Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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. This week, we’re a month and a half into 2021 and years into an endless, if somehow also endangered, winter. But today, reading the poetry blogs, I found valentines. Not the mushy, sentimental kind, of course. These were stronger, darker, riskier—like love itself.


On this Valentine’s Day I’m thinking about all the people who’ve lost their lover, their husband or wife, their child or parent — especially those losses that have occurred during the past year. It’s an astronomical number. A mind-boggling number. A river of tears stretching around the world. For many of us, there may not have been an actual death of someone we loved deeply, but days and months when we feared it more than anything we’ve ever feared.

Why do we take the risk? Why do we love, if we know we’re either opening ourselves, or the ones we love, to inevitable, eventual pain?

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 56. Eros and his bow

Finally the mug, lovely gift from Mike. Last night, I wondered darkly how long I have to go without writing a poem before I stop being a poet. This morning, preparing a Valentine’s breakfast for one, this was the obvious mug to choose. 

I sat in bed this morning in the company of crockery, eating toast, drinking orange juice. Three times, I poured milk from the tiny jug into the mug-of-affirmation, before pouring on the English Breakfast / Earl Grey mix. With each mugful, I felt the warmth of love, in all its richness and many forms, grow stronger.  

Liz Lefroy, I Set A Breakfast Tray

We do have the privilege of a garden.
It’s all relatively new to us. A blessing just in time
before the world got stopped.
We established our very own animal pub there-
it’s called The Grain & Shell.
Birds & squirrels
feed & drink
& fight &
dance & mate,
but this Winter the water in the shell freezes
first a below-zero ice-skating rink, then a small mountain of hard snow.
Thirsty squeaking little birds cannot break through it;
squirrels lick the frozen surface
then leave in clear disappointment.
Every morning after tea & coffee
we now put another kettle on & melt
the glacial, hazy and rigid mirror
& watch the lot steam up in the cold air.

Ernesto Priego, The Shell

You ask, can music do that – curl the tongue around the stitch of ache –
when the note touches the ceiling of the hospital room as you take
your walk and the night sky rotting green burns at edges with city lights.

You wear black, rest like fractured old wood on the migraine flare
that flames your body. I gather your feet to trace the rings of age, sluices
of calcium whorled in volcanic blooms.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Journey

Here’s me on my bicycle, with the long shadows of a bright February evening. Better to head into the shadows than cycle with the sun in my eyes – and in the eyes of the drivers behind me. Lockdown has brought my bicycle and me even closer together. I really should oil it soon.

Tim Love, Long shadows

Don’t tell me how to lose someone.
I’ve earned this experience.
Some knitting, a watch, a photograph:
through these things I remember.
The blood rises to my cheeks, already red
from genes I no longer trust.
I’m like the ship of Theseus.
How much can I cast away & still be myself?
I try to identify my face in the bathroom mirror
at the grocery store. Those are my eyes,
there’s my crooked nose, that’s the gap between my teeth.
Every seven years all the cells in my body renew.
I set the boat on the water, push it out to sea.

Jason Crane, POEM: Hello sailor

This Valentine’s Day, my object of love is the world, and what kind of a clear manageable object is that?  

I could narrow it down, focus, make it a simple object, like an oyster, and use all of my five senses to explore its delicate being, its opalescent color, its sand and pearly shell  

I might complicate things by thinking about the ocean, and how many people die in it every year, and how many sailors and fishermen have perished over centuries, how many in the Middle Passage, and wonder if I can still love the ocean

or that oyster that is its product and essence of the ocean itself

and I might be eating the oyster as I am listening to a roll call, to documentation of a country falling apart

Jill Pearlman, World Valentine

For this poetry prompt for Valentine’s Day, start by reading “Untitled [Do you still remember: falling stars]” by Rainer Maria Rilke (as translated by Edward Snow) and give some thought to what you like/admire.

For me, it’s that Rilke captures the delusions of grandeur being in love can inspire. And instead of poking fun at us (or at himself), he embraces the phenomenon as a shared human experience. How silly (and necessary!) for us to feel as though our current romance is the biggest love that’s ever existed in all of the universe and surely will transcend time itself! And although he acknowledges the absurdity of that in the poem’s final line, he does it gently, via a kind of nostalgia for this collective culpability.

I also appreciate that the poem avoids being overly sentimental. Tricky for a love poem to do! This is accomplished by incorporating words that offer a glimpse into the imperfections of romantic love: words like “hurdles,” “hazards” and “disintegration.” These are not typical love poem words and may seem in opposition to what the poem is saying about love being grand and lasting forever. Instead, they’re subtle reminders that love encompasses risk and a fair amount of disappointment, including paling in comparison to what “forever” actually is in the context of the cosmos. Risk is just part of it — “wedded to the swift hazard of their play” — and unlikely to deter us.

Note that word, too: “wedded.”

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt for valentine’s day

breaking boughs
bent live oak branches
the weight of ice

today this mask
feels good

James Brush, 02.12.21

I’ve been sending missives from menopause and perimenopause over the last few years, and sometimes they feel like dead letters. Well, almost all poems land softly–but the so-called change of life feels so BIG to me that it feels like there ought to be a much larger body of literature about it. So I was really happy when “Oxidation Story” was accepted by Kenyon Review Online this fall, and even happier to receive lots of positive responses when they published it yesterday. I’d worked on this one for years. Maybe I got the words right, or the subject matter called to people, or the prestige of the venue attracted attention? In any case, it made me feel seen for a shining moment, for the writer in me.

That’s one of the weird side effects of crossing over to this side of 50: you’re catcalled, harassed, and menaced for most of your life, then you become invisible. I prefer invisibility on the whole, but it would be even better to become, say, “distinguished.” Most TV shows and movies provide illustrations of how impossible that seems to be. As my spouse and I burn through all the shows streaming services have to offer, we just tried “The Undoing,” which pairs Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman as high-powered professionals in unholy matrimony. Kidman is ultra-fit and facelifted and bewigged into a simulacrum of Pre-Raphaelite maidenhood; Grant is carrying more pounds than in his lean thirties, hair grayed and face a little jowly, but he remains very much the leading man. It’s not that I’d put Grant on a diet; I’d rather see Kidman, or any older woman, allowed to wrinkle and accumulate a spare tire and still play a complicated, vital main character. The disparity gets old. (As does the effort to discern facial expressions in an actor post-botox.)

Even in the underresourced world of literary publishing, most successful women-identified authors are glamorously slim and able-bodied. I sometimes wonder if the best thing I could do for my career would be to go paleo and get my eyebrows done, but I’d rather jump my game-token right to witchy croneland.

Lesley Wheeler, Report from hagdom

slid into a place where
long worn grooves of
deep body habit
flourish in the dirt
making mud pies in
a hot back yard the
taste is bitter.

loving the ugliness
of the deep body its
sweat and grease and
pungency its freely
unwashed hair and
legs of fur its
old Lilith.

Marie Craven, Slid

Meet my new friend, the viscacha. He’s got a look that is simultaneously wise, weary, and worked-over. While I can’t claim to be wise, I am definitely feeling weary and worked over by the world. Introduced this friend to my students this week and one responded with: “What does he hear that we don’t that he needs ears so big?”

José Angel Araguz, viscacha vibes, recent pubs, & upcoming virtual event

I had a rough week of not being able to do or say anything right 1) in Zoom meetings 2) in general. People sometimes disappear in Zoom if someone is screen sharing, and it’s getting harder and harder for me to connect, engage in true communication, and feel like myself. Also, it’s so very cold outside, and I’d rather sit on the couch reading books, wrapped up in a soft blue fleece blanket, than do anything else. 

Today I gave in to the couch, and that produced 4 poem drafts, a healing calm, and restored my sense of who I really am. Sigh… It helped this past week to call up some friends up spontaneously on the phone. Thank you, friends! It’s been almost a year of isolation, and maybe I hadn’t felt it as intensely till now. I know I’ve had it easier than many, as a shy person and an introvert and someone with a safe, masked, part-time job. Feeling for all the rest of you, you can be sure.

Kathleen Kirk, Rough Week

We ended the day on the porch with our mandolins trying to pick out the melody of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (a Leadbelly tune also known as “In the Pines” perhaps made famous most recently by Nirvana).  It’s not a very hard tune, so we also had time to talk some music theory, about key signatures and sharps and flats, theory that my spouse has internalized but astonishes me.  It reminds me of when my beloved undergrad English professor Dr. Swanson told me that all fiction must have conflict, and I ascertained that it did not, and she challenged me to give her one example.

Literary theory, music theory, political theory–why is my initial response to ascertain that the theory is wrong?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days Off, Days on My Feet

is awakened the word
for a seed that dies, then is sown

when i believe in what wind listens for
why does my nest unravel

can anyone else open a poem
to the fate of its reader

Grant Hackett [no title]

Somewhere in my drawers is a tape I made circa 1995.  I was coming off my first poetry workshop in the spring and was writing and submitting work at a rate I hadn’t been in a while. .  I would take my small black boombox out to the dining room table of my parent’s house where I would write in the afternoons and record myself reading the poems.  Mostly, to see if the sounded good when read aloud, since so much of poetry depends on the auditory. I saved the tape and traveled with me from apartment to apartment since , though I don’t even have a tape deck to play it these days.  Besides I am not sure I could handle hearing 21 year old Kristy and her terrible poems from this distance.  I do like the fact that it exists, along with cd recordings of several other radio readings preceding the rise of digital files. I also have a taped version of a reading we wound up recording in a bustling diner near Northeastern U. complete with dishes clattering and secret slot machine noise from the back. 

I have a strange relationship with the sound of my own voice, which of course does not sound anything like it does in my head when I hear it played back. Too childlike, too formal  I sometimes struggle with this when it comes to the video poems.  I remarked to a friend recently about the delight and surrealness of hearing other people’s voices read your work. Hearing your words in other people’s mouths and I remember the shock of the first time. Someone once told me at AWP that she had had her students read all the poems in a chapbook of mine, one poem per student, all in a circle and this felt like a ritual.  I wanted to see it and hear it all. This along with a local poet who once told me my work reminded her of a hybrid between Plath and a Davis Lynch film is one of the coolest things and highest compliments anyone has ever said about my writing. .  I want to put his on my tombstone. 

Kristy Bowen, voice and the spaces between

The body is always talking to us. 

This week, for me, included a recurring cricopharyngeal spasm – or in other words, a cramp in one of the muscles of my pharynx, typified in my case by the feeling of a painful lump in my throat and the sensation that something is stuck that cannot be swallowed down. 

Doctors aren’t quite sure what causes these spasms, but of course, anxiety is indicated. Anxiety, oh my faithful companion since childhood. Anxiety, gift-wrapped and presented to me by my mother who suffered mightily under its influence.

And of course, there’s plenty to be anxious about. No need to list here as I’m sure you have your own list which likely shares several items with mine. I wonder though if this week’s cricopharyngeal spasm might be my body manifesting what I feel so acutely – that I cannot get the words on the page – that I am choking on unwritten poems. 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Listening to the body

Having just finished “The Secret of the Old Clock” I have learned many astonishing things, among them that cinnamon cake topped with hot apple sauce is a thing that exists. Another is that we were once brave and hardy and healthy and wholesome. We knew how to do basic things like a change a tire, operate a motor boat and alter a garment. (Nancy does all three in the first few chapters alone.) I won’t go too far down the “we were better people then” rabbit hole, but it was a bit of a culture shock. The early Nancy Drew books were published in the 1930’s, and obviously it’s a whole other world now. We have lost a lot of competencies that used to be a given part of adulthood. Speaking of adulthood, it never occurred to me reading the books as a kid that Nancy is eighteen years old and living at home with her father with seemingly no plans for college or getting a job. For someone with nothing to do, she certainly manages to keep busy. And her Dad…can we just talk about her dad for a minute? I guess it must have been lost on me as a kid because I didn’t recall much about him, but Carson Drew is the best dad ever. He’s a kind and indulgent father, but he’s always pushing Nancy to think logically and to be courageous and make bold moves. And he raised Nancy as a single dad when her mother died.

Along those lines, I found it interesting how many of the characters in “Clock” had alternative living arrangements to the nuclear family. There were two cousins who lived together on a farm and made their living selling crops, sisters who were raising an orphaned child together, and Nancy herself, who lives with her father and his housekeeper. In fact, I don’t believe there was a single character in a nuclear family in the entire book. Most of the characters were struggling financially to some degree or another but they were getting by and they embodied stoicism. I can feel another bout of “we were better then” nostalgia coming on so I better wrap this up. The bottom line is, I have a Nancy Drew box set and I highly encourage you to obtain a box set as well…any box set. They are a thing of joy, no matter what your reading preference.

Kristen McHenry, Box Set Bonanza

One important factor when approaching poetry collections is their attitude to the reader. Some seem intent on talking to themselves in an echo chamber, while others generate an implicit dialogue with anyone who opens them. However, a select few establish their own interior dialogue, before offering the reader a role as observer and even as an additional participant.

If Jonathan Davidson’s new book, A Commonplace (Smith-Doorstep, 2020) achieves the unusual feat of belonging to this final category, it’s primarily because his method when assembling the manuscript also deviated from the norm. Not an anthology, not a single-author collection, Davidson’s book is a unique combination of his own poetry with work by others, all interwoven through snippets of prose that comment on, complement and join up the poems themselves. In itself, his breaking with convention is already a statement of intent.

Matthew Stewart, Challenging our preconceptions, Jonathan Davidson’s A Commonplace

One of the pleasing things about an anthology site like And Other Poems is the variety of themes, styles, and voices available.  Heidi Beck’s ecopoem ‘I Write to You from a Tree Museum’ takes as its starting point, lines from a Joni Mitchell song “‘They took all the trees / And put ’em in a tree museum” – the poem then makes real the grim possibility of earth’s great diversity of trees existing only within the confines of such a ‘museum’.
 
Caleb Parkin also imagines a world of species extinction, and draws attention to the climate emergency with the use of humour in his poem  ‘Please Do Not Touch the Walrus or Sit on the Iceberg’.  The speaker of the poem exuberantly ignores this instruction, an actual sign on an exhibit in London’s Horniman Museum, bringing to the foreground a reality which is all too easy to ignore.

Josephine Corcoran, January 2021 at And Other Poems

All cups of tea are generally amazing, but I’m thinking at the moment one of those cups you have when you have to say aloud “Ooh, that’s a good cup of tea”. The kind that usually only happen either at the start of the day or outside on a cold day, the kind that goes down in three to four boiling hot mouthfuls, but somehow doesn’t cause you third-degree burns of the gullet. You know the type.

This week my pre-bedtime reading has mainly been the latest copy of The North, #65.

The North is usually a great read and remains high on my list of magazines I’d love to be featured in. NB I have poems out for reading at The North at present, but I’m not writing this as an attempt to blow smoke up any arses, I am writing this because I am half-tempted to burn this copy. Not because it’s bad, quite the opposite. This issue is one of those cups of tea. I’ve come away from it with a long list of poets to investigate further—I suspect this means some of the folks who had found themselves close to the top of the TBR pile may find themselves nudged back down again.

I’ve turned over so many pages to come back to, to look up poets, etc that I probably should have just folded the mag in half when I’d finished.

Mat Riches, Bang To Rights

I’m absolutely floored to realize I’ve been missing out on a whole series of critical publications on small press endeavors (Derek Beaulieu did bring it up a while back, but I hadn’t gone to explore any of it), the “Among the Neighbors” chapbook series curated by Edric Mesmer, “a pamphlet series for the study of Little Magazines,” run through The Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo. The chapbooks that Mesmer was good enough to send along include Derek Beaulieu’s “TISH – Another ‘Sense of Things’” (#3, 2017), Tim Wright’s “Migrating Ears: Kris Hemensley’s The Merri Creek, Or, Neroand H/EAR, with some brief comments on the earlier publications Our Glass, Earth Ship, and The Ear in a Wheatfield” (#7, 2019), Tina Darragh’s“Washington, DC Poetry—Mass Transit and Folio Books Reading Series” (#11, 2020), Catherine Noske’s “Reading Piglets: Westerly Magazine, metadata, and the play of digital access to literary publication” (#12, 2020) and Adeena Karasick and Kedrick James’ “To Breathe Poetry Among the Neighbors: Two Essays on Anerca, a Journal of Experimental Writing (1985-1990)” (#13, 2020). What appeals in these publications is not simply the critical and conversational exploration of small press, but a recording and documentation of journals that might otherwise have simply disappeared into the ether of history—I’m struck, for example, to learn that Adeena Karasick and Kedrick James produced a small journal for half a decade, and I hadn’t heard a peep about it prior to this. It reminds of when I was gifted various bins of the late Ottawa poet Jane Jordan’s extensive librarya few years back, and discovered numerous Ottawa-based literary journals and presses from the 1970s and 80s I had never even heard of [see my post on such here].

rob mclennan, Among the Neighbors: a pamphlet series for the study of Little Magazines : #3, 7, 11-13

My second manuscript, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, was alphabetical by title. Because I wanted certain poems to appear earlier in the collection, this constraint of alphabetizing made me have to be more inventive with my titles, which ultimately strengthened my books. (One of these blog posts, I’m going to have to talk about constraints in our work as I feel it’s one of the most powerful tools for artists, poets, and writers for inventiveness, imagination, and getting out of our own ways…) 

But back to this manuscript stuff, my new book (which is currently heading to the printers as I type this!), Dialogues with Rising Tides is in sections, and it’s the most sections I’ve ever had in a book. Seven! 7 freakin’ sections! I would have never thought I’d write a book full of sections, but I realized for this book, for me to weave together the different themes (environmental collapse, suicide, relationships, love/desire, melancholy, anxiety, cruel politics), I needed the reader to have more pauses in the book so they could have space to take it all in. 

Because the ocean plays such a big role in my book, my section titles are named after lightvessels (also called lightships). These are huge ships that act as floating lighthouses to keep people away from hazards. There’s a section called Break Sea (ways the world tries to break us), Black Deep (lots of melancholy themed poems in here), Shambles (poems about America and getting an IUD during 45s inauguration!) My hope was also the poems would be lightvessels for readers–even while they explore some tougher subjects. 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Thoughts on Putting Together a Poetry Manuscript

So, as we watch old movies, and watch the snow come down, I’m tentatively thinking about the future. Have you started doing that yet? I’m thinking about my birthday, April 30, and daring to hope I will have the vaccine by then so I can safely go to, for instance, the bookstore or the dentist. Things I’ve been putting off – like going to the gardening store I love, or schedule an appointment to go into Open Books again to browse poetry. I hope to have a celebration, even if it’s just a small one.

And I’m scheduling some medical appointments I’ve been putting off. I’m getting my MRI of my liver  – which I haven’t had for a year – next week, and hoping for good news (or no news) there, and soon I’ll be getting my brain MRI for my MS. Health care does feel a little safer now that health care workers, at least, have been vaccinated, even if I haven’t.

And looking at book publishers and imagining which I would like to have publish one of my book manuscripts. There are great established publishers I love – like Copper Canyon, or BOA, or Graywolf – and some great newer ones, like Acre Books or Yes Yes Books. I’ve even started thinking about book covers…I’m hoping that the acceptance of one of the books isn’t too far off now. Is this unfounded optimism? I don’t know. I’m even working on a third manuscript – which seems like the height of nuttiness, but I think I’ve written another book after the second one, all about the pandemic. I’ve also reached out to a couple of poets that I’ve been online friends with for a long time to talk about publication, and it turns out, it’s a great idea to talk on the phone to people instead of just social media. It reminds me of the eighties, when you’d write letters to your friends and sometimes call them, but it was probably too expensive to do often. I’m realizing I have a poetry friends I’ve known for years all over the US, and talking to them reminds me we are all in this together – whether you’re in upstate New York, rural Virginia, or like me, in a far-out suburb of Seattle. Everyone has struggles and doubts, and talking about them seems to make them lessen, and encouraging friends make everything a little better.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Valentine’s Day (during a Pandemic and a Snowstorm!), Tentatively Thinking About the Future, and Adventures in Japanese and Plath

The 40 days of Lent — which comes from an Anglo Saxon word meaning lengthen, as in days lengthening into Spring — are just around the corner. They begin February 17 this year, and continue (with Sundays off, as a day of rest) until April 3, the day before Easter. Traditionally, many Christians give something up for Lent: chocolate or plastics or red meat. I encourage whatever giving-up you feel will help you confront yourself this season.

But what if you also gave up “not writing” for Lent this year? […]

I have so many irons in the fire right now, that it’s probably a little crazy to add one more thing. Even so, I’ve been really really procrastinating on getting my next poetry manuscript together — making excuses not to start it — so that’s what I’m going to give up “not working on.”

Bethany Reid, So, What Will You Give Up for Lent?

Feeding the horse there’s extra hay, a carrot
            & my own body offered up for science, they study

my fires. I immolate 5, 6 times a night, you know
            how it is, or you don’t, quantitative now this heart

rate tachycardic still 11 months later. 5 degrees outside,
            1000 in (or plummet, depending). One time a fragment

burned so hot it turned obsidian then cracked heart-shaped:
            millennia later, you found it on a beach & pocketed

hope, a thing with feathers, metaphor.

JJS, Valentine with death and life

You did leave, she was right. The odds she had given me – 83%, she said, not 80 or 85, I always loved the precision of that – turned out well. And though I have been certain at least twice that you were returning, still you have not come back. I am amazed by that, and grateful. Most days I do not even think about you.

Only, I do. I think about you a lot. I have written two books about you (possibly three). You are in everything I do, because I am still being touched by what you did (are doing) to me, even though you have left and are no longer in my body. Those ghost-pains down my right side, just above my kidneys (we thought it was stones). The hours I still lose wondering if you are there and if you were there, how would I live my life then, having been known by you already?

For someone with no presence, you have a long shadow. In my life, my body, my mind, and in the lives of those I love whose bodies you also seem to need. People used to ask me, was I angry that I had you. No, I said. But I was sad that my children had to know about you at such a young age. I am angry, though. I am angry that you took away my friends and are trying to take away others. I am angry that we still talk about fighting you, as though we have individual responsibility for making ourselves better. Tomorrow, next week, next month, a person we all love will die having fought a ‘battle’ with you. For one so common, you have so much power. We can be cured from having you, but we cannot cure our addiction to needing to talk about you as a battle to the death.

At least we no longer refer to you by your initial. At least we now say cancer. A doctor friend of mine says the next word we need to deal with is depression. (I know about that too, thanks in part to you.) I am no expert, but think he may be right. When I was ill with you I talked about you all the time. Then wrote about you all the time. Writing and talking about depression is much harder for me. (We can maybe talk about the reasons another time.) But you, cancer, you were the one who changed everything. You were the one, you see. You changed the way I read, the way I believe, the way I am in my body, my family. I still stand by what I said: you made me pay attention. Though you taught me more than I ever want to know, I still don’t think I can say thank you.

Anthony Wilson, Dear Cancer

dreams passed through me like miracles
is it still the same life

James Lee Jobe, is it still the same life

infinite nightmare storage system
to make space in my life
for the ancestor

cola-pen calligraphy
tiny little pamphlet books
close to our hearts

Ama Bolton, ABCD late January 2021

Given my inclination towards the ruthless, I’d imagine the answer to that question would have been – chuck them straight into the recycling bin. As for reading them, just don’t go there.

And so, why, when I did find a small clutch of loose pages of poems under old papers at the bottom of a drawer unexplored for years a few days ago, did I find myself flicking through them and then settling down to read? A self-indulgent, weak moment, certainly. What did I hope to find or learn? I didn’t know. It was eerie, looking at things typed out more than forty, in some cases almost fifty years ago. Who was this person? Not me, surely. And what, after the reading of them, made me think about, not only keeping them, but putting some of them up here for public consumption? Perhaps because it’s what this blog should be about – a writing life, to include the naive, potentially embarrassing attempts, as well as those you believe might have a little more value.

Bob Mee, WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU FIND OLD POEMS YOU THOUGHT WERE LONG THROWN OUT?

the sargasso sea 

the words that are becalmed
the plastic words
the slippery elver words
the journeys ahead for them 
even
the ones that slowly sink longingly

Jim Young, see

I want at last to be honored,
not for me, but for the work

I’ve done, for the moments I have
recorded, for the light I have

praised, the trees I have sung of,
the birds, oh, yes, the birds. That these

least small things shall not be lost,
I want at last to be honored.

Tom Montag, I WANT AT LAST TO BE HONORED

The woman gestures, one hand

near her lips and the other as if drawing
a curtain aside. That’s all we can really do

until the rider looms closer on the plain.
We can see the sparks from his horse’s hooves;

then there’s no mistaking his cloak of bitumen
or his slate, marked with names and numbers.

Luisa A. Igloria, We Don’t See Death Until After it Arrives

Still life has been referred to as a world on a table, planet on a table, and that seems to help me sort out my thoughts. There’s so much chaos. At least on the table of things, order can be found or made or at least composed temporarily. […]

So yes, I keep thinking about how everything in our lives is getting arranged and rearranged on the regular. We get laid off from our jobs, we’re called back, only to be laid off again. Or we’re kept on, in my case, but the job is radically different. The numbers are high and we’re told to stay home, then they drop and guidelines are relaxed, then it’s all reversed. You all know how it goes by now. You had one plan, and now you have another. You looked forward to this thing, and now you tend to look forward to other smaller things, closer to home.

In a still life, you move one object, and three more slide off the table. A glass gets broken occasionally, or the unwinding rind of the lemon becomes detached from the fruit and you stick it back on with a toothpick. Scotch tape is hauled out. A dish is propped up from behind by a couple of walnuts. Everything is too much. You start to subtract. You go minimalist, and that’s fine for a bit too.

Shawna Lemay, Rearranging Things

Things I cannot fix,
an incomplete list:

armed militias.
Global pandemic.

The grief of staying apart
and unbearable yearning.

Rage at insurrectionists
and anti-maskers.

Things I can fix:
lunch for my child.

This winter stew, meat
from the freezer

and dried mushrooms
plumping in hot broth.

Warm speckled rye dough
pliant beneath my hands.

Rachel Barenblat, Fix

I haven’t been able to write this week.
I’ve been unraveling from the edges that brush against the world.
The softness falls away, and I am a skeleton of splintered glass.
Balancing fractured surfaces upright.

I took a course once on trauma and movement and the instructor said something that shifted my perspective. Drama teachers I’ve had, and have worked with use a standard image during warm-up sequences: “Now roll up: one vertebra at a time. Stacking one on top of the other.”

An upright stack of bones being pulled toward the earth.

But the body doesn’t work that way. You cannot stack a skeleton. Not in death. Not in life.

We are suspension bridges.

I think about this image a lot. I come back to it when I feel heavy in the world. We are animated by opposing tensions. Naturally pulled in varying directions as we go about our days. It opens us. Our ribs open and lift like wings when we breathe.

Ren Powell, Suspension

When I say I hear your voice across the miles, what I mean is river, moon, sage, sermon, orchard, wish, and wilderness.

In other words, simply knowing there is room in our beings for the ethical and ethereal, the earthbound and unimaginable, is all I need right now.

Put another way, knowing we wander this earth together at this time in history might not be the inoculation I need for a pandemic,

but it is the perfect medicine for my heart.

Rich Ferguson, Heart Medicine

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 2019: Week 45

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, the poetry blogosphere was relatively quiet, but I still found cold hummingbirds, jack-o’-lantern bird feeders, Twitter cravings, mackerel skies, Real Housewives, vending machines, beheadings, strength-training benefits, cat hairs, full-length manuscripts, freshly laundered towels, a goalkeeper’s hands, Russian tank tracks, social difficulties, broken windows, and fallen figs.


The hummingbirds have gotten very flutterly lately, in the cold, dancing around the last flowers and available hummingbird feeders. The hummingbirds stubbornly see out the cold season here and in a way we manage the same way. I am writing, editing, and sending out work trying to stay warm in a cold season, drinking cider and listening to my sad music and reading novels into the night (I have terrible insomnia during time-change season). What drives us to survive? To try to create beauty, or even just to notice beauty, in a world that often seems to try to trample it, or ignore it? We wait for magic. We might even create our own.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems in Sycorax Review, November Gloom, and Waiting for Magic

We’ve turned our Halloween pumpkin into a bird feeder and the kids, cats and I are loving it. We’ve even had a woodpecker come to visit among the normal songbirds. It was cold and snowy for the first part of the week, just a dusting, too much for my liking. Now it’s rainy, silver drops hanging off the rowan berries. More my idea of autumn. I’m glad to have a few mornings to scribble at my kitchen table and watch the birds with the cat trying to sleep on my computer.

Gerry Stewart, An Adventure Begins

I am currently at a 10-day writing residency and have promised myself that for 7 of those days, I would completely stay off of social media and any website that connects me to the outside world (like the news).

Yesterday, I found myself scrolling Instagram for no reason, just habit. Just–oh, there’s my phone, let me pick it up, open and app and scroll. No thought, just action.

Today I woke up and wanted to check Twitter. But I didn’t.

I realize, I do feel a loss. My brain wants its trending stories. It wants to see who is saying what.

But there’s this other gain, since I have NOTHING to check, I have so much time. Today I thought–what do I need to do? Write a poem? Revise a poem? Organize my work? Submit? Write letters to friends? Go back to bed?

I realize how much of my time ends up on social media, even if I’m not there all day, I realize how much I pick up my phone to check, I don’t keep notifications on, so I open the app several times a day–that adds up.

I guess I didn’t notice until I’m sitting her after being up for 5 minutes saying, “Okay, what do I do now?” 

So when I decided, “I’ll write a blog to gather my thoughts.” I realize my last blog post is from June. When I have Twitter or Facebook, what I would have normally (well, in the days pre-social media 2001-2009ish) I would have written in a blog or a journal. But I had nothing to blog, all my stories and thoughts went out as soundbites on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook.

I remember hearing Terrance Hayes say he’s not on Twitter because he was concerned he’d tweet out great lines for a poem instead of using them *in* a poem.

Now that I have no place to do that, a blog feels like a good way to document the time (and the weird thing is, whether anyone reads this or not). I realize how much of my writing is me just wanting to get thoughts out of my head, on paper, so I can look at them, size them up.

But I do miss Twitter.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Writing Residency: Day 1 – Social Media Detox

In the northwest sky this morning, mackerel-sky and mares’ tail clouds like fins, wispy and broken up against the blue, brought to mind the book I’m reading: Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks. In this book, essays on place and environment interweave with “word hoards” or mini-dictionaries, a rich lexicon of regional terms that describe specific observations concerning weather, geographical formations, topology, the sea, plants, moorlands, mountains.
 
Macfarlane’s word hoard draws mostly from the British Isles, but his essays–in this collection, many are based on books he has loved–assert that naming is noticing, noticing is loving, and loving means preserving or saving. “Language deficit leads to attention deficit,” he says. He’s not incorrect. My own experience concurs; for the past few years, I have had less time and energy to walk my meadow and take the two-mile amble along the back roads of our neighborhood, and as a result, my written expression feels both a bit contracted and less precise. I need to get back to the land.

Ann E. Michael, Bro-ken

I find the sheer volume of contemporary culture references in this book [There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker] to be soooooo satisfying. I guess some people disagree, but Parker has a terrific answer. Here’s what she says in an interview for The Paris Review on the pop culture references, Parker says, “It would feel false if I didn’t include all those things that really shape contemporary life. … I don’t really see what is so difficult for folks to grasp about it, but I think it’s a debate wrapped up in class and race, and what constitutes high and low art. I’m using pop references, but not in a light or gimmicky way. The poems are exploring and troubling something. My references may look different from someone else’s, but in my life I experience the Real Housewives more than I experience Greek myth. These are my contemporary myths and symbols.” I think this also speaks to the accessibility of the work: for a majority of people, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga are more recognizable references than Hera and Demeter.

Carolee Bennett, “the gloom of being where you are meant to be”

because otherwise it’s a round Formica table
& the clicks and beeps from the alarm system
& the vending machines
a slowly shrinking horizon of possibility
& the monstrous white shape of the future

I read to remember myself
(a boss walks by, says “Call me Ishmael”)

Jason Crane, POEM: Moby-Dick in the break room

Winner of the Walt Whitman Award, Emily Skaja’s Brute is a stunning collection of poetry that navigates the dark corridors found at the end of an abusive relationship. “Everyone if we’re going to talk about love please we have to talk about violence,” writes Skaja in the poem “remarkable the litter of birds.” She indeed talks about the intersections of both love and violence, evoking a range of emotional experiences ranging from sorrow and loss to rage, guilt, hope, self discovery, and reinvention.

One of the things I love about this collection is the way the poems reflect the present moment — ripe of cell phones, social media, and technologies that shift the way humans interact with each other, while maintaining a mythic quality, with the speaker feeling like a character struggling to survive in a surreal fairy tale world just waiting to eat her up. Gorgeous work from Skaja, who I recently interviewed for the New Books in Poetry podcast. I need to finish preparing the episode and hopefully I’ll be able to share it soon. 

Another great collection of poetry that I read this month was Head by Christine Kanownik. Drawn in by the gorgeous cover, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection of poems centered around beheadings — whether saints, royalty, or commoners throughout history.  She uses a mixture of of forms to explore the nature of power and the meaning of death.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: October 2019

In more pleasant news, I retooled the poem I mentioned last week that I wasn’t happy with, and I am happier with it now. There’s still more work to do, but it’s getting there. The last few lines are not hitting the exact note I want them to, but maybe the answer will come to me in a dream. It was interesting to discover in the editing process that the problem was simply that I wasn’t telling the full truth in the poem. It showed. Once I got down to what was true, the poem came into focus and had more energy and dynamic force. I also started a new poem along the same theme. I don’t want to be prematurely optimistic, but I think there is a possibility that I have enough material in me for a new chapbook. That makes me excited, because I haven’t had that feeling in a very long time. Poetry is making it’s way back to me, and this seems to be directly tied in to the strength training. Quite unexpectedly, the grueling but relatively straightforward act of strengthening my body has opened up a whole new avenue of creative thought.

Kristen McHenry, Map App Stalking, Truth in Poetry, The Blood of My Foes

fur finally
deciding to leave the cat
for the sunshine

Jim Young [untitled haiku]

I realized last week that I have not one, not two, but three full-length manuscripts currently in a completed or just shy of completed state. feed is pretty submission ready, but the other two, dark country and animal, vegetable, monster need a little arranging and proofing for typos.  I am going to submit at least one to presses I’ve worked with before, but the other two, I’m not sure. Overwhelmingly, they show how productive I’ve been over the past two years, during which most of them were written.  […]

I sometimes wonder if compiling full-length books is something I need to even do, since my work as writer is so tied up in the visual, and the smaller issues probably give a better idea of the work as it was initially intended. But I like the weightyness of a volume, how it almost feels like an encapsulation of various projects in a given span of time and theme. And perhaps reach in terms of working with publishers, getting in bookstores or libraries, the things that full-lengths make easier than if you are just doing little books on your own. And the poems can stand on their own without the visuals just fine, they are just an added bonus in their initial incarnation.

Kristy Bowen, books seeking homes

– When the laundry is all done, even the towels.

– Reading the poems of John Haines from fifty years ago.

– Suddenly remember two homeless people that froze to death in the snow in 1983.

– Learning how to finally be comfortable in your own skin. In your sixties.

James Lee Jobe, Journal 08 Nov 2019 – ten things

His goalkeeper’s hands beat a soft
tattoo against his knee, When he remembers
he clasps them like a handshake, or a prayer.
In jungle once, he came upon a pal
pinioned to a tree, opened up from throat to groin,
his piled entrails at his feet, a black buzz of flies.
I’ve never told our Vera that.  I tidy round his neck.
I’ll shake the teatowel outside on the step,
watch the hair blow, like dandelion clocks.
His hands have freed themselves.
He has forgotten them.

John Foggin, Remembrance Sunday

This is the real dance;
we stitch its paces
over the Kaiser’s cobbles,
in between the Weimar tramlines,
through Hitler’s broken archways, empty squares,
up and down the grim lattices
of Russian tanktracks.
Laughing, we invade the territory
inside each other’s arms.

Dick Jones, THE WALL IS DOWN!

It’s miraculous that the world continues spinning around the sun. That trees still accept our carbon dioxide as currency, and provide dividends of oxygen in return. It’s phenomenal that drivers stop at red lights, that we don’t rush onward into one great fender-bending, humanity-ending, billion-car pileup. It’s astonishing that we have smart phones, smart homes, robotics, biometrics, and super drones. It’s spectacular that we have all these things, and more, yet still sometimes have difficulties approaching one another, and simply saying: “Hello.”

Rich Ferguson, Miraculous, Phenomenal, Spectacular

A tour guide to pain stands
in the middle of the gray street

as pieces of windows scatter
in slow motion, and then reform,

over and over again. We
watch, mesmerized, as flames flicker

in the glass before us, the glass
shards on the ground, fragments floating

back into place, outlined with gold,
an ephemeral kintsugi

P.F. Anderson, On Broken Glass

We walk down the path with our children.
Dust rises behind us like smoke. 

The ground is littered with figs:
small purple bodies
burst open to show their red seeds. 

Foreignness blooms quietly inside their wounds.

Romana Iorga, The Fig Tree

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 18

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.

The end of Poetry Month last week prompted not just progress reports and posts about favorite books and poems, but also led a number of poets to ponder larger questions about productivity, ambition, and the nature of work. Several wrote about sleep and insomnia, and others talked about the importance of writing in community. And as usual there were a few miscellaneous posts that didn’t really fit anywhere but were too damn fun to leave out. Enjoy.


Today I clicked on a random link to a recent poem in a fancier journal (someone liked it, I’m not sure why) and reading through was kind of embarassed for the journal for publishing it.  (and kinda for the dude for writing it.) It committed the cardinal sin in my poetry church–the breaking of sentences into lines with no real “poetry” quality about it except it looked like one on the page.  Also, it was boring, and in places abstract and cliched. The venue in question misses the mark quite a bit, but this was supposed to be one of the poetry world darlings, someone who people hold up as an idol (not me, but other people).  I started laughing and literally could not stop for about 5 minutes.

I realized for every time I think to myself, question myself, that I do not know what I’m doing…my own work, even at it’s very throwaway worst was far better than this sampling.  That yes, maybe I totally DO know what I’m doing and am doing it pretty damn well.  And in fact all of us–poet friends, dgp authors, the mss. I help out with –ALL of us are doing so much better than this fancy poet with our work.  If this came across my desk as an editor it would be an immediate “no” not even a “maybe.”  I’ve met poets who have been writing for a year or less who are considerably stronger than this.  Don’t worry, we got this.

Kristy Bowen, poet pep talk # 786

We can get used to all sorts of fashions and default settings in poetry, getting comfortable with psalms, and sestinas, and free verse, and minimalism, and stanzaic bits of ekphrasis and sonnets, and narratives. Which reminds me of a writing course I went on where elegant lyricism and exquisitely crafted velleities were the name of the game, and, en passant, one lady of letters remarked, languidly enough: ‘The anecdotal, the bus-stop conversation, has its own charm.’ by which I understood that it has no place in serious poetry at all.

This set me to think of my own predilection for narrative in poetry, and my inability to engage with, or be engaged by, self-referential stylistic games with fleeting moments, and the fragility of, say, a lemon. It also made me think of what does engage me. Emotional and intellectual surprise and challenge… that grabs me. I like novels like ‘The Name of the Rose’, and ‘Tristram Shandy’. I like MacCaig’s outrageous similes. I like the Metaphysicals. I like early Tony Harrison. I like ‘The Waste land’. I like to be out of my comfort zone, put slightly off -balance; I like creative disturbance. And so I came to like Yvonne Reddick’s idiosyncratic take on the world and its multifariousness.

The first time I met her was (regular readers, you can now roll your eyes and get it over with) at a Poetry Business Writing Day. After all, that’s where I get all my new poetry and poets. I may be wrong, but I think that was the one where she brought a distinctly eccentric poem to workshop. The title gives you due warning: Holocene Extinction Memorial. Nineteen irregular stanzas, each of which might be an idiosyncratic label in a room full of unnervingly strange exhibits.

‘The Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse from Indefatigable Island wants to be invincible’

‘The Hacaath of Vancouver struggle with smallpox’

‘The quagga hopes Burchell’s zebra remembers her’

I have no idea if she made some of them up, or all, or none; I could Google them but I have no desire to find out. The thing is, she read with such emphatic conviction that I had no choice but to be convinced. I have no idea if anyone else was as taken as I, or even if it was ‘a Good Poem’. All I know is  it was unexpected, and memorable, and that’s not the case with everything you hear in a workshop. It was like the poem equivalent of the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford before it was tidied up and curated into rationality. Like the cabinets of curiosities beloved of the incumbents of Victorian rectories.

John Foggin, A polished gem revisited: Yvonne Reddick

I have returned to the poems in QUANTUM HERESIES many times in the last two months. How can a debut  collection of poems be so arresting, so superb?  One answer is that Mary Peelen has been hard at work on her craft for years; she is not a dilettante but rather a true poet. Also, she has lived a fascinating and hard-won life.

Take for example these lines from “String Theory,”

Here at the horizon of theoretical extinction,
we cut flowers for the table.

We sing the way weary mourners do,
praising geometry as if miracles could happen.

The environment, mathematics, love, and loss in two couplets. I am in awe of these lines and from many other poems as well including: “x”, “Unified Theory,” and “Sunday Morning” to name but a few stellar examples of Peelen’s deft and spare language.

Elizabeth Bishop once said that what she liked best in a poem was “to see a mind in motion.” And she then added that this was of course an impossibility. That the poems that did their best to mirror the mind’s movement were working hard to display such ease.

Susan Rich, Mary Peelen’s QUANTUM HERESIES is here and you want to read it!

I confess that I love finishing books because it gives me a chance to move to another one on my to read pile. That pile grows like the National Debt. But I’ve finished another and will be looking to start another. I’ve finished reading The Veronica Maneuver by Jennifer Moore.  I will be doing a review of the book soon. (adding to my growing to do list).

Goat Yoga. There is such a thing. I kid you not. (no pun intended) Yesterday I joined others at Paradise Park for a session of goat yoga. The cute little things wander around among us and challenge our focus. They will occasionally have accidents. My mat was missed by inches. Their poop looks like Raisinets.  See photo to right. Aside from, the experience was fun and we did get some light yoga in, which at this stage is about where I am at in the yoga experience overall.  Anyone who knows me well quite possibly knows my affinity towards goats.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – OM to the Goats Edition

Jeannine Hall Gailey’s terrifyingly useful PR For Poets is packed with ideas completely new to me, even though this is my third book. (Or fifth, depending on how such things are counted.) […]

Like nearly every other writer I know, I’m a friendly hermit with a serious allergy* to self-promotion. So I didn’t follow most of Jeannine’s good advice, like developing a PR kit or getting a headshot. But her book did foster another idea. “Hide in the house,” I said to myself. “Make something fun to help sell the new book.”

Book swag can include postcards, magnets, bookmarks, t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, pens, custom-decorated cookies, toys, and more. All the stuff most writers, let alone most publishers, can’t possibly afford. Jeannine calmly explains postcards and business cards are the most useful, and how to produce them at a reasonable cost. Of course I wanted to do something complicated. […]

Initially I hoped to create tiny replica book necklaces that could open to a poetry sample, somewhat like this project on Buttons & Paint. The time required, however, was too daunting, especially with time constraints like my actual editing job.

Then I decided to make book pendants that could be worn or used to mark one’s place. It seemed simple.

Laura Grace Weldon, How Not To Make Book Swag

Here are my thoughts as I read, and reread this poem.  What caught me up first was the detail of slow description of what is a fairly brief event: details like noting when the boy is seeing the bulbous end or the tapering end of the carrot.

Second, the word choices.  “Bulbous” is not a plain word. I particularly notice the way “whisker” is used as a verb and applied to the carrot, not the white hairs on a chin.  The “same glints” on the two caught my attention also, because I’ve seen such glints in early morning sun.

Another good touch is the delaying of the boy’s age until the short second stanza.  Now we meet the one for whom this very ordinary event is not ordinary at all.  And when the poem ends on “the world outside this garden” how could this garden not be Eden?

John C. Mannone has contributed to Sin Fronteras Journal, of which I am one of the editors.  I look forward to seeing more of his work wherever it appears.

Ellen Roberts Young, Reading a Poem: Mannone’s “Carrots”

When pondering what to post today, the last day of April and therefore the last post in this series of Great Poems for April—no pressure!—I realized a strange thing. Even though I’d been concentrating on going through my own trove of favorite poems through the month, I hadn’t really thought about which one poem is my very favorite. You know, that one that accompanies you through life, whose lines remain with you like bits of a song that you find yourself humming while doing dishes or driving to work. As soon as I thought that, I immediately knew which one was my favorite: “After Apple-Picking.”

What I love most about this poem is its unusual rhyme scheme. This being Frost, of course there’s a pattern. But it’s so erratic, so—dare I say—rebellious that I wonder if Frost was thinking, screw the establishment; I’m gonna go all Picasso on the old end rhyme. And he was a master of the old end rhyme. And yet he was young when he wrote this. And probably somebody out there knows what that was all about, but I’m kind of glad I don’t know, in the same way I’m glad I don’t know for sure what the different kinds of sleep are that he talks about. Or whether this is about the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the banishment from Eden. Or about the burdens of fame (that’s my go-to—“I am overtired / Of the great harvest I myself desired”—but again, he was young, so I’m not so sure). And if you want to see what other people think about all those things, spend an amusing hour or so surfing the internet, looking at the different theories. Those people are all so sure they know what this poem means.

What I do know about this poem is that it’s beautiful. Phrases of this poem are, I think, among the best in American poetry (“ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,” “load on load of apples coming in,” and that low-geared, four-word musical breakdown of a line, “As of no worth”). I love the way he changes up the rhythm and sentence length, and of course those erratic line lengths that sneak the rhymes in there among all the truncation where you can barely hear it. The phrasing is so memorable that I literally can’t pick up a stepladder without whispering “My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree / Toward heaven still,” or cut open an apple without thinking “Stem end and blossom end.” And this line—“Essence of winter sleep is on the night, / The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.” I can go back and read that for a lifetime and never get tired of it.

Every year that I reread this poem, it means something different to me; I find some small part I hadn’t thought much about before. (Right now it’s the “pane of glass / I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough”—can’t you see it? Don’t you sometimes go a whole day, unable to rub that strangeness from your sight?) Loving a good poem is like a friendship. You go through time together, and even though you never know everything about that poem, you keep discovering things that it didn’t tell you before. And your relationship with it changes too. If it’s really a great poem, the poem weathers the changes. And so do you.

Amy Miller, 30 Great Poems for April, Day 30: “After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost

As we come to the end of National Poetry Month I wanted to share with you a few poems I read and absolutely loved this month. Do yourself a favor and read them.

This one is an old poem – published in April 2017. But I only just discovered it earlier this month and it’s worth sharing:

I try to say—
I am lonely.
I try to say—
I want to come home,
to Earth, to Ithaca.
That this
was all a mistake.

~ from Yellowshirt Elegy by Meghan Phillips, published by Barrelhouse

Another one that was published back in July but thanks to the powers of Twitter, I just discovered it this month:

An analogy:
Pac-Man fills his mouth with pellets: you fill
your house with wine, your head with songs.

~from Nine Ways in Which Pac-Man Speaks to the Human Condition by Katie Willingham, published by Paper Darts

Courtney LeBlanc, Read These Poems

April is finished, thank goodness, it’s been a tough month for a variety of reasons. Now I can do a review of my efforts over GloPoWriMo, the Global Poetry Writing Month – my attempts to write at least one, sometimes two poems a day for my two online courses.

I wrote 22 poems that I consider done or almost done and 12 poems that still need a lot of work or will probably never make it past draft stage. There are also some drafts that I couldn’t count as going anywhere, so I haven’t counted them. That’s just over 30, so I’m very pleased with that. Some days I wrote nothing, some I wrote two, but I sat down regularly enough to have a poem a day for the month. 

Forcing myself to write a rough draft of a poem a day has pushed me to not avoid difficult subjects, to delve deeper into moments that have weight for me, but might not necessarily be an interesting telling on the face of it at first. I have pushed myself to write even when I’m not in the mood or don’t like where my writing is going. Sometimes just ranting on the page or exploring those emotionally charged subjects helps me to deal with them in a healthier way than bottling them up and letting them fizz inside me until I explode over nothing. 

Gerry Stewart, My April GloPoWriMo Assessment

I wrote 30 poems, one each day, as a sonnet cycle. It was surprisingly easy to keep going, as every day I had a prompt from the previous poem. By about 4/12, I found that I didn’t have to count lines, I just wrote 14 and stopped. The form entered me. I will be working on revisions for a good while, but I’m hopeful that I have something here. The cycle starts and ends with this line:
It was a warm day in April when the coleus died.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with My April Roundup

& so, I did what I set out to do: I exercised the necessary discipline to draft a poem a day during National Poetry Month, and I pushed against my “comfort zone” by publicly posting those drafts as they came to me. Usually I do not share my initial drafts with anyone other than fellow writers in my writer’s group or a few poets with whom I correspond. This was an interesting experiment on the personal level, therefore, a sort of forced extroversion as well as effort in productivity. I now have 30 new drafts to reflect upon, revise, or ignore.

It has been years since I came up with that much work in four weeks’ time. For the last decade or so, my average has been closer to six or seven poems a month. And I would not have posted any of them as they “hatched.” I would have waited until I spent some time with them and figured out how best to say what they seemed to want to say.

That’s not an unwise approach in general; I see nothing wrong with letting poems stew awhile. And quite a few would have ended up in the “dead poems” folder. Nevertheless, trying something innovative tends to prove valuable. The takeaway is that I am glad I finally managed the NaPoWriMo challenge. A few of the poem drafts you may have read here stand a chance of evolving into better poems. Maybe some will end up in a collection (years down the road). That result feels good.

The takeaway is also the realization that I no longer worry about how others judge my poems, the way I did when I was starting out and discouraged about having my stuff rejected by magazines. Not because there’s less at stake–indeed, I feel as invested in my writing as I ever was. The difference comes with the kind of investment, the ambition to write something meaningful or beautiful, and not viewing the poems as results waiting to be determined as valuable by someone more authoritative.

I’m 60 years old and well-educated in poetic craft, style, purpose, analysis. I’ve been writing poetry for over four decades. At this point in my life, that’s authority enough.

Ann E. Michael, The takeaway

Here’s wishing you a happy May Day and hoping that you enjoyed a marvelous Poetry Month.

In the photo, you can make out a couple of stones. Those make the line between the lawn’s lush green abundance and the scraggly patch of winter rye. Okay, some lawn grass is mixed in between the rye and the irises. But it’s had me thinking about what we cut and what we keep, about censoring and not censoring, about how we tend our writing. Even about where I’m putting my energy.

In thinking about writing, I’m seeing the two kinds of grasses not as separate things but as the different attentions required. There’s letting the creative rush run over, there’s perhaps (for me, always) the need to trim, to shape, and there’s the need to tend, to wait patiently.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day four

If you’re reading this, it must be some time between 3 -5 am and I am up listening to Vampire Weekend’s new song “Harmony Hill” on repeat.

I’ve written 2 poems and answered a few emails. I haven’t spoken to anyone in 36 hours, and this is the gift of the writing residency. I wonder–what if I didn’t talk to people for days in real life, would I have more to write? It seems the less I talk, the more I have to say when I write.

I know it would be almost impossible to achieve this at home, but it encourages me on my next retreat to see how long I could go without speaking.

Solitude, when chosen, is a gift. 
Solitude, when forced upon someone, is a punishment. 
Solitude, when not wanted, is loneliness in disguise.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Making the Most of Insomnia…

So we know all kinds of stuff about how the mind works, but we don’t know what this feeling is of knowing. Which makes me so confused I feel sleepy. And, let me tell you, from all the articles people insist on forwarding to me, we really know very little about sleep — how it works, why it works, why it works the way it works, and what’s going on when it doesn’t work, not to mention how to fix it. So we not only don’t know what this thing called “I” is but we don’t know why “I” can’t sleep. I’ll tell you, it keeps me awake at night.

Marilyn McCabe, Wake Me Up When It’s Over

One after the other you fall asleep
as the light moves on and wakes up
the ones at the other end of the line
We move so fast that we cannot see
A merry-go-round of dreams

Magda Kapa, Globally Speaking

Staying up most of the night working on poems. Oh Lonely Bones – can’t you rest? Why should I? Even now now a strong wind carries some pine seeds to the earth. Even now the boats slide down the long Sacramento River to the bay. A new day begins and I am alive.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Staying up most of the night working on poems.’

The buzz bang clatter shatter whooshing rush
of restaurant chatter. I just smile and nod.
This is not an aura, but a shockwave
pulsing against my skin with each heartbeat,
an auditory strobe staccato sheet
of porcupine pins flying in close shave
formation, grinding at 300 baud.

PF Anderson, On Aurality

The wipe-out of my hard drive and the subsequent computer clean-up continues. I went into my main drive this weekend to organize my years of fiction and poetry output, and was at once heartened and saddened by it, the sad part of which threw me immediately into the throes of writing self-pity, a very unbecoming state of being in which I lamented the failure of my novel, wallowed in my fear that writing poetry about my new-found passion for shooting will be roundly rejected by anti-gun leftist poetry publishers everywhere, as poets are almost universally anti-gun leftists, and lamented the  fact that I am hopelessly prone to writing run-on sentences. But I am also proud to report that I was fairly pleased overall with my review of my previous work. I read some things that I had forgotten I wrote and that can firmly say I stand by to this day, despite their thickness and amateur-ness. To balance this, the most hopeless amongst them were unceremoniously deleted. So it’s been a mixed bag.

Kristen McHenry, Fun with Projection, Ear to Mouth Ratio, Self-Pity Sunday

I’ve been ruthless this week, in a way that feels quite alien to me. I’ve shelved so many jobs in order to stick to my goal of writing two (yes, just two) pages of my notebook every day. The things I’ve put to one side include reading (poetry and prose, weekend supplements) making art/ collages, cleaning the bathroom, weeding the garden (although the weather was against me on this week). Still, you get the picture. What’s interesting is that because my target is quite low, in terms of word count, I’ve exceeded it nearly every day. This has been really positive. It’s given me that ‘Can do’ feeling, and made me keen to carry on, so much so that yesterday I treated myself to a new notebook, in anticipation of finishing the current one. I’ve stuck to A5 so I can keep the momentum – there’s something about turning the page that makes me feel I’m being more productive.

Writing is important to me, and I’ve said for a while now that I’ve embraced distractions as a way of feeding the work, but the bottom line is, if you’re not setting aside time to do the work, then anything you’ve gleaned from these distractions isn’t being given a fair chance to flourish into something new on the page. So, instead of finding excuses (or allowing the distractions to take over) I’m concentrating on finding ways to fit my writing into what seems, at times, an impossibly short day.

Julie Mellor, No excuses

Many years ago the doctor told me the best thing I could do for my mental health was to keep a routine. Take the mornings predictably, and slowly.

So since my kids hit their teens, I have been up early to run, write and do meditation. And for the past year, I have included a morning flow sequence.

How I wish I had done this when my children were young. I’ve spent most of my life – all of my adult life – obsessively attempting to be productive. The unquestioned belief being that my life would be of value only if I left something important behind; that I am somehow required to justify my time on earth by creating works of art. On days, and during months scattered with rejection slips from publishers, I’d rethink my life’s choices and feel obligated to toss my humanity degrees and get a nursing degree, or a counselling certification: the kind of thing that makes a person valuable, makes them the kind of person who can sign up with Médecins Sans Frontières and do good in the world.

Ren Powell, An Art of Living – Day 1

After that glass of wine, I walked home through a small town under construction and swarming with alumnae/i, pondering ambition. It was very much on my mind in my mid-forties, when I started writing the poems in my forthcoming collection. My current working title for the latter is The State She’s In, but whether or not my editor ultimately agrees about that, I’m polishing the ms now and the book will be out in March or April 2020. The collection, in fact, contains a sequence of five list-poems called “Ambitions,” and I considered whether I could or should incorporate the word in my book title. I guess I was asking common midlife questions: what is all this striving for? Am I on a path towards something good, goals I genuinely care about? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities to other people, to my work, and as a citizen–not the trivial stuff, but the deep obligations? Then an ambitious woman ran for office, and a man who despises women trumped her, and some of my struggle over that episode is in the book, too.

As I veered off Main St. onto the smaller road that leads home, I realized I may have turned a corner where ambition is concerned. I’m not sure how much of the change comes from turning fifty, or other revolutions in my life, or even just the fact that three books I worked on for years all have contracts now, so I can afford to be less anxious! Maybe my state of relative equilibrium is temporary. But while I still think many kinds of ambition are good and important, and anyone who’s nervous about ambition in women is a sexist jerk, I find I’m not fretting about productivity this summer, for once. I can’t even drum up worry about the reception my poetry book will eventually meet (the novel’s a bit different–still feel like an imposter there). I have a number of writing projects percolating, and I’ll be helping my kids launch into college and the working world, but I’m mainly grateful that a summer slow-down is allowing me to strengthen these mss and plan for how I can help them find audiences. My chief ambition, I’m realizing, is to make the books as moving and crafty and complicated and inspiring as possible.

Lesley Wheeler, The ambit of ambition

I’m thinking about trying to start a series of get-togethers at my house, since it’s become more difficult to get out and about but I’m still an extrovert who gets inspired by spending time with other creative people. My house is pretty good for entertaining, and Glenn is good at making snacks. Should I try to create a new writers feedback group, like the one I was in for thirteen plus years, or try salons, with a bunch of different kind of artists? I’ve been finishing up a series of Virginia Woolf letters, and I’m inspired by the way, though she was limited in the amount she went out or went to London, she brought a circle of artists around her houses, not always together at the same time, but encouraged them, published them, provided tea and conversation. She really did get inspired and enjoy helping others.

I was thinking about ways to help others and maybe start working again, a little bit, from home. But what? Technical writing or marketing writing? Offering manuscript consults again? Or perhaps some coaching for doing basic PR for poets with new books? When I’m feeling good, I’m pretty effective, but I do have these “slips” in time that happen when I’m sick, so I need something that’s flexible.

Women Writing Despite…

In fact, many of the “major” women writers that we read, including Flannery O’Conner, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Lucille Clifton, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, and Charlotte Bronte, all had limits on their health – physical and mental illnesses, constraints on their time and energy. They still managed to produce a ton of work, not just published books, but tons of journals and letters that I find fascinating and great research for women writers – how they succeed, how they struggled, how they maintained friendships and family demands. (Frida Kahlo is kind of the patron-saint of sick women creatives, too. Not only is her art getting more attention these days, but I read that her garden was recently restored – how I would love to see that!)

I think one reason I’ve been attracted to researching the lives of these writers is that they succeeded despite. Despite family opposition, money problems, health problems, during a literary time that was – shall we say – unfriendly to women’s voices. How they guarded their writing time, and struggled with “doing it all” – a woman’s problem for centuries, not just now, the expectations that women will be supportive of their family’s needs, domestic work, taking care of spouses or family members, plus write and spend time and cultivate connections with other creative people. So what I’m saying is, really, in this age of phones and internets and social media, it’s easier for me than it would have been for any of those writers, despite my illnesses, the physical limitations I might face, the frustrations I feel.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Another Birthday, Spring and All, Thinking About the Modern Salon and Writing Groups, Women Writing Despite, and Planning for the Year Ahead

As I’ve traveled, from AWP a month ago to the creativity retreat last week, I’ve been thinking about tribes, the tribes we choose and the tribes that claim us.  I saw many AWP posts that talked about the ecstasy of being back with one’s tribe, but I don’t feel that way at AWP.  I’m a different kind of participant, with a very different kind of non-writing job for pay than most people there.  I still have a good time, but it’s a much more industrial feel for me–it’s not the sigh of relief, the “I’m home again!” feeling for me.

Last week’s retreat was that way.  Let me preface by saying that I don’t always feel that way.  I’ve been coming to this retreat since 2003, and I’m not sure why some years it’s easy to settle in to the retreat rhythm and some years I never capture it.  This year I felt like I knew fewer people (in part, because we had a larger crowd with more new people), yet surprisingly, I had that return to the tribe feeling.

I don’t have many areas of my life when I’m surrounded by people who are interested in the intersections of creativity and spirituality; in fact, this retreat might be the only place where I am in a larger group of those kinds of people.  There are a few at my local church, but at the retreat, I’m with 70+ people who are.  And we’re interested in a wide variety of creative expressions.  It’s exhilarating.

It does take me away from poetry writing, which is strange since the retreat almost always happens during National Poetry Month.  But it’s great to be distracted by a retreat, not by the drudgery of administrative work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Tribes and Poetry and the Focus of a Month

This week I submitted a proposal for AWP 2020, which will take place in San Antonio, TX. I haven’t had a panel picked up for the conference in a few years, so maybe I’m due. I hope it’s accepted — it gives me a chance to collaborate with a couple of my friends: one from college, J.C., who is a playwright and TV/film writer and essayist who lives now in Los Angeles. The topic is on DIY residencies and retreats — granting yourself time and space to write — and she’s been doing these kinds of things for years now; also with C.Y.M., who completed an Artist Residency in Motherhood a short while ago.

M.S. and I have been planning, and putting the final necessary pieces in place, for doing our own Artist Residency in Motherhood this summer, for a week in July. We have all of our kiddos signed up for day camps, and we’re renting a tiny apartment not far from the camps. We’re going to use an apartment booked through AirBnB as a joint workspace. The plan is to use 3-4 hours in the morning for work on writing and art-making, break briefly for lunch, and then either go back to work or go on some kind of excursion we wouldn’t normally be able to do with three kids in tow. Also, our work, our writing and art, will be focused around a joint theme — so that possibly we can exhibit or publish it somewhere together. Or maybe we won’t. We’re trying not to put too much pressure on the week — just enough to provides some focus or direction.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Returning to Blogging, More Bathroom Renovating, DIY Residency Planning, and a Cover Reveal

windless our sails of blood and bone become moons in a jar

when all else is emptied your name takes on the shape of a swan

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, seq. 30.04 2019/sekv. 30.04 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 17

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.

To paraphrase Ecclesiastes: Of making many blog posts about making books, there is (thankfully) no end. Also this week, as Na/GloPoWriMo winds down, posts about the making of many poems. Plus thoughts about productivity in general, questions about dream presses and whether there’s a distinctly American way of writing poetry, and several advanced cases of the walking blues.


What I learned from my understanding of the medieval Books of Hours and what I felt I could translate into my project were the following aspects: the text, (in my case the poems) would be an embarking point for reflection. This reflection would not be a religious one but a contemplative one, offering responses to the modern world. It would be presented in a calendar format, following the months of the year, times of day and the seasons. It would contain a linear structure  (a calendar year) but the reader/viewer could choose when and where they accessed the films. My final aim was to somehow replicate the everyday quality of the medieval Books of Hours, and to depict the ‘illustrations in the margins.’ By creating a digital project which utilizes our accessibility to screens and downloads, I could also replicate the portability of the medieval books. I wanted the colours and sounds of the films to complement the total experience just as the illustrated pages in the medieval manuscripts complement the texts in the book. The themes which link the whole collection are reflections on the passage of time; reflections on the impact of urban lifestyles on rural landscapes and the transience of memory.

Each poetry film was created ‘in conversation’ with the film-maker rather than me ‘giving’ them a poem to adapt. Sometimes we started with an idea, sometimes we started with a sound track, or static or moving images. So all the poetry films in The Book of Hours have been created in collaboration with other artists.

Lucy English, The Book of Hours

[Susan Rich]:   Who are the poets (or other writers) that you recommend? Who do you return to over and over?

[Lena Khalaf Tuffaha]: I recommend reading everything. Classics, newly-published works, what you friends are reading, what your favorite indie bookseller recommends. If a writer you admire raves about a book, check it out. And don’t just read; listen. Go to a poetry reading. Watch a video of a spoken word performance if you can’t attend one. If you know another language, even if you’re not proficient, give yourself permission to muddle through poems in that language. I’m always reading in Arabic, in French, and stumbling through original Neruda poems (in the privacy of my own reading spaces). Nourish the sources of sound and prayer in your poetry.

I’m currently obsessed with several hybrid works: Marwa Helal’s Invasive species (Nigthboat, 2019), and a book of essays, All The Fierce Tethers (Sarabande, 2019), by poet Lia Purpura. Books that have awed and thrilled and taught me in recent years include Solmaz Sharif’s Look, and Ada Limon’s The Carrying. I’ve spent this poetry month tweeting a poem a day by an Arab American poet, a love letter to my community, and in the process I’ve revisited so many treasures. Books across centuries, from Khalil Gibran to Suheir Hammad to Fady Joudah to Nathalie Handal. In my writing practice, I often return to June Jordan, to Sharon Olds. So many loves, too many to list!

Susan Rich, Five Questions and Answers with Poet On the Coast Alumna Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

I went to Jeremy Dixon’s reading from his pamphlet In Retail, a sequence of numbered, untitled poems resulting from his time working in a well-known pharmacy chain. “Most of the poems,” writes Jeremy in his introduction, “began life as hurried lines scribbled on the back of a length of till-roll in the lull between sales. As staff members were not allowed to carry any personal items while on the shop-floor, I hid these scraplets in my sock and prayed that today wasn’t the surprise-spot-search-in-the-store-cupboard day.” Now, that is what I want to read! Urgent poems that demand to be written. Poems smuggled out of a hostile environment.

The design of the book (by Cherry Potts at Arachne Press) deserves mention for its meticulous attention to the spirit and origin of the poems. The head and foot of each page carry mirror-text in a faded grey utilitarian font: very much like what one might see showing through the flimsy paper of a till-receipt. Moreover, the text at the foot of each page can be read in either direction as a found poem running through the sequence.

Ama Bolton, Bristol Artists’ Book Event 2019

I didn’t know what she was:
that brittle, reed-like,
human-like riddle.
A paper whisper.
A burn.

She made an ark
for a language the color
of loneliness.
Words rushed to her.
So did the clouds.

Romana Iorga, Alter Ego

This mind map was on the wall near the entrance to the exhibition of Eva Jiricna’s architecture, so I’m not sure if she created it, or if it’s there permanently. Either way, I identified with the creative process it details: the mess-ups and detours, the going in circles and the dead ends. It also made me question the way I work. Look at the right hand side, ‘work, work, work’. Is that really me, nose to the grindstone. Probably not, at least, not in terms of writing. Why? Well, things get in the way, my job for example, cleaning the house, walking the dog, going for a swim, going to the pub or a gig, messing about with collages and composite fictions (a phenomenally rewarding distraction).

I used to be able to cut myself off and I probably had more focus (in terms of poetry at any rate). These days, however, I embrace distractions. I won’t allow myself to feel bad about this because it’s a way of feeding my thoughts. I do realise though, that when you’re fixed on a goal, writing or otherwise, your work has more of a purpose. You know (at least vaguely) where the writing’s going, what you want to achieve. I’ve had eighteen months or so where I’ve not been sure of where I’m heading, even though I still write and get poems published fairly regularly.  This lack of direction is self-induced; after my last pamphlet was published, I was determined to experiment, and to do something different. Up to now, I’ve let that principle guide me.

Julie Mellor, Follow the map …

I had a bad week at work, or I should say a difficult week, since, truthfully, nothing bad actually happened. It just felt bad. Like I was driving a clunker, almost out of gas, miles from an off-ramp, behind an 18 wheeler going about 40 on a 55 mph highway. And more than just slowing me down, with me watching the little red gas pump light up on the dash, I couldn’t see what was up ahead.

I have, however, kept my commitment to write a poem a day all of April, and now I have 28 sonnets sitting on 28 pages, pretty as you please, waiting for the revisions to begin. Writing is the joy, the reward. Of course there were some very disappointing rejections to swallow, and, I’m afraid, more of those to come soon. I’m usually pretty tolerant of rejections, but I have to admit that when slight faith didn’t make the long list for the Suk prize, it stung. It’s been out for almost a year now, and it feels like it’s run is over without really getting out of the starting gate. Lord, I’m full of corny metaphors today.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with 28 Poems and an Herb Garden

The last time
I wrote daily poems
during April

you printed them
and paperclipped them
in a sheaf.

I was so grateful
that you saw me
even a little.

When I spotted them
on your bedside table
my cup overflowed.

Rachel Barenblat, April dailies

What prompts a poem, really? Probably differs from writer to writer to such a degree that discussing inspiration can be an intriguing discourse among fellow poets but not a method to instruct anyone “how to.” A poem, or any work of art, can be interpreted or reconstructed through analysis, but simply following someone else’s instructions is unlikely to lead to meaningful results.

Among my Best Beloveds are a few people who are excellent how-to writers. They can write about how to build a boat, debug a software program, light a face for photographic portraits, construct a Windsor chair, use a beading pattern to make a bracelet. This sort of work is surprisingly challenging to write well–think of how many times you’ve been frustrated by a poorly-written manual for one of your digital or mechanical devices. Good, clear, concise how-to writing requires intelligence, accuracy, awareness of the reader’s skill level, critical analysis, and a clarity of style the unpracticed writer lacks. And by unpracticed writer, I mean most of us!

After 25 days of writing poetry drafts, I cannot suggest to anyone how to write a poem. Perhaps someone with more experience in the process (such as Luisa Igloria) can weigh in on how to write a poem (she teaches creative writing, after all, at Old Dominion). At the end of this month, I will resort back to my usual process of intermittent drafts; though it’s possible that this month of discipline will stick–maybe I will be more productive for awhile. Mostly what I will need to do is to REVISE! Because with 30 drafts to work on, I can stay busy tweaking and reworking (and giving up, occasionally) on poems for months to come.

Ann E. Michael, How-to

But what does “self-sabotage” really mean for me in regards to my art and how do I avoid it? It means, if my life is falling down around me, I will still put poetry, writing, and art first. If I made a commitment to a group of friends that I am going to submit my work once a week–I do. If I signed up to be in a group where I said, “Yes, I promise to show up and write a poem each day”–I do.  If a magazine writes to me with the proof of my poems and says they need the contract back in 3 days and they need my poems proofed–done.

Yes, my house may look like a ransacked mess. I may be pulling my clothes from laundry baskets or more so, the actual dryer. We may be having appetizers for dinner or I’m eating canned chili I found in the pantry. I may be driving and be so tired I have to pull over and sleep in a parking lot for 30 minutes before I get home. I may have a list of things I need to do, appointments I need to make, but when it comes to my writing life, I will be the worker bee as I love the honey, the sweetness poetry can grant me even in the toughest of time.

And I know for me, my writing is my place of flow. It’s why I’ve been writing a poem-a-day since March (and only missed one day–Easter). It’s where I can disappear from the world, or better, take my over-the-top, this-is-terrible life and turn it into art–I actually wrote a poem last month called “My Husband Falls Down a Flight of Stairs and Lives, and I Cut My Hair.” Because all of this is fodder for our art. And sometimes the stress life is giving me actually makes my work better because it offers a tension in my poems–note: I am not asking for more stress and do not believe in creating drama or struggle for the sake of writing, I mean, if nothing was going on, I’d still be writing. BUT if life is going to be kooky, it’s going to end up in my poems…

Kelli Russell Agodon, Catching Up and Undoing the Art of Self-Sabotage

I am discovering that I can use my free time to actually disconnect from the time-is-money 24/7 network, and remember what writing was to me before all this noise. What reading was to me. What painting, bookbinding, ceramics, dancing, yoga were to me — all these things I did not need to signal to the world and find a way to monetize it to justify/signal my existence as a “deep and knowledgeable” person.

I am a teacher. And how many times have I caught myself designing an entrepreneurial project that would allow me to … continue to teach, but with a fancier title? And a sh*tload of uncertainties and risk.
 
I am a writer.
 
But I am done trying to sell that identity to anyone, or contemplating twisting my life around to it written on my tax returns.
 
At least for today.

It is so easy to get sucked back in.

Ren Powell, April 27, 2019

Sometimes I think I just submit poems to American magazines via Submittable, the portal which many magazines use for receiving work, just to get my reject rate up. I’ve had very few acceptances via Submittable in general, but of the six over the last 4 years, half are from American magazines, the other half are international magazines. I don’t seem to appeal to American writers, even the ones I approach via email. Of the nine acceptances I’ve had so far this year, one has been via Submittable and I think it was the only American one, the others have been from Europe.

I was brought up in America, studied literature in America and started writing my poetry there, but it seems I can’t write poetry that American publishers like. I wonder if I write in a British or Scottish style or if it is like my accent, a hybrid of the three with a dash of that foreign flavour that can’t be pinned down.

There are lots of styles of poetry in both groups, many poetic ‘schools’, but I’ve never been able to categorise the differences between British and American poetry. I could Google of course, find articles to give me ideas, but I’m not sure how up-to-date they will be and it is a more organic thing, I believe. There’s the language, of course, I can hear America in so many American poets’ poems, the casual, loose sound of the language. It’s not that British poetry is more stiff and formal, but there is a feel to American poetry that I can’t emulate or properly explain.

Gerry Stewart, Can you write American?

What does your dream press look like? Mine looks like this: pays royalties, does some PR for you, helps get your book reviewed and puts it up for awards. What qualities does your dream press have? Does the press help you place poems after they take your manuscript in high-profile journals? Get blurbs for you instead of making you beg for them? How many author copies does it give you? Does it give you input on the cover? Answer e-mails promptly? Helps you set up a book tour? Helps promote you on social media? Has great distribution in bookstores? Has careful editors? Tell me more about your dream press in the comments!

I’d love to see this in public conversation, because my perception is that most poets (and even fiction writers) are so excited to get a book published, they don’t think about what kind of press they want to work with and send to every contest and open submissions. Does the press represent poets of color, women, people with disabilities? That’s something I look at now more than I used to. […]

I’m thinking hard about this as I send out manuscripts for what will be my sixth and seventh books. I feel like at this point I need to think hard about what presses are a good fit for my work and would be great partners in the process. If this means I send out a little less than I used to, that’s okay. I’m hoping to find the perfect partner for each book.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, My Review of Deaf Republic up at Barrelhouse, Blooms and Studies in Pink, and Let’s Talk About What Makes a Dream Press

[John] McPhee described the process in one story of realizing that an encounter with a bear that happened, in chronological terms, about three-quarters of the way through the narrative, could serve to shape the entire piece. So, understanding that particular story as a circle, he started with the bear, and everything else led back to that moment.

It seems like a good idea to start with a bear. I find often people are committed to the chronological narrative of what they’re talking about in a poem, and can get visibly shaken when it’s suggested that they throw that chronology out the window.

I was thinking about this while reading Diane Seuss’s poem “Still Life with Turkey.” The center of the poem is her recollecting being asked, when she was a young child, if she wanted to view her father in his coffin. She said no, and the poem reflects on her role now as someone thirsty for seeing. So the poem starts with sight, not the father but a turkey in a still life: ” The turkey’s strung up by one pronged foot…” The poem lingers on the turkey for a few lines, then wanders to the memory, reflects then, “…Now I can’t get enough of seeing…” and ends with the turkey: “…the glorious wings, archangelic, spread/as if it could take flight, but down,/downward into the earth.”

The journey of the poem, like the journey of a story, should start with — and take you to — the bear.

Marilyn McCabe, Coming round again; or, THIS is the post on structure I meant to post last week

I like to read poems that hurt like I hurt,
that swell in my throat like sugar, and cut
my tongue like rosehips (red, bitter, and curt),
like black tea carves new landscapes in the mouth.
Poems that don’t fake it, and don’t have to. They
can take it, being chewed up like gristle,
and sometimes you have to put them away
or swallow whole. Standoffish ones, bristle
and glare, part bear, part ice, loping across
a bridge crumbling under their weight, and fate
alone says if the bridge falls or they pass
thru.

PF Anderson, I Like to Read Poems (A Double Sonnet)

Reading it out loud to that roomful of people, I realized that one of the great strengths of this poem is that each line ends at a spot where you’d pause or
take a breath. This poem talks, like the poet is sitting next to you in a café and relating this story. And the way he tells it, it’s one remembered assertion after another, just as you’d say it to someone: “No, / I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton, / I said confetti, and no / not like the confetti / a tank can make of a building.”

Every time I read this poem, I think about how many conversations we have like this on a national scale, in our jobs, and in our personal lives. How many white people are going around saying they know how things are and how to fix them, when they don’t know the reality at all? And how often are misinformed people trying, and succeeding, to control the narrative when they don’t know what they’re talking about? Whitesplaining (as in this poem), mansplaining, a whole lot of other splaining. When really, what they should be internalizing is “Shut up and let someone else do the talking while you listen.” This poem says that, beautifully. What a gift.

Amy Miller, 30 Great Poems for April, Day 23: “There Are Birds Here” by Jamaal May

Sometimes, it’s hard to determine where I do my best work.  There’s home, where much of the creative plotting and dreaming happens in places like the shower and the bed.  There’s my daily bus ride, where I come up with a lot of ideas for all sorts of projects (and also where I get the bulk of my daily reading done–obviously related).  Weirdly, I sometimes have amazing ideas walking down Michigan or waiting for my coffee on my way to the studio.  I do however, have several intentional workspaces where any number of different things happen and I’ve been musing over the right conditions under which things bloom and are constructed.

Kristy Bowen, places and spaces

We are walking, with every step
Our shoes caress the broken sidewalk.
An old song comes to mind
And when we are sure we are alone
We begin to sing aloud.

James Lee Jobe, ‘A hot day in the valley. The sun’

Ladybugs had chosen the same beach to rest
We tiptoed on the stones trying not to step on them
They and we, all helpless in the strong north wind
They couldn’t fly away and we couldn’t stop walking
Pretending that the sun was enough was difficult
Just like in the lives one leaves behind
So sunny and colourful death can be

Magda Kapa, Ladybugs at the Baltic Sea

I felt raw-boned & rusted
Dragging my hands in pockets full of scared

Pockets full of scared &
Walking a road rutted with wanting to get out

I was wanting to get out
That red dirt prison, that green-treed mess

Charlotte Hamrick, Raw Boned

So last night I had a dream that  I was visited by another poet. We drank wine, overindulged in pastries. Chatted with my wife. Listened to music and I must have taken my blood sugar three or four times in the dream. Talking shop might have been fun but we didn’t do that.  I don’t often have poets invited into my dreams for some reason but when it happens it is usually a delight. I confess usually there is something a bit eccentric that happens.

It seems that living in the now becomes harder with all the stuff in the world going on. It’s not at all easy to do and not think about worldly problems.  I hope to immerse myself more into reading and writing in the week ahead. 

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Good Week for Writing & Stakes

Napoleon’s site of self-coronation
burns, but the work of daily life must
continue. I revise the accreditation
documents again. Others complete
their taxes, clean, make sure to feed
the children, the pets, all the helpless
creatures. Parisians gather to sing
the hymns we had forgotten
that we needed.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Tuesday: “Lessons from the Cathedral”

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 13

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: world-building and destroying, drafting and revision, travel and homelessness… “How do we go on, heart open, in the presence of mortality?” as Jessamyn puts it. Let’s join Josephine Corcoran in toasting: “Here’s to poems, wildflowers, insects and weeds.”


My mother was the earliest form of Google I knew.  People called her with questions all the time. She kept files of clippings with financial advice, addresses of agencies, lists of experts, research findings — all updated with her ballpoint wiki. She had her travel skills to reference, her training as a registered nurse to summon, her experience with the dying to share when, inevitably, people needed her counsel.

Before the Internet, people were our search engines.

Laura Grace Weldon, Humanity is a Search Engine

I spent most of last night on Mars. All of it, actually. And the night before that. And the night before that. And the year before that …….

Colonizing Mars, actually, although that sounds grander and empowering than the experience. Let me tell you, Mars feels a lot like Kansas or Nebraska during the Dust Bowl. Well, except for spacesuits and cold.

There’s this grinding isolation, which I’m okay with, surprisingly, but it flattens everything. A numbness that comes with having a really predictable daily experience. I guess kids can adjust to all kinds of things as long as it seems normal to them. It was normal for me to study, do my chores, watch threads of wind scour the flat plains, lift the dust, and drop it back down.

PF Anderson, Mars Memories

In Los Angeles, I had to forget that entire tent city I’d seen five minutes before arriving at a gorgeous art space, Hauser and Wirth, forget the waste spaces of highway with people like driftwood, to get to the art.  The scale of homeless population reflected the west – vast, long vistas I wasn’t prepared for.  We’d landed an hour earlier.  Welcome to confusion.

The art, fortunately, didn’t exclude life – Annie Leibovitz’s retrospective was excessive and marked by raw vital messiness, mostly of another era of culture clash, the 70s, both seemingly more violent and more innocent.  The humanness of desire and struggle was poignant, marking a swath of human history.  In the maelstrom was music, drunkenness, ecstasy, sadness, communion.

It took me a while to get onto the thing about LA – the wastespaces and no-places are the thing, and the places where people gather to eat, drink, play are little happenings.

Jill Pearlman, One Big Tented L.A. Thing

There’s a story here:

Something was built.
Something was broken.

That’s the essence of story, but I have no idea of the particulars.  Make them up for yourself; the possibilities are numerous.

Ellen Roberts Young, Spring Walk and Story

I find whenever I’m in Portland and especially in Old Town, someone interacts with me–all the interactions have ended up okay, but there have been some odd moments (Note: not all the interactions have been homeless/drug user related, there is just an energy to this city I can’t describe, but it usually shows itself by feeling as if you’re in one big impromptu improv event.)

An example of what I’m talking about is once I was standing at a crosswalk and a man jumps out of nowhere, puts a cup of “water” ?? (I hope) over the head of a friend I was with and then directly in front of my face and yells, “You are hypnotized!” before deciding we were not hypnotized and wandering away. While these moments make me laugh afterward, the “that was weird” part of the trip, they remind me to tell you to keep your eyes open and do travel with a buddy, especially if you’re a woman.

Again, I have been to Portland numerous times without incident, but every. single. time. It’s something. Someone wants to dance with me on a sidewalk, someone is yelling something my direction from across the street, someone is shouting “let me hold your kneecap” out a car window, someone is blowing bubbles at everyone who passes by, someone has decided to ask random people their favorite type of shoe. It’s both inspiring and tiring. It’s “I’ll use this in a poem” and “I think we’re done here.” 

Kelli Russell Agodon, #AWP19: Need a break? My Favorite Things in Portland

On a flight crowded with sleepy creative writing professors—the kind with teaching-intensive jobs who can’t escape to the AWP convention until late on Wednesday—I probe for existential dread the way you tongue a loose tooth. No, not sore, not yet.

This surprises me, given how my children’s current transitions have predisposed us all to panic. My daughter is applying for jobs plus finishing her senior honors thesis at Wesleyan; her adviser is moody and keeps missing meetings. My son will hear about the rest of his college applications while we’re at the conference, and he’s anxious, too. I’m not actually worried about either of them, not in the long run, but suspense is keen.

This is my first AWP since stepping off the Board of Trustees and even though I have a few residual duties, I feel giddy. Or is that jetlag? On Thursday morning before heading to the convention center, I pull out a small sewing kit I’d packed, intending to reattach a button on my favorite velvet jacket. The needle has rusted from disuse and I can’t thread it. I’m having issues with orderliness and containment.

Lesley Wheeler, Time out of joint at #AWP19

Last Sunday, 3 members (myself and two others) of our poetry club, Casa los Altos, collaborated with the PoetrySlam group of our city in their annual “Grito de la Mujer” (Woman’s Scream) live performance event. This year, it was held in our Central Park.

Guatemala consistently ranks, unfortunately, as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. This annual event invites poets from our city and the surrounding region, both men and women, to give voice to the often invisible and unspoken fears, heartbreaks, hopes, desires, experiences, spirit, anger, and more that we are often called upon to suppress. The power of the written and spoken word to shine light into places that affect us, cannot be overstated. This event is not for poetry that is merely “pretty” or that sounds “nice.” Our presenters this year talked about being mistresses, about balancing motherhood with career, about being accosted in the streets, about being young, about being men trying to navigate a world where power dynamics are changing.

Marie Anzalone, “A Woman’s Scream” Live Poetry Event

The first session I attended in the afternoon was Revelation or Resistance:  Form or Narrative at the End of the World.  I was less interested in the authors reading their works than in the discussion that followed.  It was a good discussion, but if you know me, you know that my Apocalypse Gal self can talk end-of-the-world for days and never get tired of it.  I wanted more conversation about what to do in terms of retirement planning and the knowledge that the world is seriously screwed, but I understand that not everyone has floor boards that are 2 feet above sea level.  One of the presenters did early on present information from the latest, most serious climate report that came out a month or two ago; I’ve only heard from a few people who have actually read the whole thing, and he’s one of them.  He mentioned 20-30 feet of sea level rise in the next few decades, which is a much more compressed time frame than originally thought and a much greater volume of water.

I made lots of notes of my own thoughts during this session, and they ran along the lines of future generations who will be aghast at the fact that we spent lots of time and money in fancy conferences talking about narrative form and planetary destruction and not much time actually working on the issue.  I do agree with the one presenter who observed that this slow motion apocalypse on many fronts is moving so slowly that it’s impossible for us to react effectively.  It’s not like a world war that might galvanize and mobilize us.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, AWP:  Report on Day 1

What an inspiring day! The March meeting of Bath Writers and Artists was co-chaired by Sue Boyle and Peter Reason. Sue began the morning workshop by reading a thoughtful and passionate essay by Chrissy Banks, “The Place of Poetry in a Time of Catastrophe”. Are we fiddling, she asks, while real people burn? […]

I came home with an altered (less anthropocentric, I hope) perspective and a heightened awareness of “hyper-objects”: things that are everywhere but too big to see — like anthropocentrism and other habits of thinking and feeling that lead, not deliberately but inevitably, to disaster. I think I have already demonstrated that I can morph into a fictional post-apocalyptic unicellular extremophile, but it’s time to face the apocalypse head-on and do something about it. The expression it’s not the end of the world has gained a horrible new relevance.

Ama Bolton, Of Trees and Tygers and Catastrophe

From one perspective, the idea that art needs to wallow in the ugly that we want to avert our eyes from is condescending in terms of respecting the life experiences that other people have and how they choose to deal with them.

Not everyone needs to be confronted with a mimesis of each of life’s horrors, nor do they need to be overwhelmed with expressionistic/exhibitionistic sharing of other people’s feelings in order to “understand” or “appreciate”, or feel empathy for other people.

Not everyone is healed by a performance of their pain.

Isn’t the drive to create a beautiful moment from the complexity of such an experience as real and as authentic as it is to focus on the ugly? Can’t a glam shot of a new mother in her clean sheets also be interpreted as an expressionistic portrait of the joy inherent in the moment?

Staged is staged. Regardless of the fact that we seem to unconsciously hold up the “ugly” as authentic, and the beautiful as false or narcissistic. Could a case be made for our fascination with our own flaws as being more honest than our filtered selfies?

Ren Powell, March 31st, 2019

Of course, there is no real risk. I know that. I can save each and every draft, if I want, and trace my way back if I get lost. But reason has no standing where irrational fears hold sway. What I am really fearing is that I’m not up to the challenge. No longer a careless writer of what comes to mind, no playing child, but an editor, choicemaker; which words will I befriend, what voice will I take on?

And will any of the strangers I meet like the result? In editing mode, that question rises, grim as the sun on the hot sidewalk on the walk to the first day of school.

I wonder if other people share this editing dread. It’s normal to fall in love with a fresh draft of something exciting and new. Why mar the lovely face of this beloved with some virtual red mark of the editing pen? Surely it’s brilliant as is. First word, best word. And maybe it is. Maybe it is. But I won’t know until I voyage into the process of questioning what’s there — does this belong? does that sound best or is there a better way? does it contain more vitality if I turn it upside-down? — and come to the destination on the other side.

Marilyn McCabe, Off We Go Into the Wild Red-Penciled Yonder; or The Hesitant Editor

And what do we do as writers but build worlds? I suppose this applies to poets as much as fiction writers, maybe even creative non-fiction.  Some writing may have more in common with the non-created world, may live and breathe inside it, may exist alongside it simultaneously and occasionally wander back and forth.  Things may be plucked from reality and stretched or bent into the shape, even amongst the most autobiographical work. These are perhaps the most interesting kinds of worlds, the ones that disorient you somewhere along the way, not sure where you are–in fact or fiction, and that confusion is part of the point. 

Kristy Bowen, worlds within worlds

I’ve been waiting in my writing, setting poems aside, picking them up again, panicking because I might not have the most recent draft. Sometimes, the poems grow on me, and I see opportunities for nuance, for the subtle shadings. Sometimes, I grow tired of them, convinced that they are terrible. Time for waiting is running out, with just over a month before I turn in my thesis. But I can still get close to the ground of them, inspect their stems and blades, their rhythms and imagery (and I suspect that imagery is at the root of my worries). A garden is always in revision—something for me to keep in mind as I keep working at these poems.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day three

Once I get past the initial rush to lay out images or the plot, I love the fine tuning, the balancing of all the finer points of writing, playing with the language, weighting words by their placement, drawing out imagery. I try to keep the reader in my mind, what they need, how much I want to lead them and how much I want them to run off on their own with my words. But also giving precedence to what I want the poem to do and say. It’s a delicate act of balance above the poem while stepping within it. 

Sometimes it works and sometimes I focus too much on what I want, the ‘thing’ I’m trying to make the poem do that I force it into shape and it shows in its reluctance. This is when I need mentors, writing group companions and other readers to step up and tell me something isn’t working. I find it so helpful to have these dialogues because I am mired deeper within my own writing than another reader and often I cannot see where the problem is, even though I may have a sense of their being one.

Gerry Stewart, Finding Balance

Go easy on yourself: NaPoWriMo is a bit of fun, not another chore. If you miss a day, start again the following day. If need to take a day to catch your breath, same. Don’t write off the whole challenge because of a couple of missed days. At the end of the month, you will still have achieved much more than you normally would or had even thought possible.
Manage your mindset: The challenge is derived from NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month in November, where the focus is on quantity, not quality. Think of it as a 30-day scavenger hunt – you want to spark an idea, capture the essence of it and move on. Switch off your critical voice. Knowing that these are fast first drafts takes the pressure off. As Jodi Picoult says: ‘You might not write well every day but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.’

Angela T. Carr, Surviving NaPoWriMo: Tips for a 30-Day Poetry Challenge

Among other things, I’m teaching ancient Near Eastern epics this semester. I don’t often get to do this, and it’s my favorite.

My students read the Enuma Elish. They read the Hymns to Inanna. They read my beloved Epic of Gilgamesh. We study archetypal character and archetypal story, the role of catharsis in human survival, the integral nature of creation/destruction and eros/thanatos, sacred marriages and descents to underworlds, hero’s journeys.
 
I say, and say again:

The question at the center is: how do we go on, heart open, in the presence of mortality?

Heart open. Not numb.

In the presence of suffering and death.

At the intersection of medicine and Humanities, heh.

How?

JJS, Two Years: An(other) Open Letter to my Surgeon

When Depression Talks Over Me by Lannie Stabile in Kissing Dynamite – This is one of the most expressive poems I’ve read about depression and anxiety that doesn’t slam you like a sledgehammer. No, it’s calmly desperate which is a large part of its strength. Lannie is a poet to watch.

“I remember the first time I unhinged my jaw,
            vomiting the swollen stories,
            watching them gurgle in the open air”

*

Burn Barrel by Allie Marini in The New Southern Fugitives – This poem begins with how to assemble an actual burn barrel. It caught my attention because when I was a kid in rural Mississippi, we had a burn barrel and it was my chore to burn the household trash. As the poem progresses the barrel transforms, becoming a metaphor for the poet’s own suppression. It’s so very skillfully written.

“refashion yourself

into something clean & less—become a grate, a burn cover, become hardware cloth & trap hot cinders in

your mouth. limit the risk of combustion. just swallow everything down.“

Charlotte Hamrick, First Quarter Favorites: The Poets

Never passed it on to me
who watched her pinching
pastry: butter, sugar, flour;
how it fell from her fingers,
how it fell through the air.

She tried. She did. But grew impatient
with the way the mix would clump
and stick. O, give it here she’d say.
The pastry would flake, and fall.

You need cold hands she’d say.                    
Yours are too warm.

John Foggin, On Mothers Day, for my mum, Marjorie 1911-2007

At the end of shiva I wrapped myself
in your monogrammed sable stole

and walked around my neighborhood,
blinking like a mole bewildered by sun.
Like my child, still wrapping himself
in the plush blanket from your funeral

carrying you with him from bedroom
to living room sofa and back again.
As I prepare to leave this first month
I’m still learning how to carry you.

Rachel Barenblat, Four weeks

Editing poems at night
Under the influence of hot chocolate.
Life opens like a flower.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Editing poems at night’

When I was much younger, I considered myself “spiritual.” I stopped using the term once I began a more serious exploration of my life and began to study philosophy, psychology, aesthetics, phenomenology, and consciousness more intentionally. But the crucial components–connection, relation to and with others (sentient and not), and love–those I have always understood as necessary. Even though my ego has never “dissolved” quite the way [Michael] Pollan describes [in How to Change Your Mind].

So maybe I can go back to considering myself somewhat spiritual. At this moment in life, Nature and Others matter more than accomplishments and outcomes.

Welcome Spring, welcome Spirit. Namaste, Amen.

Ann E. Michael, Book review, mind review

I’m not taking part in #NaPoWriMo as such but I am going to make a concerted effort to sit down with my notebooks every day and work on some new poems. […]

Meanwhile, we’re trying to encourage more pollinating insects into our garden so we’ve abandoned our lawnmower for the time being – although we (I really mean Andrew since he is the chief gardener in our house) have mowed a sort of path around our wild lawn.

Roll on April – here’s to poems, wildflowers, insects and weeds.

Josephine Corcoran, #NaPoWriMo

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 11

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: aging, mortality, ambition, procrastination, and books; preparing for the AWP; preparing for spring.


I don’t remember the first time I read W. S. Merwin’s work. I feel as if his words and spirit have always been with me. I do remember the first time I met him in person. Another student poet I knew, Andie, from Pamela Alexander’s weekly poetry class (held in Pam’s living room outside Central Square) had heard that Merwin would be at Harvard for a reading and reception. This very quiet poet and total rule follower asked me if I would attend the reading with her — and then crash the reception.

My friend and I (young, awkward, and brave) sidled up to the very small group where Merwin was chatting and joined in. Was it a Harvard Review event? The fancy pants people (dresses and heels and perfect make-up) stared at us. We did not fit in. My friend addressed Merwin telling him in a flash flood of words how important his poems had been to her, how they allowed her to believe she had permission to write her own. Andie went on for awhile. I had never heard her talk so much.  And when she was finished, perhaps believing that we were both about to be ejected from the premises, she stepped back. And then I remember — as if it was not 34 years ago though it was — Merwin smiled broadly and said, “Thank you. That makes me feel useful.”

And there was no doubt that he meant this. Andie’s effusiveness, her awkward praise, visibly filled him with a humble gratitude. There were so many ways the conversation could have gone but this gentle thanks from Merwin altered the universe of poetry for me. This poetry god had just ambled down the mountain and spoke to us as if we were his trusted friends. He was the only one in that stuffy room who welcomed us in and made us feel as if we had a right to inhabit the poetry world. Or at least try.

Susan Rich, Remembering W.S. Merwin (1927-2019)

At 76, I’ve lived longer than anyone on the male side of my Dad’s family (and all his sisters, too). Sometimes I’ll do the maths, and think something like, “well, with a following wind I could probably have five or six or seven years left. Four would be good. Every day’s a bonus. You’re a lucky man.” It’s not for a moment depressing, but it’s made me notice that I’m reading poems I might not have taken much notice of before. Life enhancing poems that didn’t seem that relevant or interesting at one time. Your stories will be similar, I imagine. When I was in my 30s and my Dad was dying I found myself reading and re-reading Tony Harrison’s sequence of sonnets from The school of eloquence… Book ends(especially), Continuous, Marked with D.They gave me a vocabulary, a language to shape my grief. In the break-up of my first marriage, and in finding a new love, it was A kumquat for John Keats, that midlife thankyou for coming through, for love, for survival. I remember him reading it when it had just come out, the relish with which he read the lines

I burst the whole fruit chilled by morning dew
against my palate. Fine, for 42

I loved the way it came after:

Then it’s the kumquat fruit expresses best
how days have darkness round them like a rind,
life has a skin of death that keeps its zest.

I saw him reading last summer, still going strong at 80. And I wondered how those lines sound to him now. I think he might give them a wry smile. It’s the same kind of wry smile I reserve for young men’s poems about their imagined end. Rupert Brooke, for instance

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England……….
a pulse in the eternal mind, no less

I don’t imagine for a moment that he had any intention of ending up like that; he just thought he did. Since he never got to the Front he never got to rethink it, unlike Sassoon, or Rosenberg, or Owen and the rest. But I’m pretty sure it spoke to me differently when I was 16, when I believed sincerely (because of the H Bomb) that I’d not see 21. We read who and where we are. We change and the poems change with us.

John Foggin, Staying Alive: me and Mr MacCaig

In 62 years this body has become worn;
Lumps and bumps and bald spots. Aches.
Places that hurt and I’m not sure why.
Other things have changed with age, too;
I spend more time thinking about the sun and moon,
The trees and watersheds.
Much less thought goes to the curve of a shapely thigh.

James Lee Jobe, ‘In 62 years this body has become worn’

I have been reading Hayden Carruth’s poems, admiring the breadth of his experiments in styles from sonnets to jazzy free verse to prose poems and extremely short poems–even haiku. One thing becomes clear after awhile: his appreciation of song, of the poem as song, of the need to create song as an expression of life and against the things one wishes to resist, even when (especially when) it is impossible to resist.

His poem “Mother” says all of the things I wanted to write about my mother-in-law’s death, and more. It is achingly honest and achingly sad and deeply loving.

After reading it, I thought to myself, “You do not need to write those poems; Carruth has achieved what you are trying to accomplish.” But we compose poems under individual circumstances and for personal reasons, and I suspect that reading “Mother” will help me to revise my own poems in probing ways.

This is why we read other poets’ work. One reason why, anyway.

Ann E. Michael, Come let us sing

It’s only as “swift” sank in, and I felt the distance of “landscape” that I “got it.”  The paved path is a road; I’m on that Interstate, if it is one, not beside it.

Because she doesn’t name it as road, and because she delays the fact that the pines are gone and doesn’t spell out why or how (removed for farming? cut down to build the road?) I have wandered inside her poem and so find myself complicit at the end in all that taking the fast road ignores or denies.

Thank you, Carol Barrett, for this reading experience.  Carol has two books, Pansies, just out, and Calling in the Bones.  I’m looking forward to reading both.

Ellen Roberts Young, Reading a Poem: Barrett’s “The American Dream”

This morning I was feeling like a dried out husk, with no ideas for writing, a poet who would never write a poem again.  I thought about approaches that often work:  taking a real or fictional character and writing a poem from a different angle or taking a minor character and giving the character a voice.  Nothing.

I scrolled through my blog posts that get an “inspiration” tag so that I can find them when I need inspiration.  I went back several years and again, nothing.

Then a line drifted across my brain:  I keep this garlic press although it only has one purpose.  I thought of my juicer, which also only has one purpose but takes up more room in the cabinet.  I was off–and I finally wrote a poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Poem Composing and Travel Fretting

I happened upon this great piece from Susan Minot this weekend and it got me thinking about not so much how we write, but how the world, in fact, opens itself up to us in possibility every day.  I’ll be sitting on a bus, or pushing a cart of books through the library, and there it is, that shimmering idea.  Or in that weird morning space between waking up enough to look at my phone to check the time and the alarm actually going off.  Admittedly, so much is lost because I didn’t write it down.  Didn’t force myself to commit it to memory for later when I had time to consider it as creative impulse.  This week, one night, I was up in the stacks and heard strange inexplicable noises a few rows away and got to thinking about the plot of a horror movie or novel where a woman is haunted by the ghost of herself from the future. She would then have to solve her own death like a puzzle.   Or a title for a poem, or a concept for a book will come to me. Friday, I was tweaking the dgp website and for a second “&nsbp” or “non breaking space” seemed like a great title for a book of poems written in html code style.

Kristy Bowen, sometimes the world writes itself

In a desert zoo, a jaguar slashes a stupid tourist who felt entitled: all I can think of is her cage, her pacing, her desperate desire to kill something. I nightwalk on ice, in dark, on thickly beaten-down snow. It’s exhausting, how fast it slips out of our hands, claws, teeth. How hungry we are. To be ourselves. All things are happening at once, they say, as though this is news.  All the endings. All the beginnings. Vitality and decay, simultaneous.

JJS, March 10, 2019: jaguar stars

If we’re to be nothing after death
let it be nothing like nothing on,
like a dress you take off
on a very hot night
to feel the slightest breeze,
a dim light that gives you goosebumps.

Magda Kapa, Like Nothing On

I took the train from Paris to Chartres.  It was a Friday in Lent, and on those Fridays, they take the chairs off the Labyrinth, which is designed right into the cathedral floor.

Not too many other people there.  I walked it.

Later, I wrote this poem:

Thin Place

I walk the labyrinth at Chartres.
The subtle knife can cut the veil.
I hear the whisper on the other side.
I stretch my hand and touch the air.

The subtle knife can cut the veil
where walls are thin as plastic wrap.
I stretch my hand and touch the air.
Heaven and earth just feet apart

where walls are thin as plastic wrap. […]

Anne Higgins, On this day last year

The picture of my cats contemplating the excellent Joanna Russ’s How To Suppress Women’s Writing is here to inspire some pre-AWP reading – of course you’ll come home with a bunch of new reading material, but I’m trying to warm up – trying to place a review of a new book, Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic, (excellent!)  and I’ve been trying to mix up my feminist reading material – sometimes being outside of academia I feel I miss out of some books that are familiar talking material in the academic world, and this book is one of them. (It was mentioned heavily in Sophie Collins’ Who is Mary Sue?) It’s a fascinating, fairly easy read, sharp and funny in places. Joanna is a science fiction writer as well as a critic, so I’m going to look for more of her work.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Ready for AWP, Part I: Schedule, Packing Tips, And How Not to Panic

Speaking of the bookfair– The bookfair has become SO LARGE, you actually need to spend A LOT of time there… AND it’s worth it.

Here’s why–while sitting in on a panel, may feel like “wow, I am learning important things,” walking around a bookfair actually connects you with people and publishers and poets and presses. You will make connections, you will learn about the presses you want to publish you, and you will meet the editors behind the scenes.

This is SO important as a poet or writer. You will have the opportunity to hold the books they publish, look at the covers, read the words and decide if this is a press you’d want to have publish your work. 

So take the time. Buy books. Support presses and poets. Look at the books and educate yourself in what kind work presses publish. Ask questions. Present your best self. Be professional. Learn about all the presses and what they do.

Kelli Russell Agodon, AWP 2019: Tips from an Introvert #AWP2019 #AWPTips

Looking awkward is one of my natural gifts. I probably look awkward in photos because I am awkward in real life. Like the time I was attacked by vegetation. Or the time I threw myself into a cute boy’s locker while trying to play hard-to-get.

But now, to my horror, I’m told I need an author photo to promote my new book. Although I successfully eluded requests to put my picture on the back cover, I’m told I need such a photo for publicity materials. Whaaa? This is my third book (or fourth, or fifth, depending on how you count) and I’ve never had to assemble anything resembling publicity. But book reviewers, apparently, want to check the flesh-covered skull I smile from before they consider cracking open a copy.

In an effort to put this off longer, I have procrastinated by looking up what sort of photos truly laudable writers have gotten away with over the years. [Click through to view examples.]

Laura Grace Weldon, Author Photo Angst

I’ve been making a lot of stuff lately, not just found poems but collages to compliment them, even a found poem in a box (see below). I loosely term all this stuff ‘composite fictions’ and last week I started to realise I’d got quite a number of these pieces. So, I’ve created a gallery page on this blog where you can view them under that heading.

Sometimes, the cutting and sticking has felt like it’s taking over from the poetry all together, but I’ve kept at it, in the belief that that you learn through doing, and completing, things. That’s not to say I’m happy with every finished piece, but completing is a stage in the process. Unfinished work makes me feel uncomfortable. What would it have been if I’d got round to finishing it? Good or bad, I’ll never know – unless I complete it. And it’s reassuring to be able to put one project aside in order to concentrate on something else, then go back to the first one later.

Julie Mellor, Side projects and procrastination

Not really a blog post but an ageing woman cycling on a static bicycle half crying, half laughing listening to an old George Michael song and thinking that she used to imagine George was singing to her about

oh there was so much unrequited love in those days! and she never imagined anyone wasn’t straight, she was very young

now Paul McCartney is duetting with George, she didn’t know about this version, the wonder of spotify, looking sideways through the windows she could almost be cycling down a country lane

it would be a good idea

Josephine Corcoran, Not really a blog post

What’s it all about? The tendency of “life” to want to live in the now and onward. The meaning of life? Well, I don’t think there is intrinsic meaning to this random fallout. You want meaning? Make it yourself. We just flail around, a bunch of bacteria and dividing cells, and then it’s over. Well, except for the bacteria.

Which brings a certain amount of perspective on the idea of success, something else about which I’ve been thinking.

I’ve tried a number of pursuits in my life. Had a number of ambitions, both realistic and outlandish. Numerous fancies. Many dreams. One by one, all these things fall away. Pursuit falters; ambition lapses or faces the grim reality of oh-just-forget-it; dreams, well, dreams are forgotten, tossed aside with regret, relief, bitterness, or remain clutched in the hand like a magician’s coin, invisible but caught in the fingers.

I thought I’d be this thing, do that thing, or be that kind of person. With each passing life phase I’ve tried to get clearer who I am, what I’m here for, and how I define success. It’s an ongoing project.

Marilyn McCabe, Pass Go; collect $200; or, On Success…or Successishness

I am always smoldering
like a stubborn campfire
or a pair of new lovers
two months into their affair
I am not a flickering candle
fearful of the wind
or even a strong set of lungs
I cannot be snuffed out
blown out

Bekah Steimel, Lit

Look, Mom, he’s taking up

needle and thread to be like me, and I’m
taking them up to be like you, to finish
the canvas you started. Isn’t that what

we all do, in the end: add clumsy stitches
to the unfinished tapestry of generations?
He’s trying to make something beautiful

from hard work and yarn. I told him
I’m proud of him. I told him
wherever you are, you’re proud of him too.

Rachel Barenblat, First letter

This morning I dawdled more than usual and was a half-an-hour late to hit the trail. But it is spring now, and the sun is catching up with us. For now, a half-an-hour is the difference between running in the dark, and running in predawn’s pink and blue watercolors. Next month the sun will beat me to the trailhead every morning.

The lake is still edged with ice and roughly textured in the soft light.
The ducks’ calls can sound like mocking laughter, but I no longer mind.
They are a promise (and a reminder) for the day to come.
Let it come, and go – and keep it easy.

For now, there are sunrises.
There will be sunsets in the autumn
when it comes.

Ren Powell, March 11, 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 7

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 saw poets musing about the effects of winter on their writing, wholeness and healing, the legacies of mothers, the making of books and found poems, and more — essays and poems that invite slow reading, and might help cure a case of the winter blues.

Here’s a highly poetic fact I learned this evening from a scientific paper shared on Twitter: Did you know that there are tiny, harmless bees in Thailand that drink human tears? And that scientists have a word for tear consumption: lachryphagy? But lest that seem a bit twee, be forewarned: the photo illustrations in the paper are the stuff of nightmares. Yin, meet yang.


I have missed blogging for a few weeks. I have been tossing spheres in the air, sandwhiching commitments between commitments strewn with distractions. But I am happy to say that I am overwhelmed with all things poetry. My review of Lynn Melnick’s “Landscape with Sex and Violence” is up at The Rumpus. I have an essay onboard for the series Writing About the Living at the Town Crier, curated by Lauren Davis; a blurb to write; seven books that I’ve agreed to review over the next few months; and preparation for attending AWP for Headmistress Press, which is suddenly right around the corner. I am tossing submissions and devouring rejections. I have a manuscript floating belly up in the roiling sea of poetry.

On the home front, the Olympic peninsula did entertain a magnificent snow show over the past couple of weeks, which was more than a distraction, and my heat and my washing machine are on the blink, piles of laundry are everywhere and I finally got some wood for the wood stove. I’ve scheduled a mammogram. I have announced a retirement date, which is now less than a year away. When I retire, I want to become a poet.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Missing Musing

Now, if I were a normal person, all this lack of connection and the ability to leave my house may wear me down. But I am not your normal person, I am a poet, so for me, this snowstorm meant I was just given empty days to work on my poems and manuscript.

To me, this week has felt like a writing retreat. Since Friday I have woken up and read or revised my manuscript. I have lived in lounge pants and thermal shirts. I have napped when I wanted and snacked my way through the day. I took a few walks but mostly, moved around the house thinking about titles for my manuscript, making notes in journals, and sitting down with my printed copy of my manuscript and making notes through it.

Today and yesterday, because we pretty much knew we weren’t going to make it to work, I did Two Sylvias tasks, such as design a book cover and write some prompts for our April NaPoWriMo event. I ate chili and for dessert had dark chocolate chips and peanut butter on a spoon–ah yes, my glamorous life.

But here’s the thing, how often does the world grant us time?

Kelli Russell Agodon, Waiting for the World to Melt: Snowpocalypse in the NW = Impromptu Writing Retreat

Feeling very ready for some sunshine and warmer weather. I want to see daffodils and cherry blossoms, not murdered cherry trees and bulbs buried under snow. The political climate and the weather have together been so depressing, maybe I’ll go sing drowned swan ballads to cheer myself up!

End of February can be a tough time for writers, because it tends to be a season of waiting on submissions, of still-too-long nights and dreary short days, of sad music (Ahem, acoustic version of “Northern Lights” by Death Cab and hey, for the heck of it, a version of “Bonny Swan”) So be kind to yourself, watch something that makes you laugh, read a novel or bring in some tulips. Spring awaits. Write into the cold wind.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Valentines in the Snow, Beautiful Ghosts at Roq La Rue Gallery, and Writing into the Winter Quiet

M.S. and I are teaching our Creativity class again this semester. It’s funny — not in a haha way, but in a how odd way — how much questioning I do every time we return to the course and the material.

Of  course, maybe it’s also cyclical, as we’re in the heart of winter and low temperatures also do something to keep my mood low, my mind disquiet. But I think it might be the tenets we teach in the class, tenets M.S. and I created together, agreed on, tenets we wholeheartedly believe — and the way I have to face them again, and in their light confront my own creative practice, see where it falls short, where I might be phoning it in. 

And once I do that, I hold myself up: I confront my own identity, how much I’ve tied it — with stubbornness, with obstinacy — to art-making and creativity. I hold this image of myself up to the weak winter light coming through the window, and I examine all my inconsistencies and flaws.

It’s necessary,  I suppose. It speaks to a kind of rigor, perhaps, if we assess our creative selves every once in a while and see what we might do differently. But it feels invasive, too, even if I’m the one doing the interrogating.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Martha Graham Martha Graham Martha Graham

It’s just above freezing, so the cold is more of a caress than a bite. Still winter, though:
there’s no bird song – that’s for spring.
Right now the magpies are in deep conversation in the neighbor’s tree.
This time that could be restful, seems to press an obligation.
It’s difficult not to fill the quiet with rationalizations.
It’s a bit like not trusting the body to breathe.
Is this a lesson in dying?
In being?

Ren Powell, February 17th, 2019

Poetry can be used to increase brain function, helping people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia; decrease or eliminate pain, supporting people with chronic pain issues; and elevate mood, engaging and lifting people with mood disorders.

Noting the impact of poetry, both reading and writing poetry, on pain and suffering, a recent article in The Permanente Journal lays out poems which are the author’s expression of the meaning of living with chronic pain for over 20 years, a kind of philosophical hermeneutic conversation about pain and poetry. The article’s authors explore “the efficacy of writing and reading poetry as a means to help people living with chronic pain to explore and express their narratives in their own unique way.”

Eugene Feig, one of the authors of this article sends out poetry almost weekly to the members of a pain support group as a means of sharing his own experiences of living with pain, as well as to support and to inspire hope in others. “The style of poetry we are presenting is that of a person who is not knowledgeable about poetry in a formal sense but who has an understanding of how it has helped him learn to live.”  [Full Article] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6045501/

Health, Healing and Peace through Narrative Poetry – guest blog post by Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I imagine the health crisis at my house has affected me at least a little like the great snowstorm of 2019 has affected all of us–this snowstorm that Cliff Mass says we’ll be telling our grandchildren about. We believe that we have control of our lives, and then life itself catches us by surprise, knocks us down, and dares us to get up again.

But I remember how I began this series, in Prompt #1–life does happen, terrible things happen. The only actual control we ever have is of our own response.

One response I’ve made, thus far, is to dig out my copy of Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. As much as anything else, this is a book about Palmer’s debilitating depression and how he came back from it. I found it on a shelf with books about teaching; I had forgotten it was about depression–well, entirely apt! […]

[H]ere’s a passage I copied into my journal this morning:
“This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know,” says Mary Oliver, “that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attentiveness.” But we live in a culture that discourages us from paying attention to the soul or the true self–and when we fail to pay attention, we end up living soulless lives.” (34-35)

I once heard the poet Chana Bloch say, in regards to her brush with cancer, “I am going to survive this, and I am going to write about it.”

That’s what I’m going to do, too.

Bethany Reid, Parker Palmer’s A HIDDEN WHOLENESS

When nearby factories
heaved             smoke-grey   
corkscrews
into an ash-spackled sky
 
she saw              
only the young girls
           in a schoolyard
nearby
fidget          twirl
and rustle     skirts
of pearl-pink crinoline
their cheeks
heat-tinged
their palms clasped
one to the next.
 
All darkness     acquiesced.

Gail Goepfert, Heart-ened by One Who Knew How to Hold Space

My mother whipped me with a belt, a serving ladle,
A hairbrush, a spatula, and her fat, heavy hands.

Every blow was like being struck down by God.
Every blow held the taste of terror to me, a boy.

When the whipping was through, Mother held me,
Whispering, “I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to.”

Do you see how she loved me with scars? Fearing her
Taught me compassion. I did not whip my own children.

James Lee Jobe, ‘My mother whipped me with a belt, a serving ladle’

Maybe this is part of why I’m a poet: I’m an external processor. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” wrote EM Forster. Me too. I write my way to understanding the flow of my emotional life. I write my way out of the hurricane.

When I had my strokes, I wrote about them here, and about the journey of exploration that followed — the medical journey (we never did figure out what caused them) and the spiritual journey of seeking equanimity in the face of that enormous unknown.

When I had my miscarriage, I wrote a cycle of ten poems — and rewrote, and revised, and polished — as my path toward healing. And then I shared them here, because I hoped they would help someone else who was navigating those same waters.

When the body involved is my own, when the story involved is my own, I can share openly when the spirit moves me. Because living an authentic spiritual life in the open is a core part of my spiritual practice, and because my words may help others.

And I know, from emails and comments over the 15+ years of this blog, that what I write does help others. That many of you have found comfort and strength here. That when I am willing to be real, that can call forth a mirroring authenticity in you.

But sometimes the story isn’t mine to tell. I remember conversations about this when I was getting my MFA at Bennington (20 years ago) — how do we chart a responsible path through telling the stories of our lives when those lives intersect with others?

Rachel Barenblat, A time for silence, a time to speak

quite musical
a previously invisible tree
it turns orange and bleeds red

women in the woods with axes
found by dowsing
where the axe fell

a tree theatre
stitched on bonded silk
haptic is the word of the day

Ama Bolton, ABCD February meeting

I’d like to say a public thank you to Gill Stoker at the Mary Evans Picture Library for inviting me to write a poem inspired by one of the photographs held in their archive. I chose ‘London Pubs at Closing Time’, mainly because I loved the expression on the face of ‘The Duchess’ (left of frame). I created a found poem exploring the idea of voice and blurring the boundary between past and present. Depending on the sources, found texts can really lend themselves to this. I also used lines from my own writing. Somewhere along the way, between moving bits of cut-up text around on the kitchen table, sticking them in my notebook, then typing them up, the poem achieved its form.

You can read the poem below. Better still, click here to read it on the library’s poetry blog, where you can find some amazing contributions by other poets.  Of the more recent ones, I really enjoyed Natan Barreto’s ‘To read a language / Ler uma lingua’.

It’s certainly worth looking at the library’s archive. It’s easy to search through and there’s a wide range of both historical and cinema images. If you feel inspired to write something in response, contact the library as they welcome new contributions.

Julie Mellor, I feel like we can talk about anything

I re-did two Misery poems today. I scrapped them because the collage/visual didn’t sit well, so I started over. It’s a fun thing to do because the text is done, only the visual has to be found.

Such rejigging is one of the reasons why over the past couple years I’ve bought four copies of Misery. It’s sometimes funny when I’m on a page about  protagonist Paul Sheldon’s “number 1 fan,” because if you look for the item I’ve purchased most often on Amazon it’s that book. You’d think I had a fetish.

Sarah J Sloat, Rejigs

I worry that people think they need to spend money in order to get better at writing and I really don’t believe that’s true – although some courses can be extremely helpful and the right workshop can spark many ideas and develop your creative practice.  There are excellent free resources available online, although you might have to spend time finding them, as well as some extremely good ‘how to’ books (available through libraries).   I learned so much by taking ModPo, I can’t recommend it enough.  There are other such courses to look out for, one of which is How to Make a Poem offered free from MMU via FutureLearn.

I wrote this post On not spending money (to learn to write poetry) a few years ago which gives some more suggestions.  As is often the way with blog posts, readers have also left some interesting and helpful comments at the end of the piece.

Having said all that, because I now have some spare cash and because I really like Ann and Peter Sansom who are running the Poetry Business Writing School – and whenever I’ve been in workshops with them, I’ve always produced something in my notebook which sooner or later has become a poem – I decided to apply for a place.

On top of that, I’ve also signed up for an online course taught by Paul Stephenson at The Poetry School – Channel Hopping: A French Exchange – “Writing ‘real’ poems inspired by France’s vibrant and diverse poetry scene.”  I’m  not sure if I’ve mentioned that I used to live in France (not that you need any knowledge of French to participate in this course) and I practise a tiny bit each day using the Duolingo app on my phone and computer.  So, this course really appealed to me – I’m looking forward to learning about contemporary French poets and their work and I imagine that Paul will be a hard-working, imaginative and fun teacher!

Josephine Corcoran, A student again

For I will consider my Kitten Ursula.

For she detests clocks and smashes them so I may no longer be ruled by Time.

For with supernatural quickness she jumps upon my plate and eats my breakfast eggs.

For all ping-pong has become Cat Pong, with Ursula perched upon the table the better to intercept each ball with unholy dexterity.

For I used to consider Poe a handful.

For she is teaching me many lessons by scratching them upon my hands in hieroglyphics.

For first she laps tea from my unattended cup.

For secondly she jumps upon Poe with her legs splayed then bites him on the neck while he meekly submits.

For thirdly however high we store the ping-pong balls she will find them, so don’t place them near vases or computers.

For fourthly I apologize, Christopher Smart, I am too exhausted by Ursula to continue this list you inspired.

Lesley Wheeler, For she is of the tribe of Tiger

[Vivian] Gornick talks about finding the other in the self and using that self-investigation to provide purpose and tension in an essay or memoir. But isn’t that also the case in poetry — is there not a crucial element of investigation, and aren’t we often asking questions of our selves? And must they not be so intimate that you, the reader, are also engaged in that self-same self-investigation, advertently or inadvertently? As Gornick puts it, “…a mind puzzling its way out of its own shadows…[t]he act of clarifying on the page….”

About this idea of “truth” in a piece: “Truth…is achieved not through a recital of actual events; it is achieved when the reader comes to believe that the writer is working hard to engage with the experience at hand. What happened to the writer is not what matters; what matters is the large sense that the writer is able to makeof what happened.” It seems to me this is as true in poetry as in any kind of literature.

Of course, this is not what all poets are about. Some are functioning on the surface of sound, or the whiteness of page and what can be played out there, or are at some other kind of poetic enterprise. So I admit maybe my thinking here is too narrow. I am writing about the kind of poetry I am trying to write, not the kind of poetry that is widely lauded in the contemporary world (poetry which makes me feel like there is some huge club all of whose members are speaking some secret language I have not been initiated in. I consider this a failing in myself.).

She talks about “looking for the inner context that makes a piece of writing larger than its immediate circumstance…” That’s the kind of poem I’m talking about.

Marilyn McCabe, If it’s not too late, make it a cheeeeseburger; or, Presenting the Self

I stole this from some stories you used to tell

something from beyond the memories
of great grandparents & 90s hard drives

a butterfly struggles flaps mad
through the yard

warm morning daguerreotype sunlight
& notes slipped past the censors

James Brush, Pen Pal

With my palms smeared in ash, I went to complete
what the fire began

The message to the gods coiled through the viscosity of air
hung between the two worlds

The universe is an elongated throat covetous of the farthest constellation
Call it home even when the meteors pulse
implode the cells in the brain.

Uma Gowrishankar, How a poem processes a terror attack

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network.

This week saw poetry bloggers continuing to write about Mary Oliver, as well as reacting to current and celestial events. There were posts about creativity and overcoming writer’s block, reviews, philosophical reflections… the whole mix. I should mention that I am slowly becoming more selective as I continue to add more blogs to my feed. It’s a good thing most people don’t post every day, as Luisa and I do here at Via Negativa! That would be nuts. Anyway, Enjoy.


Those of us who are still here: we are still, always arriving.  We’re not in the Promised Land, that’s for sure.  All we can really do, is to be in the becoming.  Still, always arriving.  We’ve been still, always arriving since we left the ennui of Paradise. We throw questions, try to dominate, cure. We try to stare down the enemy though, as if in a mirror, we’ll see our own face in its acts of aggression.  Learning to love the questions themselves, rather than the answers relaxes the drive to conquer. As King said, mental freedom, illumination can move things. 

Today also on the Jewish calendar: Tu B’Shevat, festival of the trees. Today trees are sheathed in ice in New England. The sap is there, held in tension, in suspense, waiting, always arriving.

Jill Pearlman, MLK, Always Arriving

I don’t know about you, but I process confusion by getting my ass into a chair and my pencil onto a page. So when the video of the young man staring down the Native elder surfaced, I watched it and paid close attention to the emotions that rose to the surface in my body. I didn’t respond on social media. In fact, it didn’t take too long for me to stop looking at social media altogether on the issue. I wrote about it in my notebook. […]

When I taught high school, I spent a lot of time choosing novels that I hoped would expand my students’ empathy, help them walk in another’s life for awhile, break down some of the barriers. That’s what literature and poetry does best, it shows us how it is to be another person. I remember how hard it was for my students in a small town in Alaska to really put themselves into the place of Ishmeal Beah in A Long Way Gone or Amir in The Kite Runner. But when they succeeded, the transformation was permanent. They could not go back to their own small lives without carrying some of the lives of other people who were different than them…. and the same as them.

When I write, I try to offer my reader that same chance to step into the poem. “Did you lose someone to Alzheimer’s? Was it like this?” I offered in Every Atom. “Are you lost and looking for the way some god might be all around you? Does it feel this way?” I wondered in Boundaries.

Recently, I look at my new poems and think I am asking, “Do you love the world? Are you open to the way the crow flies across the cold sand? Are you willing to listen for the soft compression of wings on air?”

“Are you ready to have faith that what you call other is only you on a different day?”

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, On a different day

So I am up and out the door. But the blood moon has rolled over and pulled the thin blanket of clouds with it. The sky reflects a sickly orange spill from the green houses in Bore.

I feel that I’ve written that sentence before. I’ve written about how we impose on the world.

But still, this morning was once in a lifetime.

Sporadic hail through the tree branches.
The dog tugging the lead,
still unlearning to hunt. 

Ren Powell, January 21st, 2019

In the end, all that mattered was blood
relations, forgiveness, love. In hospice, I left him alone
the night before he died. Still thought he’d walk

out of that place. The nurse said he was afraid on his own
in the dark. Even with opiates, he couldn’t find a way to sleep.
He asked for me. I drove right over. He stopped breathing that day.

There was a blood moon, auger of end times, in the days
before his death, a lone orb pointing the way,
an opening of sorts, a door for him to slip through, quite easily, on his own.

Christine Swint, Driving My Father Through the End Times, a Sestina

After her tea she gets
the big pot and scrubs vegetables for soup.
Her knife is rhythmic against the cutting board,
her felt slippers scuffing from counter to stove
and back again. I see her mouth move sometimes
as she sways, mincing, mincing her life.

Sarah Russell, Mornings after breakfast

Ever since my daughter planted cover crops in the fall of 2016, I’ve been fascinated by winter rye. How tall and glorious it grows. The subtle colors of its ears. The Catcher in the Rye, and the delicious homophone with wry.

Although it’s almost February, I finally ordered the seeds, and this morning went out to plant. […]

And while I’m out in the dirt, I have time to think about writing, think about how messiness gives the eye and the mind nooks and crannies to explore. How it feels to dig in and turn over, to break the blockages apart, to weed through the words. How the rake finds new roots and clumps get rid of. Sometimes I get an idea for a poem.

This morning, I thought about how I’ve been working on a poem that complains about those people who say home-baked bread can’t be “from scratch” if you don’t grow your own wheat–and here I was planting rye! And I thought about how it’s better to experiment–and risk failure–in a poem, just as this rye patch may fail. This might be the shortest diary ever. We’ll see.

Joannie Strangeland, The rye diary

It’s been two snow & ice storms, four poems submitted to one venue, plane tickets to AWP19 bought,  more presidential candidates announcing than I can remember, lots of reading and lots of writing since my last confession. […]

Going through another of those writing funks where I am not happy with much of what I put on a page. Of course, this is not the first time this has happened and I confess that I am well aware that it will happen again. I’m writing a lot trying to push through it. It’s the only way I know to get back on track. Still, it is frustrating when this happens and you wonder if you will ever put another poem on a page that you are happy with.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Federal Workers on My Mind

We can get so hung up on not writing that it makes us anxious and can block us. In a recent issue of Mslexia, poet Tara Bergin says that to combat the terrible fear of starting a poem, instead of saying “You’re going to write a poem tomorrow”, she leaves post- it notes for herself that say things like, “Read such and such an article and take notes” and other notes reminding her to read different things. This means she’s always got something to do and is not failing because she isn’t compiling an actual poem. I did something like this on the long haul towards my PhD – lots of notes to self on my desk, in books and on my phone.

My insomnia is a thing I don’t necessarily like but have come to accept. so in the particularly fevered early hours of PhD days, I made it a thousand times worse by making visual Insomniascapes on my phone -tiny images of me placed in surreal landscapes, or just the landscapes themselves. These were places I knew and ran or walked around to clear my head or to think more but the various apps made them nightmarish. This was possibly a useful kind of displacement. I’ll never really know. Maybe I ought to write poems to accompany them. Even though I wasn’t writing words there but I was still “writing”. The practice was connected with certain emotional and psychological states and was undoubtedly a creative one which was linked with writing.

Pam Thompson, “Writing” Towards Writing

It’s been really helpful to read these posts by poets writing about how they find their way into poems:  Writing” Towards Writing by Pam Thompson and fearless creating by Julie Mellor.  As well as containing useful and practical advice, the posts are a comforting reminder that I’m not alone in finding writing hard going at times.  I have a poem that’s been kicking around for months.  It’s there because I realised that another poem I was writing was really two poems.  So I managed to finish poem one but had these scraps of ideas, lines and words for the second poem.  I suppose it’s something like knitting a jumper and finding there’s some good wool left over that it would be a shame to waste.  Or realising you bought too much expensive wool and that it would be plain wrong to leave it lying around going to ruin.  Do you understand the kind of nagging feeling I’m left with?  All January it’s been going on and January hasn’t been the best of months to begin with!

Josephine Corcoran, Finding your way into a poem

I’ve been experimenting with combining sketching and poetry writing, and last night, I took a larger leap.  I had been looking at an old manuscript, and I was intrigued by some of the images (not all of them mine–I can trace at least two of them back to this poem by Luisa Igloria).  I started with those images and wrote the words of the poem.  Then I sketched a bit.  […]

These new creative directions come with questions.  Do the poems work without the image?  Is there a market for these poem-like things with images?  As I continue to do them, will a narrative arc emerge?  As images continue to make an appearance, should I read anything into them?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, When Sketches Meet Poems

Day Three: Thursday, Jan. 24:  This day began later than the others thanks to a dentist appointment. (Apparently, after 40 everything falls apart, even if you’ve been taking relatively good care of your teeth.) I could still sip coffee with half my jaw shot up with Novocaine, so I trekked to Starbucks despite the late start.

Sure, it’s totally a cliche to be a writer working in any coffeehouse, let alone Starbucks, but cut this working mom of three some slack, okay? At $6 a day for coffee and a bottle of water (+ tip), with free WiFi and a corner seat next to an outlet, plus the ability to focus for three solid hours without the distractions of home or the office, it’s probably the most convenient and cheapest residency a poet-mom can get.

And even — or maybe because — I’d arrived later in the day, I stayed later too, (the Starbucks baristas must love my loitering ass) and finished a solid draft of the review. I concentrated on the beginning and writing about all of the parts of Esperanza and Hope that make it worth reading and found quotes to demonstrate and by the end of the day I was over-caffeinated, under-fed, and more than a little grumpy as a result, but very satisfied that I finished the week with a completed piece of work.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical 2019

Delighted to receive my copy of “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom,” a new short story published by Faber & Faber that Sylvia Plath wrote when she was 20 years old, and Mademoiselle rejected. She didn’t work on the story again for two years, and when she did, she diminished the mystery and darkness of it. A reminder that we, as writers, often let editors guide what and how we write way too often – and just because something is rejected, doesn’t mean it isn’t good. She was just way ahead of her time. This story seems today, Murakami-esque, in the school of magical realism or symbolism – some resemblances to the story of Snowpiercer, in fact – at the time, it must have been very surprising reading indeed. I wish she had been encouraged to write more short fiction – this piece shows she had a real talent for it. One more lesson from Sylvia: don’t let editors discourage you from writing something different, or something people haven’t seen before. Or, in modern parlance, F&ck the haters.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Midwinter Sun, Four New Poems up at Live Encounters, Spy Animals, and Plath’s New Book

One thing that is interesting about reading some of the lesser-known or recently translated Tang poets (e.g. Meng Chiao, Li He, Li Shangyin) is the realization that, beyond the Li Po–Tu Fu–Wang Wei axis, not all of the Chinese poets were as focused on the clarity of the image the way these (and some others) often were.  From the standpoint of English-language poetics, we tend to see Li Po, through Ezra Pound’s translations, as the avatar of imagism, though he also wrote poems of mystic journeys that veer into the surreal and dreamlike.  […]  But the emphasis on the imagist “thing” has until recently tended to leave a lot of other Tang-era poets out of picture.  A. C. Graham began to remedy that somewhat in his Poems of the Late T’ang (1965), and in recent years, further translations of individual poets have been more frequently published.

The latest of these is the work of Li Shangyin (813-858), translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts (New York Review Books, 2018).  This volume includes not only Roberts’s translation of approximately 50 pages of Li’s poetry (with facing original Chinese), but also the versions by Graham and some by Lucas Klein (most of which are duplicate poems, making for interesting comparisons).  Li’s style is at times naturalistic and imagistic, but more often allusive, metaphorical, and, like Li He’s, surreal.  His work has historically been considered extremely obscure or, as Roberts puts it in her introduction, “unknowable and elusive . . . almost baroque, opulently layered with distinct mythological, historical, personal, and symbolist imagery” (xi).  This, of course, makes him difficult to translate. […]

Perhaps of use is an ars poetica, which begins,

At dawn, use clouds
To conceive the lines.
In winter, hold snow
To divine the poem. (33)

Mike Begnal, On Li Shangyin

I’m thinking of the whole complicated continuum from Pastoral poetry to the current imbroglio of ‘eco/environmental poetry’. I’ve been wrestling with this ever since I read Yvonne Reddick’s tour de force of exegesis in Ted Hughes: environmentalists and eco poet. I think I lost my way in the second chapter in which she summarises the sects and subsects of ecopoetry criticism: the topological, the tropological, the entropological and the ethnological. There are probably more by now, but they didn’t help me to entangle what I think of as ‘nature’, living as we do in a land where every metre has been named, walked, farmed, exploited, fenced, walled, built on, abandoned and reclaimed. All I know is that is if we continue degrade the ecological balances of the world it will die. The earth will get over that. It doesn’t care. It’s already gone through four major extinctions, not least being the one caused by the emergence of oxygen in the free atmosphere. It doesn’t care for us. But it seems obvious that we need to care for it if we care anything for ourselves.

When it comes to poetry that concerns itself with the natural world (and I’ll strenuously avoid that capitalised cliche Nature) I guess my first big eye-opener was Raymond Williams’ The country and the city which was my introduction to the idea that words like that are culturally constructed, and go on being deconstructed and reconstructed. Very little of the poetry we were given at school concerned itself with the city and the urban. It was pastoral, nostalgic and often sentimental . Poems like ‘The deserted village’. Poems like ‘Daffodils’. It took me a long time to work out why I distrusted ‘Daffodils’ but the clue’s in the first line:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

The first word; I. It’s not about daffodils, is it? It’s about the poet and what the daffodils can do for him as he wanders (ie purposelessly) and lonely (ie in self-elected solitariness) as a cloud (ie diffuse and without responsibility). It’s what I thought of when I heard Gormley’s phrase ‘ a pre-narcissistic art’. He did a revolutionary thing, Wordsworth. It’s a shame this poem is what he’s chiefly remembered for by folk who aren’t that interested in poetry. He opened our eyes to a power and loveliness beyond the bounds of a predominantly urban and urbane culture.

John Foggin, Green thoughts, and a Polished Gem: Alison Lock

“Nature poets” can be fierce, asserting the need for stewardship of our blue planet; poets who write happiness well understand–and convey–that pain and sorrow remain our companions in life. That does not mean a focus-on-the-positive Pollyanna attitude. No–to compose poems that show us we have every reason to love what we encounter takes bravery, because we so often fear what the world offers. To do so takes deep acknowledgment of suffering, not just a glancing nod, but compassion. The poet may not “behave well” in his or her own life but has the practiced gift of observation and enough craft to show the reader difficult perspectives.

Sometimes, gladness and optimism and beauty get obscured by experience and griefs. Next time that happens, maybe turn to poems?

Ann E. Michael, Remembering joy, redux

I just finished listening to the podcast “On Being with Krista Tippet” where Tippet interviews Mary Oliver. I am still in the glow of Ms. Oliver’s voice, her words, her generosity. It originally aired in October 2015 and so was conducted in the last years of her life when she had left Provincetown, Massachusetts after the death of her longterm partner, Molly Malone Cook.

One of the many things that I jotted down while listening to Oliver is:  “Poetry wishes for a community.” She also spoke about “the writer’s courtship” and the importance of creating time and space in one’s life to write — preferably while being outdoors. […]

Here is what I know: poetry needs community; it thrives when poets come together to write, to share ideas, to acknowledge the poetic voice in one another. These retreats always leave me feeling nourished. I do not know what I would do alone in a garret unless I had my poetry community to gather with in early autumn and late winter.

Susan Rich, Poetry Wishes for a Community — Mary Oliver, Poets on the Coast, and Groundhog Day Writing Retreat.

I’ve been reading about the art of wood carving in David Esterly’s fascinating The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making. The author said several things of interest to me as a writer.

Here’s one that echoes Rilke’s idea of “being only eye,” that is, looking at something so intimately that “self” consciousness falls away but something of the deeper self rises up. Esterly writes:

“Once I gave lessons in foliage carving. I proposed to the students that we reject the idea that carving should be a means for self-expression…The assignment would be to carve a laurel leaf, a leaf of extreme simplicity. I asked the students to throw themselves entirely into the leaf, seek its essence and express only that, putting aside their personalities and carving only with hands and eyes…At the end of the day? There were eight individual leaves, some more compelling than others, but each distinct from all the rest…Trying to express the leaf, the carvers inadvertently had expressed themselves. But it was…a self-expression…from a union with their subject.”

I talk about this a bit when I lead writing workshops at an area art museum. I ask people to give themselves over to looking, and then, by challenging them to write constantly in a timed session, invite the inadvertent utterance onto the page. In this way we give ourselves the chance to surprise ourselves.

Marilyn McCabe, Whittle While You Work; or, Considering Wood Carving and Writing

The passing of Mary Oliver, and the subsequent news articles and social media messages about her, made me realize something about contemporary poetry. There’s so little joy in much of it.

The range of emotions and experience available for poets is limitless, yet the predominant themes in journals and books makes it seem like poets choose to spend more of their energy on the darker side of the spectrum. Now there’s a lot to be depressed about today and a lot to be upset about. Clearly social and political issues influence, and sometimes dominate many poets’ work. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Good writing, whether it concerns tragedy, anger, sorrow or grief, is still good writing. And as I said in a previous post, pain lends a poem a kind of emotional energy that’s useful for a poem. In fact, I think negative emotions are easier to drive than positive ones. But that doesn’t mean that every poem has to feel like a gut punch.

Grant Clauser, It’s Not All Misery: What Mary Oliver Taught Us About Joy

When the moon turned red, so many more stars appears and everything had that crisp look which is hard to explain but the night sky felt as if someone had used the “sharpen” tool in Photoshop, making sure each pinprick of light was detailed and perfectly placed.

As the eclipse went on, I thought–I should be writing. I have this weird superstition about monumental moments–New Year’s Eve, lunar eclipse, birthdays, solstice, Day of the Dead, etc–that I should be writing on these days because it’s a nod to the universe that yes, this is my passion and if you see me writing on these days, it means it’s what I should be doing with my life (and hey universe, if you see this, send me some good luck and inspiration too). 

I realize this doesn’t really make any sense, but it’s a strange belief I’ve carried since I was younger. On New Year’s, let me start the year by reading a poem or writing one, on my birthday, let me be laughing so it carries on through the year.

But during the lunar eclipse, I realized that even though I wasn’t physically writing a poem, I was experience one. I was in the middle of a poem looking out. Insert shooting star. Insert the moment you hear your neighbors laugh because they are out on their patio with a drink watching as well. Insert telescope zooming on a crater. 

I now want to write the poem to create the feeling I had on Sunday. I want to be lost in a poem and not know it’s a poem. Maybe that’s life. Maybe it’s when we’re mindful. Maybe this is something I need to think about more when the reader is reading my poem, is she lost in the poem and looking out, shooting star filled, or is she just lost? 

Who knows if we are the poet or our life is the poem? Who cares to find out?

Kelli Russell Agodon, During the Super Blood Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse, I Find Myself in a Poem

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network.

This week, many of the poetry bloggers I follow have been reflecting on the life and poetry of Mary Oliver — more even than I’ve included below. Not too many snobs in this corner of the poetry world, it seems. (But really, how can you not admire poetry of such subtlety and power?) Others wrote about such perennial topics as what they’ve been reading, how they’ve been teaching, the practice of writing, and the business of being a poet.


Mary Oliver’s poetry shows us how to pay attention, how to enter into a more deliberate state of attentiveness regarding what is unfolding in nature’s time. Her work is loved by so many because of this quality of intimate stillness simultaneously infused with life’s passionate urgency; her poems explore the path toward a balance of both, a fusion which delights and heals and transcends. Some have argued that poetry such as hers is too divorced from the daily realities we struggle with as a culture and a body politic, but I believe that there is an opportunity in every encounter with people, animals, and nature to deeply connect. Trying to articulate what that desire for connection, and the experience of it when it happens, feels like, looks like, is an important poetic pursuit. Her poems teach us how to bear witness to what really matters: the connection we are all trying to get back to, in one way or another.

Sarah Stockton, Mary Oliver and the Poems We Need

[Andrea] Wulf’s book [The Invention of Nature] begins as a biography of [Alexander] Humboldt but closes with several chapters on others who were inspired by his work; she makes the claim that Humboldt’s ideas about the deep connectedness of everything on earth laid groundwork for environmentalists and the discipline of ecology. Indeed, Darwin, Thoreau, Marsh, Muir, and many others found his texts revelatory and transformative. His writing is supposedly poetic and emotional–he did not think the earth and its denizens deserved less than awe and appreciation. Even though his books are packed with measurements, comparisons, careful botanical descriptions, and minute observations of practically everything he encountered, he allows space for admiring the view. Or, so Wulf’s book says. Now, I suppose I shall have to do a bit of reading Humboldt!
~
Along these lines, the lines of the natural world’s connectedness and relationships–ourselves among these, despite our frequent destruction of them–I find myself thinking of the recent death of poet Mary Oliver. I so admire the work and the woman, or what little I knew of her from a few appearances and through friends who studied with her. My social media feed has been alive with tributes, postings of her poems, and some critique about her standing as an American poet, as if that would matter to her (I doubt it would).

I can just make note that her poems have encouraged me to continue to write about nature, even when I’ve been told nature poets are unfashionable, uninteresting, or unnecessary. Her work taught me how to observe closely, like Aristotle at the tidal pools or Haeckel peering at radiolaria. First notice, listen; then describe, then try to obtain more information, and all the while percolate what experience has created within the observer herself. Maybe nothing earth-shattering comes of the process, but sometimes  there’s a poem…

Ann E. Michael, Observations

I heard her speak at Seattle University about five years ago. She was as generous a speaker as I have ever heard. She told us how she trains herself to write and how she’s kept going over the long haul.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Write about it.

These lines are imprinted on my course syllabus and I hope, give my students the sense that poetry is for all of us. They worry so much that they are not creative enough, that their vocabulary isn’t as big as the universe. I try to tell them that they just have to enjoy; just have to have a conversation with themselves. I need to share more Mary Oliver with them.

Here’s a recent interview with Oliver that I read today. It’s time to go out for a walk.

Susan Rich, Poems, Poets, and Posterity

I don’t think I had ever read [Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”] before 2018; those first three lines made me woozy with a variety of emotions.  And yet it’s not a poem that encourages us to hedonism–no, it calls us to be more attentive, to be present.

Before our Lenten journaling group, I hadn’t realized the spiritual nature of so many of her poems.  During Lent, we read “The Poet Thinks about the Donkey,” a poem that considers the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem, an event Christians celebrate on Palm Sunday.  As with many of her poems, I thought I understood it on the first read, and then it stuck with me much longer than other poems that are more complex.

During one of our sessions at church, my parents were with me, and later  my Dad called to get the name of the poet we’d been reading.  One of the things I admire about Oliver’s work is its wide appeal to so many people.  The poems are profoundly moving–and yet so quiet, so easy to grasp.

 I love that the poems are short–easy to read in a single sitting. I love that the natural elements draw us in to hear the central message.

I love the theology of these poems. It’s a theology of love and respect. It’s a theology that tells us that we are worthy. It’s a theology that tells us we don’t have forever, so quit wasting our precious days. It’s a theology rooted in nature, but in the every day kind of nature, not the travelling to a distant mountain slope with sherpas to assist us kind of nature. It’s a theology so understated that many readers likely don’t even recognize it as a theology.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Farewell, Mary Oliver

Many of the people who I saw mourning Oliver’s passing yesterday were not members of capital P Po-Biz. They were just folks who ran across a handful of Mary’s poems when they needed a lifeline, when they needed a poem that said you are part of this world, your life is precious. These people felt seen by Mary Oliver. They carried her poems on folded-soft paper in their wallets, taped them to their computer monitors, and probably never bought a copy of one of her books.

Mary Oliver had little to do with Po-Biz. I always appreciated that about her. She wanted to be outside in the wild wind more than she wanted to stand in front of adoring crowds. A goodly number of the Po-Biz world looked down their noses at Mary Oliver’s work. Some of that had to do with the fact that she was a woman, a lesbian, a person who didn’t often go to glitzy parties. They said she was soft, sappy, a (god-forbid) nature poet.

Yesterday, I looked at the world a little differently because of Mary Oliver’s passing. Yes, the world felt less observed, as if a spark of love for it had guttered. But also, I thought of all the times I was warned off writing about the natural world. Poems I’ve written about trees have been held up in workshop to ridicule. Even folks in the “eco-poetry” world have suggested that my poems need more of a call to action about the environmental crisis. These are the same folks who dismissed Oliver.

I’m not arguing that everything Mary Oliver wrote was genius. But, I am beginning to connect the dots in the denigration of women (soft, gentle, spiritual, accessible, adjectives used to signify not serious), the destruction and desacralization of the natural world, and some of the poetry that is lauded in our current Po-Biz culture. And I am thinking deeply about the (at this moment) 601 people who shared the graphic I made of Oliver’s “Instructions for Living a Life” on social media. How deeply we need to be reminded of astonishment, of our duty (dare I say sacred?) to share with each other what will buoy.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, One wild and precious life

Last night I finished Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter, from Small Beer Press. My favorite bits from the writing of her last decade were an essay called “Disappearing Grandmothers,” a diary of her time at our local Writer’s Retreat Hedgebook on Whidbey Island, “Learning to Write Science Fiction from Virginia Woolf” (whose letters I have been reading,) and some of her reviews, including Philip K. Dick. Quick quote from “Disappearing Grandmothers:”

“We really can’t go on letting good writers be disappeared and buried because they weren’t men, while writers who should be left to rot in peace are endlessly resurrected, the zombies of criticism and curriculum, because they weren’t women.”

I get the feeling I would really have gotten along with Ursula. And her commentary on Virginia Woolf made me realize why I’d been picking up her writings again – she really did have a way of approaching old subject matter in a singular way. I’m learning a lot from reading non-living writers, and coincidentally, a friend just sent me a collection by Mary Oliver, who recently passed away. Of course, we should appreciate and cheer our living writers, both friends and heroes, too! But it does feel fascinating to be reading letters from Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and essays by Ursula Le Guin – like the most terrific conversation with women writers across time.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem in Star*Line, Supermoon Eclipses, A Little Seattle Color, and Surviving January by Reading Writers’ Words on Writing

THE LETTERS OF SYLVIA PLATH, Volume 2:

First, you should know, I actually love reading other poets letters. Many many years ago, I read Elizabeth Bishop & Robert Lowell’s and Zelda & F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters (note: there is are many more Zelda letters than F. Scott given that Zelda didn’t bother to keep many of his letters–a fact I find rather funny and it worked for me because I have always been a little more interested in Zelda anyway). 

What I love? How Sylvia sometimes signs her letters “Sivvy,” and how as I read her letters I get a better since of her voice.  I love her boring details such as “I’d love vitamins! I’m convinced everything the British sell is without nourishment whatsoever” and “The Rice’s sent us the strangest Christmas card!…an ominous rhyme with all sorts of mixed metaphors. Well, no doubt they have good intentions.”

For me, this is my favorite parts of reading letters–the details of all of it. Plath’s words bring me into her world–which was SO Ted focus–(note: this is a LONG book, so I’m still just dabbling through it), but Ted this is and Ted got a poem here and … it’s a reminder how so much of Plath’s life was catering to Ted. Even one letter her has her telling her inlaws she made Ted eggs before sending him off.

I see the struggle as well as the joy in her writing and I can get lost in this different time very easily.

Kelli Russell Agodon, What I’m Reading… @MichelleObama @JenniferWeiner & Sylvia Plath Letters

A new episode of New Books in Poetry is up, in which I speak with poet and performance artist Ivy Johnson about her book, Born Again.

The poetry and prose in Ivy Johnson’s Born Again (The Operating System, 2018) beautifully dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, this collection gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. The work blends sensuality and spirituality, merging the grounded reality of existing a physical body in the world with a sense of worship, prayer, and spell casting.

“I submerge my hands in ink and smear them across the wall
I cover my body in rich purple paint and rub against white paper
I place a sticker of the Virgin Mary on my bedroom window next to the fire escape
She hurts with the glow of blue frost
I race down the stairs to make snow angels in the dog-piss
Fill the silhouette of my body with marigolds”
— from “Take a Moment to Gather Yourself”

You can listen to the episode here.

I’m still in the process of figuring out how to be a good interview podcast host, how to shuck off my own nervousness and dig up confidence enough to feel strong in these interviews. But whatever limitations I believe I have at this moment, they are more than surpassed by the intelligence and insight of my guests so far.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Born Again by Ivy Johnson

The blurb is a frequent anxiety-laden topic of discussion on Facebook. Some people have made alternative suggestions, e.g., putting a poem on the back cover. That’s a cool idea, but for now most publishers want you to obtain blurbs. So just go about it sensibly and trust that it will work out. Then later when some other poet with a new book coming out asks you to write a blurb, remember the poets who said yes to you and say yes to the poet who now asks you to do a blurb. 

Diane Lockward, The Blurbification of Poetry Books

So much drama in the Twitter writing community lately. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. We claim to be supportive, understanding, solid. We say we support emotional and mental illness or distress. We exclaim our inclusiveness and support for diversity. We’re open-minded……until someone’s opinion isn’t in line with ours. Or someone’s emotional state leads them to do/say something unacceptable or questionable. There’s no understanding or forgiveness then. Apologies are ignored and a lifetime of goodness rejected. And Twitter stays on the soap box for days and days and days, gaining momentum as it goes. I try hard to stay out of the drama and I try hard not to condemn the condemners. I don’t want to be that person. But, obviously, the whole situation bothers me. The hive mind can be a judgmental thing.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poem: Support is Conditional

Mimic claws cutting,
but imaginary
and shivering. Touch

the wound and it isn’t
there. No scar, no scab,
no knife. Shadows that mute

and marble light like waves
under water. Shadows
that blunt and block, black.

Shadows that stab the light
like spines of a cactus.
The thin blade of dusk

that separates sand from
dark. Bright at my back,
eyes that glitter and close.

PF Anderson, Anamnesis

The one class I teach on Fridays, Protest Poetry, was also hard. On Wednesday I’d taught poems about the death of Malcolm X and while most of our discussion was productive, there had been a couple of bad moments–nothing ill-meaning, but students making insensitive comments as they thought aloud about deliberately disturbing poems. I had anticipated the need to discuss a homophobic slur in Amiri Baraka’s “Poem for Black Hearts,” and that went fine, but I hadn’t anticipated pushback, for instance, against anger itself. (We’d been reading about Emmett Till, the Baptist church bombed in Birmingham, a mounting death toll and litany of abuses–in what world is anger not inevitable and utterly just?–but as present politics continue to teach us, we don’t all live in the same world, and many of the students in my classroom are like Ursula, full of verve but not yet alert to the reality of other perspectives.) I responded in the moment, but in retrospect I realized I hadn’t responded strongly enough. So I began with an apology, asked the students to freewrite about a recent time they felt angry and what they did about it, then handed out “The Uses of Anger” by Audre Lorde. The discussion that followed was raw, messy, respectful, persistently oblivious, emotional, and awe-filled by turns, and I ended up having a couple of intense follow-ups with students afterwards. It didn’t do all the necessary work but it was a start.

Lesley Wheeler, Information and energy

While I want to do more with this poem, to lead them through it, I know that if I do, I’ll kill whatever has occurred organically. Some students will feel less competent if we reduce this experience to “look to the teacher.” I want them to feel competent in their abilities, that they (or anyone) can notice what is present in poems. To know what’s present in poems, one must be present with the language of poems. This is what they’re learning how to do.

They are beginning their journey as readers of poetry; they are noticing language and are beginning to make connections that are interesting and surprising. And they are all rooted in the language itself to do so.

The majority leave happy. I leave happy. A successful day one.
I walk out of my room into the hallway, energized by the learning that’s taken place, by their recent immersion in a small, beautiful poem on their own terms. I know this is setting them up for more of this good stuff of poetry that is to come. I know they’ll advance to larger and more complex poems. I know that we’ll have to get to analysis and all the ways one must learn to write about literature. However, today they slowed down and noticed what was there. Today they felt what it was like to really be present with poetry.

Scot Slaby, Day 1: Being Present with a Poem

I’ve stopped waiting for the magical ‘writing time’ to manifest itself. It rarely does. I work full time. Weekends are often busy. I walk the dog. I enjoy swimming. I hate housework but like things to be clean and tidy all the same. Somewhere in all this is my writing: a sentence written in my notebook is writing, a headline cut from the newspaper is writing, half an hour typing and editing a poem is writing, attending a day’s workshop is writing (luxury), watching a documentary about Blixa Bargeld’s work with German experimental music group Einstürzende Neubauten and transcribing some of that interview is also, for me, writing. It all goes into the mix. I  often write things I’m not happy with, but I’ve come to accept that as part of the process. It bothers me less and less. What’s important to me is that I’m doing the work and that occasionally I produce something good. I’ve gained more faith in myself and my work through this approach. As [Eric] Maisel says [in Fearless Creating]: ‘Working means starting’ (p.93) so I try to cut through any blocks and just do it, allowing myself lots of very small opportunities to ‘start’. That way, even a single word gleaned from a book or an article, or overheard in the pub, has some value. Making a note of it means I’ve said ‘yes’ to the work.

Julie Mellor, fearless creating

In November, after reading memorials to Lucie Brock-Broido, I took out her book Stay, Illusion and started a practice of pulling one image or line from a poem and writing from or in response to it. Will any of this turn into “real” poems? Maybe. The point is less about the results and more about showing up to give her poems time and attention and to experiment, play, and try writing in a way that doesn’t feel familiar to me.

I confess that I have not followed this practice strictly. Some days, other poems insist on being written. Some days, I fail to carve out the time. Most days I have a momentary panic that nothing will come. But it’s a practice, so I take a breath and start with something, anything, because I do believe in showing up, in reading as much as possible, in writing as close to daily as possible, in helping poetry to get into my body so that when the magic happens, I’m there for it with my whole self.

Joannie Stangeland, Pick your practice

I haven’t felt like doing much but now I’m coming back to life and revisiting old notebooks.  I’m beginning to assemble new poems.  I finished my commission for Ginkgo Projects/Bloor Homes and I think that some of the poems I wrote for this project will sit well in my next book.  My poem ‘To Bring Me Luck’ about older women and ageing might also belong there.  At this stage, I’m gathering poems and being open-minded about a possible theme.  I would dearly love my next book to feel coherent and thematic and my aim is to be able to articulate this.  I recognise that I really struggle with explaining to anyone what my work is about.

One thing is sure: I feel more determined about shaping my next book but that isn’t to say that I’m trying to force a theme upon it.  That would be a dreadful mistake.

Josephine Corcoran, Slow January continues

Have you ever wondered what it costs to be a poet? This year, I am tracking my readings: earnings (or lack thereof), expenses, book sales, etc. in an Excel spreadsheet.

Now, I’ve always done a bit of that for tax purposes. But what does it really cost to travel to a reading, not receive any payment, and sell one or two books? I’m keeping the numbers and making comments about each activity. I really want to know how much the effort is worth in the life cycle of a poetry collection. Here are some questions I want to know in the first year of a book’s publication:

1. Of the books I bring to readings, how many do I sell?
2. Will I peak in sales in my region, but decline towards year’s end? How can I counteract that?
3. How many readings do I participate in annually? How many free readings? 
4. If I cover travel and expenses, does that cancel out the stipend?

Put aside that poetry is an art, and it is a privilege to participate in this community. I’m looking at the numbers.

Will update you in a few months. April seems appropriate. 

January Gill O’Neil, By the Book

I think I’m going to create a new folder called Hold It! (I’m a great creator of folders…) and put in it every new poem I’m excited about, and I’m not allowed to look at them until at least a month after I’ve put it in the folder. AT LEAST a month. Six months is probably better.

In six months I’m a different person than I was six months before — new skin, blood, colon, fingernails, as cells replace themselves throughout the body at varying rates. So surely the new me will have some fresh insight.

But I’ll have the same eyeballs, though, and mostly the same brain, but new neuronal networks. So in order to shove myself along developmentally, as the pink-faced new poems cool their heels in the Hold It! folder, I should work on my eyesight and my memories. Which means to me that I should read more and widely in poetry especially, and when I find a poem that makes me say “wow, that is good work,” spend some time taking a look at how it works at working. But also other kinds of written work, because all kinds of literature can feed perspective. And I should also look at art, listen to music. And probably dance a little, even if it’s just in my kitchen.

All these kinds of inputs have the possibility of opening my brain to new ways of seeing, new ways of communicating, new ways to imagine. So when I open that folder again, I can see with altered vision and new light.

Marilyn McCabe, How Do I Know?; or, Learning to Assess Our Own Work