Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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 was especially rich in thought-provoking essays. I also noticed a lot of fear and foreboding, but with plenty of bright notes, as well. As I write this, here in central Pennsylvania we’re getting our first big snow storm of the year. The woodstove is roaring in the next room, and behind me in the kitchen, I can hear what may be the last of his clan tugging at the peanut in the mousetrap. It doesn’t go off. For some reason I breathe a sigh of relief.


The devil’s daughter has been dreaming a long dream about a castle of arguing horses. People who stare at her from below her apartment don’t see a woman but just some slow moving dashes of the colour terracotta, black, and gold. The devil’s daughter is a beautiful sloth, who has been sleeping in the warm sunlight of the flamingo city for the past two years. No one knows, not even herself, when she might wake up. A Tamil fisherman on the coast of Trincomalee saw one of her fingers move in another dream two weeks ago. He woke up in silence, terrified. He knows that when the devil’s daughter wakes up, she will erase the tender writing from thousands of wasted pages and write, in her own hand, the enchanted fatal phrase.

Saudamini Deo, The enchanted phrase

It has been by inch and trickle that the continued isolation and stress of COVID has covered the person I want to be. The person who has friends and laughs a lot and has time to walk on the beach. The person who feels hopeful and creative and connected.

Now we’re heading into another year of rampant COVID and I live in a community where vaccination rates and mask-wearing are low. Another year when I wistfully look at pictures of travel, readings, conferences, and art openings, but feel like I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I was the person who passed on COVID to someone who got really sick. It happens. People infect their beloved grandmothers or friends undergoing chemotherapy. Since March 2020, 836,000 people in the United States have died due to COVID. […]

So, I’m back at this small corner of the web with some thoughts. A little life ring buoy thrown out into rough and dark seas. A lone candle in the window. A chance to talk about poetry a little, life a little. Perhaps to strategize on how to find my way back to a life when I truly felt like I was “being poetry.” I hope that I’m able to commit to being here with you.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Isolation and Poetry

It wasn’t exactly a New Year’s resolution–I do not bother with those–but I have promised myself to spend more time on poetry again following a fairly long interval, not exactly a hiatus, but…

Serendipity, then, to learn of Two Trees Writing Collaborative‘s poetry workshop that is taking place online in the early months of the year when motivation’s most welcome. As well as a chance to meet other writers where they are as the pandemic limps along. This online workshop is facilitated by Elena Georgiou, who was one of my advisor/mentors when I was in graduate school at Goddard. Feels like old times (not. because modality-virtuality-experience much altered). I have drafted four new poems, and the process is fun though the output has been mediocre so far; well, one must sometimes prime the engine.

I’m also reading Anthony BurgessNothing Like the Sun, wildly Shakespearean rollicking-with-language, a novel that reads like iambic pentameter. I’m thinking of poetic cadence, which is a craft aspect of poetry that has not been much on my mind until renewed by this novel. Not that rhythm is unimportant to my work, but thinking about it hasn’t been foremost. I have been thinking more about lyricism lately, it seems my default mode.

And I’m thinking about winter, and snow.

Ann E. Michael, Winterwords

To my surprise, ahead of my self-imposed schedule is the first poem from the Poem-a-Month series—a simple rhyming ode to mangoes, one of the few fruits I have found I like since embarking on my goal to add more fruit to my diet. I bought a mango for the first time in my life a few weeks ago, and I didn’t know how to slice it. I had to look it up on YouTube.

The hardest thing for me about diving into writing poetry again has been learning to embrace the crap. I wrote pages and pages of utter dreck this week and had to remind myself that the dreck is essential. It’s the fertilizer from which the good stuff grows. And who do I think I am anyway, that every word flowing from my pen shall be transcendent perfection?

Kristen McHenry, Learning How to Be Bad Again, The Illustrious Mango

In my desire to challenge my own anxiety and to research for the book/s I’m writing and to reconnect with myself and the landscape, I have been taking some solo walks. I’ve been listening to the trees.

I’ve been back up to the beacon and the bronze age cemetery and I’ve been out to Star Carr and I have been finding myself and my life in these places. This week, as part of Spelt’s ongoing workshop series, we had RM Francis running a workshop on ‘Topological Presence’. I didn’t attend the workshop as Saturdays are the day in which most of the Spelt work gets done, so I had to go to the post office. But I knew it would be good. I caught little bits and pieces of it as I was going about my work and picked up on one comment from Judi Sutherland, whose book Following the Teisa has just come out. She described feeling like writing poetry about landscape was a way to connect to the place she was in, having moved around so much. It struck a chord with me, for a different reason. I have always lived where I am, the landscape and the stories embedded in that landscape are embedded in me and are part of my personality. But I have never quite felt like I fitted in anywhere. It’s been a long journey to recognise my nerdy, quirky, not-pretty, not-slim self as entirely valid. In fact, it is this embracing of that nerdy quirky, sensitive person that allows me to write, so no wonder I write so much about the land I live in and how I fit into it. because i do feel like I fit in when I am out walking, or out in nature in general. I feel like I fit in when I am with animals or in nature, and also, mostly, when I am with creative people. They are my tribe because I think most creatives have that sense of not quite belonging in one way or another. This sort of thinking allows me to write, allows me to give permission to myself to writer, from my entirely valid point of view. I find that the new poetry collection is very much about that sense of roots and belonging that nature and landscape give. It’s not an easy collection to write, it s so different to the very personal stuff I’ve been writing with Horse, it’s difficult in another way, but I find I am enjoying that exploration, that challenge.

Wendy Pratt, A Sense of Belonging

So I’m having my bubblebath, this little self-care ritual that is really just a drop in the bucket of self-care that we all need, but at least it’s something, and I’d been wondering about how one even goes about collectively or as a group thinking-things-through these day when we’re all so separate. And then one is dropped into this profound conversation courtesy of podcast technology and bath bubbles. So that even if it wasn’t group think, at least one feels part of a conversation, somewhat. It’s something, right? It’s something.

And then [Jane Hirshfield] says: “I have been given this existence, these years on this Earth, to accept what has come into my lifetime: wars, loves, trucks, betrayals, kindness. I must take them. I must find a way to live in this world. You can’t refuse it. And along with the difficult is the radiant, the beautiful…” Which is a bit of an answer. How do we go about living in the fullness of the world when we’re all apart and gathering isn’t easy. You have to live everything, you can’t refuse it.

I suppose this is why I’m finding the act of blogging even more important than before. (And if you’re interested in doing same, please check out Kerry Clare’s Blog School). So back to the “trail detour” sign. Maybe we’re not gathering in rooms and having conversations in the old ways, but what are the new ways in which we can still engage? And maybe it’s just something to even start asking ourselves the question, what is our conversation? In a 2007 book, Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett quotes St. Augustine who said, we keep speaking in order not to remain altogether silent. And she says that in her conversations she’s been able to fill her head with “many voices, elegant, wise, strange, full of dignity and grief and hope and grace. Together we find illuminating and edifying words and send them out to embolden work of clarifying, of healing. We speak because we have questions, not just answers, and our questions cleanse our answers and enliven our world.”

Shawna Lemay, Thinking-Things-Through

Write Bloody has long been a dream press for me. I first learned of them back in 2013 – Megan Falley was on tour for her first book with the press, After the Witch Hunt, and she did a reading in DC. I went to that reading and fell in love with her words. A few years later, I took a one-on-one workshop with Megan and fell further in love, with both her writing and the press.

I bought other books from the press and fell in love with the poetry they published – Jeanann Verlee, Jon Sands, Seema Reza, Clint Smith, Arhm Choi Wild – and so many more.

I submitted to Write Bloody for the first time in 2016. I was rejected. I submitted again in 2017 and 2019. Rejected and rejected again.

I applied to, and completed, my MFA in poetry. I had two chapbooks published (both now out of print) and two full length collections published, Beautiful & Full of Monsters and Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart. I kept writing and submitting. I took workshops with Jeanann Verlee and Seema Reza and Jon Sands. I kept writing and writing.

And then in end of 2021, Write Bloody opened their submissions again. I sent in my poems. And then in early January, they announced their finalists and my name was on the list!

Courtney LeBlanc, Screaming

Very cool to see that our book was a finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.  Thanks to Tolsun Books for figuring out how to combine Jia Oak Baker’s photographs and my poems in convenient paperback form exactly how we envisioned but better.

Since all of my celebrations are virtual, here are a few more of those “Poetic Distancing Reading Series” video sessions that I did instead of whatever book tour I was planning before the pandemic.

I almost had to give up on this one in the canal because every take kept getting ruined by screeching jets from the nearby airbase. Another example of the Military Industrial Complex budget squashing local arts. I will edit together a bunch of these outtakes that feature me cursing at the sky as if those pilots might be able to hear me. 

Shawnte Orion, Metaverse Book Tours for a Southwestern Book Award Finalist

This Sunday is going to be me celebrating the publication of my poem Phantom Settlements over at The Friday Poem. I am overjoyed with the kind words that Hilary and Andy said about it.

We chose Mat Riches’ poem ‘Phantom Settlements’ as this week’s Friday Poem because we love its playfulness and humour, and his obvious love of language. Riches ranges far and wide to tantalise, amuse and intrigue us, leaving us a trail of clues starting with the title and sub-title. But he demonstrates a deeper intention too, as the poem brings up issues of authenticity and truth. Definitely one for our front page.

I especially like it as it has a neat symmetry with the poem I mentioned above in The Alchemy Spoon as that has a line in it about ranging far and wide. Well, the final version says “ranged”, but an earlier version said far and wide too. You’ll have to wait for the Complete Poems of Mat Riches to be published after my death to see that though. (Yes, I could just put it up here in a few weeks, but let me dream about a Complete Poems for a bit longer please.)

Mat Riches, A woman needs a man like a fish needs a four-door hatchback

Now, with those professional years behind me, it’s still the way I tend to organize my time, but I also get distracted because although I finally have more time to do my own creative work, there are also more people around me with needs and desires which are important to me. So I find it’s even more crucial, if I want to get anything done besides the daily tasks of ordinary life, to be intentional about certain areas: reading, music, language-learning, writing, making things, exercise. I don’t make task lists, I don’t have a daily schedule, and I don’t make resolutions. I just have certain things I try to do every day (exercise, language practice, some reading, ongoing correspondence and/or journaling); some I do more or less weekly (write a blog post, for instance) and others that I just try to move forward incrementally, not necessarily all at the same time (drawing, knitting or sewing, piano/music, larger writing and publishing projects). Hopefully, there is also some unstructured time to dream, relax, think and meditate, and to be social.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because of two things.

One: a friend asked me what I’m addicted to, and after thinking a bit, I answered “accomplishment.” By that I didn’t mean the sort of accomplishment that results in praise, but a sense of having done something with my time, having learned, having grown a little, and having contributed to others. If I don’t feel that way, I can get discouraged, angry, even depressed.

Two: the pandemic has insisted that I see myself as the age that I actually am, and that age is no longer young. Mortality has been in my face, and in the face of everyone over 60, whether we like it or not. Regardless of how young and energetic I feel or appear, I’ve been forced to face the fact that life is finite, and my own time is running shorter.

Beth Adams, Incremental

Tracing-paper pages show hairline cracks
in their creases. In-between, the arthritic limbs
of a Photoshopped tree glow like a bone x-ray.
Your desk is flecked with gold paint.

I think of the traces of gold in our bodies, how all the gold
on earth was forged by stars; how you read that its glitter
is caused by the speed of electrons in its orbit,
the relative slowing of their time;

and of the crazy idea you had
that the point of death was like falling into
a black hole’s event horizon, where you could cram
a lifetime of thought into a second.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 8 – Event Horizon

It’s been a cold, dreary January here in Seattle, and Omicron is peaking across the US. Our state’s National Guard has been called up to aid hospitals and testing sites. Schools in my neighborhoods are mostly going virtual. I have to say my anxiety is worse than it has been during most of the pandemic; it’s been hard to get out of the house to get fresh air or exercise, I’ve seen lots of vaccinated friends and some family get covid and even get hospitalized.  It’s not been fun.

So one day, when the rain and snow gave us a break, we went out in the fog to birdwatch, and got these shots of sunset with fog and cormorants, and a few Wood Ducks. It was good to get some exercise, even in the chilly gray day. Being immersed in nature is excellent for anxiety, even if I needed a lot of hot tea and a shower to get warm when I got home. I also taught an online speculative poetry class yesterday; it was a lot of fun – thanks to everyone who came out for that!

It’s been tough to keep my spirits up. I try to be optimistic; I try to be pro-active, I meditate and do breathing exercises, and I’m trying to distract myself with positive things (see my last section below) but I saw a quote: “You can’t self-care your way out of a pandemic.” You also can’t ignore the deaths of 850,000 in your own country. In February, it will be two years since the first US cases of covid appeared in Kirkland, a few miles from my house. So I’m submitting more, researching PR, reading, organizing. Waiting for spring…and hopefully more good news.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Dreary in Mid-January, Interview with Water~Stone Review, Distracting Myself with PR Research, Submissions, and Organizing Projects, Birdwatching w/Towhees and Wood Ducks

The stars are
already conspiring

to make the next
universe,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (107)

Last January, at this time, I was sleeping 18 hours a day and quarantining in my basement away from children and husband, battling a second round of COVID-19 (probably Delta?) and feeling like absolute garbage. When I finally emerged from my psuedo-coma on the futon, joints aching and fifteen pounds lighter than I’d been in 2020 — having subsisted on little other than broth and Gatorade for three straight weeks — I developed tremors. I shook so badly I couldn’t drive. My handwriting was barely handwriting — which didn’t matter much anyway, since my brain was still fogged.

The way every other member of my family struggled isn’t my story to tell, of course, so I’ll just say that it’s been eye-opening and humbling — what happens when two people struggle to keep themselves and their partnership intact, when parents are so beset with problems that it becomes difficult for them to parent, and to guide and help their children, who suddenly have developed their own serious problems, challenges I never would have imagined my children would face pre-pandemic.

We always imagined disaster and apocalypse to look very different than this, didn’t we? I mean, I’m not walking down I-95 toward Florida in a cold gray landscape, evading roaming packs of cannibals and scraping subsistence for my children from abandoned farms. There’s no hellfire falling from the sky or radiation pulsing through the air (that we *know* of), but survival is still a preoccupation.

When I write the words survival and apocalypse I’m not intending to be hyperbolic. Rather, I see a very particular world coming to an end. It’s not happening under a curtain of falling ash, and for the most part the sky is still a beneficent sky and the earth provides and nurtures — but something has been destroyed, and with finality.

And when we look at the old life, pre-pandemic, why are we so keen for *it* to survive? What fire from the old life are we carrying into the next life, and is that new life worth this trouble?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Something Has Been Destroyed (But Maybe That’s Okay)

It’s not that the well’s run dry.
The walk feels too far. It’s uphill
in the snow both ways, and
who has the strength to carry
those dangling buckets balanced
on their shoulders now? I’ll stay
on this secondhand chair, wrapped
in my mother’s holey shawl.
Make another cup of tea, stay quiet.
Grief sits with me by the fire.
Out the window, tiny birds track
hieroglyphics across the icy ground.

Rachel Barenblat, The well

2022 isn’t starting on the best foot. I’m in quarantine with my four kids, two have tested positive and we’re just waiting to see if any of the rest of us get it. Some of us will already miss one day of school/work when we go back next week, so I’m hoping we can hold out and not miss any more. 

I’ve gotten lots of little home projects done but missed the chance to catch up on things like buying new clothes for my constantly growing kids, picking up a few replacement items for the home. We’ve cleaned, played Uno, sledged, listened to music, read lots and spent too much time on screens. But we haven’t killed each other yet. Two years of social distancing has helped to prep us for proper quarantine, though I’m desperate to get back into the world.

But this post is to look back. 2021 was a good year for my writing. I’ve had more work accepted than ever before, some for magazines I’ve been trying to get into for ages or for projects that actually paid or offered wider exposure than previous I’ve been involved in. 

I’m not writing every day, but I have learned to focus the little time I have on writing. Saturday is currently my writing day, though that will happen less as my course starts up. I write, edit and submit to magazines on that day, totally immersing myself in writing. I will miss having that much time for just my writing, so I don’t expect to see such great numbers next year.

Gerry Stewart, 2021 Writing Review

The clean blue field protects me from
accidental eye contact or conversation
with the person across from me.
It enforces, with its institutional cerulean,
the subtle separation between me
and the student working on a paper;
the elderly woman filling out tax forms;
the stubbly man reading a mystery.
I sip from my covered beverage (allowed)
and find an excuse not to look down
at my laptop. Instead I let my gaze linger
a moment longer, lost in the artificial sky.

Jason Crane, POEM: The Clean Blue Field

To live in a world where birdhouses are built atop gravestones, where gardens are planted in the hearts of the lonely, where lightning bug halos are forged for one and all. To live in a world where we burn rage, burn tears, burn what we don’t need, anoint those ashes across sky’s forehead, create better weather for our lives.

Rich Ferguson, better weather / whether better

It turns out my jumbled mind has pulled itself together via the stars. I read two books recently with stars in the titles and on the covers: The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue, about the 1918 pandemic as it affects a maternity ward in Ireland, and Wiping Stars from Your Sleeves, poems by David James. Both provided quiet moments of focus on something other than work tasks, home tasks, caregiver tasks, and memorizing lines. My mind moved back into its jumble rather easily any time I slipped in a bookmark.

For example, I actually reviewed the poetry book for Escape Into Life, as David James is one of our EIL poets. I set up the post to publish automatically…on Wednesday…and then forgot about it till Friday.

Caregiver tasks included visiting my folks several times and accompanying my dad to a doctor’s appointment, where I was shocked to see a woman sitting in the waiting room completely unmasked. I reminded him to keep his mask over his nose, and I was double-masking (medical + cloth), but I couldn’t understand why the medical receptionists hadn’t reminded or cautioned the woman. Later, I saw her in her mask, so maybe it was just a memory lapse…something I understand. I had forgotten till I read it again in The Pull of the Stars that “influenza” actually refers to the influence of the stars, once thought to cause that illness.

Kathleen Kirk, All the Stars

Have you calculated
the ultimate question of life, the universe
and everything? Hell no. You’re the milk
you sniff after the sell-by date and decide
it should work fine for coffee; the wad
of paper towels you re-use for wiping
down a couple more counters. And you’re
always attuned to the twinge in the gut
which lets you know you’re not yet
a lesson beyond loss, a grief beyond
mourning. A speck of grit, a smart
in the eye; a mouth for rounding
a string of vowels at the moon.

Luisa A. Igloria, Short Bio, with Lines from a Sci-Fi Cult Classic

When I opened my laptop at the end of December, determined to post to this blog once more before the close of the year–well, that’s how I found out Betty White had died. I thought, Nope, see you in 2022. I closed the laptop’s cover. If you’ve struggled with social media for this past year, I get it. I’ve needed to go silent for long periods. That’s particularly painful when the pandemic hasn’t given us a chance to connect in other ways, because it can feel like damned-if-you-do, erased-if-you-don’t. But I’m grateful because when I look back at the second half of 2021, I spot bright glimmers of living, of pleasures taken, seized in a time that felt dark. 

Sandra Beasley, January Jump

For several weeks before Christmas I had these words from Ian McMillan’s peerless ‘Stone, I Presume’ rattling around my head. During my teaching, walking the dog, reading, even when I was watching the telly.

One day I heard myself saying them out loud: ‘It’s all a bit twist and reek, isn’t it?’ What was I talking about? I mean: what was I talking about? The 10 Downing Street party crisis? Keir Starmer’s suits? Chelsea’s injury list? The current edition of Really Great Poetry? All of these, and none of them. They are all twist and reek.

Twist and reek. Not twist and shout, twist and reek. What does it mean? a) I have no idea, and b) Whatever you want it to. I mutter it under my breath in meetings when the same person makes the same point for the third time without realising they are doing it. (Sometimes this person is me.) Climate change deniers can be twist and reek. The Conservative Party has been twist and reek for years. Poetry readings can be twist and reek. (That’s yours as well as mine.)

The poets who are never twist and reek are definitely Frank O’Hara and absolutely Ian McMillan. Martin Stannard is never twist and reek (unless he chooses to be, in which case it is always deliberate and therefore acceptable). There are others. (Check out Lifesaving Poems to find more!)

Anthony Wilson, Twist and reek

Both these podcasts tackle a poem or 2 per episode, but in different ways.

Frank Skinner is a well-known UK comedian with hidden depths. He does a good solo job with a range of poems old and new, some of them rather challenging. His target audience includes people who don’t usually read modern poetry – he’s aware of which aspects they may disapprove of. He’s enthusiastic, not pretentious, and doesn’t hesitate to reveal aspects of his personal life if it helps illuminate the piece. In his most recent episode he talks about 2 poems from Caroline Bird’s “The Air Year”, making me realise I’d missed some points – e.g in the title poem “the mime scene” alludes to “the crime scene”.

In “Poem Talk” an avant-garde poem is discussed by 3 or 4 American academics who help each other try to understand the piece. A recording by the poet is played. They often come to no firm conclusions. I learn much from their comments, which at times seem very generous. They’re fairly honest about their puzzlement though they never go as far as blaming the poet.

Tim Love, 2 poetry podcasts

These days, with a few exceptions, I prefer pigs to poets.

I bear no ill-will to those who see the poetry scene as one gigantic performance or who feel energised by the social whirl of it. I just prefer to spend time with my pigs. I talk to them. They talk to me. I feed them, clean out the muck, keep the straw dry. They grunt happily sometimes, grumble at others. We get along fine.

This week I saw the propaganda surrounding the T S Eliot Prize, the point of which is a little lost on me. Is it important? What does it do, exactly? If you went to the handing out of the prize or the apparently glitzy reading event, I hope you had a nice time and that the free wine flowed freely. I looked at YouTube and found a poem by the ‘winning’ poet. Seemed like a decent piece of writing to me, read clearly and cleanly. Yes, I liked it.

But was it worth the sycophantic outpouring that the awarding of the prize provoked on social media? Somebody even quoted slavishly the winner’s words in some book or other on, I guess, ‘How To Be A Poet’ or similar, when she said: “To write a poem is an act of resistance. To perform it is a revolution.” It’s a good sound-bite. It’s also white-noise nonsense. But don’t let me stop you becoming a disciple, please, if that’s your thing.

Frankly, though, I had a better time listening for half an hour to a band of Mongolian throat singers doing their ethereal stuff and another half-hour watching Uyghur people dancing and singing songs of love. I normally avoid the tales of ancient Greece but it did fascinate me also earlier today when I ‘discovered’ that Aeschylus, who specialised in writing tragedies, was killed when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head.

Bob Mee, PIGS OR PRIZE-WINNING POETS? THE CHOICE IS MINE

I had thought that the phenomenon of western poets adapting someone’s translation had vanished. I would argue that it did disappear for a few years from English, only to return at the hands of poets, not translators! Translation has become ‘cool’; in some way its popularity speaks of the failure of a liberal intellectual class wrestling with the rise of Western fascisms. It rejuvenates their monolingual diction and imagery, it fits in the tenure dossier, it rescues the Third-World poet who is always imagined as a singular voice against the savage masses; as if the Cold War has never ended, or God forbid, hasn’t been won by the United States. Translation today, as scholar Dima Ayoub argues, is seen not only as a necessity but also necessarily good. What makes translations a must? Where does this blind faith in translation come from? Doesn’t translation act also as unconditional access, as surveillance, as an expanding force of the global capitalist market of literature? 

Mona Kareem, Western Poets Kidnap Your Poems and Call Them Translations

Looking to pad my coffers a little before I set sail into the wind, I’ve been doubling down on some of the freelance work, and alternating between art and literature projects to keep my brain from getting overwhelmed. Still today, I began the day with the Hudson Valley school and, when something else came back for edits, swiveled to Artemisia Gentileschi. Thus today, I have had one foot in the Baroque and one foot in American Romanticism most of the afternoon.  (With a detour on Caravaggio a couple days ago, and my sights on Millais. ) Yesterday’s work on Gentileschi was followed by Dickinson–a more general piece than the beast on one on Guinevere as literary figure prior, but I couldn’t help but start thinking about her and Artemesia, how both are, in most internet articles, mentioned first for their biographical details, and only second  the ways their work was innovative.  

Artemesia’s rape trial defined her for many, not her painting.  Emily’s life of seclusion and white ensemble similarly leads in when people start talking about her.  Only if you are a a painter or a poet, do you progress beyond those things.  I keep thinking about Sylvia Plath, always, and how her death overshadowed her work. And yet, in my limited previous knowledge of Caravaggio, I did not know that he was not only a convicted murderer and hothead, but a multiple murderer. As in more than one person.  This seems to be, for him, a side note.  A tiny piece of trivia when you dig into biographical details. Kind of like how very few people talk about William Burroughs killing his wife. 

I guess, what gets remembered about us as artists, who knows?  How history defines us, completely beyond our control.  It made my head spin a little bit.  Why do women’s biographical detail lead the story, while men’s are footnotes to their supposed genius? 

Kristy Bowen, painters and poets, oh my!

3 – How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Because I am working in found/collage form, there is a slight urgency to getting something, once it has taken form, glued down. Otherwise, the tiny, precariously placed scraps of paper with each word (or letter) on it become subject to breeze through an open window or my cat jumping on the desk. That being said, it can take weeks before the scraps start to come together into a poem—though once they begin to, it happens rather quickly. The unique thing about the process is that, once the collage is glued and the poem is in it, there is no revision! No way benefits to workshopping a poem beside asking what I can do differently next time. There was one poem that I tried revised, which was actually very very cool. I had left a good deal of space between each line, so ended up adding 2-3 lines between each original piece, making sure each new line picked up where the previous left off and could also segue into the original predecessor. It grew from 8 lines to 15.

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

The impetus of The Fever Poems was to make cards I card send to friends. I cut up a couple magazines then found something more interesting—a book that I was tired of holding onto for sentimental reasons that I could turn into something else. It had illustrations too! I made one card with a few words cut out and pasted onto it and then suddenly was writing full lyric poems in that way. Also suddenly, there were more than forty poems. I am working on a new project now that is very much a self-contained book project, replete with an extensive reading list for research and piles and piles of notes on what it aims to explore.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kylie Gellatly

Tell us about your new chapbook, Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota. How did the idea of using invasive species to explore the connection between ecology and human nature come to you?

When I started (and finished) writing this book I was living in a very small apartment in downtown Minneapolis with my husband and our two dogs. So it seemed really important to get out and to green spaces in my free time when I could. The Twin Cities area is really great for that, with a state park and a national wildlife refuge right on the train line, and of course all the lakes. And like a lot of writers I was of course writing about what I was seeing.

The first couple I wrote weren’t imagined as part of a bigger project, they were just some fun little story-poems. I liked writing about invasive species because they turned the purpose of a lot of standard field guides on its head — the ones that are about helping you spot desirable species. They don’t take into consideration many of the plants and animals you actually see, since typically the nature spaces we enjoy aren’t truly a wilderness, they’re all some degree of impacted. Choosing only invasives became a way to write about real climate change, real ecological concerns but also tell these very misfit, weird stories.

As you started to realize these little weird poems would be part of a larger project, what was your process for pulling it together into a cohesive whole? How did you decide what needed to stay and what needed to go?

After I had 4-5 finished, I decided I wanted to take this in a much bigger direction. I made a huge list of potential species candidates, trying to evenly include plants and animals. Some of them were really easy choices — ones I had experience with removing as a volunteer, some we covered when I tutored environmental science, like buckthorn, Ones I saw slowly destroying some of the biodiversity of the lake by my grandparents, like trapdoor snails. Earthworms, because I participated in spreading them without realizing the problems they caused. Anything I had a real visceral connection to was an easy one to write about, to include.

Some I dropped because no matter how hard I tried, no matter how beautiful a name “Tree of Heaven” is or how sensory stick bugs are, I just couldn’t find a good hook to attach a poem to. Others I dropped because they weren’t really relevant. Wild boar, for example, would have been really fun to brainstorm about, but sightings are rare and almost completely unconfirmed. They just aren’t actually a driver of habitat loss or a signal of climate change, or anything with a large effect on the land. And I wanted those topics, albeit in exaggerated and fantastical forms, to be the core of the poems.

I also clearly remember sitting on my floor with printed copies of every poem in front me, ready to tackle the incredibly nitpicky and difficult task of trying to figure out what the punchiest order would be. Before I really got into laying them out and sliding them around like terrible tetris blocks I asked myself “What if I just try to do it alphabetically?” and ended up very happy with the start, the ending, the pacing. It was a nice reminder that just because poetry is sometimes really hard, it doesn’t always have to be that way.

One of the things I love about your book is how each poem is paired with a botanical illustration. Was this a concept that you thought about early in your process of writing the book? Or did it come about later as you were working with your publisher?

Both, actually! I had printed a version for myself once because I wanted to practice making artsy little zines and learn different binding stitches, and just for fun I included several old public domain illustrations. I don’t think anyone but me ever saw that version.

But early in the editing process, Holly at IFP asked me if I was open to including illustrations with the poems, to make it more like an actual field guide. Of course I was! It was like she read my mind. And it was an early sign that I was working with someone with similar tastes and interests, especially in books as artifacts.

Andrea Blythe, Amelia Gorman on ecology, invasive species, and weird poetry

With closed eyes the world
disappears inside us,
time shrinks and hides
behind the soft skin of our eyelids.
Eleven years, twenty years ago,
forty, the day we were born;
we’ve learned the trick from the very start.
A membraned border, our fine veil
between seeing and looking,
or a wall out of stone
when pain is involved.
Just before we fall asleep,
just before we cry,
just before we give in to madness.

Magda Kapa, Timeout

The collection returns to the climate change theme towards the end. In “Passerine”,

“Meanwhile in another timeframe
the future, which is now,
we are not ready
toilet paper, sanitiser, neatly stacked
in a cupboard with a big sack of rice
which hopefully won’t be dumped
moth and weevil zigzagging
while fantails move happily
through the understory, a reminder
that nothing lasts.”

Passerines are perching birds, a hint at the precarity of their existence. It could also be a metaphor for the pandemic, where humans were reminded of their own precarity. As well as lack of preparedness – the toilet rolls and large sack of rice won’t keep a virus at bay and it looks as if the rice will go off before it gets used. The wildlife, however, gets freedom of movement. Although the wildlife doesn’t get chance to recover, it just reminds humanity that nothing lasts.

The poems in “The Density of Compact Bone” explore personal issues and the climate emergency. Magdalena Ball’s deftly constructed poems work as multi-layered explorations of her themes, underline how humanity has contributed to its own woes. There is a sense of helplessness as if there is no time to mitigate the damage or take action. They overlook the imbalances of power: one person diligently taking all possible steps to limit their impact will never have the same effect as a large corporation stopping air travel, holding solely online meetings and using recyclable materials. She is very conscious of her place as a daughter, as a mother, supporting and upholding both roles and the inheritances they bring. Her concerns are about what kind of world her child will grow up in, how there needs to be a world for children to grow in.

Emma Lee, “The Density of Compact Bone” Magdalena Ball (Ginninderra Press) – book review

I’ve always found titles quite hard to come up with. I’ve been through all kind of exercises to try to break the back of it. I look at other people’s titles to see which ones jump out at me (or not). And I remember Carol-Ann Duffy once reading the title of a poem and exclaiming ‘Now that’s a title that gives me confidence in the poet!’

I know there have been various trends over the years: the Very Long Intriguing And/or Witty Title is still popular, (especially when it comes to competition entries) although I wonder if it’s waning. I’ve done a few of those myself but can’t help wondering if the title can end up being more interesting than the poem.

The good old basic single-word title is surely a classic. But the first line had better be AMAZING if the title is ‘Daisies’ or ‘Evening’ or whatever.

How about the first-line-as-title? I confess I quite like this arrangement and have used it a fair bit – in the sense of the title being the actual first line, so that the poem runs on from the title (rather than repeating the first line, although this is also possible of course).  But it doesn’t suit every poem.

And what about collection titles? I know we’re commonly advised to use the title of one of the poems, or use a phrase or a line from one of the poems. Sometimes Very Long Intriguing And/or Witty Titles are more memorable. When it’s come to pamphlets, I’ve always gone with the title of one of the poems, with the exception of ‘Why?’ which I wanted to call ‘Was it the Diet Coke?’ but that didn’t work out, for fear of a certain mega-company based in Atlanta coming down on us like a pantechnicon of canned drinks.

Robin Houghton, Thinking about poem and book titles

I recently published reading notes on Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens by Corey Van Landingham. It’s a spectacular poetry collection, and I jumped at the chance to review it ahead of its release. I have great affection for Van Landingham’s work. Going back seven or eight years ago, I spent a December writing only sonnets. One of those sonnets started with a line from Van Landingham’s “The Louse”: “I name every injury like it was a comet.”

I remember vividly the energy that line gave my own writing and am grateful all over again. I’m also inspired to let myself be, well, more inspired in the coming year. I spent the bulk of last year attending workshops, but somehow got mired in the left-brain aspects of them: being a good student, gathering information, reading, offering critique, considering new approaches, etc. I didn’t use them for writing inspiration as much as I wish I had.

To be fair, it felt like a difficult year to loosen up and let things in. 2021 began with the insurrection and ended with amped up prioritization of capitalism and the economy over public health. And in between? Also a total shit show. I had my guard up (aggressively), and it impacted more than my mood. It also locked down my creativity. (To see what I accomplished — and where I missed the mark — click through to last week’s post about revisiting 2021 writing goals.)

2022 is unlikely to be any better as far as the state of the world is concerned, and so my task is to be more selective with what I consume: more comets and sonnets, less circling the news/social media drain. As such, my poetry goals for 2022 limit external impulses (readings and workshops, for example) and focus instead on the ritual of quiet time to generate new work and revise manuscripts.

Carolee Bennett, 2022 writing goals: more comets and sonnets

there’s something over there
this nearer that
something in the dimness
that which is this but further

this nearer that
this indicating the difference
that which is this but further
only twilight knows which

this indicating the difference
this where you find me
only twilight knows which
twilight where I write

this where you find me
that which is this but further
the twilight where I write
this nearer night

Gary Barwin, BROTHERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING PANTOUMS

Black being such a glorious color, it’s unfair to see it maligned in the season of light.  During those holiday weeks of celebrating “light,” all those little pinpricks stung me and made me think, in a Baudelairean way, about its other. I was thinking about how to decouple darkness and its sometime extension “blackness” from the metaphors of sin and ignorance of the age/soul.  I thought about how to decouple part of the daily cosmic cycle and a radically beautiful color from centuries and millennia of role play, poetry and language games.  How might race relations have been different if the color of sin had stayed in the red zones, stains of blood and sex as they were in the Hebrew Bible?  But new color games came along, Christianity codifying and equating Adam and Eve’s “original” sin to death and to the color of death.  In a much, much longer story spanning centuries, black came to mark dark ecstasies of sinners, devils, and sadly, Ethiopians.

I was listening to a magnificent sermon of Martin Luther King at Riverside Church, from 1964.  Was I surprised to hear him use the metaphors “terrible midnight of our age” and “it’s midnight, a darkness so deep that we can hardly see which way to turn”?  When he preached, I believed his midnight, his condemnation of moral relativity, hypocrisy, lack of compassion.  He doesn’t say blackness – he says darkness, and midnight.  Deep dark holes of moral/Christian failure, using the full weight of age-old cultural symbols.

The title of this speech, “A Knock at the Door,” is a midrash of a parable of Luke, which in itself is a midrash of “The Song of Songs.”  When a stranger, lover or needy person, which could be divine or part of ourselves, comes knocking at our door, we are unprepared, we hesitate, or play or hide.  The desire and demand of this other breaks in on our lassitude; it erupts, interrupts our borders.  There are so many “colorations” here, but there is a pattern.  Certain things cannot be explained, but we know to be true. Color breaks in, uninvited, irreducible, not standing for anything except itself.  

Jill Pearlman, The Values of Black

whose eye shall fill my light with sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

Chosen,

poured into, lips meet
my rim. I brim,
a hand around me,
through me, and I hold
what I am given.

Offering up my sweet
entirety. Until emptied again,

submerged, taken
to a dish towel’s
efficient caress.

Renee Emerson, “Mug” from Keeping Me Still (Winter Goose Publishing)

I prefer to rise before dawn, when the air
is cool and the light is thin, and the muscles
of night finally relax. Often my dreams
are still with me, and I wonder if I should whisper
them to you, but I never do. I put these dreams,
now slender things, into a box, and I place
the box on a shelf. This shelf holds many boxes,
each containing more dreams than the one
beside it, and so the dawn passes. You rise
later than me, and I say nothing except
for a slight greeting, no more than one
would say to a stranger passing in the street.

James Lee Jobe, I wonder if I should whisper

frost
on a station platform
tomorrow is late

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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 full week of the year found some poets still looking back at 2021, some looking ahead with goals and writing strategies for 2022, and many looking within. I have a bit of brain fog as I recover from a mild, breakthrough case of COVID, so the arrangement may be less coherent than usual, but as always there are so many interesting and surprising posts, it almost doesn’t matter what order they’re in. Enjoy.


To net the light before it escapes
our horizon, stretching
in the expanse between us; stars
migrating like geese.

To learn the language of distance,
pull the furthest past into focus
like a new-born child her mother’s face.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 1

I haven’t been doing too much poetry writing lately, but one morning this week I drafted a poem called “Lying to Myself,” that sort of veered off topic as if to demonstrate the title. Furthermore, when I flipped the pages of the poem-drafting notebook, I saw that I had been drafting poems all along, just not doing much further with them. Sometimes I typed them into my computer, revising a bit, et cetera, but some just sat there languishing… 

Then a friend sent me a text with a link to a New York Times article on languishing as a state of unfocused mind during Covid, not depression but also not flourishing. Yes, it clicked. Thanks, Chris! It was an article from April 2021, revisited in December 2021, and I couldn’t read it on my phone, and I hope can see it via this link, but I could read it on my computer, thanks to an electronic subscription given to me by a friend. Thanks, Scott!

It was comforting to learn that I’d intuitively found ways over the past year and a half to both comfort and focus myself, and that I didn’t have to see all my tactics as escape or avoidance but rather as real strategies to fend off too much languishing. I could create temporary “flow”—that state of time both suspended and flashing by during intense focus on a creative project or sports—when drafting even the poems I forgot (or didn’t revise or submit later). I could get steady satisfaction from small daily tasks and goals. I could, as I did, immerse myself in other stories than my own, every time I read a book or watched a movie, and I did a lot of that. 

Kathleen Kirk, Lying to Myself

For a while a white softness
would rub out the dirt of the streets,
the remains of this year’s
half-hearted celebrations.
And then, soon after,
we’d be thirsty for colour again,
our mind would shovel away
the heavy burden
from green bushes and red cars,
we’d long for the blue sea,
the moonlight in a warm night
when the cicadas cannot sleep.
But to make it all worth it,
first the snow must come.

Magda Kapa, No snow here

January 6th is Epiphany, when Christians celebrate the coming of the Three Kings from the East to the cradle in Bethlehem, led by a star blazing in the heavens that “stopped over the place where Jesus lay.” It’s always been my favorite Christmas story, in spite of the fact that I hardly believe a word of it. Like all the Biblical narratives, it probably has seeds of truth. The Greek word magos (of which magoi is the plural, later shortened to magi) gives us “magic” and “magician”: the magi were generally thought to be priest-astronomers who were well-versed in astronomy and astrology, alchemy, and other types of esoteric practices. […]

I thought about the Magi again this past weekend as we watched a documentary about the James Webb telescope, launched on Christmas Day and now well into its journey to deep space, where — if everything goes as hoped and planned — it will send pictures and data of unprecedented clarity and detail back to earth, furthering our knowledge of both the near and far reaches of our universe and its origins. The telescope will be able to “see” infrared light from over 13.5 billion years ago, when the first stars and galaxies were forming, and it will also give much clearer data and measurements of planets in other galaxies which might harbor conditions conducive to life.

In some ways, it’s easier for me to believe in wise men from the East, following a star to Bethlehem to search for the infant King of the Jews, than to wrap my head around stars coming into being from a Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago — what does that number even mean? Let alone the concept of some sort of ultra-compacted super-heated Density suddenly expanding into the Somethingness that eventually gave rise to Everything. But I do trust science, and mathematics, and the observations of astrophysics, and I am prepared to be amazed many more times in my life by the explorations and discoveries of space science. I hope I live long enough to see some proof of what I have always believed: that we are not alone in the universe, and that Life probably exists in many other places and forms.

Beth Adams, Stars

what to do but
trace the hollow
of the moon
taste the air that once
held your name
and know how
one by one
inch by inch
shadows lengthen
inside you

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What to do

Stanza length happens to be one of the aspects of a draft I am most likely to change when revising. Stanzas being the little rooms of the poem, it seems the spaces between stanzas play, usually, a more than visual role in the best poems…well, that got me thinking about space in the poem and somehow led to thinking what poems offer. Why we read and write them, even in the 21st century.

Explicitly: The poem is a space for reflection. In the space of the poem, a reader can expand perspective or feel resonance, as in a concert hall; or find a mirroring of the reader’s self (reflection); or, in a critical sense, the reader can reflect upon the poem’s topic, context, argument, content, imagery, craft, language, or beauty. The space of the poem urges response and responsiveness. Poems are not rooms built solely by and for the writer but built of the circumstances and for the reader, too.

What poetry means, in terms of reflection, is that the response can be reflective of the reader’s space, as well as the writer’s. I know that I have had different responses/readings of the same poem depending upon the place I was in while reading it (emotional, physical, contextual “place”). Different kinds of mirrors reflect different visual images. The lighting matters. The time of day. The mood. All of those are spaces, metaphorically or actually. Different stanzaic rooms, different poetic rooms–ready for a reader’s exploration.

Ann E. Michael, Reflective spaces

by what power does the dark pull of the moon :: become our silver light

Grant Hackett [no title]

We adjourned to the courtyard for our evening worship.  There’s a Native American group that we’ll learn more about today who came last night.  They had a smudging ceremony in the courtyard.  We each stepped forward to be smudged with sage that smoked in what looked like a giant shell.  The elders swirled the smoke around us with big feathers.

I wish I could have heard better.  At first I thought the same words were repeated with everyone, but as I watched, I realized that wasn’t true.  I was second to be smudged.  The female elder of the tribe said, “Oh, such strong shoulders” as she touched them with the feather.  She said, “And a good heart.”  I’m not sure of the rest, although at one point, she did say, “We’re getting rid of all negativity.”

Later she told me that there are 4 types of smudging smoke:  tobacco, sage, sweetgrass, and cedar.  I wonder if those smudging ceremonies are different.

The one we experienced last night was very powerful.  Many of us cried a bit, and a few of us were deeply shaken, and I’m not sure whether it was in a good way or a bad way.  Once again, I was reminded of how cerebral most of our mainline Protestant worship services are, and how it might be much more powerful/effective to do more embodied practices.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The First Full Day of the 2022 Onground Intensive

The mushrooms kick in and your brain grows feathery wings
And flies right out of the window, into the exploding green sky.
You hear bassoons and oboes. Someone is singing the poems
Of Emily Dickinson quite loudly, and without any particular melody.
The smell of french fries. Aah. And flowers fly beside you
Like small birds. Chirping. Any hard feelings you were harboring
Are now gone. You love your enemies, just like Jesus said.

James Lee Jobe, Jesus and the French Fries.

Almost wisdom,
the master said before

he dismissed it,
the old monk’s poem.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (98)

Is it nerve-wracking meeting with other humans during Omicron’s numbers, overrun hospitals, and daily news? It was! Was it worth it? Well, neither Glenn and I (who tested before and after) got sick, our guests didn’t get sick, and everyone was vaccinated (most triple-vaccinated, except me) and we were running four air purifiers and kept windows open (circulation still important!) so definitely yes. I have missed other humans! It’s just not the same over the phone or over Zoom. And Glenn really enjoys cooking for humans who aren’t quite as jaded to his excellent food as me and the cats have become.

While Rose and Glenn bonded over Seahawks and cooking, Kelli showed me how to share an Instagram story (Instagram is still a new skill set for me) and we talked poetry, PR, the problems of launching books during a pandemic…you know, typical girl stuff! Seriously, family bonding and writer-friend bonding felt really life-affirming. It also felt unfamiliar – seeing people in person. When this pandemic is over (someday soon, hopefully,) I’m going to have to re-learn my socializing skills. What is it going to be like to do a poetry reading in public again?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Late Holiday Celebrations, 10 Questions with Massachusetts Review, After the Snow, Floods, and Next Week, a Speculative Poetry Class

wandering poet
in the catacombs of mind
a thousand coffins

Jim Young [no title]

Today I am grateful for the poetry books of others as well as for the wonder of my own deep revision. 

This afternoon, I’m halfway through Disappearing Queen by Gail Martin, winner of the Wilder Prize by Two Sylvias Press and I don’t want it to end. The different narrative threads include the life of bees, the life of an older American woman, and the accrued losses implicit in both. […]

And somehow, the day is almost gone and my poem “architectural digest, reboot” is nowhere near done; neither is “The Pickle Barrel at Morse’s”. Maybe they never will be. When working on new poems there is simply joy at  attempting something new; a deep feeling of gratitude for the creation.

May your creativity flair in unexpected and exciting ways; may your creativity swerve sideways or even take a small rest. I feel so lucky to be living this life as a writer and a secret painter; to be creating community and also to love the solitude. 

Susan Rich, Happy New Year, One Day Late

the letters on the gravestone
became letter-shaped pools where
letter-shaped moss grew

Gary Barwin, PO(E)TATOES

This year was another big reading year for me – I read 319 books, down from last year’s 332 books! Of those books consumed, here were my favorites:

Poetry

~ No Small Gift by Jennifer Franklin: Poems with themes of betrayal, mothering a severely autistic and epileptic child, battling cancer during a divorce, mythology, and eventually, hope.

~ Where the Water Begins by Kimberly Casey: Poems with themes of loss, grief, addiction, hope, health, and figuring out how to keep moving forward.

~ All Sex and No Story by Laura Passin: A chapbook of poems that focus on the body, desire, sex, relationships, and the boundaries in between.

~ Green by Melissa Fite Johnson: Poems with themes of loss, teenage angst, hope, love and forgiving yourself for the mistakes you made in the past.

~ Borrowing Your Body by Laura Passin: Poems with themes of death, dying, loss, space, science, the infinite universe and surviving it all.

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books Read in 2021

The band announces itself with a flourish
before fading into the soft white of the piano.
It sounds better because it’s old,
a half-remembered audio phantasm
floating just out of reach.
Sure it would be nice to hear
every nuance, every breath, every
subtle shift in tone or timbre.
But given the choice, I’ll take
the crackles and static,
the muted highs and lows,
the mid-range heard as if
underwater, perhaps from
the bottom of a pool
while the band
plays on the
patio
above.

Jason Crane, POEM: Listening To Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall”

A couple things changed in the last 6 months–even the last two months.  I began to feel a little more smothered and hopeless at the Library as things continued to be too much weight and my enthusiasms that used to buoy me waned.  Remedies for it seemed even further on the horizon if there at all, with pandemic budgets and hiring freezes.  I was trying to hold on to the side of the boat, scared to swim, but I was still drowning somehow.  I started looking for wreckage, a door, a board, anything I could build a raft with.  I didn’t want another ship (ie another library job), though nearby ships were aplenty in this land of the Great Resignations, but I did need something that could keep me out of the water should solid land be further out than I thought or the sea more treacherous than it looked.  

I found a good one in the form of some freelance work, maybe even comfy as a rowboat, in  November and its proved to actually be pretty enjoyable, but is not so heavy that I can’t control its weight.  Enough to make up the lost library income (that’s actually not that much, also part of the problem) and get me somewhere safely.  By leaving, I realized that I could parlay funds from unused vacation hours (months and months b/c  we could never actually take time off) into a nest egg of savings should I need it for emergencies (this was another thing, as single person household I worried about.) . I figured things like health insurance premiums and self-employment taxes and other things that seemed scary. 

All I needed was to let go and start rowing…

Kristy Bowen, onward, across the sea

At the behest of a long-time poetry mentor and friend of mine, I made a commitment recently that I’m both nervous and excited about. I’ve agreed to write and post one new poem per month on this blog. There, I’ve said it publicly and now I’m accountable. For a number of reasons I’m not going to detail here,I’ve been in a hopeless funk for a long time about writing poetry and have struggled to find the calling. So I appreciate this nudge—or more like the light kick in the pants I needed to get going again. Because I am me, of course I decided to re-start this endeavor by writing a sestina about the Burr vs. Hamilton duel, but quickly discovered that this was far too ambitious a plan for my weakened, out-of-shape poetry muscles. It’s like when I go ham at the gym after a long absence and end up debilitatlingly sore the next day. So I’m going to start with something a little simpler and work my way up. I can’t guarantee when the first new poem will show up, but it will be some time in January. I also offer no guarantees as to the quality or literary worth of any new poem. However, if you insult one of my poems, I shall challenge you to a duel!

Kristen McHenry, Affairs of Honor, Poem Promise

The great thing about the first week of this year: I dedicated a substantial chunk to poetry. I discovered that although I’d revised older work, I hadn’t drafted a new poem AT ALL since summer 2021. That’s really rare for me. I tend to throw down drafts during spare hours and come back to them during academic breaks, but honestly, October through December were remarkably short on spare hours. In retrospect, it was right to commit to what felt like countless conferences and conventions to get word out about my 2020 books, and I have no desire to put aside my Shenandoah editorship, even though it can be an overwhelming amount of labor. I received edits on my forthcoming essay collection later than I expected, so mid-fall involved a full-court press on enacting them. I also put scads of creative energy into teaching, and I don’t regret it. But I said yes to too much other service/ committee work. My brain was always revving at top speed, which made sleep difficult, and that created a circular kind of tiredness. Pandemic anxiety and grief for my mother were also operating like background programs, slowing my machine. My PT person told me to walk less to let my tendonitis heal, but that’s bad for body and mind in other ways.

I know what to do with myself to recover from months like that, and as best I can, I’m doing it: more downtime and fun reading, non-homework evenings, plus physical pleasures like sleep, good food, hot baths. I took my respirator mask to a couple of art museums during those few days in Savannah–looking at art restores me, maybe because it’s slow and silent or because it always fills me with a sense of shared effort. The flow experience of writing lifts me, too, but it wasn’t happening. Re-approaching my poetry ms-in-progress felt like hard work I was reluctant to begin.

By dint of ruthless will, though, I made myself shift poems around, add, cut, and revise individual pieces to bring the book into cohesion–the usual arithmetic of solving for the book–and I called in a friend for advice. I can’t say I achieved flow very often last week, and the book still needs more time and thinking, but I do feel better after making real hours for the efforts most important to me. And I wrote two new pieces, one at the crack of dawn this morning!

Lesley Wheeler, The work + worry equations of winter 2022

You’ve seen the plot before. The local police have been told not to apprehend a criminal but keep him under surveillance because Interpol want to catch the whole network. But an ambitious, impetuous young cop who’s unaware of the big picture arrests the criminal because he thinks the criminal’s getting away.

Apprehending a poem can have the same plot. Committing yourself to the first interpretation ensures that you get the bird in the hand, but you might miss out on many more that two other possibilities in the bush.

So follow at a distance. Wait for it to make contact with more significant agents. Try to picture the whole network. The first idea you have may be the easiest to find because it’s the most superficial. Don’t think that the title says it all. Don’t think that the rhymes are what it’s all about. Remember that even low-level operatives are cunning enough to lead you down blind alleys.

Tim Love, Apprehending

I’m currently reading, and very much admiring, the excellent Nine Arches Press book, Why I Write Poetry, edited by Ian Humphreys, in which 25 contemporary UK-based poets address aspects of their poetry practice and motivation. The subtitle, of sorts, of the book is, ‘essays on becoming a poet, keeping going and advice for the writing life’. These words from Rosie Garland chime precisely with attitudes to artists like [Louis] Wain:

‘Outsider’ is an opinion, imposed by those who regard themselves as ‘inside’, and impose their arbitrary norms.

Yesterday was the seventy-fifth birthday, as it were, and tomorrow marks six years since the death, of the person who did as much as anyone to give licence to outsiders in the UK and beyond: David Bowie. Later this year, it will be fifty years since his incarnation as Ziggy Stardust changed many people’s lives forever. His first gig as Ziggy took place on 10 February 1972, at the Toby Jug pub at Tolworth roundabout, a mile away from the house in Old Malden that my parents, brothers and I had just moved into. We got our cat, Puzzle, shortly after. I read the other day an excellent piece, here, about Bowie’s northern patrilineage.

The sense of being an outsider, of ‘othering’, is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a recurrent theme in the book. Nine Arches, like increasing numbers of others, is a publisher which specialises in bringing to the fore poetry by diverse voices who would undoubtedly have been marginalised, if not entirely unpublished, in previous generations, and the much longer established poetry publishers seem to have started to respond too. I’m very glad, incidentally, that Nine Arches will be publishing Ramona Herdman’s first full collection this year. Of late, I’ve also been (re-)reading Caleb Parkin’s Nine Arches collection, This Fruiting Body, which is full of riches – even his most straightforward poems, such as his magnificent ‘Ode on a Black Plastic Compost Bin’, are so lush that each one needs properly savouring.

There is much to relate to, to be inspired by, and to reflect upon in Why I Write Poetry’s essays. Each is heartfelt and I know I will come back to them again.

Matthew Paul, On Louis Wain and Why I Write Poetry

Comprised of seventy-three large full-colour photographs of visual poems comprised of a combination of object (leaf, bark, branch) and text, is Toronto poet, editor and publisher Kate Siklosi’s full-length debut, leavings (Malmö, Sweden: Timglaset Editions, 2021). leavings is a collection of visual pieces composed through a combination of printed text, visual poems and letraset combined with leaves, twigs, branches and fir to reveal, in close detail, the physical interactions between nature and language, and the impact of absolute brevity. […]

The pieces are structured in four titled sections, with a single large image per page: the twenty works of “a leaf,” the twenty-three pieces of “a leave,” the eleven pieces of “a left,” and the nineteen pieces of “a mend.” By section titles alone, Siklosi’s quartet hints at an echo of bpNichol’s infamous eight-line poem etched into the concrete of the Toronto lane that now shares his name: “A / LAKE / A / LINE / A / LONE [.]” Just as in Nichol’s poem set in concrete, Siklosi’s poems are uniquely physical, and deliberately temporal; the delicate nature of some of these pieces suggest that most, if not all, might no longer exist in the forms shown in the photographs, leaving the photograph as both framing and document of an object that can’t easily, or ever, be archived. Is her purpose, then, through the exploration, the object or the documentation? There is something fascinating in the way the pieces in leavings also suggest an approach in tandem with her found materials. These pieces exist, one might say, in collaboration between Siklosi and her materials (leaves, branches, etcetera), as opposed to her simply dismantling and repurposing whatever materials she may have found as part of her walks (her acknowledgments include a “Thank you to NourbeSe for our ravine walks, on which many of these leaves and thoughts were collected.”). Instead, Siklosi appears to respond, from her collaborative corner, as a way of shaping to and around the materials-at-hand. It is no accident, I would think, that her dedication reads, simply: “for the land, our wisest poet [.]” As she writes to preface the collection:

a life is composed of leavings: the remains of crusts and skins, the remnants of night in a dawn sky, the residue of mourning, loves too deep and too shallow, the hard words left unsaid, the time taken, the dust in our tracks. in our tiny expanse, things pass and things grow. we kill and we cultivate. we hurt and we mend. we pick up the pieces and create. we do better and we fail. we thread ragged beginnings from the trodden decay of our pasts. beginnings still. we collect, windswept and tired, in piles against a fence. in our shared fragility, we quilt a being, warm and enough.

rob mclennan, Kate Siklosi, leavings

Ivory, ecru, massed
petals on three heads
of hydrangea. After three
days, each begins to sport
a light ochre outline. We know
what it means: everything
goes into decline. Yesterday,
a communion. Today, a wedding.
Tomorrow, blooms falling
like snow into the open earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Life Cycle of White

“Reading IS writing”

Well, actually…it isn’t.

Sorry to disappoint you! But only writing is actually writing.

Reading however is an excellent tool for your writing. Along with writing everyday, I try to read at least a couple of poems everyday. I like to think of it as “filling the cup of creativity.”

Reading gets good rhythms and sounds in my mind, topics I want to dialogue with, jumping off points, arguments. Reading / Writing is a conversation between two people who may never meet.

It can be comforting when going through a dry spell of writing to hear that Reading is as good as writing, but don’t let that idea hinder you from bravely meeting the page.

To be clear: you shouldn’t feel any shame about taking a break from writing to just spend time reading. Maybe life has taken a lot out of you, and you really need some filling up! And, in my experience, the more I read, the more likely it is that my reading will spill out into writing sooner than later.

So go read! But don’t ONLY read if you want to hit your writing goals.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Read (but not too much…)

The birds return in one of the final poems, “The Un-flight of Porcelain Birds”,

“Spillikins of feather,
your wings are kept by clay.
Roost in my palm, echo of wild things.
You have never trembled evening from your throat.
You have never known
the blue sail of sky.”

There’s a note of regret: these representations of birds will never be wild but can be kept and domesticated. They aren’t sentient beings so won’t know they’ve never known flight, but there seems to be a transference: the narrator is transferring her feelings of confinement and lack of freedom to the birds. The lack here is not having the same freedoms as neurotypical people, the restrictions of suffering domestic violence and the fear that keeps her checking her reactions and actions appear “normal” to others.

“Be Feared” are poems from a poet taking back control of how she expresses herself, how she centres herself, not to dominate others, but to assert her boundaries and encourage others to accommodate her. They acknowledge her suffering from abuse, from being neuro-diverse and how she moves from surviving to coping and thriving. She draws on folklore and myth to make sense of a world that is strange. Jane Burn has created a series of poems of resilience and remaining true to oneself in a world that demands compliance and capitulation.

Emma Lee, “Be Feared” Jane Burn (Nine Arches Press) – book review

A year ago, I wrote, “Since there’s no guarantee 2021 is going to be any less pandemic-y than 2020, I’ve opted for a no nonsense approach to the year’s poetry goals.” The statement introduced a super simplified poetry action plan* for 2021 I thought I’d pared down enough to help me feel productive without applying too much pressure. However, 2021 required more rest and restoration than I’d anticipated. Every activity (writing-related or not) required a recovery period. While that may always have been true, I became acutely aware of the swing of the pendulum.

In looking back at the year, I also realized that most of the writing activities I did were in social/group settings (virtually, of course). I spent far less time with solo writing efforts, like crafting new poems, revising existing drafts and submitting work. It’s possible that my temperament throughout the year — never before have I needed so much mind-numbing downtime — made that true, but it’s also likely that so much engagement with others required more recovery than anticipated (and in comparison with solitary activities).

When I set goals for 2022 in the coming days, I’m going to take that into account and aim for a quieter, more inward-facing writing year. But I have no regrets about what I did/didn’t accomplish in 2021. I rested more than I wrote (2021 was also full of some huge life changes), but I showed up for workshops and readings that will inform and inspire me for years to come.

Carolee Bennett, revisiting 2021 poetry goals: more rest than writing

How do you want to live, now? That has been the question asked by countless writers and I ask it of myself all the time. The Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart once asked:

“Isn’t there some statement you’d like to make? Anything noted while alive? Anything felt, seen, heard, done? You are here. You’re having your turn. Isn’t there something you know and nobody else does? What if nobody listens? Is it all to be wasted? All blasted? What about that pricey pain? What about those people. They sit outside this story, but give it its shape. If it has a shape. What about all the words that were said and all the words that were never said?”

As for me, I do want to make of my life art. I want to be a witness to splendour. I want to get as much down as possible, whether by the light of photography or by the light of my weird noticing. I want my presence to be art. I don’t want to waste anything, not a moment. I want this blog to be art and I want to inspire you to make art of your life. I want my peanut butter sandwiches to be art, and I want the flowers I arrange in a vase to be art. You’ll remember this quotation by Anne Morrow Lindbergh from her lovely small book, Gift from the Sea.

“Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day- like writing a poem or saying a prayer.”

I look around at all the people I know navigating this pandemic life with grace and fortitude and the way they parent and work from home and do all these things that we would have thought to be weird in the beforetimes. So weird and so impossibly difficult! And yet though so many are stretched so thin, processing a ton of unevenly disseminated information on how to stay safe, keeping their loved ones safe, working in non-ideal situations, and etc, they are often doing it with a sense of humour, with elegance, with an amazing make the best of it attitude. Sure, we’re all crumbling from time to time; we’re struggling. In the last two years most of us have felt pretty much every emotion under the sun. But if this isn’t art, the lives we are leading right now, then I don’t know what is. If, as Li-Young Lee says, the self is the final opus, then how do you want your soul to look when all this is said and done?

Shawna Lemay, Your Life and the Work of Art

There is no map to show me
where clouds go.
Exactly where do clouds go?

Wind blows its hail
across the field.
In the darkness of the shed
the pigs bury themselves
in fresh straw.
I shut myself in the cabin,
watch trees bend and water
gather itself in old tracks
I’d forgotten were there.
In the end is the beginning,
in the beginning, the end.

Bob Mee, BEGINNING OF THE YEAR