A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.
A shorter than usual edition this week, but perhaps typical of what we’ll see during the summer months. Grief and loss were major themes, as well as the healing power of reading and writing. And several bloggers pondered succinctness, not necessarily succinctly.
Last night, I read an interview in El Pais with the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, who is now almost 89. It’s well worth reading. I don’t read a lot of pure philosophy, and I don’t know Habermas’ work, but I was interested in what he was saying about journalism, writing, reading, and the media. “There’s a cacophony that fills me with despair,” he said. Yes. Me too.
Lest we get off on the wrong foot here, Habermas doesn’t dismiss contemporary media, or specifically the internet and social media. He brings up and praises many aspects of new media that have helped humankind already, from the ability to organize from the grassroots to creating connections for support and research among people with rare diseases, saying that there are “many niches where trustworthy information and sounds opinions are exchanged.” He’s not a Luddite, and he doesn’t seem to have a fear of technology or change. What he’s concerned about is the same trend that concerns me.
He states the problem succinctly: “You can’t have committed intellectuals if you don’t have the readers to address the ideas to.”
Beth Adams, The Silencing of Thoughtfulness
There is a feeling of being transported by literature that I crave and try desperately to hold on to after closing the book, although usually it is shortlived. I do catch a whiff of it when I am writing, and that is why I write. But comparing my own thoughts of suicide to others’ thoughts or actions, just like comparing my work to another’s work, it is clear that others transport me more than I am able to transport myself. That may sound so obvious that it needn’t be uttered. I suppose I am chiding myself for not opening to others sufficiently, or more like, closing myself off so deeply.
This brings me to “Diary of a Bad Year” by JM Coetzee, which is brilliant and complex and devastated me. I’ve always loved Coetzee’s work, which over and again teaches me that self-knowledge is insufficient, others’ knowledge of us is distorted, and knowledge itself breeds the most desperate of feelings: typically guilt, remorse, powerlessness, hopelessness, angst. Although in Coetzee’s case it is a very quiet angst. There is no suicide in this book, more of a quiet withdrawal from life, which brought me to tears, and yet transported me to that feeling of belonging somewhere.
Risa Denenberg, Friday Morning Muse with Suicide on My Mind
[W]hen I read the news about Kate Spade’s death by suicide it felt personal. Here was one of my heroines – successful business woman who supported charities I cared about, creator of interesting and artistic accessories still appropriate for working women (probably the first purchase I made as a working woman to prove to myself I had “made” it was a Kate Spade bag.) It’s horrible thinking about her 13-year-old daughter going through the trauma. It’s a loss.
But here’s the thing – hidden illnesses are just that – hidden. I’ve never seen a picture of Kate Spade where she wasn’t perfectly put-together and smiling. She had plenty of money, plenty of success. But that had nothing to do with it.
I twittered about my sadness over her death, including a string of her accomplishments. A Trump supporter (literally that’s all I could tell about this person from their Twitter bio) wrote to me asking me about her charity involvement. I was wary – usually Trump supporters only write to me to say racist, sexist, hate-filled things – but it turned out through our twitter conversation that this twitter person was struggling to understand the suicide of a seemingly good, happy person, much like the rest of us.
It’s a reminder that many of us have struggled without showing obvious signs. It’s a reminder that we are all trying to get through the hard parts.
I write about the good things in my life but I have also tried to share some of the bad parts, too, because I don’t want to try to pretend. No one’s life is perfect. Every writer or creative person struggles first to create, then get their creations into the world, then the responses to their creations – then the cycle starts again. Chronic illness takes a toll. I carefully construct an image – you don’t often see pictures of me in the hospital, getting blood drawn or getting yet another MRI, or the days when I feel too bad to get out of bed. But that doesn’t mean bad days don’t happen – of course they do. Just a reminder that we should have compassion for each other, for ourselves, because no matter what a life looks like on the outside, each of us has days when it can all seem like too much.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Speculative Poetry Interview and A Guest Blog Post on PR for Poets – Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone and Getting Through the Hard Parts
The winged things that called to me as a child,
singing on the sidewalk in front of home,
as if they were weeping, as if they were
so tired of weeping, as if grief lifted
their feathers, separating and spreading,
as if grief was joy and beauty and love
twisted in time. As if only nameless
beings could open the boxes, break them,
PF Anderson, Of Numbers, Names, and Weeping Things
I am so sick of this story. Its novelty and shine wore off in my teen years. Now, in my 40s, everyone around me is on antidepressants that do less good than my swimming, and cause ugly side effects on top of original causes. I shrug. I’d rather be strong and bullied by hormones than drugged, riddled with side effects, and bullied by hormones. Still, sometimes it gets the upper hand, life; attempts to dig out of the poverty caused by the year of unemployment for surgery just making the hole deeper; endless struggle and pain on too many fronts simultaneously, including my own flesh: choked out by panic attack, the neighbor’s dog comes for a visit just in time, gives me a long hug. I can’t tell any of you what to do. Seeking comfort, I sleep with a box of ash. I don’t even like talking about it. It’s dull, pain. Mine. Yours. It’s joy I stayed alive for, the reason my nails are ripped out from just hanging on through this last year and a half. The only reason. The rest is crap. I don’t know how to get through more than the next hour. I know that, though. Get through the next hour. I don’t know what to tell you, any of you. There are times when even the reasons to do an hour seem thin and pale, and we just do it anyway, so tired.
JJS, June 6, 2018: untitled
I wrote “dead boy” poems because my brother died too young.
Because all my memories became entangled with his too-early death.
I never intended to publish these poems.
But I did share a few at readings.
Listeners asked me about where they could find these poems in print.
Still, I didn’t really plan on a book.
And then, a year later, my mother died.
My mother died in her sleep. Peacefully.
Unlike my dear father who suffered a horrible cancer death.
Unlike my aunt who suffered a terrible, ongoing battle with cancer.
Unlike my dearest friend who died too young–bled to death on the operating table during a procedure meant to extend his life.
I was relieved my mother hadn’t suffered.
But angry all over again that other people I loved had.
To be honest, I was glad to be free of my mother. At least this side of the earth.
But her hurtful words live on inside me–make me doubt myself and my self-worth.
So why the bejeezus was I crying so much?
Because fresh grief re-opens old wounds.
Shreds them, actually.
I kept going over family and over family stuff in my head, like a dog scratching at fleas.
And more poems came.
Because there was more to say about family.
And I was willing to speak my truth because it was mine.
If people would judge me harshly over that truth, it no longer mattered.
Because deep inside, I knew from reading my first book of family poems in public, that sharing my family situation could make another person feel less alone. Feel they could get through the worst of it.
Lana Ayers, Family Poems Are Hard–part 3–final part
Several weeks ago, I wrote a list of fragments and observations that went on to become an interesting poem. Let me try this again:
–This is a love letter to the two parrots in a palm tree that screech at each other.
–This is also a love letter to a pair of abandoned shoes at the beach, tan suede, clean, barely used, made for a man’s foot.
–The sun rises, as it always does. The clouds are the middle managers. They know that their job is to make the boss look good.
–This morning, the clouds have settled on apocalypse as a theme, in contrast to the man sitting on the steps, playing his harmonica.
–Does the sun see the people running to the sand to catch the sunrise? Is it aware of how many people ignore the sunrise for whatever magic their phones offer?
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Sunrise Snippets
Q~How has workshopping helped your writing? What advice can you share?
A~Two pieces of advice that I have been reminded of lately: “Write for yourself, and you will reach the most people,” and “It really isn’t about the publications.”
I recently tried writing a poem about race. I workshopped it with two women of color and it was a very intense, powerful, yet intimate conversation. One of the women reminded me that I should stick with what I know and write for myself. She could tell I was struggling with this poem, and we talked about how sometimes it is okay to not write about the things that seem big and worldly right now. I have a desire to write about politics, race, gun violence, all these things, but deep down, I just want to write about my everyday life. I just want to write about driving in Pulaski with my uncle. She reminded me to stick with what I want to write because those things are going to resonate with the most people. Write smaller, reach wider.
This year I made a goal to get 100 rejection letters. What I learned is that submitting your work is a full time job! Just the habit of researching publications, workshopping poems, and sending them out into the world has been a wonderful experience. I have gained confidence in myself and my writing. And, with so many rejections, they don’t hurt or sting as bad! But, what I learned most is that it isn’t about the publications. It isn’t about the rejections or the acceptances. It is about the writing. I recently have been giving out a lot of poems to family members for birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc, and seeing a family member cry from receiving a poem about them, wow, that is bigger than any publication.
Bekah Steimel, Learning to Drive In Pulaski, Wisconsin / an interview with poet Crystal Ignatowski
At the opening of the collection, Barbie Chang leaves behind Wall Street, and a world of lanyards, podiums and insincere applause in the hopes of “something better.” It is a longing many of us have felt, a longing for an authentic life; perhaps Barbie doesn’t want to be so plastic. Barbie Chang herself is born out of a longing for another identity. In a panel at 2018’s AWP Conference, Victoria Chang spoke of how these poems originally began in the I, but that once she happened upon the persona or alter-ego of Barbie Chang, the poems found their voice. It is often when a poet is released from their own poetic voice, even just by a small alteration of it, that they can discover a kind of music and style they weren’t able to find within the confines of first person.
The style that Chang discovers is as playful as it is masterful; rhyme, homonyms, and word-play are used throughout to propel the poems forward and often to surprise the reader with deft turns away from and back to the central theme of the poem. Yet, Chang’s movements away from the central theme of a poem never feel random, instead, in a rather surprising way they deepen the impact of the poem through their interruption.
Anita Olivia Koester, A Remarkable Persona: Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang
On a recent episode of the ITV quiz show, The Chase, there was a question about what the computer acronym WORM stands for. As a former IT infatuation junkie I knew the answer instantly; the chaser also got the correct answer but took a while to verbalise it. The acronym expands to Write once, Read many.
I wish my brain was a WORM. I wish that I could just flip a switch — press play, if you will — and deliver my poems verbatim, no matter how long ago the data had been written to the storage device. I wish the act of writing a poem instantly planted it into my memory circuits where its fruit was always ripe and ready to be plucked.
Giles L. Turnbull, The Poetry Worm
Earlier this evening, I was trying to get a couple of poems ready for our local Penistone Poets workshop tomorrow night. It’s an informal gathering over tea and cake to critique each others’ work, but although it’s informal, I really didn’t feel I had any poems that were good enough. Also, having been away has left me short on time. Still, something about the pressure of having to get the work ready (I’m back at the day job tomorrow) has made me ruthless and I’ve taken a few lines out, particularly one last line that hopefully allows the poem to now have a new and more subtle ending. We’ll see what the group says tomorrow, but reading Allnutt’s comment gave me heart. Sometimes it’s not about the words you put down on the page but the ones you remove. In a previous post I talked about the perils of over-editing. It’s a fine line, I think, between pruning a poem and hacking it to death. The sort of editing Allnutt’s talking about is swift and decisive. It needs to be done quickly, so setting a time limit is good. And workshops are helpful, as long as the time limit is adhered to. There’s no point spending ages pulling a poem apart, just make one or two suggestions that might strengthen it and move on. That’s what we’ll be doing tomorrow and I can’t wait to hear the poems.
Julie Mellor, ARTEMIS poetry
It’s a poem with not a wasted word, its release like the breaking of a storm after oppressive heat, and the cool of after. It’s as true and frightening and real as a folk tale. It was told, rather than read, and then he told us about the white painted bedroom he shared. He didn’t need to explain anything. I’ve thought since that what enchanted me was its tenderness. What do I mean by that? I mean the tenderness of Rembrandt’s portraits of his wife and unwavering eye of his self-portrait, the loving honesty. Not a shred of sentimentality. That tenderness was in his reading At the grave of John Clare. I had not known that a poet could talk to a dead poet like that.
‘O Clare! Your poetry clear, translucent / as your lovely name’.
I had not known it was possible to use the word ‘lovely’ so frankly and simply. The only other poem I remember from that reading was Death of a poet. I’m still not sure that, despite its total accessibility, I understand it yet, but this last stanza stays and stays.
‘Over the church a bell broke like a wave upended.
The hearse left for winter with a lingering hiss.
I looked in the wet sky for a sign, but no bird descended.
I went across the road to the pub; wrote this.’
John Foggin, Passing the time with Mr Causley
The light shines everywhere upon the sea
And it is only in certain moments, certain angles
That we see it clearly — too much light
Is overwhelming, it hides itself in excess.
So too with my words: Let me find the few
That carve a straight line through the soup of language
In which I’m drowned. Find me a way. Let me follow a line
From island to headland, from point to point, and call it a swim.
Dylan Tweney, Invocation for an Epic Poem