Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 47

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. This week: grief and horror, wanderlust and staying put, soft joys and tough political questions.


It’s been a rough week. It started with me staying up all night with kitten Sylvia that required the emergency vet (okay now, but gave us quite a scare), continued with me being too sick (not covid, but a stomach and sinus infection) to get much work reading or writing done, and ended with the news that my maternal grandmother, after surviving covid-19 for two weeks, passed away today, just a few days short of her 96th birthday. This was my last surviving grandparent, and one who shared with me a love of literature – Poe, Hemingway and Faulkner were a few of her favorites, and in her youth she read voraciously. She lived in Missouri, which has some of the highest covid rates, and no one was able to visit her the last weeks of her life, because of covid.

I know people are chafing under travel restrictions during Thanksgiving, but remember that people like me – and my grandmother – are the people that need protection. Wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and stay home. Having to miss a Thanksgiving with family is much better than having to mourn a family member you can’t even have a funeral for, which is what I’m doing this week. No amount of pumpkin pie is worth that.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Doldrums, Grieving a Loss and Moments of Light

Yesterday, someone bought a pocket watch that would have been mine at an auction. I will not know the name of the person who now owns it but our fates are now forever intertwined. On the English Crown rests the mountain of light. The fundamental principle of the world is the same as that of love: what is mine today will be yours tomorrow. Yesterday, someone bought a heart that would have been mine at an auction. I will not know the name of the person who now owns it but our fates are now forever intertwined.

I am sharpening my pen like an ancient knife. Tell me your name, you, on whose slender swan neck shines the sapphire that will be mine tomorrow. I will mount it in gold.

Saudamini Deo, Omnes una manet nox

let’s stop all this
        clearly it’s not working

no one can say
                we didn’t try

                        but it collapsed under its own wait (sic)

instead let’s make ready the soil

        plant seeds & care for them                tenderly

                until something (new) & (better)

springs wildly toward the sun

Jason Crane, POEM: wildly toward the sun

The feathered chonk plomps on my shoulder. “Bonjourno!” My funny, gray angster.

She laughs and explains the situation.
“Good girl!”

Only two words, but I catch her meaning. She has indeed been well behaved today and deserves a reward.

I hold a slice of Lite-Brite pink grapefruit out on my palm.

Dancing excitedly, my ersatz child digs her black beak into the acidic flesh.

In an instant, her reward becomes my regret as it squirts to land in my eye.

Life. It would be nothing without these bad surprises from good decisions.

Allyson Whipple, November Poetry Contest Winner

We stop to look upon the corpse in the snow. Blue skin and an open mouth. Open eyes. Moonlight across the frozen face. Moonlight that plays a soft music that entertains the snow. We say a prayer for the deceased. We say a prayer for the ones who grieve. And we say a prayer for ourselves, for our lives. We stop to look upon the corpse in the snow. And around us gather the ghosts of many others who died alone, without even their names. We stop. We speak the words. And we move on. But before we move on, we cover the body with snow, using our cold and wet hands like shovels.

James Lee Jobe, We say a prayer for the ones who grieve.

As I move further away from her death she appears to me more clearly. Not as she was in her last months, but as she was when I was young, when she was just going around gobbling up life with wit and humour and grace. The tables groaning with food, the house a constant stream of guests. Her laughter. Her elegance.

I have lived long enough to look back and beg for it again. I am begging for it again, even those moments when I knew I disappointed her, when we were not really talking. When I am out walking the dog. When I look through old photographs. Th autumn rain. Her fry-ups before Saturday school. I meet all of it.

I had no idea I would miss it.

Anthony Wilson, Before

black dress gloves on a polished table
black lace veils on hats laid aside
the tide of conversation turns
around hat pins and other things
no one is the first to go as the clock chimes
silence leads the way as sadness falls
upon the thought that soon
soon maybe
perhaps
another cup of tea and a cake

Jim Young, heirloom in the room

No, I’m not crying because I’m waiting for my own spinal tap results. I don’t cling to life that much. But I know he does. Most people I know have a Velcro-like attraction to life as if we didn’t know this is all temporary. Maybe we didn’t at first, not until that first goldfish died–or grandparent. The results aren’t even here yet and I’m thinking about him letting go of us, of us letting go of him. That’s different from clinging to one’s own life—clinging to others. We like having them around while we’re still here and it won’t be the same without them. So, the goldfish died and Mom helped with the funeral and the note you wrote for the coffin in crayon and she said, “That’s life,” and only now you know she meant that life is a bunch of comings and goings. Here I am talking about my life again and I don’t want it to be about mine, but his—that’s what we’re talking about: why it matters that his could be ending if the tests say so. It matters because it’s ending within my life span and that’s not fair and that’s just selfish. I always want to go first. I’ll still be here missing him and the kids will be torn up with grief. Their eyes are puffy just imagining what’s coming and I can’t bear to see them cry like this, and here we are talking about me again. It hurts you know. You know we are talking about putting our beloved bunny down? The results aren’t here yet, so we’ll worry about those later.

Cathy Wittmeyer, That’s Life

No NEH grant again, a magazine acceptance, a solicitation of poems from a magazine I’d never cracked (!), several poem rejections, some drafting and revising, lots of Shenandoah work, a vague but persistent headache, short days and blustery cold–hello from a mixed-blessing November in Sabbatical Land. I hereby mark the sixth-month birthday of my novel Unbecoming, and remind you that you can message me if you want a signed bookplate for that OR The State She’s In. (Here, by the way, is a new and very lovely review of the latter by Luisa Igloria in RHINO.) I can’t say I’m in much of a mood for hustle, though; it feels like crawling-under-a-rock season. I’m not doing a ton of writing, nor am I experiencing that burst of energy I’d hoped for after the election, but maybe that’s because there’s no “after”? It’s more like an intensification of suspense, a “now” that just keeps spreading its tentacles.

Lesley Wheeler, Future schmuture

Twelve: Poems Inspired by the Brother’s Grimm Fairy Tale is officially available from Interstellar Flight Press. 

I mean . . ., okay, technically, it’s been out in the world since September. I just haven’t got around to saying it until now.

You may as well as me, Why? Aren’t you excited?

And the answer is yes, I’m very excited. Yet, somehow I’m having a hard time sharing that excitement with people.

Maybe it’s just the general 2020 vibes and all the anxiety and weirdness that comes with it. I’m sure that’s at least a part of it — however, another part is some strange block I have about promoting and celebrating my own work.

Example One. Sitting around a campfire with my aunt, cousins, and sister, we were taking turns saying the things we felt most proud off this year. When it was my turn, I rattled off a few things (of which I don’t remember). When I finished, my sister was flabbergasted. “I thought you were going talk about your book coming out. How could you not talk about your book coming out?”

“Oh, yeaaaah,” I said. “Yes, yeah, of course, I’m super proud of that, too.”

Example Two. Shortly after my book came out, I was hanging out with my brother. He turns to me and says, “I’m really enjoying your book.”

“Oh, yeah, which one?” I ask, thinking he’s talking about one of the books I’d loaned him recently.

He gives me a funny look. “You know, your book. Twelve?”

“Oh, yeaaaah” I start laughing, finding myself embarrassed for forgetting I published a book. It’s out in the world. People are reading it.

2020 is indeed a strange year, rife with intense extremes of emotion. Sometimes I don’t know how to process those emotions or even how to move through my day, shifting from the living room to the dinning room to the bedroom as I push through the tasks of my day job and squeeze in space for the writing and work I’m passionate about.

I want to be excited about Twelve. I’m proud of my little collection of prose poems. I’m proud of the work I did.

I want to be better about celebrating my own work, about following through with the business of promoting it, and with sharing it with others who might fall in love with it.

To that end, I can say, Twelve is officially out. People have been buying it, and you can buy it, too.

Andrea Blythe, TWELVE is Available & Other Goings On

I’ve had trouble sharing this because I get too excited about it, but here goes: Victor Labenske has made a song cycle from poems in my book Tasty Other

In May, we met via Zoom so we could talk through poems and plans.

In June, we met again so Victor could show me his first complete draft, and he sang through the whole thing for me, which was amusing and wonderful!

This past Friday, Victor recorded the song cycle with two sopranos, Elda Peralta McGinty and Judi Labenske. I can’t wait to hear the final version! Having my poems turned into a song cycle is such a dream for this choir girl for life.

Katie Manning, Tasty Other: A Dramatic Song Cycle!

unvoiced is made from the text of Articles 18 – 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, having removed all the vowels, rendering the text unvoiced. 

This is a form of redaction, whereby ruling bodies erase portions of publicly available text deemed to be against national interest or community standards or the well-being of holders of high office or whatever. Yet this reduced, redacted text can still be spoken, albeit by a computer algorithm that does its best to articulate what remains, to give some kind of voice to the unvoiced. 

Visualising the outcome of this process employs the imagery of video streaming and surveillance in a world where bandwidth and access can be reduced or cut off at a mere flick of a switch.

After being initially published in non-compliant 01: censorship (2019), unvoiced was an Offical Selection at FILE Electronic Language International Festival (Sao Paolo, August, 2020), and 2020 Newlyn Short Film Festival (UK, April, 2020). Now it is Official Selection for 2020 Film and Video Poetry Symposium (Los Angeles, which is streaming in full during November and December. You can watch the Symposium via the stream below.

Ian Gibbins, unvoiced at the 2020 Film and Video Poetry Symposium

Mother Mary Comes To Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology is out now from Madville Publishing. On Nov. 16, we held a launch event via Zoom in conjunction with Poetry Atlanta and Georgia Center for the Book. You can watch it above. On Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m., we’ll have a second reading event hosted by the Wild & Precious Life Series

Karen Head and I are thrilled that this project we dreamed up seven years ago has finally come to fruition and we think you’ll agree this is a stellar lineup of poets paying homage to Mary. 

Collin Kelley, Mother Mary Comes To Me out now!

Who knew the apocalypse could be so cozy? So teaming with contagion and my own tiny paper tigers. let one by one out of cages? One disaster movie after another playing out in my dreams where the pipes bleed and water sprouts from all the sockets.” 

Back in the spring, as it dragged into summer, I had a hard time writing at all. What eventually happened in June & July was a short series somewhat related to lockdown and somewhat not. Since coronapoems are everywhere, and indeed, corona everywhere, they seem a dime a dozen right now, but I made a little zine with them because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them but they seem ripe for sharing right now, if anything as a snapshot of a moment.

You can read it here: https://issuu.com/aestheticsofresearch/docs/bloomzineelectronic

Kristy Bowen, bloom

Being a poet during a pandemic is a test of brevity. How best can the endless void, the featureless grey wrapped sky, the road that bends into the horizon, the distance that is measured in everything other than distance — how best can the infinite be compressed into neat lines that in the seventh reading still make some sense.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, 2020: Outro

So why have I been thinking about the sea so much? I’m not sure. Some is wistfulness about not being able to travel, and wondering if I’ll ever go back to some of the places I love, but I think it’s more elemental than that. Maybe it’s just a desire to sit and watch the waves crashing on the rocks, taking away my thoughts as I follow each wave like a breath, and then another: a desire for that renewal coming from somewhere I can’t see, imagine, or understand.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 46. Missing the Sea

The stories for our leavings. It’s funny that I am never asked about those – but for the stories of my destinations. “Why did you come here?”

Why not? It could have been anywhere unknown. Anywhere that smelled of strangers. Anywhere that would allow memories to lie still. Still enough for reflection.

I’ve noticed how the sea smells different everywhere it touches land. In winter sometimes, along Stavanger’s quayside it smells of watermelon. Orre strand smells dark as the rot that brings new life. Along the Canaries, the shore is jagged to inhale. Up north near the North Cape, it’s razor sharp.

I’ve been landlocked before, and lakes don’t breathe on their own. I’ve read that everything depends on the birds that come and go with the seasons, and on storms temperamental enough to drag bits of the world around with them. Transgressions like those of traveling merchants. Or militias.

I’m still pulled to wander, but I’m also learning now how porous the borders are. How even still waters will swell imperceptibly and spill into your path. How storms will drop fish and lizards from another county into your lap. No bridges necessary.

In Norway the name for hopscotch is å hoppe paradis. I have no idea why paradise. But hopping from square to square – chasing small stones, turn and return – does good to me right now. Simple. A little naive.

And meditative.

Ren Powell, Accidental Immigrant

And everyone comes from imagined
origins: land of dark sugar hills, land

of multiplying gravestones. You can clean
windowpanes with balled-up newsprint

and their shine will be like cathedral
glass dipped in milk. This is your

history, and you bind it in ink and crosses.
You were born in its shed but left for an

unholy land. Whatever you erect in its image
becomes an orchard where you will spend

the rest of your days like a bride who can’t
return until every fruit is charred or picked

clean. Who has decided to live in the present.
That is, between the crescent’s horns.

Luisa A. Igloria, Last Telegram

I’ve been slowly moving through Kingston poet Sadiqa de Meijer’s utterly fascinating alfabet/ alphabet: a memoir of a first language (Windsor ON: Palimpsest Press, 2020), composed as an exploration of how language thinks and swims, through her ongoing experience with moving physically from one language, culture and country into another. In a suite of short essays arranged alphabetically by title, she narrates and explores the shifts between the Dutch language, from her origins in the Netherlands, to English-speaking Canada, working her way through multiple implied and inherent differences, many of which she has only begun to fathom. She writes of the alphabet, the bare bones of the language itself, one against another. As she writes of the openings of that lengthy transition: “In Canada, my clothes were odd, and I had no idea what malls or Cabbage Patch Kids or gimp bracelets were, and when I tried to be funny with my peers the silences were awkward and prolonged. I felt an urgent wish to restore my own significance. I read everything I could—flyers, packaging, signs—and listening to the mumblings of my classmates and teachers. Willing myself to make the same sounds, I strove to regain a sense of fluency, of language as my element. That was all I had in my sights; it didn’t occur to me that this was also the start of a slow and nebulous loss.”

The author of two full-length poetry collections—Leaving Howe Island (Fernie BC: Oolichan Books, 2013) [see my review of such here] and The Outer Wards(Montreal QC: Signal Editions/Vehicule Press, 2020) [see my review of such here]—de Meijer’s biography at the back of the collection offers that she “was born in Amsterdam to a Dutch-Kenyan-Pakistani-Afghani family, and moved to Canada as a child.” There is a lot of geography to unpack in that simple array of words, and a complicated sequence, well before the dislocation of arriving into Canada. The effect of her shift from one cultural space into another reveals itself to be deeply felt, and lifelong. This is in part, no doubt, due to the fact that it was not a journey precipitated as an adult, but one made when she was twelve years old; during such a formative period, felt down to the foundation of how she speaks, thinks and breathes, and interacts with herself and with the world beyond. Particularly curious is how her migration into English allowed her new pathways back into certain of the dialects of her native language  “English was both a dominant and an eccentric language,” she writes, as part of the “verzen / verses” section, “no wonder that it had been adapted and interpreted by various groups to make its own local sense. Even in the culture of three that comprised my brothers and I, we improvised on its strangeness, usually while we played with LEGO in our basement.”

rob mclennan, Sadiqa de Meijer, alfabet/ alphabet: a memoir of a first language

This poem offers us a tremendous example of Hilary Menos’ gift for using physical, often everyday detail, layering it and accumulating its effect, so as to reach out towards a vision that reflects back on to its readers. It doesn’t just evoke the process of giving a kidney, but speaks to anyone who’s been alone, afraid, in hospital and missing their loved ones.  In other words, while we might not have gone through this specific experience, we are so moved by its poetic transformation that we are invited to ruminate on our own versions and visions of love.

Such a ravaging context, however, never leads Menos down the path of melodrama. Instead, it enables her to delve deeply into another of her concerns, one that runs through all her collections: the strained yet vital relationship between the human and natural worlds, If this theme was already present in the pamphlet’s first piece, it culminates in the closing lines to its final poem, Sloe Gin, as follows…

…Time matures the thing. At least, adds distance.
I sit at the kitchen table, trying to make sense

and pouring a shot of sweet liquor into a glass.
The filtered magenta, sharp and unctuous,

reminds me of sour plum, of undergrowth,
the scrub, the blackthorn and the hard path.

In this poem, perfectly cadenced metre is set against unsettling doubts, while the transformative quality of human hand is present via the liquor that has been created from fruit and undeniably changed. Nevertheless, it’s then undercut by the realisation that the darker side of nature can never be ignored and forms an inevitable part of our journey through life.

Matthew Stewart, For us all, Hilary Menos’ Human Tissue

Manuscript #4 is my manuscript of lament. It’s my bleeding heart on a page. It may be altogether too sad for anyone to want to read–very sad, and very honest. I feel a little protective of it, a little afraid to put it in anyone’s hands. At the same time, I want it published–I’d like to mail a copy to a few of Kit’s doctors and nurses. Not a thank you exactly–I’ve written them that–but just so they can Know..so they can Know what it was like for me.

As far as individual poem writing is going–well it isn’t. I’ve written four of five false-start drafts, not much coming of them. I’m kind of stalled out. You know what I need? To read a really good poetry book (feel free to recommend). It will wake me up, and I’ll write some good poems then. Also, we’re moving house–and a new, settled spot is always inspiring.

Renee Emerson, poem & manuscript updates

Mid-morning at work, I saw the email showing a picture of (individually-wrapped) goodies and little Starbuck’s iced coffee bottles! So I had some! Then home to a Honeycrisp apple, and the Governor, live, telling us we are back in Tier 3, to please stay home, starting Friday, to keep us all alive. I am glad that my little chalkboard poems are “soft joys” for those who see them here, or on Facebook or Instagram. I’m grateful they are hitting the spot.

Likewise, I was delighted with the response to my story, “A Retiring Woman,” and grateful to Calyx for publishing it online. My daughter and her boyfriend were gripped by it, and she quoted a passage on integrity of voice. My son said he laughed out loud! Yay! It’s a long story, and so many people read it and responded. I am wowed. 

Those are big things in my life, but the little, goofy things help, too. One day, I found myself gardening in pearls. Ah, it was Election Day, a lovely warm day, and I was wearing (fake) pearls to honor RBG, and there was yard work to be done. Another day, I was dusting in earrings, post Zoom, which is the only time I put on drop earrings. It felt good to dust, and to re-stack my stacks of books awaiting the second lockdown, as I sometimes think of it, but nobody likes the word “lockdown,” and the Governor is just announcing a return to Tier 3, for all of Illinois, to help avoid a firmer stay-at-home order. This is a stay-at-home-as-much-as-you-can situation. Till then…(on a Fat Tuesday in the blog) I’ve got candy.

Kathleen Kirk, Soft Joys

When I think about yesterday, a Saturday in late November in 2020, I will remember that phone conversation.  It wasn’t particularly traumatic.  I think we all knew we were headed to that decision.  But it does feel significant.

It was a bit surreal to have that conversation and then to watch several hours of Thanksgiving cooking shows on the PBS Create channel.  I took a long nap and woke up and wondered if we’d really had that conversation.  Had we really canceled our Christmas get together?

It’s a shame that we didn’t have this epiphany a week ago, before my mom snagged the extra villa.  It’s interesting to track these epiphanies.  On Tuesday, my mom had called to tell me the good news of the extra villa.  By Saturday, we were canceling.

It seems like a metaphor for the entire year.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Metaphors in Cancellations

I have declared myself Boss of Grocery Stores Elect and now pronounce that unless absolutely necessary, couples may no longer shop together. Restrictions have been put in place and yet there remain scofflaws aplenty who swan into the store as a couple, sharing one tiny basket between them and lingering over the oranges. Grocery shopping is not a recreational activity, folks. It’s business. You get in and you get out. You don’t bring your girlfriend and five of your closest cousins to pick up a loaf of bread and some Twizzlers. You don’t wander the aisles in a slow daze touching everything like a ballerina with Alzheimer’s. You make a list, you follow an orderly trajectory through the store at a brisk clip and for God’s sake, you get your bagging game together before you check out. I don’t want my radishes getting all mixed up with your diet ice cream at the check stand because you can’t quickly and competently put your items into a bag. Yes, I fully realize that these demands are coming from a projection of my anxiety around The Surge, but there have been a lot of dire meetings at the hospital of late and I’m getting very nervous. Also, they closed my gym again so I can no longer work off my excess adrenaline in the squat rack. So please everyone, just follow my simple grocery store prescriptions so I don’t end up on the wrong end of a viral YouTube video as the latest ranting Karen.

Kristen McHenry, Future Karen, Cohesive Horror, Marriage Update

I’m hoping to start a new feature here on the blog. So many people have started baking again since the pandemic, including me, and I thought it would be fun to share recipes. Since this is primarily a writing blog I thought I’d put out a call to writers who bake that would be into sharing a recipe. Holidays are fast approaching with so many who won’t be traveling or spending them with family so I’m hoping this might be a good (small) project for the writing community and give all of us new recipes to try.

Along with your recipe, I’d want to post your bio and a link to your latest book or publication. My last post involving writers has 80 shares on Facebook,so far, so chances are you’d get some good exposure for your work – and your recipe! (Only 8 shares on Twitter – what’s up with that, #writingcommunity?!)

I’ll be posting first in the next couple of days. Whoever is interested can email me at charlotteham504 at gmail with “Writers Who Bake” in the subject line. I can’t wait to see who shows up. Inundate me!

Charlotte Hamrick, Calling Writers Who Bake!

Of course our stories and poems won’t change the world, but I’m interested in them nevertheless. I’m interested in how you are, how you’re holding up. What edges are frayed? Where are you feeling strong? What and who have you lost? What have you gained? What’s good, what’s terrible, what makes your heart hurt, and what joys are you also experiencing? When we first start talking about how we are, I’ve found that it starts off in ways that aren’t surprising. But the longer we stay with the subject the more is revealed. I know there are a lot of stories we’re not going to be able to talk about right now and that’s okay too.

Whatever stories we tell, it’s also true that only so much will fit in the frame. In distilling our story into a narrative or into the lines of a poem, a lot will be left out. One thing that I think it’s safe to assume, is that everyone has a lot of stuff just outside the frame.

What would happen if we told our everyday stories, the happy ones along with the sad ones, and everything in between? This doesn’t feel wrong to me. How important will all these stories be when we emerge from this time? How will they help us reconsider? I’m drawn to re-read Susan Griffin’s book, The Eros of Everyday. She says, “To change how we see involves some loss, certainly the death of habitual metaphors for order. And the changes needed are great as well as small. It is not only philosophy as it is written in books, but philosophies written into our lives, in institutions, social systems, economies, and governments which need to be reconsidered. For it is by and through these living structures that communities think and perceive. If we could change a habit of mind that has become destructive we must revise the social architecture of our thought.”

The other things that keeps popping into my head are lines by Emily Dickinson, “I dwell in possibility” and “Hope is the thing with feathers.” I keep wondering what is it that we can do with what we have, rather than bemoaning what once was. I say to myself, though perhaps it’s too macabre for some, that if I’m going down, I’m going down with as much joy as I can muster and with as much beauty as I can glean every day.

Shawna Lemay, Behind the Scenes

Of the many things I admire in this quote, the core one is how Lucier posits the work to be done as both outer and inner, social and personal. This multiplicity of stakes, awareness, and investment is something that as a marginalized person I have always lived with. It is something marginalized folks are born into having to reckon with. Political conversations–however formal or informal, in person or online–are never theory, but rather grounded in experiences. That the election was as close as it was means few marginalized folks are breathing easier.

I encourage y’all to read these materials and also to check out The Offing. Also, take time to reflect. Are you taking time to consider the welfare of others? To learn about them? To connect, we need to see each other as well as see ourselves, know their stories as we know our own.

I’ll leave you with two poems to check out. In working with a student on an essay about the Black Lives Matter movement, I shared these poems and spoke of poetry as a space of presence. Words, inside of us as outside of us, are where we can be present with others. Thank you for taking the time to be present here.

José Angel Araguz, community feature: The Offing

When Isaac’s servants, digging in the wadi
found a spring, the herdsmen quarreled: “This is ours.”

Frustrated, they named that place Contention.
He dug another, they fought again: Dispute.

How different are things now? Today, who drills
— and who drinks only the infrequent rains?

What new name might we choose if we could build
a world where everyone gets enough water?

Rachel Barenblat, Looking for Water

Modalities of mortality play out in different ways—

the song of Lady Day blows sweetly on a blues breeze as the tropics of hate continue to rage beyond boiling.

Good-hearted people still find reasons to sing in the rain as this ongoing reign of annihilation pummels us with injustices forged from stone-blind stone.

Every day, “Amazing Grace” plays on a humble record player refusing to skip over the scratches in our collective psyche.

And while the rhythms sound extremely warped and one-sided at times,

there’s still beauty to be found in the song of who we are.

Rich Ferguson, Down at the Junction of Rhythm and Ruin

So, yes, the
universe
hums

an E-flat
thousands of
octaves

below what
we can
hear,

a jazz
trumpet or
sax

wailing
the only
note

that matters.

Tom Montag, SO, YES, THE

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 46

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.

This week: Winter is coming without the solace of big family gatherings to look forward to, and hatches real and figurative are being battened down. But amid the grimness of pandemic and political news, new poetry collections are still being released, and the natural world continues to inspire.

While I have your attention, allow me the indulgence of a rare plug for something I’ve just posted myself: How to publish poetry videos in a literary magazine: 20 tips and best practices. Not perhaps the most exciting stuff, but hopefully some will find it helpful.


Tuesday we woke
to high lines
of snow along
the birch limbs
out our bedroom
window.

Two days later
snow has congealed
to slush balls
that fall
to the ground
with thuds.

Frost shadows
rest across grass
and asphalt. Sky
changes mood
from fog
to blue.

They are counting
votes again
in Arizona.
They will
count again
elsewhere.

The country’s
mood changes
from slush
to thud
to fog
to blue.

Sharon Brogan, Snapshot Poem 12 November 2020

The sky is a negative shadow. We walk hurriedly in avoidance of oncoming rain. Our walk snaps our pant legs in an escalating rhythm breaking into a run the last 300 feet as the rain falls straight downward, hard and fast like it’s on steroids. 

Michael Allyn Wells, A Late Afternoon Shower

It’s a gloomy rainy dark day, and our State, Maryland, is going into lockdown again, due to the uptick in COVID cases.

The big convent where I live is almost completely locked down as of today, because one sister and one employee have tested positive.  We’re so afraid of transmitting it to our very frail elderly sisters in their 90’s.   But on this dark afternoon, the place seems like a tomb.

Anne Higgins, Rain all Day

It’s been a gloomy week.  I thought that once we had an answer about the presidential election, I’d feel buoyed.  But instead I just feel worn out.

It’s been gloomy in terms of our weather too.  We’ve had a tropical storm in the metaphorical neighborhood all week, and it’s been a mix of rain and clouds.  Ordinarily I’d like this kind of weather, but when one has flooding worries, it’s a different experience.

There’s been gloomy news about the pandemic as cases increase, and we reach grim milestone after grim milestone. […]

I’ve also spent the week feeling a fierce nostalgia for past times–some of them not very long ago, like our trip to Hilton Head in September or my quilting retreat in October.  I’m fighting off depression each day because I had expected to be looking forward to a family Thanksgiving, but this year, we’re taking the wiser course of action and not gathering in person.

In short, it’s been a week where I’ve felt that progress that I’ve made has been slipping.  I’ve been trying to treat myself gently, trying to convince myself that doing the tasks that need to be done each day is enough.  These are the days when I feel like I should be congratulated for wearing shoes that match my outfit–or for wearing shoes that match.

It seems that the whole world may be feeling the same way.  So I say, congratulations–you’ve got shoes that match, and that’s good enough for days like these.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Credit for Shoes that Match

How long, how long before we remember
these times of distance again, fondly, like a

memory, like an ache, like a fervent prayer?
Winter will come, with its lantern light and

unfeeling skies, winter will come like a train
on a moonless night, as if nothing ever happened.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Like an ache, like a fervent prayer

I seem to have finally settled in and have figured out how to spend my time and not lose my mind. It helps that I’m working on a new poetry project — I’ll announce it soon but it has to stay under wraps for just a little while longer. This new project has been a great way to channel my energy. I also saw a therapist for a while, specifically to deal with the despair and anxiety I was feeling – partly due to the pandemic, partly due to the election, partly due to my father’s health. Talking to a professional helped me work through some of that and get to a place where I was better mentally.

And now, it appears a lockdown is coming. Several cities have already imposed restrictions on movement and I predict more are coming. While this is hard, especially on those of us who are extraverts, I do think it’s necessary. Because we all want this pandemic to end. I want to be able to see my best friend and hug her. I want to host a dinner party. I want to attend a poetry reading in person, as opposed to on Zoom. I want to eat in a restaurant. In short, I want life to return to normal. But we’re not there yet. So until then, and until another lockdown occurs, I’m sticking to my now very familiar routine. There’s simply nothing else I can do.

Courtney LeBlanc, Rinse & Repeat

Today’s release reading for my new chapbook was such a gift. I got to read alongside students, peers, and mentors in a Zoom room full of friends, family, and former strangers. Most of the reading is available for viewing on YouTube now.

I never expected that such a joyful event would come from my little chapbook of deep grief, but getting to weave my words together with work by each of these wonderful poets was amazing.

Thank you to all who read with me and worked behind the scenes to make this possible. Thank you to the 100+ people who attended too. This poet feels very celebrated and grateful today.

Visit this page to find out more about 28,065 Nights.

Katie Manning, 28,065 Nights Release Reading

My mother and I had a complicated relationship. Over the first 43 years of my life we adored each other; we argued with each other; we delighted each other; we disappointed each other. Just now I had to look at a calendar to remind myself how old I was when Mom died: sometimes it feels like she’s been gone for a long time, and sometimes it feels like she’s still here. 

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time at all, you know that I’m an external processor. I “write my way through the hurricane.” (Thanks, Lin-Manuel.) In rabbinical school I wrote Torah poems week after week. When I miscarried, I wrote poems as I sought healing. During my son’s first year of life I wrote weekly poems chronicling his changes… and mine.

How else could I possibly respond to my mother’s death? I keened and grieved and wept — and wrote. When I was in my MFA program in my early 20s, she didn’t like some of my poems; they felt too revelatory. Would she find these poems too intimate to be shared? I shared early drafts here anyway, because I needed to send the words out: into the world, if not to her.

Many of you wrote to me saying that the poems spoke to you and mirrored your experiences of loss. Over the course of the eleven months between her death and her unveiling, I wrote my way through how grief was changing me, and changing in me, until I reached the far shore of that particular sea. I will never cross it in that same way again, because one’s mother only dies once.

And then, after the year was over, I sat down with a trusted friend and editor and asked: are these poems worth publishing in a less ephemeral form? Beth helped me see how the poems could be improved, and what was missing from the collection, and how to make the book more than the sum of its parts. This book is far better for her editorial hand, and I am grateful.

I am fiercely proud of this book of poems. It is a tribute to Mom, and a testament to how much she shaped me (and continues to shape me). It’s a reminder that relationships can continue after death, and that time’s alchemy brings subtle shifts. It’s personal, because our relationship was only ours… and I think it’s universal, too, because we all have mothers, and we all know loss.

If you knew Liana Barenblat, I hope you’ll find her here. And if you didn’t know my mom, I hope you’ll find in these poems echoes of your own relationships, and maybe a roadmap for the mourner’s path, that complex journey of grief and love, loss and healing. I’m so thankful to Beth Adams at Phoenicia for bringing this book to press, and for her cover art, which I love.

Rachel Barenblat, Crossing the Sea

In Vanishings, from Palewell Press (2020) skilled writer Rebecca Gethin uses poetry to show us at-risk-of-extinction creatures in the U.K. — large and small and in-between — species that we may never see ourselves or even have known of their existence. […]

Elly: Although each of the poems can be enjoyed on its own, there is obviously an overall theme to the collection. Would you go even further and say you have a purpose, intended message?

Rebecca: I have long felt that nature is slipping away from us. I have kept a nature/weather notebook for at least 25 years, recording weathers and sightings and I know that cuckoos and swallows return to this place earlier than before, that some plants flower at different times from 20 years ago.

In this book I wanted to explore transience and break down the reasons for it happening in the UK for myself. To look at in the face. I don’t plan things in advance so when I started out I didn’t know it would be a book. As with my two novels, I start writing and hope it will cohere. I was lucky that after I had written about ten poems Camilla Reeve at Palewell Press said she would publish them as a pamphlet. But after a while the idea grew like grass and became bigger than that. This early acceptance gave me permission to approach naturalists and ask questions of them which I wouldn’t have found that easy if I was just writing a poem.

The idea behind each poem was initially to find out what made each creature so vulnerable…there is a range of reasons why extinctions are happening. It isn’t just one. I found that sometimes it’s their very specific habitat that is threatened like the water vole in Backwater or the willow-tit in Calibration of Loss; sometimes it’s the requirements of their complex life-cycle like the Marsh Fritillary in Instar: sometimes their diet is now in short supply like the greater horse-shoe bats in Glints in the Echoes or the cuckoos in Natural Selection; sometimes its dependency on another rare creature as in the Large Blue poem, Charm. My aim was to explore the creatures’ lives and try to capture it a little in words. I didn’t want to shy away from scientific words and didn’t worry if all readers wouldn’t be familiar with them if it felt like the most suitable word. I also wanted facts to sing and so I deliberately walked a very delicate line.

One rule I imposed upon myself was that I should see and experience the creature in real life and I shouldn’t just write from watching videos. So I saw (almost) everything in this book. I didn’t see the corncrake but I would have done if Lockdown 1 had not prevented me from travelling to Orkney. I think seeing the creature gives writing more of a spark. It certainly meant that I fell deeply in love with every creature I wrote about for this book.

No, there was no “message” planned, other than Look at This! I love taking photos and take my camera everywhere. I think the urge to write the poems was the same …to catch the fleetingness. I also wanted to investigate and see as much as possible what lies below the surface. The facts are often far stranger than any fiction.

E.E. Nobbs, Notes on Rebecca Gethin’s Vanishings

As the release of this book baby edges closer and closer, I’ve been thinking about the process of writing it and the strange journey it encompasses. Most of it was written in early to mid 2018. The first section was the hunger palace:  a beast of a series that sometimes is rough to read. Starting tenuously while my mother was hospitalized, the bulk of it came out like blood flow over my holiday break from the library.  I remember writing and freezing–a cold snap that made my apartment chillier than usual, so much so that even the space heater was failing me.  Free of daily obligations of work and commuting, I would move back and forth from my bed, where it was warmest, to my desk in the living room and then back to bed. The entire series was super rough and needed much more work than other parts of the book.  plump for example, written for our library Grimm project came rather quickly and easily and were urged on by the accompanying visual images. the science of impossible objects  had been an idea for a long time before I put pen to paper–the imaginary daughter–but when I did, progress through them happened swiftly at a time when I was writing daily. swallow was a little more drawn out, but again, it seems to be the case the more personal and raw the impulse behind the poems.  the summer house, which took it’s inspiration from the visual pieces, and is more an allegory about childbearing and changelings was, comparatively, a breeze. 

I’ve often said certain obsessions tend to begin constellating work around them.  Suddenly, the puzzle comes together. Suddenly, it was conceived (no pun intended) a book about mothers and daughters, about their bodies and the legacies we inherit from women in our bloodline. About body issues and growing up female. About the choice to be childless as a woman and what that means from a mythical and literal standpoint.  As someone who does not identify as a mother to anything but books , it’s a bit tilted a perspective–the idea of the artist giving birth to changelings and imaginary children is an apt metaphor for creation perhaps. And also, a book about grief, about working through the grief of losing a mother and all those motherless girls of myth and fairytale. (the line in hp “I’ve killed more mothers than I’ve revived.”) 

I’ll be finishing up the design aspects in the coming week and aiming for a December release (it will be available on Amazon as a print and an e-book eventually) and also going out to books & objects series subscribers via Patreon. 

Kristy Bowen, feed

There was a very interesting article this week, “On Poets and Prizes,” by Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young, at the ASAP journal. It talked about the fact that, though some of us might prefer to think of the poetry world as a meritocracy, it is mostly a function of a small “in-crowd” of Ivy League types giving prizes to their friends, and only their friends. The charts and graphs alone are worth a look. Data-driven poetry information. Since poetry receives so little attention in America – and so few sales – the poetry prize decides whether a writer is read – or ignored. And most of this is nepotistic – highly nepotistic. More than you thought, if you already thought it was.

It is hard, as I have posted the last two weeks on the blog, to make a living as a poet. If you did not come from a family with money, didn’t go to the “right” schools, never ran with the “right” poetry in-crowds, it’s going to be even tougher. I mourn having to say this, especially to younger poets with more enthusiasm and optimism than I had (I was always a little cynical.) If you don’t go to Iowa for your MFA, you don’t go to New York City and the right parties, you are probably never going to get the big prizes or the big fellowships. Which means, you probably won’t be read. The data presented in the article is fairly convincing.

But…it does happen – and I know people who it has happened for, who were lucky, who just on the merit of their work and their hustle, did make it. I am so happy to know that such poets exist.  Publishers, from time to time, present terrific work by people from “nowhere,” who don’t have money or go to prestigious schools, and their work finds not only an audience, but good reviews and accolades and yes, prizes. Am I likely to be one of the lucky ones? Are you? The odds, as the article makes clear, may not be in our favor. But there is something honorable about writing, publishing, continuing to offer the work to the world, isn’t there?

If we are Katniss Everdeen and the Poetry World is the Hunger Games, how do we start to break the game, the in-crowd, nepotistic, odd-are-never-in-our-favour  system? Do we want to? How do you choose which poetry books to read, or decide which book is good and worthy of your time? How do you choose which book to review?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Poem Up at Verse Daily, Rough Week, And On Poets And Prizes

My poetry students are also expanding their sense of freedom on the page. One even articulated something at the core of my teaching in her own words: “The duality of the lines relates back to our class discussions of how behind every mark on the page, there has to be strong intent by the writer.” I say the core of my teaching–perhaps I mean the core of what I aspire to in my work on and off the page. Finding intent, of life and of each poem, that’s the mission.

Speaking of my poetry students, I am excited to be doing the work of expanding what a creative writing workshop can be. One resource that’s helped a lot was this essay by Beth Nguyen who breaks down the value of allowing a writer to speak during workshop. I tried and, well, wouldn’t you know, a writer smiled in workshop and all writers learned as well. It was something special to be a part of.

Lastly, check out this poem by Jessica Salfia made from the first lines of emails received during quarantine. That she was able to compose this by April of this year shows how quick we are to language, and how quick language is away from us.

José Angel Araguz, unsilencing in these times, ha

I read two fantastic poetry books this month. The first was Catrachos by Roy G. Guzmán, whose work always makes me feel awash in rich, vibrant language. Described as being “part immigration narrative, part elegy, and part queer coming-of-age story,” this stunning book blends pop culture and humor with cultural experience to provide a powerful and riveting collection of poems. I recently interviewed Guzmán about their new book, which will appear on the New Books in Poetry podcast soon.

Sarah J. Sloat’s Hotel Almighty is a gorgeous collection of erasure poetry, using the pages of Stephen King’s Misery.  Each of the pages combines evocative poetry with the visual treat of vibrant collage art. Some examples of her can be found at Tupelo Quarterly.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: October 2020

Vancouver poet jaye simpson’s book-length poetry debut is it was never going to be okay (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2020), a collection of first-person lyric performance and prose poems on trauma, queer and Indigenous identity, love and sex, family, belonging and being. These poems are emotionally raw, unflinching, revealing and erotic, working up to an appreciation of the queer and Indigenous body and self, even as simpson’s narrator works through the trauma of foster care and intergenerational trauma. “i have swallowed / wildfire flame,” they write, as part of “her. (ii.),” “arnica cardifolia, / pleaded for her to leave these hollowing bones— / bit off more than i could chew [.]” Through their poems, simpson does far more than attempt to write themselves into being: to attempt to write themselves through and beyond the worst elements of trauma and into acknowledgement, as they write in “haunting (a poem in six parts”: “i was taught by wooden spoon / that children were seen & not heard / my pale flesh must’ve been reminder / that i was burden & beast / all in one.” This book works through some difficult material, clawing its way into being. “his sweat is / pabst blue wribbon / & dispensary dust,” they write, in “r e d,” “i feel the ridged scar on his right clavicle / trace the tattoo on the lower abdomen of this narrow-hipped boy / this closeness is as near / to being wanted / as i know [.]”

rob mclennan, jaye simpson, it was never going to be okay

I was saddened to hear the news earlier this week of the passing last Friday of David Cobb.

It’s fair to say that the overwhelming majority of haibun, haiku, tanka and renga poets in the UK may well not have become addicted to haikai forms without the enthusiasm and organisational ability of David Cobb. […]

Although many other people knew David better than I did, he and I were irregular correspondents for years and I was always delighted to see him. Aside from his writing, what I will remember most about David are his kindness, humility, good humour and that rare gift of being able to bring diverse people together in an inclusive and generous manner.

Here is one of David’s best-known haiku, remarkable still for its fresh, immediate synaesthesia:

a moment between
lighthouse flashes
cold smell of fish

A lesser poet than David might’ve chosen to omit ‘a moment’, which, on the face of it, appears superfluous, but that would’ve considerably weakened the power of this masterpiece. Whilst less is generally more in haiku, here a little bit more is definitely more: those two words enable a visual and sonic pause at the end of line one which enhances the surprise of the second line; and it also enables a subtle repetition in ‘cold’ of the ‘o’ sound in ‘moment’, which helps to knit the poem together. That lesser poet might also have been tempted to shove a definite article before ‘cold’, but, again, that would’ve been ruinous because that absence draws the maximum impact out of ‘cold’, and out of the monosyllabic incantation of the last line.

Matthew Paul, David Cobb, 1926-2020

As a project to occupy me, I decided to use each section in a multi-sectioned poem I wrote as inspiration to make a monoprint, then I figured I’d write the poem section on each print.

But my writing is terrible, some of the sections were really long which meant I’d get impatient with writing them out and inevitably make a mistake (would that be interesting, the cross-outs?), the ink obscured too many words (did I want them obscured? Would that be interesting?) so I decided to just write a fragment of the poem on each print. 

I’m happy with the prints but the words disappoint me. Wasn’t it enough that the poem inspiration was in the DNA of the visual piece? Or is it my poem? Is it the fragments I chose? Is it that words and text have, to my mind, a problematic relationship — reminiscent as they can be of sentimental cards or cartoons? What am I looking for in this pairing? Should I have left visual enough alone? 

I took a dive into what other people were up to with visual poetics. For example, I found an issue of Indianapolis Review that was devoted to visual poetics, plus some other journals like crtl+v often have visual poems of some sort, and Tupelo Quarterly which often has interesting work of various sorts. I was looking for examples that really gave me a zing, the sense of “yes, THIS is what it can be.” 

I found lots of fun stuff, but I’m not sure I have yet found what I’m looking for. There’s a lot of collage with ransom-note style pasted-on lines of text. Often the text is brief, aphoristic, or enigmatic, which is okay, I guess, but not greatly of interest to me. Some people are using full poems, which I appreciated. But then I have to ask what the visuals do for the poem — is there something expressed in the comparison/contrast? Or is it just fun? And after I while I got tired of the ransom-note look and crazy juxtaposition of images ripped out of magazines or old textbooks. There’s a lot of it going on. Often the text and what it conveys is less compelling than the mish-mosh of visual, and I guess, being a reader and writer, I want the text to have more heft, to be more “privileged,” if you will. 

There’s some work with embroidery that’s kind of interesting. Sometimes sheer excess is interesting, but it’s not something I can or want to emulate. A LOT of stuff is going on with erasure. Again, some of it is interesting. But it’s not erasure I’m looking for.

Marilyn McCabe, Shadoobee shattered shattered; or On Text and Image

My closest friend is always rebuking me for forgetting or misremembering stuff. I’m talking to him later on and I fully expect to be reminded of some detail from our shared past I’ve not remembered.

I don’t know about Eugene (He’s not called Eugene, by the way), but I pretty certain I’m missing a gene that allows me to remember things. I struggle to recall e.g. the scores of football matches from ten years ago (eg Ah, yeah that game where Eddie McGoldrick scored a glancing header in the 94th minute to clinch the game, etc*), or, for that matter, what i was going to say when is started this post. Did I come in here for my slippers? I don’t have slippers, so why would I do that?

I also struggle to remember poems or lines of poetry. I’d be dreadful if ever asked what’s your favourite poem, etc. I’m not saying the work of people that I’ve read is not memorable, I absolutely love it when I’m reading it and the sense of what I’m reading stays with me, but the actual lines are trickier. Even my own work is often a blur (and that’s possibly for the best). Is this the internet and the like making my short term memory rubbish? Who knows, but I’m pretty sure it was shocking before the internet became mainstream.

(Yes, I am old enough to remember this time…Flo is incredulous about this when I tell her. It wasn’t around when I was school or University for that matter, but I can remember using it for book orders after that when I worked at Bertram’s. Better stop with the brackets now)

Anyhoo, imagine my surprise this week when a poem came straight to mind, albeit not the actual lines immediately, but let’s not quibble.

Mat Riches, Theme From Magnetto

I have no actual memory
of its taste— rough bit of roast
meat from the beast’s mouth,
severed by my father with glee
and put into my own to suck
as I flailed in the white sack
of baptism clothes. What
possessed our kin to think
the gift of words, of brave
speech, might come out
of some magic rite of transfer
from this animal that once
rooted in the mud, grunting in-
decipherable syllables
all night?

Luisa A, Igloria, Tongue

With a potential Biden presidency, there has been much excited talk about dogs returning to the White House. The absolute last thing I care about is a presidential dog. A presidential dog does not interest me in the least. While I don’t understand them, I respect non-dog people for realizing that they are not dog people and not obtaining dogs. It’s also not lost on me that no one is ever excited about the prospect of a presidential cat. For some reason, cats are always under suspicion as being vaguely un-American. They do not care about your agenda and they don’t put up with your crap. With cats, the onus is on you to be curious, to reach out, to offer respect, to be patient. Cats don’t need humans in the same way as dogs do, and humans take deep offense to this. But earning the respect of cats yields great rewards. And cats are the purview of writers (who are also under constant suspicion of being vaguely un-American) perhaps because they are calm, they respect silence, naps, and boundaries, and they always have other options besides you. Presidents are mandated to have dogs. Everyone understands loyalty and happy tail-wagging. Cats make you work for it, and that does not provide the instant emotional crack that a dog does.

Kristen McHenry, Pajama Day, Judgey Bird, Dogs in the White House

moody lighting
who’s missing?
wake up!

it’s in my head
but it’s harder
to remember who I was

blindly sleepwalking
into the next episode
on the thousandth of March

Ama Bolton, ABCD November 2020

They say we’ve consumed the Kool-Aid of our tainted history.

That we’re caught in a matrix of endlessly repeating fake tricks.

That we’re abracadabraless when it comes to sprouting wings to soar towards new freedoms.

The list goes on and on.

Guess you can say blackbirds have at least shown us a little mercy by stopping at 12 + 1—a baker’s dozen of observations. Hot contemplation, fresh outta the oven.

Blackbirds don’t care how many ways we look at them. They’re soul shapers, song makers, dream shakers.

Blackbirds don’t need to color themselves anything other than what they are to be considered pure poetry.

Rich Ferguson, Blackbirds got 13 ways of looking at us

You probably know this quote from a Williams Carlos Williams poem: “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” The word “news” suggests politics as well as missives from the mind and spirit. That’s great, but I also want it to include the wall-busting personal stuff sometimes derided as blabbing, tattling, chinwagging, and nosyparkering, all of which sometimes constitutes whistleblowing and the glue of sustaining friendships. My love of whispers comes from the poet in me, and also from my history in a messed-up family, where secrets festered. Secrets can poison your life. Luckily, they can also metamorphose into fierce literature.

Writing prompt: write a gossipy poem. Optionally, include a whisper, a fence, and a whistle.

This distinction is probably on my mind because I’m trying to dial down my obsessive consumption of political news. Election week sucked, as I’m guessing you noticed. Clicking vote counts every five minutes, I didn’t sleep, picked up a cold, endured a nosyparker nasopharyngeal swabbing, waited anxiously for a different kind of information, and ended Monday singing the “I don’t have Covid” song. At the same time, I started exchanging daily poems with a group founded by a long-distance friend. We don’t comment except for occasional appreciation and encouragement; we just write and share. It feels good to be drafting poems again–most of them pondering secrets–as well as to eavesdrop on others through the frank privacy of their poem drafts.

Lesley Wheeler, Gossip, news, & poems

Today is sort of a sad/glad day, dark and cold outside, with a wind advisory. When I checked the weather app on my phone, the expected precip was…ice. 

I congratulate all those people who put up their holiday decorations during our warm spell! I am pulling out interior decorations gradually, and I am glad I planted that tiny tree in a pot to decorate with blackberry lily seeds and leftover earrings. Every little bit helps. My chalkboard poem for today is “Sad/Glad,” about my children. When I walk into my daughter’s room now, I flip the light switch to turn on her string of tree lights left behind…

Sad/Glad

I walk into the rooms
of my children

who won’t be coming home
for the holidays.

I am glad
they are alive.

Kathleen Kirk, Sad/Glad

Normally, gift-giving feels like nothing but a chore, and I find myself resenting it—which is about the opposite of what gift-giving is supposed to be. This year, I’m enjoying thinking about what I can give each person I’m not going to see. I want them to have something that tells them I love them and am thinking about them and want to care for them. I want them to feel my presence, even though I’ll be far away.

In previous years, seeing anything smacking of Christmas before Thanksgiving set my teeth grinding, but this year, two weeks out from Thanksgiving, I’m ready to clear out the pumpkins and bring in greenery and lights and peppermint hot chocolate. You want to put your tree up right now? More power to you. Do whatever makes you feel good.

Rita Ott Ramstad, ‘Tis the season

Most birds possess the power of flight, something humans have longed for and envied forever, inventing angels and airplanes to mimic birds. Macdonald’s essay on swifts’ vesper flights describes how the birds rise in flocks up to the top of the convective boundary layer, where the wind flow’s determined not by the landscape but by “the movements of large-scale weather systems.” The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (one of my favorite informational sites!) suggests the swifts–not intellectually, but somehow as a group–orient themselves using the many-wrongs principle:

That is, they’re averaging all their individual assessments in order to reach the best navigational decision. If you‘re in a flock, decisions about what to do next are improved if you exchange information with those around you…Swifts have no voices, but…they can pay attention to what other swifts are doing.”

Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights

We have voices; and yet we are not, in general, so good as the swifts at paying attention. Perhaps because there are too many voices shouting so loudly that the information gets confused. The sheep-following fashion of thinking goes with whoever’s most noisy, we follow; that way lies error. Paying attention and using a many-wrongs principle means we have to be willing to change course when new information arrives. It requires a certain humility that, let’s face it, most of us lack.

Ann E. Michael, Complicated distress

How do you wish to proceed? I know I don’t want to argue with the world. I want to learn to speak differently. I want to make a humble effort.

I want joy rather than complaint. There’s a poem by Dorothea Lasky that begins, “Some people don’t want to die / Because you can’t complain when you’re dead.” Which always makes me laugh. I’m not above complaining, loooord knows. But I’m going to redouble my efforts to just work harder, instead. Which is Joan Didion’s advice:

“Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.”

Which shouldn’t be so tricky this winter of our pandemic.

Shawna Lemay, This Winter of Our Pandemic

I think the thing that has surprised me most about my grief is how exhausting it is. There have been days when I felt I was coming to terms with it, when I understood its patterns, began to see shape in them, even coherence. I fooled myself into thinking we may even have come to some sort of understanding.

Those days are over now. The grief has no interest in coming to an understanding with me, no interest in letting me in on its plans, coupled to zero awareness of the damage it is doing to my sleep, my eating, my reading, not to mention my ability to concentrate and remember even the most rudimentary parts of my job.

I am officially exhausted. I wave the white flag. OK, grief, you win. What now? I cuddle the dog, get lost on a walk, phone the rat man, try to look at some James Schuyler, book the rat man, attempt a prayer, then collapse onto the sofa. I am trying to find holiness in all this mess, but it is hard, hard, hard. And it isn’t going away. It is hard.

Anthony Wilson, A holiness to exhaustion

There are days I feel broken. Worn so thin that I crumbled like an old rubber band someone dug out of the bottom of a junk drawer.

I always assumed the Beckett quote, “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” was from Waiting for Godot. I figured it was the clown with the bladder issues. Maybe the existential truth in this utterance requires no context at all. It is every story ever written.

This morning we were out of the house an hour later than usual. We caught the first blush of sunrise and passed four men out on their own morning run. We passed them twice actually, and the second time there was enough light to catch one of them smiling. He said, “God morgen!” a second time, and with such enthusiasm that my first thought was that he can’t possibly be Norwegian.

My second? That the other men in his company were psychiatric nurses from the nearby assisted living center.

I’m quite serious. This kind of extroverted greeting of a stranger is anti-social behavior in this region. And I began to brood on this, and then on my still-peculating fears for what is happening in my homeland. The hostility. The splintering of culture, the splintering of sub-cultures.

I keep thinking of colony collapse disorder. Adults losing the ability to navigate in the world.

This morning, counting on the exhalations: 1, 2, 3, 4. Relax the shoulders… I stopped to tie my laced that had worked loose, and I thought of Beckett and of recognizing the universal condition of human beings without cultural context.

Yes.

But there is also this:

“God morning!”
An unrestrained smile.

Context is always an understanding –
and always a speculation.

First thought is already
a rationalization
of the past.

Ren Powell, What it Means to Be in the Moment This Morning

Farewell, Western Black Rhino.
Horned and rather nearsighted,
I have relatives like that. Indeed,
If one looks at just the skull,
There is a human quality there.
The Western Black Rhino, extinct.
Birds warned them when danger approached,
But in the end the dangers outnumbered the birds.
What can you do?
I wonder now if got it lonely toward the end,
With the last of the great animals wandering about,
Seeking out their kinfolk,
Just wanting to see a friendly face.
And then the final one,
The last Western Black Rhino,
Perhaps knowing the poachers were out there,
A bird screeching at the sound of human footsteps,
And the last beautiful creature just waiting,
Not even caring anymore,
Preferring death to the endless loneliness.

James Lee Jobe, affirm life and honor interdependence

I wanted a cheap fix, a release, an anything
but the present thing, a veering from catastrophe

and know as the wind blows
there is no quick fix

but jeez, how little is granted, how stingy reality, 
how it seeps its goodness, 

what a frustrating partner is reason, seeming
other to my others, I tear my hair out

so I too began to dance, to shake off the tick
to make it make sense, I turned 

the snow globe on its head, I spun the disk, 
shook the paradigm, I know in my bones 

it is good nonetheless.

Jill Pearlman, Release

i write and it calls itself
nothing.
it’s not even an anagram
of a teapot pouring the steeped
and the stirred,
the dark or the golden.
i drink it with a cake stand;
outside the hail sheets down
and the leaves swirl autumn.
the blanket draws closer,
the blotting is done.

Jim Young, poetry they say it is