegram posts, including a monthly challenge and contributions by wordplay enthusiasts from around the world. 

David makes writing Scrabblegrams seem effortless, but they are, I’ve discovered, very hard! If you don’t have access to a set of Scrabble tiles, there’s a helpful online tool; even so, I’ve spent hours and hours trying to construct a simple, coherent, Scrabblegram. 

Write one now for fun – radiate humour, be quirky, odd, imageable, erotic, sad, scintillating, zany, deep, explosive. Just have a go!

Marian Christie, 100 letter tiles – the joy of Scrabblegrams

“Excitement comes from being lazy and fun loving. O’Hara worked hard, but he also took it easy. His Collected Poems are a manifesto of the high aesthetic rewards that accrue from a life—albeit a tragically abbreviated life—of taking easiness as the gold standard. Like Warhol’s professed love of easy art (or art that was easy to make), O’Hara’s love of easeful production stood in ironic contrast to the uneasy intensity that electrifies his work and complicates its every emotional posture, threading melancholy and ambivalence and the threat of self-loss into the most apparently insouciant exclamations.” 

That’s from a lyric essay by the poet-scholar Wayne Koestenbaum. I just taught it, asking the students to choose quotes they wanted to discuss, and the above paragraph was a favorite. O’Hara, like Allen Ginsberg, made his name in the 1950s, when poets were especially interested in improvisation, process, and generally distinguishing themselves from Protestant-work-ethic-obsessed besuited capitalist businessmen. I realized, as we discussed O’Hara’s poems and Koestenbaum’s take on them, what a far cry this is from how I hear any poet discuss poetry today. Poets talk about being busy and stressed; about how disrespected we feel by markets that pay nothing and send us belated, cold-hearted form rejections; how complex our craft is. At least, my friends and I do. Even first drafts, which once came easily to me, don’t seem to, lately. I’m interrupted by self-questioning. Am a digging deeply enough into difficult emotions or ideas because, as O’Hara agreed, this can be a terrible world? Are the stakes of this piece, I ask midstream or before even starting, really high enough for me to spend so much time on it? (What a tellingly economic verb for devoting time: spending it.)

Lesley Wheeler, Easy poetry

“What is a guinea?” a student in my seventh-grade English class asked recently. We had just read that the rich old lady Miss Havisham was giving the young Pip twenty-five guineas as a premium for apprenticing him to a blacksmith in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I explained that a guinea was one pound and one shilling. There was much more that could have been said, but I did not know then that the name of the coin was directly derived from Europe’s economic exploitation of Africa, in particular West Africa, through extractive capitalism. 

And even if I did know, would I have paused our study of this great Bildungsroman to take my students down this sidetrack of European colonialism? There are so many wonderful details, of plot, character, and language, in Great Expectations to lavish our attention on, and there is so little time to look at them all. The guinea is not an unimportant detail if we remember that Miss Havisham’s fortune came from not only landed property but also the family brewery, the same business that kept the English working class sloshed and servile. Indeed, Pip grows up and redeems his sin of ambition by working in ship insurance in Cairo to lubricate the sea-lanes of the British empire. Class oppression is joined with imperial domination in the guinea.

This is a constant dilemma when teaching an Eurocentric text: because it transposes an important history into minor details, a teacher seems to need special justification or to pursue a special agenda if they dwell on the margins of the text, whereas the main “story,” of bourgeois personal development, appears to be free of ideology. By not spending a minute on the guinea, I have missed the opportunity of teaching my students to read more critically. More, I have missed the opportunity of showing my students the importance of reading texts that do not center Europe.

Jee Leong Koh, What Is a Guinea?

Both Kevin and I had manuscripts accepted by Salmon Poetry at the same time, circa 2000.  His first collection The Boy with No Face appeared in 2005.  Though he went on to publish many more books, both poetry and essay collections, it is this initial one that still resonates for me the most, as it is the most personal in terms of my own memories of him.  So many of the poems in that collection I knew first from the poetry readings, the little magazines, the work shared around the bar or lounge or coffeeshop table.  We remained in touch over the years and decades.  Kevin and his partner Susan DuMars hosted me for an Over the Edge reading (the series they cofounded in Galway in the early 2000s).  I attended others at which I did not read.  Our communication had long since become warm, its tone familiar; we were old friends who, even if we did not talk or email regularly, could immediately lapse back into a mutual understanding.  That kind of friendship, rooted in but going beyond our investments in poetry (and politics), is rare indeed.

I last saw Kevin just this past November (2022), in his room on the Claddagh Ward of University Hospital Galway (“the Regional, to the old heads,” as Kevin clarified as we were making the arrangements of day and time).  In his battle with leukemia, complicated by sarcoidosis, he was stalwart, braver than I imagine I could be, still deploying his very wry sense of humor, but also so sincere at the same time.  At this point, there was much hope; he was doing better.  It was a great two-hour or so conversation.  I will miss him deeply.  One thing I will say is that I think he would want his memory to stir us to action and to work, to write and to agitate, to fight against, as he put it in “The Leader,” “the sort of man who hasn’t read / Mein Kampf just yet. But he’ll be here, / like the old man buying The Racing Post / who growls about ‘invaders’ or the skinhead / with the petrol bomb whose hour is striking now” — or against, as the title of another poem in The Boy with No Face has it, “The Hidden Hand” of free-market economics, the capitalist interests which underlie both liberalism and the resurgent Right, whose hour is indeed seemingly striking now.

Michael S. Begnal, i.m. Kevin Higgins

Scene: the Brookline High School Library, many plastic chairs set out in rows for this special event.

It was 1973 or 1974 and there was a poet in the library! Could you be alive and still be a poet? I remember thinking that she looked like she could be someone’s mother (she was) and I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed by this realization.

That is, until she started reading her poems. 

I remember being amazed at how clear each poem appeared in the air, as in: shimmering with layers of nuance. Linda Pastan made it look so easy! I was sixteen years old and just beginning to consider poetry I might write (sadly, over my desire to be a novelist).

I met Linda Pastan again at the Breadloaf Writers Conference in 1993. Twenty years later I was still flirting with a life in poetry. She was the poet whom I asked to study with and she was the poet that I was lucky enough to meet one on one.

Susan Rich, Linda Pastan: My First Living Poet in the Flesh

2023 marks 25 years since Peter Mortimer’s Iron Press published The Iron Book of British Haiku, still available on the Iron website, here. It was co-edited by David Cobb and Martin Lucas, both of whom are no longer with us. I seem to remember reading somewhere that it sold over 5,000 copies. It certainly found its way into many bookshops and for years was usually the only English-language haiku book available.

It contained 73 haiku poets, including two of the four who participated in a kasen renga which was appended after the individual poets. Of the 73, I reckon just 14 are still writing haiku and at least three of those 14 have ceased seeking publication for their output. A good few of the others have since died – Norman Barraclough, Seamus Heaney (!), Ken Jones, Stuart Quine and David Walker among them. That’s unsurprising, because in those early days of the British Haiku Society (BHS), which had only been founded eight years before, the average age of the membership must’ve been well over 60, and I was usually the youngest attendee at events.

At the time, I was chuffed to bits to be in the anthology, even though I only had two haiku (both about snails!) in it. I went to the launch at a bookshop whose name and exact location in London escapes me, and which was memorable for a hypnotic reading by Mimi Khalvati, one of three poetry ‘heavyweights’ (alongside famous Seamus and Anthony Thwaite) who were shoehorned into the book to add some clout. Of course, haiku readings are mercifully brief.

Matthew Paul, On The Iron Book of British Haiku

Friendship is the theme of this year’s Poetry Week, celebrated in The Netherlands and the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium through 400+ events. It starts on Thursday 26 January. Miriam Van Hee (B) and Hester Knibbe (NL), two poets who have been friends for almost 40 years were commissioned to write five poems each for a book. In a recent interview they said that trust and curiosity are key elements for a friendship to endure and last.

Anyone who spends over 21,50 Euro on poetry books during Poetry Week will be given a copy. It’s not hard to spend that sort of money, as poetry books are expensive in The Netherlands!

Fokkina McDonnell, Friendship

I walk peripheries to the half-way mark where he meets me,
having done some joyous, icy laps, and we go back together
across the deepest parts. I listen to the ice beneath his wheels,
my feet: how mostly there is safe hush, how sometimes it slushes,
or creaks, crackles, even, and trust in skill does not obviate frisson
of fear, the need to move to more solid spans. Sure, metaphor, easy;
but also literal—we know can break through, hypothermic in seconds,
unable to save ourselves, or each other, if we are not smart: no iteration
of water can be underestimated. The cold is a bright expanse, a fixed
and green translucence of inches, miles.

JJS, Between the Woods and Frozen Lake

I’ve been watching John Vervaeke’s new series, After Socrates. I appreciate Vervaeke very much, and I’m finding the series very worth watching.

My problem is that I roundly dislike Socrates, and have from the moment I met him. He is a humble-braggart and a busybody, minding everyone’s business but his own: on his own showing he neglected his family and let them fall into poverty while he spent his time gadflying about town and picking quarrels with anyone reputed to be wise. What kind of conduct is that? 

And so often, such pettifogging, nitpicky arguments! Such sophomoric glee in mere triumphs of words! That sort of thing is forgivable in an undergraduate, but a man in his prime ought to have moved on. He should be listening to the heart by then, not to the words: and he should care more about the person he’s speaking to than about scoring points in a debate. But Socrates just loves to win arguments, and to rub his opponents’ noses in their defeats. I have been trying to read him fairly. Starting again, and making every assumption I can in his favor.

Dale Favier, After Socrates

It took me far more time to start running again than the surgeon had suggested, undoubtedly a response to grief as well as physical healing. And it was only a year after Mam died that I woke up one morning, suddenly lighter, able at last to process the details of my post-surgery pathology report, and, after more than a year, to feel grateful again, for life, for each day. A gift. 

I’m back to my pre-surgery level of running now: 7 and 8 miles with my women’s running group. Aiming to build this year to 10. Running on my own a couple of times a week too, along the fields and lanes of the Kent countryside, or across the beach and mountainsides of Port Talbot. 

Those solo runs feel as if I am freeing my mind from a leash, letting it roam into the landscapes around me, and, at the same time, watching it settle, internally, to understandings and insights. Sometimes answers. Sometimes more questions.

And sometimes those runs give rise to words that feel worth sharing: I run/write. 

Lynne Rees, run/write

I was getting along fine with my new year’s routines of morning yoga, coffee, reading & writing, work, random housework, and various meetings and commitments, when I became mindful of my underwear drawer. It was looking pretty sparse! Hadn’t I just laundered the bedsheets? Um, yes, but then days/weeks went by. So how mindful am I, anyway?

But you know what? I have already sent out two poetry submissions, and it’s still the middle of January. I don’t think I got going on poetry submissions until February of last year. So, poetry or clean underwear, which will it be?

Kathleen Kirk, The Yoga of Laundry

I thought when I finished my course (I finished my course!!!) and handed in that last assignment I’d have more time to do things that had been shuffled aside these last three months and for most of 2022 really. But here I am three weeks later and I feel like I’m still struggling to get on with things. I’m unsure if it’s a lack of motivation, the lack of a whip encouraging me to move forward or the fact that we’re still buried under a dark and snowy winter here in Finland that’s holding me back. […]

I have a pile of poetry books to read, but they require more focus than I’ve had recently, so I hope to get back into reading them more now that my course is out of the way. 

2023 is a year of getting back into the things I love. The course was for my work. I enjoyed it, but it was more to help me move forward in my job and do better for my school kids. Writing is for me, so I hope to focus on that more. A few plans are crawling into motion, so I’ll see how they pan out and keep looking for new opportunities. 

Gerry Stewart, 2022 Writing Review

There’s a terrific poem up at The Spectator today (see here) by Ian Harrow, a poet who’s new to me. However, the shocking detail was the appearance of brackets after his name. A quick google led me to another excellent article from the same journal, written by him in February 2022, titled The Delicate Business of Writing Poetry (see here), which states..

Living, as Clive James put it, under a life sentence, and having refused chemotherapy, I find I respond to the time issue in contradictory ways.

And then a further google brought me to his website, with some examples of his poems (see here). Moreover, it also explains that he published several collections and pamphlets in his lifetime, while…

Since the mid-70s his work has appeared in a wide range of periodicals and magazines including the Times Literary Supplement, The Spectator, Oxford Magazine, Stand, Poetry Wales, Other Poetry, Literary Review, London Magazine, Archipelago, Poetry Ireland Review, Shop Magazine and New Walk.

All this has made me reflect once more on the fleeting nature of poetic fame.

Matthew Stewart, Ian Harrow, poet (1945-2022)

She doesn’t believe that the dead can’t hear her.
Don’t they live in the air, in dappled shadow, in water?
Who lay with her on satin sheets, who wed her?
Fish in the shallows, moths in the net of a lamp.

Luisa A. Igloria, Repetition Pantoum

The Harm Field opens with a prose sequence, ‘Leavings’ a memoir of sorts in three parts, the first focused on experiences of hostility in London in, I guess, the 1970s, the second primarily memories of childhood and the third a looking back on Ireland from the same position of exile that informs Terra Terra, a ‘homesickness for places that were never yours’. A new element that intrudes here is the question of language, and specifically the loss or lack of Irish as a native tongue, as in a mamoty of the narrator’s mother teaching him and his brother ‘the numbers’:

…a-hain, a-doe, a-tray, a-kather, a-cooig, a-shock, a-shay, the rest escapes me. Lisping in numbers. The road dips and turns, if I remember right, the architect’s modernist bungalow dominating the bend. I left on the ferry and come back by plane. Sometimes I think the language that I never learnt still weighs on my tongue, thickening my Ts behind my teeth.

Again, the reader is struck by the complex web that lies behind this apparently simple memory: the striking conjunction of modernism and the rural belies any straightforward narrative of unsophisticated home versus cosmopolitan exile; this contrasts with he clear evidence of change in the narrator’s fortunes (ferry/plane); the rich inter-relationship between the language not learnt and the language that is the narrator’s professional concern. We are, as in Terra Terra, in a world of necessary ambiguity.

Billy Mills, Terra Terra and Bar Null by David Lloyd: a Review

“We Saw It All Happen” is a collection that has the climate emergency firmly in its sights, but it’s not a didactic, handwringing swansong that writes humanity off completely. Politicians are fair game, their reluctance to make real, lasting change explored through satire. Oil swaggers in and drifts out like Trump. Julian Bishop seeds hope. It’s not too late (yet). We can each make small changes to bring out larger wins. It entertains.

Emma Lee, “We Saw It All Happen” Julian Bishop (Fly on the Wall) – book review

Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology is out now from Madville Publishing! Edited by Julie E. Blomeke and Dustin Brookshire, the volume contains 54 poets (including yours truly) rhapsodizing over the cultural icon. 

I’ll be giving my first in-person reading in nearly two years at the Atlanta launch of the anthology on Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. hosted by Georgia Center for the Book at the Decatur Library. Please join us! 

Collin Kelley, Let Me Say This; A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology out now!

Set in three lettered section-sequences—“A,” “B” and “A’”—lyrics of her latest, Pink Waves (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2022), exist in a kind of rush, one that nearly overwhelms through a wash or wave of sequenced text; a sequence of lyric examinations that come up to the end of each poem and retreat, working back up to the beginning of a further and lengthier crest. The first sequence, for example, offers an accumulation of eight poems, each opening returning to the beginning, with the line “it was a wave all along.” Each piece in sequence builds upon that singular line as a kind of mantra, rhythmically following repeating variations of what had come prior and adding, akin to a childhood memory game. As the fourth poem of the opening sequence begins: “it was a wave all along // a passing moment reveals itself to have cued the long apology // i sat with a friend and the loss of her child // sliding between the heat of now and surrender [.]” The repetitions, something rife throughout her work to date, provides not only a series of rippling echoes throughout, but allows for the ability to incorporate variety without reducing, and perhaps even expanding, the echo.

rob mclennan, Sawako Nakayasu, Pink Waves

I love the escape TikTok offers me. I turn to it for laughs — full belly laughs — and deeply love the comical way TikTok-ers highlight our flaws as human beings. People are creative, funny and often generous. And, when carefully curated (as is the case with all social platforms), I find it delightful.

After downloading the app and joining a couple years ago, I enjoyed TikTok exclusively from the sidelines, scrolling but never posting. However, in August I took a huge leap and published (gasp!) several videos. You can check out my profile here: @caroleebennett_poet.

At age 50, I’m ancient for the platform, so why (dear god, why LOL) did I do it? One word: community. As with this blog and my other social media accounts, I was interested in creating and supporting literary community — and having a little fun along the way. In that same spirit, I want to share some intel with you, including what I’ve found there (so far) in terms of writing community and how I personally use the platform.

Carolee Bennett, poetry tiktok: writing community, lit mags, presses, tips and more

I was talking to my little brother this week and he asked me what my goals were for my upcoming book. I hemmed and hawed a little bit, because honestly, I hadn’t really thought a lot in those terms. Isn’t creating the book, finding a publisher, and helping the book get into the world enough of a goal? But of course, my little brother is very practical and ambitious and wants to know what I want to happen with Flare, Corona. I guess when I close my eyes and dream, I hope to connect with a bigger audience, hope to have some good reviews in good places (whatever we think those are right now), hope to, yes, have some book sales (part of that whole reaching a bigger audience thing). I hope that people with MS or difficult diagnoses will find some comfort or fellowship in these poems. I hope it wins a big book prize, too! Do we dare to hope for big media coverage—a radio or television appearance, or being picked by a big book club?

I actually posted this question on Facebook and heard lots of people’s views on whether or not we should even have goals for our poetry books, what they might be for each person, and how overwhelming it can be for poets (who often want to separate the art from the promotion part) to even think about what they are actually hoping to have happen. It can feel overly ambitious to even dream of some of these things. Some just want to focus on the work, which I totally understand, and totally reject even the idea of having goals for a book. But I think it helps me to imagine a future for my little book, that goes beyond just me and my friends and family. And my little brother’s right in some ways—if you have no goals, do you think you might act differently? Plan differently?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems in California Quarterly, Book Galleys/ARCs, Winery Book Club Report, and Setting Goals for…Poetry Books?

There has been a lot spoken and written this winter about using the dark time of the year for recovery and reflection, and I’ve certainly been doing a lot of that. Last year brought me a lot of change and new understanding, not only of the place I now live, but of the way my mind works, and what I bring to the dialogue I hold with the territory. This is taking my thinking about poetry in a completely unexpected and exciting direction. I decided to spend a lot of the year reading Irish poetry, starting with Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland, but also Yeats, Moya Cannon and Kerry Hardie, and it opens new possibilities in my thinking about the relationship between place, community and language. I have begun learning the Irish language – you would think I might have started with Scottish Gaelic, living where I do, but somehow Irish fits my brain and my ear much more sympathetically, and I hope this will give me a way into Scottish later.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Returning to the Light

What I want to
say is caught like
wind in the grasses,

the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (386)

Yesterday I got my hair professionally cut for the first time since 2020, cut and highlighted.  The hair stylist also blew it completely dry and straight, which is unusual for me.  I was surprised by how much lighter and bouncier my hair felt when we were done.

As with all activities that I once did pre-Covid but never resumed, it felt a bit odd to be back.  It was a morning appointment, so it wasn’t as packed as it could have been.  There was plexiglass around the hair washing stations, which I hope they keep.  The woman next to me coughed, and it was nice not to worry about that.

While I waited for the highlights to sink into my hair, I read Celeste Ng’s latest book.  Later, when I finished it, I made this Facebook post:  “If you need a novel that reminds you of the power of words and language, that convinces you that you do believe in the power of words and language, I highly recommend Celeste Ng’s latest, “Our Missing Hearts”–it also will remind you of the power of love, the power of perseverance, the reasons why librarians may yet save us all, and how poetry can surprise us. And it’s an interesting commentary on modern life, even as it reads like a dystopia, in the time honored tradition of Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler.”

It is an amazing book.  I read it because my mom had checked it out from the library and saved it for me, knowing I would be here and could finish it.  I’m so glad I did.  One of the main characters is a poet, the kind of poet that most people are, having one slim volume of poems published by a very small press, not much in the way of sales–until it all blows up in so many unpredictable ways.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Back to School

Ah, the challenges of staying organized! I spent this morning finally starting the process of reorganizing my poetry files–the paper ones, which I keep in various arrangements of document boxes, accordion file boxes, and an index card box. This is stage one of a project I have procrastinated on for far too long. The digital files will be the next step, assuming I actually complete this stage. Being something of a Luddite when it comes to digital organization methods, I have no idea how to manage that stage yet; paper documents, however, I understand.

January’s tenor usually strikes me as a bit dull, damp, chilly, dark, and generally unmotivating. My mood concurs. It’s therefore rather heartening that I find myself up to this task–and that the task itself has given me a sense of accomplishment in more ways than one.

Ann E. Michael, Oh, the mundanity!

This week, I was able to finish up the last of the poems for the smallish series I started at the end of last summer after not touching it for the last few months of the year. It’s a strange, surreal little romp through romantic history and intimacy and kind of just a little bit of humor and nonsensicality I appreciate.  it also goes dark a few times, but I love it all the more for it. I considered possibly sending some of them out into the world, but realize that my desire to send out work is even less than normal. To write it, yes, that is returning, but I also feel like I serve it much better by just sharing things on social media on occasion.

This may no doubt change, since my satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the literary world, or at least the space I personally inhabit in that world, my little corner of it, changes on the day to day. One one hand, I love journals–both publishing in them, reading them, and for their sense of community building. On the other hand, I get impatient with the process of building submissions and waiting (not even the rejection part really, since that is woven into the process) but just the work of it for very little gains even when you’re successful (and paid markets, while they exist are still tiny bits of income at best.)  Ie, the rewards are nice and one of the major building blocks of community, but I begin to feel less and less over time that they are worth the energy, especially when time is short, of researching guidelines and keeping track of open reading periods and keeping tabs on submissions, to the point that there is almost a sense of relief when I don’t have anything out in submission to fret over or keep track of.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new projects

Why is poetry important?

For me, poetry – and all art, really – is about possibility. It’s about expanding possibility in the world by introducing new forms, new ideas, and new experiences. I’m not really interested in poetry as a form of self-expression; I’m interested in it as a site of ongoing public cultural and intellectual invention. A site of communal, continual meaning-making. 

I have this concept of something I call “the beyondward.” It’s essentially a metaphorical, metaphysical realm representing all the possibilities and meanings that exist beyond our immediate realities. We are hemmed in by a capitalist economy, by sham democracies, by debt and alienation and ideology. Mark Fisher called it “capitalist realism,” the sense that there is no alternative to the world we’ve constructed.

But I think there is an alternative, and it exists in the “beyondward” – the epistemic space that houses all the other ways we could arrange our lives. And I don’t just mean our personal lives – where to work, who to spend time with, what matters to me – but also our public lives – how to arrange the economy so everyone’s needs are met, how to build a truly free and fair system of governance, what matters to all of us together on this planet. 

I think poetry is important because it’s one of the ways we can all contribute to the beyondward, to the stock of possibilities and meanings available there. By playing with language and pushing it to new places, we can create opportunities for ourselves to encounter the world in new ways. We can invent forms that help all of us think new thoughts and feel new things and arrive at new meanings. Those new thoughts, those new encounters, can expand our horizons of possibility. And then it becomes easier, bit by bit, to believe that the world could – and should – be different, better. 

Look, I’m a socialist, and that heavily informs my ideas about art and poetry. And being a poet informs my politics, too: It is because poetry pointed me toward the beyondward in the first place that I began to think a transformative politics was possible. 

But I need to emphasize that I don’t think poetry is important only because it serves a political project. Rather, I think it’s important because it – and all art – is one of the ways in which we human beings build a shared intellectual world together – i.e., my “beyondward.” It’s important to have that world and to tend it carefully. The more thriving and full of possibility our beyondward is, the more thriving and full of possibility our own lives are.

Matthew Kosinski : part four (Thomas Whyte’s blog)

To our astonishment a sleek black car with tinted windows and diplomatic numberplates stopped to give us a ride. The driver was an Italian returning to work at the embassy in London after a visit home. At Calais we bought our ferry tickets and shared a sandwich for lunch. The amiable diplomat, with us two dirty hippies in the back seat, was waved through Customs and Immigration at Dover. He dropped us off at an Underground station in central London. The record time for hitchhiking from Istanbul to London was said to be three days. We were happy to have done it in five.

We arrived at Martin’s parents’ house in Woodford Green late that afternoon, heads full of stories, pockets empty.

[image] This is a book of twelve Turkish map-fold pages that I made to contain the story. I later gave it to Martin, my travelling-companion.

Ama Bolton, Twelve Border Crossings

On the walls of Angkor Wat, the
extraordinary comes alive. A confluence of art and
faith and the subtlety of being. A place of worship.

A place of submission. Of belief. Of hope. All that
is vulnerable inside us is on display. All that we are
capable of, surrendered to a greater abstraction.
At dawn, colours are smeared across the clouds
like a child’s finger painting, the temple inverted

in reflecting lily pools.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 30

In Bangalore, it seemed that nothing was in stasis: things were either under construction or deconstructing themselves. Huge buildings going up one brick at a time. I watched a man hanging from a harness placing one brick after the other. It looked like slow, meticulous work. I can’t fathom how many bricks it would take to complete the high-rise apartment building. I’ve never considered him before: the bricklayer. How long will it take? What goes through his mind, brick by brick, day by week by month. Does he look down at the people, the cows, the tuk-tuks? Can he hear it all from up there? Does he feel a sense of ownership when the work is done and the millionaires move in?

There were buildings still standing, but their edifices had been sheered away somehow, like full sized doll-houses. The loose wires and fibers holding chunks of concrete reminded me of damaged spiderwebs, or heirloom lace too fragile to use, too laden with memories to let go of.

Running to the lake, I sometimes pass some relatively new apartment buildings. Along the path there are remnants of old piles that probably propped up a previous railway track. They outline flower beds; they are trimmed like trees, restored as “ruins”. I have never considered before the inauthenticity of their decay. The affectation of urbanity. A prettied-up representation of the “past”.

Most of all: the illusion of a current state of stasis, the illusion of a period of decay that is the “past” – we are the present continuous.

We don’t contemplate a foreign future.

I can’t imagine the future because I am trying so hard to make sense of – to take control of – to understand the now.

Ren Powell, So, not Artaud’s spurt of blood

I think about the light that bright orb contains, the orange. I think about my skull, and all the light in there. The way an orange casts a shadow, the way it glows. I’m thinking about the importance of staying calm in the chaos. I’m thinking about your urgencies; I’m thinking about mine. I’m thinking about opening up my heart like one opens up an orange. It has to be this way, the light, the opening, the shadow cast by the skin cast off. The clear moments. Then the darkness, again. But the light.

Always the blisters of bright juicy light.

Shawna Lemay, Equanimity and Oranges

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 2

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: trees, ghosts, good questions, dead poets, and more. Enjoy.


Two trees stand out like postcards I might have posted to myself from nearly a year ago if I’d listened to the prophesy. 

The bulbous ends of pollarded trees used to fascinate me when I was a child and the woman’s head, so sculpted among the stumps, is wise and collected. She maintains her calm. 

The ghost tree was in a wood below ramparts built high on a hill in one of those small towns in Provence that defy cliffs and sheer drops. The trees around it were conifers, evergreens, but somehow this silver birch grew into a landmark by a bend in the path. Comrade trees, I report to you that bend in the path and all who look after others who are standing there. 

Jackie Wills, To comrade tree

I awake to dread, and the cold winter light
walking its fingers down the wall. 

There is a little comfort in the thought:
maybe God has called you to this task

not because you can do it, but because you can’t.

Dale Favier, Comfort

I was on a journey, a memory check. After a poetry reading in Baton Rouge, I drove back to Missouri by way of East Louisiana State Hospital. Most folks just called it Jackson, same name as the nearest town. Many weekends during elementary school and junior high, Daddy and I drove there to visit my mother. It seemed to take hours to get there—turns out it’s just 33 miles from our old house. I don’t know how often or how long we stayed. This trip, I hoped the visit would help me with details. I can’t ask Daddy. He just says the place was torture. Sometimes he cries.

I’m still not sure how much I want to know. But when Talk Smack to a Hurricane (Ice Floe Press, 2022), my first book, was accepted for publication, I knew I wanted to read the poems in Baton Rouge and stop at Jackson. The collection centers on my mother’s mental illness, which was diagnosed within a few weeks of my birth. The poems explore our relationship—tender yet volatile—as well as psychiatric treatments of the latter part of the 20th century. She was diagnosed in 1959. Mama narrowly missed the ice bath, insulin coma, lobotomy. But she was just in time for (what I consider) rudimentary electroshock therapy and Thorazine. Lots of Thorazine. That I was angry at psychiatry rather than my mother surprised me. Not until I was preparing the manuscript did I fully recognize the shift in my emotions.

Lynne Jensen Lampe, Old Colony 5 Road

In the city at the end of her mind it’s minus forty-five degrees.
If you sit by her bed, she will tell you
there are rules for walking between trees,
rules for carrying a spider out of the fire, how
laughter fades under the weight of the heavy water of desire.
One by one pilgrims leap into the hole in the frozen lake.
As they fall they make the sign of the cross.
Atonement. At one ment. Take what you need to be free.
She remembers the priest called it debauchery.
If you sit by her bed, she will tell you trees know
what they’re doing, know how to move, which way to sway,
until it’s time for them to fall.
We become forgettable, forgotten, she says.
Inbox Zero, even if there’s a signal.
There never were any heroes, not then anyway, just
urgent whispering at the top of the stairs.
What did they want? she says.
I never found out what they wanted.

Bob Mee, THE CRACKS IN THE EARTH (IN EVERYTHING) SCREAM PLEASE FORGIVE ME

On its own at the end of a line, “missing” invokes the ongoing history of femicide along the US / Mexico border. Then the latter “missing / fingers” rings out both in its evocation of a musician’s physical absence but also its implication of violence.

Even without knowledge of Juárez, one reaches the end of the poem with a haunted sense of something more than music being lost here. This haunted sense is what grounds the poem in its urgency. All the distancing through image and metaphor makes the city and its history all the more present, and offers the speaker a chance to voice the ultimate difficulty implied via the speculation of the title.

José Angel Araguz, dispatch 011223

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

All my books, in their own way, dwell on and participate in a variety of concerns, from identity to violence to ecology. I find it close to impossible to read any work of literature and not uncover such concerns, if not simply see them on the surface, the exception being those writings that go out of their way to demystify just about everything—and even then, they still speak to something outside the work itself.

I’ve read and taught ancient literature for many years, and those works reveal that our many of our concerns today are old as dirt. Some are new, obviously, but if they are described generally enough, it becomes clear that we’ve been dealing with similar problems as the ancients, just differently. I’m not 100% sure, for example, that my children, if they choose to raise children of their own, can even live where we now live. Another way to state this concern: our world is falling apart, is fragile. We live in Houston, and there’s a strong possibility that in a few decades, the geography will change so dramatically, because of the climate crisis, that the city as we know—portions of it, at least—may not be inhabitable or else may be too dangerous, too unpredictable to live in. It already feels that way. Only a few years ago, Hurricane Harvey dumped 60 inches of rain on parts of Houston—that’s 33 trillion gallons of water, in about a week. Places that have never flooded, not since records began being made, were under water. That’s a concern. But is it new? No.

I’ve also always been very concerned with political violence, the history of which has unfortunately touched the lives of my family all too closely. And that kind of violence, from the perspective of the last few decades, seems ever more likely. It was always present in my family’s homeland (Lebanon), and in my hometown (Detroit), and it seems to be more pervasive today, more spread out, targeting more people, more groups, and the rules have changed, the technology on which violence thrives has become more sophisticated.

The list of concerns goes on and on.

What I won’t do, as far poetry goes is allow the concerns to take the reins. I’m not writing theory, I’m not writing newspaper stories, or history, or memoir, or political manifestos. Yes, genres blend. Yes, disciplines inform each other. Yes, the boundaries are porous, and at times they disappear. But I write poetry, which is to say that’s what I have in mind when I am making a poem. This informs not only what I do and how I do it, but also what I knowingly resist.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Hayan Charara

At the heart of the poem is the symbol of ‘fire’, which is as important to other poems in the collection, such as The brown berries have turned black, Amazon and Ashes. The symbol is developed by Clive in such a way that it resonates with a rich complexity of meanings. Fire he suggests has the capacity for good: it is one of the bounties of nature. It brings us warmth and safety from danger: ‘the campfire … keeps the dark at bay/ as it prowls, hungry, indiscriminate, waiting to eat us’. It can also guide us or direct us, like a ‘beacon, a torch, / a mighty Pharos raised to guide ships to harbour across tumultuous seas raised against us.’ Yet in humankind’s hands it has become destructive: ‘sacred groves we now cut down/ to feed the fire.’ In our hands it destroys because is fed by ignorance and greed. We are blind to nature’s beauties and bounty because our minds are ‘filled with smoke and fire’ so that ‘we have stopped being able to see miracles’. The effect of this is to think ‘it is reasonable to consume each other as indiscriminately as we consumed the world around us/ with no regard for what we damaged or destroyed along the way/…this is the way of things in the age of fire…/as the fire consumes without replenishing its source’. There is both greed here and a recklessness, a disregard for the consequences of our actions. We have the knowledge and understanding to be different and to help us find a more productive way forward. Yet this type of  ‘fire’ is directed towards serving the consumption of goods and the pursuit of material wealth (‘the fire was honed until it became hot/ and narrow enough to cut through metal,/ great metal sheets with which we clad the ships of our mind/ as they traversed new realms of knowledge/ welded fast and tight’) and to engaging in conflict (‘we choose to see a fire/in the same we  choose to see a blade/ hidden in a lump of virgin flint/ see the shaft of a spear in every pine.’?

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘the end of the age of fire’ by Peter Clive

Every once in awhile a book comes along that makes me totally rethink my received or assumed knowledge by shaking up the usual perceptions. The most recent book to have wrought such a rethinking on my part is The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, by David Graeber and David Wengrow. The effusive blurbs–and there are many–on the MacMillan page the preceding link takes you to strike me as accurate; on every page or two I find myself saying, “I have to look that up! I never heard about that! I need to read that book/author/article!”

Beyond the illuminating information, though, what excites me most about this book is how revelatory it is concerning human possibilities. These authors (unfortunately Graeber died in 2020) are drily funny and unrepentantly anarchists among the scholars of so-called pre-history. The research they gather and present, and their theories based upon what we now know about ancient peoples, upend the evolution of human society that I was taught and that seemed so logical I never thought to question–the foragers/hunter-gatherers/agriculturalists/city-makers “development” of human societies and cultures that Rousseau’s philosophical state-of-nature idea essentially founded. I was aware that archeological discoveries have been found that challenge the narrative, but I wasn’t aware of how many of these are being examined and the amazing data they reveal. I was aware that views of indigenous peoples, past and present, are most often through a lens of “Western civilization” and tainted by the assumptions of researchers but was not alert to my own blind spots and received assumptions.

Which makes me pretty much a human being, right? We do tend to short-cut to our beliefs and accept the “logical information” we learn from parents, teachers, and other authorities. Then, we use that framework to test out the logic of other assumptions. Sometimes that framework is not as strong, correct, or universal as we thought. And it feels marvelously disruptive, sometimes, to buck the system, make art, behave differently–illogically–and find that new ways of thinking about the world can be fun.

Ann E. Michael, Received assumptions

White erasers in different sizes and shapes are indispensable tools for charcoal work – they allow you to erase large areas, for sure, but also to go backwards and forwards, working with both the charcoal and the eraser. The main use is to lighten areas or pick out highlights and create texture. And you must work on good paper that has some “tooth” to catch all the little particles of charcoal, but will stand up to scrubbing and both the buildup of dark areas and the erasure of others.

Beth Adams, Working in Monochrome

Sometimes the words
want to go right
through the paper,
the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (102)

I got an opportunity from the Arizona Commission On The Arts to do a reading that incorporated projected images throughout the performance.

So I was able to put together a show at one of the iconic Phoenix venues The Trunk Space with some of my favorite artists and we called the night Jackalope In Retrograde.

JJ Horner was doing live painting. 

GOHNE opened the night (new band project from Lonna Kelley and Jay Hufman)

Writer Erik Bitsui came down from Flagstaff.

The Necronauts played as a two-piece and were also joined by Rocky Yazzie for a set.

Most of my images were Jia Oak Baker’s photographs from our collaborative book Gravity & Spectacle, but we also had some bonus content, videos etc. [Click though to view photo documentation.]

Shawnte Orion, Jackalope In Retrograde

Beginning in 2007 with four books and no intention to publish more, CBe has been humming along fine for 15 years: here a prize, there a shortlisting, quite often semi-silence but every one of the books was more than worth publishing.

It’s now 2023 and print costs have been escalating and postage costs too; there are other small presses who can sell X’s new novel or Y’s book of poems into bookshops better than CBe can; and I’m into my 70s and getting smaller. From this year CBe will concentrate on publishing, perhaps exclusively, small A-format books, the model being the three books published last year in that size and with covers with image on white card (Agota Kristof, The Illiterate; Caroline Clark, Own Sweet Time; myself, 99 Interruptions). This will mean goodbye to the brown covers (those books are more expensive to print: retro costs). It will mean hello to more short books: if prose, fiction or non-fiction, say 10 to 20,000 words (rough guide only). And poetry, yes: Cape Editions did poetry in A-format, and so now do NYRB.

Charles Boyle, Plan B

Part of my hesitancy to leave full time work was fear. I’d had the same job for 21 years.  I was never really entirely sure how I’d been lucky enough to land that job in the first place.  At least in the beginning.  Because I was scared to try something new, I stayed longer than I should have.  In fact, under different circumstances I may still have hesitant to leave.  I’ve heard friends say this about bad relationships. It wasn’t working. or he was abusive, controlling, but they were afraid of making their way in the world alone. And while I admit I stayed in bad relationships for a number of reasons (usually impulse control, masochism,  or thinking I could change things) this wasn’t one of them. I’ve had entirely single spans, most of my 20’s, in fact. But then, later, when a relationship was in the death grip, there were other people and things to occupy my time. I was okay with alone, but rarely was I actually without something going on in that arena, even if it was just a crush I wanted to become something more. 

And this is true of art and writing.  The years where the words were more fallow were some of the best years for art, and maybe vice versa. Even now, I don’t get much time to spend with collage or painting, but I do spend a lot of time making video poems and designing covers.   I like having many options, especially when some options are more fleeting than others.  Other things have to earn their way into your daily practice. Or seem like a good thing for awhile but then you move on. 

There’s a lot of talk these days on the potential harm of the gig economy and people working multiple jobs to make ends meet–driving uber or deliveries–and actually not getting the sort of stability of things like paid sick days, insurance, etc that traditional employers provide. But then again, you have a certain amount of freedom and discretion you don’t get being beholden to one workplace, so I totally get it.   Everyone, coming out of covid lockdowns, wondered where all the workers went.  Could it be that many of them were willing to trade certain securities for lower pay, but more freedom and more eggs in many baskets. That when you decide you’re getting screwed, you can find somethings else. When the alternative was sometimes tyrannical bosses, unwieldy shifts, unsafe workplaces, and toxic corporate culture. Could be. 

Kristy Bowen, eggs and baskets: on jobs, art, and love

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’ve been engaging with poetic audiobooks. There is something really special about listening to the poet narrate their work. I recently listened to The Blue Clerk by Dionne Brand and Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith. I love the audiobook experience because I can hear the intended emphasis in the poet’s own voice. It’s magic to be able to push a button and have Dionne Brand read to you. I’m also reading a few paperbacks—Tend by Kate Hargreaves, which I am loving. I’m always in awe of poetry that can rile me up and then make me laugh on the next page. I have Victoria Mbabazi’s FLIP on my side table. I was hooked on Mbabazi’s work after reading chapbook and look forward to reading more. I’ll be lined up for all future work by Mbabazi.

Thomas Whyte, Samantha Jones : part five

I want to form poems
I can hold in my palms and make use of.
I want to sew a skirt of a poem
that blooms like a flame when I twirl.
I want to make a silk bag of a poem
to tote home my onions and wine.
I want to crochet a long warm
scarf of a poem, with matching fingerless gloves.
I want to slow-cook a poem like a pot roast, and
serve it with beer and potatoes.

Kristen McHenry, Poetry of the Practical

I also practice my balance by 1) putting on pants 2) putting on shoes. Sometimes I try to stand like a crane, one leg straight, one leg bent, to put on each shoe. This morning, by chance, Facebook offered me a picture of the flamingo sculpture at the Tampa airport, making it a Random Coinciday in the blog! Also, I dreamed of putting on a shoe. And often I write poems while walking, a different kind of walking meditation.

Kathleen Kirk, Balance

With the thwack

of a cleaver handle, I sever
the drumstick joint just above
the ankle so I can work it free

of meat and muscle. I stuff it
with a mixture of pork, ham, and
hard-boiled eggs before patting it

back into shape and sewing it shut
with twine. What I have then is what
cookbooks describe as a farce—

Elaborate comedy of illusion, the lengths
we’ll go to keep an appearance intact,
armor over the soft jelly of flesh inside.

Luisa A. Igloria, Farce

In one passage in the 1663 diaries, they have a blazing row, and Pepys calls Elisabeth a ‘beggar’ because she brought no dowry to the marriage and she responds by calling him ‘pricklouse’ (which vexed him) referring to him being the son of a tailor. A cracking insult. Since I read this altercation I have seen her in my mind’s eye, mad as hell, sitting on the bed with balled fists fuming at him. I wonder what else she was mad at. Pepys records how often she fell out with servants and lady’s maids, probably because she saw his eye turned to them. What a precarious thing it must have been, to live at that time and to be owned and how did those women create a life within the prison of their husband’s lives? I wonder what she would think of me, remembering her and her flung insults, 360 years after she flung them. She died of typhoid in 1669. Pepys had stopped writing his diaries by them, but there are letters to naval captains excusing himself from work for a good four weeks because he is so devastated. After her death he was in a long term relationship with Mary Skinner, but never married her. When he died he was buried next to Elisabeth.

The diaries can be quite challenging; they are, after all, written in a world very different from our own. But at the same time, there’s a thread of human behaviour which simply hasn’t changed and I love that. That the complexities of human behaviour are still complex, that marriage and love and this short span of life in which you try to do your best, and fail and win, that hasn’t changed. Mrs. Pepys, Elisabeth, today I remember you and your life; as a person separate from your husband, though I don’t know you but through your husband’s diaries, I acknowledge your life and your anger and your love and the short span of life you spent on the earth.

Wendy Pratt, Remembering Elisabeth, Pepys’s Wife – Reading the 1663 Pepys Diaries

This is what we were made
of, soft skin and paradise and the bouquet
of unbearable desire. This is what we can make
of soil and water and endless sky. This is what
bubbles in the orange shaft of light that falls
upon my empty couch. I watch, I inhale, I
shiver, I hide, inside a perfumed shadow.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, This is what

Dan Brady’s “Songs in E–” was winner of the Barclay Prize for Poetry. It has an intriguing premise, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” translated into Portguese and then back into English via an unreliable internet translator and the resulting material reshaped into “Songs in E–“. A similar process was used for the latter half of the book, “E–‘s Song” which used Robert Browning’s “One Word More” also dubiously translated into Portguese and back into English and then reshaped. […]

It’s no surprise that the poems in the first part are recognisably sonnets. None contain the most famous lines either. This underlines the value of translation is not just about fluency or vocabulary but an understanding of what’s being translated and a sympathy to the aims of the writer. Barrett Browning only pretended her poems were translations to distance herself from them because she thought them too personal to publish. The poems returned via the translation process have become so generic as to be almost impersonal. Most of them seem to have lost sight of the originals being love poems.

Emma Lee, “Songs in E–” Dan Brady (Trnsfr Books) – book review

Yesterday as I quilted, I watched two movies, each one about a nineteenth century woman writer.  Mary Shelley was compelling; I wrote this Facebook post:  “The weather has turned gloomy, so one needs an appropriately gloomy movie to keep one company while one stitches. I’ve chosen the 2017 movie “Mary Shelley,” which takes some liberties with the biography. I love its depiction of writing and creativity, and the costumes and sets warm my Brit Lit heart. But the movie does make me feel ancient. I see Mary and Claire Clairmont making a terrible mistake in running away with this cad Percy Shelley who has already ruined one woman’s life (his wife Harriet), and I want to talk some sense into them, even as I know that talking sense into these besotted girls is impossible. Sigh.

Enter Lord Byron–oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”

I also watched A Quiet Passion, about Emily Dickinson.  While I appreciate aspects of it, parts of it were slow, slow, slow.  While I can appreciate what Cynthia Dixon went through to inhabit the role, did we really need to see the extended scene of her shaking because of her kidney disease?  And there wasn’t just one scene of her shaking either.  I also got weary at the end of the movie substituting voice overs of poems instead of dialogue–that part seemed to go on for hours.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Scrapping Plans

This trip happened back in 2005 — far too long ago to remember the nitty-gritty as I write this blog post in 2023. The one thing I do remember well, and which features in the opening of the poem, is that it matters what you have on your feet! My friend Fliss, editor of Splinter, and I were emerging from a London Underground station. Fliss was wearing flip-flops … and it was raining!

I liked the idea that, at least for women, a day can be different choices of footwear that features at different times of the day. In this poem we’ve got the inappropriate flip-flops in the daytime, followed by an elegant pair of heels in the evening. Before Dressing Up (the pamphlet) had been one of the Cinnamon Press pamphlet winners, a day-job colleague had kindly adapted a ShutterStock image that I’d paid for into a cover that, I felt, would have been perfect for the cover of Dressing Up. I later learned that there wasn’t the possibility of using cover art, so the cover never got used … but I’m delighted to post it here to brighten your day.

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetic Naming

Turning 50: I’ve decided to celebrate this milestone instead of dreading it, so I’m having a party on my actual birthday. Do I look 50? Am I dressing correctly for a 50-year-old? Also, can I still have pink hair? The rules are different now than they were when I was a kid. I do know that I see living this long as a real victory, for someone who has been told she was going to die by multiple doctors not so long ago. Hey, every year above ground is a good year.

Launching a book (still) during a pandemic: so, how does one plan a book launch when there’s still sort of pandemic conditions and you worry you’ve forgotten everything about doing book promotion (are there still book festivals, for instance? If so, which are disability friendly? Can I do college class visits virtually? How much travel can I do as someone with MS and a junk immune system before the body crashes? So many questions…and the first phase of 2023’s publicity efforts for Flare, Corona will really start soon. (In the meantime, check out BOA’s new book page for my book, with blurbs and a sample poem!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Healthier Kittens and Sicker Me, New Hair and Imagining 2023: Re-Entry Fears

冬空や猫塀づたひどこへもゆける 波多野爽波

fuyu-zora ya neko hei zutai dokoemo yukeru

            winter sky—

            a cat can go anywhere

            walking on fences

                                                Soha Hatano

from Haiku Saijiki electronic version edited by Kadokawa Shoten, published by Kodansha Sophia Shuppan, Tokyo, Japan, 2018

Fay’s Note:  Soha Hatano (1923-1991)

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (January 10, 2023)

Those of our readers who live in Las Cruces, or who were contributors to Sin Fronteras Journal may remember Joanne Townsend, an active poet in our circle since she and her husband Dan moved down from Alaska in 2005, with several poems in the Journal.  She hoped to produce a collection of her poems in her later years, but when she died two years ago, she left a pile of poems in hard copy with no indication of a possible order.

Thanks to Joe Somoza for his ordering skills and Ellen Young and Christine Eber for following up with the details, a manuscript was created and has now been published by Cirque Press.

Sample, from “Ponder, Partake”

On the church grounds, a single white iris,
its velvet petals calling
wind from the west.
Speak, Memory  Nabokov insisted.
Crimson spilling into parched throats –
Wine.  Poetry.

Poetry was central to Joanne’s life.  Between Promise and Sadness” is available on Amazon via the Cirque Press website: From Promise to Sadness

Ellen Roberts Young, Joanne Townsend: Between Promise and Sadness

I have bought this book several times as it seems to always be disappearing. In the early 90’s, I had never seen a book with this color on the cover, I’d never read a prose poem, or heard of Joseph Cornell. This all seems impossible looking back, but this book was a unicorn. There was no other American surrealist that I had ever heard of and the ekphrastic tradition of poets finding inspiration in the visual arts, was, if not exactly frowned on, it certainly was not in vogue. I read and reread this book. I still do.

A friend of mine had a husband who had studied with Simic at the University of New Hampshire and adored him. This week’s piece in The Yale Review by Megan O’Rourke gives a moving homage to her mentor, friend, and dinner companion. (You can find it here)

Oh, yes, and of course, Pulitzer Prize winning poet. I just found this video of Simic reading his poem “Stone” and for a moment, he comes alive again. 

The great poets I grew up on: Elizabeth Bishop, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Seamus Heaney, W.S. Merwin, Derek Walcott, and now, Charles Simic, are all gone now. The people, not the poems. 

Susan Rich, Thinking about Charles Simic

I also recalled the joy of singing along, badly, to various songs on the drive down, and the fact that I was about to go and see more friends. All of the travelling and visiting, etc meant that I was quite late to seeing the interview with Don Paterson in the Guardian last week. When I did see it I thought it was all fairly nondescript, but there seems to have been some “discourse” of late about a comment he made about poets and not being able to drive. It all seemed quite throwaway to me, but some of the reactions showed just how seriously some poets can take things and themselves. I was more reminded of Wendy Cope’s poem about Typically Useless Male Poets.

Oh well. In other news, where do I file my copy of Don Paterson by Ben Wilkinson? The book is a brilliant look at the work and themes of DP’s life. Do I put it under Don on my shelves or with Ben’s books???

I was reminded again of Don Paterson when I saw the news this week that Charles Simic had died. Simic is a poet I admire, but don’t know brilliantly, despite reading his Selected once. I make the connection with Paterson as I once saw them on the same bill at the Southbank. I think it was when DP was making his famous speech about leaving poetry to the proper poets (or words to that effect), but I could be wrong about both. I remember being enthralled by both, but not quite getting Simic. I’m still not sure I do, but I like it. That seems to be enough.

Mat Riches, Disappointing Baguette

This book is full of memory, and mysticism, and God speaking the world into being in Her own inimitable way, and Reb Nachman with his tears under the table pretending to be a turkey.

Fallen leaves recite kaddish. The infinite arrives on lightning feet. Every word is broken. Only the hidden can burst forth. We forgot what we were yearning for. Every one and every thing is for you.

I’m cheating: that paragraph is a pastiche of Rodger [Kamenetz]’s lines. If that doesn’t entice you, I don’t know what would. I want to start a new commonplace book so I can copy these lines in my own hand.

Rachel Barenblat, Finding The Missing Jew anew

[Jonathon] Cott explains that the journalistic interview was a nineteenth century invention and that the word comes from the French entrevue meaning, “a meeting.” And then this word is derived from entrevoir, meaning “to glimpse, to catch sight of, or to get an inkling of.” Cott then connects this to Martin Buber saying, “all real living is meeting.” And then, he also quotes the psychologist James Hillman saying that “the interview itself is a kind of love…How can one do an interview without love, without imagination working…”

So, if you’ve read Everything Affects Everyone, you can probably see why I was so excited by Cott’s words. I’ve not read every interview in the book, but I started off with the Bob Dylan one, which is so honestly wonderfully weird. Cott quotes Dylan saying, “The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?” There is a point where Dylan says: “Music attracts the angels in the universe. A group of angels sitting at a table are going to be attracted by that.”

Shawna Lemay, Did You Ask a Good Question Today?

street light
half moon
half awake

Jim Young [no title]

Not sure where I’m going with this blog but, inspired by Patti Smith’s A Book of Days, I wanted to try and post something every day for a month. I wanted to reflect some of her generosity, her reverence for things, but I also wanted to consider what makes me ‘me’, my influences, my surroundings. So, there will be some random stuff I suspect, which is a bit of a disclaimer, but at least you understand the thinking behind it.

Anyway, this photograph was taken on a walk to Heptonstall last summer. I like the fingers pointing in opposite directions, challenging me to decided which way to go. Could be a metaphor. Early January is the period when we take stock, try to figure out where we’re going, where we’d like to be. I’m trying not to think too far ahead though, to be present. I tell myself it’s okay to drift a little, to take in what comes along rather than push myself to find new things. So, forgive the random stuff. It comes with good intentions.

Julie Mellor, Slanted landscapes II

Wondering…what it means to be a poet (or anything, really). In the context of a conversation this week, a co-worker of my daughter’s said to me, “You’re a poet, right?” and I wasn’t sure of how to respond. Later, she and I debated my answer to the question. Since I rarely write poetry now, I don’t really think of myself as a poet. She says that, since I have written and am still capable of writing poetry, I am one. Which has me thinking about the labels we attach to ourselves and how we use them. Am I still a teacher? What about a librarian? Am I still a grand-daughter, even though I have no living grandparents? Was I a skater all those years (45!) I didn’t skate? If I’m not the things I used to be, what am I now? (Is this a question we need/get to keep answering until we die?)

Rita Ott Ramstad, Following serendipitous breadcrumbs

who remains when all that is silent is said

who arrives when death is a seed

how deep within the breathing pine
is sky and open sea

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 1

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 first week of the year saw many bloggers recommitting to blogging, among other resolutions, hopes, and reflections about the new year. The weather and food also figured prominently, as one might expect.

I’ve added several new bloggers to my feed reader, as I usually do after Matthew Stewart posts his annual Best UK Poetry Blogs list (here’s this year’s). Theoretically, the more blogs I read, the more selective I can be, but enthusiasm always gets the better of me, so look for these already long digests to get even longer in 2023. Happy New Year!


the air thickens as we work.
steam mists over the white-sheeted windows,
fog forming indoors from the flying sweat
& heavy exhalations of the class.
January, but someone opens the door anyway;
cold air gasps in.
[…]

This poem describes my first (or second?) real experience with Hatsu-Geiko, the martial arts tradition of a vigorous practice on New Year’s Day — the first lesson of the year, the first practice of the year. This was at Chicago Aikikai back when they were located on Howard Street. There was literally so much sweat in the air it was hard to breathe. The flower described was an anthurium.

I was recently cleaning house and found an old printout of this poem, in dot matrix print on yellowed paper. I’d been looking for this one, and for another about sharpening stones in water sounding like crickets. Finding this gives me hope that the other one isn’t lost forever. I wish I’d written more poems about martial arts when I was young and vigorous.

PF Anderson, Falling Into Focus

This is why             we bundle: freezing rain, a loss of pitch. The accuracy
of this ink white sheet. Forecasts                     one might reach by water.

Schools closed, pajama days; suspension                              of a letter.
Our small children                      abide. This day, separated

by music, returns    to earth.

rob mclennan, Short poem for a long winter

Happy New Year, everybody! I do hope 2023 will be a good year for us all, walking out of some of our woes and into more of our joys. I’m very aware of people’s losses and changes and the lingering trauma of these pandemic years. We’ll be walking together, won’t we? We got to spend Christmas with our kids in Portland, Oregon, where they both were, amazingly, able to buy houses this fall, after a wild real estate market began to settle down a bit. It was great to see them in their new lives and neighborhoods! We hiked the snowy trail to Tamanawas Falls, and saw the waterfall rushing over frozen sections of itself, misting up into the air and gently raining down on us and the heaps of white snow and blue ice. Just lovely. A magical trail of snow and ice laden trees (primarily cedar and Douglas fir), alternately silent or accompanied by the rushing creek, depending on the bends in the trail. That was Christmas Day.

Tuesday morning we visited a charming patisserie, Champagne Poetry, for breakfast. We had delicious treats, coffee, and tea…but, as it was breakfast, no champagne. It’s all in shades of pink with a rose wall and neon wings, as evidenced by the wacky picture of me and cooler picture of my son! Back home before New Year’s Eve, some of us had a wee bit of champagne before feeling sleepy by nine p.m. But yay for those who made it to midnight!

Kathleen Kirk, Champagne Poetry

I love this time of year. Anything is possible and perhaps, even probable. There are all the poems in the world to write, and all the poems on the computer to send out to journals. This season of beginning fills me with optimism. And so, after an epidemic, a new book, and some epic times of wonder, I’m here again. Over the past few years, I’ve tried to balance more poetry writing with more poetry community.I know I need a vibrant and diverse group of poets around me. 

The classes I teach and the Poets on the Coast retreat I run are both for the poets that come to the events, but they also feed me. Something inexplicible happens when we write in community—as if the air we breathe is filled with even more poetry than usual. Somehow as a group, we are more than a sum of our parts. Or maybe it’s something even simpler, when we share a safe and creative space, the poems come in new shapes and forms. We surprise ourselves.

Susan Rich, My New Year’s Resolution is to Write Poems and…

A paradox this, in an age of over communication,
there is too little with any meaning. Like packing waste,
deleted texts find their way to a landfill, their tasteless
apathy never decaying. How do you relearn sustainable
conversation, biodegradable, returning to the earth to
bloom flowers? Somewhere in the middle of the day,
your message pings. You send me an AI generated
poem about hope for joy and prosperity and success.
I feel a dark kinship with the fish at the bottom of the
sea that has never set eyes on a human, still dying of
microplastics. Happy (and on this I insist) New Year.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Earth 2023: A poem for the new year

I’m holding onto a quotation I found in Italo Calvino’s memo on “Lightness” in his Six Memos for the Next Millennium. It’s by Paul Valéry: “One must be light like the bird, not like the feather.”

I’m holding onto words that I previously has as my WOTY (word of the year). Uplift, amplify, calm etc. I’m going to continue to go where the love is. I’m going to continue to cultivate Marina Abramavic’s directive to “elevate the public spirit.”

I’m going to try and be useful. I’m going to read this list of 20 helpful things I made recently and try to actually walk the walk.

Rather than a word this year, I’m going with the phrase “my ALL.” Which is borrowed from Sophie Calle whose book with that title is an inspiration for my work in progress. This is my year of my all. I mean by this that I’m going to use all my talents and gifts and I’m going to claim my expertise. I am not going to waste my energy and I am not going to squander.

Of course, you saw how I got on last year, but I think this really will be the year of my ALL. Please feel free to also have a year of your ALL.

Shawna Lemay, Some Practices for 2023

I had intended to write a cheery Christmas post but I put it off because I wanted to share a  new poem that went live at Quartet Journal (USA) on January 1st. The poem is titled ‘Mary Ruefle is Right: Menopause is Adolescence All Over Again’, and it pretty well sums up my preoccupations in 2022. Quartet is an online journal of poetry by women fifty and over. I admire the work in Quartet very much, and am really pleased to have this particular poem accept in this particular journal. CLICK HERE to read my poem and all the other super poems in Quartet’s Winter 2023 Issue.

Caroline Reid, I Just Wanna Wish You Well

A new thing that I have been doing since delving into the new year is keeping track of word counts in addition to income tallies each writing day. Partly, this is just for my own curiosity, but also, as I take on new jobs, helpful in figuring out what to charge for my time. I quickly realized I was running around 5K per day the past several days, which set my slow, little poet heart aghast. Granted, some days one piece is like 2500 if it’s longer, and lessons tend to be 1000 or more, with everything else slightly shorter, so it’s actually easy to hit. I’ve often speculated I don’t have the endurance for writing long things like fiction or novels, but these counts are promising, though I imagine creative prose, like poetry, is a little tougher going. I can write a 1000 word lesson or article in the same time I write a poem around a hundred words, each using a different part of my brain and a different set of creative muscles. That poem, like they always have, takes much more out of me. Sometimes I need a nap even though I’ve only been up an hour. Last summer when I was writing some fiction I could get maybe 1000-1500 words out of a block of several hours.

Kristy Bowen, word counts and strange weather

Looking at my yearly stats, I can see that I write more poems when I write fewer flash pieces. And my stories often involve episodes (epiphany moments in particular) that might otherwise have become flash pieces.

Sometimes I look through my journals/notebooks to find fragments that will inspire me to write. More often I wait until 2 fragments link up. This inspires me to write a first draft. I then sweep through the fragments again, to find ways to bulk up the piece. Once I’m writing a short story it sucks in many little details and observations.

So I reckon that a flash piece costs a poem. A story costs at least 3 flashes or poems.

Tim Love, How many poems does a story cost?

I was delighted to be asked by Trowbridge Museum to create and facilitate some visual poetry workshops for young people (aged 7+) working with the museum’s extensive herbarium collected by poet, botanist and clergyman George Crabbe, who lived and is buried in Trowbridge. These free workshops form part of a programme of events Trowbridge Museum will be running this year called ‘Retold: Trowbridge’s Past as Told by its Future’ and are part of the museum’s participation in ‘The Wild Escape,’ a major new project (led by Art Fund_ and funded by ACE) uniting hundreds of museums and schools in a celebration of UK wildlife and creativity. Free places on my workshops, which will take place on 21 January, 18 February and 18 March, can be booked here.

Crabbe is nowadays, perhaps, most often associated with Benjamin Britten who based his opera Peter Grimes on a character from Crabbe’s poem The Borough. However, in his day (1754 – 1832) he was read and admired by many leading writers, artists and thinkers of the time, including Jane Austen, Edmund Burke, Joshua Reynolds, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Samuel Johnson and others. He mostly wrote long narrative poems in rhyming couplets and was noted for the way he scorned an idealised image of the countryside and wrote instead about what life was really like, especially for poor people in rural areas.

Josephine Corcoran, Visual Poetry Workshops at Trowbridge Museum

The last batch of one-point-of-interest reviews for 2022 were published on Sphinx yesterday, here. They include my reviews of pamphlets by: John F. Deane, here; Clare Best, here; and Mark Wynne, here.

As ever, though, there are lots of reviews, by and of a diverse range of voices, to enjoy and pique your interest.

Thanks for reading my blog in 2022 and happy New Year!

Matthew Paul, OPOI reviews of John F. Deane. Clare Best and Mark Wynne

In an earlier post this year I shared that I had a goal of 100 rejections in 2022. I didn’t make it. I heard a firm “no” only 71 times and among those I had a number of encouraging notes and invitations to resubmit. (It’s all good, in other words.) A large number of poems and about 4 essays are still out, some from as long ago as February, 2022, so I could (conceivably) get to my 100 rejections.

Of course it’s way more fun to look at the acceptances. I’ve shared a few of these over the year, but recently the mail brought my contributor copy of Catamaran, a journal which, if you don’t know it, you should. As their banner says: “West Coast themes, Writers and Artists from Everywhere.” My poem, “A Mask of Forgetting,” is paired with art by Elizabeth Fox, and the whole thing is beautifully put together, well worth the trip.

This month I also received a contributor copy of Peregrine, from Amherst Poets & Writers. They picked up two of my poems: “Reading Andrew Motion’s Biography of John Keats,” and “Every Cell of Me.” I appreciate all the on-line journals now encouraging writers, but it’s still a treat to get a copy of a real, flesh-and-bone journal.

Bethany Reid, Giving Thanks for 2022

stairwell
which is Purgatorio
when everything’s on hold

save the blue and gold
for heaven
three stitches for a rune

Ama Bolton, ABCD January 2023

The sunset on the 2nd January 2023 was stunning. I have been discussing it with the Secret Poets. We have been exchanging photographs and thinking how we must write something. I have not written anything over the festive period and this morning the words did not want to come. […]

Black Stalin, the esteemed Calypsonian died last week. He will be missed. I leave you with Burn Dem.

Paul Tobin, WORDS HAVE FLED

Proposition. A song is a song and a poem is a poem. They share words but they don’t share function. I wrote this as a poem and then Steve Moorby of MoorbyJones, the band we share with his daughter Gemma Moorby, set it to music and we recorded it. It’s due for release imminently and I’ll link to Spotify when it’s out in the world. And then, if the proposition has value for you, gentle reader, you may judge!

Dick Jones, STAND UNDER FALLING WATER

The fact is that the book is Dylan writing about 66 songs that he felt moved to write about, and criticising him for not writing about other songs is missing the point by a mile. One more quote seems apposite. In the essay on Pete Seeger’s ‘Waist Deep in the Big Muddy’, he tells the story of how Seeger’s performance of the song was cut from the Smothers Brothers TV show in 1967 (Seeger had been excluded from television for his political leanings) because it was seen as critical of the Vietnam War. A year later, the tide of opinion was turning and he was invited back to sing it on the same show. The point being made is that in those days, everyone, pro, anti or indifferent to the war, tuned in to the same programme. Dylan bemoans the fragmentation that has replaced media forums where we were exposed to lots of views and kinds of cultural performances:

Turns out, the best way to shut people up isn’t to take away their forum – it’s to give them all their own pulpits. Ultimately most folks will listen to what they already know and read what they already agree with. They will devour pale retreads of the familiar and perhaps never get to discover they might have a taste for Shakespeare or flamenco dancing.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Billy Mills, The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan: A Review

I am honored to be one of 47 poets in this anthology to raise funds for Ukrainian Refugees. My poem title was also used as the anthology title. The anthology is published by Black Spring Press Group out of Westminster, London. 100% of the sales profits will go to the Sanctuary Foundation which is a charity that helps Ukrainian people to safety and homes in the UK.

If you would like to help refugees from Ukraine who are victims of this terrible war, please consider buying this anthology (and maybe another for a friend).

Carey Taylor, Poets Support Ukraine

The Other has been running in Manchester since January 2016. Michael Conley and Eli Regan organise the event where writers are put in pairs to read and perform each other’s work, with plenty of time beforehand to prepare. It is a fascinating idea.

During the pandemic The Other moved online and I took part in a memorable Zoom session where I was paired up with Adam Farrer. The Other is now ‘live’ again. Dates are on Facebook and Twitter. Sessions also raise funds for Manchester Central Foodbank.

Fokkina McDonnell, The Other (Michael Conley)

I’ve read the words
and heard them read
searching for someone

to whom I can
address these lines.

Yet again I speak the question
into existence.

Yet again I listen
for the answer.

Jason Crane, POEM: Margaret

TSP: Suzanne, we have been fans of your work since your first book, Lit Windowpane (2008), now your new book Fixed Star has JUST been released from Jackleg Press! (Congratulations!)  How have your poems or writing process changed since your first book, and in what ways did you stretch yourself in Fixed Star?

SF: That’s so kind of you to say! Thank you so much. It’s very exciting to have a new book out in the world. These are great questions. Both Lit Windowpane, and my second book, Girl on a Bridge—for the most part—are collections of spare, lyric poems. In Fixed Star I wanted to write against that inclination and write longer, lusher poems. You will still find lean poems in this collection, but the two sonnet coronas in this book helped me write longer poems, and something about writing the prose poems lent itself to lushness for me.

The other way this book differs from my two previous collections is that it’s the first book I’ve written with an intent. I knew I wanted to write about my heritage and to do that I had to immerse myself in research. A little background — my father was a Captain in the Cuban Revolution, and my parents met when he was transporting arms for Fidel Castro through the border town of Brownsville, Texas, where my mother lived. Once Castro took power and revealed his true intentions of dictatorship rather than democracy, my parents boarded a plane to the United States, where my father ultimately became a US Citizen. Cuba was rarely spoken of in our home for fear it would upset my father and as a result, I learned very little about my heritage. To write Fixed Star required learning about Cuba’s history, the United States’ history with Cuba, the Cuban Revolution, and The Special Period. In the process, I came across Cuban poets, writers, artists, and musicians. I reconnected with extended family, and I traveled in search of answers. I definitely didn’t have to leave town to write my first two books.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Interview with Suzanne Frischkorn from Two Sylvias’ Weekly Muse

Recently, I put together a list of “the best fantastical and frightening books about women reclaiming their own power” for the Shepherd website, which aims to help folks discover new books. Generally, I balk at using the phrase “the best,” since there are so many more amazing books in the world that I had yet to read. However, this is the format the website uses.

As per the request of the editors, I specifically picked books that felt connected to my collection of prose poetry, Twelve.  This means that I wanted to include a mixture of prose and poetry books, as well as focusing on books that are connected to fairy tales and/or folklore. And truthfully, I love each and every one of these books and I hope many other folks come to love them, too.

Andrea Blythe, Fantastical and Frightening Books About Women Reclaiming Their own Power

Heavy and beautiful.

That’s my 3-word review of the anthology [The Best of Tupelo Quarterly: An Anthology of Multi-Disciplinary Texts in Conversation].

It’s a thick volume — over 350 pages of gorgeous work, including poetry, literary criticism, prose, collaborative and cross-disciplinary texts, literature in translation and visual art (some printed in full-color). And I suppose “heavy and beautiful” also works for the challenges and themes the anthology aims to tackle — getting it right, expanding what’s possible, challenging the rules of society with new beliefs about what texts are legitimate.

I agree with Darling that this is “necessary work,” and while much of it does fall to gatekeepers, it also falls to individual readers (and reviewers) like myself. There’s always room to do better, but I try to read and champion work from diverse authors and to challenge my own ideas of the kinds of texts that “work.” (I recently confessed, for example, that I’m new to embracing different types of poetry.)

As I noted in a blog post on inventive poetry forms, unconventional work often presents topics that should challenge the reader, and there are some poems and voices to which editors should give special attention by creating spaces where they can be celebrated. TQ, as showcased in this new anthology, appears to be such a space.

Carolee Bennett, “electrifying experiments”

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Billy-Ray Belcourt for sure. When I read NDN Coping Mechanisms, I thought holy crap, you can do this with poetry?! Incredible. Belcourt’s work is so visceral and beautifully humble. It inspired me to get to the bottom of who I am (an ongoing process) and how I need to show up in my poetry and writing life for those around me. Adebe DeRango-Adem and Andrea Thompson are two other poets that continue to blow my mind. They edited an anthology called Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out and it was life-changing for me. That sounds very cliché, but it’s true. The book is packed with contributions from many creatives with mixed heritages, including pieces by the two editors. Reading Other Tongues was the first time I ever felt like a book was speaking directly to me and a lot of its power was in the multiplicity of voices sharing their stories. It was a whole community of people reaching out to me. I started having success publishing my work after I figured out that I didn’t need to write about the fancy trending things that I thought I needed to include or explore. My story was interesting, and before I could go outward with my writing, I needed to go inward and do some excavating. This was a fundamental shift in my understanding of how I should and should not occupy space with my work. 

Thomas Whyte, Samantha Jones : part four

When I was a graduate student at San Jose State University, I stumbled across a rolling cart (literally stumbled—I tripped over my own feet and almost fell) displaying the tempting label “Books $1 each.” That’s when I found 50 Contemporary Poets, the Creative Process, edited by Alberta T. Turner. In spite of its slightly sticky, caramel-colored 1970s-era cover, I paid for it, stuck it in my backpack, and limped to my next class.

That dollar is one of the best investments I’ve ever made. This book has provided me with a wealth of ideas for writing, teaching and understanding poetry. In this book, I discovered Peter Everwine, Gary Gildner, Nancy Willard, and Vassar Miller. It’s filled with Professor Turner’s wise and witty observations about poets and poetry, i.e., “Any poem successful enough to be noticed will be analyzed, categorized, and explained—by those who had nothing to do with its making.”

The book is based on a questionnaire that Turner sent to one hundred poets.

Erica Goss, Visualize the Reader—or Don’t

Two Christmas presents from my husband this year, a bottle of Tullibardine, and this beautiful book, Patti Smith’s A Book of Days. When we saw her perform at The Bearded Theory festival last May, she began her set by reciting the footnote to Alen Ginsberg’s Howl, ‘Holy, holy, holy’, and she spoke it with such conviction the poem could have been hers. Everything is holy … ‘Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!’

Julie Mellor, A Book of Days

Claire Booker takes readers on a journey over the Sussex Downs, a range of chalk hills which include 37 sites of special scientific interest that stretch from coastal cliffs to inland grasslands. There are diversions into family life, paintings, motherhood and childhood memories. […]

“A Pocketful of Chalk” is firmly rooted in its Sussex Downs location, exploring the landscape’s environs and raising concerns for climate change and what could be lost. There are also very human concerns: motherhood, intergenerational relationships and grief. All approached with the vitality and empathy of a poet wishing to share her concerns and love for the topics covered.

Emma Lee, “A Pocketful of Chalk” Claire Booker (Arachne Press) – book review

6. The alphabet is connected to the mouth, to the tongue, to the place where the sounds, particularly the consonants, are formed. Teeth invoke speech, the primal experiences of reality, childhood, and the oral, but are also resonant archetypes from a parallel alphabet. There’s a connection between teeth and the alphabet, between teeth and the keys of a typewriter. 

7. A lost tooth is a letter, a sound, a meaning extracted from the mouth, fallen. It is a sign out of place, removed from the locus of signification, from the place of utterance. It becomes itself, its own talking head. It is a tiny megalith, a dental henge, a miniature inukshuk. A prize from the Kinder Egg of the mouth.

Gary Barwin, TEETH ASK THE BIG QUESTIONS

Who stirs the pot
remains calm —

which explains
the universe,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (373)

I read a Chinese folk tale of a boatman 

who lost his way and wound up in a village fenced
        from time, suspended in peach blossoms—

The story says, everyone who forgets what such
        happiness is like, loses the chance to be immortal.

I also know a poem that gave me a peach before I ever 
       bit into the actual flesh of one: that traced its provenance 

before a boy at a roadside stand dropped them, 
       still warm from the sun, into a paper bag. And thus 

I learned how words, too, conjure the same 
       sugar and skin, how they dapple in both 

shadow and sunlight.

Luisa A. Igloria, Stone Fruit

Perhaps perceiving my no as code for “we can’t afford it,” the woman suggests we keep the pastry for free.

I tell her no thank you.

This time she insists. Her kindness floors me.

She’s selling hotdogs on the street to keep body and soul alive but offers the pan dulce, no charge.

Her intentions are bold and clear as a diamond. To decline her generosity feels like it would be an insult, an unshining of her jeweled gesture.

My daughter and I say, Thank you. Gracias. We share the pastry, which no longer feels like an excess treat, but manna from above.

Wherever that woman is, that saint dressed in white, come rain or shine, bless her.

Rich Ferguson, A Saint For All Days

I am the border agent who looks
the other way. I am the one
who leaves bottled water in caches
in the harsh border lands I patrol.

I am the one who doesn’t shoot.
I let the people assemble,
with their flickering candles a shimmering
river in the dark. “Let them pray,”
I tell my comrades. “What harm
can come of that?” We holster
our guns, and open a bottle to share.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Epiphanies Past and Present

I crossed the invisible border into 2023 while in India. The occasion: my son’s close college friend, Rish, is from Bengaluru and wanted to show us the country. The Christmas break worked well for this bunch of students and teachers; the only other break we have in common would be summer, when heat is extreme. He ended up heroically organizing a complex trip for nine people: Rish himself and two families of four (my family plus the family of their other college friend, Neville). It was a rich and intense adventure I’ll be processing for a long time. I’m not a TOTAL ignoramus–I listen to people, read a lot, follow the news–yet the barrage of new information, sensory and otherwise, put me in a constant state of awe.

We arrived in Delhi at 2 am on the 24th, and by 10:30 we were already on the move. Our very first stop began to open up histories that were unfamiliar to me. The Qutub Minar complex, mostly built around the year 1200, is in the Mughal style but provides glimpses of many versions of Delhi and the conflicts that shaped this palimpsest of cities: it contains a mosque, minarets, and cloisters built with the stones of earlier Hindu and Jain temples. I’d read up a bit on the Mughals before traveling but seeing so many forts, mosques, and monuments made that history more vivid, of course–and uncovered some layers within contemporary Indian cultural conflicts that I hadn’t understood. Even just talking to tour guides is revelatory, because each describes the history through different lenses and sometimes biases. And why didn’t I know that the Taj Mahal, commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved Mumtaz, is roughly contemporary with the British renaissance? What an important thing for an English professor to understand!

Visiting the Taj Mahal was a metaphor as well as a lucky experience. It was magical watching the symmetrical silhouette of the marble mausoleum take shape in the mist (we arrived before sunrise, at 6:30 am). It was amazing in a different way to get up close, where all that whiteness yields to complex detail: much of its surface is carved with flowers and inlaid with precious stones or painted in Quranic verses. Proximity to the past changes you.

Lesley Wheeler, New year, old places

Time feels like an endless sea at the beginning of all our holidays, all our love stories; we float and play in it with nothing but delight because all we can see is water. We know there is a shore and that the waves are taking us relentlessly toward it, but it’s so far away. Until it isn’t. Eventually, always, the calendar turns. Something ends. Someone leaves or dies. The tree comes down. But that there are always endings means that there are always beginnings, new versions of us to fall in love with, new waters to dive into with joy.

As the fire burned down and we talked about all that we love and have loved, the room began to feel a little more full, and I began to make peace with the changes in it. Or maybe my eyes just began to get used to how it is now, as they always do. We’d planned to cook dinner at home, to make a good new memory in our favorite place, but we were both tired from the day and couldn’t bear the idea of cleaning up afterward. Instead, we went out for Chinese. “It’s still the holidays, right?” he said, and we laughed.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Epiphany

Friday afternoons in January I run a poetry group, a small band of poets seeking the same thing, I think: a way into poems, the promise of absorbing the craft, of finding voice and finding paths through the words. This is how I work. I like to work with others in the same way. This week while the writers were working, studiously, heads down, involved in their own internal world, I drank my earl grey from my wide rimmed cup with the blue hares running round it and allowed myself to sit and watch the sky. The sun was setting, the jackdaws were leaving to their overnight roost. One day I shall seek out the evening roost. In that moment when i could feel the joy in my chest, watching them stream across the frame of the window, I realised I had found the peace I was looking for.

Even if this all changes again and I no longer have the privilege of seeking peace through my working day, I have it now. You have to love the things you have, in this world, and if you don’t then you either change the things you love, or you change your life until you love the things that are in it. I feel like I have been far out at sea for years, and now am resting on the shoreline I was seeking.

Wendy Pratt, Seeking Mid-Winter Peace

Several significant U.K. poetry publishers appear to be constantly bringing out new books, month on month, and their skeleton marketing teams can barely keep pace with the revolving door. Is it any surprise that in this context the sales of many full collections from prestigious outfits struggle to reach three figures?

And what about the effect of social media and newsfeeds? We all scroll so quickly, a new book becoming an old one in the space of weeks, pressure everywhere to be constantly publishing or be left behind.

A number of poetry people whose opinion I value have long held that poets should allow at least four years between collections, firstly to enable the previous book to garner and gather a readership that gradually builds and accumulates, and secondly to allow a poet’s customers to have a rest from shelling out on their wares, not to feel there’s something nearing an annual fee to keep up with their output. I myself am still encountering new readers for The Knives of Villalejo, my first full collection, which was published back in 2017. I’m not sure that would be the case if I’d brought me second collection out a couple of years later.

Matthew Stewart, The Poetry Publishing Machine

How can you be sure you’re doing enough for your book? The answer is, even with a team, you can never be sure. If you’re a workaholic and achievement oriented, it can be overwhelming. I’m hoping not to have that stress this time around. I hope that I’ll have info after this that will help me write an update to the PR for Poets book! Will Twitter still exist when I publish the next version of the book? Will all book promotion be done on a platform that doesn’t exist yet? Stay tuned!

Anyway, if you are like me and in the middle of getting ready to launch a book during a pandemic, please leave your comments, complaints, and helpful tips. It’s been some years since my last book, and a totally different world!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Week of the New Year, Cat and Weather Dramas, and Prepping for the New Book in a New Year

I was recently honored to be invited to submit some poems for an anthology about a particular subject, the only problem was that I didn’t have any ready-made poems on said subject, so I have to write some. Its been an interesting process. At first I had certain ideas about a sestina, but try as I might I couldn’t make it work. A whole other poem was in me that had its own ideas and wanted its say. Once that was out of my system, I found myself going back to the sestina, and low and behold, it’s working. It’s interesting how both have emerged and how one needed to get in front first. It’s also interesting how little control I have over the process. I don’t believe that anyone “channels” writing, but sometimes it feels close to that for me. I’m also really enjoying the process of writing a sestina, which is one of my all-time favorite forms to write in. I think it’s a quite a brilliant and elegant form, and I may one day write an entire chapbook of them. We’ll see how it goes after this next one.

Kristen McHenry, Game-Induced Verbal Tic, Diamond Update, The Glory of Sestinas

It feels like time to look at some new poems–but new is a relative term.  Most of these are recent, but some are just new to me, poets whose names I’ve known but haven’t read at all or haven’t read closely.  Poems from recent books by poets whose previous work I do know.  New ways of seeing and hearing, of taking in the world and giving voice to it.  Most of these are new to the blog.  Poets are always torn between reading new work and re-reading long time favorites, and of course we do both, shuttling back and forth between them, sometimes resisting the ones new to us, arguing with them, then seeing what they mean, all that they open our hearts and minds to.

Sharon Bryan, Some Recent Poems

This November, we celebrate the centenary of the birth of James Schuyler. As readers of this blog will know, he has become something of a go-to poet for me. And while I know I am not alone in being a fan of his work, I somehow feel that he is not as fêted as his illustrious friends in the New York school, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and Frank O’Hara. Leaving the scientific veracity of this to one side, a centenary is still worth celebrating, no?

This is, therefore, an open call to anyone who would like to write a guest blog post celebrating his life and work. Jacket 2 did a splendid special feature on Schuyler a few years ago, and this might be a good place to start in your search for inspiration in writing about him.

What am I looking for? Close readings of and responses to poems; readings of his prose, including his art criticism, the novel he coauthored with John Ashbery, his diaries; reappraisals of his work in the context of his aforementioned friends, including the New York poets that followed him; readings of his long poems; readings of his short poems; how he wrote about friendship, love, art, other poets; his elegies; his writing about the natural world. You will not run out of things to say.

Anthony Wilson, James Schuyler: Centenary year celebrations

and now these days
when it snows
there is a blizzard
all across the twitter sward 
images 
one need not imagine
anymore 
other than the words that speak
of the invisibility we seek
are we not all falling now
like the snow

Jim Young, blizzard

We’re made of weather — electrons twirling
like tiny twisters, blood-tides rushing and pumping.
How can anyone predict how we’ll blow?
Or what will come of our combative forces —
disease, health, madness, illumination?
Wild planets with fierce cycles of emotion,
we wobble on elliptical trajectories
toward idealized destinations,
subject to massive buildups of uncertainty.

Rachel Dacus, Why I Like Weather – a timely poem

Right now it’s starting to snow again, so the scene is even whiter and more ethereal than in this watercolor sketch, completed only an hour ago. Color fades to the barest hint of itself; the indistinct horizon blurs even more and comes closer; trees and rooftops lose their sharp edges. 

Today’s view feels chalky, and I’m looking forward to trying to capture it in pastels, but in a little while the sun will have gone down, so that may have to wait until tomorrow — when who knows what the sun and sky will be doing? 

Beth Adams, New Year in a New Neighborhood

Through New Year’s open doors
a host of voices echo, Say Yes!

Back then, I was weary of Non: 
Don’t run down the stairs! Don’t cry!

OUI! Formed in France where I broke apart 
and transformed, child in my belly, “I” to “we.”

 The exquisite shell of myself shattered by my own egg.
A future lifetime of “we.”  As we all should be.

To the new year, OUI.

Jill Pearlman, OUI/WE