Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This (late) edition continues the sombre tone from last week, albeit with some joyful news as well. The season of death is upon us. But late autumn and winter is also a time for deeper thinking, and we have some of that as well.

Note that I will continue to share links to these posts on Twitter for as long as a significant portion of us still maintain accounts there, but in general, like many folks, I’m using the opportunity to move most of my microblogging over to the Fediverse, which as an open-source project was always a much better fit with my values. I hope you’ll join me there. (I’m on a medium-sized Mastodon server, here.)


Oh bathroom window, what are those ash-gray clouds,
needle in the morning’s eye —

dawn too early in its strange light-threading.
To 6am, I bring another party: 

my thoughts, light and frisky in dark crevices […]

Jill Pearlman, The Early Bird and other Myths

An interesting week. The tory clowns have come up with a forecast of a £60 billion black hole in the national finances. It’s their latest wheeze to make the poor pay more than the rich. JK Galbraith once said that “economic forecasting is there to make astrology look good.” But this has not stopped them from delivering one punitive budget after another. […]

there is a second
when the mop bucket’s contents
after being slung into the air
seems to just hang ignorant of gravity

in that moment you could mould the water
into any fantastic shape you pleased
if only you were quick enough

Paul Tobin, THE MOLECULES SIGH

As the wind howled, I thought about all the ways I have tried to make my way as a writer in the world:  build a website, develop a presence on various social media sites, try to publish everywhere, try to have a series of readings/presentations, slog, slog, slog.  Because it was the middle of the night, I wondered if I could have done anything differently, even though I know the stats about sales and who is making a living from their writing (not very many people).

And if we’re being honest, in many ways, I’m glad I’m not relying on any of my creative endeavors to pay the bills.  I am astonished at the ways that people hustle to try to sell their work, and I know all the ways that the various hustles would be hard for me.  And statistically, it’s hard these days to sell enough work to pay the bills.  Lots of people out there competing for fewer readers.  I’m glad that I can write what I want to write without worrying about marketability.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Winds of Metaphor, Winds of Change

What do you remember about the earth?

I am six and the terrible grandmother has come to live
with us. She smells of tobacco and the green eucalyptus-
mint Valda pastilles she is always popping into her mouth
from a tin hidden in her robe pocket. A game I like to play
with some of the neighborhood kids involves taking turns
putting Necco wafers in each other’s mouths while intoning
“The body of Christ.” We are careful not to bite down
so as not to cause the body of Christ to bleed. Then
we walk around the grassy perimeter of the truck yard
pretending we are floating, until the candy has melted
and our tongues turn lime green, orange, or pink.

Luisa A. Igloria, Six Questions

A commissioned poem is always a leap of faith in the dark. You get a phonecall with a request to write about a particular topic or idea, and you must decide whether you can do it, whether you want to do it, but most importantly, whether you can do it in the time available.

For this commission, and for many commissions for radio, there was a very tight turnaround. I think I got a phonecall on Friday evening from the producer of Woman’s Hour, Clare Walker. She wanted a poem that celebrated the different sounds that women have heard over 100 years. the poem would be two minutes long, but the whole thing would be about eight minutes becuase they were going to weave through the poem lots of archive recordings. “Brilliant!’ I replied – thinking this was a really interesting commission, and an enjoyable one.  I briefly envisaged some peaceful weeks trawling through archive recordings of suffragettes and the sond of the first washing machine.

“There’s just one snag” Clare said. “We’re on a bit of a tight deadline, so it has to be finished and recorded by Wednesday”.  “Ah” I said.  I thought about my looming deadline for a book of hybrid essays (more news to follow on that!) which was due just a few days later.  I thought about the five days I had available to write the poem, and how for at least two of those, I wouldn’t be writing, or in fact even thinking because I have no childcare at the weekend.

“That will be fine!” I replied recklessly. “Let’s do it!”.  What kind of person would turn down a commission from Woman’s Hour, I asked myself, even with a book deadline, and just five days to write it (well really three).

Kim Moore, The Commissioned Poem: A Leap of Faith

Tough, in its various meanings, and tender are the poems in Kathy Fagan’s Bad Hobby. Painful, in parts, as it recalls my own mother’s failings of memory, but funny too, as such things can be, in the right moment, with a good spirit, and with nothing left to lose.

From “Snow Moon & the Dementia Unit”:

Dad called again to see how his daughter Kathy’s doing,
and when I tell him I’m doing fine, he asks,

So you’ve talked to her recently? What did she say?
and really, what could I say then…

Through these poems we glimpse the inner and outer life of the speaker, especially the presence of her parents, real or ghostly. From “Animal Prudence”:

…Even when he was
a young drunk going deaf from target practice,
my father preferred picking his teeth
to brushing them. My mother preferred
crying. They bought or rented places
on streets named Castle, Ring, Greystone—
as if we were heroes in a Celtic epic.

The author is unsparing and unsentimental in her observations. Here she regards her own self through a sight of a hawk and its squirrel prey in “Cooper’s Hawk”:

… My tolerance for ‘Nature, red in tooth
and claw’ rose as my estrogen fell. The wish
to die died with my hormones, and with all that
powering down, I could finally hear myself
not think.

The wry wit, the dry eye, and the imagination that instills these poems made this hard book a pleasure to read.

Marilyn McCabe, Hello goodbye hello; or, On Kathy Fagan’s Bad Hobby

“Naming the Ghost” is a gentle, sensitive journey through bereavement and acceptance. It is not just the loss of the narrator’s father, but also that the newborn daughter will never know her grandfather, which exacerbates the sense of loss. However, the narrator acknowledges that she cannot let her daughter’s sole experience be a grief for someone she did not know. On her journey, she learns to adjust to looking to the future, informed by the past. These are poems that linger and haunt rather than grab the reader.

Emma Lee, “Naming the Ghost” Emily Hockaday (Cornerstone Press) – book review

What I was going to say is that I have reached an age where my peers all seem to be facing cancer. Illnesses like Parkinson’s. Bones that break all too easily. Unexpectedly. Everything hurts. Everyone hurts. And we are still comparing ourselves to one another.

Some of us move through the days thinking: but that won’t happen to me. I’ll be one of the shining septuagenarians on Instagram snatching more than their own bodyweight. Some of us hold on to the moments.

Some of us. Maybe only me. Have given up on narratives and justifications.

Here is my beginner’s mind. I pause in stillness. Then inhale and rise along the gentle slope of a polished pearl. Then exhale into stillness. One rich movement at a time, like gusts of wind slamming the body.

I read once that the ghazal was a series of discrete couplets, connected like pearls on a string.

Ren Powell, Life as a Ghazal

Here is what we do in our church: 
we never gather and we never sing
we blame but never praise
we cultivate indulgence; we wallow in dread;
we pick the scabs of anxiety.
The stupidest Congregation of the Bigot
in Podunkville does better than that.

Dale Favier, Inventing the Wheel

Readers accustomed to Fokkina [McDonnell]’s poems will know that she has a great gift for sudden shifts of thought and emphasis which wrong-foot and surprise the reader. Many years’ practice as a psychotherapist must have informed Fokkina’s acute sensitivity to how the brain and heart interact. Her poems implicitly ask questions but usually stop short of providing answers – as with effective haiku, the reader is invited to do some work, in effect to complete the poems. There’s a lightness or playfulness among the trauma which sporadically surfaces; a sense which I can only really explain fully by using the Japanese haiku concept of karumi, which Michael Dylan Welch explores so well in an essay available here. And where Fokkina does apparently provide answers, the reader has to wonder if they are the answers of an unreliable narrator of sorts.

Matthew Paul, On Fokkina McDonnell’s ‘Safe House’

What are you working on?

After a two-year hiatus in writing (due to parenting a 3yo and 1yo without childcare during the pandemic), I have just begun to write again while my baby naps and my 3yo attends preschool. My question the past few weeks has been what I can effectively work on given time constraints. Before my children were born I was working on a volume of Norse verse translations. The unpredictability of baby naps has made it nearly impossible to return to this. What surprised me was having inspiration for a fantasy novel and actually being able to write chapter drafts. Holding scenes and characters in my mind until I can work on them again has proven easier than holding the intricately-woven webs that are skaldic poems, with all their linguistic and historical threads. 

Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part three

More poets and songbirds. Shopaholics at the mall of mercy.

A Congress that engages in friendly congress.

For the homeless to become homeful. Wildfires to take a chill pill.

Gun muzzles to nuzzle love.

Rich Ferguson, What the world needs now

I’ve noticed in recent years, on social media since that is where I see discussions of poetry, is a criticism of poetry reviews. First the criticisms were about the reviews not being published in mainstream newspapers any more or, if they were, the tiny wordcount afforded to them. Then the criticism shifted to the reviews themselves, their “lack of critical engagement,” that they are “puff pieces”, concerning themselves with the poet and the “poet’s identity” rather than the actual poems, the craft and technique. All of these criticisms are valid, and perhaps the reviews under discussion seem ubiquitous because of the proliferation of online platforms like Goodreads, online journals and blogs, as well as in some poetry magazines. Also, there has been a trend to simply photograph a book or poem and share on social media without also offering any kind of considered review. Perhaps this has also offended people seeking detailed critiques. Unfortunately, in my view, the criticisms risk silencing a group of people who might want to review, or even to express that they like a book or poem, but who now won’t, for fear of being on the end of such criticism. I think it’s far to say that some of the criticisms I’ve observed are from poets who are also academics, used to the rigor of academic principles, and critical of work that strays from from, or seems to disregard, this rigor. I think that’s a shame. The poetry world has room for a rigorous, intellectually challenging approach to appraising and analysing poetry as well as a different kind of response, perhaps personal to the reviewer, regardless of their academic training and experience.

Unfortunately, perhaps because of the nature of social media, particularly Twitter with its limited wordage, these kinds of criticisms can appear aggressive, especially when a lot of people seem to join in. Perhaps one of the good things to come out of the current implosion happening at Twitter will be that this kind of ‘pile on’ will become less prominent in poetry (and other) circles.

Josephine Corcoran, On Reviewing

I read somewhere recently that writing poetry reviews (the traditional kind, for poetry mags) is a good discipline as it makes you really read closely and engage with poetry collections. I have to say that interviewing a poet on a podcast takes all that and then some – thinking up relevant questions to ask, talking with the poet about your reading/understanding of their work, suggesting which poems they read and commenting in a way that listeners may find interesting… it’s not easy, and I often curse myself for sounding like an idiot, a sycophant or a ‘womansplainer’, sometimes all three in the same episode. It’s all  good fun though!

Robin Houghton, Self-sabotage, womansplaining and other poetry joys

Winter is more insidious than summer.
The low-angled sun is a dull blade,
sheathed in bitter grey.

In winter I play old music.
The music my grandparents listened to
as they took me to Friendly’s or to

a clarinet lesson in the next town over.
It’s the music of nostalgia and longing
and emptiness. Winter music.

Jason Crane, POEM: A Winter Poem

I once borrowed her jean jacket so I could look cool, as a group of us made for Montreal for a Peace Concert at the Montreal Forum in 1987. The illustration she made of our pre-concert group in the park, drinking beer and playing guitar with a few dozen others, made its way onto the cover of the zine we invented as part of our high school “writer’s craft” class: assembling poems, stories, drawings. All of it published anonymously, of course. She could fall helpless into fits of giggles, including when dancing at the Carleton Tavern somewhere in the 00s, realizing her friend Joy’s dancing had caused Joy’s pants to fall off, without them noticing. There was an element to our pairing that rendered chaos, a joyous silliness that not everyone else had patience for, akin to six-year-old twins: each encouraging the other.

I published some of her poems in the first issue of my long poem magazine, STANZAS, in 1993, and in a chapbook, not that much later. She’d been working on a poetry manuscript she’d titled “Naked,” some of which sits in a file on my computer. The poems from STANZAS, her “Garden” series, that later fell into her novel, The Desmond Road Book of the Dead (Chaudiere Books, 2006). As the first of the series, “Garden,” reads:

I can make the garden grow, the sun fall up and down in the sky, a man full grown from passion in my tissue, in secret places I hide my fat and wait for rain for rain for rain

In August 2019, the last time I saw them, not long before Covid: an afternoon visiting Clare and Bryan on their farm in North Glengarry, a few miles east of the McLennan homestead, as my young ladies admired their two horses, and later accidentally stomped on a hive of bees at the end of the yard. At least we discovered neither young lady allergic, once they both stung. Clare offered them colouring, toys. They played a football game on the porch, and she delighted in them both.

How am I supposed to experience a world that Clare Latremouille no longer occupies? I shall have to be attentive enough for the both of us, I suppose. I shall have to be silly enough. An image in my head of the remaining members of Monty Python at Graham Chapman’s graveside, the first of the troupe to die: every one of them standing with pants at their ankles.

rob mclennan, Clare Latremouille (July 4, 1964 – November 16, 2022)

My recent video and furthermore (indexed), is getting its first public screening on 23rd November 2022 in the Living With Buildings – IV program in Coventry, UK, as part of their fabulous Disappear Here project, curated by Adam Steiner. This is a quarterly screening that explores human experiences of the urban environment through people, poetry and place.

In Ancient Greece, public notices were engraved in stone on building walls. Now, we find ourselves surrounded by texts: advertising, warnings, directions, graffiti… Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones are in town, violence, scandal and political intrigue vie for attention, someone won the football, and we worry about the future for our youth…

The video samples every occasion that the word “and” was used in the “NEWS” pages on one day in the local Adelaide newspaper. The words following each instance of “and” are listed alphabetically and read by Karen, the MacOS Australian female text-to-voice interpreter. In doing so, it creates a snapshot (indexed) of a day in the news of a contemporary city.

Ian Gibbins, and furthermore (indexed)…

In the old days writers would iambize their prose and dangle rhymes on their line-endings to make their words seem more significant, adding poetic words as glitter. As Samuel Johnson said, some people think that anything that doesn’t look like prose must be poetry. Nowadays writers use strange punctuation, deletions, discontinuities and line-breaks instead.

There’s still something about the label “poetry” that writers find tempting. And why not? Poetic license still exists. If you label a piece “poetry”, readers will look for hidden meanings. The meanings will expand to match the readers’ expectations. It saves the writer needing to do so much. A short text (about doing the housework, say) can go far given a big title like “Death”.

But readers might not be so compliant nowadays. They might distrust the label. They might think the shortness is a cop-out.

They’re more alert to tricks of ads, the lure of mistique, aura, etc. They know how the addition of false eyelashes and tan can trick the eye.

Tim Love, Ornamentation and aura

A first thing the poetry business and the wine trade have in common: the best way to end up with a small fortune in both poetry publishing and winemaking is to start off with a large one. In part, this is because winemaking is often a highly personal project, just like poetry publishing, and people thus often do stuff that makes little business sense.

And then there’s the question of personal taste: I don’t like big, oaky wines from Ribera del Duero. I do admire them in technical terms when they’re well crafted, but I can never bring myself to enjoy them. Same goes for certain types of poetry.

Matthew Stewart, A comparison between poetry and wine

I grew up in a valley bordered on the east by the Rocky Mountains and on the west by the Nevada desert.  Both landscapes were awesome and terrifying–people died in both.  When we drove across the desert on the way to California, the emptiness was so overwhelming I hid on the car floor.   But the sight of the mountains was central and powerful, and I missed them when I moved east.  When I took the train home I spent the last few hours staring out the window, desperate for my first glimpse of them.  Westerners are landscape snobs–I needed that scale.  In the east I sneered at the hills people referred to as mountains.  When people said, “Isn’t this landscape beautiful?,” I literally couldn’t see what they were talking about.  If it wasn’t awesome it didn’t even matter.  It took me years of living in it to realize one day, setting out for a hike (walk) with friends: Oh, this landscape is human scale, you can just walk out into it without risking your life.  And for the first time I saw the value in that.

I think the sublime has to do with extremity and intensity, with things larger and deeper than the human scale of things, with situations where one person encounters whatever it is–the void, the abyss, the unfathomable, immeasurable.  I think the sublime is something we can visit but not live in–the intensity would crush us, as Rilke says.  And the solitude.  Most of our lives include relationships with other people.  When it comes to poetry, the awesome/ sublime may be the most powerful, but I think more poems, including many great ones, are written out of our human relationships–that scale, the one with emotions that range from happiness to rage to love to sadness, subtle and nuanced, looked at closely.  I don’t think I’d describe any of Shakespeare’s sonnets as sublime, for example, however beautiful and moving they are.

Sharon Bryan, Poems of Daily Life

The poem is not simply a clever convolution of words but does ‘make sense’ when read carefully. Apart from its description of a time that is gone, it examines and exemplifies the tortured ambivalence between memory and fact. The slippery methodology of examining a personal memory when looking at a visual depiction of that place in that time. Indeed, can memories be altered by the holder of that memory, other than by recognising its inherent subjectivity.

Jim Young, poem with explanatory notes

Number of books read while here: 14 – 8 collections of poetry and 6 novels. (You can see all the books I’ve read this year on Goodreads – follow me if you don’t already!)

Number of manuscripts read for Riot in Your Throat: 22 and counting – the independent poetry press I run, Riot in Your Throat, is currently open for full length poetry manuscripts. I’m looking for 2-4 collections to publish in 2023 – submissions are open all month so if you haven’t yet submitted there’s still time!

Number of dreams about ex-lovers: 3 – seriously, what is going on in my brain?!

Courtney LeBlanc, VCCA: By the Numbers

A deer drives into a parking lot. It desires nothing. It’s my voice. I’ve been looking for you. Yeah, out on a joyride, now here to buy pants. Later, parking spots turn into breath. My voice full of venison and wheels. Fog and knives. What I desire, the deer says: An on and off switch. My thighs in lake water. But I’m wearing pants. I’m always wearing pants.

Gary Barwin, Pants

Tuesday is my dad’s memorial service, when we will placing both his ashes and my mother’s, which have been on the mantle for the past 5 years, in the ground of the plots they owned since around the time they got married. It is all moving very fast and I have yet to catch my breath or spend much time with my thoughts.  I’ve mostly been working furiously and napping frequently in equal measure. I have to keep reminding myself that its the holiday season, that Thanksgiving is this week.  I am not really feeling it, but am hoping to fake it til I make it, procuring new garlands and stockings from Amazon for my bookshelf, some new evergreen sprigs for some vases. I was going to just wait til I get back to the city next Sunday, but I may just put it up tomorrow. 

I write this post now as I would normally be embroiled in my twice-weekly call with my dad, an hour I have cautiously watched approach on the clock on all day as I did the usual Sunday things like sweep the floors and clean up the kitchen. The past few years, he had taken over where my mother had left off on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  I have always been grateful for that time, mostly since the previous 20-ish odd years of living away from them had involved very little phone convo with him, since my mom liked to do the talking for both of them with him occasionally chiming in from the other side of the room. Only when she was really sick and the delirium had set in did he take over. It was sort of like getting to know someone new, but also very familiar.  I am not quite sure what I will do with myself, especially on Sundays when the 6pm call was so engrained in my schedule my entire adult life. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 11/20/2022

clay and paper string
persuaded him not to prosecute
the silent sneeze

even in the cafeteria
her own aeroplane
is made to be burnt

Ama Bolton, ABCD November 2022

Word went out Thursday that he was moving to palliative. By now you’ve probably heard of the quick decline of Robert Hogg and our loss of him on Sunday.

I never did the math that he was 80. He was busy in the 60s with that zeitgeist of poetic excitement. He had a young energy. Even cancer’s “trauma age” didn’t impinge as much as on some people.

Death has offended and hurt many again. Its timing is never good. In the last few years, Bob was redoubling his efforts to get more of his work out before people while he could. Love while you can, write while you can and support while you can seemed to be his driver.

He was like electricity, always there at the ready when you reach for him. He had a calm gentle humour, plain spoken and as if amused by life.

It’s funny seeing the tributes coming out from so many and from so far and yet not surprising at the same time. He had the rare gift while talking to you of making you the only person in the room.

Pearl Pirie, Bob Hogg

What can poetry do?  

There have been many who advocate art for art’s sake, or l’art pour l’art, as the slogan was initially rendered in nineteenth century France. 

There have also been many, and indeed there are an ever-increasing number, of artists (in the broadest sense) who see their work as a focus for, or extension of, their activism. 

I feel fortunate to have had poems included in a variety of charity anthologies over the years, raising funds (and awareness) for Macmillan Cancer Support, Welney WWT and the Born Free Foundation, to name but three. 

I am delighted to add another to the list in the form of Voices for the Silent (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2022), the new companion volume to For the Silent (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2019), edited by Ronnie Goodyer, Poet-in-Residence at the League Against Cruel Sports. These companion (or stand-alone) volumes have been produced to aid the work of this charity, and not surprisingly some of the selected poems concern animal cruelty. Others focus on habitats and the wonders and complexities of the natural world. 

Caroline Gill, ‘Voices For The Silent’, New Anthology from Indigo Dreams Publishing

  1. My unfinished poems. Technically, what is the status of a half-done poem when life is finished?
  2. The first thirteen lines of a brand new poem. Quite unrelated to the situation at hand. Poetry comes when it comes. Even through a canula.
  3. One person I wanted to apologize to. From way back before way back. Time moves in mysterious trajectories inside a hospital, dodging right angles and ramps, needles and gurneys.
  4. How mesmerizing that infinitely slow drip from the IV pouch is – like an existential morse code. Drip. Dash. Dash. Damn. Drip.
  5. Two questions the universe hasn’t answered yet. The universe needs deadlines and then someone to enforce the deadlines. The united nations of forsaken questions.
Rajani Radhakrishnan, The night before surgery: thoughts and stuff…

You wait.
That’s what you do,
whether the poems
come, or not,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (94)

First, while the press aims to be sustainable, it is not trying to be profitable. Breaking even is acceptable to me, and I would consider it a victory to be able to break even while 1) putting good poetry into the world and 2) continuing to donate half of all sales. If there are times when I go into deficit by a hundred dollars or so, this too is acceptable to me personally. However, I am rigorously working to avoid this. And again, even without the $500 donation, I’ve still basically broken even on a relatively large ($1000) investment, and I’ve also managed to give away almost $850 — all while getting my poems into the world. So I’m OK with how things are going.

Secondly, the great majority of the money spent so far was “start up” money, and this does not represent ongoing costs. These initial costs include both tools I will not need to replace anytime soon, if ever, as well as a lot of practice materials I won’t ever be buying again (different weights of card stock and paper, in particular). Thus, the longer the press continues to exist, the more it will produce from these initial materials, and the more it will earn from them.

R.M. Haines, DMP Summary and Receipts: 10/17 to 11/14

So, this weekend, I am working on final edits of Flare, Corona for BOA – including updating last-minute acknowledgements, deciding on spelling conventions that I apparently don’t write twice the name way, and keeping an eye out for wayward commas, and I’m also sending out e-galleys of Flare, Corona to people who might be interested in reviewing it. If you are interested in reviewing it, in a Zoom class visit, or book club inclusion, please e-mail me at jeannine dot gailey at gmail dot com and I will send you a copy!

I’m monitoring the somewhat sad situation at Twitter. If I had 44 billion dollars, I think I’d do a better job of managing the product instead of destroying it, but Elon Musk is a really bad manager with a lot of money willing to hurt others in the process of getting his own way (toxic misogyny writ large, I’m afraid) and I’m sad because I’ve built relationships with not just the poetry community but disability Twitter and even fellow cat and flower lovers and I hate that a spoiled billionaire can make everything crumble in a few days that I’ve built for years. On the other hand, it makes you rethink your whole relationship with social media. For writers it’s essential to connect with audiences—and for a long time, Twitter was the place to connect with Millennial friends, writers, and readers.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Sunshine in the Pacific Northwest

Finally, there is this blog, which has endured all sorts of personal, technological, and societal changes since it began in 2003. As a firm believer in owning and controlling one’s own online content, I’ve no intention of letting it go, and instead, have been thinking about how to infuse it with more energy now that I have some time.  Could it be more educational, more helpful? Could it help to launch new projects and bring people together, as it has in the past (quarrtsiluni, Phoenicia Publishing, online groups)? What else is there that I haven’t considered? There’s nothing wrong with social media functioning as a hub where interested people find content and go to it, but as our disillusionment with these social platforms and their capitalist agendas grow, could blogs regain some of their gravitas and a new sense of purpose? I wonder.

It depends somewhat on our expectations. I do know that I don’t care about the number of followers or readers, and we are long since past those heady days where aspiring writers thought they’d become well-known through their blogs — there’s no way that someone steadily writing good but long-form posts would become famous like a seductive Instagram influencer, not in today’s world! But careful and engaged readers and writers still do exist […] Blogs like Language Hat, Velveteen Rabbi, Hoarded Ordinaries, and Whiskey River have kept on quietly, steadily, thoughtfully posting for nearly two decades now, and there are many others. If these are not impressive and worthy bodies of creative work, I don’t know what qualifies.

Beth Adams, Coming Up for Air

The weather is cold cold cold, but the days are so brightly sunny I keep saying I need to get my sunglasses back out. I’m savoring every last bit of true fall that I can, before we pass Thanksgiving and it is officially winter holiday season. I love this time of year, when we go inside and get cozy but don’t yet have a bunch of other obligations. When we love light all the more for its scarcity.

For so many reasons, I really can’t with Thanksgiving much any more, but I will always love taking time to notice and name what I am grateful for. In this funky week full with appointments and phone calls and triggers and wind and wool sweaters, there was one morning where everything sparkled because the temperatures had dropped below freezing overnight, but the sun was rising. Branches were newly bare, but there were still leaves clinging to them–leaves blazing with their final colors.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Pain management

I think some of the things I’m doing right now that are part of my work for the NF book – visiting museums, walking, reading – are exactly what I should be doing and I am realising just how stressed I get if I do too much ‘people’ stuff in one week. I’m trying to train myself out of feeling and labelling myself as ‘pathetic’ or ‘ridiculous’ or ‘weak’ if I need more rest than perhaps other people seem to, or if I’m not juggling 100 projects at once and just want to plod slowly into a book. This is where I have always wanted to be – plodding into my work, absorbed in it like the utter library nerd that I am. I just want to read books and write books and have the time and energy to do that.

Perhaps my dad’s death has opened up a few old wounds, wounds I thought I’d packed and sewed up tightly. I don’t know. It’s been a hell of a year, again. I’m starting to think about goals for next year, starting to think about my rituals of the new year. I’m ticking off some big goals from 2022 and that makes me wonderfully happy, and I am surprising myself with the new goals in my planner, they are much less poetry centred. I feel strangely guilty for moving away from poetry, even if it is only while I work on the non fiction project. I’ve cut my work back to some mentoring, running Spelt and running the occasional course. which still sounds like a lot really, on top of writing a book. Having the opportunity to help other poets progress their own writing is really important to me, and it’s also a source of absolute joy for me, mentoring in particular. And I love the camaraderie of the email courses I still run. When I come to write prompts and notes for a course it feels like putting a comfortable cardigan on, and mentoring always feels like meeting friends. I find, more and more, that the work that I am choosing to do brings me joy, I find that when I look around myself, my life is good. Terrible fretting over what the next terrible loss will be aside, I am happy and enjoying the way my brain works, and I’m looking forward to reflecting that in my writing. But still a part of me clings to the idea that if I’m not cramming in more stuff, applying for more things, winning more things, making more connections…I’m not doing well. I need to change the definition of ‘doing well’ and emphasise ‘feeling happy’ more I think.

Wendy Pratt, Writing and Reading the Trauma Poems

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by the good poetry news I’ve received lately, and I’m behind on sharing it here…

At the end of September, my poem “One Way to Use a Deck of Cards” from How to Play was featured on Verse Daily!

Last month, two of my poems were published in Writing in a Woman’s Voice: “After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night” and “What’s Something You Love That Can’t Love You Back?

Also in October, two of my poems were published in Pirene’s Fountain: “This Poem Is about Dinosaurs” and “Choosing a Moon.” This whole issue is fantastic, and you can purchase a copy at this link.

This month, I’ve gotten some happy award news! “After an Older Man from Church…” received the Moon Prize from Writing in a Woman’s Voice on November 9, and “This Poem Is about Dinosaurs” was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize this week! I’m so grateful to these editors who’ve published and affirmed my work and to the folks who encourage me and read my poems.

Katie Manning, Verse Daily & Moon Prize & Pushcart (Oh my!)

Lately I’ve been remembering the dances I’ve already had – the romantic ones with boys/men a long time ago.  I now know that at least three of those boys/men have passed on. That’s something else I’ve considered:  the synonyms for “died”:   passed on,  passed away,  etc.  One of my sisters always says “Gone to God.”   The dogs and cats who have “crossed the Rainbow Bridge”  

I still have the image in my head from when my dad died. I visited him on a Wednesday, and on the following Friday I was at a meeting in Buffalo and got a call from the nursing home that he had died in his sleep in the middle of the afternoon.  I envisioned him on a small boat, moving away from the shore of the living on the sea of eternity, quietly moving on, his face toward the horizon.

Anne Higgins, The Dances you’ve already had

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 35

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: transitions and metamorphoses, realizations about why we write and for whom, and much more. Enjoy.


that moment
between summer and autumn
without a sound

Jim Young [no title]

I get up to let out the dogs and make coffee. I quietly appreciate my dear spouse who kneels on the kitchen floor trying to entice our 16-year-old dog to eat a few morsels of meat which my husband regularly buys and cooks for him. I look out the window, delighted to spot a great blue heron in the pond.  

I try to stay in the moment, just watching this creature’s prehistoric-looking countenance and admirable patience as it waits to spear a fish, but here it comes again, my awareness of what we’re doing to this beautiful planet. Nearly half the world’s bird species are in decline due to degradation of their habitats as well as to climate change. In North America alone the bird population has dropped by nearly three billion birds, a decline of 29 perfect since 1970.

Okay, I’m going to stop with the reality overflow. I simply want to acknowledge this is how the day goes for many of us. We’re fully enmeshed in our ordinary lives — getting to work on time, stopping at the grocery store, making supper, keeping up with family and friends, trying to pay bills, hoping to get a better night’s rest than the night before. At the same time we carry the weight of guilt and anxiety over the state of the planet.

E.B. White, author of much beloved books such as Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, as well as The Elements of Style co-author, once said,  “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” I have to disagree with the late Mr. White. I don’t think we can save it without truly, wholeheartedly savoring it.

Savoring, for me, is about awe. It’s about seeing relationships between what is and sensing the expansiveness of what’s just beyond our rational minds. It’s about connection. It’s about what my friend John C. Robinson calls partnering with Creation.

Laura Grace Weldon, Shifting To A Kinship Worldview

my mother is tired
of picking blueberries

meal moths fly
out of the pantry

I step out of the pool
and my weight returns

Han VanderHart, Notes in August

Dear Oxfam Bookshop Customer,

I doubt I’ll ever know your name or face, but I do know that you visited the Oxfam Bookshop in Chichester at some point between Easter and August this year, pulled my book, The Knives of Villalejo, from the shelf in the Poetry section, and decided to buy it. I’m left to imagine you browsing, picking it up and flicking through the pages, perhaps pausing to skim-read a poem or two before taking the plunge, maybe wondered who Camilla might be (the person to whom I dedicated this copy of my book when it began its first stab at life).

I only discovered my collection had gone when I visited the shop last month, checked its old spot, and found it had vanished. It was no longer sitting in its slot under S for Stewart between other books that used to accompany it and are still left waiting to be chosen (see picture below!). 

There’s a thrill to giving a book a new owner, another reader, and I hope you’ve enjoyed your copy. The unanswerable question now, of course, is whether you’ll keep it, go back to it or even let it go again in due course to another charity shop. For now though, I’d simply like to thank you for granting it a second chance.

All the best in a shared love of poetry,

Matthew Stewart, A letter to an Oxfam Bookshop customer

We decide to do a “braided” reading or what I call a “living anthology” where one poet reads, the second follows, then the third and so on. It’s a great way to create energy in a reading and you can’t have a “set” playlist because you end up responding to what one poet read with one of your own poems. Which is what happened.

John read a poem and talked about his kid, which made me read a poem I wrote to my non-binary kid called “Love Poem Where Nature is Non-Binary & Uses They/Them Pronouns.” I was not planning on reading this poem tonight at all—it’s not in Dialogues with Rising Tides, so I had to pull it up on my phone from Dropbox.

During the reading, I saw one younger human really leaning in and after the reading, they came up to me and said, “You have a non-binary kid, I am a non-binary kid.” There are some humans that you run into that you see still move through the world with only love and connection, it’s as if all the things that could harm them have bounced off their love force-field. This person was that circle of love.

We talked for a bit, they shared their new name, and then they said, “I would like to hug you, may I?” As a mom, when a teenager/preteen asks for a hug, the answer is an absolute yes! (Though actually, I don’t think I’ve ever refused a hug to anyone.) I told them what I believed–that we have so much to learn from non-binary & trans humans who *know* who they are and who are brave enough to speak it and claim it.

This beautiful person’s mother was there, and she was crying. She said, “We weren’t supposed to be here, we dropped in to say hi to the owners then you read your poem and honored my child.” We all hugged and I realized immediately that was why I was there–that poem was for them.

This was exactly where I needed to be. Poetry readings have a magic to them that I’ve forgotten after 2 years of no in-person readings. And to think, when I was leaving the house today, I was thinking–this is a long drive for nothing.

Understand, we do not know who our poems will touch. Quality over quantity. For me, this was a moment that will always stay with me. Love your humans and support them. This child had a mother who supported their journey and their whole self. And I so appreciate those who honor their non-binary/trans children. I loved how supported this young non-binary human was. I wish all trans/non-binary folx had this love and support–they all should.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Your Poems Do Matter & Why It’s Important To Read Your Poems in Public: A Memoir

The poems from The Small Door of Your Death are all written in what I might call a minimalist style. Because they dealt with the death of my son, I couldn’t bear to imagine ornate poems that pointed more to the skill of the poet than the subject of his death. The title comes from a line from an untitled poem [it comes down to this] about the moment of his death:

you choose the vein
in the back of a hand
to carry

this last intimacy
a puncture mark

the small door

of your death

I imagine, here, that small mark in his vein, as a kind of door to his death. I have thought a lot about this image and wanted to render it in cloth. I’ve made some thirty or so pieces that contained the door as a symbol, but none of them felt right. They were somehow too busy, too elaborate, too forced. I have cut up or discarded these pieces, so I can’t show them to you here.

But a few months ago, in a class with Claire Benn on working with earth minerals, I painted a piece of canvas with black ochre. I meant for it to serve as a background to another piece, so the edges were darker than the center: [photo]

But with the help of others in the workshop, I saw that there was something happening in the cloth that I hadn’t intended. There was the suggestion of a door. I decided this piece might work on its own with only minimal stitching. Here it is with one line of hand-stitching. Today I quilt it with black thread that mimics some of the lines–like veins–that are the result of wrinkles in the fabric. Then I’ll iron it and see where we are.

Sheryl St. Germain, Minimalism and The Small Door of Your Death

I take out the seeds and pith, slice them into thin
half-moons; salt them generously like bodies

for a long keeping. I was taught to save
everything I can, though I might not know

to what earthly use I might put a bathtub
full of fermented cabbage, a jar of gelatinous

spores. I’ve kept the stumps of my daughters’ birth
cords, a few yellowed baby teeth; their impossibly

small first shoes and cotton camisoles, snippets
of hair, toenail clippings. What will happen to my own

body when I separate the withered from the green,
the wrinkled from the supple, firm, or measured?

Luisa A. Igloria, Preserve

The two pictures of very different birds—the gigantic, dinosaur-esque pileated woodpecker with its bright head, and the tiny, fairy-like immature hummingbird—represent something about literature and book promotion that’s very true—it’s not always the biggest and brightest writer, flower, or bird that wins the evolutionary race—sometimes it’s the smallest, most camouflaged and flexible. My best assets as a writer now at 49 are different than they were at 32. My poems are different, my experience of the world, and my outlook. So, I guess it makes sense that I’m a little nervous this time around, sensing that my book—and my person—have been changed, that I’m a little less certain, less confident but quicker to shift gears and adapt. In most fairy tales and myths, the protagonist is often changed against his or her will be their journey—sometimes literally into birds or cats or white deer, sometimes by their actions, like Gretel’s quick dispatch of the witch that threatened her. No one comes out unscathed from their magical journeys, even if they disappear into the haze of a happy ending.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Visiting with Seattle Poets, Welcome September, and Planning for March/April Next Year and Thinking about Post-Covid Book Launches and Book Marketing (In an Uncertain World)

The last book this August is Swan Song, by Armen Davoudian (Bull City Press, 2020), which seems a perfect way to end this Sealey Challenge, with a sad, gentle, glorious burst of song at the end. And I read the whole bundle from Bull City Press, and its Frost Place Chapbook Competition. A fine gathering!

The poet grew up in Iran, and it was lovely to find that the title poem is a ghazal. Subtle yet tight rhyme ripples through the book. Ah, but the sad irony of the closing lines of “Persian Poetry”: “Yet I study English poetry / because Persian would have been too obvious.”

Swans drift through, or paddleboats in the shape of swans, as in “The Yellow Swan” and “Swan Boats.” I found the coincidence of blue in “Swan Boats”: “Time out of mind, this was our turquoise blue

     mind out of time, watching white thoughts come, go
     across a mirror which, unchanged by them,
     itself was change and could reverse the down-
     ward wish of light, the headlong wash of stone
     skipped on its current.

Lovely language, lovely reversals there.

This morning I woke early, found a wishing star on the horizon in a dip of trees, and wished what I always wish. I hope it comes true.

Kathleen Kirk, Swan Song

The stars move
at terrible speed

and we move with them,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (299)

[Pearl Pirie]: So Monty, what have you read lately that’s lit you up?

[Monty Reid]: There’s always something lighting me up. I really liked Jorie Graham’s breathless Runaway. I liked her early work, but after a while everything she wrote just became so routinely portentous its power faded.  But Runaway, urgent with climate change and so many failures of meaning, is inspired work.  

PP: (Let me interject: her opening poem about rainstorm is particularly apt at time of writing.)

MR: For the past few years I’ve been making a point of reading poets from non-anglo languages (mostly in translation) in part just to get away from our overwhelming self-regard.  One of my recent favorites is Antonio Gamoneda’s Book of the Cold.  A Spanish poet, who grew up in (and resisted) the Franco era, taught himself how to read by studying a book of his father’s poetry, worked in a bank for some 25 years and went on to win most of the literary prizes in the Spanish speaking world, his Book of the Cold has only recently been translated (by Katherine Hedeen and Victor Rodriguez Nunez).  A chilly hell, full of remarkable imagery, it charts the instability of post-Franco Spain, and more broadly. A snowball earth, as opposed to an overheated one.

I’ve also been dipping into Dionne Brand’s new Nomenclature, New and Collected Poems.  I wasn’t familiar with some of her early work, so I’m grateful to have it all in a single volume.  A particular pleasure to read the epigrams from 1983. And it’s intriguing to trace some of her language from the early books to the new incantatory long poem – ‘Nomenclature’.  

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: With Monty Reid

When I started blogging — about three blogs ago now — and well, these were different times, but I had a rule for myself that I wouldn’t quote from anything that I hadn’t read in its entirety. This is a pretty sound practice in general, still though, right? I don’t stick to it one hundred percent, but I do like to sit and sift through my beloved books and then actually type out the quotations or poems. It’s a way of inhabiting, for one thing. Learning. I think the practice has also made me a better writer, having done this for so many years. People who do this more religiously call the practice, “copywork.” It hearkens back to the days of the commonplace book. In a volume I love, Index Cards, by Moyra Davey, she resolves herself to: “Refrain from quoting authors I’ve only read secondhand.”

And so that was a bit of a tangent, and maybe just a way of saying that there may be typos ahead, haha, but below you will find 4 poems that sort of fell into my hands as I perused some poetry from my home library this morning. Rather perfect for the first day of September. I hope you enjoy them! They’re about looking back at the huge and sudden summer, that land of green, and taking stock. It’s fitting also, to end up on the couch, or in my case the chaise longue, which is where I’m headed after writing this post, to just revel and remember and daydream a little about all that has happened and all that I loved.

Shawna Lemay, 4 Poems About Summer’s End

there’s a sadness humming
in the skylight corners
a wind song looking
for a tune
it’s all melisma

my blues
for busted sleep
and burgled dreams

Dick Jones, nightwalking

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

Poems’ processes vary for me. Of the poems in The Clearing, some tumbled out fully formed. “Ways to Describe a Death Inside Your Own Living Body” took maybe ten minutes to write. Maybe less. It was inside me and needed nothing more than a valve to land on the page. “Memento Mori: Bell Jar with Suspended Child” was a different story. It was originally about ten lines long – really just the opening image of an old Victorian glass dome with a landscape made out of a dead child’s hair. A year or so later, I revised it into a sonnet; then I realized the poem was resting in what it knew vs. striving for what it could discover – so I decided to try pushing it toward a long poem, sustaining it over many sections and pages. From start to finish, with several months-long breaks in between, that poem took probably three years as it found itself. Each poem requires its own line of inquiry and its own fresh methods, at least for me; and that’s something I love about poems – the constant reinvention. “Flight Theory” took several months, too. The long-line contrapuntal form required tiny syntactical articulations. But again, each poem teaches its writer so much about how to build a form unique to that poem’s utterance.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Allison Adair

It is Labor Day weekend. Summer’s drought has not ended, but the slower pace of the university summer schedule has. Crickets are creaking, the swallows have departed, afternoon shadows grow longer, and the students are back on campus. I am busy.

Meanwhile, three sets of friends have had their elderly, beloved canine companions die. Dry leaves fall from the tulip poplars. Each week, my mother seems to lose a few more words from her lexicon. The jays scream every day at 4 pm.

I have been feeling a bit run dry myself. Like a small stream that needs a thunderstorm or, better still, a few good wet days to replenish it. As in: not writing. Yet I have found Charles Simic’s 1994 The Unemployed Fortune-Teller: Essays and Memoirs quite inspiring, if “inspiring” in this case means nourishment for the mind and heart without actively producing anything in terms of output. The book is part of the University of Michigan’s wonderful, decades-long series Poets on Poetry.

Simic writes, “A poem is an invitation to a voyage.”

Oh, let me never get so busy I cannot go on such voyages!

Ann E. Michael, Run dry

Words as soft as silence. They
might have laughed. I didn’t tell them it was also
how I imagined love. Because a cloud wasn’t a

wrapper that hung empty after all the rain had
fallen. The cloud was the entire rain. I put things
like that in my notebook between poems.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 11

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The greatest challenge with poetry for me is writing it. I get distracted by my daily life. Cooking, cleaning, interacting with people, keeping up with the news, and all that we do to manage our lives. I need nuggets of inspiration and quiet time to spark poems. The pandemic has helped keep me inside and in touch with my deep self. I think my monastic existence enabled me to write my poetry book, Three Penny-Memories: A Poetic Memoir, which is forth-coming from IEF (Experiments in Fiction) this fall. 

Moreover, once I write a poem, I do a great deal of revising, wordsmithing, and refining of format. You might say that I communicate with the poem. I don’t consider myself prolific as I need time to remaster first drafts. I go for quality, not quantity. 

Another challenge I face is digging in deep for the truth. Sometimes I feel blocked by my topic as I can’t face the truth or fear offending someone. When I was writing Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir, I grappled with the taboo notion that I might not love the woman my mother was becoming due to Alzheimer’s. I was her caregiver. I realized she couldn’t live with me as I had a full-time job. My husband was at home teaching music lessons daily and it would have been unfair to him to make him responsible for her. And we had stairs she couldn’t manage. All through out my care and oversight, I felt incompetent. Maybe this is how she felt raising seven children. Maybe she had to love me regardless. I wanted to share my heartfelt journey with her into her end of days. This required examining our relationship honestly. I tend to be codependent, so my fears of displeasing people blocked me. Once I let go of those fears, I realized how powerful poetry based on authentic truth is. 

Thomas Whyte, Barbara Leonhard : part three

Needless to say, I’m over the moon to have a haiku in the current issue of The Heron’s Nest, but more than that, I’m in awe of this beautifully quiet yet expansive haiku by Frank Hooven:

dinnertime
one sandal
under the swing

I love the simplicity and tenderness of the scene, the way what’s left behind is enough for us to construct a whole backstory. No wonder it’s the editor’s choice – if you follow the above link you can read her comment in full, and it says much more than I could so I’ll leave it at that, except to say that the issue is packed full of superb poems and I feel very humble to have my haiku alongside them.

Julie Mellor, The Heron’s Nest

The past month was full! We crammed in as much last-minute summer break fun as we could (and I’m still a bit sore from two nights of all-you-can-play laser tag) while also trying to prepare for the new semester. Last week was full of meetings, and this week we all started school again!

The end of July and the month of August still found me immersed in poetry though. Highlights include a week in Asheville at the Glen Workshop, where I took the lyric essay workshop with Molly McCully Brown and had so much fun with writer friends. It was especially fun to be there when Agape Editions announced that they’ll be publishing my second full-length poetry collection, Hereverent, in Spring 2023!

Katie Manning, Glen Workshop, La Playa Books, SDUT Festival of Books

Of course, I tried to figure out the why of my temptation to call her done.  I think she is, for all intensive purposes. It is September almost, a time which I imagined I’d be starting new. (and actually I have in bits and pieces I am excited to  move to if this is it.)  But not at the expense of Persephone and the sirens I have spent three months with now, sometimes moving fast, sometimes not moving fast at all. If I call it done, it’s still going to require a bit of reordering, line edits, and just proofing my shitty typing to be anything like ready to show anyone.  I have been sending some of the early, already edited pieces out for publication and snagged an acceptance for September, so they will likely start filtering into the world. 

Of course, nothing says I can’t set it aside and maybe return, but I never really do.  I have a strange relationship with work in which I will write like mad and then shut it away for months and months to come back to it fresh, so by the time I circle back around, it will feel done whether it was or not.  I will have already moved on to some new nonsense, no doubt….

Kristy Bowen, endings and other uncertainties

This morning, I looked at the date on my computer:  September 1.  We all have different seasonal markers, and one of mine is September 1 as the date when many literary journals open for submissions after a summer hiatus.

In the past, long ago in the past, before online submissions, I would have had a stack of submissions ready to be mailed on September 1.  I had a plan and a purpose, and I needed publications.  I had a vision of a better teaching job or maybe a life of a freelance writer who got grants and speaking engagements and great tax deductions.

My submitting life is complicated now.  I am astonished at how expensive submitting fees have gotten to be.  I have problems with a $3 fee, and now many of them are $4 or higher.  Several stamps, paper, and printer ink cost far less in terms of money.  I was one of those people who used to send out poems/stories again and again, on the same paper, so my submission costs were even cheaper.

That said, I do prefer online submissions.  I just don’t want to pay so much money for such a slim chance of my creative work being accepted.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, September Submission Strategies

My new poetry book is out! 

Very grateful to the essential rob mclennan for this first review of my new book. If a book is published in a forest and it isn’t reviewed, is it even there? rob makes sure so many books are there, are heard.

He quotes the poem Brainsnail from a suite of Lucretius “translations”in its entirety. These translations are more transcreations, reimagings rehabitating some aspect of the original. Haroldo de Campos spoke about giving the poem a blood transfusion. There’s an interesting article on Cannibal Translation here.

I only knew the term transcreation from its use by contemporary poets, but here’s a longer history.

My technique/process often involves using Google translate (moving the poem through many different languages), sometimes N+7 (I use the automated Spoonbill N+7 which gives 14 versions, each one more distant from the original.) I almost always then revise the poem freely. The idea for me is that these initial transformational processes generate material for me to consider, material outside the greater limitations of my immediate imagination, but that then enable me to listen carefully and open up another part of my imagination, listening for interesting or engaging moments, resonances, possibilities in the generated text. Something of the source material inheres (certainly formal aspects, but other things too, and I am aware of my source and its context–this has an influence on my revision and writing, too.) There’s a frisson between the original and my version, inviting the reader to consider the connections or relation to the source. Also imagine the process and what it might mean. How did we get here from there? In what way does these new version retain aspects of the old, in what way is it diametrically opposed or divurgent?

I like the portmanteau “Brainsnail.” In what way is a brain like a snail? It can be slow. It leaves a trail. Something in the coils of both. Maybe brain is to snail as a translated poem is to its original. Or is it the snail of the translator moving through the brain of the original? 

Gary Barwin, The Most Charming Creatures — New Book! — and a note on the Brainsnail of Translation.

I appeared in Australia last Friday. Having reduced my university teaching hours so that I have more time for creativity, I said ‘Yes’ when invited to read my poetry at 9am here, 6pm there, on screens in and around Castlemaine, near to Melbourne. I appeared in Australia last Friday at Ross Donlon’s online event, marking my first poetry touchdown Down Under. 

My preparation for this reading was admirably early. I refer you to my geography project, compiled in LIV26 (when I was twelve and there was no national curriculum). Given a free hand by Miss Smith, I made the most of having cousins in Western Australia. These cousins, never having met me (not then, not now) posted samples of Australia over to London (postcards, tourist brochures, leaves, pressed flowers, merino sheep’s wool). I included them in my Australia project. […]

I’d also liaised with my friend Darren Mason in the matter of making sure I was ready for this important debut. During the first 2020 lockdown, I wrote a poem about my bicycle and the freedom she gave me in those first strange days, which Darren went on to animate beautifully. The advantage of the reading being online was that I was able to share it with my audience 10,577 miles away. See the film here: Shrewsbury, Friday Morning 27th March 2020 

Liz Lefroy, I Appear In Australia

Our tomatoes are going bananas. We can’t keep up with them. I don’t know the things I need to know to preserve them, and we can’t eat all of them before they rot. (If you know me in real life, let me know if you’d like some.)

They are SO good. So much more flavor than grocery-store tomatoes, even the ones at the produce stand that sells local goods. Last night we had a dinner of tomatoes with basil and balsamic vinegar, accompanied by ciabatta and fresh mozzarella.

This week was the first in our almost new-normal. Cane had his back-to-school inservice days, and for the first time in 32 years, it was not back-to-school inservice week for me. I am doing a small curriculum development job for his school (the one I taught in last year), so I did go to some meetings, but it was nothing compared to how this week has felt for me in the last 3 decades.

It felt amazing. Freeing. Calm. Busy in a good way.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Overabundance

I like to buy second hand books, sometimes to feel the years that are worn into the pages – foxing, old coffee or blood stains, a fold, maybe even a tear – and sometimes to wonder about the inscriptions. The poet John Robinson once wrote about spending 10p on a copy of Samuel Butler’s The Way Of All Flesh from the cheap boxes on trestle tables outside a shop, taking it on holiday to Greece, and opening it to find the inscription ‘John Major, London 1959’. It may or may not have been the John Major but the poem was lit by the possibility contained in that joyous moment.

I thought of this as, in a Stratford-upon-Avon coffee shop, I looked at a poetry book I’d bought a while back in a sprawling second-hand shop in Los Angeles, not far from Skid Row or Desolation Row or whatever this week social commentators called the hard streets where people slept and held together their lives in bags or shopping trolleys. The book was called Down At The Santa Fe Depot, sub-titled 20 Fresno Poets. It was published in Fresno, California, in 1970.

Before I began reading, I looked at the biographical sketches. I do enjoy these. One poet revealed he had been stuck in Fresno for 24 years. I understood that. I’d been to Fresno for a week and it felt like six months. Another one declared he had been raised in western Pennsylvania and had gone to various schools. […]

I settled down with another large coffee and began reading the work of poets who were writing in 1970 when they were young and had something to say. I read it from first page to last.

And so – of course, I did – I googled one of them, Roberta Spear, whose poems seemed honest and kind, and discovered she had died of leukaemia in Fresno in 2003 – the year, incidentally, that I was there, and who was considered important enough to have an obituary in the Washington Post. She also had a website that described her as mother, wife, poet, dancer, friend.

I was sorry she had died. I would have liked to have told her that I enjoyed her poems.

Bob Mee, A BOOK HAS A HISTORY… Alternatively, Googling in a Coffee House in Stratford-upon-Avon

Some days, those strange headlines rush and tumble into our lives, shatter our personal alphabet, then leave us to pick up the pieces of broken lives and languages.

I remember days when we used to read poetry to one another on the front porch of my aorta. How every line would beat a distinct pulse of love.

I can still hear it now.

It’s a comforting feeling,

like how I know my daughter‘s old baby cradle won’t wake up one day to realize it’s a nest of grenades.

Rich Ferguson, Read My Lips

Summer can be poetry without the words.  A sweet peach cuts through time and puts you right in the everlasting camp of the gods.  A tomato is a love apple, pomme d’amour.  The spume of the sea drenches with spent force and effervescence.  This is real, just as drought is real and dog days are real that swelter through any and all summer months.   

 I always want to keep my finger on the pulse of this life force in reality, this apprehension of elemental life.  Along comes so-called “real life” with its go-go energy, rage of politics and urgency of injustice.  Poetic receptivity feels quavery in the shadow of this, so I reframe the question: What should poetic attention be attentive to?

I ask a poet what to do. “so little joy — sister of the gods— in our poems Ryszard,” Zbigniew Herbert writes in “To Ryszard Krynicki — A Letter.”  “too few glimmering twilights mirrors wreaths ecstasies.”  Both poets lived through World War II and Communist takeover of Poland. 

A line earlier in the poem says: “we came too easily to believe beauty does not save.”  The poet later asks: “what forces of the spirit do we need/ blindly beating despair against despair/to ignite a spark a word of atonement/that the dancing circle might last on the soft grass…”

He calls it a riddle and so do I.  Though beauty is wide and inclusive.  Reality is inclusive.  Imagination is not the fairy tale version, but an existential feature of survival. 

Jill Pearlman, Saving Joy

when did our poems cease writing the sea

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 14

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, spring was on hold in some places (including here in Pennsylvania—brrr!) and busting out all over in other places. Those participating in #NaPoWriMo still mostly seem to be at it, though I believe it’s beginning to cut into people’s blogging time, as there were noticeably fewer posts in my feed reader than there were last Sunday. But I was still able to find lots of good stuff, and now my brain is too tired to write a better summary so this will have to do.


I found it in one of my mother’s desk drawers. Mostly the drawer contained pens, mechanical pencils, a few thick yellow highlighters. And then there was this little metal case, shaped like a teardrop with a rounded tip. At first I mistook it for a white-out tape dispenser, though Mom hadn’t owned an electric typewriter in years. When I pried it open, I found a vintage pitch pipe. The cylinder is silvery (probably made of tin) with a shape like a stylized cloud at one end, engraved with letters representing the chromatic scale. On the back it says MADE IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA. Crafted there, but engraved in English: it must have been made for export. An internet search suggests that these were common in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Did this one come with my grandparents from Prague in 1939? Did Mom pick it up to sing camp songs with her friends in 1950, the year she returned home and told her parents she’d met the man she planned to marry? There’s no one left who can tell me its story, but its sound is pure and clear.

Rachel Barenblat, Vintage

The snow and ice are hanging on in Finland. Another teacher and I celebrated seeing mud at the edges of the park yesterday at recess when the rest of the world seems to be enjoying bluebells and planting out in their gardens. My back garden is still under half a meter of compacted snow, but the sun is slowly working on the front flower beds. Spring will properly come, later than I hoped, just like almost every year here. 

Amidst the uni deadlines, full-time work and kids, worries of war and whatever else feels like crawling on my plate at the moment, I’m writing. It’s Global Poetry Writing Month and every day I’m scribbling a few lines that might or might not become a poem when it’s grown up. I haven’t been able to do much as I’ve been so overwhelmed and so, so tired so this is a relief. 

But there’s good news. I’ve secured a short summer job that will take me abroad, so that’s something to look forward to. I’ve finally had a few acceptances after a long dry couple of months. The Scottish publisher Crowvus has included my poem ‘Ariadne’s Thread’ in the first issue of their journal Hooded.  And Dear Damsels has published my poem ‘What We Inherit’ in their recent batch. So things are looking up after a long winter. 

I’m writing whatever small thoughts come into my head: old memories, new hopes, nonsense lines, noticing the landscape change, my mood brighten, the days until summer release getting closer. I am writing and that makes it all good. 

Gerry Stewart, Global Poetry Writing Month – Spring Will Come

I am here, on the couch (again? still?),
the dark gritty / bubbling / swaying, sirens
strobing stripes on the curtains above.

I shiver under the arc of stacked books,
swaddled in sweaters and blankets. Light
from the phone glows on my shimmering face.

Across the rooms, in a corner of
a different window, I see the sun
rise behind black pines, so red, coal bright.

First published / posted with illustrations at Luisa Igloria’s Poetry Postcard Project as 05 April ~ Poetry Postcard Project.

PF Anderson, Here

I want to recommend to you Why I Write Poetry, edited by Ian Humphreys and published by nine Arches Press. It’s a collection of essays by poets on (you guessed it) why they write poetry, but also on how they approach their practice and the big and small things that they have done to find their own way, to find their own voice, to be true to themselves, to write authentically. The essays are wildly different from each other. Vahni Capildeo’s essay – Skull Sutra: On Writing the Body – is a piece of incredible creativity in its own right and simply couldn’t have been written by any other poet, such is the strength of their voice that I felt the essay could have been a prose poem. I absolutely recognised the connection to landscape and the way of responding to that landscape that I found in Jean Sprackland’s In Praise of Emptiness: On Writing about Place and Paying Attention, and found myself experimenting with my senses when out walking and writing because of that essay. There are essays in this collection that gave me insights into backgrounds that I could never have known about, Romalyn Ante’s essay – Pusikit: On Working as a Poet While Working for a Living is incredibly moving. I found it inspiring, it made me look at myself and ask myself where my own obstacles were and whether they were truly obstacles, or excuses. I found Daniel Sluman’s essay How I Built a New Voice: On writing and Living as a Disabled Writer astonishingly good also. The idea that a writer would choose to take the risk of stepping away from publication, awards, the striving and comparison that makes up so much of being ‘successful’ as a poet in order to develop a new way of writing authentically about their own existence struck a chord with me, in fact seeing someone else doing this was like being given permission to do that myself. Similarly, the way that Jacqueline Saphra writes about her own journey to poetry from a different career is just beautiful, invigorating. He essay Keep Ithaca Always in Your Mind: On the Journey and value of Poetry is another essay that has allowed me to revisit my own practice but also to remind myself of why I want to write in the first place. I posted on social media that I simply cannot recommend this collection of essays highly enough, it is better, in my very humble opinion, than any ‘how to’ book of craft, because the voices in this book are not talking about how, but why, which must be the most overlooked question in writing. Why do you want to write, what is the purpose? Why does it matter to you that you pull down your poems and set them on the page, or unwind the spool of thread that is your own story, or that you create a place of joy and safety for others in a world that you create. As a species we have always created, it is the thing that separates us from other non human animals, it is the thing that joins all of us together. That compulsion to change and translate experience into art is powerful, incantatory, magical. If you are a poet, you need this book in your life. I read one essay a day as part of my morning routine alongside journalling, morning papers, reading poetry etc. I found such solace in the beautifully curated pieces. It really is one of the best collections of essays i have read and one that I will come back to.

Wendy Pratt, Creativity and the Demon of Pretension

You thought that you would try the villanelle.
The sonnet form just didn’t work for you.
The villanelle has caught you in its spell.

Your free form was… too free, so what the hell,
You thought that you would really turn the screw.
You thought that you would try the villanelle.

You confined yourself to your small writing cell.
You thought that it might take a day or two.
The villanelle has caught you in its spell.

You thought, at first, that it was going well.
You thought it couldn’t be that hard to do.
You thought that you would try the villanelle.

The police were called because of the bad smell.
All your efforts had just made you start to stew.
The villanelle has caught you in its spell.

I’m afraid that it’s a sorry tale I tell.
Dylan Thomas, Auden, Bishop, Plath, they knew.
You thought that you would try the villanelle.
But the villanelle’s a bugger to do well.

Sue Ibrahim, Villanellia

How do we make space for brightness, for the possibility of joy, when we are worried about a war across the world, or about waiting for test results, or a root canal? How do we make space for poetry? I’ve been trying to write a poem a day this week, but haven’t felt super inspired. So when I couldn’t write, I tried to do a submission, or read some poetry instead.

When life keeps handing you problems, pain, rejection, and challenge, prayer/meditation/spending time in nature/purposefully changing your scene can seem stupid, like a waste of time, but these things can also remind us that life isn’t all suffering and pain, give us a much-needed sense of perspective, wonder, gratitude.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Poetry Month! Tulip Festivals, Poetry Podcasts, a Poem in Diode, Snow Geese – and Illness (Plus Broken Teeth) – and The Importance of a Change in Scenery

what is the weight of a letter?

how long is a semi-colon?

what does a semi-colon feel like in the hands?

on the tongue?

what does a semi-colon sound like?

is it possible to make a hyphen reach to the Kuiper Belt?

what if you took off your skin and made a word out of it?

would there be silent letters?

how would you pronounce the freckles?

Gary Barwin, art ± language

Lord the enormous days are hard, lord the contradictions build up, lord the stakes are high and higher, lord the idiocy is hard to drown out, lord we are asked to be kind to the unkind and it is abhorrent.

I had begun a post about renewing my vows to beauty. I had remembered a post from years back where I had renewed my vows to writing.

And then, as often happens, someone else said likely better most of what I wanted to say. From Anne Lamott on Facebook:

“Well, how does us appreciating spring help the people of Ukraine? If we believe in chaos theory, and the butterfly effect, that the flapping of a Monarch’s wings near my home can lead to a weather change in Tokyo, then maybe noticing beauty—flapping our wings with amazement—changes things in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It means goodness is quantum. Even to help the small world helps. Even prayer, which seems to do nothing. Everything is connected.”

Shawna Lemay, Renewing My Vows to Beauty

I woke up today to the music of Beethoven, Für Elise. No one else in the house was awake, so I lay still under the blankets, listening. The notes from the piano were rich and slow, rolling over me the way waves roll over a beach. The ocean water was cold, and the sand was cold on my bare feet. A gray sky, the sound of gulls. And in the distance, a freighter moves out into the sea. A lovely three minutes indeed, and then I rose, and went to the kitchen to make the coffee, black and strong. 

James Lee Jobe, sleeping with the radio on

The pub was noisy, a debate raging over how the
world would end, the degree of inebriation deciding
the vector of war, of climate, of pestilence, of broken
supply-chains. The more grotesque the imagined

dystopia, the more reason there was to drink. The
world-order won’t change tomorrow, someone said,
but you will wake up one morning and the couches
and chairs would have turned away from the

TV to take in an alternate reality.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Around 10:15, last night…

The British National History Museum’s image database is online. I’m researching Ichneumonoidea. And telling myself to keep looking, to become so familiar, so intimate with them that they become beautiful in my eyes.

There are close-up photos of veined wasp wings, and of wasp eyes that look like woven mats. The antennae curl like ribbons shaved with the edge of a knife. Deep black thoraxes.

Or thoraxes as pale as a waxy layer of old Nordic flesh – mimicking the semi-permeable barrier between life and death. Almost translucent, almost obscene.

Maybe there is a kindness in some deceptions. Death comes over the flesh – dappled first, then like a curtain of darkness with the elegance of opera gloves: somehow stuerent (socially acceptable).

The tarantula hawk has a body as black as ink. And wings as bright as persimmons.

Make sense of that emotionally.

Beautiful.

*

In America, it is National Poetry Month. I am not good with everyday constraints, so it is just as well that I am not an American. But I am working every day on this project. Posting or not.

Ren Powell, A Quick Field Note

I used to long to hear the sound of copters
rotors thumping the compliant air
getting louder drawing near

there were times when
such a B-movie rescue
would have suited me

I chose to forget that after the credits roll
the actors return to playing themselves
in the films of their own imperfect lives

bridges are a safer bet
you climb above the trouble
just walk away

Paul Tobin, A PIPEWORK OF VEINS

I’m spinning too many plates right now. Some plates that should be spinning are actually still packed in the box, but I’m limited, and between the ongoing pandemic and the violence in Ukraine, it’s hard to continue on as usual.  Even so, here are some poetry highlights from the past month…

In early March, I got to be a virtual featured poet for Wednesday Night Poetry, the longest running weekly open mic in the country, and it was a joy to share some of the poems for my spouse from How to Play.

Also in March, I received my contributor’s copy of Dear Vaccine, the print anthology created from the global poetry project of the same name. It’s fun to see work by friends in here with me, and I was excited that Naomi Shihab Nye was one of the editors.

At the end of March, I got to release the new spring issue of my journal, Whale Road Reviewand it’s amazing. Even when the rest of life is chaotic, I love doing this editing and publishing work.

Katie Manning, Shows & Publications

I’m learning about Walter Rodney.
Headphones on, listening to
the intertwining guitars
of Remmy Ongala from Tanzania.
This world is its own multiverse.
I have a constant opportunity
to see and hear and taste new wonders,
despite the efforts of my ancestors
to own what cannot be owned.
Water Rodney was from Guyana.
I had to look it up on a map.

Jason Crane, POEM: Walter Rodney

Next week I should receive my advance hard copies of Poetry’s Possible Worlds. I feel like I’m facing a portal, a door to strange woods opening at the back of a wardrobe. I know book launches are lucky and thrilling, but they also ramp my anxiety right up, especially the tasks that involve talking up my book’s amazingness and asking people to give it various kinds of attention.

Other boundaries precede and follow it: a doozy of a Winter Term ended Friday, so onward I forge into grading and revising committee reports. The barrage of university deadlines is slowing, though, so maybe I’ll be able to celebrate part of National Poetry Month for real. I’ll certainly read a lot. Starting to write and submit again, though: that gives me the alarming facing-the-portal feeling, too. I know, as a practically grizzled person in her fifties, that the ability to write and think has always come back in the past and probably will again. But crossing the threshold from busy-busy to slow thoughtfulness is always hard for me. As I tell my writing students, starting from a cold stop is HARD. Once you’re into the swing again, there are different kinds of difficulties–finding structures and words, killing your darlings–but that panicky feeling subsides. Until you’re ready to publish, when it roars back again in altered forms.

When I was finalizing the ms, I fizzed with worry about my last chance to get it right. Now my apprehensions are less about the book’s content and more about my responsibility to give the 10 years of work this book represents a better chance of reaching audiences. With that in mind, I’ve done it: I’ve hired a publicist, Heather Brown of Mind the Bird Media, for a few months to help launch Poetry’s Possible Worlds. Many of us learned via Twitter this year that the top publicists charge something like $30K or more for a book launch, which is a little startling, but I also don’t feel like judging people about those choices. That level of investment isn’t in the cards for me for a LOT of reasons; the publicists I interviewed offer their services at much lower cost and, not incidentally, specialize in small press books. They use their contacts to pitch media coverage; help send out review copies; query potential reading venues; and more, depending on what an author needs. One observation from early in the working relationship is that it’s helpful to have an ally whose job it is to stay enthusiastic when your own confidence flags! I don’t know yet how much success we’ll have; everything is still in process. But it feels like the right career moment to try this strategy. I couldn’t have afforded it as I was starting out, but these days money is easier to spare than time. I’ll keep you posted.

Lesley Wheeler, Hard lines, soft lines

We tell the same
stories

Revision: ocean
dredging up

glass and shells
Velvet kelp

Oracles
from a future

Manifest with
illegible names

Luisa A. Igloria, Mythopoeia

Sarah Mnatzaganian’s first pamphlet, Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter (Against the Grain Press, 2022), is as refreshing as the fruit it evokes and invokes. Of course, as its title immediately indicates, a key theme is origin and identity, but this is not wielded as a statement. Instead, it’s explored via fierce curiosity. […]

The clarity, freshness and light touch of this pamphlet are the qualities that lift it out of the hubbub of contemporary poetry, especially when considered alongside Mnatzaganian’s refusal to take short cuts or reach facile conclusions. For not much more than the price of a dodgy pint in a flash London pub, Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter encourages the reader to pause, breathe in its vitality and return to everyday life, newly invigorated.

Matthew Stewart, Clarity and freshness, Sarah Mnatzaganian’s Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter

In the fifth grade, I decided I was bad at art. I couldn’t draw a vacuum cleaner well enough for my teacher, who pointed out all the problems with it at every turn. Why is the hose so long, Sheila? What’s with the weird cross-hatch thing over here? Is that supposed to be metal? Didn’t you understand the lesson on perspective? I erased and tried again, over and over. I desperately wanted to draw a good vacuum for her! I have lived a lifetime of trying to please teachers. But it wasn’t to be and I ended up dreaded going to art class. Can you imagine? What’s more expressive and freeing and welcoming than art? I turned to words, then, a different sort of art, and have had a beautiful love affair/career with them ever since.

And then, the pandemic came.

These years have made us all a little strange, but they’ve also engendered some surprising delights in my life. For instance, I ripped out my front lawn and installed the pollinator garden I’ve always wanted. For instance, I bought 85 house plants. For instance, I stumbled, tentatively at first, and then with voracious desire, back to visual art–bold, colorful abstracts this time (I am nothing if not a maximalist), with nary a wonky vacuum to be found.

Sheila Squillante, No More Vacuums!

the river is constant here
we mourn through it even when we want to be
shut out children aren’t supposed to die
the mud banks rear and churn daffodil
fields pulse like giant earthlights even in early
spring when the Pacific tide breaks its bounds
we hold grief like stars hissing in our mouths
the tide has no heart for us the lower angels
sink and rise from the smokestack’s painted sides
to the hospital’s last call

Rebecca Loudon, April 8.

Yesterday we carved out a new section of garden and began planting it. In the house, we put away candles and the little lamp we’ve kept on the dining room table to light our morning and evening meals. It’s been weeks since we’ve turned it on. “Candle and fire season is done,” I said, moving a basil plant to the spot where the candles had been and opening the front door to let in fresh air.

The world’s first green is still gold, but the tulips have already begun their wilt, and the willow’s blossoms are turning into leaves. It’s high spring in our part of the world, when the grass needs mowing more than once a week and branches transform from bare to blossoms in two days. If you blink, you miss it. Sometimes, writing is a way of seeing more deeply and clearly, but sometimes it’s a way of blinking.

I didn’t want to blink this week.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Don’t blink

The author grew up in the midwest. Festered beneath sunlight like a blister. Cartwheeled through summers thigh high with lake grass. Couldn’t keep her fingers out of her mouth, the butterflies out of her hair. The author built a church out [of] books and hid inside it for years. Fumbled with light switches and lawn ornaments, and still, the holes in her body slacked and grew larger til she contained so much. BBQ grills and record albums, tackleboxes and bottles of pills. The author would crack open every so often and out would fly a river of fish the size of her palm. The author would go slack with all that wanting, would fold and list in the wind.

Kristy Bowen, napoowrimo #5

My book Little Pharma is my first book. Years ago when my partner got a short story accepted by the magazine he most admired, our friend John called it the “Velveteen Rabbit moment,” after the (very dark!) children’s book by Margery Williams, about certain toys becoming live animals by the force of a child’s love. It’s the moment when someone’s loving regard for you (or your work) turn you from a crumple of cloth and stuffing into “the real thing,” whatever that is. I want not to believe in this – I want, rather, to believe that I would be just as “real” a poet even if no one ever offered me the chance to publish a book – but being a social animal, having a book that can circulate in society has felt like a personal metamorphosis.

Most recently I’ve been working on a hybrid memoir in prose that uses my own development as a medical trainee and a poet to cut a rambling path through the history and philosophy of medicine and art. I’ve always been a magpie of art and history, and sometimes of autobiography. But as a poet, I’m somewhat unused to making arguments that need to stick. It’s a different rhetorical muscle.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

A shallow and a somewhat deeper answer. My first college crushes were all poets, and I wanted very badly to have a chance with them. Longing does wonders for work ethic. But in fact, even as a much younger child I immediately grasped and loved the uselessness of poetry, that it could communicate unstably and without necessarily teaching, that it could say several things at once.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Laura Kolbe

It is National Poetry Month again, and this year, in recognition of the celebration, I have started a practice to experiment with, just out of curiosity and to give myself a nudge. Many of my poetry colleagues invest a month in writing a poem a day or reading a poetry book each week or posting a poem daily on their social media platforms. It’s important to remind ourselves why we treasure and delight in poetry.

I chose a simple project that requires frequent re-imagining/re-imaging. For my starting point, I picked a poem at random from a collection of Fernando Pessoa’s work. I copied the poem, by hand, into my journal and re-read it a few times. Then I turned the page and rewrote it, “revising” it in the way I might revise a poem of my own. My plan is to repeat this process after a day or so, each time revising from the most recent version. In a short time, the poem will have moved away from being Pessoa’s piece–perhaps bearing little to no resemblance to the original…a sort of whisper-down-the-lane approach. The intention is to consciously alter image and voice in each re-imagining of the draft, though I’m not sure how well I can hew to my intentions. We shall see.

Why I decided on Pessoa for this project, I don’t really know; but I think there’s something perfect about using one of his pieces as springboard. Because Pessoa was kind of a springboard for himself–he created several writer-selves who wrote poems and critical prose: heteronyms, he termed them. The poem I used was “by” his persona named Ricardo Reis. Adam Kirsch wrote a good introduction to Pessoa’s peculiar obsession with being a non-person in a 2017 New Yorker article. By revising something by Pessoa in my own voice and through my own images, perhaps I nurture his pursuit of dissolving the self.

It occurs to me now that the poems of several contemporary writers may have induced me to try this writing prompt, most recently Daisy Fried in The Year the City Emptied (which I highly recommend). Her collection consists of “loose translations” of Baudelaire, reimagined in Philadelphia during the covid outbreak while her husband was dying. It’s not a cheerful read–but then, neither is Baudelaire–nevertheless, the resulting poems are powerful and vividly interesting.

Ann E. Michael, Revision practice

Our tiny minds blown by ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’, ‘Spelt From Sibyl’s Leaves’ and ‘As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire’, we found solace in its opening of utter clarity. The cricket season upon us, the big roller on Longmead, time running out on everything we touched. ‘Just a few poems more, then it’s over to you.’ With no idea how to revise, let alone parcel out days into chunks that might mean something more than another wasted study period deciphering Remain in Light on headphones. Anouilh. Camus. The French Revolution (which we had not even covered). The green-eyed monster. Trips to pub theatre in Bath in the back of a Transit to see Zoo Story, Rhinocerous. Phil Smith lecturing us with Paris au Printemps. Generally not having a clue. A fifer. Pub nights, chips and lager, running the whole way back in darkening lanes. The longing to be elsewhere. Wanting to put it off. Discovering Holub’s ‘Love’ in an anthology no one taught from. ‘Sweepings./ Dust.’ What the? ‘When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush.’ Misquoting the line in the paper. This was it. Something to cling onto in the wreckage.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: Spring, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

held breath
first one and then another
cherry blossoms

Jim Young [no title]

Meghan Sterling: The poems in House Bird, which are lovely, have a thread of masculinity/an examination of men and manhood running through them, both painful and yearning. Can you talk about how you came to a place of writing about manhood? What do you feel is most urgent about doing so?

Robb Fillman: To be honest, I don’t believe it was a conscious act. In other words, I did not set out to write about masculinity per se. I think I started writing poems about the relationships I had with the people around me—my wife, my children, my father, my grandfather, my uncles, my childhood friends, and so on—and I started thinking about what it means to be a father, a husband, a son, a brother. And it wasn’t until well into writing that I noticed that I was actually trying to speak the words that had been, for whatever reason, difficult for me to express in conversation.

Sometimes, I think men and boys feel as though they can’t talk openly about their feelings, so we talk around the “thing” we wish to say, or we don’t talk at all. And I suppose, one of the reasons I started writing poetry was because I felt inarticulate. In that way, the poems could speak for me. And really, it was after I had children when I began to think: I don’t want my kids not knowing what their dad thought or felt. I want them, when they are older, to have a map, to know I was (and still am) a “work in progress.” I never want them—my son or my daughter—to be afraid of their own feelings. Poetry opens up that space.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Interview Series: Meghan Sterling Interviews Robb Fillman

RICHARD HOWARD was a towering figure (one of his favorite words) in American literature, from his own poems to his insightful, wide-ranging essays on American poets (see Alone with America and Preferences: 51 American poets choose poems from their own work & from the past), to his numerous translations of French poetry and prose (Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal is one of the best known).

He also cut a figure, in his round glasses and red shoes.  Everyone who met him has vivid impressions of him, and stories that feature his erudition, his wit, and his generosity.  He taught in writing programs at Columbia, at the University of Houston, and the University of Utah.  He didn’t teach workshops, but gave lectures  on campus and invited students to his home for conferences.  He was a true mentor, publishing their work and supporting their careers.

I don’t remember when I first met Richard, but I do remember feeling nervous and intimidated.  He immediately put me at ease–something he must have had to do often throughout his life as he moved among people whose minds were not filled with what one writer describes as the equivalent The Great Library of Alexandria.  He was wrote a blurb for a book of essays I edited, Where We Stand: Women Poets on Literary Tradition, and took part in a translation conference I helped organize.  When I taught for a semester at the University of Houston, I stayed in his apartment there while he was in New York.  Much of it was his favorite color, red–the telephone, a table, a chair, plates, cups, pillows.  Ever since then I find myself sprinkling smaller amounts of red through my rooms–I think of it as Richard Red.

Sharon Bryan, Richard Howard, 1929-2022

THEN COME BACK: THE LOST NERUDA POEMS, Pablo Neruda, trans. Forrest Gander. Copper Canyon Press, PO Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368, 2016, 163 pages, $23 ($17 paper), www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Well. What does one say about Pablo Neruda? Lauded as the greatest poet of the Americas, the greatest poet of the 20th century, influencer of all subsequent generations of … Nobelist … etc. I can’s imagine what I might add.

All I will say is that I attended the Seattle Arts and Lectures presentation of this book — back in those lovely old pre-Pandemic days, and heard a number of the poems, first in Spanish (which was like listening to music), then read by Forrest Gander (a remarkable poet in his own right), the translator. The book is part poetry collection, part artifact, with color plates. It’s funny, and loving, and generally just worth the trip.

I’m compelled to share a scrap from poem #20. Although Neruda died well before our current age of iPhones, it so anticipates our enslavement: “raising my arms as though before / a pointed gun, I gave in / to the degradations of the telephone.” “I came to be a telefiend, a telephony, / a sacred elephant, / I prostrated myself whenever the ringing / of that horrid despot demanded” — and so on (pp. 60-61).

The Prologue, by Gander, is worth reading (and rereading). He tells about how these poems overcame his reluctance to do the translation (“The last thing we need is another Neruda translation.”) And he shares the process with us — not only his encounter with the locked vault of the Neruda archives, but with his own journey through the poems, often hand-written on menus and placemats.

Bethany Reid, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

I wanna create a monument called BookBinge—

a megalithic circle of books set firm within earthworks, towering skyward like Stonehenge.

There’ll be poetry, fiction, memoirs, graphic novels, and more.

You can touch the books, read them, breathe in their history, discuss them fervently with family and friends.

Or you can remain silent within the center of the monument’s immensity and watch the seasons pass.

Time will become irrelevant. You will grow wiser, not older.

Rich Ferguson, Book-Binge

old salt road
filling our pockets
with stones

Julie Mellor, Hunger Hill

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week found many poets suffering through the winter doldrums—which is not to say that blogging dropped off. Quite the opposite, in fact, probably because writing is a coping mechanism for so many of us. But there were also plenty of light moments, although they had a certain surrealism about them. And of course there were poetry-related enthusiasms to share, as always. Enjoy.


February. A grey white month. More light but still cold. The forecast is for two weeks of snow showers. A month that still belongs to winter though the light lingers later now, long slow sunrises and sunsets when the clouds relent.

Today, a walk along the beach because it was a balmy 28 degrees. And that isn’t me being funny, 28 degrees feels quite warm indeed when the winter has been one of slashing winds and single digits. Bishop’s Beach is an active beach, windrows of cobbles shifting and reforming, great tidal changes, snow and ice at the top, waves at the bottom.

I walked mostly at the highest tide line because closer to the water’s edge would have meant crossing deep channels. But walking closer to the bluffs means cobbles which slide and clatter. Twist underfoot and crimp an ankle. Slide down toward the water almost as efficiently as ice so that one finds oneself scrambling to stay on stable footing.

I actually enjoy this kind of walking because it forces one to stay in the moment. If you’re walking with someone else, it forestalls any prolonged conversations. But the sheer kinetic effort allows me to focus on the here and now.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Winter beach wisdom

A dirty sky, and a dreary cold day ahead. This winter has settled into my bones as no other ever has: for the first time I understand people going away to sunny places for vacations. I could stand a week or two dreaming in the sun.

Dale Favier, Golden

post-storm driving
through an arboretum
of glass

Jason Crane, haiku: 6 February 2022

I haven’t seen my favorite eight-year-old since Christmas Eve. Her parents are, again, being careful because of Covid case counts in our area. Although I miss her and her younger siblings so much I feel tearful writing this sentence, our occasional phone call lets me talk one-on-one with her in a way we rarely get to do during visits.

Today, our nearly 90 minute call started with guessing games. What Am I Thinking is her favorite. Some of today’s correct guesses turned out to be ladybugs, clouds, and atoms. Then we played Would You Rather, which simply consists of taking turns making up questions like, “Would you rather travel by hot air balloon or sailboat?” and “Would you rather be an elephant or a whale?” but she’s so darn mature these days that she tends to say, “I’d like to experience both.” This lasts until our questions get much sillier, like “Would you rather eat worms or garbage?”

She switched screens to show me her room which she recently cleaned and organized. Her large stuffed bear, who she’s named Friendly Bear, holds its own toy animal pal under one arm and a book under another. “I know you’ll like this,” she said, “because books are your favorite thing.”

We discussed which superpowers we’d choose. I said healing, so I could help heal the world. She said she’d like to be able to fly. “I’d fly over right now to hug you.”

We discussed what it’s like to talk to animals and trees. She and I agreed, they are very good listeners. “Especially when you’re sad,” she said. I told her I don’t hear dogs or trees answer in a way I can hear with my ears, but I sometimes I feel what they say inside of me. “Me too!” she said, “We’re just the same!”

Then she talked about how her mind likes to go so wild that she doesn’t notice time passing. She said, “I look around and say to myself, ‘How is this real? How am I real?’” and I said, “Me too! We’re just the same!”

Laura Grace Weldon, Just The Same

Yesterday I taught movement class and was introducing the students to Laban’s method for describing movement dynamics. You break down an action: “kick”, “snap” etc. I asked them to pick a verb that we could deconstruct into Laban’s categories fast/slow, strong/weak, etc. One student was trying to be difficult and said: “Mmmm”. No problem. We can break down a word that is not a verb, that is not a word. Because sound/utterances also have dynamics.

I had a banal little breakthrough about the link between movement and sound. Nothing original or earthshattering, but one of those beautiful moments where experience precedes acquired knowledge. Like catching a fish bare-handed from a dark stream.

This morning I read about the Tetris effect: where we experience the movements we have executed during the day as we are falling asleep. And there is the imagined speech of our inner monologues, which I know can slide out of linguistic grooves, shaking the consonants and fricatives that give it context, but keep its truth.

It seems scientists focus on what we take from this realm into sleep. And don’t acknowledge what is indigenous to sleep, and whose shadows we cram into our pockets: what little gods’ humming fills the spaces between the stop motion bits of our days. A color – or a shade of grey.

They don’t acknowledge what gods and ghosts welcome us back at night, putting a warm hand on our forehead, pushing us under the surface.

Ren Powell, I See Ghosts

crossing by river or drowning by bridge :: shall i visit the same dead

Grant Hackett [no title]

I have been dreaming about maneless Eurasian cave lions. In these dreams, I see Palaeolithic paintings of horses, eight-legged arguing bisons, extinct rhinoceros, ancient bones of bears, sparkling formations of rocks that resemble tourmalines, and etching of one woman whose head is turning into a mammoth’s. The name of the man who has printed his hand with one crooked finger can only be known by 32000 year old lions who do not speak. 

At the end of the serpentine cave, there is a six year old boy eating an apple that he has just plucked from a blossoming tree. He doesn’t know that a wolf is right behind him. Tens of thousands of years later, archaeologists will find his footprints right next to the wolf’s. 

Near the river, while watching this scene, I am playing Schubert’s Ave Maria on an ancient flute made of a hollow bone of a vulture. 

At the end of these dreams, I inevitably find an abandoned book of prayers in which the word God has been replaced by two words: Grotte Chauvet

Saudamini Deo, God and Grotte Chauvet

February moves across midnight fields of love notes, Jim Crow stones, sorrow bones, and emancipation.

It’s like chains that lose themselves in moments of song.

It’s like a guitar made of blackbirds and brambles.

It’s like a ghost home reminded of its living sweetness.

The night winds remind us we’ve come a long way to find warmth, we have a long way to go to find healing.

Rich Ferguson, Upon a February

The hotel room speaker with its choice of reassuring white noise was designed to soothe unpredictable and unfamiliar noise to enable hotel guests to sleep. This masking of unpleasant noise with pleasant noise is the only current treatment for tinnitus. There is no cure and hearing aids can worsen the problem by making the tinnitus louder so are only used if there is also underlying hearing loss. However, when everything you hear is competing against the constant ringing/buzzing/static of tinnitus, hearing is frequently difficult.

Even a relatively quiet room can seem noisy depending on the frequencies of the background noise. If you are trying to hear someone speak against background conversation and tinnitus, separating out the noises and focusing on the one you want to hear takes a lot of cognitive effort. Staying home and using text based chat is easier but feels isolating. Not everywhere can be made library-quiet and background can help even out the unpredictable, irregular noise that interrupts a conversation.

This week is Tinnitus Awareness Week. I will never know silence. But I will never be alone either. My tinnitus is always there, but it’s not constant. There are loud and quieter periods. It is not always the boring static I usually have. Sometimes it mimics other sounds or has a rhythm that can be interpreted into song. A companion.

Emma Lee, Blanket of Sound

As I pass, they quiet. I move,
they start again, we play this game
of love, of fleeting signs and flipping
our display, of feigning and igniting,
such delicately tuned engines.
In the glitter of winter sun, why shouldn’t
songbirds rock the hedge — I walk on.

Jill Pearlman, (Valentine) Birds of Play

Finding time to write is not easy for me. Almost all of my time is taken with working in publishing and teaching. I work from the time I wake up until about midnight every day. I work on weekends. When I walk my dog, I make phone calls. When I drive to the beach, I make phone calls and when I walk on the beach, I make phone calls. I wrote this poetry during my few free evenings and in the early mornings. I wrote out the first drafts and then worked on edits. In the first drafts, the narrator sounded wild around the edges, but eventually I got the dark of the poems into stanzas and into that heady place that we consider a publishable poem.

Writing poetry for me requires being alone in a quiet place. There’s not much quiet in the world, it’s full of noise. Slowing down enough to be at the pace of poetry requires stepping away from the internet, the phone, the television, and entering the void. The Loneliest Girl was written at the bottom of the well. I was down there in the dark finding my way with a flashlight, a pen, and scraps of moonlight.

When I was a child, I once spent the night at the bottom of a well. I remember when the moon rose above me and I stood to throw up my arms and yelled, “Save me!” But the moon was far away and sailed on and left me in the dark. In the morning, someone found me and threw down a rope.

Writing these poems felt like that night in the well. We are lit by our own imaginations when we write poetry, we are sailing on a canoe in the dark over the moon going to find language, story, the island of forgiveness. Sometimes I think every poem is a prayer to the universe to forgive me for not being perfect. Poetry is the language of silence. I have found my way there in The Loneliest Girl, and I emerged with a book in my hands.

The possibilities of Medusa & The Loneliest Girl – guest blog post [by] Kate Gale (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

The buzz and whine of the shredder
is company for a whole afternoon. I dig

deep into each folder in my file cabinet
and lift out who knows how many years’

worth of dead paper—ancient receipts, stale
explanations of benefits or of where our

money went. When did we buy that? Why?
Where is it now? Still, I know more things

brought some version of happiness into this
life we’ve made, even if briefly. I would stand

in a queue in the rain to listen to a rapturous
writer or a beautiful song; would walk miles

through foggy green countryside, wait
patiently for a herd of sheep to finish

crossing the lane.

Luisa A. Igloria, Sixty

Lunerd: only accepts moon poems

Purretry: only accepts cat poems

For Goodness Ache: only accepts poems with the word “ache” somewhere in the poem

Poe-a-Tree: only accepts poems about trees

Poe-atry: only accepts poems about Edgar Allen Poe

Then I Woke Up: only accepts poems where the whole poem is actually just a dream

The Franco Review: accepts author photos first, the poems after

After: Only accepts poems that are “after” (in the style of) another poet

______: only accepts poems that use blanks, like Jorie Graham poems

The Graham: only accepts poems by Jorie Graham

Renee Emerson, Themed Literary Magazines that Should Exist

This morning, I wrote a poem.  You might say, “Of course you did.  You’re a poet.”  But I’m a poet who does more writing in other genres these days:  blog posts, e-mails, seminary writing, social media updates.  I’ve been here before, so I no longer fret.  I know that Poetry Kristin is always there, observing, making connections, tucking details away for later poems.  Poetry Kristin can outwait everything that competes with poetry for my attention.

I always feel like I am not having much luck creating whole poems, but this line came to me this morning, as I was getting a sweater out of the back of a closet and wishing I had a door to Narnia back there: we pass our planetary wealth in sweaters. I sat with this line–and these ideas of enchantment, sweaters, closets, cheap junk jewelry, portals of all sorts–and I slowly began to see a poem shimmering through.

Who needs a portal to Narnia when a poem shimmers in the pre-dawn?

I tend to think that I’m not writing poems, but my poetry legal pad tells a different tale.  The last time I wrote a poem was January 31–not that long ago, especially considering that was the week that I was severed from my job.

It seems so long ago, but it was only last week.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Enchantment, Sweaters, Poetry, Portals of All Sorts

Four rejections in 36 hours. I become depressed. Twenty-four hours later I’ve done two more submissions. It occurs to me to wonder if, in fact, I have not a writer’s work ethic for publication but a gambling problem.

One more roll of the dice. Maybe this time. Come on baby, mama needs a new pair o’ shoes. Maybe this is not the noble seeking of the writer for the reader. Maybe this is just an addiction.

Someone posted on a writers’ FB exchange that every submission moves one closer to publication. It’s a nice thought but flawed in terms of the laws of probability. Every submission has a 50:50 chance: yes:no. (The maybes don’t count. In all my years of doing this, my maybes have NEVER turned into a yes with the next submission.) Every time.

I guess there may be the rare occasions in which a writer has caught an editor’s eye, and the editor becomes more inclined toward acceptance with each promising submission. (I don’t really believe that, but I’m going to offer it to you as some sort of solace.)

I think I’m addicted to the hit of possibility, grubbing in the smoke-filled, ding-crazy hall of chance, and you, editor, are my one-armed bandit.

Marilyn McCabe, There’ll be time enough; or, On the Publication Gamble

As I close out my first week of working wholly for myself, I will give a massive shout out to the ability to actually complete things. I mean, like to the end. I’ve pretty much lived the last 18 or so odd years in a state of half-finished.  Half finished projects, half finished layouts, half finished orders strewn about.  When I had the studio, I could spend a couple hours working, but always had to switch gears and go to work.  Ditto the last couple of years. Even when I worked on things at night, I was at the end of my day and less productive, and had to often stop to go to bed.  Or weekends, to do whatever of my own stuff (housecleaning, errands, etc,) that badly needed attending. And then of course, there was the energy wasted shifting gears, moving from one things to another, whether it was an e-mail interruption or a phone call or a suddenly pressing task that needed to take precedence.  And even when you moved back to the original, it took time to refocus (if you could at all.)  I think only  in the absense of such circumstances do you realize how not at all productive they are. How much they cut away, not only from the quality and quantity of output, but your general mental drain and feelings of burn out. […]

I’ve talked with friends about the energies it tales to constanly be switching gears, and how much time and energy it takes. To pause, refocus on something else, to go back, then refocus again. At the library, distractions were constant, even when I purposely tried to ignore the dinging e-mail notification on my pc and the phone. I’d be working steadily and get interrupted by a student worker question or needy patron or broken printer.  Come back and get distracted by the news or social media, and then get back to what I was working on and then get interrupted again.  This was actually less difficult and more micro  than the shifting I would do during the day at large. Writing in the morning, press work, commuting, library (where I could potentially be working in three different modes and for three different jobs). No wonder I was mentally exhausted all the time. Sometimes I tried to devote days to one or another line, but some things, like ILL processing had to happen every day or get backed up to move smoothly. And e-mails. Sometimes 3-4 accounts to check.  Egads the amount of time to just get through them (and I feel like I never really do.) If I had an exhibit to hang or web pages to build on top of that, it was even more intense. 

So needless to say, despite feeling a little strange that I am spending so much time alone (which is fine as an introvert, but I don’t want to become Miss Havisham levels of mad) things are going quite well. I even consented to a pre-Valentines outing to a movie and maybe dinner after.  And  it occurred to me that weekend plans were usually NO because I need to reset and rest, but now I will not hit the end of the week quite as frazzled, so am much more open for outings, especially as (hopefully) the covid rates continue to fall. 

Kristy Bowen, switching gears

You can see it through the window, the saint’s face
pressing against the pane of glass,
his breath making a tiny fog.

You are outside in the cold air and the saint is inside,
the glass and a number of sins are still between you.

It is the gray of winter and the entire world seems
to be painted in shades of black and white and gray,
like some old movie.

On the other side of the window the saint breathes again,
exhaling as hard as he can, and with his finger
he begins to write you a message
on the foggy glass.

James Lee Jobe, The warm breath of the saint.

The end of January found me in some amazing company! I got to participate in two release readings for A Harp in the Stars: An Anthology of Lyric Essays (U of Nebraska Press, 2021). I’m still pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming about having a piece included in this gorgeous book!

On Saturday, January 29, The Writers Place in Kansas City hosted a reading on Zoom with anthology editor Randon Billings Noble and contributors Dorothy Bendel, Heidi Czerwiec, and me. Lyric essay as labyrinth? Lyric essay as body wash instructions? I loved hearing these essays aloud and sharing my “Nevermore” in such company. The sponsor was also special to me: I helped connect us to TWP, and this organization gave me a scholarship when I was an MA student at UMKC. I’m honored to be a member now.

On Monday, January 31, San Diego Writers, Ink sponsored our reading, and my former student Madi Bucci, who is now their administrative assistant, was our Zoom host! This time I got to read with Randon Billings Noble, Laurie Easter, LaTanya McQueen, and Maya Sonenberg, and I was once again stunned by my fellow contributors. Have you ever seen a lyric essay take the form of a word search (and then have it gut you with its content)? Well, you can if you read this anthology, and you definitely should.

Katie Manning, Readings in the Stars

It fascinates me how inherently collaborative and interconnected creation almost always is, even if it is not explicitly shown. We don’t only stand on the shoulders of giants, we get a boost from everyone.

Gary Barwin, BIG SAD: a video and notes about collaboration, influence and process

Yes, our trip today to Open Books – the first place I visited as a tourist to Seattle on the recommendation of one of my English professors at University of Cincinnati – reminded me of how things have changed since we moved here. Pioneer Square – a rowdier, bar-filled tourist spot that once housed Elliot Bay Books – will be the new home of Open Books, which lived in sleepier, more residential Wallingford since before I came to the town as a visitor. Elliot Bay moved to hipster – but now more “corporate condo” than “hipster artists and bars” – Capitol Hill. I used to meet friends at Open Books – see pictures – and I’ve had almost every launch reading for my books there, too. See a picture of one of them below. I’ll have to make new memories at the new location.

I used to spend hours in the rundown former funeral home that housed the Richard Hugo House when I first moved to town, imaging I was in a real artist’s place – and then I volunteered there for small local lit mags for a while. Back then, yes, there were drug deals in front of the place, it wasn’t at all accessible, and there was a rumor of a baby ghost in the basement (along with a baby’s coffin) but it felt charmingly quirky, much like the area of Capitol Hill, where you could get a drink at a dive bar with pinball machines or papier mache unicorn heads. Now, Hugo House is housed in the fairly cold, corporate grounds of a re-done condo building (and paying much more than it used to on rent, which leads to more fund-raising and less, well, artist-nurturing), and it just doesn’t feel as cozy and welcoming and well, artistic. It is more accessible (bonus!) and has bathrooms you don’t accidentally get locked in…and no ghosts (yet…)

The places that I’ve relied on to meet other writers – like Open Books and Hugo House – are changing, and have changed, and while I’m sad about that, I recognize that a city doesn’t stay the same, and a literary scene doesn’t stay the same. During the pandemic, we haven’t visited Seattle much, and we used to go every weekend, to hang out, to visit Pike Place Market or one of the many bookstores and coffee shops, always exploring new (to us) neighborhoods. Seattle’s increasing homeless problem, litter, and crime are unfortunate side effects of growth and some serious housing affordability problems as well as a lack of resources for the poor, the mentally ill, and people who age out of the foster system. Our politicians have promised fixes but haven’t (as yet) delivered. Does this affect the art scene in Seattle? Yes. Did the pandemic hurt our art scene? Unquestionable. Do we have AWP coming out next week? Yes we do! Do I want to show Seattle in its best light to my friends who come to town? Yes I do! So I will keep exploring to find out where writers and artists are hanging out now. Maybe I’ll find the next new cool artistic hangouts. I hope so.

And another problem – I live in an “ex-urb” of Seattle, Woodinville, a sleepy area of farms and wineries and a surprising number of hidden charming corners, but it has almost nothing that you could call “culture.” No art galleries, barely any indie shops, we have one Barnes and Nobles and a couple of coffee shops besides Starbucks but it’s been hard for me to build a community out here – and I encountered similar problems in 2012 when I was Redmond’s Poet Laureate, working hard with schools and librarians and visual artists and local language clubs to try to generate interest in poetry and art. Even though Redmond has Microsoft and a fair number of millionaires, and Bellevue’s real estate is now more expensive than Manhattan (said our local paper this weekend,) it’s tough to attract people or the funds to create cultural centers where art, music, theater, and poetry might thrive. I’ve dreamed of throwing salons in the area, which is beautiful, and I’m sure has a lot of artists, musicians, and writers in it, it’s just…I can’t find them, or we have no gathering places.

If I had unlimited funds and time, I might build a poetry bookshop/coffee shop/art space myself here in Woodinville, where real estate isn’t quite as pricey. I lived in Napa for a year, and they had a wonderful mix of wineries, indie book shops and restaurants, and unique gardens, farms, and markets that just made for a lovely quality of life. (Fires, earthquakes, and high taxes – all endemic to California – notwithstanding.) They even had their own writer’s conference each year! We need to start something like that. I’ll keep dreaming…

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy (Almost) Valentine’s Day, Faux Spring, and Thinking About Changes in Seattle’s Lit Scene

Christine Stewart-Nuñez: I know you are a prolific storyteller and an author of many novels. As I read Tell Me How You Got Here, I kept looking for an overarching narrative, but the collection refused me in the most satisfying way. I enjoyed swinging from poem to poem by collecting imagery and emotional impressions. Can you tell us more about what the genre of poetry opens for you that novels may not?

Emily Franklin: I started life as a poet, publishing in high school. In college I worked with great poets (Tom Lux, Kimiko Hahn) and thought for sure I would keep writing poetry while I worked numerous other jobs (cook, construction, teacher) but wound up being pulled into fiction writing. It made sense since I wrote mostly narrative poems. After years in the fiction world, I found lines of poetry coming back to me. For me, writing poetry is about sharing the biggest truth in the smallest form. I felt relief in trimming words and focusing on line breaks, really paring back in order to tell what needed to be told.

Christine: As a child, I maintained collections: knicknacks, earrings, dolls, stickers. Having moved a lot as an adult, I’ve let go of this tendency–with books a hearty exception. Tell Me How You Got Here appeals to my love of things because so many objects shimmer with meaning. Can you tell us more about your relationship to artifacts?

Emily: I’ve always been fascinated by what people (or crows!) collect. What people keep is also who they are or markers of what happened to them. Having moved a ton growing up, what we keep has special significance to me. I wrote Tell Me How You Got Here considering the amassing we do—and the sloughing off of items either when children grow out of things, or when a house floods (which happened to us), or what remains for people to sort through after someone dies. I like the record keeping of objects, and the freedom that comes from letting some of those objects or what they represent go.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Christine Stewart-Nunez Interviews Emily Franklin

It has been some time since I’ve seen a book by Vermont poet Bianca Stone, since her full-length debut, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows (Octopus Books and Tin House, 2014) [see my review of such here], having clearly missed out on Poetry Comics from the Book of Hours (Pleiades Press, 2016) and The Möbius Strip Club of Grief (Portland OR: Tin House, 2018), so I was curious to see her latest collection, What is Otherwise Infinite (Tin House, 2022). In sharp, first-person narratives working around (as the front flap of the collection offers) “how we find our place in the world through themes of philosophy, religion, environment, myth, and psychology,” Stone composes poems as threads connecting accumulating points; her narratives stretched as sequences of stunning lines and connective tissue. “Time does not go beyond its maiden name.” she writes, as part of “Does Life Exist Independent of Its Form?,” ending the stanza with the offering: “how uncomfortable we are with happiness.” I remember, years ago, Ottawa poet, publisher and archivist jwcurry describing the long poems of northern British Columbia poet Barry McKinnon: how every poem worked its way toward, and then away from, a singular, central point. In comparison, Stone isn’t writing with such length, nor with a single point, but up and away from multiple points-in-succession. It is as though she is composing poems as a series of communiques across telephone wires, connecting pole to further pole to build each poem’s thesis. Through What is Otherwise Infinite, the dense lyric structures of her debut have become far more complex, extended and philosophical; there is a further depth of attention here, one that could only be achieved through experience, as the second half of the poem “I’ll Tell You” reads:

my sister tells me things
that frighten me
what I mean is
how did we get here
made of gingerbread in the oven
eaten by the mother
eaten by the wolf
my little pale nephew standing on the porch
explaining lava in the netherworld
that if you fall in a certain hole
in his game
you keep falling forever
and you don’t get to keep
any of the things
you made.

There is something curious in the way Stone attends to the “infinite,” writing around and through Biblical stories and texts, illuminated manuscripts and other religious depictions, considerations and conversations. “Human nature is bifolios,” she offers, as part of the poem “Illuminations,” “versos, even blank pages / with preparatory rulings for the scribes, never painted upon. / Little books of suffering saints and resurrections. / That’s what we are.” A few lines further, offering: “On this sheet / the Evangelist dips a pen into an inkpot / and rests an arm on the side of a chair, / inspired, like Luke, by the dove, / preparing to set down an account of a life / on paper made from the skin of sheep.” There is a wit to these poems, as Stone offers both guidance and clarity through lived experience and wisdoms hard-won, articulating her takes on depictions of the spiritual from sources high and low. She writes from a world that includes faith, medieval texts and trips to Walmart, and both a sense of ongoing intellectual and spiritual pilgrimage alongside flailing, falling and being nearly overwhelmed. “A serious drama in a cosmic joke. / Scarred,” she writes, as part of the poem “The Way Things Were Until Now,” “masked, dangerous. / And what of the new Eucharist? / How hungry I always am. How I long to lack. / Though in Walmart / my heart beats a little faster. / I want the world to heal up.” Here, Stone becomes the pilgrim, and the composition of these poems-as-pure-thinking are, in effect, as much the act of pilgrimage as they are the articulation of that same journey. “I don’t know. What is it to be seen?” she writes, as part of “Artichokes,” “I can forget / it’s language I long for. Man and his ciphers / cannot save me.” This truly is a stunning collection, as Stone offers her narrator a chaos equally physical and metaphysical that requires balance, one that can only be achieved through a constant, endless and attentive search.

rob mclennan, Bianca Stone, What is Otherwise Infinite

As Judi Sutherland mentions in the introduction to her new book-length, beautifully illustrated poem, Following Teisa (The Book Mill Press, 2021), rivers have long played an important role in U.K. poetry. From Wordsworth to Oswald, water in general is perhaps more present and prevalent as a symbol, an image, a leitmotif or even a theme in itself than in other countries. This might well because the poets in question are living on an island or in a dodgy climate, of course. However, leaving aside attempts at cod psychology, the fact remains that Sutherland is acknowledging and tapping into a rich seam.

History and the significance of place are both important cornerstones of this collection. The title itself, for instance, references an 18th Century long poem about the River Tees which was titled Teisa, Sutherland explores our relationship with the evolving role of our surroundings. In doing so, her perspective is also crucial, as explained in the following extract from the introduction:

…I moved to Teesdale in 2014 and felt dreadfully homesick for my previous village near the Thames. I started walking by the Tees as a way of getting to know and love my new environment and decided to repeat Anne Wilson’s poetic journey for a different generation…

In other words, Sutherland engages as an outsider. There’s no forced attempt at vernacular, for instance. Instead, she invites us along on her own exploration of the River Tees, portraying it in language that’s both rich yet deft, as is indicated by the opening lines to the poem itself:

How it wells up from nowhere to chase
gravity downhill, becomes a rill,
a rickle of old stones, then hurtles rocks,
purls and pools in reed…

There’s huge skill present here, not just in the assonance, alliteration and internal rhyme, but in the precise way it’s all patterned and  interlinked, one device starting before the previous one has come to an end: downhill-rill/rill-rickle/rickle-hurtle/hurtle-purls/purls-pools. The effect is to mirror the onrushing movement of water.

Matthew Stewart, History and place, Judi Sutherland’s Following Teisa

The way it breaks is
the way it breaks,

the old monk said,
whether you’re talking

about a storm,
a walking stick, or

a line of poetry.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (131)

I have been learning much and enjoying Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Poetry; as much as I found his texts on biblical narrative intriguing, this book appeals to me more not just on the levels of scholarship, history, and explication but because he clearly loves and understands poetry. Which cannot be said about every scholar who writes about the Old Testament books (and they are many).

For example, Alter recognizes that trying to categorize biblical poetry into formulaic genres is useful only in the most general way, because the most enduring (poetically ‘best’) verses persist as significant and special because they are excellent poems. Which means they may not follow stereotypical genres or fit the “given conventions of style” of a type of poem. Indeed, he refers to the author of Job’s Voice from the Whirlwind and the prophetic author known as Deutero-Isaiah as geniuses. Then he provides evidence of this genius through explications that rely not only on scholarship and historical sources and contextual information but through the beautiful poetry itself.

Convention gives writers of both verse and prose a solid framework in which to construct their own discourse, but good writers always exert a subtle pressure on convention…remaking it as they build within it.
Robert Alter

Paradoxes and “radical ambiguities” abound in these ancient poems, and the urgent ideas they chose to convey through poetry manage to feel significant even today, thousands of years later. The fictive aspect of poetry–its imaginative spur–appears in the biblical imagery of (imagined) apocalypse, (imagined) utopia, (imagined) peace and bounty. [Non-believers might add: (imagined) god.]

Alter writes with some wit and considerable modesty, though maybe it’s false modesty since he’s clearly attached to his arguments concerning the Masoretic text, translations of biblical Hebrew, and the structure and syntax of these poems. At any rate, his style permits him to write for the non-scholar. Much appreciated by this non-scholar!

Ann E. Michael, Psalms, Job, & poetry

Recently Mr. Typist bought a microscope, and it took me back to a strangely happy memory of when I was in grade school and we would go out into the woods behind the school, gather pond water in baby food jars, then look at it under a microscope. The first time I saw a paramecium, it filled me with elation and a deep sense of spiritual comfort. It felt like such a miracle that there could be an entire unseen universe of tiny busy life forms carrying on their functions, breathing, excreting and pulsating deep under the surface. I loved looking at the paramecia, and if I had a better brain for science and math, it would have inspired me to become a biologist. When it warms up a bit and we get through a fairly daunting apartment-improvement project, Mr. Typist and I are going to go gather up some water samples from our local parks and shorelines and see what we find under the lens. I’m super-excited about it.

Kristen McHenry, Fun with Paramecia, Gym Fail, Appeasing the Coffee God

Step outside yourself, the air here tastes of stubborn
wonderment. The statelessness negates gravity, wings

tickle the fears in your back. There are more moons
than you can count, each one a different shape.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What if I don’t want to go back?

When I posted a photo from this series of cocktail still lifes, I used the caption, Photography: a magic or an art? They’re just photos of three drinks mixed with various spirits, but I had a lot of questions floating around in my head at the time, as happens. Like, how are photos believable and in what ways are they simply pretend? What is beauty for? And can it be an antidote for the fuckery of the world? I was mixing these drinks up one afternoon like they were potions or cures. I was thinking about love because someone had said about the protests/illegal gatherings, that you know there’s something off about them because there is no love present. How did we even get here? Historians will be dissecting this time period forever. What happened to people? When did some of us stop caring about others? And I don’t mean just the anti-vaxxers etc. What about us too? Is it just generally harder to care about others because of distance, space, isolation, our hardened hearts? I know I have changed a lot in these past two years. I hold myself back, I’m less open-hearted.

If people can change, can they also change back? Is there a drink or a potion or a magic trick for that? I don’t know if I’m going be able to completely transform, you know, but when I’m not dead-tired and soul-deadened, I want to. If I can change, can I believe that someone with opposing viewpoints can also change? If I want you to see me for my spirit and aspirations, is it not only fair that I try to see yours?

Shawna Lemay, The Spirit in Aspiration

I find myself taking my time when returning from tasks outside of the house, taking the Ghost Lake route, my mind wandering the contours, the black peat fields, the terraced valley sides. I watch the crows, I watch the way the rain makes the leafless trees darker, so that their bark is black, the water filling every cell, every crevice, every crack. I feel like I am absorbing this week in the same way, letting the darkness of it into me, filling me up until it comes out of my mouth, or at least out of my fingers, leeching out of my finger prints, through the pen, the computer, onto the white of the page. This is where I am right now. […]

Tomorrow is a new day, though the rain is set to continue for a good week. I have lots to look forward to: I am loving my own The Caged Bird Sings course, my Friday afternoon group are so engaged and willing, and kind and fun, it is genuinely the highlight of my week. Next week I’m also looking forward to running a workshop for the Poetry Business on de-romanticising the rural, you can book a place here. I love talking to people about poetry and finding new ways to write, so I’m really looking forward to working under the PB banner. And I’m looking forward to the private course chats I have scheduled over the week. I’m also meeting a new writer friend for coffee. It’s going to be a very ‘people heavy’ week, something I’m not used to, being the rural hermit that I am, but perhaps something that will do me good.

I see so many people facing so many challenges lately, I want to give us all a hug. Spring’s on it’s way, though, catkins in the lane, the jackdaws are poking their heads into last year’s tree-hole-nests. We just have to weather it out.

Wendy Pratt, A Challenging Week

and so here we are
funeral day
and the new patio isn’t half finished
they will have done a bit more by the time
we come back from the crematorium
they are not turning the soil there
with a red digger like ours
they / we are burning memories
deep into the patio of the past
the flowers of ash
would make good fertiliser
on the wind from here to the garden
is but a breath not taken
one foot in each world
we withdraw one from the sinking
and place two on a brand new patio
how nice it all went

Jim Young, for janet

I’ve finished reading James Joyce’s Ulysses in time for its centenary year. This wasn’t my plan when I picked it up for the first time in, when was it? 2009 I think. It’s taken me twelve years with many pauses, re-starts, pauses. 

The copy of the book I bought at the Keele University bookshop (I was studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the time, was open to influence) has travelled with me, sat on various shelves, its spine cracking, the edges of its pages yellowing. 

The book was recommended to me by Scott McCracken, by Miss Cooper, by Jeremy Fisher, by Pope Innocent III, by Sue the Librarian, and all of them in it for the literature. I took it with me to France, to Italy, to Wyle Cop, to Ceredigion, and even to Dublin itself. It weighed me down with its great reputational promises and its respectable unrespectability. I began to think it had defeated me.

What is it to be so famous and to represent a formidable pinnacle of literature, to become reading for the super-diligent? By degrees, Ulysses became a monument to a decline in concentration, to my perception that the pandemic and Facebook between them had done for my ability to read at length. What I could manage had been reduced to Guardian articles, or, on a good day, Billy Collins’ poems. […]

The final reading was all done and dusted in less than a year among the bed sheets and pine cones and sometimes with the sea lapping at my feet at Fairbourne. Penelope is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever read because it’s wonderful, and because it came like that cold beer, crisps and pie I ate all at once at the pub at the foot of Cader Idris after misreading the largescale OS map on the descent.

So yes to the book which sat on my shelf plump and teasing with its thousands upon thousands of tiny pawprint words yes the twelve years the eighteen episodes yes the rollicking kidney of Irish history fried up in memory yes the guffaws yes the blushes and the winding boredom with another mug of coffee yes the classical religious literary references assumed in hours of lying there propped up on one hand making no sense and then sense coming unravelling its freewheeling veracity all over the inside of my imagination and yes yes I will read it again Yes.

Liz Lefroy, I Say Yes

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 8

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: signs of spring, political and philosophical reflections, loves and deaths.


There’s an air of spring
examining the frozen
earth by touch, shyly.

We’re not ready yet
for happiness, the heavy
curtains are still closed.

At least the winter
would not lie to us, would not
say all will be good.

One doesn’t know now.

Magda Kapa, February 2021

A teetering peregrine at the pinnacle of an iced tree. But chickadees. Orioles? Nuthatches. Voices changing. “I can smell the leaves under the water, under the ice,” I say. “Not spring, but evidence of it. Can you?” Amazed, he cannot. The infinite distance. Animal. 

He says please don’t give up on me. The time of ice shatter and mud seems never to end, is always beginning and beginning: it’s nearly March again. “The sap is up in your willow, did you see?” I mention. He hadn’t, but now that I point it out, he can.

The horse is mad at me for being away. He shoves me pointedly, eats his apology carrots refusing to meet my eye, then caves and kisses me profusely. I laugh. The birds’ voices are new. Spring is just there, just outside the frame, in their tiny lungs and mouths.

I am lost, confused, clear, present, gone, awake, asleep, disoriented, alert. Loss is permanent, but it has no end, and mind doesn’t change the shape of it. Animal loyal. To faultlines. I saw a plain moth tonight,

her gray drab elation—

JJS, spring

because the existential subtraction of the past year laid bare the excesses of my carefully contrived alignments,
because the new minimalist right angles of being are putting to shame the cursive blooms of February after a summer, a monsoon, a winter, of letting go,
because so much was so unnecessary, so exhausting, so mindless that turning away was turning inward, hearing myself, allowing the words to come when they were ready — like rain, like a storm, like the night — filling the spaces between here and sky, between me and myself, becoming a bridge that leads to another chance,
because when this stillness has passed, the chaos will come rushing back but there will be a memory of this time when so much nothing happened that it was still a little something,
because sometimes, something is more than enough

then the sky looked down
at the sea, and asked—
what is that strange colour?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Because February 2021

around the headstone
of one who died at twenty:
wind-puffed primroses

This haiku of mine, published in Presence 56, resulted from a trip a couple of late-Februarys ago to Sheepleas, a nature reserve maintained by Surrey Wildlife Trust between West Horsley and East Horsley. […]

In his magnum opus Flora Britannica (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996), Richard Mabey, the doyen of British nature writing who’s just turned 80, reminds us that the word ‘primrose’ derives from ‘prima rosa’, i.e. that it – Primula vulgaris – is the first flower of spring. […]

In my poem, I went for ‘first thought, best thought’ in describing the impact of the wind on the flowers. Sometimes, one can over-complicate a haiku by thinking too much about whether an adjective (or a verb) is the best fit. In this instance, it was definitely a case of following Roy Walker’s advice. But in one of those nice incidences of synchronicity (or deeply-buried unconscious association), a beautifully illustrated book, Shakespeare’s Flowers by Jessica Kerr (Longman, 1969), which I bought in Warwick on a visit there with John Barlow about 10 years ago, has jogged my memory of a famous quotation from Act 1, Scene iii of Hamlet: ‘Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine, / Himself the primrose path of dalliance / treads.’ Despite having studied Hamlet in depth several times in days gone by, I can’t claim that the allusion in my poem was deliberate. Pleasingly, the book lists several other mentions of the primrose in Shakespeare’s oeuvre, including the Porter’s line in Act 2, Scene iii of Macbeth, about ‘the primrose / way to the everlasting bon-fire.’ In The Two Noble Kinsmen, listed as a joint work between Shakespeare and John Fletcher, the primrose is described as ‘first-born child of Ver / Merry spring-time’s harbinger.’

Matthew Paul, Sheepleas

second dose
winter rages deep
inside me

James Brush, 02.26.21

There are days in the circle of the year that carry an emotional weight. Children’s birthdays, parents’ death-days, anniversaries of weddings and disasters. I didn’t know the reason for my heavy heart last Sunday until I remembered that it was the day my father died 41 years ago, much younger than I am now.

On Monday, Lawrence Ferlinghetti died aged 101. One of the most influential poets of his generation. I saw his spellbinding performance at the International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall in London. June 11th 1965. Keele to London and back the same night by thumb. Does anyone hitch-hike nowadays? 

John Keats died 200 years ago on Tuesday, aged 25. His poetry is still resonant and memorable, still popular, still on the GCSE curriculum, still being learnt by heart as I did many years ago.

By heart

Imagine – I am sixteen
and suffering my first heartbreak.
English homework this week:

learn a stanza from Keats’s
Ode to a Nightingale. In class
Miss Wilson asks me to recite.

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
to cease upon the midnight with no pain …
Someone giggles. Someone guffaws.

To thy high requiem become a sod.
An explosion of mirth.
Miss Wilson tries to hide a smile.

Did I get it wrong?
No, says Miss Wilson,
you said it as if you meant it.

Next Friday will be the fourteenth anniversary of the car-bombing of the booksellers’ quarter in Baghdad. Commemorative readings have been held around the world every year since then.

Ama Bolton, Anniversaries

Every time I write 2021, it seems like an impossibility.  Still, the latter part of this week, the very last of February, has been warmer and the snow in its enormous drifts, slowly whittling away.  I watched a video of the ice breaking up on the lake, which is a good sign (I know she’s over there, but the mounds of snow and sand make it hard to see her from the bus in daytime, and it’s all blackness on my way home in any season.)  March is technically the beginning of spring according to meteorologists, but we have at least a few weeks where anything at all can happen. Still, I am in better sorts this weekend, even though it’s been a long grindy week that began with webpage building for a fairly large faculty publication showcase and ended with meetings and zooms and a backlog of ILL shipments needing to go out. Still I can walk freely on the sidewalks without dodging slush and ice, so it’s much better than even a week ago. 

Today, I’ve been getting poems ready for my Pretty Owl Poetry reading this evening, the first I’ve done from home (the Poetry Foundation one I did in the library)   I will likely shut the cats in the bedroom to stop them from interrupting as they occasionally do for most work-related meetings. I’m reading some of the tabloid poems, including the one in the journal (“Dick Cheney is a Robot”), as well as some of the conspiracy theory pieces that I’ve been working on this year. On one hand, virtual readings are nice since they let me read for things I would not have before due to location and with an unlimited audience to boot.  I also do not have to spend 45 to an hour on public trans getting to readings in seeming every part of the city but my own.  Also, my social awkwardness feels less acute via zoom in some ways, but more in others. We’ll see how it goes.  I also need to keep reminding myself of time zone variations in the virtual world. It’s still strange to think that even a year ago, we’d never have dreamed the norm of reading to web cams instead of real people in a real room. That I’d even be doing a reading from my living room on a random Saturday night.  What’s been lost, what’s been gained.  

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 2/27/2021

I’m writing, here and there, editing pieces that have been hanging around ‘in progress’ for the last year or longer. My Scottish collection is up in the air. The publisher is struggling with the changes Brexit has brought to the publishing industry as well as personal issues and everything has been delayed and delayed again. I’m just trying not to think about it because I’m sure my living in the EU is going to throw up new problems when my book is considered. 

My writing group went through a rough patch and has re-emerged a bit bruised, but hopefully stronger. I am grateful that we’re managing to reshape the group into something of which we can be proud. They have been a lifeline over the past year, even if only virtual and I would have hated if it broke apart.

Spring is coming, I’m sure. I can see it, patches of dead grass reappearing in the garden, but find it hard to put much faith in its promise. Covid is getting a stronger foothold here in Finland and while we’re trying to get the vaccine out, it’s a slow, painful wait. There is that chink of light slowing expanding.

I’ve had a few poems published while I’ve been dormant here. I’m very grateful to all the time and hard work all these editors and their staff have put in to produce these issues. I know it’s not easy. I’ve been wallowing in memories of my experiences in publishing in Edinburgh and though it’s very rose-coloured at the moment, I do remember it being very difficult and rarely rewarding from the day-to-day perspective.

Gerry Stewart, The Light is Starting to Return

Like a sad dragon, I’m currently sitting on a diminishing hoard of potential poems for future issues of ShenandoahFall ’21 and Spring ’22, presuming we get there–knowing I can’t keep ALL the gold. I’m already rejecting good poems, trying to get down to 20-ish from more than 700 batches. The last couple of weeks have been largely a sifting process: holding each poem against the light, seeing how pieces might fit together.

One issue I’ve been pondering, in part triggered by a tweet from Kelli Russell Agodon: how are the poems I’m reading manifesting the extraordinary pressures of a global pandemic? The answer I gave Kelli is that the poetic worlds seem a notch smaller: I’m getting more poems about the flora and fauna close to hand, fewer about conversation and art and the randomness of being a human walking around in the built world. That’s not a bad thing, but it can make the submission pile less various. I’m certainly coming across references to Covid-19, too, as well as elegies and poems about anxiety, depression, and isolation, but not as many as I expected. This may be because poetry has such a slow burn that we won’t really see the literary results of any crisis for a few years. It may also be because a lot of people just can’t write lately–their lives are busier and their brains can’t rev down enough for reflection. I’m interested to see how things shake out in the literary world and otherwise.

Lesley Wheeler, The present and future of pandemic poetry

This is the second in my mini-series on UK & Irish poetry magazines. The three featured today are all long-standing publications.

Stand started up in 1954, when, according to the website,  “Jon Silkin used his £5 redundancy money, received after trying to organise some of his fellow manual workers, to found a magazine which would ‘stand’ against injustice and oppression, and ‘stand’ for the role that the arts, poetry and fiction in particular, could and should play in that fight.”

What a brilliant story. Jon Silkin died in 1997 and the magazine has had a number of editors over the years, and a long association with the University of Leeds that continues to this day. John Whale is the current managing editor, and each edition seems to include a nice mix of both well-established and newer poets. It runs to around 150 pages and the landscape layout, while interesting, offers I suspect some challenges. The name of every contributor since 1999 appears on the website!

Robin Houghton, On poetry magazines: Stand, Agenda, The Dark Horse

I’m startled by the poems that make up Denver, Colorado poet Wayne Miller’s fifth full-length poetry title, We the Jury (Minneapolis MN: Milkweed Editions, 2021), a collection of lyrics on public executions, American justice, family and what we fail to understand. In an array of simultaneously devastating and stunningly beautiful lyrics, Miller writes on culture, class and race, and the implications of how America has arrived at this particular point in time; poems on trauma, death and violence, hidden beauty and America’s uneasy ease with what people are willing to endure, and willing to impart. There is an unerring lightness to his lyrics; a remarkable precision, as an arrow piercing the reeds to reach an impossible target. As he writes at the end of the short sequence “RAIN STUDY,” one of multiple poems that write on and around the subject of rain: “On the undersurface / of a raindrop / as it falls: // a fisheyed reflection / of the ground / rising at tremendous speed // and that’s it—” Or how he writes of a bird at the airport at the opening of “THE FUTURE,” “A bird in the airport / hopping among our feet— // dun puffed chest, / a sparrow I think— // collecting bits of popcorn / beside the luggage // while invisible speakers / fill the air with names // of cities irrelevant / to the air outside // from which this bird / has become mysteriously // separated.” Miller strikes at the intimate heart of so many subjects, and it is the intimacy through which he attends that provide these pieces with so much power. His is an unflinching, steady gaze, and he clearly feels and sees deeply, attending to the world around him through a lyric that manages to unpack complex ideas across a handful of carved, crafted lines. The poem “ON PROGRESS,” for example, “PARABLE OF CHILDHOOD” or “ON HISTORY” providing, in their own ways, master classes in how one writes out such complexity and contradiction of ideas and emotion; how to pack into a small space that which can’t be easily explained or described. In Miller’s poems, he knows that judgement is not the same as comprehension, and rarely synonymous with justice, healing or absolution; he knows his country, and his culture, has much to atone, and even more to acknowledge, so willing to pass over events for the next one, fully ignoring the implications, the trauma or the patterns.

rob mclennan, Wayne Miller, We the Jury

It’s been wild y’all. Some minor emergencies. Some heavy conversations in and out of the classroom and mentoring spaces that I work in. The thread continues to be survival and understanding, in that order.

These themes run through Dash Harris’ “No, I’m Not a Proud Latina” which I taught this week. This article, which calls out issues of anti-Blackness in the Latinx community, stirred up a number of reactions which had me lecturing on speaking truth to power, how marginalized writers are often necessarily making decisions at the intersection of politics, culture, and experience in order to survive and understand this world. I also spoke about how community should hold space for the positive while also acknowledging and working through the negative. That for community to matter it must be an inclusive practice, not just an ideal or romanticized gesture. At one point, I found myself talking about identity, how in the U.S. we often discuss it in terms of a possession or territory. The trope is how we have to “find ourselves” before we can be ourselves. What else can it be beyond this? What if identity, or really identities, are sides of the self we’re privileged to be able to honor and exist in, however briefly?

José Angel Araguz, survival & understanding

The World Health Organization reports 2,462, 911 souls have been taken by Covid-19 so far. WorldoMeter reports 2,479, 882. By some accounts we have already passed a half million deaths in the U.S. Each death the loss of a uniquely precious being.

There are many, this last pandemic year, who have fervently pushed for life to “return to normal.” Under that noise is another sound, the human community wailing. Each new grief amplifies our losses. Everywhere, keening.   

The largest share of deaths, here and around the world, are our elders. What has been taken cannot be fathomed. A proverb from Mali reminds us, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.”

We haven’t yet begun to address what brought us such a toll, including the greed underlying disinformation, mismanagement, and structural inequality. I hope, as we do, we center on regenerative justice for people and for all living systems.

We haven’t yet begun to fathom our losses, let alone how to honor those lives. I hope, as we do, we tell stories, we create, we cherish. I hope we, in the end, make this about peace.  

Re-member us,
you who are living,
restore us, renew us.
Speak for our silence.
Continue our work.
Bless the breath of life.
Sing of the hidden patterns.
Weave the web of peace.

Judith Anderson   

Laura Grace Weldon, Under The Noise

Today many people will be writing tributes to Lawrence Ferlinghetti and with good reason.  He was an amazing poet, founder of the Beat movement, founder of City Lights bookstore, publisher.  What an amazing life, and how fortunate that he lived to be 101.

But today I am feeling the deep loss of Octavia Butler, who died 15 years ago today.  I’ve written about her often, it feels like.  But there’s a reason for that–she wrote her most important work decades ago, and it feels more relevant now than it did when I first read it, decades ago.

Consider this passage from Parable of the Talents, published in 1998:”Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.” (p. 167)

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Octavia Butler and All the Realities

If I am told one more time by a newsperson or magazine article that I need to build more “resilience,” I will scream. It has been a year since the pandemic was recognized here in the states, a year in which we lost 500,000 people in our country and 5,000 in our state. I am still waiting to hear when Washington State will start vaccinating people like me – disabled, chronically ill types who would certainly be at risk of death if they caught covid – but alas, they are only focusing on age as a risk factor, so I guess I’ll be waiting forever? It’s enough to give a girl a nervous breakdown, especially with the news that more contagious, more deadly variants of covid-19 are developing in CA and NY.

Add on top of that, the writer’s life that is mostly rejection, rejection, rejection, and the advice to build resilience can get really old. I did get an acceptance today, and I have some poems coming out soon in “dream journals” of mine, journals I have been loving for years, like Fairy Tale Review and Image, among others. So I am thankful for that.

But as I as listening to hail hit our roof and windows the other night, I was wondering if one of my three manuscripts I’ve been sending out will get taken soon, or at least before I die. I’m not kidding about that, and I’m not being melodramatic. Everything feels dangerous right now – I have to go to the dentist for a broken tooth this week, and get an MRI for my liver tumors which could kill me if we don’t keep a close eye on them- and without a vaccine it literally feels like I’m risking my life. And let’s not even talk about how impatient my neurologists are being for me to get brain MRIs and other MS tests I have to do in person. I can’t imagine how it feels for my friends who are young but have cancer and are going to regular treatments – and I have several – and be unable to get a vaccine while constantly being in a dangerous hospital environment. Much worse than me, probably. In the meantime, I’m happy for friends in other states who are able to get the vaccine, but I wish my own state would start acting like it values the lives of people like me. I’m happy the third vaccine, Johnson & Johnson, has been approved, but no word on rollout yet. No amount of resilience is going to make up for the tension, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, danger and strain of the last year, and platitudes do not make things better. My usual coping mechanisms- spending time in nature, reading and writing, and connecting with friends (these days, mostly by phone) – may not be adequate to what we are facing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Almost Spring, Tired of Resilience, and Contemplating Ten Years Ago

Well, how about that February, huh?

Seems like more than a few of us have had ourselves quite a month. Sometimes, when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed or worn out, I like to go back through my camera roll to see what sense it can give me of a time. Often, it helps me see that my feeling about a time isn’t the whole picture of it. Because I often take photos of what delights me, it can be an exercise in reminding myself of the small moments that don’t (but probably should) carry as much weight as some of the larger ones.

Oh, bollocks!

(I’ve been listening to Tana French audiobooks for a few months now, and there are some Irish words seeping into my thoughts.)

Look at me up there in that last full paragraph, sounding so wise and grounded. Cue the montage of lovely little life vignettes: flowers on the table, a stack of good books, snow sparkling under the rising sun. Oh, I meant every word as each came through my fingers (and I could easily create such a montage), but re-reading them as a whole I could feel my whole being rise up in resistance to such facile positivity–which is probably evidence of how easily inspirational Insta quotes can seep into a person if she’s not careful.

Attaining peace and contentment is not necessarily about finding delight, or about making sure you put every little thing on some balance scale, so that a multitude of small good things somehow mitigate or outweigh a fewer number of heavier bad things.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Goodbye to you, February

I mention this playlist because a song from it came up during my run on Tuesday morning that got me thinking.

The song is called Made Up Love Song #43 by The Guillemots. […]

It’s a lovely pop song that I think should be more widely known, but there are plenty of those around. A couple of things struck me as I was hyperventilating my way up a hill towards Crystal Palace when I heard the lyric “there’s poetry in an empty coke can”.

Firstly, I haven’t really written a new poem for a while (not worried about that, there are notes and drafts aplenty), but the other thing was how might I respond to what is essentially a creative prompt from the singer, Fyfe Dangerfield. I know folks have mixed feelings about prompts, and I do too. I am generally ok with them, but not when they are your sole source of inspiration.

However, I got to thinking about how I might respond to the prompt. I’ve not gone anywhere near writing it yet, but here are the thoughts I have for exploring it…perhaps these even count as my own prompts…

How did the can get there? Was it thrown away, left there by someone? Is it in a bin? Has it fallen from a lorry on a way to a recycling plant? Is it still awaiting recycling because its owner is next to it?

Who is the owner? Is it someone on a picnic, are they alone or part of a group? A runner (them again) gasping on a hot day?

Where is it? On that picnic? Outside a pub, inside a pub (Oh god, I’d love to be doing that right now), left after a dad took his kids to the pub on his day with them.

Is it in the street being kicked about by kids, or grown-ups, is it being blown about by the wind?

Who is near it? Is there a wasp hovering around the ring pull?

Is it cold or warm?

Is there any liquid left in the can at all? 

Is this just an excuse to post this song because it mentions poetry?

Who knows?

Mat Riches, I Can, I can’t…

When I was in art school, I once had a poetry professor who, on the first day of class, introduced himself as a failed painter. Immediately, that proclamation (and others) rubbed me the wrong way and I ended up dropping the class in favor of a film course instead. A year prior to that, I had taken a course entitled “Word & Image” that spoke to impulses I’d had since childhood: pairing words and images together and understanding how they co-exist. One of the main questions was, Why can’t you make words and images? As someone who studied both art and literature as an undergraduate and went on to earn an MFA in interdisciplinary art practice, I embrace the notion that you can write and make images for your writings. William Blake, Beatrix Potter, Shel Silverstein, Kurt Vonnegut, and Faith Ringgold all did it. And plenty of other authors, too! There are also image-makers who, while better known for their visuals, write splendidly for their books. Take Sally Mann’s prose for her photography books, for instance.

A few of my published books combine my words and images and I have titles with  “illustrative” and “disruptive” approaches, which I will explain in later in this post. My poetry books, Water for the Cactus Woman (Spuyten Duyvil) and Belladonna Magic: Spells in the Form of Poetry & Photography, feature “disruptive” photographs, whereas the poetry collection Heaven Is a Photograph features “illustrative” photographs. I have also created the covers for a few of my books and chapbooks, but that’s really a separate topic from interior artwork. Book covers largely serve to market a book, whereas interior artwork is part of the book itself.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of incorporating photography into your poetry manuscript, read on. But, first, a note: I am using photography as the visual art example here because the barrier to creation is lower than it is for other media. However, you can just as easily apply these two approaches to other types of visual art, including drawing and painting.

Weaving Your Photographs Into Your Poetry Manuscript – guest post by Christine Sloan Stoddard (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

True to my word, I made some new collages for February, which I’ve posted on Instagram.  My collage work is growing and I’m going to have to find a folder to keep the work safe from coffee spills and creases.

My poetry collection What Are You After? was published by Nine Arches Press in 2018, which means that I now have nearly three year’s worth of uncollected poems which I need to give my attention to.  Some of have been published in various places, some are yet to find a home.  I’m keeping an eye on the poetry, in between the plays and the collages.  As well as my own work, I have some poetry reviews to write for The North and I must choose three poems from And Other Poems to nominate to the Forward Prizes, Best Single Poem. The deadline for nominations is fast approaching.  I’m also gradually adding links to recordings of poems already published at And Other Poems, from SoundCloud, Vimeo or YouTube, so that the poems can be experienced by more readers in different ways.  If you have any poems at And Other Poems, do please send me a link to a recording and I will add it to the site.

I’ve gone for walks outside without a coat for the first time in a while, making the most of the mild, gently sunny weather that we’re currently enjoying in west Wiltshire and elsewhere in the UK.  Lots of crocuses out in our local park.  Spring is coming.

Josephine Corcoran, No Big Leaps in February

A friend said I seem lighter these days.
It’s true I’m shedding the ballast of memory;
at times I float high enough to see.
I see the Hoover Dam rise from the desert floor.
I see the waxing moon set the cacti alight.
I see a woman laugh in a YouTube video.
I see a dog watching from down the hallway.
These things too I add to my memory;
in the spaces made by what I’ve left.

Jason Crane, The Accidental Balloonist

Last night, many of us gathered for a YouTube watch party for the virtual premiere of Tasty Other: A Dramatic Song Cycle. What a gift to have Victor Labenske compose this song cycle from nine of my poems! Elda McGinty Peralta and Judith Spaite Labenske brought so much humor, skill, beauty, and brilliance to the vocals, and Victor’s playing and back-up vocals were gorgeous too. The YouTube video will remain available to view; it includes the audio track and the sheet music, which is also available for purchase here.

When I wrote poems based on anxiety dreams during my pregnancy ten years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that some of them would become a song cycle, but last night I got to watch and listen with my nine-year-old son eagerly watching and listening with me, and that was such a joy.

Katie Manning, Tasty Other Song Cycle Premiere

In January, it was 130 years since the birth of the great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam. Mandelstam is widely translated and read in the English-speaking world, but unsurprisingly, his influence is greater in Russian-speaking countries. A victim of state persecution and of the efforts of other literary figures who opposed his subversive views, Mandelstam is as readable and relevant as ever today.

This year, a group of popular musicians have released a tribute album which sets Mandelstam’s words to music. The album is called Сохрани мою речь насегда (in English, Keep My Words Forever) and can be found on streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Music and others. […]

I have listened to the album and was very moved by it. My own grasp of Russian is still nascent and as a result, I’m obviously missing some of the impact of the words. The musical styles featured include jazz, 80s-style pop, rap and more, and the poems include works such as ‘I despise the light’, ‘This night is irredeemable’ and ‘I returned to my city, familiar to tears’. Personally, I definitely liked some tracks better than others. But above all, this project reveals the extreme vitality of Mandelstam’s work in our time, and a desire to bring him closer to new audiences, many of which I am sure will embrace his poems if they haven’t already. I love to see that Mandelstam is still loved so much.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Keep My Words Forever: a tribute album for Osip Mandelstam

In 2010, Terrance Hayes published Lighthead, his third collection, which would go on to win the National Book Award. In the notes at the back, he spends the most time defining the pecha kucha, a mode based on the format of Japanese business presentations. But he also acknowledges that his poem “The Golden Shovel” “is, as the end words suggest, after Gwendolyn Brooks’ ‘We Real Cool.'” A few entries later, he notes, “‘The Last Train to Africa’ is after Elizabeth Alexander’s poem ‘Ladders.’ Like the form used in ‘The Golden Shovel,’ the end words come from her poem.” Hayes would later elaborate on the backstory, which involved asking his two children to memorize poems–one by Langston Hughes, the other by Gwendolyn Brooks–and, after becoming preoccupied with their nightly attempts at recitation, deciding to “string the whole poem down the page and write into it.” Multiple drafts resulted, two of which made it into the collection. 

“The Golden Shovel” would be a striking, classroom-friendly poem under any circumstances, because it showcases Hayes’ gift for the heightened lyric vernacular, his disciplined and yet playful lineation (sometimes enjambing mid-word), and an ongoing thematic concern with the father figure. But something caught afire about this “nonce form”–a term I assign because it’s invention that can be credited to a particular poet, in a particular moment, that may or may not carry forward. What fueled interest is both excitement for Hayes’ work and shared reverence for the figure of Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), an incredibly brilliant poet–the first Black poet to win the Pulitzer Prize, the first Black woman to act as poetry consultant for the Library of Congress. The opportunity to teach these two important voices in conversation helped move the form from the realm of “nonce” to “contemporary form,”  as multiple poets began engaging the mode at the same time. 

The chief engineer of this initiative is Peter Kahn, himself a noted slam poet with an MFA from Fairfield University who, as a Visiting Fellow at Goldsmiths-University of London, founded the Spoken Word Education Training Programme. Kahn has taught in Chicago’s high schools since 1994, and his investment in distilling and assigning the Golden Shovel to students seeded a cohort of young poets. He co-edited, with Ravi Shankar and Patricia Smith, The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks, which came out in 2017 from the University of Arkansas Press. The anthology’s intent, which Kahn described in an interview, was the place student work alongside that of more established poets, all of whom would constitute a “second generation” to Hayes’ original experiment. Hayes’ blessing, in the form of introducing the anthology, offers the clear dictate that “the ‘Golden Shovel’ form belongs to no one so much as Ms. Brooks. Peter Kahn, a citizen of Brooks’ Chicago understands as much.”

Sandra Beasley, The Golden Shovel: On the Legacy of Ms. Brooks and the Future of the Form

Welcome to the Dionysian spring holidays — Mardi Gras, Carnivale, Purim, falling in love — that turn things upside down during a year in which everything has been turned upside down.  It makes for fascinating spatial — and metaspatial — thinking.  If I turn upside down while I’m standing on my head, am I right side up?

No, but it opens the imagination up to all kinds of interesting propositions! What kind of reversals or forays into chaos would you induce to find some new stability, some reemergence of order?  The rabbis back in the day allowed all kinds of forbidden habits to happpen, even commanded them. The faithful get dead drunk, so that their utterance is completely and totally confused.  Up is down, he is she, heavy is light, mourning is celebration.  Surprise breaks into the expected to shatter fixed concepts of reality.  Inside that reality was a little miracle lurking all the time, another divine reality, a seeming opposite joined by a hinge to a larger unity.  

What seems like happy confusion is a whole field of philosophy, naturally, with twists and turns through the nonduality of mysticism and literature. Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, illustrates simultaneous difference and sameness with the famous aphorism: 

“The road up and the road down are the same thing.”  It’s a succinct vision to hold as we approach the anniversary of the pandemic. 

I’m rarely so clear-sighted. I’m in the camp of Artsi Ifrach, an Israeli-Moroccan fashion designer who said, “All those phantasmagorical connections might seem odd to certain people, but for me they create an inner, quiet logic.”

Jill Pearlman, Topsy Turvy Holidays during an Inverted Year

I think I’m perceiving that at certain stages in the development of a poem, the poet needs to move at first without much conscious thought, much the way I just laid water and color down on my paper, and then turned the paper around and around. What I intended was that somehow the colors would create some shape that would allow me to find something on the page to make a picture of. That didn’t happen. In the absence of that intended result, the absence of a discernible object or presence, I had to find another way. The frustration of my intent turned out to be a freedom and a way to discover something new.

The word intend is from Latin meaning stretching toward something. Sometimes in the writing of something, the process of writing itself causes the thing to stretch toward something unexpected. And it might take a clear-eyed view, probably after some time away from the poem, for me to be able to see what my own poem is saying, what it’s claiming as its own intentions or my own subconscious ones.

I’ve got a few poems in my holding cell at the moment, and keep revisiting them. They’re not bad. They’re not good. One in particular came out of an art exhibit the details of which I can no longer remember, but I know I wanted to write something out of the experience of that exhibit. I’m wondering now if I need to leave the exhibit behind, and see if the poem is actually reaching toward something entirely different. But no! That’s not what I intended! Plus if it goes in an entirely different direction then it won’t fit in with this manuscript I’m developing!

Tough luck, kid. Is this an adventure, or ain’t it?

Marilyn McCabe, I was gambling in Havana; or, On Creativity and Intent

My life revolves around lists. As soon as I arrive at my desk in the morning, I check the list I made at the beginning of the week. If it’s Friday, I hope to see a bunch of completed tasks which I’ve been able to check off: “prep for tutoring,” “write review,” “what the heck’s wrong with my website,” “submit.” I write my lists in a 200-page, 99-cent, wide-ruled composition book, which usually lasts about a year. I save my list books and occasionally go through them, noticing that, for example, tasks from 2017 have still not been checked off or that a certain task—i.e., “make new lead magnet”—remains, from week to week, undone.

A list is not just a way to manage your life. It’s also a way to write poems. I use list-making often; in fact, at least half of my poems started as lists. Writing lists is a great way to wake up a sluggish brain, especially one that seems resistant to sudden inspiration (mid-winter doldrums, anyone?) You can make lists of literally anything: words, sounds, flavors, colors, things that make you happy, sad, or angry, seasons, planets, places you’ve visited, places you’d like to visit, and on and on and on.

Making lists is an effective way to break out of writer’s block. One of my tried-and-true methods is to go through the work of a poet I admire and make lists of random lines from their poems.

Erica Goss, The Power of the List

For this poetry prompt for the dead or wounded, start by reading “Fall” by Didi Jackson and give some thought to what you like/admire.

Quite simply, I’m in love with Jackson’s poem. The tenderness in it, not only for the injured bird but also for the little girls as they learn about death, is just lovely. And isn’t it paced perfectly? Its short lines — along with the space between the couplets — allows the moment to unfold slowly. It eases us into the ceremony of caring for our dead and makes room for us to feel the loss. We’re also given space to wonder along with the narrator how we may be teaching children (or others) how to grieve. The narrator is aware of the weight of her words. She is careful with what she shares and what she withholds.

Ultimately, as is so often true, we carry on for the dead, make their work our own. In this case the girls “pick the song // and sing it / over and over again.” And somehow the poem’s form — a long string of short couplets — contributes to the sense that we, in tribute to what we’ve lost, carry on… even if that itself is a sense of falling, stumbling forward as if drawn there (down the page, perhaps inevitably, by a certain kind of gravity).

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt for the dead or wounded

After my father’s
funeral, she stayed in bed for weeks—
En esta tierra, tan solo a mi, all alone
in the land of her living. I don’t know
why the bars of this song have come back
to her now; but she is smiling even in
the parts with yo te quiero and que
me muero. Of course we understand
that to love is to die a little until the end;
even as the throat holds onto that small
tremolo for as long as it can.

Luisa A. Igloria, Tremolando

Love
in the moment of

falling from,
letting go,

is love, as when
the skin

does not know
what the skin

knows.

Tom Montag, LOVE

Be the mirror your lover longs to encounter first thing in the morning.

Dare to let your words go without makeup; those thoughts can often reveal the rawest beauty.

When reading between the lines, make sure you can interpret the syllables of secrets.

From your deepest, most daring and adored dreams, discover a new penpal and write daily.

Know that Van Gogh’s ear hears all the colors of your heart.

Rich Ferguson, Abyss / A Bliss

Today, in another part of the park, I heard someone whistling in the distance, as if calling a dog, but when I got closer I saw it was a man with a bag of seed or breadcrumbs, whistling to call the squirrels, and sure enough, there were dozens around him on the snow and climbing down out of the trees.

And I admit I wondered: if I still lived here when I was really elderly, or really alone, would I turn into an old lady who wanders through the park, feeding the squirrels?

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 57. Winter Scenes in the Park

At this point in the pandemic, a year-ish in now, it’s safe to say the disappointments will be piling up. Maybe there has even been a time or two where you have been disappointed in yourself. I know I have been. It’s easy, as they say, to be a buddhist at the top of a mountain or in a cave, but it’s trickier to practice buddhism among non-buddhists.

By now you’ll have lost loved ones, attended a Zoom funeral, had fallings out with people you thought were friends, gotten hate mail, and you’ve also had to confront the fact that we live in a time where a great many people think it’s okay to just sacrifice old people, people with health conditions, people living in poverty, houseless people. A great many people think it’s okay to be racist. And so it’s not surprising that a lot of people have been talking about hitting yet another wall. Or is it just the same wall we’re bashing into again? For me, it’s not the isolation, or the taking care, or the mask wearing that’s getting to me, it’s all the people who are blatantly not.

I’ve read articles and listened to talks on finding the courage to have nuanced conversations in these difficult times and in all honesty I’m so down with that from an academic stance. But in reality, I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve spent the last decade seriously engaged in all sorts of conversations with all sorts of people, and also writing about these things here and in my novels, and yet here we are. It’s like having all our work erased and then asked to do it all over again, with angrier, more careless, more entitled, more ill-intentioned, and more misinformed people than before. Like, okay, sure, I can do that. After I nap for a thousand years.

Shawna Lemay, The Disappointments Will Be Piling Up

During the last general election campaign, my attention was drawn to several articles that described the echo chamber effect of social media.  In other words, supporters of a party tended to follow people of their own political persuasion. Their timelines and newsfeeds were consequently stuffed full of views that reflected theirs, which led to a misguided belief that everyone was of a similar mindset. Of course, many disappointments on polling days were colossal.

Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about the parallels that exist between the above-mentioned scenario and poetry on social media. These parallels have several manifestations.

First off, there are poets who only surround themselves with others who write within their same aesthetic, thus encouraging them to look inwards, feeling they’re the only true believers. This is very much along the lines of political beliefs, as per my previous anecdote.

Then there’s the bubble, the misguided belief that Twitter or Facebook make up the only poetry world that remains, when huge numbers of poets and readers actually don’t have social media accounts. Moreover, this sensation has grown during the pandemic. Physical contact has been stunted, so there are no opportunities to have conversations with people at readings who’ve never heard of supposed big fish from Twitter, for instance.

And to top it off, there’s a shrinking of the world on social media, as poets only look in on themselves, using their own jargon, their own frames of reference, their own allusions, their own entrenched positions and axes to grind, all going round in ever-decreasing circles. I often think that any non-poets who might venture onto many poetry threads would be scared off for life.

All of the above forms part of my concern that poets tend to cut themselves off from wider society. Social media, while providing excellent chances for people to feel less alone, is unfortunately adept at developing echo chambers. As poets, I feel we should use such platforms to reach out to readers, to share work, to show that we’re inclusive. That way, we might earn ourselves a few votes at the next literary genre elections and at least keep our deposit…!

Matthew Stewart, The echo chamber

There are halls of
mirrors, sometimes

people are like
paper dolls.

The ones that played
with me in childhood,

careful shapes
with scissors,

and coloured
in dresses.

Nor I in 3D, in my
mind sometimes.

One theory of existence is
we are holograms.

Or maybe life is a
blinking in and out,

as with breathing,
but faster than

the speed of light.

Marie Craven, Infinity

These poems are like a dog’s dirty footprint in the middle of the kitchen floor, or like a traffic signal that has gone dark; someone is always right there to complain. If you can get beyond complaint and praise, there is a river. Did you know that? It is always summer there under the shade trees, and the trout are biting.

James Lee Jobe, the early blossoms on my peach tree

The scent
of this covid year:
sour scallion-water
in the kitchen window,

the tail-ends
of green onions
trying to miracle
fresh green from

tap water and sun.
When it catches
in my throat
I choke, then

remember
if my sense of smell
still works,
how lucky

I am.

Rachel Barenblat, Scallions

Last March you became seriously ill with Covid and the recovery time is long and slow. How did this experience change the way you perceived things in general, and creativity in particular?

Yes, it was a rough time. I was hospitalised on oxygen for six days, and although luckily I didn’t get Long Covid, I have noticed differences. I think I’m fully recovered now (touch wood) but I got so tired for a long time and also had such bad brain fog that I couldn’t remember even basic words, not ideal for a writer!

I’ve had a lot of help – my local hospital, Pembury, have been brilliant, and the respiratory physio there actually told me to read as a way of regaining concentration which was interesting. I can see the benefits, reading stops me doomscrolling on social media – doomscrolling, there’s another word I hadn’t heard before this  year.

When I got ill, I’d been working on a novel about an 18th century gardener, but it seemed ridiculous to be writing about the past when what was happening right now was actually where my heart was. I started writing blog posts as a way of helping other people, but also making sense for myself about my experiences.

And then I felt a real urge to write poems. I think this was because the shape worked as a container for a lot of difficult emotions, and also because it helped to lose myself in choosing the exact right word, line break, and even rhythm for what I wanted to say. There was an element of organisation in the writing that I wasn’t finding in my life!

Recently though I’ve been loving reading and watching TV for escapism, and I keep finding myself thinking about my handsome Georgian gardener so who knows! To go back to  your original question, maybe this is the answer – to let ourselves follow what we need to do right now.

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Sarah Salway

the tidelines of the mind
no one’s asphalt 
in everyone’s visual field
the paths are cross
one grows
one erodes
life is a boundary state

Jim Young, insteps

It’s the last day of February.

The sky still glows now past seven in the evening. A few impatient primroses are up, and there are bird calls I haven’t heard since fall. We sputter towards the summer. A day of snow, a day of hail, a day of blue-blue sky, and a south-westerly wind. Snow again. E. is pulling up the cobblestones in the drive, filling in the hollows with sand, and laying them again. Between the weather systems.

Walking Leonard I have an eye out for the lapwing’s return. I listen for the squeeze-toy call. I thought I heard it last night, but E. said I was mistaken. Anticipation, uncertainty. And the funny thing is, I have no idea why it matters to me. I grip onto this though — the lapwing — like gripping onto a handrail to hoist myself up the next step when I am too tired to just let my body move of its own will. Somewhere in me outside of logic, it means something.

About all I know of the lapwing is that it nests in the fields and is vulnerable to the tractors that drive through them.

If winter’s darkness is difficult, spring’s prodding and unpredictability are a trial to endure. Nothing returning from the dead comes back easily. The rearranging of matter causes morning sickness.

Persephone comes
& spring, her colicky infant
cannot fix his gaze
on the world – sleeps & shudders
– no idea what lies in store

Ren Powell, Persephone’s Ambivalence

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 4

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

It’s been a rough month for many, and a rough year for a world suffering through a pandemic. All is not gloom in the poetry blogs, though, and the winter darkness throws flashes of humor or insight into sharp relief. Like so many, I was cheered this week to hear that the inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman, will be reading at the Superbowl. It feels as if poetry is finally going somewhere, even if most poets are still stuck at home.


Lay down the aphorisms, brick by brick. Play word-
tricks: the awkward juggler has to catch all the

balls tossed in the air, here homonyms fall neatly,
at their pleasure. Isn’t war, unwarranted? Isn’t man,

manipulated? Was there a poet present when light
emerged to rhyme with night?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Poetricks

Little B still wakes up 2-4 times a night so my sleep sucks.

As a writer, it is so hard for me to go to bed when B does and to not get up until everyone does. If I stay up an extra hour, I can write in the still darkness of the sleeping house! If I get up an hour early, I can write as the sun breaks open the day! I love writing when the family is asleep – no interruptions or competition for my time.

But this year I am committing to sleep first, write second. When B starts sleeping through the night, I can take up my writing in those odd hours again, but for now, I need to not treat my body like crap.

Renee Emerson, Zzzzzs

That night, I fell asleep in front of Netflix’s The Minimalists, but not before hearing and thinking about its primary message: We are so consumed with having physical things that we forfeit the intangible ones that make us truly happy–time, community, creativity, meaningful accomplishment, rest, health (personal and global). There are some things in my life that are hugely challenging–more challenging than they’ve ever been, maybe–but my friend was seeing something true: I am less stressed. I have fewer obligations and fewer life chores and more time than I’ve ever had for long conversations, leisurely meals, neighborhood walks, and serious contemplation. I’ve begun moving through my days at a slower pace, doing what I reasonably can rather than what some unreasonable voice is telling me I should. (No one seems to have noticed or, if they have noticed, to have cared.) That voice has gone mostly silent.

My life–not unlike the Roses’–is much smaller than it once was. There are people and places I deeply miss, but most of what has fallen away I do not. My connections to what and who remains are deeper. I don’t know that I am happier; the departure of Busyness made it easier for Hard Things to come in. But on the whole, I am calmer. I am finding that letting some of those hard things claim space has been easier than fighting to hold the door against them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of stories and self-care

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had Covid dreams. Logically, I should be more concerned, considering the increase in local cases of the new mutation. I don’t know. Maybe my subconscious has played out the scenario so many times it has soothed itself. Or simply resigned.

It’s been below freezing for a couple of weeks. The house is a little cold, which means the bedroom is especially chilly – and that’s good for sleep.

I doubt the dreams are gone for good. But I’ll enjoy these deep-sleep nights for now.

I’ve only rarely gone outside this week. But enough to see the full moon begin to sag just a little. I’ve stood on the deck to watch – and hear – the sparks flying from the contact cables when the freight train passes. It frightens Leonard, who otherwise loves the cold weather. I wonder if the smell of the hares in the area sits in relief above the smell of the clean snow.

Ren Powell, Warm Bodies in Cold Rooms

But over the last two years, as I’ve been getting ready for this book to come out, I have woken up in the middle of the night anxious about my poems–not the craft of them, that I have worked on endlessly, but that some deal with some very personal topics. As I received my final edits this week, I found myself waking up at 3 am with a “what have I done?” feeling. Along with the gratitude and thankfulness of this book, I’ve been hit with the classic–Omg, people are actually going to read this! 

Talking with other women poets, I realize many have also had this fear or concern as their books and poems come out into the world. It comes down to risk, we need to write what scares us.

I took a class with Brenda Hillman and after we shared a poem, she would ask us, “What did you risk?” Some people would say, “I’m writing in a new form” or “I risked sentimentality” but some would say, “I’m writing about something that makes me feel shameful” or “I’m writing about a topic I have been afraid to share.” Every time we risk or write about the things we are afraid to or think we shouldn’t, we open doors for other poets to do the same thing. 

In a world of filters and photoshop, it can be hard to be real and vulnerable. Sometimes we want to put on a lot of concealer and cover what we consider are our flaws. I want to consider that word “flaw”–maybe what we consider our “flaws” are us just being human. Maybe when we are able to say “this happened to me” or “this was very hard to write about and equally hard to publish,” we are finding ways for others to feel less alone in the world. 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Feel the Fear and Write It Anyway

One comes away feeling that Dillard is struggling, hard, with the aftereffects of some kind of deeply traumatic experience, of which the frog being sucked dry by a giant water bug — the book’s most disturbing, recurring motif — is just a pale reflection. Sometimes I felt her angst was arising only because she had her framing wrong and was looking at the situation backward, leading her to anguished conclusions (the chapter on “Fecundity” for instance: “Evolution loves death more than it loves you or me.”). Other times I was grateful and amazed for her ability to describe transcendent/immanent experiences in which the self disappears and life shines forth in all its blinding presence (the chapters on “Presence” and “Stalking” for instance).

Overall, an undeniable classic of nature literature, of course, but also a reading experience I wouldn’t recommend to just anyone. Don’t come here unless you like having your hair set aflame.

Dylan Tweney, The tree with the lights in it

I didn’t get a “hit of sun” this morning, but those few extra minutes of light, even from behind thick clouds, made a difference. Checking the sunrise/sunset times for today, I see that the sun came up at 7:33 am and will go down at 5:17 pm. That’s forty-one more minutes of light since December 21, 2020. Not that I’m counting.

The thing about SAD, at least for me, is that I don’t really notice it until it starts to recede. Then I realize that the darkness did affect my mood, dulling it just enough for me to observe the change when the light starts to return. 

Light affects my hens too. During the Fall, they lay fewer and fewer eggs. Commercial egg producers address this by adding artificial light to their chicken coops, which explains why we can buy eggs year-round. 

I prefer to let my hens have a rest, knowing they’ll start laying again as soon as the light returns. During the dark months, I feed them extra-choice tidbits, add apple cider vinegar to their water, and make sure they have dry bedding. I watch for signs of stress, which include poor appetite, aggression, and pulling each other’s feathers. Every once in a while, I let them out of their pen to explore the larger backyard.

On December 31, 2020, I wrote this haiku:

                           every day
                           another morsel of light
                           in spite of everything

I hope the returning light inspires your writing.

Erica Goss, I’m a SAP: A Seasonally Affected Poet

It’s currently snowing and they are daring to call it a blizzard, but it at least worked out to be happening over the weekend, when I am tucked inside safely until Monday afternoon.  I’ve been cleaning a little, drafting the latest Paper Boat, drinking tea, and making chicken soup. All very relaxing after a long week, that began with the cats trying to kill us by turning on the stove last Sunday morning (just a lot of smoke and a very badly damaged stir-fry pan that happened to be on the burner), and ended with a Friday that felt like I was chasing my tail at work and not getting all that much accomplished besides answering and sending faculty e-mails and lib answer queries in the hours I was there.  It was also just cold and snowed a lot.  I slept really late this morning covered in cats (who cannot kill me now that I have child protectors on the stove knobs) and buried beneath the covers to escape the chill. Lately, with everything else going on, it being winter feels like a personal affront that is not really personal at all. 

Thursday, I spent some time choosing work for reading in a week or so for the Poetry Foundation, and decided to go with a batch of the tabloid poems, mostly because they are humorous and a lot less dark than most of what I’ve been writing lately and since last year.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 1/30/2021

Groceries unpacked, my feet are frozen in leaking drifts of winter. Someone posts Pema Chodron droning on about seeking meaning in the presence of death as though this is a novel idea, as though some of our bodies don’t have to live there all the time: what did I do with my hours, they ask. Did I value what I value? What is a day for when we are all soon to die?

To love, and be loved, I snap at the screen, obviously, and scroll on looking for something not obvious, for something to surprise me: spend years in death’s talons and you know there is nothing else but this body and the way it loves and is loved, by every measure of that foolish word.

Sure, talk to me about checking accounts and free gifts so I can notice your laughlines and try to remember what a landscape unfrozen looks like, what love is when it is not scrapped. All else is waste. The chasing of money in freezing drifts. So much of this just obvious noise. People post about astrology. Aliens. Ferfuckssake, I think, and click away, exhausted by the endless reaching for fantasy when the real, the wondrous, is right here, you just have to see it, then nurture it. Maybe I should have just given him my phone number.

Mom still isn’t really waking, or eating, or sleeping. Except sometimes she does: it’s not low oxygen causing it, just covid, just death’s talons, just her decision in her animal body whether to beat it or be beaten. I don’t know whether it’s beating me or I’m beating it, she says, and I tell her I’m so sorry I can’t be there with her. Her floor quarantined, her memory an Escher hallway, her existential end a solitary conflict between animal body and remaining cognition that knows she does not want to live like this. I negotiate with her lack of appetite: what about grapes? Mashed potatoes? A brownie? Her dehydration: not even ginger ale. What about a Coke?

JJS, Wolf Moon

Whisper it quietly, but I think that January might just be over. I’m not 100% convinced, but early indications are that February will commence as of tomorrow.

This is good as it means I can a) stop running every day and b) drink again. I could, of course, have started/stopped (delete as applicable) either of these things at any time, but I chose to persevere with them and I wanted to stick to them. Just to prove that I can make my own choices I am now going to open a beer. I think I’ve earned it for the running part.

In media-type Twitter circles whenever you see a brand or person/both go viral (whatever that means), either for good work or a faux pas, you will often hear someone say I bet that makes it into a deck* by a planner. Essentially, it will be quickly subsumed into being used as an example of what works (usually without any proof it works or any definition of what works actually means).

However, I was reminded of this briefly during the week when I walked past Flo’s room and heard her English teacher talking to the class via Teams about Amanda Gorman’s poem from the Biden/Harris inauguration. I was amazed to hear that Gorman’s poem had made it to the curriculum so quickly. It hasn’t, but it was wonderful to hear the poem being used to hopefully make poetry seem relevant to Flo’s class.

I’m not 100% sure where I stand on the poem myself, but I can totally see how it can help to get poetry out to people and pique interest. I hope that her being the first poet to read at the Superbowl and her subsequent modeling contract bring her all the right attention, and also that if even one person picks up a pen as a result then it’s all good.

Mat Riches, Gardiner At Night

Poetry is in the news these days. Not just the luminous performance of Amanda Gorman at the Biden Inauguration, but tweets that are snapshots of poems and articles that extol the benefits of pandemic poetry processing. Poems like whales in the bay, rise to the surface with a gust of sound and then sinking gracefully only to rise again twenty feet away. 

After Gorman’s recitation, I received more than a handful of emails and private messages on various social media platforms asking, “Was that a good poem?” I saw the bitter sniping by some of the academic establishment. I saw enjoyment, even amazement, by folks that probably thought that poetry was “too hard” or not for them, and here they were loving a poem and its graceful and gracious presentation.

My response to their questions about Gorman’s poem on Facebook: 

Did it touch you? Did it resonate with you?  These are the questions you must answer to understand if it was a good poem FOR YOU. The days of the gatekeepers are over, especially for the older, white, cis-het university crowd.  I find myself going back to something W.S. Merwin wrote: If you find you no longer believe, enlarge the temple. Let’s let the temple of poetry be as large as the whole world. Read poetry. Write it. Talk about it. Love it. Share it. Enlarge the temple.

The past few evenings, I’ve been reading the poetry of Rebecca Elson, who was primarily an astronomer but who wrote breathtakingly beautiful poems in her scant 39 years of life. I’ve been sharing them on social media because I want other people to learn about her work, to be nourished by her poems. Poetry as part of the gift culture, not the capitalist culture. I’ll never make my living writing poetry (something my father was quick to point out to me when I was fifteen), but it will be the way that I make my life. 

Whatever your gift is, I hope that today you will have the pleasure of sharing it.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Gift culture

I have to admit I’m not keen on references to gatekeepers in poetry, as the term implies that poets might somehow find favour with people who could grant them access to a supposed citadel or inner sanctum, at which point they’ll have arrived and somehow made it to the top. This mistaken belief inevitably leads to continual and continuous frustration for the poets in question.

Of course, there’s always a social establishment in the poetry world (as in many others), which is successively replaced by new establishments, all with their own prejudices, favourites and friends. However, I personally find that the key as an individual is to focus efforts on living, reading, writing, finding readers who are already out there and generating new ones for the genre rather than wasting precious energy on the pursuit of a non-existent Holy Grail…

Matthew Stewart, Poetry’s inner sanctum

My goal to keep learning about women writers and their lives continues, this week with the second season of Dickinson, the Apple series on Emily Dickinson, reading Red Comet, the latest biography of Sylvia Plath, and also research on Stella Gibbons, a curiously undercelebrated early-twentieth century English novelist and poet, who wrote Cold Comfort Farm, the satiric novel she’s best known for, but also 22 other books, including a couple of books of poetry and many short stories and the book I’m reading now, My American. Stella was, like me, was a journalist before she was a poet and fiction writer. Many of her books are out of print and unavailable in America, but she won a bunch of awards in her day, and held literary salons into the 1970s. When I read about the lives of successful women writers, I’m always curious about their similarities – for instance, women writers like Atwood, Gluck, and Plath (and me) were all the daughters of scientists – Gibbons’ father was a doctor (“a good doctor,” his daughter would say, “but a terrible father” – he was often violent at home but charitable at work). Otto Plath was one of the leading experts on bumblebees in his time – he began his PhD at Harvard at age 40 before he met Plath’s mother, so he was a very old father – but not, by all accounts, much fun to be around. (Coincidentally, Plath’s son, Nicholas, kind of followed in his grandfather’s footsteps – became a leading expert in the Northwest on salmon and orca patterns, before taking his own life in his early forties.)  Sylvia had a kind of extreme ambition and broke 50s modes by being a woman who wanted to work and have children at the same time (gasp), while Stella Gibbons poked fun at the literary community and often refused to follow convention of what women writers were supposed to be like. Being different – standing out – and rebelling against current modes.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Learning from Women Writers, Under a Wolf Moon, Looking at Book Publishers During Submission Season, and Waiting (and Waiting) for the Vaccine

Mingus! Dolphy!
Elderly people doing yoga!
Park pavilions full of
downward dogs & the upper class.
The Buick owners realigning their chakras
before heading off to brunch.
Everyone has a dog or else no one does.
There’s ozone in the air but the sun is out.
Where’s the promised thunder?
The desert is a dirty liar.
The bass clarinet will have to do.

Jason Crane, POEM: Revenge!

If a clonk on the head with a coconut could dispel my problems I’d line up for a whap. And if the people I love asked, I’d cure their worst troubles with a coconut whap too. This contradicts what I’m beginning to understand about the powerful lessons embedded in mistakes and suffering. But as I get older I get more impatient. The coconut option just seems a hell of a lot easier.

I imagine ridiculous, Gilligan’s Island-worthy scenarios where a mass coconut drop on our country erases racism, sexism, inequality, greed, heck, all our major problems. I imagine us rubbing our heads with peaceful, bemused expressions as we gather up the coconuts and make each other inventive, delicious meals out of all that bounty.

Until I remember, on Gilligan’s Island, whatever problems were solved by a sudden coconut hit were always cancelled out by an inevitable follow-up coconut hit. The professor forgets his brilliant insight, Mary Ann again judges her looks by impossible standards, Gilligan transforms back into a clueless underling. Getting that second hit is pretty much what happens to most of us when epiphanies slide from memory, when awe fades, when the weight of consumer culture drags us back into ruts.  

Laura Grace Weldon, Clonk

We’ve looked for that fabled
plant of many colors, the bird

whose song grows a canopy of grace
over the blighted land. We’ve pushed

our stone-heavy hearts into the wood,
afraid to return without remedy,

without salve. We would lie
down with each other if we knew

we could send strong
new roots into the earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Anti-Elegy

I got the first dose of the vaccine, last Wednesday. As a massage therapist, I count as a health care worker, so I’m in the first wave. It’s a relief to know that, even as I dawdle and second guess and hang about, my body is busily manufacturing antibodies. In one way, nothing changes: none of my behaviors will change, for a while yet. But it feels totally different. We will win this thing, eventually.

Also: I am very, very tired.

Dale Favier, Things Taking Shape

Last spring the shelves of grocery stores were often bare. No toilet paper, no flour, no Clorox wipes. Fruits and vegetables were hard to find, for a while. We haven’t returned to those levels of privation (yet) this winter, but there are ingredients I can’t find. I think of previous generations cooking during wartime, or in the shtetl, or in the Warsaw Ghetto. (I don’t want to think of subsisting on what food was available in the camps.) This isn’t like that, but that’s the narrative frame that comes to mind. 

When I read about people who refuse to wear masks or maintain social distancing, I think: would you have turned on your lights during the Blitz? It’s not a kind thought, but I struggle to feel kindness toward those whose actions put others at risk. Much about this pandemic year feels like a discipline: staying apart, staying masked, staying alone, cooking with what I can get. The hardest discipline is maintaining a healthy balance between facing reality, and not perseverating about the reality we face.

The hardest discipline is cultivating hope. This week on the Jewish calendar we mark the New Year of the Trees. Symbolically, spiritually, the sap of the coming spring and summer is beginning to rise. The potential for flower and fruit lies coiled in every seed. The days will lengthen. The vaccine will become available to everyone. The branches that are now bare will carry a profusion of fruit. Can I hold the experience of January’s bitter cold alongside the certainty that in its time spring will come? 

Rachel Barenblat, Discipline

Scrolling through Twitter one morning, as one does, I saw that someone posted a video with the caption, “turn up your sound” but I mis-read it as turn up your soul. We see what we need to see sometimes.

Maybe it’s nearly time to reconstitute the world:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

—Adrienne Rich

Maybe it’s time for poems to fill with light again, for poets. Which is to say, all of us.

A poetry of the meaning of words
And a bond with the universe

I think there is no light in the world
but the world

And I think there is light

— George Oppen

In my study, as shown above, there are most likely a lot of conversations taking place. Between Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Mrs. Dalloway, a cloud. Who knows what they’re talking about? On the bookshelves as well. As it turns out I file Anne Sexton beside Hermann Hesse.

Sexton: “I am not lazy. / I am on the amphetamine of the soul.”

She also said, “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”

I’m not one of these people who is going to tell you everything will be alright. For many it simply won’t be. Or hasn’t been.

Shawna Lemay, Turn Up Your Soul

Back to teaching full time this week. Been exciting and inspiring, while at the same time very real. What I mean is that the more I teach, the more I feel myself be more myself. And it’s not a thing I can summon or call forth. The space held in shared open questioning and conversation calls it forth.

Tangentially connected, at one point this week I watched this interview and supplemental writing “exercise” clips between Trevor Noah and Amanda Gorman that are illuminating. In the interview, Gorman speaks of poetry as water, a way to “re-sanctify, re-purify, and reclaim” the world around us. Her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” and its consequent impact on our American conscience at this moment in time are a solid gesture and step in the direction of this work.

In the second clip, Noah and Gorman engage in a predictive text writing exercise. It’s the kind of thing I see on Twitter sometimes and can’t help but join in on. Engaging directly and purposefully with predictive text can at times feel like having an echo of your latest obsessions as well as the way you articulate yourself in daily life cast back at you. Sometimes the screens in our hands look back, yo.

José Angel Araguz, writing prompt: predictive text

I’ve been trying to draw and paint more regularly. It’s therapy, and it’s a joy, and it’s a way to remember who I am — as well as, I suppose, record who I was. My sketchbooks are just as much a diary as a written one, but that reminds me of my recurrent dream where I’m seated at the piano and required to play, except that what’s on the music stand isn’t a musical score but a painting. Somehow, I start playing what I see, and in the dream, it seems to make sense…

For someone who works in both words and in images, as well as being a musician, that dream feels all too real, and it makes me ask the question of whether a diary of one’s days isn’t just as valid if it is drawn as when it is written. Of course, the two can be merged together, as I guess I sometimes do here on my blog. But because I often find words (and especially, my own words) tedious, I like the idea of “reading” a sketchbook in order to discern something about a person’s life.

When I look through my drawings of the past year, however, I don’t think anyone else could tell we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Taken in the context of all the other sketchbooks from other years, it’s clear that the artist often goes other places, and hasn’t in a long while. But otherwise, except for a couple of pages at the beginning where the chaotic state of my mind was evident, all I can detect is a turn toward more color, the same objects appearing repeatedly, and occasional forays into places I’ve visited, mainly Mexico City, Sicily, and Greece.

As we near the one-year mark of isolation, in another month, in the middle of yet another winter, I can tell you that I am intensely tired of these walls and these two rooms. I’ve been going up to my studio a couple of afternoons a week, and managed to do a painting of Sicily this week.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 55. Inside, Outside, and Elsewhere

My poem “After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night” has been published in Kahini Quarterly.

I’m especially glad that this deeply personal poem found a home in Kahini Quarterly, which is the most selective and highest paying literary journal I know. I was so shocked when I got this acceptance last week; I responded by going to sleep for 12 hours! I’m grateful to the editors for choosing my work and for placing such value on writing, and I’m overwhelmed by the messages of affirmation and solidarity I’ve received.

Kate Manning, “After an Older Man…” in Kahini Quarterly

In poetry news, I’m waiting to hear about a few submissions (just had a big rejection) and I’m toying with the idea of a pamphlet submission.  I’m not sure I’m ready for another collection yet.  I’m a bit stuck with poetry at the moment, and I’ve been reading prose and scripts because I’m finding poetry difficult to access.  Perhaps a break from poetry will cleanse my palate. I’m re-reading The Great Gatsby after listening to a superb episode of In Our Time in which the book was discussed.  I’ve always loved Fitzgerald’s prose and revisiting feels like calling in to see an old friend.

Josephine Corcoran, Two Chopsticks and a Pencil for the Hyacinths

Canadian poet Christopher Patton’s latest title is Dumuzi (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2020), a a poetry collection that follows his poetry debut, Ox(Montreal QC: Vehicule Press, 2007), as well as his Medieval translations Curious Masonry (Gaspereau Press, 2011) and Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book (Gaspereau Press, 2018). Having established himself as having an interest in exploring and reworking older source texts, Patton’s Dumuzi appears a blend of those two earlier threads of his publishing history, composing a translation inasmuch as Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? can be seen as a translation of The Odyssey; both rework from the bones of their original sources, and through the creation of a new and original work, uncover previously unseen meaning and depth from such ancient texts. Dumuzi tears apart and reworks old Sumerian myths into an assemblage of lyric fragments and sketches, as he explains as part of his essay “THE GOD DUMUZI AND THE POLICE FORCE INSIDE”: “I see now that my pleasure in pattern for its own sake, there on the signal-noise threshold, was an approach to translation. I was working with the Sumerian myths of Inanna and Dumuzi. Their stories are liturgically redundant, enough so to alter your time-sense, when you’re inside them. And a persistent theme of the poems is the agon, if you like, of form and formlessless.” Dumuzi reworks an ancient tale through the building-blocks of language itself, opening with a short suite of establishing poems to set the foundation of his narrative before the narrative fractures and fractals out in multiple directions. It is as though Patton works translation, mistranslation and misheard translation, utilizing the loose structure of the ancient Sumerian stories and utilizing his play from those ancient bones.

rob mclennan, Christopher Patton, Dumuzi

Philip Hoare is another writer whom I admire. His Risingtidefallingstar (2017) is Sebaldian in many ways: its episodic mixture of what appears to be autobiography – though Hoare doesn’t, fictionalise it like Sebald did – and potted accounts of incidents from the lives of literary and other figures of historical importance. Risingtidefallingstar includes chapters on gay and bisexual writers – Wilde and Stephen Tennant (about both of whom he has previously written at length), Wilfred Owen (about whose life I hitherto knew little bar the Craiglockhart interlude and the agonising futility of his death so close to the Armistice) and Virginia Woolf. But Hoare also recounts biographical details from the lives of others intimately connected with water: Melville, Nelson, Thoreau, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Shelley and Byron.

I know its details well, but the story of Shelley’s end resounds with me whenever I read it. In June 2017, Lyn and I holidayed in Viareggio, where Edward Trelawney, Byron and co. ceremonially burnt Shelley’s corpse on the beach, fifteen days after the fatal boat trip and five after the body had washed up. A year later, we took the train north from Pisa to La Spezia, and then a taxi, whose driver initially dropped us at the wrong place in Lerici, before dropping us at Casa Magni itself, where Shelley and his family and friends were staying when he died. Hoare’s account, like others I’ve read (including that of Richard Holmes), states that the house is in Lerici, but it’s actually couple of miles along the coast, in San Terenzo, with a lovely beach and bay of its own. When we arrived, we found the house, now a hotel, locked up and there was no answer when we rang the bell. After a while, we were admitted and shown to what was Shelley’s bedroom. For several days we were the only guests, and the staff were absent to the point of invisibility, as if it were our own house. When two other (English) guests appeared at breakfast, it felt like a gross intrusion.

As one would expect from someone who grew up and still lives in the great port city of Southampton, whence the Titanic began its voyage, the book is dominated by the coastline – e.g. the pretext for Barrett Browning’s inclusion is her sojourn in Torquay – and oceans and the peril they bring. In that, it reminded me of Anne-Marie Fyfe’s equally restless mixture of memoir, biography and travelogue, No Far Shore, with which it shares some concerns. Followers of Hoare on Twitter will be well aware of his daily swim in the sea and how it’s an essential part of his life. As the cetacean-obsessed writer of Leviathan, he is, or would love to be, half-man–half-dolphin, meeting jellyfish and a singing whale. At New Networks for Nature a few years ago, Hoare enthralled me and the rest of the audience with his tales of close encounters with sperm whales off the coasts of the Azores. As I read his book, I heard and felt his enthusiasm and learning.

Matthew Paul, January Reading

winter swimming
my fingers are sausages
my toes are white

Jim Young [no title]

holding my breath
the dragonfly’s
stilled wings

I’ve not been particularly poetic, or productive, this week. Tired from work, tired from the cold weather, maybe tired of the gloom that surrounds us mid-pandemic. But January’s like that sometimes. I keep telling myself spring is just around the corner. The days are lengthening a little, and I hear the birds singing when I go out with the dog. I’ve done the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend – 2 male blackbirds, a pair of collared doves and a scattering of house sparrows. I was hoping for more variety as we often have goldfinches and blue tits, and now and again the trauma of a sparrow hawk. Anyway, I had to be content with what I saw.

The colouring/ collage above is from a mindfulness colouring book someone bought me for Christmas. I had more time over the Christmas holiday, and rather than just colour, I also used collage techniques to fill some of the pages (see below). Anyway, the dragonfly page lent itself to a haiku.

Julie Mellor, holding my breath

As poets, I don’t believe we ever ‘start from nothing’. Or rather – I think that there’s a huge potential in every nothing we encounter. Our lives and lived experiences – although rich and vital components of our work – are also only one approach to writing.

My little bureau under the stairs is dedicated to what Don Paterson calls the ‘wild red eye’ stage of writing: where you play, experiment, set out to see how you might surprise yourself. (I edit upstairs at my desk, where I welcome the ‘cold blue eye’ of my Inner Editor).

Some mornings, the Muse rings the doorbell and leaves a parcel – or pops in for a cup of tea (they’re non-corporeal, so we don’t need to socially distance). Other mornings, there are no deliveries: I am there, with a notebook and a desk. But that desk is covered in decks of cards – including Fashion and Art Oracles, some home-printed ‘Oblique Strategies’, some new ‘votive cards’ which encourage embodied writing, the ‘Don’t/Do This Game’ of ‘thought experiments for creative people’.

There are fridge poetry words, and shelves of books of prompts. I’ve also got the Parrot Random Word generator app and several sets of story dice – real and digital (my favourite are the actions Story Cubes, which are great for getting writers to consider their verbs…). Sometimes, I’ll explore news articles – especially around environment – and then muddle up some phrases with found words to invite my response. You get the idea.

An aside: my late Granny Joy was a toy collector and serious hoarder (she actually had a box labelled ‘Bits of string too short to be useful’) and my late Granddad Eric, a toy designer and maker: I’m in a lineage of tinkerers and gatherers. All this creative ‘stuff’ is my way of embracing that inheritance. You might be an aesthetic anti-clutter minimalist – but keeping in mind that we can always ‘invoke the Muse’ is, I think, helpful for everyone. Which toys, games, ways of reinstating your playfulness, might work for you?

Unlocking Creativity with Caleb Parkin (at Abegail Morley’s blog The Poetry Shed)

I type “helpful” notes on my phone in the middle of the night when “inspiration” hits. Two recent entries include “I say potato, you say roboto” and “donut shop awnings, orange & pink.” So clearly, writing in 2021 is going swimmingly.

Here’s my prayer to the weather gods: May this coming week-long deep freeze be the only one of the season.

I miss date nights shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar leaning even closer for deep conversation. It’s one of my favorite forms of intimacy. Pillow talk in public places.

Carolee Bennett, pillow talk in public places

there are people who say
that only humans have souls
others say that everything has a soul
or is a part of a great over-soul
and yet there are others
who don’t believe in souls at all
last night a hard storm came
and knocked out the electricity for hours
i didn’t light a candle
i sat in the total darkness
listening to the rain and wind
wrapped in an old blanket

James Lee Jobe, a part of a great over-soul

I gave myself some time this week to write and revise, and it reminded me how happy that makes me, to concentrate on one kind of work at a time. Instead of hurting like a warehouse (I love that simile), my brain shifts into a mode of focused exploration; I can fall asleep all right, and I wake up almost cheerful. It’s amazing to me how even sabbatical, a time supposedly dedicated to focused reading and writing, gets fractured into a million tasks. Or, I mean, I fracture it; there is a world of need out there, but there’s also my guilt and, often, restless energy. The problem with the writing-dream being my salve is that it eventually begets more busy-work: submissions, proofs, getting word out on social media even when I know social media makes me unhappy (oh, FB)… Again I think of Bowie, whose 1970s diet allegedly oscillated between cocaine and milk.

My endless little post-writing tasks bore sweet fruit this week. Last winter, I thought about who shine a light on The State She’s In: my small press sends out copies but doesn’t have a publicist, so I was telling myself I needed to make my own luck. I sent out a ton of applications for festivals, reading series, conferences, etc., but I also tried something I hadn’t before: I studied the reviews in The Rumpus, found someone who writes really great ones and seems to be interested in books like mine, and wrote to her out of the blue to ask if she’d like to see my digital ARCs or receive a copy of the published book. Yes, she said, although no promises; even if she got to it, it would be a while. And here it is, an extraordinarily long, thoughtful, generous dream of a review by Julie Marie Wade in The Rumpus.

Lesley Wheeler, My brain hurt like a warehouse

Cloud faces floating, a slow-mo swirling through earth’s sky rivers.

Those faces fade, reappear as others’ faces, then reappear as your own face looking down at you.

You reach up to touch your cloud-self, but heartworn concertos sing the sky asunder.

You are here, you are gone, then you’re here again as the ghostly hems of sky’s river clothes mend,

and you are dressed in the most beautiful blue.

Rich Ferguson, Cloud faces floating

Crisp air, fragile sun,
soft frozen white on the roofs.
January leaves

questions unanswered.
How much longer till, when, where,
can we meet again?

Magda Kapa, January 2021

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: blues, anxiety, uncertainty, cautious celebration, (in)auguries, and embodiment. Plus some insights into small publishing, the joys of book reviewing, the writing process, and as always the books that might or might or not be helping us get through it all.


Blue. To let blue in. Early morning blue and middle of the night blue. The hue of deep rivers and the hue of Steller’s jays. A color that flexes depending on what reflects it, evoking peace, spaciousness, as well as sorrow.

It is January of 2021 which is precisely eleven years after I started this website/ blog/ newsletter amalgam. I haven’t posted anything for the last year because my former server suddenly stopped supporting all of the intricate behind-the-scenes codes necessary for me to update securely. And the hassle and difficulty to move everything seemed so insurmountable in the middle of it all.

Lately, though, I’ve felt that snippets and sound-bytes on social media maybe aren’t enough. The maelstrom of pick-pick-pick on such platforms lends one play it safe so as not to arouse ire, self-righteous indignation, punishment. At the beginning of the year, I admitted on Facebook that I hadn’t posted the number of books that I read in 2020 because I did not want to deal with mean-spirited remarks. (For the record, 154 books, 106 of which were poetry collections).

Indigo. How to navigate loss while remembering how lucky one is? 

Cerulean. Aiming for the sucker-hole when the whole sky is grey but for that one opportunity.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Welcome back

This poem was written when my children were very young and my fear of losing them, all-consuming. Over the years, this fear has morphed into something I can live with. Sometimes it’s a mere worry, a claw of unease scratching between my shoulder blades. Other times, it becomes deep anguish, growing out of proportion like wildfire. Perhaps this is what it means to be a parent–along with the bone-melting joy of perpetuating life, you get to worry about all the things that could harm your children out there, in the carnivorous world.

Romana Iorga, Two Children

I like my doctor. She’s a good, diligent doctor and she is a nice and caring person. I understand that she was just thinking out loud as she worked through her clinical decision-making process. But words have impact, and perhaps saying “biopsy” right out of the gate wasn’t the most sensitive approach. I work around a lot of nurses and medical-type folk, and I am constantly astonished at the casual way they talk about medical maladies and blood-spurting and “impacted colons” and God knows what other disasters that befall the human body with upsetting regularity. (How on earth does one get an impacted colon? Do you eat a brick?) I’ve been working in hospitals for almost ten years now and I’ve never gotten used to it. It’s great for them, the “medical haves” who understand that things can be fixed and who have the clinical knowledge and know-how to heal the sick, but for the rest of us, the“medical have-nots,” that stuff freaks us the eff out. I don’t care if my theoretical, non-existent cancer was treatable or not. Just because my doctor knows it would have been treatable does not mean that this was not a potential catastrophe for me. I cannot get cancer. Cancer is for plucky housewives in Lifetime movies. I am too crabby and too negative to survive something like that. I do not and will not have a positive mindset and I would be punished for my pessimism by a swift death. Everyone understands that principle. It’s the law of karma.

At any rate, my imaging results were totally normal and everything is fine. It was just a weird anomaly, and now I regret even having said anything because I probably shaved a few years off my life with the cortisol spike this caused.

Kristen McHenry,The B-Word, Medical Have-Nots, Death by Pessimism

When I start my weekly Sunday run, at 9.33, it’s just starting to snow. I presume, though, that it will be nothing more than the lightest, icing-sugar dusting. It hasn’t snowed properly in this corner of north-east Surrey / south-west London for about six years, but down it comes. To run through it is a full-on, sensory, exhilarating experience.

          refilled as quickly as I make them footprints in the snow

I watch my footing and slow my pace: I’m sure that pitching up at A & E with a broken ankle would not endear me to the brave, fantastic folk at Kingston Hospital.

          snow settles
          on a small allotment:
          the bean canes aslant

Matthew Paul, Snow Biz

Another round-up of thoughts as I’m finding myself consistently and effectively overworked but wanting, needing to connect, to word here:

– That it’s been hard to hear others speak of hope this week.

– That it’s been hard to hear others sign off on emails with some reference to vaccines being “on their way!” As if they had a hand in the accomplishment. As if it brought loved ones back.

– That it’s been hard to feel what I cannot call hope but can neither call despair.

– That it’s been hard to hear others share that they feel relief for the first time in four years.

– That I’ve been feeling what I cannot call hope but can neither call defeat much longer than four years.

– That what I cannot call hope has me like the speaker of this poem by Rio Cortez, wary, certain while also uncertain of what’s there ahead.

José Angel Araguz, what I cannot call hope

My poem “Dolly, When I Met You There Was Peace” was included in the Dolly tribute issue of Limp Wrist that was released today (her 75th birthday)! Check out this whole amazing issue. I’m honored to be in such company!

As if this tribute issue weren’t enough, tonight we brought the pieces to life via Zoom at the Wild & Precious Life Reading Series. What a joyful way to celebrate a wonderful human! Thanks to Dustin and Julie for including me.

Katie Manning, Dolly Tribute

Eighteen poems [by Beau Beausoleil] written over the course of half a century document the tumultuous relationship between a timeless elemental and a poet of our time.

The Muse is essentially capricious, erratic in her comings and goings, supremely undependable.

She wears red and black and always makes a dramatic entrance. She is glamorous and shabby, magnificent and pathetic, needy and generous with her random gifts. She has bad habits and an unhealthy lifestyle.

She stays away for months and turns up when least expected. She makes unreasonable demands, and gives unreliable advice. She’s superstitious, manipulative and amoral. She never apologises nor ever explains.

Commitment is not in her vocabulary, though she is fluent in all the languages humans have ever spoken.

She is maiden and crone but she’s nobody’s wife, nobody’s mother. She is Sibyl and Siren. Don’t call her a goddess; she is contemptuous of those who worship her. But she’s happy to sit on a bar-stool or on a river-bank and have a conversation with one who comes close to understanding her and will buy her a whisky or find her a cigarette.

She has come in many different guises, as the Muse of Homer, Sappho, Dante, Shakespeare and countless others. We can’t do the work of poetry without her.

These poems are bruising and uplifting, tender and harsh, down-to-earth and otherworldly; they are full of honesty and subtle wit.

Ama Bolton, Meeting the Muse

There are only four more poets to post at my poetry site, And Other Poems, before I take a break from posting.  The site had gone to bed for 20 months but I opened it up to submissions in November, while waiting for the US election results.  It was a means of distracting myself from feeling dreadfully tense and was also a gesture of support to the poetry community I belong to at the start of another UK lockdown. Now, as the final poems selected from the open submissions window are posted, Joe Biden has been inaugurated into the White House.  So I know that time has moved on, even though time feels the same. I watched snippets of the ceremony on Wednesday and was moved to tears more than once.  Lady Gaga made me cry, actually, with her sincerity and beauty, as did Jennifer Lopez speaking a line from the Woody Guthrie song ‘This Land is Your Land’ in Spanish.  What a time in history we have been through and are still living through, some people more painfully and at greater cost than others. And a global pandemic on top of everything.  As I’ve told various people this year, and last year, it’s good to cry sometimes, even if you’re only crying because of feeling some kind of hesitant relief.

Josephine Corcoran, Falling Hyacinths and It’s Still January

Sometimes when describing Southwest Waterfront, the other person interrupts—Oh, you mean the Wharf?—and I wince, caught between waves of gentrification. The pandemic has complicated my feelings toward this multi-million dollar behemoth. Restaurants where I couldn’t afford to a sit-down meal converted their pantries to bodegas that sold chicken, carrots, onions, and greens. The fancy liquor store distributed locally distilled sanitizer. When I first read The Anthem’s sign, “We’ll Get Thru This,” my immediate thought was: Okay then. We will. I needed to have someone say it. I needed for someone to spell it out in foot-tall letters.

Still, the city’s ghosts pull no punches. This past April, when it didn’t feel safe to go out, I could step out on the balcony and see cherry trees blossoming along East Potomac Park. I took great comfort in that. Now Washington Channel is disappearing, floor by concrete floor. Fifty years after our own building went up, I understand the irony of complaining about new construction or rising rent. I can still glimpse the water, if I stand in the right spot. 

In just a few weeksMade to Explode will be published with W. W. Norton. The collection (my fourth!) has a whole section of prose poems that interrogate the strangeness of our monuments and memorials, our “living history, plus a sestina called “American Rome.”  There are lots of things that I am unsure of, but one thing I do know is that DC is the right place to be as this book enters the world.

Sandra Beasley, Who Gets to Be “From DC”?

The poet feels the jolt of recognition: this was where she grew up. But, having moved away, she uses a search engine for clues. What strikes her is the normality of guns: shops selling them and the image on the boy’s t-shirt, even as he is reunited with his mother after another school shooting. It asks, when guns are revered, how can such events be stopped? Another poem witnesses President Obama at a press conference at another shooting. The final poem is another parking lot, “The Shooting Gallery Central Academy of Excellence, Missouri, 2019”, where

“Mylar balloons rise into a white sky: pink hearts and blue, gold and silver stars. In the place of an artist’s signature in the lower right corner, a caption: Anjanique Wright, 15.”

The skyward rise is significant. The name and age labelling one is a reminder of the loss: not only the life of the child but the loss of the adult that child could have become, the children she might have borne.

Carrie Etter’s spare prose gives readers enough guide to build a sketch of what’s being described but also enough space to read and engage with the resulting poems. Their quiet tone and lack of hectoring enable the reader to ask questions and consider the juxtaposition of youth and violence, the potential of not-yet-adulthood with the abrupt end of that potential.

Emma Lee, “The Shooting Gallery” Carrie Etter (Verve Poetry Press) – book review

On BBC radio 4’s Front Row program on 22nd Jan, Lavinia Greenlaw (chair of the TS Eliot prize judges) had the difficult task of describing each of the 10 shortlisted books in a paragraph or so, justifying each without showing favour. The quote I’ll keep is “when language fails, people turn to poetry”.

She thought that there’s a new stylistic freedom afoot (I can believe that) and that poetry’s caught up with the present in a way that other art-forms haven’t yet (not so sure about that). The poets have “interrogated the constructs”.

I think she was careful to share out the praise without overusing any particular word. She used “extraordinary”, “incredible”, “astonishing”, and “remarkable” twice each; “powerful”, “amazing”, “startling” once.

Tim Love, TS Eliot prize shortlist

I’ve been messing around with a new tarot deck for the sheer calming pleasure of it; producing readings is contemplative and a little like solving a puzzle, trying to understand flows of possible meanings. I don’t claim they have purchase on facts or the future, although I believe that in the hands of an intuitive person they lead, at least, to useful introspection. Lots of poets use them, it turns out. Here‘s an interesting conversation about poetry and Tarot with Airea D. Matthews and Hoa Nguyen led by Trevor Ketner. Matthews calls tarot as “a tool for healing and revealing and critical thinking,” and Nguyen links poetry and tarot through the way they cultivate receptivity and invite otherness into our thinking. I can say personally that since I unboxed these cards, I’m writing poetry again.

I just pulled the three cards below while wondering about the inauguration. Interestingly, in the interview cited above, Nguyen pulled the six of swords just prior to the last inauguration–although below it’s reversed, which changes its significance. My interpretations are only based on brief study, but it suggests a state of transition, perhaps loss; the woman and child being poled away, perhaps against their will, remind me of the trauma of migration. The image also evokes painful baggage carried over from the Trump administration. (I wish the man terrible consequences for his crimes–even as I want the country to move on speedily to address the damage). The first card, the ace of cups, signifies auspicious beginnings and calls for generosity. The Queen of Wands, well, she’s a bold, charismatic, vital woman leader surrounded by symbols of courage and coming back to life. Sounds good to me.

Lesley Wheeler, Augurations

Last night, my son’s cat stretched himself out on my bedroom rug and showed me his oh-so-soft little belly and called to me in his oh-so-sweet little meow. I fell for the ploy. And when he gave me my arm back, I was bloody from elbow to wrist. I know it’s strange to say so, but this is exactly how the poems in All Day I Dream About Sirens by Domenica Martinello (2019, Coach House Books) have been working on me. Quite appropriate to their obsession (the Sirens of Greek mythology), these poems lure me in and smash me on the rocks.

Here’s a little background:

“I used to walk by a Starbucks on my way to work, and one day it just hit me how unsettling the implications of the siren logo are. Using the image of a feminized (and often sexualized) sea monster who lures sailors to their deaths with her enchanting song to sell coffee? The premise sounds like a devilish fable in and of itself, and I’ve always loved mythology so I couldn’t stop thinking about it. … the more I researched the Starbucks siren (herself born from the corporation’s literary allusion to Starbuck, the coffee-loving first mate in Moby Dick), the more all-encompassing the ancient and contemporary mythologies surrounding sirens and mermaids became. They felt both real and familiar to me and while also being these doors into meditations on gender, power, agency, capitalism, feminism, ancestry, sexuality, ubiquity.”
Martinello in an interview in The Adroit Journal

As both a consumer and a marketer (my day job) (gasp!) I feel responsible. We lure and are lured. As a feminist, I feel vindicated. But not entirely. It’s not that easy. I also feel implicated. When I find myself sexy, it’s sometimes in a way I’d like to reject.

Carolee Bennett, “the sun hangs in the sky like a logo”

My new book, Lost in the Greenwood, is out in the world. 

The poems circle around the unicorn tapestries of 500 years ago.  There’s much more than unicorns: the making of the tapestries, the world that made them, magic, nature, belief. 

It’s a book of poems about all of this, but I still think of these poems as “my unicorns.”  And these unicorns are not the modern, friendly kind. They are goatlike, feisty and as dangerous as the world in which those who imagined them lived.

Ellen Roberts Young, My Unicorns Have Escaped

A smart observer once said about our new president: “If you ask me who the luckiest person I know, it’s Joe Biden.  If you ask me who the unluckiest person I know, it’s Joe Biden.”  As a lover of paradox, a light went off when I first heard it.  It seems like a joke, a mocking play on reason, a Woody Allen wisecrack that one knows immediately is smart, and later profound. The way an oracle would speak and we wouldn’t understand it, though we’d count intuitively on its deep truth.

Biden’s biography fills the blanks of the paradox – his success as a debut politician was followed by the deaths of wife and daughter.  He would have died of a brain aneurysm, ignoring his health and stumping away on the campaign trail if he hadn’t been forced to drop out of a presidential race on charges of plagiarism.  His son, Beau, died young of a brain tumor.   After eight years as Vice-President, he’s fulfilled his ambition — in the most wrenching stretch — of becoming President.

We live in paradoxical times.  We’re lucky – the election went our way. We’re unlucky – part of our poltiical body tried to burn down the house.  I heard, as the inauguration neared, people were nervously organizing and ironing as women due before they’re about to have babies.  Nothing is guaranteed, and the successes of America the literal, the exceptional and idealist must open to the shadow life of paradox.  The biblical Isaac survived a binding, but his shadow death walks alongside him as a human. Experience of tragedy is just on the other side of exuberance, suffering clings as a double. If we’re lucky, as a country, we just might mature to hold a vision of reality where success is willed to a small extent only, and chance plays its hand. Between the two forces, a reminder to be human. It depends how we play our hand.

Jill Pearlman, What Augurs, Biden?

I remember a poem a woman shared in my poetry workshop, back in the mid-80s, about her newborn; she compared his body to that of a frog, listed all the ways in which his body was not the one she expected, making him not the baby she had dreamed of. The last line was, “your mother is trying to learn to love you.” Most of the poems from that workshop have left me now, but that one stays. After she shared hers, I wrote one about my body, the first time I admitted out loud that I thought of my body as an antagonist to the protagonist that is me.

My body has changed during the pandemic. Maybe it’s the pandemic. Maybe it’s my mid-50s. Maybe it’s living through four years of attempted autocratic takeover. Maybe it’s that my job has become toxic to me. Maybe it’s all of the above. My body feels like a foreign country these days, and I’m an expat who wants to go home. I’m trying to learn to love it.

On the morning of the biopsy, I think that maybe the metaphor I’ve just conjured is all wrong. Maybe my body isn’t a country, but a passport.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A reprieve (of sorts)

The pandemic has me unable to go to the pool. Covid scarred my lungs and damaged my heart, I don’t know if they will fully rehab or not but I’m sure trying – if there’s one thing I know, it’s impossible rehab.

I still want to swim the Strait of Gibraltar. The only question I have is whether I should instead swim the Strait of Messina, because swimming between Scylla (spine surgery) & Charybdis (covid-19) seems – well, obvious.

Hopefully, my endurance breathing will come home to me and I will be making decisions like that.

JJS, Lumbar-safe core strengthening

On the ground, you leave the nether
regions of that body ransacked

and marked with every conquest.
Where it severs from the cage
of your heart, the wound

is brilliant as pomegranate;
its innards go on for miles.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait of Demeter as Manananggal

I’ve recently seen several excellent articles and features on poetry in lockdown (and in the pandemic in general), advocating all sorts of useful approaches. These articles often focus on energising creativity, on organising time, on motivation, on finding stimuli that might help to generate a reconnection with art. This post is in no way intended to disparage or knock such features, because there’s no doubt they’re helping to bring people together and support in other in terrific ways.

However, there are other sections of the population who are probably beyond this sort of assistance right now, poets who don’t really have the chance to write in the pandemic and especially in lockdown, people whose route to writing has been blocked, such as stay-at-home parents who’ve lost the hours in the middle of the day when they carved out a bit of time for themselves. And then there’s a group who form the core of today’s post. I’m referring to poets that used to leave the house every day to commute and do a full-time job, but are now working from home.

It’s worth pointing out that I’m not among them: my working life, while tough, is also flexible. Nevertheless, I know of many friends who had an established writing routine that they’d built around the construct of the old working week. It made a clear-cut separation between their working time, family time and poetry time, their working space, family space and poetry space. That’s all now disappeared.

All of a sudden, these poets are finding it hugely tough to defend their writing. Spaces they once used for poetry are now taken up by work, while timetables are fast becoming blurred. Bosses, colleagues and customers, who are also working from home, are now demanding constant connectivity and immediate reactions to requests at times that were previously viewed as unreasonable and/or out of bounds. In other words, work is intruding on periods of the day and week that were sacrosanct prior to the pandemic. And all of the above, of course, is before we mention home-schooling!

Matthew Stewart, The Working Time Directive for Poets

The other book I read–quickly, sometimes skimming–at the “right time” was Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic, edited by Alice Quinn. This is a new book at the library, I was the first to check it out, and I didn’t want to keep it too long, which is one reason for the skimming, another being self-protection. I didn’t want to dwell too long in pandemic reflections, so if a poem was too long, too prosey-looking, or with too many virus-related words glaring up at me, or if it seemed too easy, bordering on the cliched or sentimental, I skipped it. Instead, I went for the shorter poems, with simple, direct language–“simple” being quite different from “easy” in my meaning here, with simple language so often the container for rich complexity. […]

There is the connection of our pandemic to the 1918 pandemic, and also to whatever contortions of grief and circumstances might be happening now. My heart broke to read the phenomenal “An American Nurse Foresees Her Death,” by Amit Majmudar, where, sadly, the title tells the story. With “Leaving Evanston,” by Deborah Garrison, I sympathized with the theatre students having to leave school before their spring showcase production, before their Commencement, and thus also with all the students who lives and expectations were disrupted this past spring…and likely will be in the spring to come. 

“How I wish feeling terrible felt useful, as it did when I was a teenager,” says Nicole Cooley in the poem “At CVS Wearing a Mask I Buy Plastic Eggs for My Daughter.” That resonated, and also reminded me of the narrator of Milkman, who is seventeen and eighteen when the main events happen; it’s hard to come of age when the adults don’t know how to show you, teach you, bring you along. And in “Poem for My Students,” by Sharon Olds, I encountered “chain-reading” (like chain smoking), something I do, reading one book right after another.

Kathleen Kirk, Reading-While-Walking

The sweat and discipline it takes to listen down deep into our shared potential when all around us is the white noise of proud boys for whom black lives don’t matter.

This continual struggle and change, the change and struggle, when dementia‘ed history keeps forgetting itself, then repeating the same questions, wondering if mercy and forgiveness will ever be a part of our lexicon.

Some gather weapons while others build mighty monuments from the wounds of those who’ve suffered in the name of uplift.

Some sing in the key of flowers while others sing in the key of bombs; it all depends upon how your hearts and voices have been trained.

Rich Ferguson, This Upstream Sojourn Along the River Sticks and Stones

An alarm pulling us from sleep, even to offer hope, exposes our most vulnerable nerves. These truths that fade in sleep. Or in dreams, are popped into relief as a kind of rehearsal for the inevitable. Waking is a reprieve sometimes. Awake, asleep – both are ambivalent states of being. There is nowhere to escape from ourselves.

Is there comfort?

Soothing is not healing. But doesn’t try to be. What if the largest part of our job is a kind of palliative care? What if all that there is, is the soothing of ruffled feathers? A warm hand on a cheek? An intention to reassure one another: you are not alone.

Breathe, and be here with me. Even over a telephone connection. Like a dream. Listen to the wind against the window. Be here with the wind.

Reaction is not action.

In the theater, an actor’s every, individual action is supposed to be an assertion of the character’s will. Actors strive to inhabit the character’s lack of self-awareness. Acting is the inverse process of living Socrates’s examined life. Don’t act: react.

Art is, by most definitions, artifice. It has the intention of recreating life. But for what purpose? Many diverse cultures have had a tradition of hiring mourners for funerals. Actors, reacting in an act of compassion. We cannot bring back the dead, but we can care for the living. The theatrical is no less real for being theatrical.

And leading an examined life, acting instead of reacting, is no less real for its directorial perspective.

Ren Powell, Knowing the What, Not the Why

regime change
finches versus cardinals
at the feeder

K. Brobeck [no title]

I loved the swearing in–tears again and again.  I loved Biden’s speech.  I realize that he trotted out familiar themes for inauguration day, but what a relief to have a president who understands why these themes of unity are important.  What a relief to have a president who wants to inspire us, not divide us.

I loved the music and the musicians.  I loved that Jennifer Lopez sang “This Land Is Your Land”–a Woody Guthrie song so perfect for the day!  I loved the poet, although I found her hand motions distracting.  Will her poem become my favorite?  No–but no inaugural poem so far will be my favorite.  I’m always just happy when a poet is invited to be part–it sends a message that is so important to me.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Notes on an Inauguration Day

There’s a boy
tucks a note into the pocket
of a coat he’s sending a stranger, saying
“Have a good winter. Please write back.”
A branch breaks, a lamp flickers,
the dog digs at a flash of something
paler than snow. A boy uncrinkles a note.
What happens next?

Marilyn McCabe, Some Poems

Every morning when I get up and open the blinds near my desk, I take a moment to peer into my terrarium. It’s changed since I planted it in the fall: some of the mosses have died back while others seem quite happy; the liverworts are thriving; there’s a green film of algae growing on the beige shelf fungus, and the fern has put out three adventurous fronds. A small gnat seems to live inside the glass, even though it could easily escape. I think the moisture level has been too great for the lichens, and not quite enough for the moss. There’s life and growth happening, as well as decay. I’m doing my best to take care of this little world for which I’m entirely responsible, drawing on a certain amount of knowledge and common sense, but the fact is…a lot of the time I’m guessing. Should I slide the top open a little more, or less? Should I mist the terrarium today, or wait? I make decisions based not only on what I see, but on the smell of the interior, the dampness on the pebbles, and the warmth and humidity I sense when I quickly put my forefinger inside, close to the soil.

This little experiment has filled me with renewed awe for the balance of life on our planet, an even greater awareness of its fragility, and the amazing harmony with which these small life forms colonize a tree stump in nature to form a garden far more beautiful and complex and self-sustaining than anything I could ever create.

I’m also learning something about myself: the strong but almost subconscious desire I had to create a little world, care for it properly, and see it thrive during this time when almost nothing in our real world — where I am the gnat, but can’t escape — seems controllable or even predictable.

I suppose we all want that. Nobody really likes chaos, or fear, or one change on top of another to which we have to adapt. We’d like our homes to be comfortable, secure places of refuge during this time, and instead they’ve sometimes felt like traps. We haven’t been able to pick up the glass globe in which we’re living and give ourselves or others what we need; instead we’ve sometimes felt like hapless inhabitants looking out as some large invisible hand shakes our world around, turns it upside down, and surrounds it with toxins or threatens it with violence.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 54. The Illusion of Controllable Worlds

night dew and moonlight
mingle and shine
friends don’t you know
that this world is filled
with blue flowers

James Lee Jobe, memories watch me

We have snow in the forecast in the next day or so, but I wanted to highlight these beautiful tulips in a brief moment of sunlight, and a few of my bird visitors, to cheer you up during this dark and dreary time of year. January can be a tough time, especially as we wait the interminable wait for the vaccine, as we wait for the days to get a little longer and warmer, we wait for things to start to bloom. […]

I also had the chance to Zoom with a few poet friends, which really raised my spirits – we talked about literary magazines and publishing opportunities, but also laughed a lot. Hey, laughter is good for the immune system. While I miss in person visits – and it’ll probably be a few more months, realistically, before we can see each other in person – it was nice to see friends virtually and catch up. There is something incredible bolstering about being with other writers, especially when you yourself are feeling discouraged about writing. You get to share stories about hilarious mishaps and crushing disappointments, as well as celebrate our little victories.  Just like the birds in my garden, we tend to find strength in numbers. I know no one wants more Zoom in their life, but for the right reason – a great lecture, a chance to see friends – it’s worth it.

My father got his first dose of vaccine in Ohio, but my mother still hasn’t, and here in Washington, it looks like it’ll be a while for chronically ill folks – longer than I was hoping, so in the meantime, I’ll try to get well from this stomach bug. Hoping you all stay safe and warm and get your vaccines soon!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, More January Birds and Blooms, A Week Under the Weather, and Zooming with Poet Friends

Late January
the snow is melting again
I peel some parsnips

Jim Young [no title]

Reading Lucretius, at long last, having found a translation I like, and I find him easy and comfortable. We’re on the same side of that gulf. We think that our personhoods are chance constellations, shapes made up by dreaming shepherds out of random stars. Some philosophical problems become easier, some become harder, when you think that. But they all become different.

Nothing can emerge from nothing, says Lucretius, and Nature does not render anything to naught.

It can be a terrifying thought. Lear quotes Lucretius. Nothing will come of nothing, he says, Speak again. To Shakespeare, a world without souls is a deadly transactional world of quid pro quos, where all love is conditional and everything is bought with something else. I don’t think he was right about that: but Shakespeare is not a man to dismiss lightly. Not at my time of life.

Dale Favier, The Nature of Things

When someone asks me am I working on something, I never really know what to say. I want to answer truthfully, for that is how I was brought up. Yes, I say, there is something. I don’t know what it is yet, but I think there is something, yes. What is it, they say. I can’t tell you, I say. Can’t or won’t? Both.

I’m much happier talking about writing that has happened, in the past, the artefact of it, not the action. This is also the case for talking about that most shadowy of concepts my ‘process’ or ‘practice’. I put those words in quotes partly because I have a long-standing terror of coming across all pretentious and partly because I only recognise these things as having occured, in the past tense. When I am actually writing the last thing I am aware of is what this practice entails. All I am prepared to give away is that it is messy, non-linear and never as easy as I want it to be.

But there is one thing that is common to all of my projects (practice), and that is the moment when you realise what it is you have been doing (or have foolishly embarked on) has the potential to become something other than what you first intended. In other words, it appears to you (to me) as having a form, a being, a living entity, with a life of its own. In Still Writing this is what Dani Shapiro says arrives ‘with the certainty of its own rightness’. Emerson called it ‘a gleam of light which flashes across [your] mind from within’. Joan Didion called it ‘a shimmer around the edges’.

Anthony Wilson, The gleam

What first brought you to publishing?

It was unintentional, and, at first, incidental. In the early 2000s, I worked as an administrator in the financial services industry, and spent much of my spare time photographing bits of southern England. The office was usually deserted after 5pm, and I started to misuse the equipment, making photocopies of the photographs and copies of the copies. The poet Andrew Hirst (aka photographer Karl Hurst) invited me to collaborative with him on a sequence of poems and images, which took shape over a couple of years. As we didn’t know who to approach, or how we might approach them, we decided to set up a small imprint through which we might publish the work. I had no formal experience of design, printing, editing, or publishing, but I’d resolved to try to do everything myself, so it was a gradual (and intermittently disastrous) process of trial and error. It was problematic, but there was some interest from audiences, and creative momentum, so it made sense to work with other poets on further publications. There was no plan. There is still no plan. […]

How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

Again, I’ve learned a great deal from the poets I’ve worked with. It’s a rare privilege to be invited to read and comment on sequences and collections in varying stages of development; after a few years of this, I found that I was reading almost everything much more closely, and much more critically. It’s also helped me to understand, and develop, the potential for arranging (or rearranging) work on the page and for performance. The multiple iterations of Matthew Clegg’s Edgelands (2008) were among the earliest outcomes of this methodology; we published a pamphlet edition, comprising 50 poems, which were further subdivided into 10 themed clusters of 5 poems, and a matchbox edition, in which the full cycle of 56 poems was reordered and concertinaed on a single continuous strip. The work was also ‘dispersed’ through single-poem cards and postcards, and continually rearranged by Clegg in readings and performances. The experience (and others like it) undoubtedly informed the development of my own work, including the sequence White Thorns (Gordian Projects, 2017).

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (small press) questions with Brian Lewis on Longbarrow Press

In my thirty years of writing, I had only published four poetry book reviews until last year. So ending the year with sixteen reviews written and published took a major shift in attitude and practice. You could do this too. […]

If you start reviewing books, you will have free books for the rest of your life. Everybody will shove books at you. Editors would be happy to have your review their publications. Journals have a list of titles they want reviewed, and then there are your friends and friends of friends who have a new book out and would love to send you a copy for review. […]

It’s not like I haven’t had stacks of poetry around my house for the last thirty years. But, I didn’t always give myself the best chance to learn from them. Writing a book review makes me read poetry slowly, carefully, with a deep consideration of how each poem was made. Writing a book review makes me a better poet.

My Year of Writing Poetry Book Reviews – guest post by Deborah Bacharach (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

When I wrote my last entry, I lumped it in with all the other things I miss in pandemic world–surface things that lockdowns and safety protocols prevent, but the worst is perhaps the one thing I can’t really do that no one at all is stopping me from at all.  Namely, sitting in a house and a library full of books and not really having the concentration or bandwidth to read a single one.  And don’t think it’s for a lack of trying.  I’ve started many books, new ones and old faves I thought would snap me out of it,  Sometimes I get in a few pages, but I don’t last for long with so much in the world competing for my attention. This is true at home where I take a book to bed and wind up doomscrolling instead.  Or on my commute, where I used to get the bulk of my enjoyment reading done, which is now instead spent fretting over proximity of bodies and maskwearing, and whether of not that person just has allergies or is trying to kill us. 

At first I worried I’d lost interest and enjoyment in so much, and it’s true, even writing, which, thank god, still happens and is perhaps my only rudder. I think because I’m writing poems in the morning, in an unpolluted state of mind.  Blog entries are still possible (obviously.)  Even art, which at this point to be possible again. But reading for enjoyment..I’m not so sure.  Even my manuscript reading this fall and my proofing now is something more rote and mechanical than it ever was before.  It’s not the books fault surely, but some door that needs to be closed in my brain.  Or maybe a door that needs to be opened again. It’s strange to think I’ve barely opened a book (touched books, yes, many, chapbooks and library books and textbooks) but read so very little.  And in fact, have been hoarding things again at my desk in the library for some magical day it will come back. 

Kristy Bowen, the wolf at the door

At 2:55 they let me in. Inside the church building someone took my temperature and sanitized my hands. I saw volunteers in bright yellow vests, and in bright blue vests, and in EMT uniforms. Everyone seemed happy. I filled out paperwork, I answered questions, I sat down at a freshly-sanitized table and rolled up one sleeve. A friendly EMT said “a little pinprick in three, two, one.” I said a silent shehecheyanu.

I sat for fifteen minutes, dutifully, to make sure I didn’t have a bad reaction. I imagine the arm will ache, later, like it did when I got vaccinated for typhoid and yellow fever before my first trip to Ghana. I’m startled to realize that that was more than 20 years ago. I remember that we needed to find a doctor who specialized in travel medicine. I wonder what became of the fold-out yellow card I carried in my passport then.

So now I’m halfway vaccinated against covid-19. This isn’t going to change my behavior. We don’t know yet whether or not the vaccines protect against asymptomatic spread. And besides, I won’t begin developing immunity until two weeks after the second shot.  But it feels to me like one more reason to hope. Every person who gets vaccinated brings us one step closer. Someday we’ll embrace again.

Rachel Barenblat, First shot

“During the first lockdown of 2020, I found that words wouldn’t come, but paintings did.” Why do you think this was the case?

I have puzzled over this a few times – I was incredibly burned out in the first lockdown for reasons I can’t quite understand. After all, I wasn’t home-schooling children as so many of my peers were. In some ways my family & friends were in more regular touch with me than before lockdown, and my work pattern hadn’t changed radically… But I suppose, words are a part of my day job and when work and homelife are already fused to that extent, you want a more drastic change to keep a balance.

I started drawing towards the end of a relationship in the middle of the first lockdown. He was very dismissive of my doodles, which just made me want to spend more time doodling and less with him! As I healed from the breakup and dealt with various health issues, drawing, and then painting just took up a larger and larger part of my life.

I found painting akin to meditation, except I’ve never managed to get on with meditation. You start with a blank page and “wake up” in essence an hour or two later with something created out of a chaos of paint. You have a vague notion of how it got there, but also not really. Painting is just magic really.

I’ve had those moments with writing poetry – and that woosh is wonderful – but it’s not as systematic as with painting. So, in that period of time, I guess it made sense for paintings to take over during periods of stress.

Does the written word feed into your paintings?

It has started to. I have tentatively started playing with incorporating poems into paintings. This was the first experiment and the most recent one involves printing poems inside scallop shells. It’s an interesting process, in every case I have found myself editing the poem – finding what is essential to it. I don’t think my writing & my paintings are properly conjoined yet, but it’s a thread I am following casually as I go. […]

What are you currently working on (art or poetry)?

I’m trying to finish the manuscript of my third poetry collection, currently called Our Lady of Tires. It’s inspired by a village perched on a cliff near me that held off riot cops for six weeks in the early 80s to prevent the building of a nuclear station. They called going to the barricades going to mass, hence the title. I’ve been wanting to write about it for so long and it’s been slow going but I’m getting there!

Painting-wise, I am just keeping going without pressure, painting when and if the mood strikes.

Abegail Morley, Unlocking Creativity with Claire Trevien

Having a lot of enforced time off over the past surreal, nasty, stressful and boring year has been a mixed experience. The one really good thing about it, for me, has been the opportunity to immerse myself in the Russian language. I had been interested in doing this for a few years already, but when I was first furloughed in the spring I thought that I needed to start using my time. This has meant lessons, apps and discernible progress, though I think my teacher may be about to notice that I have been spending more time listening to Russian rock music and watching Russian films and TV than assiduously studying my grammar and vocabulary. I may say that it’s also been nice to discover that I am still capable of learning a new language in adulthood. I learned to speak French as a small child and Spanish as a young teenager, and I haven’t tried learning another language until now. 

One of the films I have recently enjoyed is Kharms (2017, directed by Ivan Bolotnikov). You can watch it on the Kino Klasska Foundation website here, and the link also includes some very nice programme notes: https://www.kinoklassikafoundation.org/project/kharms/

You can watch this for free for just a few days, until Tuesday 26 January at 12 noon GMT. I think it may only be available in the UK due to rights issues, but you can always check to see if it’s available in your territory.

Kharms is a film about the life of the surrealist Soviet-era poet Daniil Kharms. I was only vaguely aware of this poet, partly because he loved Sherlock Holmes and used to smoke a calabash pipe. ‘Kharms’ was a pen name and may be a reference to the Russian pronunciation of ‘Holmes’. This was noted in the film by the poet’s sartorial choices and one subtle joke. 

The film isn’t a strict biography; it celebrates the poet’s work, his life in the beautiful city of St Petersburg/Leningrad, his friendships and romances. Colour and black-and-white film, static and moving shots combine to create a wistful and quirky view of different eras and events. The tragedy of Kharms’ death by starvation during the siege of Leningrad is also part of the film. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, Kharms: a film about the Russian poet Daniil Kharms

Orange is the new
orange, a long, slow
sundown. Evening

is when everything
evens, when love
equals loss and

it seems worthwhile
to hope again
for another

morning, for
sunrise, orange
as a new orange.

Tom Montag, ORANGE IS THE NEW

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