Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 14

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

It’s just-spring (in the northern hemisphere, at any rate) and the world is, to be sure, mud-luscious. But most mornings, that mud is frozen solid. A few hardy flowers try to bloom, only to wither in the next snow squall. Well, it is the cruelest month. But the birds are migrating through or returning to nest more or less on schedule. An honest-to-god trumpeter swan was just spotted in a farm pond less than a mile from me. And of course, since it’s Poetry Month, the poets are out in force. Even some poetry bloggers who went into hibernation back in January are emerging bleary-eyed like bears from their dens.

I am citizen of an overdressed republic
that knows itself as more than an illusion
and will keep donning clothes and moving on.
Sometimes I think I too am overdressed.
I think I should strip naked, walk the street
with nothing on, and face the filthy weather

we emerge from. I think I is another
as we all are. I think it’s getting late
and dark. It’s hard to see. I smell the dust
that’s everywhere and settles. I know it mine.
I am in love. I am standing at the station
waiting to board. I’m not about to panic.
George Szirtes, What I am Losing by Leaving the EU 1

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8. Write about a medical procedure that made you become a mystic.

9. Write from the perspective of a gym machine or a kitchen gadget/appliance.

10. The gods used to speak in cataclysms, burning bushes, angelic appearances. How would gods communicate today? What would Jesus Tweet?
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, 30 Prompts for April and Beyond

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I found the whole experience of choosing a book cover, and a title for the collection, a challenge – albeit a challenge I was happy to undertake. I spent time looking at various artists’ work, trying to decide if their paintings or drawings would make a suitable cover. I knew that I wanted to have some kind of real life connection with the artist, so I stayed away from browsing the internet or sites like Pinterest. This also helped me to avoid the sensation of being overwhelmed by too much choice.
Josephine Corcoran, My book cover

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All that he owned was a tamarind tree
even the land where the house stood was not his.

So, what is yours, the young wife asked coiling her finger
into his matted hair. His drunken eyes looked from her

to the pods on the tree, her skin the texture of seeds.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Anatomy Of A Tamarind Tree

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The thrill, for this class, is that we are reading works that were published in the last five years (I have to remind my students that the poems might have been written and finished years and years before that), and that the students and I are dealing with the same unfamiliar terrain–I have yet to “teach” or present a poem by one of these poets in a class. To be sure, my students’ footing may be more secure than mine in their reading and understanding of any one of these diverse poets. It’s also transparent to my students that these poets may share more with them, their world and concerns, than what these poets may or may not share with me. Our engagement is about the questions, the troubling disruptions, the things that seem a little beyond, and then those moments were we see something, right there, that the language reveals, animates, or kills.
Jim Brock, De-anthologized

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I’ve been meaning for a while to post some reflections about my winter term courses. One of them, a general-education level seminar, focused on poetry and music. We started with prosody and moved through a series of mini-lessons on poetry riffing on various musical genres: spirituals, blues, jazz, punk, hip hop. Anna Lena Phillips Bell visited and talked about old-time music in relation to her book Ornament. A student composer stopped in, and two other visitors analyzed song lyrics poetically, focusing on Kendrick Lamar and Bob Dylan. It was all tremendously fun, not least because my students were smart and game. I’m not sure I feel much closer to answering my big question: what possible relations exist between poetry and song? But I did write up the thoughts below for my students and they seem worth sharing.

First: while there are pieces about which I’d say with perfect confidence, “That strongly fits my definition of poetry,” or “that’s absolutely a song,” there’s a gray area where the genres lean strongly towards each other–a cappella singing, rap, poems recited rhythmically or over music. If music means “sound organized in time,” performed poetry fits the bill, whether or not the words are set to melody or there’s instrumental accompaniment. Rhythm is latent in words; voices have pitch, timbre, dynamics.

Conversely, song lyrics can be printed out and analyzed poetically, and singer-composers in various eras have had a very strong influence on what page-poets try to accomplish. I’m still bothered when people conflate the genres or put them in competition with each other, because the differences in media feel profound to me, yet lyric poetry and songs with lyrics share a strong sisterhood.
Lesley Wheeler, How poetry approaches music (and dances away again)

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Emily Dickinson/Ghost line (209/520): Mermaids in the basement came out to look at me..

(But) what if I am the ocean/my slim pout/dull teeth/what if I am a paper doll/cut from/from my mother’s grief/ the hate she clutches because I resemble/my father/how misery is her wheeze/her gaze bitter/I drink energy drinks/until my eyes bulge/heart screams/laughs/sobs/in empty parking lots/I could fall in love with myself/like a dog/a loyal hound falls in love with the sound/of fast food wrappers/crinkling/my pulse sugared and accountable.
Jennifer E. Hudgens, 6/30

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Last night, my husband gave me the word paraphernalia. My favorite phrases were: repel the leper, the bells peal, a panel of liars, the rapier’s rip. I ended up with a draft that might be going in the direction of a “dark days” type of poem. Today with my students, we brainstormed a list from ventriloquist. My favorite phrase from that list was a quiver in the soil brings violets.
Donna Vorreyer, The Sounds & the Fury…

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It might seem odd, but the most impressive part of the day was the award ceremony. You might think boring, long, drawn out, but more than 300 students gathered in the auditorium to celebrate each other and WRITING awards. Students CHOSE to attend this LitFest. chose to submit pieces of writing beforehand. Judges read and assigned awards for Honorable Mention, Third, Second, and First Place, and then lastly, the Critic’s Choice award. I actually felt quite emotional thinking about the efforts behind this annual event that has taken place for a couple decades, the people who made it happen, and the excitement of individual students when names were announced and celebrated by classmates who cheered them on. My mind spun to sporting events where the cheering can be deafening. How often do we get to see this type of jubilation over WRITING. It’s so often such a solitary endeavor, and often unrecognized. While judges read the top winning pieces, there was no audience chatter, no cell phone distraction, and no one exited. The audience was diverse, but the response was uniform–respectful!
Gail Goepfert, Back to High School, Mary, and Chocolate

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Some years I have endeavored to draft a poem a day for 30 days, some years I have been active giving and performing readings, some years in teaching; it varies on circumstance and energy. This year, I am celebrating by reading more than by writing.

When I buy poetry books, I try to purchase them–if possible–from the author or from the author’s original publisher rather than more cheaply (Amazon, used books, etc.) The author gets no royalties from books bought second-hand, and because few poets are rolling in cash from book sales–and while gaining an audience may be of value–even a small royalty check is a welcome thing, a confirmation of the work in the world.

Best-selling poetry is not necessarily the “best” poetry. Those of us who love the art can contribute in small ways by using the almighty dollar to support the writers we think need to be read.
Ann E. Michael, Poetry books & the $

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It is National Poetry Month, and having gone through all of my books in March (and letting go of a great number of them), I thought I would read an entire poetry book, each day in April, and then tell you about it. […]

The Moons of August is like a series of hallways and stairwells that take you deeper and deeper into a house. You turn a corner and find a picture of her late brother, or her lost infant. Sometimes, you find hieroglyphics or cave drawings on the walls. There’s the funny story about her mother measuring penises, that turns into a reflection about God counting the hairs on our heads. We see people walking ahead of us, catch only a glimpse of Jack Gilbert or Temple Grandin as they disappear into a basement or climb out a window. Humor and heartbreak and a wry, forgiving and encompassing compassion are threaded all the way through.
Bethany Reid, Danusha Laméris: The Moons of August

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Truth is brutal. So much we can’t recover,
years I’ve begged for you to wait for Spring to bloom
again, living in despair beside each other, and another

stormy season while we tussle for an answer
or a coda to the sum of all of life’s bother.
I’ve learned to hold my tongue, to question
nothing. Questions are another sort of winter.
Risa Denenberg, Abiding Winter

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In 2004, my debut poetry collection had been out less than a year and I was trying to book a gig in New York City. I can’t remember who suggested getting in touch with Jackie, who was the host of the Pink Pony Reading Series at Cornelia Street Cafe, but I got her email and, with little hope, sent her a note. A day or two later, Jaxx responded with an invitation not only to read at Cornelia Street, but to join her at the Bowery Poetry Club as well. When I spoke to her on the phone about my travel plans, she told me I was crazy for booking an expensive hotel room. “Are you crazy? Come and stay at my place.” And so I did. Jackie’s walk-up in Harlem would became my home-away-from-home for my many subsequent visits to NYC. There would be plenty more invitations to read at Cornelia Street and other gigs Jaxx was involved in. She was generous in ways so many poets are not, especially in championing new voices and giving them space. She thought the “po’biz” scene was bullshit and many of the poets involved in it were boring, self-important assholes. She was most definitely right about that.

Jaxx loved her apartment in Harlem. It was rent-controlled, steps from the subway and she loved the mix of people in her neighborhood. She believed in supporting the bodegas, the local restaurants and was livid when one of the big banks opened a branch on her block. Her apartment was full of books and music, great art and a giant, over-priced yellow leather couch. She loved that fucking couch (she even wrote a poem about how much she loved that fucking couch). I had the honor of sleeping on that fucking couch, as well as laughing, crying over love affairs gone wrong, and staying up late to gossip, talk poetry and politics or listen to music. Especially Patti Smith. Jaxx was inspired to create her own band, Talk Engine, which produced some fantastic personal and political music revolving around her poetry. […]

And, of course, her poetry was brilliant. Her collections The Memory Factory (Buttonwood Press) and Earthquake Came to Harlem (NYQ Books) are, as her mentor Ellen Bass said, “vivd, compelling work.” (You can read my interview with Jaxx about her poetry at this link.) Jaxx’s past was filled with harrowing tales of molestation, rape and living as a junkie on the street. She had the strength and determination to turn her life around, and was big in the IT world. When I met her, she was the director of employee support at Yahoo’s headquarters in Manhattan. In her spare time, she was tteaching poetry to inmates at Rikers Island prison. She also kept up Poetz, a calendar of all the poetry open mics and readings happening around the city.
Collin Kelley, In Memoriam: Jackie Sheeler

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Today I found the plaster Virgin with Child,
Her mountaintop avatar wound with plastic rosary beads
Left in offering. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
My father taught me to pray, but the incantations didn’t stick,
Maybe because of the good swift kick
He said I needed, and then gave, seeds
Of my future rebellions– Wiccan symbols, Celtic
Knots I traced in the dirt at Mary’s feet, the wind wild.
Christine Swint, Fourth Leg of the Journey-to-Somewhere Poem

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boom of surf at Bastendorff Beach
field of whitecaps on the Coos Bay Bar
seasick swells of the Pacific

brisk current of Rosario Strait
narrow roil of Deception Pass
Light-year twinkle on Admiralty Inlet

mirror of Mats Mats bay
foamy wake behind the Bainbridge Ferry
swirl of kelp beds off Burrows Island

When they ask her
what she will miss most

she answers

all     that           water
Carey Taylor, All That Water

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SHIFTING SANDS

Demons and marvels
Winds and tides
In the distance the sea has already vanished
Demons and marvels
Winds and tides
And you
Like seagrass touched gently by the wind
In your bed of sand you shift in dreams
Demons and marvels
Winds and tides
In the distance the sea has already vanished
But in your half-closed eyes
Two little waves remain
Demons and marvels
Winds and tides
Two little waves in which to drown.
Jacques Prévert, translated by Dick Jones

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I feel as if my head is bowl of sticky noodles and I can’t get my thoughts straight.

When I come to blog, I think, “What could I say that is interesting or useful?” And then decide to turn on Queer Eye and eat pistachios.

It occurred to me today (and maybe because it’s National Poetry Month and I’m writing a poem a day) that I need to lower my standards a bit on this blog, especially if I want to get a post a week.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Average Blogger = More Words Than Not

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Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~ee cummings was the first poet whose work I committed to memory—I suppose his poetry “looks” the most like poetry (or what I thought poetry should look like) on the page, with its crazy line breaks and spacing. There’s something about the sparseness in his poems that really resonated with me, the way he seems to say more in what he’s leaving off the page than what he includes on it. I still remember each line of my favorite poem of his, a short one starting “no time ago” and ending with two simple, devastating lines: “made of nothing / except loneliness.”
Bekah Steimel, Sirenia / An interview with poet Emily Holland

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I was wowed to discover the book Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics, edited by Chris Duffy, in our own public library! What a powerful book. Contemporary cartoonists “adapt” (interpret, illustrate) poems from the Great War, whether by the actual Trench Poets (poets who really served in the trenches) or others connected to that war. I reviewed it over at Escape Into Life, and should review more poetry books there this month, National Poetry Month, but I am a fast/slow reader of poetry. Even if I whiz through a book on first read, like eating M&Ms, I then slow down and go poem by poem, taking notes, savoring, mulling….um, to pursue the original simile, sucking off the candy coating to get to the chocolate. No, that doesn’t apply at all to most poetry I read! Never mind.
Kathleen Kirk, Above the Dreamless Dead

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Look up the vocabulary of an esoteric subject that has nothing to do with your poem. The subject might be mushroom foraging, astronomy, cryogenics, perfume-making, bee keeping, the Argentinian tango, or zombies. Make a list of at least ten words. Include a variety of parts of speech. Import the words into your poem. Develop as needed.
10 Revision Ideas for Poetry Month – guest blog post by Diane Lockward at Trish Hopkinson’s blog

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My father has a gun. I don’t know
where it is. It must be somewhere.
Maybe in his dresser drawer.
Maybe underneath his bed.

We don’t speak of it. The gun is not
meant to kill. We don’t believe in that.
I repeat, We don’t believe in that.

Outside, frost butters my window.
The world cracks at a slow pace.
Crystal Ignatowski, A Gun Is Not A Father Or A Husband Or A Saint

Nocturnes by Kathleen Kirk

Nocturnes NocturnesKathleen Kirk; Hyacinth Girl Press 2012WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder
This was the perfect companion for a quiet, rainy spring night. Kathleen Kirk‘s latest chapbook gathers 20 night-themed poems that together trace a landscape of loss and yearning, peopled by memories, dreams, ghosts, lovers and various errant moons. The book begins in Cuba, with a striking image of women wearing fireflies in their hair nets (“Cucuyo”) followed by several pieces from the perspective of a Cuban exile’s family, culminating in the grotesque “Our Son Dreams of the Beast Shark.” It then segues into “Stargazing with My Son,” introducing an astronomical theme that continues off and on throughout the book, mingled with, increasingly, poems about love and desire.

All of which is to say that the book is very well put together. As someone who has written several themed collections myself, I can attest to the difficulty of maintaining a good balance between unity and diversity, as Kirk does here.

Three of the poems are ekphrastic, responses to Whistler’s “nocturne” paintings — not surprising, considering that Kirk is poetry editor for Escape Into Life, a magazine devoted to the intersection between visual and literary arts. But even poems that weren’t sparked by paintings abound with painterly details: “A grey glob” of mortar “lands wet and heavy / on the plastic sheet / like a body part” (“Losing Cuba”), and the narrator’s skin is likened to “these moon-colored leaves (touch them!) / trembling in the moments / just before rain” (“Last Leaves”).

“Almost an Aubade” references Edward Hopper, his subjects “shining in their loneliness,” but unexpectedly turns into a love poem: “After the sharp dream of another, I come back to you…” The book is full of such artful inversions. Possibly the most unexpected poem, “When We Lived at Night” — my favorite in the collection — goes deep into our pre-human past, when “there was no time, / only the moment” and “we lay along the wide limb / of our new existence / in the trees, nocturnal together.”

What’s left of my reptilian brain
still longs to live in the moment,
that wretched clawing in the dust
suspended forever.
But there was no forever.

I relate to the poems about sleeplessness, “Acorns Rolling Off the Roof” and “Naked Dance”:

It’s three oh three,
I’ve dreamed a giant red poppy,
tall as a small tree …

It’s good to be lonely

at a time like this.
I wouldn’t want to wake the sleeping world
from its soft desserts.

There’s only one explicit reference to blues in this book, but if you love blues music as I do, the dominant mood should feel very familiar, that same mix of melancholy and exultation. Like good blues, these poems are never lugubrious, and aim to turn losses into something salutary: “When the time comes, / juncos will feast on this cold” (“Almost Winter”). Or as Kirk says at the end of “Cosmonaut”:

This shining loss is now a thing to be praised,
as stunning as a comet’s tail
or a transit of Venus,
or a black hole swallowing up life as we know it
and spitting it back out whole
somewhere else, without any teeth marks.

Kudos to Hyacinth Girl Press for their selection of this surprising and delightful book.

New review of Odes to Tools by Kathleen Kirk

This entry is part 29 of 31 in the series Odes to Tools

 

Thanks to Kathleen Kirk for this very warm, light-hearted review of Odes to Tools. I must admit I’m a little abashed: she did my chapbook way more justice than I did hers. It seems she’s able to hold her alcohol better than me. In any case, it’s very gratifying to see one’s work receive such a close and sympathetic reading. Kathleen says:

I admire the precision of language and observation in this book, how the setting unfolds around the focus on the tool at hand, and how each poem, moving quickly and lightly, can also, if it wants, take on a large philosophical idea.

I love how there’s a life here, a personal history, work, a childhood.

Read the whole post here.

Broken Sonnets by Kathleen Kirk

Broken Sonnets coverSonnets bore me, to put it mildly. The 16th century is over, and it’s time to move on. It would be as if symphony orchestras still played nothing but music from the 18th and 19th centuries… Oh, right. Never mind.

Kathleen sent me two of her chapbooks, but when I saw Broken Sonnets, I was all like, Fuck yeah! It’s about time someone busted the sonnet upside the head. The opening poem, “Damage,” looked suspiciously like an unbroken, traditional sonnet, much as I liked its celebration of brokenness: so Old Testament, so heavy metal.

Pain is a song I’ve sung
so long you can’t even hear it now. Open

your own broken heart. Look!

(Notice how I’m sparing you the sonnetesque end-rhymes.)

From there, the collection went right into some sexy poems about married love, if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron for y’all, and the only things reminiscent of sonnets from then on out, except for a few poems that made a side-swipe at the proper rhyme-scheme and meter, were the approximate length (14-ish lines) and the approximate mood, subject matter and approach (personal relationships, kinda metaphysical, seemed like they might go well with clavichord accompaniment). I read the first half of the book sober and the second half drunk, so don’t ask me about the second half. Actually, the book looked really good by the end of the night. I was ready to go home with it.

Seriously, there are some kick-ass poems here. “Roof Leak, Mima Calls” is the best poem I’ve ever read about ice dams.

Phone rings: your mother with the news.
Ceiling shifts: it wants to open.
Cancer: nothing falls, not even the sky.
Your voice is a long wooden level, its yellow tube
tipping the bubble of air toward hope
and back, until you hang up the phone and cry.

The last couplet of the last poem in the book “rhymes” eros with rose, which I had to admit was a pretty cool move. But four pages back, “Prose Sonnet to the Silent Father” gets into some deep emotional waters, and really grabbed my attention when I re-read it under the influence. An excerpt won’t quite do it justice:

9. You are like a poetry teacher.

10. I need to learn how to say the opposite of what I mean but without irony

11. (a prose tactic, yours).

12. I need to learn how to leave silence at the center

13. and still be able to sign my name to it

14. as if it were written by me.

In “Here in Paradise,” the protagonist and her husband fish and eat fish in (I think) Florida, and I could smell the brine —

I cannot speak, nor close my stinging mouth.
This is how I pray, across the burning sands.

— which quote, by the way, shows off Kirk’s skill with caesuras. The intra-line breaks are so regular, in fact, I wonder if that might not be part of what makes the poems “broken.” Especially since there is a poem called “Caesura.” (Nothing gets by me, does it?) Here’s the latter 8/14ths of it:

Now she sings as red October bleeds
from the edges of the day, a dull race

the night always winds. Why should I dread
these yellow leaves? I don’t believe in suffering

as a path to heaven. I walk on leaden
claws, vulture the earth into feathering

a nest for me that can cradle my bones
as they disintegrate, one by brittle one.

That’s pretty wonderful, is it not? Just don’t tell me it’s a goddamn sonnet.

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UPDATE (next morning): With all my kvetching about sonnets, I forgot to mention my favorite poem in the chapbook, which communicates a mother’s experience of childbirth in the most vivid language imaginable. I hope Kathleen won’t mind if I reproduce the entire poem here. Among other things, it really carries forward the idea of breaking as a creative and necessary thing:

An Answer

Childbirth: the crashing of a steel girder
to the floor,
one room
breaking into two.
Your hips, sharp handles
on a silver cup.
Your pelvis,
a wishbone
snapping.
An ocean forces itself into the wineskin that is you.
A holy book you read again and again, aloud,
on your knees.

It makes a silence, a sky

splayed open by milky stars.

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I’m reading a book a day for Poetry Month, but I’m also hoping some folks will join me and fellow poet-blogger Kristin Berkey-Abbott to read just four of those books. Details here.