Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week found poets wrestling with linguistic unease, Pentecost, the place of rage in poetry, an invented form of English, the language of science, British Sign Language, and other challenges. But how to keep writing when so much in the news is so grim? Read on for some ideas.


Someone I know was pondering a fancy floral table centerpiece she was designing. She showed me a photo of it and said she wasn’t really happy with it. It was a series of vases holding spring flowers, all sitting on a mirrored plank. It was colorful and lively but it did seem a bit over the top. I said that I wondered if the mirror was the problem. She said, “But my intention was to blend contemporary with traditional,” i.e., the mirror was contemporary and the lovely spring sprays traditional. And I thought of the many conversations about poetry in which something similar was said in the face of suggestion or critique: oh, but my intention was X, X = the very thing that seemed not be working. I’ve said it myself many times, and the conversation always gives me pause.

What should win: intention or what was actually created?

I realize my loyalty tends to be with what was actually created. The created thing has its own life, and I tend to think we creators should honor the inadvertent creation rather than try to haul it back into what we thought we intended. I value the misintentions and the subconsciousness of what was actually created, and mistrust the perhaps overthought earnestness of intention.

Marilyn McCabe, A mighty pretty sight; or, On Intention and Creativity

Any reviewer of Denise Riley who has read her 2000 book The Words of Selves, proceeds if not with caution, then with a definite sense of unease. There are two principal reasons for this. One is that Riley’s work is difficult; she is known as a poets’ poet for good reason – her poems contain a lot for those knowledgeable about poetry to get their teeth into, but on a first reading many can appear a little like crossword puzzles to be solved, codes to be broken. And this is intimidating – to review and misread her work would be to expose oneself as an inadequate reviewer. She knows this, and comments in The Words of Selves, specifically on the interpretation of literary references: “When reviewers interpret a poem, they may confidently misconstrue an allusion. Often they’ll think up the most ingeniously elaborate sources for something in the text that had a plainer association, a far less baroque connection, behind it.” (p.74) So there is the concern of making a fool of yourself by over-reading (something I’m sure I’ve been guilty of in this blog more than once); that’s the first reason. The second is that much space is given in The Words of Selves to questioning and problematising the lyric I, and Riley is skeptical, even scathing, of biographical ‘selves’ in contemporary poetry: “Poetry can be heard to stagger under a weight of self-portrayal…Today’s lyric form (is) frequently a vehicle for innocuous display and confessionals” (p.94) And yet, for Riley’s reviewer, the fact of her son’s tragic death and the fact that she has written in prose and poetry about this, leaves the poet’s biographical self very close to the surface, and (the reviewer might feel) liable to breach at any time. How then to know at what point the real Denise Riley steps back and an imagined subject takes over? As one of Riley’s great philosophical concerns is the means by which language creates the Self, the uncertainty that Lurex (Picador) creates in the reader around what is being said and by whom, is unlikely to be coincidental.  

And this sense of unease is not entirely out of place. Riley herself writes of the “linguistic unease” of the writer, and so there is some solidarity perhaps between these two unequal partners in the generation of a text’s meaning, the writer-poet and the reader-reviewer. If we can proceed together with a joint feeling of guilt and inadequacy, the job of searching for meaning might not seem so lonely. 

Chris Edgoose, Dark yet sparkly – Denise Riley, Lurex and ‘the flesh of words’

My life has been a wonder of surprise and intention. Not so unusual, right? We all experience unexpected events and make decisions. But wonder is hard to remember and easy to lose. I’m lucky—poetry requires wonder. I think my Poet Sisters would agree.

In 2016 I took an online class through The Loft in Minneapolis. That alone was strange because I’d lived 45 minutes away for five years and didn’t sign up until I moved 450 miles away. The instructor, poet Amie Whittemore, guided us to give kind and specific workshop critiques. She helped us build community. By the end of the class, several of us had formed a bond and decided to continue workshopping poems.

We recently celebrated our five-year anniversary as a group. I don’t remember who came up with Poet Sisters. It sounds like a gathering of oracles or perhaps muses. Sirens, even—calling one another to days of writing and reading poetry. Our structure is simple: share one poem a month for feedback via email. We’ve been able to meet in real life, once for a one-day workshop and another time at a writing retreat where we shared a cabin “up north” in Minnesota. We’ve had video-chats during the pandemic. Sometimes we share submission calls, poets and poems we love. We encourage craft and a belief in ourselves as writers. We cheer every acceptance and accolade. Since we’ve begun this journey together, one of us has become her state’s associate poet laureate, three have books in print or forthcoming, and another has a full collection ready to go.

Lynne Jensen Lampe, Sisterhood of the Raveling Poems

We practice separation. Disentangle the cold

waves. The wind pauses, faithless. I marinate days in nights filled with
brine. What happens when an unexpected transformation lets us in

on its secret? I read the poem again, sticking my voice on the words.
Love waits. Silent. ‘Leaving’ sounds the same in every language.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, One of them is real

Words have failed so profoundly that I’m out in the garden instead, or indoors cleaning my bathrooms or reading books. Books–always my solace when my own words fail.

My latest good read is David Crystal‘s 2004 The Stories of English, already out of date in its last chapter–a fact I’m sure he gleefully acknowledges. I adore his love of how language evolves and find his non-prescriptivist approach refreshing and necessary if we are to keep literacy and communication alive. This book gave me so much information, enriched the knowledge I already have about our language, and made me laugh, too. Granted, it is word-geek humor…but that’s how I roll.

And I needed a few laughs this past week or so. My heart aches; I am sore afflicted for more reasons than I care to explain at present, though the headline news certainly has much to do with my mood. Crystal’s book got me thinking about the course I teach (come fall) and how I’ve already toned down the prescriptiveness in order to convince my students they can write and can be successful with written communication; that they are not “wrong,” just that their audience for written work differs, in college, from high school and from text messaging and other forms of writing. Crystal says we who teach English need to get over the concern about split infinitives and pronoun antecedent agreement and focus on clarity and genuine expression. I have no argument with him there–but many people I know would quibble and complain. And the English lexicon offers us so many options for how to say we disagree!

Ann E. Michael, Words fail, & yet–

calm lake
holding a stone
forever

Jim Young [no title]

Today is one of the big three church holidays; today is Pentecost. For those of you who have no reference, Pentecost is the day that comes 50 days after Easter and 10 days after Jesus goes back up to Heaven (Ascension Day). We see a group of disciples still at loose ends, still in effect, hiding out, still unsure of what to do.

Then the Holy Spirit fills them with the sound of a great rushing wind, and they speak in languages they have no way of knowing. But others understand the languages–it’s one way the disciples argue that they’re not drunk. And then they go out to change the world–but that’s the subject for an entirely different post.

You may be saying, “Great. What does all that have to do with me?”

I see that Pentecost story as having similar features to the creative process that many of us experience. If you replace the religious language, maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Often I’ve felt stymied and at loose ends. I think back to times when I’ve known exactly what to do and where to go next. I find myself missing teachers and other mentors that I’ve had. I may wallow in feelings of abandonment–where has my muse gone? Why don’t I have any great mentors now? Have all my great ideas abandoned me? What if I never write a poem again?

And then, whoosh. Often I hit a time of inspiration. I get more ideas in any given morning than I can handle. I jot down notes for later. I send of packet after packet of submissions.

Some times, it feels downright scary, like something has taken possession of me. But it’s a good spirit, and so I try to enjoy the inspired times. I’ve been at this long enough that I know that these inspired times won’t last forever.

The good news: those inspired times will come back, as long as I keep showing up, keep waiting, stay alert.

That’s the message that many of us will be hearing in our churches today. And it’s a good message to remember as we do our creative work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pentecost for Poets and Other Creative Souls

Chaplets of roses grew threadbare
like linen; all night a bee drowsed as if stoned on the edge
of an ivory blanket. What else crept under carpets of clover
toward our trim hedges? Every night we went to bed
like apostrophes folded into each other. That is to say,
even in sleep our hands spasmed in terror or prayer.
Call it anything but casualty, accident, or fate
— none of us grown wiser for turning away.

Luisa A. Igloria, Collateral Damage

I have a poem, ‘Accommodation Strategy’, in the second issue, here, of Public Sector Poetry, which is a rather niche journal for people like me who work in the public sector and also happen to be poets. The events of the last two years have already rendered my poem’s content out of date, but it represents a certain point in time. It just goes to show that local government is rather more fluid and dynamic now than when I started it in an eon ago.

Matthew Paul, Public Sector Poetry

Now I’m no huge Eliot fan but I do dip into the Four Quartets every now and then. I’ve never got to grips with The Waste Land, but I’m a sucker for manuscripts that show different versions, crossings out etc. It’s like getting into the poet’s head. And this edition shows every page, with annotations from both Ezra Pound and Valerie Eliot. It’s extraordinary. And I’m now enjoying going back to the poem armed with more insight into its genesis.

Meanwhile our Planet Poetry guests continue to challenge (and delight) me – in the last episode I talked with the effervescent Caleb Parkin and his excellent book This Fruiting Body, and my most recent interview was with Fiona Sampson. I admit I was nervous, interviewing a poet with such a formidable CV (29 books for starters). But Fiona was delightful and fascinating. I’m not sure yet when the interview will ‘air’ but it’ll be worth listening, I guarantee.

Robin Houghton, Currently inspired by…

Yesterday, I woke up to a mild sunny cusp of June day and was greeted with already a dozen or so submissions waiting in my inbox of new things I can’t wait to read. Yes, it’s that time again, the open submissions window for the dgp chapbook series, and one that feels a little less overwhelming now that my inbox is less of a morass and there is a bit more time weekly to devote to the press operations (including hopefully being able to read things throughout the summer as they come in and not just in a mad dash in the fall.)  

Today, I devoted an entire day to cover design exploits on handful of books that are in layout stage and it was nice to be able to actually finish what I was intending to do without running off to do other things like work or errands.  While my weekend will be focused on my writing and the next couple days devoted to freelance work, I at least will return to editing work mid-next week not feeling quite as behind as before and a couple new things are almost ready to start printing.. Tuesdays are for author copy and order fulfillment and shipping things. While initially I was doing a bit off all things each day, I find I am more productive if I center my days in a certain kind of task, even if it takes the majority of the day.

My enjoyment of different parts of the process has increased, even rather staid unexciting things like copyediting and typesetting feel more focused and grounded now that life is a little less hectic and subject to daily chaos. Or if it’s chaos, it’s more definitely orderly and self-guided chaos. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | june 2022

PP: Your poems are dense and agile, pivoting yet holding together in leaps. Do they come together assembled from pieces or come out of a passionate stream-of-consciousness?

SW: They tend to come out in one fell swoop. But it’s messy! I edit very slowly and very particularly. Have you heard that quote? A poet will move a comma in the morning and a comma at night and say, Oh what a day’s work! My friend’s dad told me that. But sometimes there are new waves hiding behind commas, cracks in the rocks, pieces hiding behind other pieces.

PP: Do you have writing rituals that help you into the writing frame of mind or do you write in stolen moments?

SW: Definitely stolen moments for poetry. Middle of the night, subway rides, grocery stores. I want to try the writing desk routine life someday but that day has not come yet.

For editing or prose, I can sit at a desk or in bed and crank something out. But my poetry is much more chaotic. Like catching sight of a bird and having to drop everything to chase it before it’s gone.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Sanna Wani

I will just continue to spread out flat, letting all the knots work their way out of my body and mind: a pretty little map of thoughts, lyrical as loops of string caught in school glue.

School glue in an amber bottle with a rubber tip, that would open like an eye when pressed. Or a mouth. Or a seal’s nostril.

There was a smell that I can’t quite remember, no matter how hard I try to conjure it.

It is inexplicable what sticks in my memory and what doesn’t. Last night, trying to sleep I remembered when E. was small – three or four – and while his older brother pinned my legs, E. sat on my chest and leaned over my face, inhaling so that his nostrils pinched shut again and again, like some kind of amphibious, alien creature. I laughed until I peed my pants a little.

Isn’t that something? How a memory of uncontrollable, full-body laughter can make you cry?

That school glue I used in elementary school didn’t work well. Nothing ever stayed put. I’d get home and the string had come loose in spots and created its own patterns. I guess it was an early life lesson: everything unravels, falls apart, and reconfigures according to its own mysterious will.

Ren Powell, An Amphibious, Alien Creature

I travelled to London by train and as I approached Wellington, near Taunton in Somerset, I saw an abandoned factory with most of the glass missing from the windows. This set me thinking…

summer project

we broke all the glass
in all the windows

no one stopped us
it took time

but the sounds were so addictive
the crack and cascade of glass

eyeless in autumn
the snow went wherever it would

when summer came round again
there was nothing to show it had ever been there

Paul Tobin, EYELESS IN AUTUMN

I love reading poetry anthologies.

I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea–there is something to be said for reading a collection in one voice–but I feel like it’s like being in an MFA classroom again–all these different voices mingling together, bouncing off each other. I love that I find new-to-me poets in anthologies–I always keep a list of author names from the poems I loved best, then look up their collections to read next. I love how it takes a theme and looks at it prismatically, through many different perspectives and cultures.

One of my favorite anthologies is Joy, edited by Christian Wiman. I also enjoy The Child’s Anthology of Poems ed. by Elizabeth Sword (I use this book with my children, but it is good for anyone). Recently I’ve read some anthologies ed. by James Crews, Healing the Divide being the most recent.

Renee Emerson, anthologies

Winner of the 2019 Burnside Review Press Book Award, as selected by poet Darcie Dennigan, is California-born Massachusetts poet and research scientist Angelo Mao’s full-length debut, Abattoir (Portland OR: Burnside Review Press, 2021). Constructed as a suite of prose poems, lyric sentences, line-breaks and pauses, Mao’s is a music of exploration, speech, fragments and hesitations; a lyric that emerges from his parallel work in the sciences. “They have invented poems with algorithms.” He writes, as part of the untitled sequence that makes up the third section. “They can be done with objectivity.” Set in four numbered sections, the poems that make up Mao’s Abattoir are constructed through a lyric of inquiry, offering words weighed carefully against each other into observation, direct statement and narrative accumulation, theses that work themselves across the length and breath of the page, the lengths of the poems. “The first thing it does / Is do a full backflip,” he writes, to open the poem “Euthanasia,” “Does the acrobatic mouse / Which rapidly explores / The perimeter comes back / To where it started / To where it sensed / What makes its ribcage / Slope-shaped as when / Thumb touches fingertips [.]” This is a book of hypotheses, offering observations on beauty, banality and every corner of existence, as explored through the possibilities of the lyric.

rob mclennan, Angelo Mao, Abattoir

In May 2019, we spent three weeks in Sweden. While there we went on several boat trips in the Stockholm area and along the west coast. I took quite a bit of video footage with no particular project in mind. But when I returned home, it came together in this video A Captain’s… using audio samples recorded in an old windmill on the island of Ölund.

The text had been published a while back and uses an invented form of english that captures the sound and feel of old nautical terminology. It imagines a captain trying to justify his privileged, colonialist position, while facing the immense and unknown dangers of the ocean.

The title comes from Australian rhyming slang: “A Captain’s” = “A Captain Cook” = a look. Captain James Cook was the celebrated English explorer who claimed the eastern seaboard of Australia for the British Empire in 1770, almost totally ignoring its long-standing occupation by First Nations people.

Ian Gibbins, A Captain’s…

The language of science is often mysterious, especially to non-scientists, of course. But there’s also often a richness of imagery and sound that feels related to the poetic. A mouth feel that is satisfying. A rhythm that makes us notice and relish in its language. My friend, the film maker Terrance Odette, posted the title of an article noting that “poetry is everywhere.” Well, that’s a challenge I couldn’t resist. So I made a poem playing with the sounds of this title. I mean, sure, heteropoly acid negolytes could enhance the performance of aqueous redox flow batteries at low temperature. Obv! That’s what we’ve all suspected all this time, but isn’t it true that “Follow-through is a poor bedfellow for the beauty of this testimonial”? Right? We poets bring the truths.

Gary Barwin, Poor Bedfellows of Science

Dylan Thomas’ Do not go gentle into that good night has bothered me for many years.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

It bothered me more when, in my 30s I sat with my dying father. All my dad wanted in his last days was release from pain. Imagine the sheer tone-deaf selfishness of that injunction in his ears. All I can hear is a young man’s impotent rage against the loss of his father. It makes me wonder about rage and poetry. Among other things. […]

Rage makes you incoherent. Articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting. The gift is to find the right channel. I thought I’d cool my head and calm myself down by reflecting on the the rage I feel about the apparently untouchable sense of entitlement that characterises the last ten years of the contemporary Tory Party in power, and then how more or less by accident, I found a way of channelling it. The answer for me lay in the Greek Myths, the stories of the Greek pantheon, and particularly the version created by Garfield and Blishen in The God beneath the Sea. 

John Foggin, All the rage

My touchstone here is something I learned in the 1980s, during my junior year at Stony Brook University, when I took my first poetry workshop ever with June Jordan. Both in class and in the individual conferences she had with me, Professor Jordan spoke about what poetry was in a way that touched deeply the part of me aching to tell the truth about my life. I do not remember her exact words, but these two quotes, from her introduction to June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint, capture the essence of what she said:

You cannot write lies and write good poetry.

Poetry is a political action undertaken for the sake of information, the faith, the exorcism, and the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible. Poetry means taking control of the language of your life. Good poems can interdict a suicide, rescue a love affair, and build a revolution in which speaking and listening to somebody becomes the first and last purpose to every social encounter.

This does not mean, of course, that writing essays is not political, that essays cannot also be about discovering the potential in telling the truth, but it’s hard to imagine an essay rescuing a love affair or preventing a suicide, at least not in the way Jordan seems to be talking about here.

Richard Jeffrey Newman, Deciding whether something should be a poem or an essay

I’m writing these words in the dead of night when destiny is busy sharpening its knives, and the sirens are sleeping.

There is a place we can unname and unweight our burdens, a place we can dig down deep into the ash for those unspent remains of humanity.

In that space, certain syllables defy gravity. Defy bullets and burning.

Hope is one syllable that comes to mind. Dream, another.

Rich Ferguson, When Destiny Sharpens Its Knives

On the one hand, I’m wary of trying to be too focused: one of the things that makes a blog a blog, if it’s just you writing, is that’s it’s unplanned. On the other, the blank screen is as intimidating as the blank page. It helps to have a sense of what you’re trying to do.

Also: however personally fulfilling it might be, keeping all your options open tends to be a pretty inefficient way of finding readers, who tend to want to know what to expect.

On reflection, there are a couple of themes I keep coming back to.

The first is simple: personal responses to individual poems. These are what got me blogging to begin with. They continue to get more hits than anything else on here: so there’s a demand. The truth is they are somewhere between a response and an analysis, which may explain why people go back to them (they’ve Google-searched the poem).

But they are personal, too, if only because I’ve chosen to write about these poems. I increasingly think sharing your enthusiasm for individual poems is central to what this thing called poetry is, and probably the best way to keep the love of it alive (if you believe E. M. Forster, the only way). I enjoy them, too.

Jeremy Wikeley, Back to Basics

I walked into the middle of a Ted Hughes poem the other week. An early morning dog walk, like any other, except that suddenly I was looking at the most enormous fish, the fish of legend, the fish of myth, a fish I had met before but only in my mind’s eye. It was put there by Hughes’s own reading of the poem, from the flock wallpaper Faber and Faber cassette shared with Paul Muldoon. It’s also in my ancient copy of River, the original coffee table edition with photos of the Exe and Taw and Torridge.

But here it was in the flesh, on an ordinary Tuesday, the film of the words I had driven to, cooked and made coffee to, happening actually yards from where I stood in a Devon field not a mile from the city centre. The poem is clear: this is an October salmon, not mid-May. But I swear the fish was the same. It all came back, as we say, flooding. The fish is dressed by death in ‘clownish ceremonials, badges and decorations’, its ‘face a ghoul-mask, a dinosaur of senility’, its ‘whole body/ A fungoid anemone of canker’. As Seamus Heaney has said, to hell with overstating it! Sometimes that is what is required.

Other lines quickly joined them as I stared, daring to inch the phone out of my pocket for a surreptitious photo, lest I spook the moment. ‘Ravenous joy’ (‘The savage amazement of life,/ The salt mouthful of actual existence,/ With strength like light’) ghosting a dying fall (‘This was inscribed in his egg’). He was probably hatched in this very pool. Fundamental accuracy of statement (Pound), never weighed more.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: An October Salmon, by Ted Hughes

DL Williams’s “Interdimensional Traveller” explores dimensions, particularly the two dimensional world of poems on a page and the three dimensional world of sign language. There is a QR code link to the YouTube channel where the poems appear in BSL (eventually all of them will) and also QR codes with some of the poems that links to the individual poem. This is not done in a binary spirit, where sign language is put in competition with English, but as a translator and interpreter, building links between these dimensions. An early poem, “Bilingual Poet’s Dilemma”, will be as familiar to translators as to sign language interpreters,

“What’s beautiful in a Sign
is boring in a line;
what’s pretty in a line
is confusing in Sign,
and if the twain should meet,
wouldn’t that be a feat?
So tell me, please,
which language should I use?
Which one should I choose?”

British Sign Language is not English in signs, or Sign Supported English, but a language in its own right with grammar and sentence structures that differ from English. Sign language is not universal, each language has its own version. In languages, words rarely stand alone with the same meaning each time, but pick up meaning according to the context used. A word such as ‘beacon’ may mean light, warning or hope and an interpreter has to judge whether to only translate ‘beacon’ as light or whether one of the other meanings may be appropriate. A phrase in sign language that looks like an elegantly choreographed ballet for hands, can be rendered simplistic and boring on a page. A sentence that starts in the present tense and moves into the past tense to signify a memory, is tricky to render in BSL. These issues throw up dilemmas for interpreters. However, if you are bilingual and can move back and forth between languages, how would you choose one over the other? If decide to use the best language for the poem, how will an audience react if some of your poems are in BSL and others in English? How can you interpret for the part of the monolingual audience who need interpretations?

Emma Lee, “Interdimensional Traveller” DL Williams (Burning Eye) – book review

extracting birdsong from background noise

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 May 2022

I have to admit that I love all the written aspects of writing poetry, of publishing work, but I still fret at the idea of organized readings, even after all the opportunities I’ve had to do so. The idea of talking for 15 minutes still makes me balk initially until I resettle into the reality than time flies when I’m reading, really reading, my poetry. And usually, before I know it, I’ve cleared 15 and am headed into 20. The thing of it is though is overcoming that block, “Oh, I can’t do that,” and instead jump in. When it comes down to it, I’ve never had a negative experience in a reading, in fact it becomes one of those moments in which I’m truly present. There’s great beauty in that, but also in the look-around the room and seeing who is there to hear you read because they want to be there, be it friends, writing group, fellow writers, teachers past and recent, even someone you’re sweet on. There’s a sweetness to it all that can’t be replicated under other circumstances.

Kersten Christianson, Tidal Echoes 2022

Last week’s post on First Loves led to a wonderful discussion during Fridays at 4. This week I want to continue that feeling, but with a later poetry love of mine, the work of Polish poet Wisława Szymborska (Vee-ZHWA-vah Zhim-BOR-ska).  I can read her work only in translation, and the general agreement is that the best are those by Clare Cavanaugh and Stanislav Barańczak.  Their versions are the ones that appear below.

I was completely smitten the first time I saw these titles, and then the poems that followed: “Notes from a Nonexistent Himalayan Expedition,” “The Letters of the Dead,” “In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself,” “Cat in an Empty Apartment,” on and on.  What drew me?  The tone of voice, that speaks about mortality with matter-of-factness, even humor.  The moments she chooses to write about, from dramatic (“The Terrorist, He Waits,” ) to the minute, the daily (“The Silence of Plants,” “A Little Girl Tugs at the Tablecloth”).  That she writes about writing poetry, something not typical of American poetry (“In Fact Every Poem.” “To My Own Poem,” ‘The Poet’s Nightmare,” “Some People Like Poetry.”)  The surfaces are deceptively simple, the depths infinite.

Sharon Bryan, Wisława Symborska

I had a good conversation with a friend who just had a book come out. She has been doing a ton of readings—both in person and on Zoom—and was just two weeks into her book’s launch, but was feeling overwhelmed. When is enough enough?

My attitude towards this, when I talked about it in my book PR for Poets, is that no one will ever say “you’re doing enough” so you have to decide. If you love doing readings, or social media, or sending out postcards, do that. Poetry has a longer shelf life than most things, so don’t worry if in the first month you haven’t gotten to everything – interviews, podcasts, blog posts, readings, etc – all of it takes it out of you, especially in the third year of a pandemic and people are just starting to go to bookstores in person again. So be kind to yourself, set boundaries. Don’t say yes to everything. And try to celebrate the small wins.

As I am finishing up my final version of Flare, Corona for BOA Editions, a lot of anxieties have come up. Is this grammar okay? Why did I leave punctuation out of this part of the poem but not this other part? Have I forgotten people I need to thank (probably!) or acknowledgements for poems that might have slipped through the cracks? I really do need to turn it in to typesetting but there is so much you want to all of the sudden fix about your manuscript. Since this is my sixth poetry book, I can say yes, this is also a normal part of the process. I get very insecure about my book right before it goes out into the world. I loved the book so much while I labor-intensively (and money intensively) sent it out to publishers. I loved it when it was taken. But now, I see nothing but flaws.

I also got a few acceptances this week that would normally be big deals to me but it felt hard to celebrate with so much other bad stuff going on. The world feels very dark and dismal (and it’s not just the abnormally cold rain, though that hasn’t helped). If you are struggling, please reach out for support and take good care of yourself. Please remember you are making a difference in the world, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Maybe take a break from social media and news. A friend of mine reminded me to submit poems (which I hadn’t been) and give myself time to write (which I also hadn’t been doing much of). Put at least one positive thing on your calendar just for fun. Wishing you as good a week as possible.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Three New Poems in Bourgeon, How to Cope with a Rough Week, Talking Publicity Efforts and Finishing Up Manuscripts and Other Poetry Things

But magazine can also mean
a chamber for holding cartridges
to feed automatically

into a gun, which reminds me
of the article I don’t need
to re-read — the one where

a radiologist describes
the slim silver line sketched
by an ordinary bullet,

versus the way
one fired from an AR-15
ripples waves of flesh

like a cigarette boat
traveling through
a narrow canal

turning any part of us
into smashed overripe melon,
nothing left to repair.

Rachel Barenblat, Magazine

We are sad on the ground, but still, our messages need to get out, we writers, we artists, we citizens. I don’t know that we will change this world, but our messages matter, they exist and are relevant all the way into someone’s near future. (“Someone told me / of course my poems / won’t change the world. // I said yes of course / my poems / won’t change the world.” — Patrizia Cavalli

Your art isn’t the phone. Poetry isn’t a text message. “Don’t use the phone,” says Jack Kerouac, “People are never ready to answer. Use poetry.”

I’m currently reading Lesley Wheeler’s Poetry’s Possible Worlds, and loving it. (Will write a longer post on it next week if all goes my way). In it she says, “A poem makes a lousy telephone.” Instead, she says, “by reading a poem, you’re entering a transportation device. You interact with the text to get somewhere, but it has a mind of its own and will match its will to yours. Rather than efficiency, you choose a complex, unpredictable experience.”

The message is, Keep sending your messages. Your words are wings; your wings are words. We are living in complicated times. We are living in times where the language and rhetoric of disinformation, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, racism etc are overwhelming. In the recent past, I have thought to myself, what is needed is more nuance. And yes? but also, I was re-reading Rachel Blau Duplessis’s Blue Studio in which she asks, “Can one be rigorous and empathetic? Antisimplistic, but with clean lines? Can one illustrate opacity and confirm clarity at one and the same time? You’d better believe it.” Can we appeal to the larger crowd out there with a message of community still? With a message of doing right? I really don’t know.

Shawna Lemay, Of Messages and Messengers

The three children smiling in the photograph are buried in the kindergarten garden.
A woman tends her allotment to the sound of explosions and sirens.

An ant crosses the table in the garden where I write.

I walk to find peace.

Old bikes propped on bay windows in tiny, slabbed front gardens.

You are somewhere close to the border now.
Yesterday they bombed the tracks.

A pigeon stops singing the way pigeons do
as if they forget the point of the song.

Bob Mee, BLACK WATER

Dream fluff shadows a thousand
skin lathered summers,
whispering sea spray, waxing
ebb shine,
an urge of fingers in hair
and salt on tongues.
Oh summer, bare your dreams
on the wind,
Crush on me again

Charlotte Hamrick, Riptide

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 20

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: spring storms, writing with disabilities, fountain pens, alphabet soup, book covers, and quite a bit more—a glorious miscellany. Enjoy!


Everything begins in childhood.
The song starts there, the poem.

It was a spring morning when I was born.
It was May. My mother’s hair was long.

The animals and earth were waking up,
preparing for a summer riot.

Han VanderHart, Poem with Birth Ledger and Crawfish

Far too many hate mongers strolling gun gardens.

Far too many bullets serving as the nails for other people’s coffins.

Imagine what it must feel like going to the store to put food on your table, only to find yourself staring down the barrel of a rifle.

Where is our night of star-spangled joy?

Where have all the maps gone to discover new territories of togetherness?

Far too many young minds trapping themselves in the burning bodies of executioners

with no good excuse for their actions.

Rich Ferguson, When Executioners Wander Gun Gardens

After the windstorms, we wake
to snowslides of petals on the grass,
First loss of the season, these lung-soft ghosts.

Fire-striped tulips affront our sorrow,
waving their wild colors as we walk past.
After the storms, we awaken

to what we should have known,
that the first kiss could also be the last. […]

Dark pools of water show up frequently in my dreams, and they show up in my poems, as well.

Sometimes I see animals coming up out of the water such as alligators. In general, when I see dark, murky waters in my dreams, I think I’m dealing with the unconscious mind, memories I might be afraid to look at.

But if I do manage to sit with the fears during the dream, the water sometimes will become clear and the creatures inhabiting the dreamscape become colorful and whimsical, not at all scary and creepy.

Christine Swint, Equinox Lovesong During Late Stage Pandemic

One thing I have noticed lately – with the new medication – is that emotions aren’t blunted, but they don’t bleed outside of their circumstances. I think it is part of this quiet that has settled.

These last mornings I have done the yoga sequence without music or mantras. I have focused entirely on breathing, as one should, but as I never could. I am content with one single focus, one train of thought at a time. My resting heart rate has dropped. When I am hungry I take the time to cook.

I don’t know what this will mean in the long run. But for now, I am going to take it one bright and shiny day, one hard, sharp day at a time. Stacking them like discrete building blocks. When I teach acting, I tell the students never to try to play love/hate at once. Like red and green, you get a muddy, unexciting smear of whatever. Play one moment of love with your whole body, play one movement of hate. Because that is how we often experience it. Give yourself over (within reason) and allow yourself to feel the fullness of each.

I have caught myself on occasion, wondering if I believed what I was saying.

Now though, I’m beginning to wonder if this is what it is to “live in the moment”.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Ren Powell, An Exceptional Day

We struggle with expressing how we feel – in life and in poetry. As a disabled, sick or cared for person, there may be a balancing act we try to sustain between wanting to still appear independent, positive, in control, and allowing ourselves to look vulnerable and say how bad we sometimes feel.

As a carer, the balancing act may be between wanting to express that we care and love, and suppressing the frustration, resentment, guilt, we may sometimes feel.

There is a pressure to be positive, even when going through hell. Because positive people fight on, put on a brave face, smile through the tears, and are inspirational. If you say the pain is unbearable, the loss of dignity is destroying you, that you can’t cope any more, then you’re at risk of being seen as whining, weak… 

I’m not suggesting that positivity is bad – it can provide comfort and hope to many, but it can, unintentionally, mask some very harsh realities and lessen people’s perception that there are a very large number of people who really need help.

There are acclaimed poets who write about these things, and others – often carers – who make no claim to be poets, but write their feelings in poetic form – and both can help others to understand in their own way.

Where am I going with this? Can poetry make a difference? Can the personal show a broader truth? Can the personal be political? Not if poets and occasional writers of poems are not allowed to express how they’re feeling because it’s either seen as whinging or as not good poetry. If people who write poetry succumb to the pressures to be constantly positive, how will anyone ever know their truth? How will people know change is needed?

Sue Ibrahim, Poetry and care

A collection I only picked up recently is Montreal poet Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch’s full-length debut, knot body (Montreal QC: Metatron Press, 2020), a title that was subsequently followed-up with their second collection,, The Good Arabs (Montreal QC: Metonymy Press, 2021). The epistolary prose poem collection knot body focuses on illness not as metaphor, but writing disability, including chronic and daily pain, expanding the possibility of what has been termed “disability poetics” (following work by Nicole Markotić, Roxanna Bennett, Shane Neilson and multiple others); a body that for merely existing is considered political. El Bechelany-Lynch writes of the many layers and levels of endurance, attempting to comprehend how one might safely and comfortably live within the body. “The pain hovers above an impossible memory.” one piece begins, early on the collection. Writing a pain endured, and even lived, one might suggest. The next piece offers: “I worry that in writing this, I am revealing too much.” Written through a kind of direct and even stark tenderness, the poems of knot body examine the possibilities of a body that exists with constant pain, attempting to negotiate the daily elements of living in a world and culture that perpetually denies their existence. There is something really striking in these prose poems, in the way that El Bechelany-Lynch writes as a way to articulate the self into, if not being, but into an acknowledgment and a belonging; writing themselves into existence that, until this point, perhaps had been pushed into invisibility by just about everyone else.

rob mclennan, Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch, knot body

It is hot again.
Wooden planks
curl up from the deck.
Piano keys stick.

What if I die
while I continue to wait
to live my life?

Send money,
I sent money
Take care,
I took care.

Send help.
Send help.

Luisa A. Igloria, L’estate

It’s all well and good to say, “just breathe”–and I have moments when I intentionally do just that. But life has been moving swiftly and requiring my brain to attend to many other things. Mostly, I now realize, I’ve been getting through the days with my breath held, preparing for shoes to drop or ducking to avoid them. It’s become habit, and most of most days is really pretty good, so I hadn’t noticed the breath-holding until someone else pointed it out. I suppose it’s why I haven’t had much to share here lately; perhaps it’s because, like the blogger whose post prompted the comment, I have so many words that I have no words about quite a lot of things.

Rita Ott Ramstad, “…with my breath held”

I’ve not paid full attention to the importance of words since the turn of the year, at least in blogging terms. In early February, I received notice from Editor Bethany Rivers that she had selected two of my older poems, “Death by Staff Meeting” and “Strong Voice” for publication in Issue 8. Thrilled to see these oldies build their nest among other related writings. And while my feelings about staff meetings really haven’t change much, I can say that strong voice is a bit like a tide experiencing everything in its path.

Kersten Christianson, As Above So Below: The Importance of Words

Although in theory I love cards and stationary and all things beautiful paper and Papyrus-y, I don’t actually send out cards or letters very often. I had to buy a card for a momentous occasion recently, and I was completely addled by how oddly specific greeting cards have gotten. They had greeting cards for every type of couple, every obscure occasion, every combination of life events, and every age, country of origin, and creed. I had to wade through a ton of cards to find just a general one that didn’t list an exhaustive bio and specify the date of the event in question. There used to just be birthday cards, anniversary cards, and sympathy cards, with the occasional, coveted blank card. I don’t know why there now needs to be card for every type of vacation, vocation, and possible life incident. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I don’t feel like this speaks well of us as a society. I feel that it indicates a certain lack of faith in our imaginations and our ability to express ourselves. I think it should be a routine practice to buy a blank card, write your own message on it, and send it to a friend or relative at least once a quarter to keep those expressive juices flowing, and to remind people that email and text is not the only mode of communication available to humans.

Kristen McHenry, Dental Shaming, Overly-Specific Greeting Cards, Cat Lady Hero

Those things that we hid from the rest of the world, the shame of it. And those other things, the ones we felt we should have been proud of, even though we weren’t, that we showed to anyone who would look. Things neither beautiful nor repulsive. The things that were soft enough to eat with a spoon, but we used a knife and fork anyway. No one was watching, of course. The things that the paramedics used to stop the bleeding, or the things we used to make a tail for our kite. I’m not sure which anymore, it has been a long time. The kite is gone but no one bled to death. The things we say to ourselves when the night is frightening and empty. Say them quickly. Say them now. 

James Lee Jobe, what we hid and what we did not hide

One trait I developed as a shy child was a capacity to listen to others. I wanted to hear their stories, their points of view, their silly songs, their big ideas. What I regret is that later on, when I gained some self-confidence and began telling my own tales or dispersing acquired knowledge and advice, I lost some of my listening ability. It took hard work and practice on my part to feel secure when speaking to groups, and I started with the hardest practice: reading my own poetry aloud to other people. Eventually the shyness wore off, for the most part.

Then I had to get the listening back. Raising children was a tough balance between saying and listening. I fault myself for not listening quite enough. As an instructor, I found it difficult to listen to a group of students: too much cacophony, too many distractions, hard to gauge where the conversation was headed. I’ve always felt more comfortable with one-to-one tutoring, which makes listening so much easier. As this semester has wrapped, I find I am already dwelling on the fall. What did covid-protocol instruction teach me? Mostly that the listening is even more important than I thought. The students still feel freaked out; overwhelmed by, more than excited about, their futures.

Ann E. Michael, Shy

Can a person who is still living haunt a place?
The future speaks to us in widow’s weeds
while I try to balance the accounts.
I am the sea that swallowed the world.

Mangoes rot before they ripen; shorebirds lose their way.
I examine the recipes from my mother’s battered box,
the buttons my grandmother saved.
I keep my powder dry while I knit socks.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Evocative Lines and a Looser Form

Several weeks ago I was full of big talk about challenging myself to write in form. Yeah, I didn’t do that.

I did fall back on one of my old tricks, and that’s to write a little every day about the same thing. (I say “about” but I really mean take the same thing as a starting point each day.) I did that for about two weeks. It’s good fun to do this, because it’s like chipping away facets in a geode to see various angles and lays of light. I’ve left it to sit in my notebook for a couple of weeks and am just now revisiting where my mind was for those two weeks.

Yes, with such a game, my mind does loop around the same things. But the mind does, right? Gets stuck in grooves. And because in this game, the thing I chose to revisit day after day was a small river (brook, might be more accurate, or stream) that I know, it can bring the same things to my mind, the same memories. But of course, the body of water is different every day, as am I, a bit, with each day I think about it.

To have this view of how my mind shifted and circled over those two weeks is interesting. Of course, if my goal is to turn this exercise into actual poems, works of art in themselves, I can’t rest in my fascination with my own mind. I need to dig a bit about how the two things come together: mind and thing.

Art is to be made of the conjunction. If it’s to be made at all.

Marilyn McCabe, Bits of Blue and Gold; or, On Facing the Raw Material

Book launch days bring a weird energy. That combined with the planetary riffs in Poetry’s Possible Worlds has Bowie’s “Space Oddity” looping in my head, which is a pretty good soundtrack, really. Not that I’ve become untethered like Major Tom, but yesterday was full of “Big Bang Day” social media tweets, pre-party anxiety, and a post-party otherworldly feeling. This book really was 10 years in the making and I can’t believe it’s finally out there.

My launch event, surrounded by art and backed by a table of fancy snacks, felt good. I centered it on poetry’s power rather than on myself. Four fellow poetry professors at my university read favorite poems and talked about why they loved them: their choices were Lorca, Amichai, Limón, and Clifton. I spoke last, reading “Faith” by Tim Seibles, a poem that hit me like a lightning bolt before I had any real acquaintance with his work. Each short chapter in my book is keyed to a single poem and prefaced by the poem reprinted in full, in a bid to make Poetry’s Possible Worlds accessible to non-poetry-insiders. Through “Faith” I write about fiction vs truth in a poem’s world-building; the chapter’s memoir element involves my mother-in-law’s dementia, how it processed through story-telling to silence. As I told the audience, I love how Seibles’ angry, loving poem reaches through skepticism for belief in something. I had planned to read “Faith” before the shootings in Buffalo, but it is appropriate to the fear and desperation people feel in many places around the world, near and far. I would like to have a book launch one day that didn’t occur in a time of crisis–last time, for me, it was pandemic, wildfires, George Floyd’s murder–but this is the world we live in, that poetry helps us live in.

Lesley Wheeler, I’m floating in a most peculiar way

For an atheist, I’ve been a religious attendee of the Edinburgh Christian Aid Booksale from 2008 to the present day, and this year’s sale (still in action as I write this – it runs for a week) is the first after a necessary interregnum because of something called ‘Covid’. This sale is an experiential necessity – there’s no-way of describing it to the lay-person who has never queued for an hour in advance of the opening time and then charged inside like an antiquarian berserker.

It’s not for the faint hearted. Basically, it’s the bibliophilic equivalent of the Pamplona bull-run. People queue outside the very stately, pilastered St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church on George Street in a very civilised manner. I’m not sure if people camp out in advance, but I’ve been there a hour in advance and still have been a 100 yard race away from the door. By 9:45 the queue has usually long snaked behind the edge of George Street and out of view. One of my pet peeves is how known bookdealers walk up and down the queue looking for a familiar face to tag on to. Once a conversation is started, you legitimately jumped the queue. This practice is prevalent and, in my opinion, ungodly.

As soon as the bells ring at 10am, the queue gives way like a hypnagogic jerk and we’re off.

Richie McCaffery, Christian Aid Booksale, Edinburgh, 2022: A post-mortem

A couple of years ago the poet Christopher James wrote a thought-provoking blog which asked the question: Can poets retire?

I thought about this again this week when I discovered a friend of many years has stopped writing. It appears to be a permanent choice.

I suppose the level of surprise was a result of my assumption that he would write for the whole of his life. I have never known him not to write, or at least try to. Of course, there have been short breaks when domestic or professional commitments have taken over, but these were irrelevant. We both knew he would write again shortly, and might come back to it fresher for the interruption. He also happened to be very good at it, which perhaps has enhanced my sense of loss now.

Now, though, it seems, he has closed the notebook for the last time, stopped the habit of scribbling some idea or line on the back of a shop receipt, cut away the hours of wrestling with a poem until finally he has thrown his head back with an almost delirious laugh, knowing he’s got down something that works.

Why? I don’t know. I have asked but have had no reply. It’s too easy to paraphrase Louis Armstrong and say Poets don’t retire, they stop when there are no more poems in them.

I have said several times on here that writing is what I do in order to untangle the world as best I can. It helps me make sense of living. And, hopefully, those who read what I write, find something that resonates, something that reaches them.

If I didn’t do that, would writing be replaced by something else? Or would it be a case of not bothering to attempt to untangle it or make sense of it? Would a different kind of meditation descend, a different stillness, the emptiness that some who prefer mysticism seek? It’s possible. Do I really need to communicate?

Perhaps that’s it. That, for whatever reason, my friend feels no further need to communicate.

Bob Mee, WHAT IF YOU STOP WRITING ALTOGETHER?

I was scrolling FB recently and chimed in on a post about ridiculously rigid guidelines for submissions and the editors who make them.  While I understand there needs to be some basic framework and procedure to save yourself editorial headaches and facilitate easy reading (esp if you have more than one editor considering), some guidelines are laughably complex and send me, as a submitter, just looking for somewhere else. Obviously, you want to have read what they publish and stay within the length and genre guidelines, not use attachments if they prohibit them, etc.  you also want to put it in a  readable font, submit only during submission periods, include a bio if necessary or remain anonymous if they read submissions blind.  These are reasonable and easy, but some get nitpicky about fonts and page numbers and all sorts of minute details that will, they usually say, promptly get your work thrown in the virtual trash.  I always get the impression the editors who love these sorts of guidelines and inflexible rules really get off on their role as a gatekeeper and their ability to dismiss accordingly.

The same day, I was writing about Charles Eastlake and his snooty pronouncements that Victorian decor was overly wrought and ornate and all needed to be thrown in a fire. It was followed by critics saying Eastlake pieces needed to be thrown into the fire.  It got me thinking about gatekeeping and tastemaking on a larger scale and how it works.  I’ve never felt like editing was gatekeeping, but more just a curating of things I want to show people.  But of course, it’s all gatekeeping in some way.  What you choose to highlight. What you do not. I am lucky that I get enough submissions, but not too many that make things unwieldy. And can publish enough to accept about 10% of what I get every summer.  These are numbers I am happy with, though some might raise their noses and think accessible publication is not quite rare and erudite enough. That by having a more open gate, the prize is not worth it.  I always file this under stupid things writers say, esp. when talking about journals and their acceptance rates and whether things are “Top Tier.” I always think you want to be in a journal that has wide reach because people think the work is great, not just because they are hard to get into. The New Yorker for example has great reach and prestige, but I can count on one hand the recent poems in there I actually liked. 

The whole zine community ethos, of which I have always felt more in line with, is “Fuck the Gatekeepers!” and in many ways I agree. Gatekeepers are suspect, and I say that fully knowing I suppose I am one.  What I choose to publish or not publish is very much based on what I like or don’t like. I may pass on something completely publishable that doesn’t excite me. Something other editors have passed on might tickle my very peculiar fancy. Editing is subjectivism at its core, and beyond some basic principles of quality (ie, your poems don’t deal in cliches or sound like dirty limericks) I will at least read it with interest. I also have weird days where I love everything and days where I hate everything, probably for no real reason that has anything to do with literature or poetry at all. 

Kristy Bowen, gatekeepers and community

We build bridges. Bridges between our realities.

Temporary bridges. Retractable bridges. Bridges that will bring us back. Bridges made of dreams. Bridges made of fear. Bridges made of want.

But bridges don’t unite realities. They become an alternative. A sacred middle. Not belonging. Not owning. Distorting space. Distorting distance.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A sacred middle

when you write haiku
ten thousand rain drops
are filling a lake

Jim Young [no title]

I was very excited that the author Judith Waller Carroll’s sent me a copy of her book Ordinary Splendor from Lana Ayers’s MoonPath Press, which I have the honor of having a cover artist credit on. My photograph of a fox from San Juan Island last year was used as the cover art for the book, and I couldn’t be happier.

I feel like a real photographer now, not just a five-year amateur. I took some real photography classes in high school, but it’s been just the last five years that I spent the time and effort to use a good camera and try to learn the tricks of digital photography beyond my iPhone.

Meanwhile, I’m working with BOA’s designer to figure out what we want on the cover of Flare, Corona. I wish I had a good vision for exactly what belongs on the cover. But that’s why we have collaborations!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Podcasts, First Time Cover Artists, Being Under the Weather, and Real Spring Begins

I was delighted when Neil Leadbeater asked if he could use my Redwing photograph for the cover of his latest poetry collection, The Gloucester Fragments, recently published by Mervyn Linford of Littoral Press

I first met Neil at Swansea’s First International Poetry Festival, organised by Peter Thabit Jones (The Seventh Quarry Press, Wales) and Stanley H. Barkan (Cross-Cultural Communications, New York). 

Polly Stretton in her back-cover blurb describes The Gloucester Fragments as ‘a real treat’ and helpfully informs the reader that the new collection includes poems on the themes of ‘nature’, ‘language’ and ‘myth’. And indeed, I am greatly enjoying poems ‘inhabited’ by the Shoveler (‘Frampton Pools’), poems that ‘play’ with the building blocks of language to singular effect (‘Errata for an English Pangram’), and a clever shape-shifting poem that re-casts the Homeric tale of Odysseus and Circe. 

There is so much more: take, for instance, Neil’s clever allusion to nursery rhymes or the way in which he moves deftly from serious subject matter, such as detritus in the Severn, to the magical botanical names of wildflowers like ‘periwinkle’, ‘fumitory’ and ‘hemp agrimony’, which we find sprinkled, or scattered, throughout this vivid and compelling collection. 

Gloucester, and perhaps particularly Gloucestershire, will doubtless evoke different images among Neil’s readers. I think especially of Edward Thomas, and am immediately taken in my mind to Adlestrop, which I visited some years ago on a frosty morning when there were certainly no ‘haycocks dry’ in evidence. Neil’s delightful and inventive response to this well-loved poem by Thomas took me by surprise and put a wide smile on my face.

Caroline Gill, ‘The Gloucester Fragments’, a Poetry Collection by Neil Leadbeater

Paige Riehl:  Thank you, Ann, for discussing your powerful poetry collection Somatic with me. Somatic is organized into four sections that explore the complexities of illness, in particular the diagnosis of hysteria, through the life and treatment of Anna O, the first hysteric diagnosed by Dr. Josef Breuer in the late 1800s. You expressed your interest in the relationship between the creative and scholarly, so would you tell us a bit about those intersections in Somatic as they relate to your process of researching hysteria and Anna’s case and writing the poems? Was it a more circuitous than linear process? From where does your interest in the subject matter stem?

Ann Keniston:  The book evolved from several sources. One was the aftermath of my mother’s death; I actually published a chapbook of elegies about her (November Wasps, Finishing Line), some of which I revised—mostly pretty heavily—for Somatic. My interest in Anna O. and hysteria had several sources: I’ve always been interested in the relation of mind and body, and somehow I stumbled across a bunch of documents about Anna, from the first case study to a radically revisionary article by H.F. Ellenberger published in 1972 to a bunch of more recent feminist and other studies. Anna was kind of a blank screen for critics, it seems, who projected their own interests onto her. Before I ever thought of writing poems about this topic, I compiled a little anthology of those writings as a unit in an honors composition course I was teaching about memory. I just kept reading about Anna and hysteria and got more and more fascinated, and also a little repelled. I began writing poems about Anna, and also in her voice (or that of a more generic hysteric who was also, of course, partly me), and realized that the elegies were in fact relevant to the Anna poems, so I worked to bring those elements of the ms together.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Paige Riehl Interviews Ann Keniston

I am now commuting an extra 30 minutes to our new office at White City, and this is giving me more time to catch up on podcasts and the like. I’m hoping it will give me more time for reading, but the journey is such that every time I start to settle into it; I have to change trains, and this doesn’t lend itself to reading.

However, it has meant I can pick up on my podcast listening. (Aside, as my friend Simon said yesterday, “podcasts are just radio you can listen to whenever you want”). Working from home a lot sort of put the moccers on my podcast listening as I can’t concentrate on them and work at the same time, but I’ve started working my way through episodes of The Verb and Robin Houghton/Peter Kenny’s Planet Poetry.

Recent episodes that stand out are The Verb’s episode about pens with Naush Sabah and Gerry Cambridge talking about, among other things, their mutual love of fountain pens. I love a fountain pen, and use one most of the time, even at work, but I am enjoying writing with the Fisher Space Pen* my friend Mike got me for my birthday.

It’s a lovely thing that makes me think of an alien spaceship, and reminds me that I once started a poem about development of the space pen. It was based on the premise of the millions of dollars invested in the Space Pen and its ability to work in space, but that the Russians solved the issue by taking a pencil. A great apocryphal tale, that sadly, isn’t true. Does it need to be? Maybe I’ll go back to the notes at some (ball) point. I don’t think the “poem” ever really got beyond the idea stage, but who knows what might come of it**.

* I’ve been sing a bastardised version of the Babylon Zoo song every time I used the pen.
**Almost certainly fuck all

Mat Riches, A martian nicks a Space Pen from the stationery cupboard to write a postcard home

My skull is filled with alphabet soup. Occasionally the letters make a word, but mostly they slosh around, defeating my every attempt to make sense of them. It wasn’t always this way. My brain used to be a series of filing cabinets. The drawers were shallow but numerous; an inch of information about any particular subject, miles of breadth. Just enough knowledge to stay in most conversations, not enough to truly master any one subject. That was fine. I liked that. A friend called it “librarian brain.” Who doesn’t like librarians? But “soup brain”? That has neither the same ring nor the same positive connotation. Soup brain means never quite having the details at my fingertips; a blank spot on the tip of my tongue. I don’t think it’s a sign of disease. Rather, it’s a symptom of discombobulation. The circumstances of my external world are so disordered that my internal landscape can’t help but reflect them. My prediction is that the presence of family and friends, along with a place to live and a more stable life, will slowly drain the soup, revealing the long rows of shallow cabinets that have been there all along.

Jason Crane, Soup’s On!

I think, though maybe I’m wrong, that at the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people had trouble writing because they didn’t want to write about what was happening per se. We were too “in it” for one thing. It was tricky at the beginning. But now we’ve been steeped in it for two years. We know some things even as we don’t know how things will play out. But we can write about now. On Twitter someone posted a poem by Constance Hansen on Four Way Review that took my breath away. It’s a prose poem that starts off:

“I watered the plants. I plucked their dead leaves. I fed the children and dog. I asked the coffee to raise spirits. I made no beds. I made an inadequate donation to a parentless child, survivor of the car wreck that killed my friends. I paid with my thumbprint. I sent another friend money who sent another friend flowers to celebrate a new baby. I pressed C to confirm my vaccination appointment.”

Honestly, the ending…..wow. Highly recommend getting over there to Four Way Review to read it. Not only is it an amazing work, but gets me re-thinking the how of how the heck do we write at this time. At least this is one wonderful possible way that is real and fierce and in the moment and heart squeezing on many levels.

Shawna Lemay, Drawing Out the Creativity

I left Texas at seventeen. I’ve lived here almost twice as long as I ever lived there. And yet some inchoate sense of time and light and season was set there. And those are different here. It draws me up short.

Every year I know I need to brace myself against winter’s long nights, maybe because the days were never that brief where I grew up. I have to remind myself how to seek the beauty in short winter days.

And every year I swoon at summer evenings, how the late light gilds the green hills and pinks the sky at the western horizon. I text friends: It’s almost 9pm and it’s not even dark yet, what is this magic?!

No magic, of course. Just life at latitude 42.7, as opposed to 29.4. Remember those circles around the globe? I grew up near the Tropic of Cancer. I live now near the midpoint between equator and pole.

I was born on the spring equinox (more or less). It seems appropriate, somehow, that I have settled more or less at another midpoint. And oh, how I love these brightest months of the solar year here.

How good it is to sit outside and listen to twilight birdsong as Shabbat gives way to a new week, and to gaze with wonder at the sky — always changing, always perfect, and at this time of year, full of light.

Rachel Barenblat, Light

Light on the ledge of my lids
or is it the sill’s seepage?
From the trees, cacophony

the birds, no doubt
though I doubt —
a circus, pieces of a gambling

game being turned –
clacking and sparring,
castanets, bingo.

The Creator as croupier?
Each element in joy, in play,
the world depends on it.

Jill Pearlman, The Morning Gamble

Sometimes
in the evening

after the stars
have gotten

comfortable,
the trees might start

to talk to you,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (207)

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, with the start of Poetry Month in the US and Canada (and everywhere else that poets join in trying to write a poem a day), I’ve decided to highlight what people are reading and how we’re thinking about that, as well as sampling from the various writing projects that bloggers are taking on this month. (Me, I’m doing a diary of sorts, inspired by some of my favorite poetry bloggers. We’ll see how confessional I actually manage to get, though. Probably not very much.)

It’s sometimes tricky to know whether or how much to excerpt from people’s NaPoWriMo exercises, since some will undoubtedly get unpublished, re-written, and submitted elsewhere. So please do let me know if you’d rather I not post excerpts from your poems this month. Regardless, enjoy the digest.


As we begin National Poetry Month’s twenty-sixth year, my thoughts turn to the tiny bit of extra attention poetry and poets receive during this time. In April, Poets Laureate revel in their brief moments in the sun, coming up with creative ways to force poetry into the attention of unsuspecting citizens. When I was Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California, I asked local businesses to display poems on cardstock in their windows, and roped some volunteers into handing out poems printed on slips of paper to people on the street.

When I look back on those activities now, they seem less like fun and more like desperation. I’ll never forget the looks on people’s faces when I walked up to them and asked if they’d like a poem. Most were polite, a few enthusiastic, even touched, and one man backed away from me as if I’d tried to hand him a dead rat.

Erica Goss, Some thoughts as we begin National Poetry Month #26

Every April I challenge myself to read one poetry book per day—tackling all those books I’ve impulse-bought or been given by friends over the past year. Last year, I went all-out at the blog (see my post about Kathleen Flenniken for a great example), contacting many of the poets and asking questions about how their books were created. This year, I’m scaling down, but I still want to share with you what I’m reading, and at least a poem and some links for each poet. Rather than a review, you might think of these as “appreciations.”

Bethany Reid, It’s National Poetry Month!

This weekend we celebrate National Poetry Month at my church with Poetry Sunday, a sharing of favorite poems and original poems by members of the congregation. We’re a small progressive church, a safe place for all kinds of seekers, and a good bunch. We’re in between pastors right now, with guest speakers from all kinds of places, plus us, so, as one of our resident poets, I’m helping out and have chosen poems for all the readings, recitations, and prayers. Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Christina Rossetti,  James Wright, Louise Gluck. If I’m brave enough, I will also share a recent poem of my own, about the day my dad had a heart procedure.

I’m still writing a poem a day for Lent, and, now that April has begun, another for that, in an annual poem-a-day-in-April tradition. I’m glad I will have a jillion drafts to work on all year, plus the handwritten poems in a notebook that keep surprising me by even existing. Also reading a lot of poetry, as usual, most recently Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars, pictured above (cover art: Darn by Mary McDonnell) and available at Terrapin Books, here. Part way through Blood Weather by Alice Friman. These two poets will be reading at my local library, via YouTube Live, on Tuesday, May 17, 7-8 p.m. central time! Join us! And the library has acquired these two books. Perfect for our ongoing Adult Reading Challenge, as April’s challenge is to read a book of poetry. Beautiful array of them, along with April raindrops, on display on the main floor!

Kathleen Kirk, Poetry Sunday

When it first came out, I read Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, but probably wasn’t in the right place for it at the time. I’ve just re-read it and have finally found myself in the right place to appreciate it. I’m still not in a position to argue over the merits of reading this ‘poetic translation’ over reading the original. Heaney covers this in his introduction (as well as the experience of students studying it at university – I was not alone.)

What I have done this time is loved the language and the story, and seen how the best works transcend time, and in the following passage, I think you’ll see what I mean

‘A Geat woman too sang out in grief;
with hair bound up, she unburdened herself
of her worst fears, a wild litany
of nightmare and lament: her nation invaded,
enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles,
slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke.’

Sue Ibrahim, Beowulf today

Shakespeare collaborated, in this play, with an impecunious young playwright by the name of Thomas Painte: Shakespeare was to take a couple of the silliest romances of the age and write the poetic speeches for them, and Painte was to fill in some touches of continuity and plausibility. But poor Painte died of a sudden ague before the work had fairly begun, and — King James having hinted that he wanted something new — the play was rushed to the stage without Painte’s work. “Never mind,” said William. “The audience will never miss it. I’ve got some songs that will knock their socks off.” And so we have Cymbeline.

A ghostly Spring comes: faint clouds of new green appear, in some lights, around the bare branches; fruit trees and tulip trees lay out enormous sums on gorgeous designer outfits, which will be ruined by the first good rain. None of it seems real to me. Here, too, we miss the work of young Thomas Painte. One thing was supposed to be connected to another. One Spring was supposed to promise another. Winter was supposed to yield, not to vanish. At any moment Summer is going to stumble onto the stage with his wig askew, blurt out a few lines, and exit, pursued by wildfire. 

Dale Favier, The Death of Thomas Painte

The outlandish pink trees
shake their stiff crinolines
and the whole theater stirs.
The audience feels
loved like brides
in a world of divorces.
Too frilly,
too old-fashioned,
the critics huffed.
The management closed the show,
closed the whole theater.
Only the caretaker
sees the pink trees dance.
They still dance,
so out of hand,
so outlandishly beautiful,
to the wind’s applause.

Anne Higgins, Our college reunion is coming up this weekend

I remember being introduced to Charles Wright’s poetry in Intro to Creative Writing. Those enigmatic long lines, phrased in such a way that almost everything sounds so wise, like haiku.

I’m rereading A Short History of the Shadow, and I still enjoy his poetry. I think that there’s this kind of Tennessee drawl to the long lines, a pausing and repeating that you can hear in the dialect. Feels homey to me.

Two things I wonder about his writing though—1. Why does he bring Italy into everything, like a Hemingway expatriot, instead of just letting Tennessee be, with all its Tennesseeness. 2. Why the heavy repetition of syntax / lineation patterns in multiple poems throughout his work—is just style or a rut.

Obviously, Charles Wright’s writing works; else he wouldn’t be Charles Wright. If you haven’t read him, you should! (but be careful not to read one more than one of his books in a row—he’s one of those writers that stains your hands if you’re a poet too.)

Renee Emerson, Reading Charles Wright

The latest from poet Mikko Harvey, following the full-length debut, Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit (Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 2018) [see my review of such here] and collaborative chapbooks Idaho Falls (with Jake Bauer; SurVision Books, 2019) and SkyMall (with Ashley Yang-Thompson; above/ground press, 2020), is the full-length Let The World Have You (House of Anansi, 2022). A Canadian poet living in Western Massachusetts, Harvey predominantly composes poems in first person lyric narratives that float across the boundaries of concrete image. “Wherever you are is a country.” he writes, at the mid-point of “Wind-Related Ripple in the Wheatfield,” “Touch it softly / to make it stand still. Your hair getting caught / in my mouth all the time, like a tiny piece / of you calling – like a tree trying to speak / to a rock by dropping a pinecone on it. / It is my intention to listen, but my hands / keep giggling while reminding me / I don’t get to be a human being / for very long, as if this were the punchline to a joke / whose first half I missed. I arrived too late.” There is an odd melancholy throughout, and Harvey’s is a lyric of held breath, and structurally echo a loose thread of lyric narratives I’ve seen over the past few years from American poets including Bianca Stone, Hailey Higdon, Hillary Gravendyk, Emily Kendal Freyand Emily Pettit: sharing a consideration for long, single stanzas, and their subversion of the short phrase. “I don’t / want you / to be / nervous.” He writes, to open the poem “For M,” “Maybe / thinking of / a walrus / would help.”

rob mclennan, Mikko Harvey, Let The World Have You

Mikko Harvey’s wry observations and surreal vignettes pose recognisable situations that ask indirect questions about what the reader notices and decides to take away. There are no wrong answers, but at its heart “Let the World Have You” is concerned with connections, how readers move and relate to each other and their environments, real, imagined and psychological.

Emma Lee, “Let the World have You” Mikko Harvey (House of Anansi Press) – book review

On a spring day as far from ‘late in dour October’ it would be harder to imagine, James Schuyler’s The Bluet surprises and delights. It’s the poem that has kept me going these last few desperate weeks, and not just because it features the bright blue of the Ukrainian flag.

At first glance it is a poem of escape, a wander through the woods to get away from it all. But as Carl Phillips has argued on the Poets House blog, there is more than enough in the poem’s manoeuvres to link it with Schuyler’s familiar presentation of the world as essentially social: the tiny bluet flower is a ‘Quaker lady’; ‘the air crisp as a/ Carr’s table water/ biscuit’; leaves that ‘are deep and oriental/ rug colors’.

But the word that catches my eye is ‘stamina’, placed at the end of the poem’s first line. Stamina seems so unlikely an epithet for a tiny blue flower.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: The Bluet, by James Schuyler

I’ve been turning over in my mind what it is I mean by ‘my kind of poetry’. Because there was a time when I wouldn’t have thought that today’s guest was ‘my kind of poet’. Indeed, there was a time, not all that long ago when I would have been puzzled by the idea that poems could be ‘life-saving. Bear with me.

For years and years poetry was always on the periphery for me. There were exceptions. When I was 16 it was the Metaphysicals….sardonic, clever, witty, sexy. Everything I wanted to be and wasn’t. At 18 the Augustans spoke to me. Clever, cool and witty. And I like the craft of couplets. At 20, briefly, it was Hopkins. What they all had in common was visible craft. At 22 I heard Robert Speaight’s recording of The Wasteland’ and it opened my ears and mind to TS Eliot. You can listen to it via YouTube in all its melancholy thespian RP musicality. It jars in a way that it didn’t, 57 years ago. Our ears become accustomed to different vowels and stresses. It occurs to me that it also opened my ears to Shakespeare, for which I shall be eternally grateful. […]

And so it went. As a teacher I liked the textures and evident emotion of Hughes and Heaney, but as  a reader it was mainly documentary and revisionist history that spoke to me: ballads and broadsheets, social realism. The 19thC Novel, Orwell. When I was asked to read Robert Lowell I fought it. I wasn’t interested in introspective, reflective late Romanticism (as I saw it). It wasn’t for me. I thought it was self-indulgent. Which is ironic, now I come to think. Anthony [Wilson] notes something in his post that chimes : 

“I have also been reminded of Seamus Heaney’s dictum in The Government of the Tongue that ‘no lyric ever stopped a tank’.”

I used to think that was an unanswerable argument to a question I never fully worked out. But now I say of course it can’t. And your point?  No tank ever made me happy or illuminated a mystery. A wren landed on the window sill earlier today, and just for a second it stopped my heart. So it goes. The thing was, what I wanted in poetry was stuff that could fill a room, like Shakespeare, that was memorisable and memorable. Most poetry was never ‘lifesaving’, and what I wanted was unlikely to be understated and quiet. We didn’t match. I didn’t miss it. I just didn’t get it..or it didn’t get me.

Something changed, about 15 years ago. Something shifted and if you wonder about ‘my kind of poetry’ it’s what the great fogginzo’s cobweb has been sharing for the last eight years. What strikes me is that while I’ll never have the apparently encyclopaedic knowledge of/familiarity with contemporary and 20thC that Anthony Wilson shares with you in his wonderful book Life-saving poems I’ve gradually being made more open to voices that one time I’d have dismissed. Life changes us.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Anthony Wilson’s “The Afterlife”

Alaska poet Keriann Gilson launched her brand, spankin-new collection of poetry today, places I never want to see again (Gnashing Teeth Publishing, 2022). It’s this beautiful road-rambling follow of a relationship’s ebbs and flows. I appreciate Keriann’s experimentation with haibun, especially its form and how it meanders down the page. She also explained today that the enjambment is a clue into the relationship. When lines flow and haiku are more elegant, the relationship is at its zenith. In contrast, the existence of short, choppy, stilted lines suggests there are problems afoot. It is a fine read, one that should land on a lot of bookshelves for a future reading once it’s been savored. Cheers to Keriann, and not only for this fine read, but also earning her MFA. Exciting news all around!

Kersten Christianson, You Gotta Get This One!

Karen Paul Holmes: I’ve dog-eared so many pages in this beautiful book, A Cartography of Home. Please tell us how this collection came about. I note a thread of homestead/weather/growing things that almost feels pioneer-like, but in a modern sense. And you do, after all, live on a farm. But there are other-located poems too: mini-market, hotel, church, for example. What can you tell us about the sectioning of the book into four parts? How much of the choosing and ordering of poems throughout the collection was purposeful and how much intuitive? Did you write any of the poems for this book specifically or did you assemble poems already written?

Hayden Saunier: I’ve been thinking about place for a long time. I’m a southerner who moved north into cities for theatre opportunities, but I grew up attached to a rural landscape and with an awareness of the innumerable lives that have inhabited a place long before me. Moving to the farm where my husband grew up reignited that deep connection to a particular landscape, but I also wanted to expand on the ideas of home and place to the those “other-locations” you mention (superstores, mini-markets, churches, press conferences, customer helplines) that have become our current and shared cultural landmarks. And when you walk the same fields and woods every day you are confronted by how time is stacked up in layers in a place, like tree rings and soil, so writing about place and home naturally becomes writing about time. That’s been given as an argument for art: It’s a means to stop time. Or a means to enter a single moment and that feels like stopping time.   

I love sectioning a book because I think a reader needs a place to rest between poems. I know I do. The way a bench is situated on a walking path to allow a moment to consider the view or tie your shoes or just sit. In A Cartography of Home, the first section begins with concrete considerations of home and habitation, and then those ideas ripple outward in the second and third sections, returning to the concrete and actual by the end. The way a walk works when the mind loosens and makes wider associations between the fixed points of beginning and end.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Karen Paul Holmes Interviews Hayden Saunier

Yesterday morning, I went to a local library to attend a writing workshop on the theme of ‘home.’ […]

I found it hard to say where my home is. Maybe it’s imaginary? Portable? I used to daydream about living in an Airstream trailer. Though I’d need a second one just for books… […]

Which brings to mind something one of the workshop attendees said about feeling at home in a library. Several of us nodded in agreement, and he added that the library–the public library–functions as a kind of matrix. I would add that’s true for one’s private library, as well, books providing a kind of collage of interests and influences and teachings that can be seen as a kind of matrix to the book-collector’s consciousness, loves, and interests. Speaking strictly for me, in this case.

The house I have inhabited for nearly 25 years now, the house my Beloved and I designed, helped to build, inhabited, raised our children in: this is as close to a ‘true home’ as I have ever had. And yet: is it my home, my rooted place, my last place, the dwelling-in I must have to feel stable and secure and surrounded by love and nature? I’m not so certain about that.

It’s beautiful here, especially in springtime. Yet as I consider friends and students and strangers who have had to pick up and leave on short notice, possibly never to return–it would be hard, but I could leave home. And, for now at least, I still have a choice to go or stay.

Ann E. Michael, Home is where?

Visiting the Azores has a strange fusion of ‘Here I am’ and ‘Where am I?’.   Call it a confused familiarity.  Our host on the island of Terceira presented us with a golden loaf of sweet bread  — kissing cousin to the sweet round on Ives Street at the Silver Star Bakery!  Back home in Fox Point, Azores banners hang from car mirrors, fisherman sell me their silvery catch from the back of a truck.  Living in RI, we’ve been imprinted with the nostalgia of others, our largest immigrant population from Madeira and the Azores.   

But the encounter with the archipelago has its own suspended reality — nuit blanche, arriving without a night’s sleep in the middle of the Atlantic on an unknown island.  Under the airport roofs birds were singing.  A city called Angra do Heroísmo, low church bells intoning.  Misty bay, veils of rain.  Whatever I was expecting, (small villages, old men and women collecting vine cuttings, tending their fig trees) was superimposed on an impeccable, chromatic seaside capital.  White and pastel houses alternate, holding each other from tumbling into the sea.  Air playful, soft, doing little arabesques over the dashing Atlantic. A man was etching in the sand a giant heart with the words Ukraine atop.

Jill Pearlman, Azores, Déjà Vu and Olà

I don’t know myself, but it’s not the result of an unexamined life. On the contrary, it is a life so examined that the fabric has been teased apart. I am a collection of discrete elements. And I am trying not to panic.

I recognize something in the line above; I am a loose collection from a poem I wrote in 2016. From the book I wrote wherein the translator described the poetry as my “late style”. I read that as a curse.

How have I survived rattling around these past years? Wide-open, and pinched simultaneously. A sack of bones.

At 4 am yesterday I was focused: writing. At 4 pm I crashed and splattered like a water droplet. Every time this happens I wonder if I will walk away for a day or two. Or for a year or two. Or more.

Identity is a complex issue. Language. Nationality. What they call the “formative years”. The America that shaped my formative years is not the America of today. I have lived here for more than half my life. For more than thirty years. And yet when people meet me they still ask me where I am from. As though answering that tells them anything about me.

I am from roach clips, milk lines, and Stranger Danger
I am from paisleys and bean bags, tv dinners and moon pies
I am from fire & brimstone, and inappropriate touches
I am from kerosene lamps and cinderblock walls
I am from scholastic books order forms and second-hand clothes
I am from guns and gophers and bloody chickens
I am from photographs cut carefully around the shapes of bodies
I am from sudden disappearances, fresh starts, and new names

But I say something like, the West Coast mostly, I moved around a lot. Then they tell me about all the times they have visited America, or the relatives they have there, or how much they love or have much they hate the culture. “Americans are…” and they begin to shape me.

And I go home and dig a little more deeply into the ditch that separates me from the world. I am still too easily twisted by casual contact.

Ren Powell, A Loose Collection of Mixed Metaphors

It’s been one year since my cancer diagnosis and I had a checkup with my surgeon this week. He said everything is looking good but it might be another nine months to year before I see any results from the nerve graft in my face. There’s another procedure that could be done, which requires taking a length of muscle from my thigh and threading it through my face to help restore symmetry, but that sounds horrific. I might explore botox. The droop face really is depressing. 

My six month cancer scans in December were clear, but I’ll be having more in June. Fingers crossed for the continued “all clear.” I think I’ll feel and even bigger weight of my shoulders when those results come back.

I’m slowly but surely getting the new & selected together collection. Publication is planned for September 2023. 

Collin Kelley, A new poem and a health update

Tuesday morning, the moon startled me on my morning walk.  It was just before dawn, and the moon as it was rising looked huge in the very dark sky.  It’s at the end of a waning phase, so it looked hollowed out.  As I walked, I came up with some lines for a poem, and I repeated them throughout my walk, so that I could remember.

Wednesday morning, I wanted to see if I could see the moon again, but because it’s a day later, moonrise was later, 6:28 a.m.  So I headed to South Lake, where I thought I would have a better view of the moon as it rose.  South Lake looks out towards the part of the beach with fewer highrises.

I got there at 6:34, which I thought gave me a good chance of seeing it, but at first I didn’t see anything.  I walked slowly around the lake, and just when I was about to give up, I saw it, a narrow sliver of a moon in a red-orange sky, just before sunrise.  It looked much more apocalyptic than it did when it was in a darker sky.  

I stood and stared for a moment.  If I hadn’t been paying attention, I likely wouldn’t have noticed the moon–it was just too close to sunrise and too cloudy.  I walked to North Lake where I could still see the moon, but it was barely visible as the sky had gotten much lighter.

I have all but ceased sending out poems just now, so let me post the poem that I wrote after my moonwalk mornings.  Is it done?  My younger poet self would have put in a lot of references to social justice issues.  My younger poet self would have made every connection glaringly obvious.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Moonwalking

It looks like that,
the old monk said,

because that’s always
how you see it.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (61)

Speak to any writer and they will tell you that it is difficult to force creativity, especially poetry which is a medium of translation – events, pain, love, happiness – into art. I feel I have burned myself out through striving to get to a place that is perhaps non-existent and more about my need to be recognised as valuable, than about my need to create. All the striving has, though, allowed me to climb high enough that I am now on a platform that I can, to a certain extent, control. I can sit on this platform and grow into myself and my writing. Right now I am working on myself. I feel like I am undoing myself, peeling away long papery layers of habit and compulsion and sitting with each version of myself, asking her what she needs and what I need to do to validate her. I’m addressing all sorts of things, both personally and in my writing. I mentioned recently that my next collection has been put back a year, which feels like a terribly long time but, actually I feel this might be fate playing a hand for me. Without the pressure of the imminent end of year deadline, I have been able to allow the poems to come when they come. I’ve used the last of my Society of Author’s work-in-progress grant to take the time to write when I need to; a change from what I initially planned, which was to set a big chunk of time aside to write write write, which just didn’t work for me. I always felt I worked best under the pressure of a finite time scale, but it turns out that my procrastination is a lack of confidence, the ‘working well to a last minute deadline’ is a way of avoiding having confidence in myself and my work, a way to ‘trust the gods’ and have an excuse if I didn’t do as well as I wanted. The truth is, we don’t always do as well as we want, that’s just part of it. Some things work, some things don’t.

Wendy Pratt, Creativity and the Slow Life

I’m trying to write a poem a day, since I haven’t been writing as much lately, and seeking inspiration inside the world that’s still in a pandemic and a war. So I wanted to connect with some friends via phone and explore neighboring Kirkland, which has a beautiful waterfront with Lake Washington, and seems buzzing and friendly, at least when the sun shines.

I’m not healthy enough to travel or get in big crowds yet but I am, as you may see, making an attempt to get back into the world while covid levels here are low enough. As the UK and Asia struggle with another surge, I’m sure one is coming this way too, but for now, I’m getting out when it’s sunny (even when it’s not warm) and enjoying the flowers. I’ve enjoyed talking to friends this week about AWP as well as their travels and travel plans. Being immune compromised, I can’t be quite as adventurous, but I’m glad to get the news of the outside world, adventure by proxy. Meanwhile, I’m exploring different neighborhoods, capturing signs of spring.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy April – National Poetry Month (and My Birthday Month,) and Seeking Inspiration

Everything feels unfinished. Every thought that comes to mind is a sentence half-spoken. I jot down one clause — “the death of a parent casts a long shadow” — and then I don’t know where to go from there. 

Pesach is coming sooner than I think. I start a seder menu, then my efforts trail off. I’ll have one vegetarian, one picky eater, and one diabetic. I can’t think of a good main course to suit all of us.

I open a book I’ve read before, Black Sea, by Caroline Eden. It’s a travelogue with recipes. She writes about how surprisingly Jewish the food of Odessa is. Tsimmes and forshmak are Ukrainian foods.

She describes sunny afternoons, the still air of quiet museums, pastel-colored architecture slowly decaying, literary stories of ice cream. Today the streets are filled with sandbags and barricades

At the end of the Odessa chapter she offers a recipe for black radishes and carrots with caraway and cider vinegar and honey. I have those things! But what to eat them with? I run out of steam again.

Rachel Barenblat, Unmoored

In 2017 I launched a collaborative performance practice called the Improv Poetry Orchestra (IPO). It’s a simple enough set-up – a poet writes improvisatory poetry on a laptop at a desk onstage, which is projected onto a screen behind her. Musicians onstage read the writing as it’s being generated, and they improvise in response to—and in tandem with—her. […]

Improvisatory writing—and any form of creative improvisation—can be a profoundly connective process. It draws disparate people and/or ideas together (connective), and it’s centered around the act of creation (process) rather than around artistic intentions or a final product. 

And unlike other skills which you must master from the ground up, you already have a lifetime of experience with improvising. Each day when you have a conversation with another person, you generate sensible, interesting statements spontaneously. Creative improvisation is similar—it just requires a little courage to be both nonsensical and unimpressive (yet occasionally amazing!), a few tools, and some practice. 

Improvisatory Poetry: Making it up as you go along – guest post by Elisabeth Blair (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

Like most people I put up with Zoom readings and events when it was the only thing allowed, and I hadn’t realised how much I loathed it until I started to contemplate the horror of online poetry events becoming a permanent thing. The ‘Zoom factor’ is having a detrimental effect on my decision about whether to return to the University of York to finish my MA later this year: as long as there is any chance whatsoever that seminars will be moved online, I can’t honestly contemplate returning.

Ironic really: twenty-five years ago, as an internet newbie I was basking in the excitement of what the Web had to offer, online for hours every night (this was in the US, where it was free!) and making friends across the globe (yes, actual people – some of whom I got to know in real life). I then spent the best part of twenty years working in online marketing and speaking, teaching, advocating and writing books about the power (and brilliance) of the internet for business, for communities and for communication generally.

And now? After nearly three months ‘resting’ from Twitter, I’m wondering just how much I missed it, if at all

Robin Houghton, At last, some (a)live poetry events

I have always maintained that the raw material for poetry is all around us but that most of the time we don’t realise it. A poet is a person who sees the possibilities and who tries to respond to them. Last Saturday I had the idea that the air is teeming with poems, they circle like airplanes waiting to land. This is what I did with that idea:

Poems Are Everywhere

a complex holding pattern
keeps the free range poems airborne
invisible they circle the world
we are oblivious […]

Paul Tobin, FREE RANGE POEMS

On a day when engaging with the world feels too much like loving a damaged man, I stand underneath our willow’s blossoming canopy and look up. It is like being in another world, one with a sky made of flowers, and I remember that this is how it is:

There is only one world, and we stay because of moments such as this.

We stay because leaving means leaving all of it, not just its barrage of bad news, and we cannot give up spring afternoons when the sun is the right kind of warm and tulips are leaning toward us as if we are the light and passing strangers smile and tell us how lovely our corner of it is. We stay because we see how it might be, how it could be, how, for brief moments, it is, and we let ourselves believe that–if only we love it carefully enough–it can be (it will be) like this all the time.

That we are wrong doesn’t make the moments any less beautiful or true.

*****

This week my students and I read Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Making a Fist” together, from which I borrowed a line to use as the title of this post. I turned away from much of the news this week, but I made myself stay with “Inside Mariupol,” which also contributed to this micro-essay.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Clenching and opening one small hand

I have almost forgotten childhood now. Sometimes I’ll remember something that happened when I was a boy, but I am not sure if I really remember it, or if I have told the story of it enough times that it is really only the story I remember, and not the thing itself. What happens next? Will I also forget how it was to be a man? And then when I die, will I have had a life at all? Memories of memories. Perhaps I was never a boy. Perhaps I was never a man. I could just be a random thought in time and space. Friend, what a wretched thing it is to be getting old and not even know what is real and what is not. 

James Lee Jobe, the forgotten childhood

or how at certain times in my life parts
of my body went numb in spring the black
tailed deer chewed honeycrisp apples in the snow
in front of my house her body
the color of elephant tusks

on Shrove Tuesday I ate the cake purple
and gold straight through to the plastic baby
clack clack on my tooth and kayakers
dotted the Stillaguamish River 
like swift primary flags like standards
bright narrow countries
yet to be discovered

Rebecca Loudon, April 2.

Euridice’s footfalls so quiet on the rocky path. We should have sung together. I could have listened. What singer needs sight to know?

My Euridice. Dew on early morning lawn. Sandwich meat in the ancient world’s most beloved deli. Lips like an asp bite. Joke maker. It was she who charmed them, though I was a good opener, with my lyre, sweet rhymes, my boy pretty face.

Her ironic bright-light grace. Even when alive she seemed a beam, glinting, as if she’d passed between Lucretius’s atoms as through a beaded curtain or the rain. Euridice, bioluminescent in the dark deep sea.

Gary Barwin, over-the-shoulder beholder: SOMETHING ORPHEUS SAID

Have you seen the dancers who talk while they
dance, no, who talk with their hands, oh, so loud,
in unison, dancing deaf Greek chorus?
How goes the war? Did they clear the streets

of the dead? How many did they silence?
What are the words that stab, cut, slice, fillet?
What are the words soft as the edge of feathers
of steel […]

PF Anderson, Questions

I gather together all the foolish words I’ve uttered.

Give them baths, scrub away the grime, wash their hair, clean away the dirt behind their ears.

I brush their teeth, check their eyes, bandage wounds, provide blood transfusions when needed.

Then I dress them in cleaner clothes, offer each a pat on the head and send them back out into the world—

hoping my words will serve me better next time.

Rich Ferguson, Second Skin

You could open
many things
with a fragment

How easily
it slips into
your hand

Beautiful
detritus
Vascular

scoria
of tiny hidden
cavities

In each one
a constellate
a branching

Luisa A. Igloria, Bricolage

You sense the famine in the empty veins of leaves. Bone-birds summon you from frozen wires. Your restless need for banquets may not be logical, but you understand the hollow tuck in their frail and downy wings. You carry smoke and bells with grace. When faced with complex factors, you draw down mica and paint spirals on all locked gates in sight. Your friends call you ghost orchid, amethyst, cleric of water wheels and bright fat plums. Some are puzzled by your sprawl of bread and lilacs, but still consume your bounty. It’s your nature to know the genus of every hunger, to shimmer in the distance without effort. For you starvation is abstract. If necessary, you will grind the hulls yourself.

Kristen McHenry, Poem of the Month: Themes

a sunbeam
sliding down a cobweb
coffee time

Jim Young [no title]

The author was born in a rainstorm, the sky raven dark. The clouds thick and winged over the midwest. The author couldn’t sleep, at first, for all the thunder. but under the author, the forest writhed in moss and peat. Tethered itself to the author like ship. At night, she’d sail it through and the trees. The author, at first had no mother, no father, only the thin lip of daylight at the horizon. Only a slip of wind to guide her. She’d stack the broken limbs and build a fire and the ghosts would gather.  The author would rest, but only in the heart of of an immense, hollowed out oak, where she’d play house with the dark and marry it again and again.  Would carry its children up and down the ladder each morning. Would hush them to sleep, each night.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #1

A woman is killed as she tries to feed starving dogs.
I try to shake myself free but the image
and my imagination growl and tighten their jaws.
This is not about me, I say, it’s about the dead woman.
The woman is dead, says the image.
You can do nothing for her now.
Her death has invaded your life.
You must live with it.

We pass the cottage where the old couple lived.
In winter they came out one at a time
for they shared the same pair of shoes.

Now it’s home to a woman with winter-coloured skin
who paints a poem called Still Life With Anger.

In the distance we see the towers of the city.
The Government buildings, grey as rain-clouds
where people stand in line in the hope of leaving.

Bob Mee, THE REUNION AND OTHER POEMS

if i return to rest in a seed :: won’t my fields come searching for me

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 52 + New Year’s 2022

Poetry Blogging Network

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

The last week of the year always has a kind of aimless, limbo-like feeling, as several bloggers observed, so I was impressed by how many still managed an end-of-the-year post. The selection below doesn’t quite reflect how many of those posts included favorite book lists as well, so really, quite a lot of riches for those with the time to click through.

Here’s hoping 2022 brings a bit of peace and sanity, but if not, there’s always poetry. Happy New Year.


Years ago, I worked for an organization that always closed down during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and as such I became habituated to taking those days off and have made it something of a tradition. Nothing is going to get accomplished in that time anyway. It’s an informal national “down week” as it should be, because these are frozen, dead, throw-away days in which humans are not meant to be functional. Hence no post last week. I’ve been off since December 23rd, doing nothing but loafing around and making a full-time job of trying to keep warm in the 15-degree weather in our under-insulated apartment, shivering in a turtleneck (thanks, Mom!), a hoodie, a knit hat, and double socks.

Kristen McHenry, Days of Loafing, Re-Discovering Dorothy, History Buff

It’s the break of day, New Year’s Eve. I’m writing from the warm, night-morning-darkness of my living room, the only light is that of decorative twinkle and the snow glow outside. My holiday boon is scattered on the nearby table, gifts that are already page-tabbed and folded open. I’ve finished Amy Butcher’s Mother Trucker, and working through Robert Hass’s Time and Materials by day and by night, Ken Gould’s mystery, Death’s Grip, along with Kerstin Ekman’s Scandia Noir read, Under the Snow. As is the case with readers, these are 4 named titles. Waiting in the background sit short stacks of 24 additional titles, patiently awaiting their own cracks in spine. There is a new blank book awaiting rough writings in chicken scratch scrawl, bright beaded earrings, magnetic haiku and coffee poetry sets, and real coffee from a friend to accompany all of these wild ways to spend winter time.

Kersten Christianson, New Year’s Eve: Closing the Book of 2021

at the end of every verse
leave a promise —
what shall we do with sleep
without a morning to wake up to
what shall we do with rain
when skin cannot endure the wet
what shall we do with all this
longing, without the grammar
of hope —

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Leave a promise

I have begun and started this post so many times in the last week. Usually I really look forward to writing the end of year blog, to look back at the good things that have happened. But this year it fels really different – every time I look at my 2021 diary at the months that have passed I feel sadness at all the things that didn’t happen, all the people I didn’t see, all the times when my daughter missed out, when I missed out.  And I also know that I’m lucky because I am healthy and I’ve been able to do some things.  I can’t stop thinking about friends who are still isolating, still unable to leave their houses.

It’s hard to look back on a year that has been threaded through with a low hum of anxiety, but I have had some lovely things happen this year. Probably the most obvious one of those is the publication of my second poetry collection All the Men I Never Married.  But perhaps more than any other year, it has felt like a year where I’ve been able to try out different ways of my work reaching a wider audience – so I’m going to list a few of them here, just in case there are other people out there with slightly more time on their hands than usual, in this strange gap between Christmas and New Year.  

Kim Moore, END OF YEAR BLOG

Today I undertook one of my favorite and also least favorite projects of the year–transferring all my random slips of paper and no-longer sticky post-its into a new sketchbook/planner for 2022.  Good because its bright white blank pages are sort of exciting, least because it just makes me remember all the things I never got a chance to get to.  I started the post-it system after years of lost to-do lists and actual planners and trying to understand bullet journaling and a million things that did not work to keep my mind organized.  The premise was simple..the front pages sort the days of the week, the coming weeks, the coming month, the coming year.  As things arise, I write them on the 1 inch post-its and stick them to the corresponding day.  Obviously stuff gets moved and transferred to coming weeks and I suppose gets done eventually if if ever does. 

I have spreads for dgp projects in the works, including columns–layout-cover designs–proofing–so that I can see at a glance what is happening with each book. I have a section for monthly goals, though as the year goes on, I usually lose track of filling these pages out, but occasionally they help me finish up things. The worst, though, is a section titled “PROJECTS’ where every idea I have –for poems, for art projects, for shop lovelies–usually just sort of go to die, only to be moved to the next planner every late December. I also have pages for the library and things happening there. Admittedly, I didn’t even change books between 2020 and 2021, since so much was just lingering from the previous year. There are ideas for art & design projects that I’ve been moving from book to book since 2013.  Also writing projects.  Occasionally, like unusual creatures, I finish them eventually, but more often not. I might seem productive on occasion, but not half as productive as I’d like.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new planner

The fae character in my novel Unbecoming was, I now understand, incredibly fun to write because in imagining her, I got to inhabit the person I might have been if I were thoroughly, deliciously selfish, unworried about anyone’s future. I rarely consciously knew what she would say or do next; instead, I would take a break from writing and hear her whisper her next lines. The last dictation I received is her last quotation in the book: “I don’t know what I want, but I want it very much.” Word.

Speaking of traces of the past: one last magazine issue with a poem of mine slid under the old year’s wire. “You Know Where the Smithy Stood by the Clinkers” just appeared in the new National Poetry Review. It’s based on a lecture given several years ago by W&L archaeologist Don Gaylord. It immediately helped me see the buildings I work in in a different way, but I had to revise the poem many times, mostly by paring it down, until its architectural bones became clear. The past is always present, even when you suppress difficult memories.

Lesley Wheeler, Sacrifices, gifts, and a year in reading

It’s become a tradition and a privilege to spend New Years Eve with L. and B.

L. is the one who invited me to eat 12 grapes at midnight. She and B lived in Spain for a few years. I believe that to make a wish with each grape is her own twist on the Spanish tradition. Today I reread the blog post from 2020 and realize that my 12 wishes last night were nearly identical to those two years ago: synonyms and shifted specifics. New perspectives. New approaches.

I’m not sure what to make of that in terms of my personal growth. Walt Whitman contradicted himself because he contained multitudes. I repeat myself. I think that is because I contain a multitude of threads as well, and am on a dialectical path. Where it ends doesn’t seem to be as important anymore. Only that I keep moving towards something.

The word “ease” had come up a lot over the past two years. Maybe the past three years. But this morning I read the word “gentle”.

I lingered on the word gentle.

I read Dylan Thomas’s poem again this morning with more empathy – and a different understanding – than I’ve had before. It’s wonderful, because for the first time I see the specific context of the speaker’s perspective. I see the words “old age” (would that Death allowed us all that experience), and the speaker’s projecting his own fears onto his father, and onto every other old man’s evaluation of their worth in the world. I think I’ve read this poem always making way for the poet/speaker’s greater wisdom, and I read the advice in the poem as a kind of sutra. I am thrilled no one deprived me of this discovery: that this (projected) perspective is not wrong, but is only one perspective. A true perspective, but not the true perspective. And that is not to say that no one has ever analysed the poem this way, explained it, described it to me. But if they did, I wasn’t able to take the lesson in.

Long live the hyper-realistic beauty of the unreliable narrator.

Ren Powell, What Falls Away Gently

As 2021 stumbles to a close, it might be obvious to anyone who was paying attention (and I don’t know if anyone was) that I was not writing in here much in recent months; to be precise, since September. In many ways, September and onwards was a big improvement over the rest of my life since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. I got a new job working with children’s literature – so far, on course to be my best job ever – and before starting, I had time to visit my family in Canada. I also spent September weekends as part of the Sea Reconnection exhibition, which as an art-and-poetry exhibition was a first for me and certainly a highlight of the year.

I haven’t felt much like writing, though. My pandemic experience has avoided the worst that many have experienced (severe illness, death of loved ones, prolonged unemployment, etc) but at times I feel like it’s sort of flattened me out. I hope to get back into more of a writing frame of mind in the months to come, even in small ways, which I think will help.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Ten years of The Stone and the Star

Pull out the drawers,
and balled-up socks
sigh of their own accord.

Throw open the windows
and huddled shapes
of air unfold

forgotten wings. Old
beds of ash retire
into the soil so flint

or a match could strike
a small yellow flame
to brilliance.

Luisa A. Igloria, Encadenada

Yesterday we went for a long walk at Parc Jean-Drapeau, site of Montreal’s Expo 67: this geodesic dome, designed by Buckminster Fuller, was the United States pavilion for Expo, and is now a museum dedicated to the environment. But yesterday we were pretty much the only people on the two islands in the middle of the river, and even though it was a grey day, it was just what I needed. Lots of wildlife tracks in the snow, many birds including a huge flock of robins (what are they thinking?), the St Lawrence roiling along in its winter mood, red rose hips against the snow, junipers loaded with blue berries, overgrown plantings, a greenhouse where large tropical plants were being overwintered, and many odd graphic images from the desolation of winter and the decay or remnants of structures built for Expo that have fallen into disuse. I hope you’ll enjoy taking this walk with me, and I wish you all the best for the year to come.

Beth Adams, A New Year’s Walk

I have got a great deal out of writing this blog this year. The feedback is as immediate as social media, and far more fulfilling. There is always a chance someone will read it, so it never feels pointless. I write about whatever I want, however I want: that anyone is listening at all is a luxury! Yet, having had a month or so away from blogging, I can see how my relationship with it might have some things in common with submitting poetry to magazines, or using social media: that feeling that I need to just keep publishing; that fear of rejection, which only feeds the desire to publish more.

Is there a solution? Jonathan Davidson suggests we broaden our understanding of what sharing poetry entails to include a greater focus on different kinds of reading (e.g., out loud, at special occasions), and on reaching more non-poets. I agree. Davidson’s focus is largely on collections, but I think the insight can be extended to individual poems. Why should the default ‘end point’ be publication in a magazine?

For most people I know, poetry is a marginal art, so it’s a fair assumption that by placing a poem in a magazine you will have a greater chance of finding an appreciative reader (i.e. another poet) than sharing it with someone you know. But the end result of this way of thinking isn’t just a self-fulfilling prophecy which keeps poetry on the margins: it effects our idea of what a poem even is.

There are ways of rethinking how we share poetry among regular writers, too. I suspect a lot of writers engage with poetry groups and workshops, at least in part, as steps towards publication. But there is no reason why they have to be. I attended a regular poetry evening when I was at university. I have never produced so much rubbish in my life, but I have rarely felt so much like I knew why I was writing.

My own solution over the last few years has been to try to publish less poetry, and more writing about poetry. I can see this wouldn’t appeal to everyone. It may end up with me not publishing any of my own poetry at all (which isn’t necessarily a disaster). But I’ve also found that I appreciate poetry – writing it and reading it – more, not less.

Jeremy Wikeley, A Year in (Not) Publishing

Imagine how it feels when the sky is dark and you’re the first star. That’s Frank’s trusty Tree Service. You’re the first tree. You’re reborn. You’re a tree and you’re reborn as a tree. And soon you’ll be surrounded by a forest of trees reborn in a forest reborn and filled with trees.

Gary Barwin, Rise Up, Trees: Frank’s Tree Service.

year’s end
bald pines hold
the sky in place

Julie Mellor, year’s end

I was sad to read that Kirsty Karkow had died, on Christmas Eve. She was a fine haiku and tanka poet. I had some correspondence with her twenty or so years ago and had been in online kukai groups with her in the late ’90s. She’d lived in Maine for many years but was born and educated in England. On Curtis Dunlap’s old ‘Blogging Along Tobacco Road’ blog, which was always a pleasurable read, you can still find Kirsty’s admirable contribution, here.

Matthew Paul, On Sylvia Kantaris and Kirsty Karkow

I cannot recall where I learned of Byung-chul Han, but I’ve had the pleasure of reading one of his books of philosophical essays (The Scent of Time) recently, and seldom has a philosophy text resonated so immediately with my circumstances. In this book, Han argues for contemplative time. He says it is essential for humans and human society and claims the “acceleration” of everyday life robs us of the value of reflective thought and “slow time.”

Raised and educated in Germany, where he now teaches, Han invokes the works of several German philosophers to provide a starting-point regarding the acceleration of time. He draws on Nietzsche, Arendt, Husserl and, to a larger extent, Heidegger…but Derrida, Aquinas, Aristotle, and others as well. He also quotes from quite a few poets, such as Celan, Hölderlin, Büchner, Handke, Ch’iao Chi, and spends two chapters on Proust (but of course…).

Han posits that the point-like, algorithmic availability of information runs counter to knowledge and wisdom, which require experience, which in turn requires duration and connection rather than arbitrary retrieval: “Promising, commitment and fidelity, for instance, are genuinely temporal practices. They bind the future by continuing the present into the future…creating a temporal continuity.” He criticizes the very technology that permits a person like me to learn about his work (I am certain I heard of him online somewhere). That criticism says the faster we go, the further we are from our earthiness–the airplane removes us from earth’s gravitational field as well as from the soil, “estranging the human being from it.” He adds, “The internet and electronic mail let geography, even the earth itself, disappear…Modern technology de-terrestrializes human life.”

Strong opinions, large claims. But oh, I thought at once of Whitman and his long expansive drawling poems when I read, “Instead of leisurely strolling around, one rushes from one event to another. This haste and restlessness characterize neither the flâneur nor the vagabond.” The whizzing about leads to anxiety and a lack of durable relationships. People hover instead of connect, swiping left or doomscrolling, feeling bored–which is a kind of empty-mindedness. I observe this trend of rushing and hovering in my students and among my colleagues. I have not found much Whitman-like lounging in current poetry publications, but a great deal of anxiety appears in contemporary poems. Writers reflect the times. Context shapes us.

Ann E. Michael, Slowing time

year’s end
waiting for candy
in the rain

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 December 2021

Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota by Amelia Gorman

This gorgeous chapbook explores the ecological dangers of Climate Change and the emotional impacts of human nature. These poems flirt with the speculative, presenting a near future that feels nurtured by the here and now, offering visions of what could be while feeling anchored in what has been. The pairing of botanical illustrations with these lush poems is the kind of book I love to have and hold in its physical form, so that I can flip through its beautiful pages.

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2021

The end of the year rolls near and I am just lifting my head towards my blog. It’s been forgotten in the shuffle of working life and as that end-of-year-in-review feeling rolls in I have to be honest with myself about several things. 

Where I am at geographically, career-wise, with a view to my family and my energy levels means I cannot place much focus on my writing. And 2022 will be even more difficult. I’m starting my teacher training course in January while working full-time at a school and raising my kids. I’m currently fitting writing in at the weekends, but soon that will be taken over by my course. I will continue to try and do a bit of writing, but compromises will be made. 

And it hurts to think I will have to put it aside or squeeze it into the cracks. I would love to be working as a writer even part-time, but I need to focus on a career that I know will give some financial security. I’m finishing off a commission for some poetry this week and coming to the end of an editing job. I hope other small opportunities present themselves, but I will have to protect what little time I have to study and spend with my kids as much as I can.

My book will obviously not be published in 2021. I knew this was the case from early summer as nothing seemed to be moving forward, including communication. Maybe something will happen next year, but I no longer hold out much hope. My book was accepted about the time my decades-long relationship fell apart, so it felt a positive part of my renewal, a reason to look forward and celebrate my hard work. Then Covid and Brexit and Time bulldozed on through and here I am, still waiting, trying to be patient. 

Gerry Stewart, The End of 2021 Draws Nigh

2021 was also the year I launched a book during a pandemic! What fun! Strangers came out in April, and was formally launched in May, with an online event featuring Sadiqa de Meijer and Sue Sinclair, and hosted by my editor Luke Hathaway. You can view that here. Unable to tour the book, this summer I took my tour local, with readings around Vancouver (even those were fraught – one was canceled by a record-shattering “heat dome,” another was rained our and had to be moved into the overhang area of an elementary school playground… normal stuff!). I loved getting to hear new poems from fellow pandemic-launching poets – eleven total guest readers over the course of the series. Readings at the Vancouver Writers Fest, Word Vancouver, and the Real Vancouver Writers Series kept me busy all fall, and helped me feel like it might really be reaching readers out there in the world! Reviews of the book and also interviews about the book kept me afloat despite the lack of in-person connections. Thank you to everyone who spent some time with Strangers in 2021 – it meant a great deal to me.

Rob Taylor, the 2021 roll of nickels year in review

I’ve been thinking as I look at my stats for the year that there’s some sort of link between my running this year and my writing. Correlation isn’t causation, etc and I don’t have the charts to hand (the wherewithal to tally up each month to make the chart),but I know that up to June this year I finished 10 poems and was roughly averaging 40-50k a week, and between July and now I’ve finished 5 poems and am averaging about 20K a week.

I’ve also run less overall. Last year it was 1600K, this year it’s just over 1500. I was aiming for 2000K, but

I think the reason behind these declines are that I was up a lot earlier in the first half of the year, and using the time after the runs to work on poems. I was training for Race To The King, and when folks mentioned I’d be struggling for motivation after that I didn’t believe them. How right they were. A combination of injury before the race, and exhaustion after has left me struggling to get back into the right frame of mind. It’s been the same with writing, the mad kick bollock scramble of the second half of 2021 has just left me with no interest in picking up a pen. I have no doubt it will come back. I can see a draft I started a coupe of weeks ago staring at me and I know I want to get to it, so I have faith.

Mat Riches, Run on lines…

When I look back at previous goals and roundups from around this time of year, I can see that pretty much every year I say I am going to cut back work, live a healthier lifestyle, live a ‘less chaotic life’ and have never quite managed it, until this year. My favourite mantra of this year, and one I’ll be taking with me into next year is ‘Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want different outcomes, make different choices.’ Changing habits, changing learned behaviour, thought habits, unhealthy coping strategies etc is not about will power. Will power plays its part, but rather than being a shield you use to protect you from cravings, will power is tool you can use to reinforce the positive habits, affirming to yourself that you are worth change, that you are worth nice things, good health, a happy work/life balance. This year I managed to over work myself to a point at which I triggered an underlying heart condition and very high blood pressure. In fact, what I’d thought was the menopause turned out to be my body struggling with what I was doing to it. The doctors I spoke to told me I needed to cut down caffeine, alcohol and stress to manage it. Reader, I did not know who I was without caffeine, alcohol and stress. I cut back caffeine consumption to just first thing in the morning and the occasional afternoon cup of tea. Knowing I could still get my Wendy strength coffee first thing meant I was happy to cut back for the rest of the day. The stress and the booze were much harder to cut down. I enlisted the help of a personal health trainer to help me change my terrible relationship with alcohol, which you can read about here and reader, it worked, it continues to work. I had my first hangover in four months this week. I’ve taken the brakes off a little over Christmas and drunk more than I have been doing and amazingly found that I don’t really want to drink much anymore. Which makes me a cheap date and a complete and utter lightweight. This is my biggest achievement of this year. I know there will be people who don’t really understand that cutting back booze is a big achievement, it’s not like I have gone Tee Total, but the change in my health, my happiness, my anxiety and my self confidence is noticeable. I’m not going back. I’ve done this before and never quite managed it because I gave booze up completely without changing my thought process around it. This time it really does feel different. I have altered my thinking, altered my motivations.

Wendy Pratt, 2021 – My Year in Review- Best Books, Best People, Best Moments, Best Foot Forward

even when I did not know your name, sparrow,
I knew your song, the particular way
you break the silence

Han VanderHart, Bird Song Sounds Out of Tune Only to the Human Ear

Do you remember at the beginning of the pandemic there were all the jokes about the line “I hope this email finds you well.” And let’s face it, for the last couple of years, we haven’t been well, or at least not all the time, and certainly not in all the ways one would wish to be well. What even is wellness now? I don’t want any easy and pat wellness advice myself because this stuff is hard and recurring and complicated and we can be more than one thing at once, anyway. One thing I do know, is that what we normally think of as wellness is not this steady stream. Sure we can be resilient but we also get to take breaks from being resilient. (Which is perhaps a form of resiliency). So what I hope for you in this coming year is that you find your way to a wellness, and in the times when things are more crumbly, you find ways to return and return to a space where you feel okay and sometimes even content and happy.

Shawna Lemay, Keeping Your Appointments in 2022

Let me be the photographer staring down into the lens
of a Box Brownie, let me really see my mother’s red hair,
my father’s best trousers, my brother’s barely lived in skin,

our white socks and Start-Rite sandals, or deeper still –
the cotton handkerchiefs in our dress pockets, Dad’s tattoos
hidden under his long sleeved shirt, the sand beneath

the soil and grass under our feet, the scent in the darkness
when we opened the coalbunker door, what we knew then,
what we didn’t know, what we were unable to even imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ 1963

Palpable: what else to call poems with lines such as “I RUB MESSAGES INTO THE WALL B/C I KNOW / SOMEDAY I WILL BE DELETED.” The urgency implied in the typographical choice to use all caps (here and consistently throughout the collection) brings with it the implication of presence. Words in all caps are emphasized, given more presence before the eye. Such emphasis and presence are more often associated with brand slogans, protest signs, even text messages–a set of seemingly incongruent examples that yet are totally in line with the world interrogated by Abi-Karam. Only that these are poems, and the poetic space is flexible enough to hold a human pulse despite these implications, and resilient enough push back, to voice and be a voice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Villainy by Andrea Abi-Karam

The first poems in Danger Days by Catherine Pierce (Saturnalia Press, 2020) lead one to expect that this book will be all about end times and apocalypse.  The fourth poem dispels this idea: “High Dangerous” is the name her young sons give to hydrangeas.  But there is danger there too: the bees in the flowers.

Pierce finds danger in many supposedly ordinary places.  In motherhood, for instance, in “How Becoming a Mother Is Like Space Travel.” (Both find themselves rearranged.) “Abecedarian for the Dangerous Animals” covers five kinds of animal: bees, bats, the cassowary, the golden dart frog, and humans. […]

One set of poems addresses the history of words, in a series she calls “From the Compendium of Romantic Words.” In each poem she explores, deconstructs and plays with a particular word.  My favorite is “delicatessen” which begins:

Noun.  Notable for a sibilant elegance heightened
by the suggestion of cured meats.  Not deli,
a vulgar nickname, a fly-den, a swing-by, but
a long sigh of syllables, a time machine.  Inside
its languid hiss: flannel suits, stenographer glamour.
When the word is uttered, a skyline materializes.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Danger Days by Catherine Pierce

Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens [by Corey Van Landingham] brought back to me memories from January 1991. I was visiting friends at the University of Maine in Orono (UMO) and trying to rekindle a romance with a boyfriend from high school. He refused to see me, so I met friends in the Bears Den where we ate and watched TV. It was the night coalition forces launched the attack on Iraq. A screen in the corner of the room in the student union broadcast the bombardment. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the moment: “The war marked the introduction of live news broadcasts from the front lines of the battle, principally by the US network CNN. The war has also earned the nickname Video Game War after the daily broadcast of images from cameras on board U.S. bombers during Operation Desert Storm.”

I can’t recall if we were horrified but know for sure we were mesmerized. And, even though I was just 18 at the time, I’m ashamed to admit that I was more pained by the romantic abandonment than by what I saw on TV. Even though the scenes from my UMO visit have stuck with me, I never bothered to include them in a poem. If I had, I’d probably have written about the boy and not the televised introduction to war in my lifetime. It’s a daunting task to consider even now.

I’m still not writing much about world events in my poems, but thankfully my interrogation of our complicity in them has evolved, and Van Landingham’s poems support this necessary and difficult line of questioning. In “{Pennsylvania Triptych},” she writes, “To participate in the demolition is to be a part of history. Is what I tell myself…” She goes on, “As if, ante- / bellum, white and wealthy, with your father’s / father’s sprawling fields, you wouldn’t have let the / house staff serve you pheasant.” We must come to terms with our participation in dehumanizing others if we are to understand how to stop it.

Carolee Bennett, “the body becomes a downloadable thing”

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
It was completely administrative! I decided to apply to MFA programs last minute and the deadlines were coming up. I had to put together a portfolio and figured it would take less time to write poetry than to write prose (ha!). I became a poet thanks to early deadlines. But I kept with poetry because I love its sparseness— it’s a form in which what you don’t say is as important as what you do say. Absence speaks, it’s mystical— a fairytale in itself. […]

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In writing: act as if everyone is enlightened but you (Sandra Alcosser).

In general: “Dlatego dwie uszy jeden język dano, iżby mniej mówiono a więcej słuchano.” It”s a common Polish saying, loosely translated: “you got two ears and one mouth to speak less and listen more”. In fact, come to think of it, this applies perfectly to writing too.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Anna van Valkenburg

An interesting poem shows consideration-in-process. To “consider” means “be with the stars,” doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want that from a poem?

Poems in which the poet knows too much at the outset can tend toward flatness, I have found. The movement, if there is movement, in such a poem is of a busy person through a room who gives you a brisk nod. “Oh, there goes old whatsisname. Hunh,” you think. And that’s that. A more interesting poem wanders in, sits down with you, says something unexpected, ponders, ask you something, maybe, tells a tale, perhaps, shows you something, and in some way you share the moment.

You still might think, Hunh. But it’s a lingering hunh, a “I want to think more about this” hunh, or a “I never looked at that way before” hunh. You might want to call that poem some late afternoon and see if it wants to go get a beer.

Marilyn McCabe, Don’t stand so close to me; or, On Poems That Know Too Much

I am feeling forlorn this New Year’s morning.  Forlorn weather –  53 degrees and pouring rain, and likely to do so all day.

Last night I went to a New Year’s Eve gathering with eight other old folks –  55+ on the menu at Perkins Pancake House.  Very subdued.  It was a long table and I was the last to arrive and I didn’t get to sit with the friends I enjoy conversing with.  Not even any wine.  We closed the place at 8PM.  Sigh.

I drove home, remembering the New Year’s Eves of my wild youth:  in Philadelphia several with Patrick and his friends, in Baltimore in the apartment at Wellington Gate, and on Barclay Street, even a few in the early years of life in the Daughters.  Sigh.

So it goes.  I keep teaching Slaughterhouse Five to my Modernity class, now on Zoom due to COVID.

Anne Higgins, The times are nightfall; look – their light grows less

But for today, let me not focus on all that is coming at me/us in January.  Let me enjoy one more day of tropical drinks by the pool.  Let me focus on reading fiction, since I won’t have a chance to do that much once my seminary classes get underway.  Let me enjoy meals with loved ones and views of a different coastline.

And perhaps I will write a poem.  A few days ago, I made this Facebook post:”It is oddly foggy on the west coast of Florida this morning. It looks like it snowed overnight–or that something dreadful has happened to a lot of mermaids.”

Since then, I’ve continued to think of mermaids and sea foam and the death of mermaid dreams–or is it the resurrection of the girlhood dreams of mermaids?   I came up with this line to begin a poem:  Some days it is better to be sea foam.

Yesterday, the morning fog that looks like sea foam was tinted in different colors, which made me think that maybe sea foam doesn’t represent one eternal idea, but many.  

A poem is percolating, and I want to remember.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Soft Ending to Vacation

I know it’s a little cheesy, and harder during a pandemic year, but I still went through the steps of doing my yearly inspiration board, and using my hands to cut and glue things makes me feel like a kid again, and there’s something innately…optimistic about putting up words and pictures that make you feel happy and hopeful. This year, words like “friends,” “inspiration,” “magic,” and “happiness” made appearances, along with images of foxes, pink typewriters, blooms and butterflies.

Anyway, I encourage you to try it yourself, even if it’s just a temporary one on a corkboard, or posting inspiring things on your fridge. What could we look forward to? What are the best possibilities? I’m far too good at looking at the dark side.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy New Year! Snowed-In Seattle, Inspiration Board for 2022, Variant Problems, and Late Celebrations

We are born into this life with all its bombs & birdsongs, diseases & deities, poverty & purity. Born into criminals & kissers, debtors & creditors, greed & generosity. Born into freedom & detention, flowers & fault lines, climate change & genocides. Dancing, singing, weeping, raging. Slaving, building, crushing, creating—the beauty & brawl of it all.

Rich Ferguson, Into This

The lines of this poem are a factory that employs
the dead. Ghosts of people that walk
on concrete floors, their eyes
like blank sheets of paper. Do you
have a pen? Me neither.

What is a day? Rows and lines
of broken things – dreams, hopes, love.
No, that’s too hard and I reject it.
A day is you with your shoes off.
You are running toward me
laughing. You are telling me
about some poet from The Gaza Strip
or Kentucky.

James Lee Jobe, Their eyes are like blank sheets of paper.

How lucky the kitchen was stocked with tiny marshmallows and French chocolate
waiting in dishes for guests that would never come…
a list of movies, a fireplace with stacks of crackling logs
six-point crumpled Kleenex fluttering as paper snowflakes in an infinity of patterns
tables littered with bottles —- cough syrup, elderberry, zinc —
and cake vying for room with white test kits

We laughed into delirium when time was a stream of barely noted
notches in the inevitable: 
and talked of dreams, Rebbe Nachman, how to organize notebooks
not optimists but expecting each day would get better

New Year’s Eve was a muted affair; 
even if historic and global, we could say we did it in our pyjamas
in our own creaturely language
although we were still stuck in the indeterminacy

Jill Pearlman, Merry Quarantine

In spite of this, I’m starting this year feeling more optimistic than last year. Perhaps misguidedly. It’s not as if there’s a safe pair of hands in charge in the UK. But there are signs that the covid virus might be becoming less dangerous, which is something to feel hopeful about, even though we are still far from being in the all clear. On top of this, I have my own creative projects ticking away, and time to work on them, and my husband, Andrew, and our two grown-up children are well, we’ve navigated our way through the past two years and we’re still talking to each other and supporting each other’s plans. I’m so glad we’ve all been here for each other, at the end of a phone, if not always in person.

Josephine Corcoran, Light Ahead (maybe)

So, there we are. A year of recycled poems, stocking fillers, stand-ups, long-delayed appreciations and reviews, and far too much about being unwell and sorry for myself. And let’s be fair. In the world ‘out there’ it was a truly horrible year, a sleep of reason beginning with a failed putsch by morons led by a moron in the USA, and ending with tsunamis of incompetence, criminality and sleaze in what passes for government. What keeps me sane? You do. You and the poets whose work makes the world a better place. Go well. Stay well.

John Foggin, 2021: That was the year that was

You find the edge
of the wind right

where it ripples,
the old monk says.

You can almost
taste the sand.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (93)

 the extravagance of sun after a swim

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 48

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: holes and wholeness, blogging about not blogging, clearing a space for the ancestors, and much more. Enjoy.


You are digging a hole in the hard, dry ground. The work is slow. you struggle, and no matter how hard you work, the hole only barely grows. Just a little at a time. You sweat and curse. You are tired, and your back aches. The neighbors are gathering at the fence. Why are you digging? Are things alright? Do you need some help? After several hours the crowd is huge and the hole finally large enough for you to enter. You go down, closing the earth behind you like a door. Now it is quiet. The sounds of the people watching have been silenced. You can hear your own breath. Reaching out, you find that the earth is quite cool to the touch, and that the darkness is a blessing. 

James Lee Jobe, This work is slow.

Not to interrupt the darkness
we breathed slowly, exhaling
almost invisible smoke.
We had rolled cigarettes
with cold hands, shared fire.
Nothing happened for a while.
Then the stars started falling …

Magda Kapa, Voices

I’ve eased out of bed this morning and made the mistake of reading the news before sitting down to write. I guess our morning walk and then my run will be all about shaking it off. Jack Kornfield says “After the Ecstasy the Laundry”. But there is also the question of after the Compassion… what then? I suppose it is akin to the obligation we feel to hold on to grief. To “keep a space” for the pain. And there is the guilt we may have when we find ourselves laughing during a period of a new loss.

I remind myself of the obligation to acknowledge the wholeness of the world. I can put down the conceptional understanding of things happening halfway around the world, and I can appreciate the nuzzling of a dog’s snout insisting on breakfast, my husband’s footsteps approaching as he comes in to [sit] in the chair beside me, drinking his coffee while I write.

Heading out now for a run. I’ll be quiet turning near the edge of the lake. I’ll be listening for the ducks, who invariably laugh just before dawn.

Ren Powell, The Weight We Give Things

 I once wrote a poem where the first two lines were:

The wind blows Novemberly
to the finger-snap of season change…

( I forget the middle of the poem, but it ends with)

The creek,
a ribbon of tinsel
through the leaf-gone trees.

How sad is that that I can’t remember the rest of the poem, and can’t find it anywhere in my piles of paper?

Anne Higgins, A cold and sunny end of November

Perhaps you were born with this hand like an uneven fence. Clasping, your whistle was as uncanny as an owl. Or you made wings of your outstretched fingers. Bird that has almost but not entirely evaded the gun, a feather’s breadth from near certain death.

Gary Barwin, ABRAHAM JUDA “SHORT FINGER” FUKS

The cluster of yucca plants by my driveway has bloomed twice this year, each time many stems grow tall, bloom and fade and I cut them down.  Then this one stalk appeared, but something about the weather or the season prevented it from stretching above the leaves, so it bloomed surrounded by the plant’s green.

It’s a late bloomer, like me.  Most people who know me now have no idea how slow I was to learn to think for myself.  I got good grades and succeeded mostly by doing what I was told.

I began thinking of myself as a poet in my 20s, but it did not occur to me that there is a teachable craft to writing until I was able to join workshops – not classes – many years later.  (I don’t mean things like grammar, which are important to communicate; I’ve known those rules since childhood.)

Once you know the rules of a craft, it’s much more fun to learn how and when they can be broken.

It makes possible surprises like these well-shaped blooms surrounded by green.

Ellen Roberts Young, Late Bloomer

The fall issue of AWS landed in my mailbox today! At 25° my mailbox is usually always frozen shut, so it isn’t a grand unveil without a lighter and some lock de-icer. As a poetry editor I love seeing how work morphs from draft form in Submittable to layout to printed paper copy. The cover photo is titled Open Sky by Becky Strub. Mandy Ramsey’s art is scattered throughout the pages and writings celebrating the celestial. I do enjoy volunteering for AWS for all the good writing reasons and for supporting northern women writers throughout Alaska. If you have an interest in volunteering, drop me a line. We are in need of an organized person to keep our email sorted and our mailing list updated. And you, too, would get to work with an amazing group of volunteers who also life up this sweet, sweet journal.

Kersten Christianson, Alaska Women Speak

It does feel good to have completed it, to have proved to myself that I have been able to write a work of fiction of that length, when I had not thought it possible. Apart from non-fiction books, mostly written to order for money, I have concentrated on relatively short pieces of writing that come within the rough borders of poetry.

Beyond that sense of personal satisfaction, what is there? I doubt I’ll ever read it again but hopefully, over time, some will ask for it to be emailed to them and, again hopefully, they will find something to enjoy in it. (If anyone reading this wants to, you’re welcome to email meeswood@aol.com)

There is, of course, a substantial gap between the writing of the thing and the reading of it. Not just in time, but in the experience of those involved.

Already, when it’s hardly been read, I’m getting on with other stuff. ‘Real life’ things like rolling the land ready for winter, making sure the hens are ok inside their inner pens to conform with avian flu regulations, preparing for the arrival of new pigs. And going off as usual to watch our beloved West Bromwich Albion home and away.

As to writing, it’s been surprisingly difficult to switch from the mindset necessary to create something of length to writing short pieces again. I wrote only one poem in the 79 days afforded the novel. At the time that felt like a huge release of air. Now, though, it’s taking time to settle into it again and find links between thoughts and images. I’ve started and scrapped dozens of attempts.

Bob Mee, SO YOU FINISH YOUR NOVEL… WHAT THEN?

You may have never given a poetry book as a gift. Most people have never bought a poetry book for themselves either. Yet a wealth of excellent poetry awaits, with more books coming out every day, each one capable of creating new poetry lovers. When I give a poetry book, whether to a poetry lover or a doesn’t-really-read-poetry friend, I like to pair the book with a related present. Here are a few suggestions based on books I’ve read recently. (Many are anthologies, a great way to entice readers.) Let these ideas inspire your own ideas. And please share in the comments what gift you’ve paired with a book, or what you’d like to receive in tandem with a book.

&&&&&  

The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink edited by Kevin Young (indie link) is a nourishingly hearty 336 page anthology with works by Elizabeth Alexander, Tracy K. Smith, Martín Espada, and others. It’s also perfect to pair with food-related gifts. Consider gifting it with something flavorful, like locally roasted coffee or spiced nuts. Or really step it up with a legacy gift like these salt boxes made from trees milled and shaped by the crafter. If you have the time, you might instead gift it with something you’ve cooked or baked yourself.

&&&&&

Maggie Smith’s Goldenrod (indie link) explores parenthood, nature, and memory with a uniquely sharp tenderness. Somehow I think a picture frame goes well with this gift, a way of honoring what’s dearest to your recipient.  

&&&&&

Ohio’s current Poet of the Year, Quartez Harris, is driven by his work as a second-grade teacher as well as by his students’ experiences with gun violence, poverty, and racism. I’d pair We Made It To School Alive with a gift certificate, maybe one that allows the recipient to give toys, games, or books purchased from black-owned businesses like Kido, Little Likes Kids, Paper Play and Wonder, or Puzzle Huddle to a loved child or to donate them to an area daycare, school, or afterschool program.

Laura Grace Weldon, Paired Poetry Gift Ideas

It’s been a hell of a week, for reasons I’ll describe in some future post, when I’m not so desperate. For now: an essay of mine on a poem by Cynthia Hogue was just published by The Account. Called “Closure, Irresolution, and Cynthia Hogue’s ‘At Delphi,’” it interweaves meditations on a beautiful poem–contained in Hogue’s brilliant book about chronic pain, The Incognito Body–with narrative about a different kind of pain and crisis, involving harassment and bullying at work while I was serving a difficult term as department chair. Pain alienates you from other people and makes it difficult to speak at all. This essay appears many years after the incidents it describes. It’s gratifying, if maybe slightly alarming, to see it published and slowly receive responses, mostly from women who have experienced similar things. I struggled with how to portray my then-boss’s behavior without aggrandizement or melodrama–and then received brilliant edits from nonfiction editor Jennifer Hawe, very very gently pressing me to be more direct about the stakes. It’s useful, to the writer and often to readers, to be exact about the damage, insofar as that’s possible. My life wasn’t “ruined,” but I sustained a lot of harm, and no one involved will ever apologize or make amends. How to walk through and past it?

Poetry helps. See the poem “At Delphi” here (scroll down a bit). It’s also quoted in full in the essay. You’ll have different touchstone poems, ones that consoled you or gave you company at a bad time. This is one of mine.

Lesley Wheeler, Nowhere to go but through the ruins

before the house sale was agreed
buyers demanded the ghosts be removed
so contractors were appointed, a date set
an amount shaved off the price
and the workers arrived to divest the property
loading reluctant specters into sealed skips
then driving them away to wherever unwanted memories languish
that ambushing taste on the tongue
a face half glimpsed in the crowd
the 4am telephone that rings and rings and rings

Paul Tobin, RINGS AND RINGS AND RINGS

I’ve been writing a lot while I’ve been on the road. Hundreds of haiku and many longer poems. I got on the road after the end of the relationship I thought would last the rest of my life. All this time alone and all these words on the page have been essential to processing that loss and moving … forward? Moving, anyway.

Along with the decision to find a normal job and a stationary place to live, I’ve also decided that the past 25-plus years of living a very public life need to come to an end. I’ve been on the radio and on social media and on podcasts for nearly all of my 20s and 30s and 40s, and I’d like to slide into my 50s with quieter media. I’m going to keep making my current podcast, A Brief Chat, but I’m going to do it much in the style of this blog. I’ll keep putting things out there but not doing much to promote them. If people find their way to what I make, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s just fine, too. I described it to a friend as an attempt to live a quieter life. I think that’s what I mean. We’ll see what unfolds. I don’t have much practice at living out of the public eye. I keep thinking of good Tweets and Instagram photos as I move through each day. I’m hoping that urge will pass soon.

Jason Crane, Saying goodbye to van life

It would have been the perfect time to light the log burner, and I nearly did, except that I’ve got two massive holes in the upstairs chimney breast because a couple of weeks ago a jackdaw got trapped in the chimney. I was sat at my desk, in my office upstairs, when I heard the sound of scratching and frantic wing beats. It sounded like it was just behind the wall, like the house had developed its own heart, had grown something into itself. In the silence of the mid afternoon I listened to it scrabbling about and to the other jackdaws up above calling down to it. I feel like I have a relationship with the jackdaws. They’re a constant, a background to my work. I watch them arrive from their tree roosts on a morning to settle and squabble on the roof top, they nest in the chimneys during spring and summer and in the evenings one of my favourite sights is them returning to the trees, calling and cawing. Occasionally I will look up and see one leaning over the guttering to stare in at me. I watch them attempting to drive the seagulls away, having arguments with the local crows. One crow (is it the same one each time?) likes to creep up on the jackdaws and pull their tails. I watch them moving around the village, living their lives. They have their routine, I have mine. Occasionally I’ll throw food for them onto the shed roof, in the hope that the cat won’t get up there and go for them, because I think he would. He’s a bit of a bruiser. There wasn’t much I could do about the bird in the chimney, to start with. My first thought was to phone the RSPCA but they wouldn’t come out for it, and then I had to teach, so the day got away from me. I realised as I was teaching that I hadn’t heard it for a while and hoped it had managed to get out on its own. Earlier, when I’d gone outside to see what the other jackdaws were doing, I could see them calling down and even dropping bits of bread down to it. They’d been calling back and forth during the day, but then while I was on zoom there’d been nothing. Silence. By the time I’d finished teaching it was dark. The roof jackdaws had returned to their roosts. I switched my computer off. Sat silently for a minute. And then I heard it calling softly. I put my ear to the wall and listened, barely daring to breathe. I could hear it moving about, and then, again, that soft call. It was quite heartbreaking.

The next morning as soon as the sun was up, the jackdaw was moving about and its family were back, calling down to it. I realised they were making the same sort of calls that they make to chicks when it is fledging time, and I guess that makes sense. They were trying to fledge their friend from the chimney, encouraging it to fight against the bricks and twigs and get out into the air. I rang my dad for advice, and rang the Whitby wildlife centre, who were great. But the only real option was to tear a hole in the chimney breast to get to it. Lots of people kept telling me there was no option but to leave it to die, and I couldn’t understand that, or rather I could imagine understanding it, but couldn’t imagine myself doing that as, clearly, there was an option, it just meant making myself and my poor husband uncomfortable and destroying a part of the house. My dad came up with his tools (despairing of my lack of tools), and he knocked a massive hole in the chimney breast upstairs, and the chimney breast was full up of fallen nesting materials. So we started gently pulling it all out as fast as we could until we realised there was no bird in the chimney. The bird, it seemed, was on the other side, in the chimney breast that ran through the other bedroom. My dad had gone home at that point, and I was clearing up the mess. Initially I thought it might have gotten out by its own accord, but soon it became apparent that it was, in fact, still there and not in the chimney in my office, but the chimney in my bedroom. I live in an ex council house. I’d never thought about the amount of chimneys it has before. It has a lot. My dad came back, which was very good of him, (though I do think he likes knocking big holes in stuff, especially if he’s not doing the cleaning up), and we knocked another massive hole in the other side of the chimney and went through the same process of pulling stuff out and then, suddenly, there was the jackdaw, both matt and silk, claws and beak and eyes tight shut. It must have died just before we got to it. I had the chance to look at it up close. Female, I think, not as big as a male, its neck was ruffled, its feet were beautiful, slate clay and each toe ending in a serious hook of claw. It was not in great condition and I wonder now whether it hurt itself trying to get back out, whether it was poorly. I’d used gloves to handle it and disinfected them thoroughly. What strikes me most is how fragile it was, how strange it was to see this vital, clever, sociable creature so still, screwed up tight against what must have been terrifying banging and noise in its last minutes. It made me incredibly sad. But I did the best I could and feel happy about that. My husband is a very understanding person. He says he likes that I stick to my principles. I hid the worst of the chimney holes with bookcases. All pain can be alleviated with books, in my world.

Wendy Pratt, Jackdaws

I’ve been happily ensconced in two books of poetry recently, paging through randomly, reading steadily through from beginning to end, exploring back through. So much of the poetry I read I have nothing more than a vague reaction to, somewhere on the spectrum between hunh and hm. But these give me active pleasure and remind me why I love poetry.

One is Chris Dombrowski’s Ragged Anthem, which came out from Wayne State University Press in 2019. I learned of Dombrowski through friend David Graham’s poem-a-day emails, and I’m grateful. I chose Ragged Anthem of Dombrowski’s three or four collections randomly, and will be happy to dig into the other ones at some point. He writes out of his Montana or sometimes Michigan environment as a fisher, a guide, a father, a lover, a watcher bemused by the world. (Plus he’s buddies with one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Jeffrey Foucault, in a small-worldish sort of thing.) His poems, often long and lingering down the page, cast a spell woven of vivid descriptive detail and lyrical meditation, sometimes funny. […]

The other book is Jessica Cuello’s Liar, a tangle of punch-gut poems of the bewildering isolations of being a child. It’s just out from Barrow Street Press, chosen by Dorianne Laux as the prize winning entry.

Marilyn McCabe, Long Distance Calls; or, On Reading Dombrowski and Cuello

And much of what I’m feeling this week is rooted in my tiredness.

And I feel guilt about my tiredness.  It is World AIDS Day in the midst of a different plague, and I am deeply aware that my situation could be worse.  My tiredness is temporary.  It is the anniversary of the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.  

This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like.

In fact, for generations, people had prepared for just such a moment. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.

Those folks had reasons to be tired in a way that I do not.

So, in this age of a new pandemic and old injustice, let me get ready for the day.  There is work to be done, but first, a walk and some time for contemplation and prayer.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Tired and Weary

i wanted to post a poem by Burkard. been reading & thinking about his poems, him, again.

& i guess i’m thinking of Michael’s love for notebooks, the mess & flaw & goodness of them. writing without trying to make a publishable thing. i still need that. i continue to need that. and something outside of social media, too, as much as twitter has become a blog of sorts for me. but yes, outside of that, outside of publicness & retweets & likes & “hearts,” all that. a more private space. meditative.

& i guess i was afraid of posting on LJ again bc i’m nervous that it might just go under, go defunct, go away, gone, at any moment, i don’t know. should i be saving those posts? or should i practice letting them go? my wild ephemera? my internet scraps?

Chen Chen, from the archives :: How did I know an angel from denial? / It took me years. / It took me years.

This week has had a couple things dovetail very nicely into each other and it has me thinking about the purpose and approach of the things we make. On Tuesday, we had our panel discussion with Bad Art: Kitsch, Camp, & Craft artists, many of whom wander in installation pieces and non-traditional forms–ie the screenprinted underwear on the 2nd Floor, or the giant dog made out of recycled plastic bags.  It came up a couple of times: the idea of being able to watch how audiences interact with such installations and when presented with such work.  I was, at the same time, working on my first freelance lesson writing project–for which I had chosen installation art as the subject. (out of many different options in the arts and humanities.) But I spent a few hours doing some research and looking up good examples, and writing about the ways we experience installations, particularly outside gallery/museum settings. A friend talks often how she likes to make the sort of work that is part social experiment–to see what lathers, to witness how the viewer responds.  

As writers, it seems a very different thing.  I get super awkward when people start talking about my work and how they respond to it.  There’s a distance that the page allows between artist and audience.  When they creep too close, I just get weird. But we do still like to hear something make contact, just maybe from a distance.  A new dgp author told me this week that she had one of my older poems tacked to her wall and it made me so happy on a day that was feeling especially hopeless in terms of feeling like anyone actually reads what I write–anywhere…here, in poems, in books, on social media. But at readings, I usually tried to get away as quickly as I could after reading. When I used to do craft shows, people paging through my zines, my collages, my prints, similarly made me uncomfortable and I wanted to run away, even though I wanted them to look and buy of course.  I usually don’t go to the openings of the shows I’m in. When we used to do Library general shows and I kind of had to, I was especially skittish and spent a lot of time hiding in the bathroom and escaping downstairs with my plate of snacks.   And we all want to feel like their is an audience and interest in our work. Even at the panel this week, though I had my black velvet pieces in the show, I was more comfortable just being moderator than talking much about my practice.  

I guess, moreso, I love building worlds, but how and when you encounter them is up to you. 

Kristy Bowen, art, audience, and distance

It is impossible not to delight in the near two hundred pages of American poet John Yau’s latest, Genghis Chan on Drums (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021), a book that follows nearly a dozen poetry collections across more than forty years, as well as numerous chapbooks, works of fiction, criticism, collaborations and monographs. This is the first of his titles I’ve gone through, and I’m immediately struck by the clarity of the direct statements in his poems, especially the ways in which Yau returns years’ worth of racist comments, microaggressions and injustices back in the most powerful ways possible. The poem “On Being Told that I Don’t Look and Act Chinese,” opens: “I am deeply grateful for your good opinion / I am honestly indignant / I am, I confess, a little discouraged / I am inclined to agree with you / I am incredulous / I am in a chastened mood / I am far more grieved than I can tell you / I am naturally overjoyed [.]” There is a confidence and a strength here, one he knows when and how to play, push or hold back, from a poet who clearly knows exactly what it is he’s doing, and what tools he’s working with.

Structured via nine sections of poems, plus a prose poem in prologue, and two poems in epilogue, Yau appears to be engaged in multiple conversations, including a section of poems in which he responds to the previous administration, including the former American President, responding to history and culture as it occurs. “There are no words to express / the horrible hour that happened,” he writes, to open “The President’s Third Telegram,” “Journalists, like all fear, should be / attacked while doing their jobs [.]” Weaving in elements of culture and current events, much of which touch upon larger issues of fearmongering and racist dog-whistles, Yau’s is a very human and considered lyric sense of fairness and justice, composing poems that push back against dangerous rhetoric, outdated or deliberately obscured language and racist ideas and ideologies. In his own way, Yau works to counter the ways in which language is weaponized against marginalized groups, attempting to renew human consideration by showcasing how inhuman and destructive language has become. “We regret that we are unable to correct the matter of your disappointment,” he writes, as part of “Choose Two of the Following,” “We quaff mugs of delight while recounting the details of your latest inconvenience [.]”

rob mclennan, John Yau, Genghis Chan on Drums

I have a new poem, ‘Here is Bernie Saunders in Mittens’ on The Friday Poem.
The piece is a bit different from my usual stuff, which generally, although not always, takes the form of a shortish lyric poem. I wrote it around the time of President Biden’s inauguration, when the image of Bernie Saunders became a viral meme. I was intrigued by how quickly the image was manipulated in a myriad of ways, and how responses to these internet memes were received and interpreted. The subsequent down-to-earth responses to the viral images from Saunders and the woman who made the mittens were in stark contrast to the madness around the election and the insurgency at the Capitol. I’m pleased the poem has found a home on the excellent TFP, with a lovely astute introduction from the editors. You can read the poem here.

Roy Marshall, New poems online

The radio
woke us up this morning with news
of another rising wave of contagion,
a winter of pestilence and affliction—
your dark attendants, your retinue
and signature. But tonight,
around a fire in a neighbor’s backyard,
we are invited by a shaman to make
of our bodies a field shook with lightning;
to clear a space for the ancestors to enter
with their gifts of remembrance and healing.
What we pass from hand to hand around
the circle: not just flower or stone, not twig
with its tip of glowing ember.
Loosen the heart, and the tongue
might follow. Loosen the fist and the hand,
and the towering pines lean a little more
away from our small houses on the ground.

Luisa A. Igloria, Dear rumor of recurrence,

The recent death of poet Robert Bly brought to mind his book Leaping Poetry; I have this edition of the famous little book, which I bought in Grand Rapids Michigan in 1978.

My dear friend Ariel Dawson recommended this book to me. I have read it many times–my copy’s pretty beat up. A 1975 book of his prose poems influenced my thinking about poetry’s many forms, too; I love my copy of The Morning Glory: Prose Poems. The thing I love about this book is its open-endedness, by which I mean that Bly embraces ambiguity in poems by suggesting readers–and writers–examine the gaps, the leaps, the surprises that encourage curiosity. Free associations into the unknown can lead to obscure and unreadable poetry; but they may also offer a way in to the unconscious, the emotive, the innate–what, in previous decades, was called the “primitive” and associated with non-Western religion and ritual song-poems. When I was first writing poetry more seriously–as a craft, an art–Bly’s little book helped me to reflect on what I was doing. It gave me new direction.

The Morning Glory poems moved me into researching what poems feel like on and off the page and how poets have used forms in different ways through thousands of years. Haibun, for example.

In subsequent years, I have read persuasive criticisms of Bly’s translations and of some of the concepts in Leaping Poetry; certainly there is much one can criticize concerning Bly–because he wrote so prolifically and took a certain joy, I think, in standing out. I made a point of going to his readings and presentations when I could, just to hear what his latest enthusiasms would be. (I must admit I never liked the way he read his own poems, but I often liked the poems themselves.) I am grateful for his work and have been recalling going to hear him and reading his poems over the years, discussing them with friends.

The book itself is an old, dear friend. I think it’s time to read it again. Each time anew.

Ann E. Michael, Robert Bly

I feel like my blog posts have been especially flimsy of late, which frustrates me, because there is actually a lot going on in my life, but I am not at liberty to discuss most of it. Just know that I am having numerous internal and external meltdowns and yet I am forced to blog about things like tiny popcorn and bad contact lens prescriptions because I can’t tell you what’s really going on. There are days when I just want to move to a hot, friendly Southern state and get a job as a friendly receptionist in a car dealership and live out the rest of my life in relative peace instead of struggling with the relentless and ever-increasing madness of working in an inner-city hospital during a pandemic. In addition, I’ve been experiencing the painful realization that I’m not some big, leader-y career woman. At heart, I’m just a friendly receptionist. I didn’t ask for advancement. I had advancement thrust onto me, and it turns out I’m not a fan. I don’t see what’s wrong with simply being competent at what you do and sticking with it, but apparently no one can leave well enough alone these days.

Kristen McHenry, Choke Me in the Shallow Waters

The helter skelter of others’ sweltering moods discolor our temperament from time to time.

It’s like catching someone’s negativity as if it’s a nasty cold—

our sanguinity suffering sniffles, unable to shake the aches of another’s rage.

Low-grade fever and chills inherited from indifference.

Combative body language invoking unusual drowsiness or lack of appetite.

Political aggressions and conspiratorial digressions causing congestion.

Rich Ferguson, Aches of Another’s Rage

A poem which is a list of remembered former boyfriends turns out to be not exactly a joke at all, but the beginning of something which is both playful and seriously important. […]

I remember hearing her reading it for the first time at The Chemic in Leeds, I remember the way this phrase stopped me in my tracks and stayed with me ever since

.how we lay twice a week in each other’s beds
            like two unlit candles

and I remember also the impact of the growing seriousness of the poem’s long incantation, as though the poet were realising something for the first time, learning something essential, or, at least, knowing she had to find out what it meant. Over time I heard her read more and more of the poems at various venues, becoming also aware of the way she was understanding how they challenged her audience even as she challenged herself from the moment it all turned on that one phrase are you judging me yet?

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Kim Moore’s “All the men I never married”

Well, I can’t tell you my big poetry news yet…but I will post it here (and on social media) tomorrow!

But in the meantime, thank you to Rogue Agent for publishing my poem “Enchantment” in their latest issue, which also has poems by friends Ronda Broatch and Jen Karetnick. It’s a very spooky fairy tale poem, which I thought worked well with this photo of winter apples – which always look so bleak and beautiful to me – and it’s also going to be in my upcoming book from Alternating Current Press, Fireproof.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem “Enchantment” Up on Rogue Agent, Winter Scenes and Surviving the Holiday During the 2nd Plague Year, and Big News Tomorrow!

So really, it’s thanks to sandwiches that I’m feeling more myself.

Also thanks to reading this by Adam Zagajewski in his essays, Slight Exaggeration, where he talks about how art shouldn’t remove itself from what is “painful, even ugly, that every quest for clarity, radiance, must proceed through full consciousness of what constrains us. This might be one definition of rapture: rapture means to forget pain, ugliness, suffering, to focus only on beauty. But purely rapturous works provoke only my opposition or indifference. Precisely the endless battle between heaviness, suffering, and illumination, elevation, forms art’s essence.”

You see, I had sort of pledged to meself that I would try to keep this space filled with more joy, more radiance, more goodness, and more uplift! And I still do pledge this very thing. But I also know that to come to something more artful, art-full, that it’s going to need to proceed through that “full consciousness of what constrains us.” Otherwise, it’s just gonna be fake anyway. There’s just no way you can live in this time, (or really any time ever) without experiencing the flip side in one way or another. As AZ recognizes, when we’re only ever fed joy or rapture, it is going to start feeling not so great. And I don’t think we need to belabour things, but just acknowledge the constraints, the black clouds/clods of whatever visiting despair, so that we can get back to the business of uplifting one another, back to joy, rapture, radiance, and yes, fun.

So yah, the black dog came, I fed it a sandwich. That appeased. And here we are.

Shawna Lemay, Sandwiches and Radiance

I don’t remember much of my ancient Greek, but a pandemic project has been to study some of the modern language. When we made our first trip to Greece, I was completely engrossed in sounding out all the Modern Greek signage; and at ancient archaeological sites, I would spend a lot of time looking at bits of inscriptions and was thrilled when I could actually understand a name or a word, but frustrated that I couldn’t communicate much at all. Now I do at least one lesson a day on Duolingo, often two. My first uninterrupted “streak” ended after 200 days or so when, somehow, I simply forgot; today will be day 320 of the next streak. As I wrote earlier in the pandemic, it’s a lazy and not terribly effective way to study a language if you really want to become fluent; I still believe you’ve got to put in the hard and boring work of memorizing conjugations and lists and grammatical rules, and I haven’t done much of that. But I know a lot more than I did when I started, even if I’ll still be tongue-tied if we ever make it to Greece again. I’d be a lot faster now at knowing what I was looking at in signage, be able to read a menu, ask some questions, be polite, but I’m not sure how much useful material I’ve actually learned, and very much doubt I’d understand much of what was said to me, at least at first.

What has kept me at it, I think, is this strange desire to be in the presence of those ancient letters every day and live in their world, which is not the world of Roman letters, is not at all English or French or German — though those languages all owe a great debt to Greek — but a set of symbols, descended from the alphabet of the seafaring Phoenicians, that have been used to write the Greek language since the 8th or 9th century B.C. That, alone, is incredible to me.

Obviously these letters have been used to represent a lot of things over the years, especially in mathematics and science. And now, we’ve got virus variants named for Greek letters, so that geographical places can avoid the stigma of attachment, and subsequent blame. I wasn’t too upset about Alpha, or Delta — both of which are overused letters in fraternity names, and therefore seemed like fair game — but Omicron? Omicron rather upset me. I like the word itself, and am very fond of the letter, which is so…round, simple, elemental. It’s one of the few letters of the Greek alphabet that remained entirely unchanged in the Roman, precisely because of that simplicity and the universal necessity of its sound.

I had better steel myself: we’re probably in for a slew of variants, and Greek variant names. For me, though, omicron will remain first and foremost a letter, a sound, and a form: the universal circle. Something beautiful, written by human hands, almost forever.

Beth Adams, In Defense of Omicron

So, there we were at the hardware store late on a Friday afternoon at the end of the long week after Thanksgiving, facing the same question we’d faced all those years ago when we were buying a stand for a tree for a different house and a different kind of holiday than the ones we now have.

Our choices? A cheap plastic stand for $19.99 and the most solid-looking, no-plastic, old-fashioned tree stand I’ve ever seen for $70.00. There were several left of the cheap ones, and only one expensive one. The box for the expensive one had “Lifetime” printed in large red letters on every side of it.

What is a lifetime? I wondered. How can we possibly we know what we’ll need for a lifetime?

I thought about how so many young families now talk about their desire for “a forever home,” a concept I don’t remember from my own early days of homeownership. Although I lived in one house from the ages of 4 to 18, I’ve lived in and owned five different homes in the past 30 years. I’ve been married three times. I really couldn’t tell you how many lifetimes I’ve lived. Even though Cane and I love the house we now live in, we know we could well be somewhere else ten years from now. Our holidays could (likely will) be different again, our health could be different, our financial situation could be different. We might not have the desire or capacity for the kind of tree that needs a heavy-duty stand. We know, in ways we couldn’t have known when we bought our last stand together, that ten years from now one or both of us could again be facing the tree question alone. Ten years, or months, or days from now, everything could be different.

So, what to do? How to spend our money? What future to bet on? I suppose that for many people, perhaps most young people, a tree stand is just a tree stand, and buying one is only another item on a long list of holiday to-dos, but sometimes, late on an early-December Friday afternoon in the aisle of a neighborhood hardware store, for a couple of more old-than-young people who know that loss and change are the warp and weft of every life, a tree stand can also be an embodiment of faith and hope and love.

We bought the good one.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Lifetime guarantee

That’s not the lunch bell —
it’s time for silence,

the old monk told
the visitors.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (44)

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 36

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, reflections on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and other losses; spiritual and creative renewal; and more. Enjoy.


And so, the book of the dead and the living are opened, and studied. For reckoning, for reconciliation, for release. The mother swirls watery, a whirlpool in slow motion now. The dead cling to rafts riding whitewater. Me–rafted, too–I wonder. In the oldest sense. At how short it is. How pointlessly brutal, when it is also the unutterable holy name embodied.

JJS, Days of Awe

Many hours I have watched this boy at sleep, wondering at him. A few hours old, having gravely observed every bright or moving object in the room, after studying my face with his deep, wet eyes, having suckled his first milk and bellowed at being cleaned up and weighed, he fell asleep in my arms. I had felt him asleep for some time within the womb, but now I could watch the drowsy process. Now he breathes. In and out. I could not count the minutes I’ve spent watching him; minutes and hours seem extravagant, faithless, artificial things. But breath! And the slight twitching behind the eyelids, and the pulsing fontanel! Only during his sleep could I appreciate these things.

For when he was awake, he was constantly active. In an instant, he could crawl. Another instant, and he ran. Then he acquired speech, the product of which he loved. Talking is what he’s been put on earth to do. For many years the only times I did not hear his voice chattering in the background of my daily life were when he was at school and when he was asleep.

The world opened itself to him. Cautious, sensitive, he was always secure in his understanding that the world is eternally novel, interesting, and eager to receive his attentions. In the mornings he would tell me his dreams. Even sleep was entertaining; he had few nightmares. He felt safe in the cosmos.

I knew that someday he’d meet the bully, the unfair teacher, the irredeemable tragedy, and wondered how he would face such a thing. For years, he came to me, discussed the behavior of other children, talked about evil characters in books and movies, showed me what is wonderful in his life. “Look, Mama,” he said a thousand times, “Look at this new kind of acorn. Look at how the corn is blowing. Look at that big truck. Look—I think that little girl is crying. Look at my drawing. Look at me, Mama—I’m balancing. I’m a pirate. I’m Peter Pan!”

            Buildings are collapsing, Mama.

            Look, don’t look.

He’s nearly thirteen. No incipient beard, no hairiness or sweaty armpits yet, no break in the tenor voice. He rolls his eyes at his peers’ hormonal hijinks, the schoolboy crushes, won’t attend a dance. But the time is coming—he knows it. He’s quieter, gets lost in books, stands out in the meadow with a whippy stick, slashing at goldenrod and sumac. He lies in bed after the lights are out. He’s thinking. It keeps him awake, kept him awake even before last Tuesday.

He just has more to think about now.

Ann E. Michael, 20 years ago

He carried a small body
and then the next
outside the village,
shoulder ripped by pain, a part of brain telling:
a cage of warm bones
now dead wood,
noisy, defying the lashing flames
like little boys who dart out of a mother’s attention.

Uma Gowrishankar, Home

Hearing my son howl in grief in his bedroom last night was the most terrible sound I have ever heard. It will haunt me my live long life but we are emotionally messy people. He is bereft and I am holding together to absorb what I can of his pain and grief. My son took this photo of Sam asleep in the backseat of his 57 Chevy.

Tomorrow Page heads to his father’s to the orchard and the lake and then I can let myself fall apart to wail my own hurt. Think of us when you can and when you can.

Rebecca Loudon, Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

Where is our common altar to pray on a day like this? Who is our common god for healing? Maybe the only thing that can save us now is to look at and examine our bodies: “This is our hand, this is our leg, these are our eyes.” We must start from the nil of our common humanity. Not in a sentimental way, but in the way when you get lost and look for a point of recognition in the landscape, a mountain, a lake or a river where you can start walking from.

And that walking will be long.

Magda Kapa, 9/11

A cosmic day is longer
than any of our ordinary
days: delirium of time
ticking in expanding circles,
distributing the slow-built
honey of the universe.
Telephone coil, endless
transmitting chain drive,
celestial ladder: the bounded
seas and rivers’ continuous
movements shadowing
the heavens, partitioning
these puny hours. What
is the actual length
of wars, of the track
by which both soldiers
and prisoners return?

Luisa A. Igloria, The Oldest Light in the Universe

The Nick of Time is a book of mortalities, writing her book-length suite of prose poem sequences and short bursts, each of which are constructed as collages of strands that form new quilts of meaning. “The difference of our bodies makes for different velocities.” she writes, as part of the final poem in the collection, “AGING,” the final poem of the suite “REHEARSING THE SYMPTOMS,” “But gravity / is always attractive, and my higher speed. Cannot outrun the inner / fright we seem made of. Though I gesticulate broadly. As in a silent / movie. Running after the train, waving goodbye.” As one could speak of her writing at any point across her lengthy publishing history, Waldrop writes on language, reading and perception, and the ways through which we think of the relationships between and amid meaning. The poems that shape to form The Nick of Time also incorporate and investigate concepts such as America, mortality and aging, crafting each poem as a furthering of her decades-long investigations into language, theory and philosophy.

rob mclennan, Rosmarie Waldrop, The Nick of Time

It seems these past weeks I have moved even further away from myself in an attempt to know how to move forward. It is true that death brings change, even deaths that do not spawn grief, but end it. I am “over it”. In a way. Past it, certainly. And now what?

We can do this, you know. We can own our own stories, or just give them up entirely. And we can let go of the need to dictate the stories of others.

We don’t need to be “a survivor” with a constructed story arc that makes us the hero. If we “win” all the battles. We can just live in world with no need to construct a dramaturgy that will bring everything to a satisfying end.

That sets us up to fail.

While avoiding writing, either publicly or privately, I have been thinking again about “whose story”. I have been thinking again about my choice to erase myself from the tidy narrative in my mother’s obituary (which described a woman I never knew): to take that name that is not my name, was my name, out of that paragraph with “[…] is survived by”. Because the truth is that the person who wore that name, who lived that life, did not survive but was born anew, and mothered by so many others.

We can do this. We can give up the need to carry a through-line through the days. Can’t we?

Today I will lecture on Antigone. Creon’s story. And I will ask the students to read the play, translated from a translation that was translated from a translation and handed down through cultures that have come and gone, and were born anew. I will ask them: Whose story is this? Why carry it? Will you somehow make it yours? How?

I learned yesterday that Antigone means “against-birth”.

Ren Powell, The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen.

Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss, I recall my life in Athens, Georgia in the early 80s and the punk rock scene that was drifting toward the New Wave/Alternative synthesizer heavy music of Brain Eno, Bowie, U2, and Depeche Mode by the time I left for Spain.

Seuss’s poem [I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious] brought me back to the times my friends and I drove to New York for a weekend to hear our boyfriends open for bigger bands at CBGB, the Mudd Club, and the Peppermint Lounge.

Unlike Seuss, I was more of a voyeur of the punk scene, a curious suburban college girl who wanted to graduate from uni and study in Spain. For a while, I got sidetracked by punk’s promise of anarchy and rebellious art making, but I never had the need to ‘escape from punk’s thesis.” That was a forgone conclusion with my conservative, Catholic father hovering in the background of my psyche.

Seuss, raised by a single mother, was the real deal.

The 80’s in Athens at UGA was steeped in systemic misogyny that I bumped up against in my creative life, although at the time, I thought this bumping up was due to my own failures as a writer and human being.

I tried to get into Coleman Barks’s creative writing poetry class, but when I approached him at his office he practically shut the door in my face.

Instead, I tagged along with the boys in the band, read their chapbooks, gathered at their art openings, and attended theater presentations at the Rat and Duck, named for the rats running along the ceiling above and having to duck from falling plaster.

Christine Swint, Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss

At this time of year, as every September, my thoughts return to the classroom. Questions such as ‘Can I still teach?’ and ‘Do I still have it?’ are perhaps less useful than ‘Let’s see what happens!’ I think this may apply to reading and writing poetry as well. Earlier this year, I completely lost my confidence in my ability to do both (just one of the reasons for taking a break from blogging). But while I did really lose my confidence, I mean, really, really lose it, it wouldn’t be true to say I gave up completely on both. I found myself re-reading some favourite poets, as well as new work by poets I admire. (More on these in future posts.) And gradually, without really planning it, words began to take shape again, as they always do, on scraps of papers and edges of envelopes, things that may or may not become something, who knows. Let’s see what happens!

I want to inhabit this open state of mind (for teaching, for reading, for writing) as long as possible, even though I know the new term is going to be tough and long, as it always is. The past, including the poems I’ve already written and sent off into the world, aren’t really any use to me, least of all what I laughingly call my career or reputation.

Anthony Wilson, In search of beginner’s mind

I’ve been trying this summer, at least once a week to have more writerly focused content–at least one post per week devoted to solely that, and I find I still have a lot to say on projects and my own process and history, but today, as I sat down on this final day before plunging into a new semester, I found I had nothing at all to say. The world feels heavy and I feel uninspired, so this may be part of it. My focus was everywhere last week, and nowhere good, so while I usually jot down a few ideas for posts, nothing stuck. But then maybe that subject matter is a post in itself.  How heavy the world feels and how that heaviness makes it harder to write.  

There was some buzz I was barely following on Twitter (because I still haven’t figured out how anyone follows anything on that platform), but the gist was a that a poet seems to have been talking about how poetry matters to no one but poets.  Which then was taken as an offense, by, you know, poets. Poets who have a lot of words, thus much buzzing.  I’ve been scheduling tweets in advance, so don’t hang out there as much as I do on that old dinosaur facebook and instagram.  But I can’t say that the initial poster is wrong, as book sales and public interest in poetry, particularly academic poetry, attest.  But then, she is probably wrong about poetry in general, which seems to be having, as I mentioned a few posts ago, a “moment.” (Not my poetry but someone’s poetry.) Poets like to buzz about things like this every so often, and no one is really wrong or right.  No, it seems a hard lot when the thing you are most passionate about is mostly ignored in a world where very few people read at all, even fewer read “literature” and even fewer than that, poems. Someone will usually come along and say that poets need to be more (insert accessible, political…etc.) Or that it’s our fault that we’ve wandered do far down this path–our own navel gazing, inaccessibility, cliquishness, lack of audience. 

Kristy Bowen, oh, poetry….

How many ways might a scarab threaten death?
How many ways might a poet turn accomplice?

Charlotte Hamrick, Scarabs Crawl Over Poetry Discourse

wet morning
the bin lorry is reversing 
in welsh 

Jim Young [no title]

I returned home to find a couple poems published in two different anthologies printed by the Australian press, Pure Slush. While this isn’t the first time I’ve published with Pure Slush, my response to doing so is consistently positive. Editor Matt Potter is a delight to correspond with as he’s not only quick to respond to writers, he’s thorough. This is one of the few publications that I’m required to sign a contract for and even its turnaround is timely and efficient.

So I thank Matt and Pure Slush for publishing “One Hundred Bucks for Public Radio” in the Friendship issue, and “The Goods” in the 25 Miles from Here collection. I’m also happy for my writing friend Larry Wright who also published his poem “Lost Boys” and “On Rattlesnakes” in these same anthologies.

As for summer, it is all too quickly coming to a close. I am trying, really trying, to settle into the groove of another school year and winter ahead. But my dreams taking up greater space. They are bright in color and I’m more restless than ever to chase them.

Kersten Christianson, Spinning Into September

It seems I have started to write essays. Why now? I’m feeling an escalating pressure to write down my thoughts, both because the moment feels so urgent, and because I want to remember them. And really, who knows how long I will be able to write? Carpe diem, as they say.

Of course, I’m reading essays too. I’ve been re-reading some of the wonderful essays of Virginia Woolf and I have Zadie Smiths Feel Free: Essays on board. And I’ve just ordered a forthcoming anthology of lyric essays by contemporary essayists, titled A Harp in the Stars.

Risa Denenberg, Getting Your Daily Fix of Culture

I write
so I can
remember

what I wrote,
the old monk
says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (6)

Just like this beautiful harbor seal represents a creature that lives both below water and above it, we writers have to re-enter regular life after spending a week just devoted to nature and writing, going to sleep when the sun goes down, no internet or television or social media to distract you…and then coming home. Not that I hate coming home – fluffy cats and hummingbirds awaited – but it does take a little while to shake off the glamour of small-town island life. Unpacking, getting ready for Glenn’s surgery on Monday, responding to a ton of e-mails, catching up on what’s been going on in the news – well, it’s not exactly the stuff of sparkles and rainbows. But in a way, being a writer during regular life is a more important practice than doing it under special circumstances, right? Because that’s most of life.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The End of the Residency, Re-Entry, and Prepping for Surgery

We went away for a few days last week to my happy place, Ocean Shores, where I am always drawn to when I am in crisis, in need of a deep rest, or on the precipice of some major change in my life. While I don’t always immediately find the answers I am looking for there, it’s always been a place of peace and healing for me. I need the reminder that there is something larger in the world than my minuscule life, that there is a roaring, shining, glorious ecosystem with a thundering heart that goes on without me and will continue to do so even after I pass. Besides all that metaphorical stuff, I am just a plain old sucker for ticky-tacky beach stuff. I love all of the souvenir shops with their bright, cheap, silly wares. I love salt water taffy, kites, renting scooters, and all of the other touristy entrapments. It all delights me and makes me feel uncharacteristically light and care-free. And my creative block was lifted by the lilt of the sea, and I started a new poem for the first time in ages.

Kristen McHenry, Adventuring Practice, The Lilt of the Sea, Commercial Collusion

I’ve had moments of beginning to process this experience of going back to the classroom, but it’s something that feels huge and that I cannot begin to see clearly yet. I don’t think I can really describe what it was, but I will try a little.

It’s a cliche, but it wasn’t unlike riding a bike or skating after a long time of not biking or skating. I felt a little wobbly at first, but then I got my balance back and the wheels flew and it felt so right. Righter than anything has felt for years and years and years. It was hard and fun and exhausting. I have to think so hard when I am teaching–constantly taking in information and processing/assessing it and deciding what my next move needs to be, often in mere seconds. It works my body, too, in a way it hasn’t worked in so long; at one point, I realized sweat was running down my face inside my mask, and I was ravenous by the time I got to lunch. But at the same time, while I was in it, I wasn’t aware that I was thinking hard or that I was sweaty or hungry or thirsty. I was entirely present and engaged and energized and calm.

At the risk of sounding corny or over-wrought, I will say that it felt like my whole being was vibrating, maybe singing. I was very much in the state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow, one in which you become so involved in what you are doing that you can lose all sense of time and of yourself. Being able to experience flow states is, according to Csikszentmihalyi, essential to happiness. While I certainly had moments of flow in my earlier teaching experiences, I don’t remember it ever feeling quite like it did this past week. […]

I don’t know what I will be able to do with the understandings that are only just starting to develop. I’m seeing things about teaching, learning, creativity, struggle, work, and rest that I haven’t really understood before. But I’m grateful to be having them, even as they raise some difficult feelings. As I have experienced so much more joy in the past week at work than I had in all of last year, it’s been hard not to also feel anger and regret. Part of me is furious about how much suffering there is in our schools for both students and staff. In our world. We don’t have to do things the way we do them; our systems are a result of our priorities and our choices. If we truly valued our children the way we like to say we do, schools would look and function in radically different ways than they currently do.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Well, that was a fast week

Regular reader of this blog will have been grooving to the music of Pollyanna recently. I met her via Instagram earlier this year and I have been enjoying her music [and her lyrics] since. I can heartily recommend the LP Polly and the Feathers – it’s fantastic. But enough from me, let’s hear from the star herself!

Music, poetry or film? Which speaks the most to you?

Obviously, I’d say music, but as my favourite genre is songs, I guess it’s a little bit of poetry and literature too.

Why music?

Songs are both verbal and non-verbal. This is what I like about music: it addressesanother part of the brain, more emotional (or more mathematical?) even when you can’t put these emotions in words. What I like with songs is that it is also words, but words are not primary in it. First you get the sound, then the melodies/harmonies and then the words. It’s a bit less intellectual, it doesn’t need to be sophisticated, it’s more humble than “hard poetry”, I’d say.

What do you want to evoke in the reader/listener?

I want my songs to get into people’s mind and heart, and see if we can resonate together. I’m looking for some sort of verbal and non-verbal communication. I believe songs can heal, and can make people feel loved. I also have in mind the courses I had about Virginia Woolf in college. We were studying The Waves and streams of consciousness, and how literature and poetry were also an attempt to find some unity in the world that is, otherwise, a collection of sometimes contradictory perceptions. I believe songs can provide that feeling of unity. Especially when you play an instrument: body and soul are then working together, which is probably something I need. Maybe even for my mental health.

Paul Tobin, POLLYANNA: THE INTERVIEW

I’ll be swamped with teaching work soon, but with all this in mind, I just spent some time on Goodreads, giving stars and occasionally brief reviews to books I read this summer. This is an especial kindness to small press authors. None of us can afford to buy every book we might like by every author deserving more attention, but here’s a reminder to do what you can–Goodreads and Amazon reviews, social media praise, library requests, putting new books on your syllabi, whatever sounds doable for you. That circulation of dollars and attention rarely puts much money in a small-press author’s pocket, but it does enable indies to stay afloat, therefore publishing good writers who haven’t hit it big (yet) and keeping the literary world more lively, quirky, and full of risk. It’s much easier for a writer to place the next book when the previous one has done decently. And, of course, love gives a writer heart. This pandemic would have hurt worse without the company of books.

Lesley Wheeler, Pandemic books, like pandemics, keep coming

My reflective practice begins with me writing my journals. I have two journals at the minute – one in which I record my everyday life and observations, one in which I make notes specifically on the novel and also reflect on my own feelings and thoughts around it. Because I really, really struggle with anxiety and, where writing is concerned, this manifests as imposter syndrome, this journalling around the big project I’m working on helps me to pour out all the angst and address it with my rational brain, before I spiral into a proper pit of anxiety. I then read some buddhist lessons or texts (I’ve just finished re-reading Zen Mind, beginner’s Mind) , then I read at least five poems from whatever poetry collection I’m reading and a chapter of whatever novel I’m reading at that time. I drink my coffee, I eat my marmite on toast. Usually there is some chasing of the cat down the garden at this point, trying to extract some poor dead creature from his mouth. […]

One day this week I did not manage to write anything at all, I just arranged and rearranged post it notes. It knocked my confidence a bit because I can feel the month slipping away from me already and I want to make the most of it. The next day I managed 2000 words, so it all evens out. Writing a novel is not an A to Z process. But I am loving it. I am LOVING it. My anxiety is vastly reduced, I feel content and happy and like I’m ‘working well’. When I get into the writing groove in a project it is a phenomenal feeling. It’s like my brain has been working on this project for a good long time and now it’s ready to bring it out from the bottom of the cupboard to show me. I would not change this for the world. And, weirdly, I find myself more productive on the other work stuff I’m doing. I’m enjoying it more because I am being true to myself, I am prioritising my own creative practice and putting my faith in it.

Wendy Pratt, On Sabbatical: The First Week

Sometimes the Light inside of me is so strong and bright that even the stones by my feet have voices. Life opens up like a present, like a gift, and so it is. Listen to the wind, and listen to birds, for they understand the wind. Unwrap the gift. Is this too fast for you? I can go slower.

James Lee Jobe, Unwrap the gift.

What a gorgeous holiday weekend! I did my reading outside, and today is the Labor Day Parade. The blue sky is mostly lifting my personal blues, despite the simmering frustration and ongoing communal grief. I surprised myself by submitting some poems yesterday. Others are coming out this fall. But everything still feels suspended and slightly unreal to me. It helps to prick my fingers on coneflower seeds, sprinkling some on the earth for next year while tidying the flowerbeds. I leave some up all year for the birds. Next year, it’s possible the blackberry lilies and coneflowers and wild violets will take over the universe of my back yard, while lilies of the valley march down into the shared valley between houses. In the meantime, I do hope walking and gardening will undo my crankiness.

Kathleen Kirk, White Noise

In the meantime, I’m returning to Krista Tippet’s Becoming Wise. One section that popped out for me today goes like this:

“Spirituality doesn’t look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you’ve had a long day.”

So I guess I’m a bit of a believer in the church of folding towels. (Of course as the recipient of kind attentions, I’m going to be biased). Folding the towels with sweetness won’t change the world maybe, but as the saying goes, it might change yours.

I don’t know what your bandwidth is these days, so to speak. I know that mine has fluctuated more wildly than it ever has. And then, we all live in various parts of the world, and that changes a lot. Where I am, though, things are really not cool, and getting worse.

But I’ve been thinking about my strategy in my garden. Which is to plant enough flowers so that no one notices the weeds. And in my house, we put up enough art that when someone comes over with some luck they don’t notice the dust. (Easier to do when you’re married to an artist of course). I’m tired and I sure as hell am not sleeping well. But. I think I can plant some bloody flowers.

Shawna Lemay, I Need More Grace than I Thought

Endosymbiosis is the evolutionary phenomenon whereby one organism lives within another for the mutual benefit of both. Our mitochondria that provide us with our all energy need via the oxidative metabolism of sugars are derived from endosymbiont bacteria. Chloroplasts that convert sunlight to energy in plants are also derived from bacterial endosymbionts. At some stage in the future we may be engineered to host bacterial symbionts that can metabolise iron or sulphur or nitrogen to supplement our dwindling energy sources.

The Extreme Politics of Adaptive Endosymbiosis presents a combination of high-definition 10K video, industrial audio, and live vocal performance developed specifically for the giant LED screens of The Lab, Adelaide, South Australia. Source material includes my videos depicting dystopian cities, damaged habitats, and readapted life forms; massively re-processed audio samples of natural and urban environments linked with new video animations; and text written especially for this provocation.

Ian Gibbins, The Extreme Politics of Adaptive Endosymbiosis

–At the time, it seemed like a one time apocalyptic event, a day blazed in our memories.  As the pandemic has unfolded, I’ve reflected on the difference with a slow motion apocalypse, compared to a September 11 kind of event.

–But as I’ve reflected, Sept. 11 has also triggered its own slow motion apocalypse:  wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror and all the ways it transformed individual countries and the world, on and on I could go.  I feel like I had a bigger list at some point, but I can’t pull it up now.

–As we look back, I’m struck by all the opportunities lost along the way, all sorts of opportunities.

–And of course, I wonder what we’re missing now.  When the next apocalypse roars, we will look back and see what?  Will it be the apocalypse we’re expecting (then, mushroom clouds and nuclear war, now all sorts of climate change triggered awfulness)?  History tells us that the answer will be both yes and no.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, September 11, Twenty Years Later

As we look upward with our confusion, the sky will be clear, light shimmering as it catches little particles.  It has blinked and renewed itself.  

Matisse looked up and saw, in his 1944 cut-out, Icarus falling from the sky with a shattered red heart.  It was World War II, a pilot was falling from the lumunious blue sky.  The sky then renewed itself. 

Simone Weil said of the sea: ships are wrecked and sailors are drowned.  The sea causes grief. But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

Jill Pearlman, That Crystalline 9/11 Sky

I’ll never be too old or too young to understand how a tombstone is like an other-worldly paperweight. It holds a part of the dead to the earth, and in our hearts, as what remains of the spirit flies away.

Rich Ferguson, Untitled

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 30

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: summer reading and writing find their apotheosis in the writer’s retreat and the writers’ conference, and we have reports on both, along with considerations of other sorts of renewal and reinvention. Other major themes include childhood memories, and translation of all kinds.


An August Sunday in the city —  empty, empty, empty.  The streets are clearer, blacker, more asphalty, an open stage, an asphalt canvas.  Things, so subservient to people, step up their presence and shine. The shopping bag is always heavier than the slim arm of the walker whose shorts seem longer than his legs.   Orange day lilies have their heady moment, erupting through scrabbly soil and gravelly roadsides; they earn their nicknames — outhouse day lily, roadside, railroad, ditch, washhouse, mailbox, tiger, tawny.  The posts of street lights commune with trees.  The bike dreams the leisurely biker. 

It reminds me of the older version of boredom that used to be baked into summer — good boredom, a chance for something else to erupt through the hard-wired, conquesting surface of  the year’s ambitions.   Reverie and its twin, ennui, will get edged out by extreme weather, health, plagues, breakdowns, etc.  An air current lazing through a screen door, undeterred, unhampered is good work if you can get it.

Jill Pearlman, The Thinginess of Summer

Swayback barn,
the darkness inside.

The wood thinks
of the earth.

The trees there
think of the wind.

Tom Montag, SWAYBACK

Blogger/poet/bookmaker Ren Powell recently suggested going fallow for awhile “to see what comes of it.” I tend to go through fallow periods quite accidentally. Used to call them writer’s block, but I don’t view them like that anymore. Fallow strikes me as a more accurate term for a number of reasons, some of them etymological. In current agriculture, a fallow field remains uncultivated purposely, to rest and improve the soil’s fertility. That seems more accurate to my current state of mind than “dry” or “blocked.”

Consider the field left fallow: plenty goes on there. Weed seeds germinate and sprout, annelids and arthropods, insects, and beetles, in their various life stages, multiply and move about. Voles, mice, toads go a-hunting. Bacteria do their thing. It’s not a lifeless place, the fallow plot.

Ann E. Michael, Fallow me

Yesterday I celebrated myself which is what you do when you embrace radical aloneness the day began at 2 AM when a tsunami alert went off on my phone telling me to prepare for evacuation it was the 8.2 earthquake off the coast of Alaska and didn’t affect us here but the water was exceptionally choppy with strange currents I went back to sleep once I knew my little boat wasn’t setting out 

I did get my ears pierced (again) not at the mall but at the shop where I got my tattoo re-inked right before the plague swallowed us the earrings I chose to keep in my ears are small green gems on surgical steel posts posts that have flat backs so they won’t poke my neck while I sleep which is why I always removed them in the past 

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I have the enormous advantage, now, of being sixty-three, which is the precise age at which one discovers that one will never make oneself new. Whatever I make will be made with the materials at hand: I am a wary, slow-processing, obstinate man who requires a lot of transition time — who likes to wake up before the sun, and to have a couple hours to get used to the idea that a new day is underway, before having to cope with broad daylight. I’m not going to magically turn into anything else. Turning myself into an ideal human being — decisive, quick-witted, and flexible — now that, that would be a task to inspire despair. But I don’t have to do that. I only need to find more fun within my measure, and to take on problems of reasonable scope. Everything else, everything else I can let fall away. I can let it drift away in my slow, dark wake.

Which is not to say that I am not in need of redemption. Oh no, I am not saying that. Not to say that I don’t need a visionary journey, which involves a substantial risk of never returning. I do need, as Paul Simon would say, a shot of redemption. But don’t confuse that with learning to live. They’re two different tasks: they accomplish two different things. Don’t get muddled.

Dale Favier, Learning to Live

We are summer people, all seasons people. Howling, prowling, hallelujah people.

People with pets and houseplants, debts, and dances with wolves.

Punk rock people, easy-listening people.

People of solitude, people rocking Budokan.

Heart flutter and double step, roughneck and smooth-talking people.

Tribal people, marginalized people.

People of the machine, people who’ve built their dreams by hand.

Extraordinary people, earth-loving people. People that create new sounds from alphabet soup.

Rich Ferguson, People

it says nothing, it says everything
hold it up to the light again,
some days, you’ll see a poem

An abating second wave (really?), an enraged monsoon (climate change?), a monday-friday grind that mocks attempts at writing, a shrinking world of poetry suddenly made beautiful by an unexpected poem that drops into my timeline – how’re things in your world? What have you been writing? 

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Hold it up to the light

It’s almost August, and I’m still behind in all things poetry-related but so enjoying each day, each moment of life in summer. Today, I did post a review of What Happens is Neither, by Angela Narciso Torres, at Escape Into Life, and another review is coming soon, August 4, of Dialogues with Rising Tides, by Kelli Russell Agodon. Indeed, my fond (meaning both affectionate and foolish) hope is again to attempt the Sealey Challenge, reading a poetry book a day in August, and posting about it here. My friend Kim enjoyed that last year, as did several of the poets who found themselves here, and I love the whole idea of the challenge. But can I do it this year? 

Today, pursuant to the challenge, I did read a chapbook in advance, as I will be otherwise occupied on August 1 (volleyball, friends). Still, I may post in the middle of the night.

I’m swimming again, which is meditative, a wonderful body-mind blend. I continue to be busy with many details. I think I have a weensy bit of what they are calling “re-entry anxiety,” though I feel calm most of the time, and not at all troubled by wearing a mask into all businesses, even if others aren’t, but my particular county is a current hotspot and masks are being required again, not just recommended, so maybe we’ll see more…masks…or rude resistance, alas. The schools will be requiring masks, a relief!

Kathleen Kirk, Almost August

The firehose of radiant joy in the return to swimming and the successful beginning of rehabbing covid-damage-wrought has passed; now it has become the steady irrigation of my normal relationship with the water.

Somewhere in there, it just quietly became the day to day experience of swimming again.

In other words, equal parts home and hard work. Perfectionist-struggle-frustration mixed with relief-joy-relaxation. […]

And, life, in spades: as I become healthy and strong again, my responsibilities and worries broaden back out from “survive” to “live in this mortal broken world and create as much beauty as possible.”

The cleanup has had me doing less this month than since vaccine, as I’ve been variously on liquid diet and doped up or running around to appointments while also trying my best to be present and accountable for family, book release (3 this year, oof), trying to figure out how I want to and can rebuild my professional and financial life in a sustainable shape post-covid, and refilling my own still-depleted well.

JJS, the quiet joy

No one teaches animals
to resent their bodies.
Show me how to love mine.

As Zohar reminds me,
there is no place
where God is not:

even my asthmatic lungs,
my animal being,
my imperfect heart.

Rachel Barenblat, We are animals too

One of the things this week reminded me of was the importance of the support of friends and family during hard times. Nearly everyone I know has had some hardship with mental health this last year and a half, and we are all in need of more kindness, more tolerance, more support. This week I talked with family, friends all over the country, and even caught up in person with one this weekend, all of which helped me and Glenn regain some sense of normalcy with all the craziness.

The whole thing with Simone Biles, who had a very challenging childhood even before she was sexually abused by her US team gymnastics doctor and went on to become the face of the 2020 Olympics, made me think about how even the very best, most talented people are challenged by the past year’s super stress, that a lot more of us are at our breaking point than we might think. I am wishing that Simone gets all the friend support she needs after this very public “failure” or more accurately, “refusal to perform while she wasn’t feeling up to it.”  It’s a reminder that we are more than our performances, and we all deserved to be valued as human beings, not just gymnastics medal winners, or for the things in our past that we’ve accomplished.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Minor Disasters and Lost Voices, The Importance of Friend Support During a Plague Year

This week has redeemed itself after nine hours of driving across country to the edge of Wales. We have landed in the most peaceful and silent place in the world. Just what we all needed.

I’ve brought some work to do this week and what I’m now starting to worry isn’t enough books. I have a review I must write this week, I’m hoping I may actually manage a poem of my own (not worried if I don’t though.)

I note today is the first day of The Sealey Challenge. I’ve never heard of it before, but it sounds like a good idea. I won’t be actively taking part, but I think I manage at least some reading of poems almost every day of the year, so I won’t beat myself up for not joining in. Most of my reading this week is magazines anyway to help alleviate some of the TBR backlog.

Mat Riches, No States, man

Two years ago I applied for Storyknife and I’m a little emotional tonight that I’ll be driving out early in the morning.  I have so much gratitude for this experience, and also for new friends. Maura Brenin, Storyknife’s Chef, is a poet with food.  Lunch, dinner – each day was something brand new to me and all of it healthy, nourishing, sustaining, and lovely! I’m seriously going to have to up my game from grocery store bag salad and frozen chicken. 

And Erin Coughlin Hollowell who is a poet and Executive Director which means she is not only a woman of words, but oversees all the paperwork and budgetary issues, sets the wasp traps, weeds the flowerbeds, and consults Fish & Game when dork boy moose has wild eyes, flattened ears, and runs wild circles through the yard.  She has an electric drill in one hand, pen in the other, and I’m happy to call her friend, as well.

I was lucky to stay in the Peggy cabin, named for writer Peggy Shumaker.  Peggy’s space is one of creativity and good sleep.  It seemed only fitting to read a few poems tonight from her book, Cairn

And thank you to Writer Dana Stabenow – at work up the hill writing her 55th novel. I enjoyed the evening she joined us for supper. 

The walls are naked again and I’ve just bundled up 66 poems, friends!  They are poems dabbling in stars, lust, shelter, and birds.  They are of wild places and states of being. Some new, many edited and revised. I’ll take them home and hang them in an empty room for the winter.  Sucker holes will light them up with sun, and through an open window, an invite – Come hither, wind.  Do your work. Eventually, I’ll find a path through this writing.

Kersten Christianson, Storyknife Writers Retreat, July 2021

If you’ve read either of my haiku collections, you’ll know I have a fondness for rivers; but then, who doesn’t? Living in the middle of England, fifty-five miles from the nearest coastline, landlock naturally means that I gravitate to rivers and canals. Rotherham is where the Rother ends, at its confluence with the Don.

The upstream Don has long ago been split so that part of it forms and is shadowed by the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation, i.e. canal. It bends round the back of Rotherham United’s New York Stadium, in the New York part of the town, because the steel produced locally was used to make the fire hydrants in NYC. There, today, Lyn and I saw the first of probably five or six lots of sand martins. I don’t think there is a collective noun for sand martins and I’m struggling to think of a word which would be appropriate other than something like ‘joyfulness’. They are one of my favourite birds and always an absolute pleasure to encounter. I’ve written a few sand martin haiku over the years, and this, written on the Skirfare and published in both Wing Beats and The Lammas Lands, is probably the best of them:

river loop—
a sand martin squirms
into its nest hole

Matthew Paul, Quiet flows the Don

The weather has been a bit rubbish here so I’ve been catching up on some reading and writing. Magazines tend to drop through the letterbox all at the same time, so I’m still working my way through current issues of PN Review, The Dark Horse, Poetry, The Poetry Review and Lighthouse. So far I’ve particularly enjoyed poems by Donna Aza Weir-Soley in Poetry, Isabel Galleymore in The Poetry Review (‘Then, one spring in which every dawn came/ pigletty and the blossom trees were really putting in / the work’), Diane Thiel in The Dark Horse and Josh Ekroy in Lighthouse.

Poet friend Claire Booker kindly gave me a copy of The Language of Salt, an anthology of poems ‘on love and loss’ which so far looks to be an excellent range of poems from poets both known and new to me.

Meanwhile I have a number of full collections by my bed – Sometimes I Never Suffered by Shane McCrae (Corsair) has gripped me, particularly I think because I’m deep in Dante at the moment. I found McCrae’s ‘Hastily Assembled Angel’ sequence strange and moving. Then there’s Mortal Trash by Kim Addonizio (Norton). I always reach for Addonizio when I’m feeling jaded or all out of fresh words and it’s like a shot of adrenaline. YEEESS!

Robin Houghton, Currently reading & other summery (?) things

Conference veterans told me that Sewanee has been democratized in a big way: lunch tables with agents used to be arranged via sign-up, cocktails at the French House used to be limited to faculty and fellows, etc. All of that is gone. Did I still feel the hierarchy? Absolutely. Some of it is what we’re here for, frankly. I want to hear from writers whose achievements I admire and get a window into what high-profile publishers are thinking. Sometimes, though, I felt invisible, and my ego took bumps. A graduate student advised me on how to submit to a magazine I’ve published in multiple times, sigh. One editor told me, during our twenty-minute meeting, that I should sit down with him at a meal sometime, and when I did, he didn’t even acknowledge I was there. (That one was hilarious, actually. Over it.) The jockeying for status could be intense. But other people at every level of career success were remarkably open and kind and funny and encouraging. I suspect these dynamics are bound to occur when humans get together for any common purpose: dentistry conventions, quilting bees, spiritual retreats. Imagine the delicate snark of monks.

My occasional feelings of invisibility are partly on me. I started off anxious, which made me quiet, and then powerful readings and workshops stripped off my doing-okay veneer. I (briefly) fell into a pit of grief about my mother then climbed out again. Feeling fragile, I don’t think I made the most of my opportunities, although I relaxed some in the final few days and gave a good reading. I also remembered, oh, I don’t want to compete with the literary players, although it’s good to join the lunch table once in a while and see how it feels. I REALLY get that people have to protect their time and energy. But watching the eminences here and elsewhere, I aspire to be one of the friendly, non-power-hoarding types, if I ever hit the big league, which isn’t friggin’ likely for me or anybody.

The career introspection triggered here has been useful. I clarified for myself about what I want for future book-publishing experiences, for instance. I met a ton of writers whose work I like and will follow. Shenandoah will get subs from new people this year containing the sentence, “It was such a pleasure to meet you at Sewanee!” I’ll send a few of those subs to other people. It’s all good.

The most important thing, though, is the work itself. I have a lot of feedback to sort through, but I’ve already identified some habits I’ve fallen into as a poet that need interrogation. I have ideas about how to transform some messy poems into their best selves. I also see how to improve work I’ve been doing in other genres–the fiction and nonfiction talks and readings have been great. Even advice that I wouldn’t implement gives me information about how my work is coming through to different kinds of readers.

A few more readings, a booksigning party, and then I pack up and drive to NC tomorrow to meet my family at a rented beach house, where the long decompression begins! Well, not too long. Damn you, August, I am not ready.

Lesley Wheeler, Conference report containing not nearly enough gossip

12:30 a.m. I’m in the van listening to The Fugs First Album because I’m getting an advanced degree in Catching Up On Shit I Missed The First Time Around. My rage is diminishing so I need to avoid yours. The youngest shows me Queen Anne’s Lace growing from a mud patch. I think she quickly crossed herself like the flower was a miracle. Maybe I imagined it. It’s hard to write seriously while The Fugs are playing “Boobs a Lot.” We make jokes and watch Fast & Furious movies and I miss my own kids but I can’t go back there. I had a girlfriend once whose dad played with the Holy Modal Rounders so I’m two degrees removed from The Fugs. She also went to school with Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins’s kids but I don’t feel like I’m two degrees from them even though I loved Bull Durham. Now “Nothing” is playing and it’s bringing up some hazy memory of hearing this song live but I’ve never seen Ed Sanders so maybe I imagined that too.

Jason Crane, Nothing

that old song
I am sunk in the flowing
of the way it was

Jim Young [no title]

I remember the principal I hated calling me to his office to accuse me of things I didn’t do, to tell me I was nobody, to shame me. I remember feeling shame even though I was innocent.

I remember being guilty. I remember leading a pack of girls in making Donita cry in the bathroom. I remember hating Donita and not knowing why, and hating myself for making her cry, and hating the other girls for following me, and hating Donita even more for crying behind the locked door of a bathroom stall while we taunted her from the sinks.

I remember going to the library every Saturday and consuming books like they were candies. I remembering reading all weekend long to go numb, to pass time, to dream, to escape.

I remember my friend Toni developing full breasts when the rest of us wore training bras, and I remember the day Mr. Buer had us vote on whether or not he should throw Toni’s beautiful map in the garbage because she’d turned it in without her name on it, and my despair at things I couldn’t name as I watched it slide into the wastebasket while tears rolled down her cheeks.

I remember my dad, years later, telling me that it was so hard to watch me lose my confidence as I became a teen-ager and what happened, anyway?

Rita Ott Ramstad, I remember: Elementary school edition

Back in the late sixties, NASA was looking for a way to select for the most creative scientists and engineers. George Land and Beth Jarman created a creativity test to identify those who were best able to come up with new and innovative ways to solve problems. It worked remarkably well. Land and Jarman, as they explain in Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future Today, used the same basic test on 1,600 three-to-five year old children enrolled in Head Start. They were shocked to discover a full 98 percent of children age five and under tested at genius level. They managed to get funding to test these children over time. Dishearteningly, only 30 percent of 10-year-olds scored at the creative genius level. That number dropped to 12 percent at 15 years of age. They expanded the scope of their research, giving the test to 280,000 adults with an average age of 31. Only two percent were, according to the results, creative geniuses.

George Land attributes the slide in creativity to schooling. When it comes to creativity, we use two forms of mental processes. Convergent thinking is necessary for judging and critiquing ideas, in order to refine and improve them. This is a fully conscious process. Divergent thinking is more freeform and imaginative, resulting in innovative ideas that may need refining. This process is more like daydreaming. Land suggests many school assignments require children to use both processes at once, which is nearly impossible, resulting in predominantly convergent thinking. We are taught, unintentionally, to turn off our creativity. Now that is painful. In my view, creativity is the essence of who we are. If anything, it isn’t connected to pain, but to healing.

Laura Grace Weldon, Writing, Creativity, Suffering

In the ticking drone
and hum ablaze in the trees—

In the wet and darkblue provinces
crossed by long-legged birds—

In the tender aglow
of disappearing afternoons—

sometimes I catch hold of those
parts of a life we didn’t lose

after all

Luisa A. Igloria, Here

I’m in a place I’ve never been to before, staying here for two weeks, and I’m more unsettled than I usually am in such a situation. I love my rut and routines. Change makes me anxious. Usually, though, new places make me curious and happy to explore, happy to find corners where I’m comfortable, happy to find new things to look at. But somehow here, I don’t know. It’s odd. So I’m trying to write out of this strange unsettledness. 

I think that’s a good thing. I hope the work comes out as strange as I feel, as uneasy, a bit jagged. (Or maybe that’s my insomnia talking. My old stand-by, an over the counter sleep med, seems to have deserted me in effectiveness. There is nought between me and the void of sleeplessness.)

Maybe this is the strangeness of the entire past year catching up with me, or the losses, the uncertainties. 

Maybe it’s just that I’m very place-oriented, alive to how I interact with my environment, and this place is not, for some reason, sitting easily on my skin.

Marilyn McCabe, Step right up; or, Writing Out of Uncertainty

Another thing that has given me a bit of whiplash has been the sorting that I’ve been doing:  boxes of memorabilia, boxes of rough drafts, shelves of books, closets of clothes.  This sorting has been giving me a case of the twisties, where I go whirling into space and worry about a crash landing.On the one hand, I’m amazed: look at all the stuff I’ve written through the years, and here’s every card my parents ever sent me and letters from all sorts of friends through the years. On the other hand, it makes me sad. I look at a huge pile of short stories I wrote and old poems, and that mean voice inside says, “Why aren’t you a more successful writer?” I look at cards I’ve kept from people I can no longer tell you who they are, and I feel sad for letting go of people. Then I wonder if they let go of me because I’m such a bad friend, even though I think I’m a good friend. That’s a bad spiral.

It’s so easy to remember all the times I let people down, but not think about all the times that I’ve been supportive. At times, as I’ve sorted through things, I’ve wondered if my spouse would have been happier with someone else, someone with more similar interests, someone who wasn’t as self-contained as I can be. Maybe he would have been happier now, with healthier habits.

Or maybe he’d have felt smothered and left that person and now be living under a bridge. I do realize there are worse outcomes than what he has now and the ideal life that I imagine he could have had with someone else.

I also look at old pictures, and I feel like this woman that once had interests and read books, but now gets home from work and just watches mindless TV. I tell myself that once we get the move done and the house ready for market, I’m likely to have interests again. And getting all the seminary and candidacy stuff done has been a huge project. I do have interests, but they’re not the usual ones that people talk about. But then there’s that mean voice in my head again.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Whiplash and Twisties

Many thanks to the editors at Hoxie Gorge Review for publishing my new poem “Union Square” in the latest issue. You can read it at this link, plus be sure to check out all the lovely poetic company I’m in. 

Honestly, I haven’t written anything since January and after the cancer diagnosis and treatment, I’d totally forgotten I had submitted work to a few journals. The acceptance by Hoxie Gorge was a nice boost. I’ve got a bunch of lines in search of poems on the Notes app of my phone, so “Union Square” (which I wrote five years ago!) finally finding a home is good motivation. 

I’m in the middle of the third week of radiation treatment and, so far, the only side-effects have been a little dry mouth and some soreness in my jaw. I’d be thrilled if that was the extent of it. 

Collin Kelley, New poem “Union Square” in Hoxie Gorge Review

I have two new poems, ‘To Love One Another’ and ‘True Crime’ in The North magazine, Issue 66, (the ‘Apart Together’ issue) available to pre-order here. In the same publication, I’ve reviewed new poetry collections by Katherine Stansfield (Seren Books), Maria Taylor (Nine Arches Press) and Jackie Wills (Arc Poetry).

I’m continuing to post new visual pieces, at least once a month, at @andothermaterial, an Instagram account for my visual poetry, collage poems, mixed media, experiment, playfulness and seriousness. I’m delighted that a recent piece of my visual work has been selected by the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England to be made into a badge for a symposium on Printed Poetry at the Arnolfini arts centre in Bristol in October. First time I’ve been published on a badge!

Josephine Corcoran, New poems, reviews and visual pieces

Well, I should be on holiday – campsite booked, tent in the boot – and then my lovely lurcher got a grass seed in his paw! So, between hot poultices and visits to the vet, I’m writing a quick post: a review of Scattered Leaves by Kanchan Chatterjee (published in Presence earlier this month). […]

Scattered Leaves is full of the sights and sounds of India: tea sellers and border guards, monsoon rain and muggy nights. There is often a feeling of time passing, tinged with a sense of loss, as in the following:

long night …
the heap of incense
grows

fresh firewood
ashes at the burning ghat …
year’s end

Themes of aging and death often centre on the poet’s father:

dad’s monitor glows
through the ICU window
a sudden cuckoo

after the chemo
a cuckoo calls in between
dad’s whispers

Sometimes Chatterjee’s use of repetition can lack impact; there are a few haiku which are almost identical. Nevertheless, this book is full of finely observed detail, depicting a country where tradition and progress exist side by side, where ‘the faded chrysanthemums/ on mom’s shawl‘ and ‘a plastic rose/ nodding on the dashboard‘ inhabit the same cultural space.

Julie Mellor, Scattered Leaves

Toronto poet, translator, editor and publisher Mark Goldstein’s latest, Part Thief, Part Carpenter (Toronto ON: Beautiful Outlaw, 2021), subtitled “SELECTED POETRY, ESSAYS, AND INTERVIEWS ON APPROPRIATION AND TRANSLATION,” exists as an incredibly thorough book-length study that opens into a field of thinking; a book about literature, poetic structure and approach. Comprised of essay-scraps, quoted material, interviews, poems and translations and other materials collaged into a hefty study around writing, Goldstein tracks the varieties of ways in which literary work is built. In many ways, this collection expands upon everything he has done through his own writing up to this point, including the suggestion that literary translation and appropriation exist as but two points along a spectrum of literary response and recombination.

The scope and accomplishment of this work is remarkable, opening into a collage of multiple directions, all while furthering a single, coherent argument that connects translation to appropriation—an approach that runs from erasure to recombinant works to more conceptual works. Goldstein argues how all of the above can be seen as a variation on translation: the act of reworking and changing forms (and, for more conceptual works, context). There aren’t too many critics outside academic circles in Canada working on ‘personal studies’ on poetry and poetics in this way, and Goldstein has previously offered that one of his examples and mentors has been the infamous bookseller and critic Nicky Drumbolis, a literary thinker that produced his own life’s work, God’s Wand: The Origins of the Alphabet(Toronto ON: Letters Bookshop, 2002).

Structured into nine chapters, the first four of which are grouped under “ON APPROPRIATION,” and the final five under “ON TRANSTRANSLATION,” Goldstein writes of translation and Paul Celan, one of his deepest and most enduring influences, and how Celan’s work has helped shape his own aesthetic and thinking. He writes on specific works by Caroline Bergvall, Lyn Hejinian, Ronald Johnson, Pierre Joris, John Cage and Charles Bernstein. He writes on flarf, Oulipo and translation. He offers poems, both in his own translation and of his own making. He quotes long passages from multiple writers and thinkers, shaped and collaged together, and in many cases, simply allowing the material to speak for itself. There is an enormous amount of play displayed in the shaping of this collection, and Goldstein is clearly having a great deal of fun working through his research. In one section, he translates a single poem ten different ways, offering translation as a shaping and reshaping of form, playing off structures and rhythms utilized by poets including Susan Howe, Robert Creeley, Amiri Baraka, Ted Berrigan and Gertrude Stein. Through Goldstein, translation isn’t a simple matter of allowing readers of one language the opportunity to experience writing originally produced in another language, but a way in which words are shaped, categorized and shifted, and the possibility of a far more open sequence of choices.

rob mclennan, Mark Goldstein, Part Thief, Part Carpenter

On many occasions, the whole set of connotations of a word in one language simply cannot be conveyed in another. One such example would be the statement Espero in Spanish. In English, this could be translated in several ways, but the three main options would be as follows:

1) I wait

2) I expect

3) I hope

The translator firstly finds themselves forced to interpret which version the original writer might have intended to communicate, as all three cannot be succinctly retained in English. Secondly, meanwhile, they’re consequently obliged to remove any ambiguity that the original might (or might not) have sought to play on among those three potential meanings. And thirdly, the verb esperar is loaded with the same three etymological, social and emotional connotations that cannot be conveyed in English by a single word. 

In other words, for instance, when a Spaniard expects something, they’re linguistically aware that they’re also hoping and waiting for it. An English speaker is not. No matter how we dress up a translator’s syntactic and semantic dance, how can such tensions ever be resolved to any degree of satisfaction, how can the same ambiguities and multiplicities of meaning be preserved? 

Matthew Stewart, Espero, an example of the perils of translation

This week I’m excited to feature the work of friend and dynamic poet, Dimitri Reyes. His recent collection, Every First & Fifteenth (Digging Press), came out earlier this month and is connecting with people on a variety of levels. I have long admired the presence in his work, a presence of honesty and clarity.

This honesty and clarity can be seen in “3rd Generation,” featured below along with a statement from the poet. This poem incorporates presence in terms of naming and switching between languages, in both cases using the necessary words to say what’s needed. Along with that, there is the clarity of experience. When the speaker of this poem states “Our countries are our minds,” it is a clear if heavy truth.

Anybody whose family has a history of immigration and marginalization can attest to the trauma and weight of navigating on a number of planes: the physical, the mental, the emotional, all as much as the linguistic. This navigating means being always switching and performing, questioning one’s self and one’s validity, trying always to figure out who we need to be to fit into a given moment. Much like the title of his collection and its allusion to living check to check, the marginalized experience is one of negotiating what space one finds one’s self in and what one needs to survive. This constant motion wears on a person.

And yet, in the face of this exhaustion, and often because of it, one scratches together a sense of clarity. Our survival is earned not in some vague notion of “earning” associated with bootstraps, but in actual effort and perseverance. Because what is presence if not a kind of perseverance? When the poet states that “Our countries are our minds,” they are acknowledging the multiplicity of existence. Reyes’ ability to articulate and speak to that multiplicity is a gift, one that I am glad to be able to share with you here.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Dimitri Reyes

Melanie Hyo In Han was born in Korea, raised in East Africa and lives in America. Her poems are drawn from her experiences and explore culture, belonging and identity and knowledge gained through translation work between English, Korean and Spanish. […]

In “Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lips”, Melanie Hyo In Han explores what compromises are made to belong when your cultural and ethnic heritage differs from the people around you and asks how far those compromises should go. She acknowledges her attitudes towards heritage and language and how these impact those closest to her. There is trauma, sensitively approached and probed. Ultimately, these are compassionate poems, driven by a desire to share and communicate, carrying the reader as witness to reach a shared understanding.

Emma Lee, “Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lips” Melanie Hyo In Han (Finishing Line Press) – book review

Today, I’d like to think aloud about making a convincing photograph, on presenting photographs, on being intentional with our work. All with the caveat, I have no idea what I’m doing and am really just learning this all as I go. But what I’m learning about photography might also apply to the practice of writing, or painting, or making any art, and maybe even life, so here are some things that I’ve been reading:

 “Making a convincing photograph of a beautiful place is as hard as writing a convincing story about good people. We want to believe, but a lot of evidence stands in the way.”

—Robert Adams, in Art Can Help.

And then with Edmonton, there is beauty here, but a lot of evidence stands in the way of that too. Part of me thinks that before sharing a photo I should ask myself certain questions: is the photograph convincing? Is it beautiful? Does it astonish? What am I hoping that the photograph will convey? Is it worthy of taking up real estate on the internet, the feed, the flow? Is it part of a conversation? What does it say?

What happens anyway if we just assume a place has beauty? Take that as a given?

But then I remember that sometimes we learn the answer to these questions, only by throwing our work out there. When we allow our work to be seen, it changes how we see it. So, when we steadily share work that maybe isn’t always stellar, there are a lot of things we learn about how we wish to proceed. Complicated and contradictory at times, yes?

Shawna Lemay, A Convincing Photograph

Del Toro is always much loved for his monsters and creatures, but it’s those incredible sets and wide shots that kill me. Crimson Peak’s crumbling manse filled with black moths. The cabin in the woods of Mama where the children are found, midcenury, but also in ruin. Pan’s labyrinth and its steep staircase into the earth. So much of filmmaking is that visual–those wide, unwinding shots. An immersiveness that swallows you completely. With The Shape of Water, I kept pausing the movie to make it last longer, to marvel at what was on the screen. 

I try to think about how that sort of world-building translates to poems. Since most poems are pretty short–even most series or books of poems are short–you have less time, but I’d like to think this makes it more difficult but also easier, especially given that poems have permission to be more dreamlike than fiction. To create that world in a small book demands skill. Rather than setting it up carefully, you have to jump right in before even building the boat sometimes  Or you are building it as you go.  So often when I am assembling a full-length mss. I am looking for the series of work that not only share thematic similarities, but also exist in the same world.  Or could if it were real. It’s not necessarily limited by time or space.   

Kristy Bowen, film notes | underwater world-building

You see that I made a distinction between ‘real poems’ and ‘stocking-fillers’ which, when I come to think about it, is as foolish as putting a capital P on Poetry or a capital L on Literature, and thinking that is a tenable proposition. For that, mea culpa. Because sometimes I’ve set out to write a bit of ‘entertainment’ and found that the poem has ideas of its own. I guess this is particularly true of dramatic monologues. There’s a long tradition of the dramatic monologue in music hall performance, and it sort of slips into the folk scene, via Marriott Edgar’s brilliant creations like ‘Albert and the Lion’ which were immortalised in Stanley Holloway’s recorded performances of them . You can hear their influence in some of the work of Pam Ayres and Mike Harding. 

There’s the music hall at one end of the spectrum, and, I suppose, Shakespeare at the other, and in the notional middle, between the two kinds of performance art, there’s the printed poem. So many of them sink into your subconscious sense of how characters can be created, how they can be made to sound, from the appalling duke of Browning’s ‘My last duchess’ to Tony Harrison’s dead Iraqi soldier or David Constantine’s five monomaniacs in ‘Monologue’. If you were to ask about the appeal of the dramatic monologue for me, it’s the liberation of wearing a mask, and the genuine enjoyment of discovering the accent, the ideolect of the persona. 

John Foggin, Stocking-fillers [5]. Trades and voices

behind my eyes
I see Anne Sexton’s little owl
draw breath

between dungaree thighs
dark as Byron’s night
and drawl out

unnoticed rhyme
punching in the words
like rivets

Dr. Omed, On Reading Sexton’s To Bedlam And Part Way Back

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 22

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, many bloggers took an existential turn. Others aired grievances and critiques. Sometimes they converged. Enjoy.


Fox barking to my right, to my left: what does it mean to be open? Risk, and patience. One bark after another, on and on they call and respond. Once home, once lost, once dead and blue at the bottom of the stair, stepped over: dream. Just a dream. The calls of foxes sound like screaming coughs, lungs gone closed and blued: I remember my dreams, even the ones I’d forget. What does it mean, “a wild patience has taken me this far,” if risk, if death? They bark and bark, echoing against June midnight, mountain. Crickets. Frogs. A whiffle of horse, a sussurus of sleep. I miss her, also gone. The new ones make sure to say my name.

JJS, Almost-ghazal, vulpine

and the rain
fell in one
long story
we sidestepped
between trees
i tripped my length
into fallen water
and you chased
a hare
into a rainbow

Dick Jones, dog sutras

You asked me once to tell about the whales
still in the deep places, untroubled. So I did.
I had a voice that persuaded then: I was young
and believed in victory. Far out to sea and far below,
I said, they are moving, huge and slow, older than us,
older than time, waiting us out. They know places still
that we do not. At last you fell asleep,
exhausted by fear and wretchedness: but I lay awake
and all night the stars picked their way across the sky.

Dale Favier, The Doubts

There are even organisms      

that rarely die simply because they get  old. Take the immortal jellyfish, for instance: faced
     with danger or threat, its clear, pulsing tent dandelion-ringed with 90 stingers might hitch a ride
     on the bottom of a cargo ship; or better yet, press the reset button to change itself back into a polyp.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Immortal Jellyfish Says No to Your Ageist Crap

The 27 year old finds a picture of your house, a picture of your writing room.  She imagines long mornings writing in dappled sunlight, drinking strong coffee.  She does not consider the long hours you have to work in your non-writing job to pay for the writing room where you never get to stay long enough. 

The 27 year old thinks about her own life trajectory, so much of it yet to come.  She thinks about your trajectory, both your writing arc and the other elements of your life’s narrative.  She cannot realize how fast it all goes, how one minute you are just starting out, full of resolve, ready to change the world with your words, and then the next minutes, decades have disappeared, while you still feel like your younger self.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writer Me: Younger Me, Older Me

between the soul and its autumn :: all of time can be found

Grant Hackett [no title]

I was, I wasn’t, I am, I’m not, I will be, I won’t be
I shot twenty-four arrows this afternoon
one hit the small pink target on the hay bale
the rest disappeared into the mist

I have a post office box & a driver’s license
am I real now?

Jason Crane, POEM: vespers

How many of you remember The Interlude on television, when there was only one (b/w) channel and a 17” screen was regarded as excessive, and potentially damaging to eyesight unless you lived  in a huge house? Programme sequences were interrupted intermittently by the interlude. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because the programmers had all grown up with the notion that visual entertainment like the theatre and the cinema traditionally had interval breaks when you could in one case go to the bar, and in another, buy an ice cream from a lady with a tray. Or maybe they thought that television posed too great a challenge to the concentration and/or eyesight, and that viewers needed a break for reasons of health and safety. 

Whatever the  reason, there would be a break that might feature a gently turning windmill or the hands of a person you never saw working at a potter’s wheel. It’s only just now struck me that they both involved turning wheels. Why? Are wheels soothing? If you use Google, you’ll find there was also one with a lady working a spinning wheel, but every now and then, a kitten playing with a ball of wool, and one of teams of horse drawn ploughs.

So I thought that if it was good enough for the BBC in its pomp, it was good enough for me. One reason why I write poems, and about poems, is that some years ago I used to go to folk clubs which were essentially sing-/play-arounds. The organiser would point to me and say “are you performing” and I’d say no and that would be it, until one night the organiser said ‘can’t you do a poem or something’. That’s how it started.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers

What struck me about the movie [I Used to Go Here], which was enjoyable enough, was a scene with the writer and a student in a cafe, where she begins to suggest edits and is cut off by the young writer’s reluctance to change her work in the interest of making it “publishable.” Set aside that most fiction writers have no idea about the experience of poets, and vice-versa, and the fact that it was weird they were having the conversation in the first place. There was something familiar and aggravating about the scene.  Especially given the main character’s queasy dissatisfaction with her publishing experience–no control on the edits, the cover, a general dislike of the book she just put into the world. The younger writer, who seems unliked by her fellow students for whatever reason,  is self-possessed enough to hold her ground in a way I’m not sure I would have been, even at 30.  She mentions that she likes her title and has no desire to change things for publishability. Is, in fact, planning on starting a press to publish work she wants to. You watch as the main character is both flabbergasted and deeply uncomfortable by the conversation, even mocking when she learns of the press and dismissive of the work she is shown.

It’s familiar because it happens to many of us.  Maybe all of us. When I was in my MFA program, I’d already started an online journal and was on the verge of starting the press, and yet people I met seemed one of two things–shocked or surprised, and largely put-off.  Instead of support, it was like a dirty little secret.   I once had a conversation with a male student I didn’t know all that well, and in the hallway outside class, he told me he “didn’t believe the things people said about” me and I was really confused.  I always felt like an outsider anyway–being slightly older, working for the college, being further along in publishing my work, and also, writing at a different stage in my development. I had a full-time job, creative distractions and limited time, so I wasn’t as much part of the socializing so many people talk about in programs. In the first few weeks of the very first workshop people seemed to at first, love my work, then slowly begin to hate it. The comments went from nice, to really mean, and I don’t think the work changed all that much. Later, I went out for a beer with two classmates and they said people didn’t like me because I didn’t seem to give a fuck about all of it, and maybe I didn’t.  It got better, I was part-time, so actually took classes over a four year span, and better and more self-directed poets joined on later and did things like start journals and presses and do the work of poeting.  The first year left a taste in my mouth, though, that never fully went away. 

Sometimes, I page back through this blog from those years, where I was very honest about my experience and my struggles.  I would fault myself not as not caring, but maybe caring too much about the wrong things. Or the things that weren’t for me. Unlike the younger writer in the film, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to question things like that publicly–that push to fit things into neat publishable boxes and to do things the way they’d been done only because someone said that was where they were done.  I might do so secretly under cover of the internet, but not in person. I saw so much bad advice in those years. For me and my classmates. I’m always shocked at the stats on MFA-ers who never write another word, but I get it. I totally do. 

Kristy Bowen, film notes | the mfa on screen

Sitting on my mother’s couch in Rohnert Park, watching the blue and red flashing lights on the television screen, I realized what must have happened. Of all the times for this to occur, my first and so far only reading at Moe’s happened to coincide with an event that included the possibility of violence. Not even the most die-hard poetry fans would risk bodily injury to hear me read, nor should they. The five people who’d come must not have realized what was going on just a few blocks from the bookstore. I felt bad for them.

In What Could Possibly Go Wrong, which starts with an illuminating quote from Harry Crews: “The artist lives in an atmosphere of perpetual failure,” the issue of scheduling comes up often. Lola Haskins’ university reading was empty due to the simultaneous audience-sucks of a very important test plus another famous speaker; Jo McDougall was pre-empted by Monica Lewinsky’s TV interview; Marilyn Stablein was upstaged by a “faculty event.” Bar noise, changes in personnel, and lack of promotion added to the woes of reading in front of an audience. 

On the back cover, after the price, a short phrase sums up the book’s classifications: Bad Luck / Fate / Literature. Sounds like the plot of a Russian novel. 

Or the life of a poet.

Erica Goss, My Worst Poetry Reading

I came across an article the other day that reminded me that instead of hopelessly dreading my likely failure to make the most of a good opportunity, I could consider planning ways to manage stress. Self-help is not my preferred genre, and I have successfully avoided lots of pieces about social reentry post-Covid, but I was click-baited this time by a title about “using sobriety strategies,” about which I know little. Plus I’m desperate. The Washington Post article by Erin Shaw Street is here, although I don’t know if the link will work for everyone.

In short, the advice is to “start with acceptance”–this reentry thing will probably take a while, and that’s okay. “Have a plan, but stay flexible”: well, I always have a plan. My idea was to turn the week into a writer’s retreat at home, so my spouse is visiting family. Next week I’ll order out, let the dust pile up, and refuse to answer email. Write write write, I thought, and get back on the submission train, too. Maybe even use the empty house to lay out all my recent poems and see if they’re beginning to form a new collection! My revised plan: sure, try all that stuff, but if it doesn’t work, just do my workshop, make the best of my two 15-minute meetings with fancy editors, forgive myself if some of it falls flat, and otherwise chill. That’s the “pay attention to your feelings” part, which lately have made themselves very clear. “Practice gratitude and mindfulness”: well, all right, I know breathing exercises and I’ve actually worked on mindfulness lately, in my distracted way. What I’m proudest of, by the way of emotional planning, is in the “having a group of trusted friends to call on” category. I have actually scheduled a phone chat with Jeannine Hall Gailey right before the conference, because she is the best literary cheerleader I know. How about that! Me, planning a social interaction for my own sake, because it will make me feel connected and maybe even slightly more confident!! Miracles can happen. I also wrote the principles on a post-it note and stuck it on my office window frame, hoping I’ll stick with the program.

Lesley Wheeler, Conference anxiety times a million

And in my writing life, it’s been a season of rejection, rejection, rejection. Yes, I try to comfort myself that I’ve been lucky enough to have five poetry books published, or that I’ve gotten into some of my dream journals, or that I have wonderful supportive poet friends to help celebrate the wins and mourn the losses. But sometimes I wonder if the rewards are worth the effort. So, if one day I just stopped writing or sending out poetry, it’s not like anyone would demand it or clamor for my next book. To be honest, I also wonder about the effort of keeping this blog up as well – it does take time and energy, and I’m not sure that many people even read it (thanks, those that read and comment though, of course!)

I don’t want you to think it’s all gloom and doom in my head; it’s not. And I certainly recognize that many people, including some of my friends and family, have had it much worse than me lately. Every poet probably struggles with rejection, and we do tend to be prone to melancholy; it’s been a hard year for everyone; I recognize that catastrophic feelings don’t help anything. I think it would be nice if I could feel like I was able to do something useful again in the world, get paid for my work, or at least feel like I was helping others. I’m writing an essay for an anthology on speculative work and I’ll be offering an online class on speculative poetry soon (of course I’ll post details when it’s closer.) So those projects are good. And I really am thinking about moving forward on acquiring a place to use as a writer’s retreat – La Conner, WA or Port Townsend, WA maybe? So I’m trying to see the good things coming. I promise.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Butterflies, Sunny Days and Speculative Poetry Picks, Broken Teeth and Meditations on Melancholy

I have a pamphlet of poems without a publisher – that is, I haven’t found a publisher who wants the poems – that is, I’ve sent the pamphlet to two pamphlet competitions without luck. So, you could say I haven’t tried that hard to find a publisher, perhaps because I have doubts about the pamphlet as a whole, but earlier this year I made a decision to put these poems to one side, for now, which has been liberating and released some new writing energy. I’m now working on new poems, approaching them in a completely different way to usual, and gradually accumulating poems that might be a book, eventually. Individual poems from my unpublished pamphlet – I think of it as a ghost pamphlet – have been published in magazines and perhaps I will be able to salvage some of those poems and include them in my newer manuscript. Not an unhappy state to be in, just not a state brimming with success.

Josephine Corcoran, End of month blog and some wildflower poems

1. Compile a rough draft of a draft of a draft manuscript.

2. Slash and burn – round 1/n. Doubt spelling, suspect grammar, hate most lines.

3. Cold acceptance that this is crap but maybe it is marginally better than other crap. No? Probably not.

4. Idea! Write new poems. Abandon idea.

5. Existential question: To book or not to book?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, 10 steps to a new poetry book

I say if a lit mag can’t get to your submission in 6 months, they have to publish it whether they want to or not. I mean, by that point hope has been sparked in the little writer’s otherwise dark and bitter heart. And a year with no reply? That spark has lit the kindling. “Surely that they kept it this long means it’s in the line-up,” the writer begins to allow herself to think, warming her hands on the fire. Come on, lit mags, are you really going to send your hard, cold rain down now, douse the small flame?

Yes. Apparently, yes. Back in 2018 I submitted to a magazine I had been published in before. A year and eight months later I got a rejection. Standard reject, no “thanks for your patience,” no “sorry it took us a while.” (That’s the last they’ll hear of ME. THAT’ll learn ’em.) Not to mention the no-simultaneous-submissions mag that’s now had three poems for six months.

Talk about being nibbled to death by ducks. My goodness po is a terrible biz.

Marilyn McCabe, Bird on a wire; or, On Seeking Publication

Nell also mentions an interesting and often-since-asserted observation by Billy Collins, made two decades ago, that, in Britain, ‘the number of poets is equal to the number of readers of poetry’. Nell, rightly I think, says that there may well be more poets than there are readers of poetry. Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but 10 or 15 years ago, when I was directly employed by a certain south-west London local authority, there was an article in the staff newspaper about a member of staff who had self-published a pamphlet of his poems and who was quoted as saying words-to-the-effect that he didn’t read contemporary poets because he considered none of them to be worthy of his attention. It hadn’t seemed to occur to him that potential readers of his pamphlet might agree with him and therefore decide that his output was equally unworthy of their attention. I have no idea whether he sold any copies. I hope not. The sheer arrogance of someone wanting to write and air poems without first reading widely and absorbing the lessons of their reading into their own poetry-writing goes beyond (predominantly male) entitlement to the point of being downright peculiar. He’s probably since progressed to become one of those people who go along to open mic sessions to read their poem, invariably exceeding their time-slot, then leave at the interval so that there’s no possibility that they might feel obliged to hear too many of anyone else’s poems or to look at, let alone buy, any of the books on sale. (I realise, though, that not everyone has the financial wherewithal to buy books.)

Nell also says that ‘a good and loyal reader is harder to find than a poet’. If every person who knows the value of contemporary poetry were to buy books for those who haven’t read any poems since school and tell them, with as much vehemence as necessary, that they really will enjoy the experience, then the poetry readership can grow. Despite the un-self-aware idiots like the one I’ve described above, there are still many fine poets to be discovered; more, probably, than one could ever hope to read whilst living a full-ish life. Why shouldn’t a book or two of poems on the beach be as common a sight as crime novels, thrillers or bonkbusters?

Matthew Paul, On HappenStance Press, the reader and the poet

I once heard Sonny Rollins play in Toronto. It was a perfect summer day in the 80s when I was studying music at York University, and a bunch of us went to the Molson Amphitheatre on Toronto’s waterfront. We lay on the grass just outside the cover of the roof watching Sonny, the blue of Lake Ontario in our vision. I remember one extended solo by Rollins, where the band dropped out and it was just him. Such a delightful squonking. Low register honks. Motifs broken up and tossed around. Time made into a salad. And all of it connected with Rollins’ characteristically playful intelligence. As Wallace Stevens says, “the poem of the mind in the act of finding/ What will suffice.” 

Ok, so gravitas didn’t seem to be explicitly there and the Coltrane-like bursting the seams, burning through the gates to another world. But there was meaning. Significance. And humility. And the sense of deeply being oneself. How? For Rollins his playing is often all about “the mind in the act of finding.” And what will suffice? Intelligence. Resilience. Creativity. Joy. A celebration of being. Of communication.

And the other thing I’ve come to understand in Rollins’ approach is ethics. Living through action and making choices. In a recent interview, Rollins says, “I’m just progressing through life, able to evolve now and to realize that to really live in a spiritual way I have to be an ethical person.”  In his music I hear this decision to live ethically. To be in the world. To choose one note after the other as an ethical act. To embrace life. To choose positivity, communication, joy. The life-force. To keep playing, performing. To be an old man and to St-Thomas-the-hell out of life. 

It’s an astounding thing.

Gary Barwin, Ethical Squonking: On the Coltrane-Rollins Continuum

It began with pain right where my heart is — a pain I initially discounted as probably a bad case of heartburn. It wasn’t such a big pain you’d right away think, heart attack. But after I lay down and it went away, I got up and went around doing things and it came back. Again, I went into denial. This is really bad heartburn — could my ulcer have reopened? Never, heart attack. I just turned 72 this month. Although my father and brother both had heart disease, my mantra was, I’ll take after my mother.

Called my doc’s private number. He picked right up, listened, said “Go to the ER and tell them you’re having chest pain. You’ll go to the head of the line.”

It wasn’t a comfortable procedure or hospital stay. But everyone who cared for me was wonderful. It was comforting to feel I’d survive and live well after this, as my cardiologist told me. […]

And the first thing I wanted to write when I could, was a poem. This one is for everyone I met and everyone who sent love.

The Heart

The heart is a muscle.
I feel its clench
protesting the lack
of blood, its nourishment,
and I go down, prone, bowing
to a central throne it inhabits in my body,
thrown to my back
and then to hospital,
where relinquishing clothes
and goods, I’m surrounded
by those familiar with a distressed heart’s ways.

Hours later, I am profoundly
embraced by science and love
that inexplicably flows
from these people whose powerful hearts
and muscles show up here every day.
And prayers that like a cavalcade of butterflies
shore me up in this new and sweeter life.

Rachel Dacus, A new heart, a new path forward

“We’ve been lucky. There was the nursing home outbreak,” she says, her voice lowering. The nursing home in town is a scant quarter-mile from the office where I’m getting my blood drawn. “And the soldiers’ home in Holyoke. But other than that, it’s been pretty good here.”

“May it stay that way,” I agree. 

“All done!” She smiles, pressing a wad of gauze where the needle was just withdrawn. Now I look over, and I see the test-tubes full of dark red blood. The color always surprises me. It’s so vivid, so deep. 

I’m not sure what they’re looking for this time, but we can’t schedule the next procedure until they run whatever tests they need to run on these gleaming garnet vials.

I wonder how many mini-conversations like this she has over the course of a day. How many lives she briefly touches with her blue-gloved hands. 

When I exit the building, I inhale lilacs under the clouded sky. 

Rachel Barenblat, Garnet

This weekend I spent some time reading poetry—some for a literary magazine I judge submissions for, and some from books that have been lying around that I haven’t cracked open for a while, namely by Wallace Stevens, who is my favorite poet, and Kahil Gibran. I needed to read both of those poets because somewhere in all of the chaos and heaviness of working at a hospital during the pandemic, I have lost my sense of passion and wonder. I feel ground-down and machine-like. I’ve been in survival mode for a long time, devoid of a sense of beauty and boundlessness, afraid to take any time to notice the natural world around me, afraid to slow down, afraid to allow for any sense of space and openness in my life. I shut everything out except the work that is front of me day-to-day, and I’ve been driven by dread—dread of the massive responsibility that has been handed to me at my place of work and at the same time, dread of being laid off, dread of loss both real and anticipated, and dread of what may come in the future for our country and for the world. I needed to read about love and astonishment and the miracle of pineapples and the cat forgotten in the moon and how the trees are there for me. I needed good language, the language of noticing, the language of elevation of the spirit and the essential divinity of human life:

“The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges.”
–Wallace Stevens, A Rabbit as the King of Ghosts

We’re coming out of it now, and I’m ready. Ready to breathe without a mask muffling my nose and mouth, ready for traffic and shopping malls and movies and night parties, ready for patients to flow into our facilities again, ready for the world to open its petals like a rose and for humanity to return to human-ing. For better or for worse, I don’t have a particular religion to hang my spiritual beliefs on, but I believe that we are children of God, and we need to remember our origins.

Kristen McHenry, Swimming Nostalgia, The Language of Divinity, Opening Day

“Remember we must die” need not be a call to religious fervor or to pessimistic existentialism. It is merely a fact that we ignore at our peril; for if we remember death is ahead, we can attune ourselves more closely to the lives we do have–and those others with whom we are in relationships. For whether you know it or not, your body has a relationship to Earth and all of its beings. Even, perhaps, the carrion beetle, not to mention billions of microbes and your best friend’s mother.

When I write about death (and I do), I find the tone of the poem depends a great deal on which words or images I use: the clear flow, or the leavings in the sieve. Different purposes, of course. Sometimes the poem wanders in sorrow, sometimes there’s clarity or a lifting of grief. It depends on the perspective (sometimes the speaker of the poem isn’t me), and on where the poem itself decides to go, particularly as I revise. Many readers believe that poems only ever arise from the writer’s experience, but poems are works of the imagination. And they are sometimes informed, or re-formed, by experience or insight that comes later in the writing process.

My own grief? That’s private. I may not decide ever to communicate how that feels. However, having sensed sorrow in my bones and gut and in the empty places in my community of loved ones, I can write about being in the moment of bereavement and the many moments afterwards when the losses make us ache. I like to imagine that memento mori keeps me alert to life. Even when I feel sad.

Ann E. Michael, Memento mori

It is a raw dawn on the morning of the poor.
“Be thankful,” they are told, “Here is your daily crust.”
The feathers of the wealthy have been groomed for the ball.
The day passes quickly for those who are pleasured.
Evening is a pistol and a whip; all the knives have been sharpened.
There will be fresh meat. “Where did the day go?”
Even as the poor ones scurry off, the music begins to play,
And the sound of laughter escapes the ballroom
The way a balloon escapes a child’s hand.

James Lee Jobe, Fresh meat.

cut the wild flowers were livid
~
living the wild flowers were vivid
~
in the hedgerows of my never mind
~
the limp excuses fall dry
~
in the hushed vase
~
the petals fall
~
lonely is the room
~
now
~

Jim Young, them cut

Otherworldly beauty, otherworldly creatures, otherworldly powers.

History lessons that keep writing and rewriting themselves.

Fake moon landings, alleged alien abductions, labyrinthine underground bunkers running through our blood.

It’s all part of how we’re hot-wired to allow our imaginations to roam wild, how we reverse engineer out-of-this-world technologies to better understand ourselves.

Close encounters of the lovebird kind, unknown lifeforms roaming darker minds.

From conspiracy theories to rational inquiry, from matters of the heart to unidentified aerial phenomena—

there’s a little Area 51 in all of us.

Rich Ferguson, You and Me Ufology

No, today’s post takes as its point of departure the fact that many younger generations always write poetry via a keyboard and a screen. Their typing is far more rapid than my two-fingered efforts, and a fair chunk of them don’t even own a printer. This last point means that they read through their drafts on a monitor rather than on a piece of paper, of course.

The key issue is whether the above-mentioned shift in writing habits is affecting the way their poetry is functioning. There seem to be two major questions. The first is whether speed of writing encourages lines to be longer, freer, less tense. The pen weighs up every letter before committing it to the notebook, but the keyboard rushes onwards.

The second matter for debate, meanwhile, is whether trends in line endings are also altering. The argument might be that moving a line ending with a pen involves writing the poem or at least the stanza out again (and again). It entails meditated probing as to whether an experiment functions. However, on a screen, the return key encourages the poet to play around with line endings at will, changing and then changing back in a few seconds flat, spotting immediately how semantics and synax might interact with expected and unexpected line endings. 

In other words, my suggestion is that if there’s a generalised evolution towards longer lines and more unexpected line endings among younger poets, it might not just be because of their aesthetic tastes but because the actual means by which they write are also different. And this is before even starting to consider poems that might have been drafted on phones…!

Matthew Stewart, Line length and line endings in the digital age

low battery —
trying to silence
the wrong smoke alarm

Bill Waters, Haiku about sounds or silences

I feel such a kinship with library systems, especially those in small towns. Often a hub, they have the ability to bring together, and in many cases, create community. When Bruce and I traveled Canada for many summers, our first stop was often the local library. It wasn’t just to borrow Wi-Fi to contact home, but also check out local happenings, what types of resources were offered, what folks were reading in their neck of the woods. In fact, I collected a good 7-10 library cards from small town libraries across Canada, from British Columbia to Newfoundland. I may never return to these destinations, but I like to think that my card-carrying membership added to their collective reader base, somehow.

Last fall, I sent some poetry to Mason Street, the Newark Library Literary Journal. The Newark Library is located in Newark, New York, and of course my curiosity about such an offering through a library system got the best of me and I had to learn more about this particular library. Like so many libraries I’ve had the joy of experiencing, the Newark Library is really no different. Community within community.

Mason Street’s Editor and Founder, Celeste Schantz selected my poem “Troubadour” for the winter issue and “Faithful” for the spring. Both poems are in good company, and I was especially delighted, no, fangirl delighted, to see that poet Marge Piercy headlines the spring issue with “My Library Memories.” Swoon! If you haven’t read her work, you should. The first collection of hers that I savored is titled The Moon Is Always Female, a must-read. This is her 7th collection of writing. Organized into two sections, the first is categorized as “amusingly elegiac to the erotic, the classical to the funny (Amazon).” The second section is lunar in nature. It consists of a series of 15 poems for “a calendar based on lunar rather than solar divisions” (Amazon).

I’m really thankful that both “Troubadour” and “Faithful” found a home in the pages of a literary journal of a thriving library far away from home. Should you get the chance, read both issues. Visit the archives. But most importantly, keep writing and sharing our work with the world.

Kersten Christianson, Mason Street, Newark Library Literary Journal

I think TFP (not 100% sure about The Frip yet, but it will sink in and become shorthand soon enough, I’m sure) will be with us for a long time to come. I’m looking forward to seeing the new poems arriving week by week, perhaps I may even manage to get one in there; although the famous adage of Meet us half way and submit one first applies at the moment.

I must confess that I was a bit worried when Hilary first approached me and asked me to review Rendang. I can’t put my finger on it, but it felt like the biggest review I’ve been asked to write so far, the most complex book yet, and I wondered if I was up to the task if I could find something interesting to say (and to be fair that’s the same with every review I write, and every poem, and every post here…and every sentence I say out loud, etc).

If I’m honest I was worried about engaging with the “contradictions of identity and cultural memory” mentioned in the blurb. Not because I didn’t want to or don’t feel I need to. I absolutely do, it was more a feeling of do I have anything valid to say on the matter without falling into the lazy tropes that Alyca Pirmohamed refers to here in her excellent essay at Wild Court, those adjectives like ‘urgent’, ‘important’, etc?

I think I avoided that, but I don’t think I can be the judge as to whether I had anything interesting to say. However, I found it fascinating and educational for a variety of reasons to engage with the collection as a whole by examining how the poems developed between pamphlet and collection, as well as the newer work, and how that benefits from the space and time afforded by a collection (literally and metaphorically).

Mat Riches, That Friday (poem) Feeling

So much for my New Year’s resolution to avoid buying new books. Somehow, my April blog push led me hither and yon over the entire poetry landscape, and I ended up buying a truckload of books. Among them, Ada Limon’s Bright Dead Things (Milkweed, 2015). Looks like The Carrying is next (winner of the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry).

I have a major poetry-crush on this poet. Not only does she write about horses and honky-tonks (subjects dear to my heart), but dogs, owls, sex, and death. She’s got it all. And language! Oh, my!

Bethany Reid, The amazing ADA LIMÓN

First up is the almost obligatory cat poem, simply called “cat” which didn’t come with trigger warning but introduces the idea of suicide and ends,

“we are all decomposing slowly
so that is of some comfort
we are all a million dying stars
so that is of some comfort “

The ability of the narrator to be comforted by the idea life will end anyway and it ends for everything around us is enough for him to accept natural causes is a better way to go. It also shows how something unexpected, encountering a cat, can knock someone out of a rut, a pattern of rumination and look beyond themselves. Instead of feeling like a burden the world would be better off without, the narrator has seen he can have a place in this world and the current pattern of things will stop, not with a sudden jerk, but a series of small changes.

Emma Lee, “Blue the Green Sky” Stuart M Buck (The Broken Spine) – book review

Theirs is a fascinating kind of call-and-response through the poems in Hearing, each short single-stanza lyric burst including author initials, so one doesn’t lose track of who composed which, from two poets deeply engaged with language, listening and experimentation. The crediting of each individual author is something I find interesting, suggesting the collection less a collaboration-per-se than a conversation in poetic form. This is a lyric through which each poet is responding to the other, akin to what Canadian poets and married couple Kim Maltman and Roo Borson did in their own conversation through lyric, the poetry title The Transparence of November / Snow (Kingston ON: Quarry Press, 1985). In Hearing, there is something lovely about a collection that exists as such a conversation, especially between two highly accomplished poets who happen to also be close friends, as though we are being allowed to listen in on, or even overhear, a conversation that might otherwise have been privately spoken.

rob mclennan, Lyn Hejinian and Leslie Scalapino, Hearing

[A] teacher friend has gotten me into the Poetry Unbound podcast and this has set me off on a new tangent. I’m also not into audio stuff much. I have struggled to focus on online lectures, audio books, music, podcasts, becoming distracted, flipping away if it’s on a screen. I listened to one PU podcast because my friend was raving about the title of the poem being a sign of a great poem, so I though I’d listen to the poem at least. 

The poem read on the podcast was Hanif Abdurraqib’s ‘When We Were 13, Jeff’s Father Left The Needle Down On A Journey Record Before Leaving The House One Morning And Never Coming Back’ and my friend was right. The title is killer, the poem even more so. The presenter Pádraig Ó Tuama has an amazing voice for reading poetry and he brings his own gentle enthusiasm for the poems he shares. So I listened on. And again on the way home from school that afternoon. I continued to pick another episode and another and another, in the mornings before work and often on the way home. 

One day after a partially tough morning with the child I support at school, I brought my lunch up to the classroom, rather than sit amongst the noise of fourth graders in the cafeteria. I needed to calm down before the next class started, so I stuck on a random episode called ‘A Poem for What You Learn Alone’ which seemed to suit my mood. The poem was Brad Aaron’s Modlin’s poem ‘What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade’. It is nothing about fourth grade and exactly what I needed. I think I’ve heard all three seasons now, but keep going back to favourites or finding one that I that I’ve forgotten. 

Gerry Stewart, A Poetic Daunder – Stepping Away from the Familiar

There are days when I fantasize about not having to teach. Not to get away from the work exactly, but to spread myself out thinly over the days. To breathe easily. While the pandemic has been difficult in so many ways, it has also given me the opportunity to slow down. Listen. Can I listen to the birds with the same sustained interest that I listen to a student presentation? This is a kind of work, too. What do I earn from this?

My childhood was a cramped succession of dramas, of noise and movement. A montage of cigarettes and speed, cocaine and black eyes. Drama became a kind of addiction that I struggled with through my 20s. I walked that jagged edge of violence where you never know which side someone will fall on: wounded or… disappeared. And as soon as I write this down I think: no, I’m not being fair to everyone. And still, I censor myself. After censoring myself in the first place. I make excuses for other people.

Maybe no one should ever tell the whole truth? At least not for the sake of entertainment or to makes one’s self interesting like a spectacle at Coney Island. Though people do buy tickets.

When I was in high school I went to the county fair alone and bought a ticket to see one of the “freaks”, assuming it would be a mirror trick of some sort. A kind of theatrical presentation. It wasn’t. The “freak” was a person. I turned around immediately and threw up outside the tent.

No. That would make a good story. I didn’t throw up. I just wanted to. I felt a sense of shame that was too familiar. But weirdly, I felt a shared sense of shame. With the person in the tent. I couldn’t explain it then, and I can’t explain it now except to say I understand why the whales that are kept in tiny pools and mistreated at theme parks will give kisses to their trainers on cue.

I don’t want to choose revenge or forgiveness. I want a middle path here, too. It seems even my personal life isn’t really free of ethical concerns.

And my writing never will be.

So for now, I write about mundane things like lapwings and chaffinches. The vibrating silence of the Hardanger plateau where the snow still lies in July. How cold has a smell where the North Sea is untouched by the Gulf Stream, and the harbour in Stavanger can smell like watermelon.

Ren Powell, A Story of Going Feral

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 21

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, I found a lot of posts about learning or re-learning from the familiar, the close-at-hand, the wilderness in one’s own backyard — something I suppose I’ve become perceptually vigilant for, since daily walks around my own small part of the world have become so crucial to preserving my sanity, not to mention unlocking new levels of perception and (maybe, hopefully) expression. As Ren Powell puts it, “Why do I feel a need to go away from home to pay close attention?” One’s own home ground may in fact be the best vantage point from which to hear what Shawna Lemay, quoting Li-Young Lee, calls “the hum of the universe.” And poets can translate that hum even into something as homey as prose...


It’s late 90s Baghdad: with a trembling heart and weak joints, Ra’ad Abdulqadir, the editor of Aqlam literary magazine, would return from his office to his home in the western outskirts of the capital every day. He would change into his pajamas, lay down on the couch, and begin to write a poem for what would become his most notable work, Falcon with Sun Overhead. He would then doze off with the notebook resting on his belly. Like much of the rest of Iraq, Ra’ad spent the 90s suffering from health issues, and the hospital visits became part of his routine. He hated doctors and hospitals and chronicled their dreadful presence in his poems. “The poet used to be an angel,” he told novelist Warid Badir al-Salim in what’s considered his last interview in 1999. “Now he is a coal miner.”

And what does that mean for you, Mr. Ra’ad? “Well, I like to think of myself as the angel in the coalfield.”

And so he is—the angel in the coalfield, the cemetery, the empty classrooms, the white hospitals, the dark streets. For years, he was the kind of poet loved and envied by both his contemporaries and the generations that followed for his magical ability to keep the angel’s garb free of ash. Now, though, he has been underrated and forgotten.

Mona Kareem, How Ra’ad Abdulqadir Changed the Iraqi Prose Poem Forever

Portland, Oregon poet and fiction writer Zachary Schomburg’s latest poetry title is Fjords vol. II (Boston MA: Black Ocean, 2021), described as the “second volume of Zachary Schomburg’s Fjords series of evocative prose poetry,” following the prior volume, Fjords vol. I (Black Ocean, 2012). I’m curious at the extension of his prose poetry project and how far it might continue, and if it sits within or alongside the trajectory of his other published poetry collections, all of which have appeared with Black Ocean: The Man Suit(2007), Scary, No Scary (2009), The Book of Joshua (2014) and Pulver Maar: Poems 2014-2018 (2019) [see my review of such here]. The pieces in Fjords vol. II are each short bursts of individually titled, single-paragraph prose poems collected together as a book-length suite. The narratives of Schomburg’s poems are fond of establishing a simultaneous light and dark tone, and writing poems with odd turns, and endings that sit, not as endings, but as a place for the mind to pause. In many ways, Schomburg’s poems haven’t beginnings or endings, but points at which the narratives start, with another point where the narrative stops. The effect is occasionally jarring, often turning bits of the logic of each piece back in on itself, as though it is for the reader to discern each poem’s actual shape: far bigger on the inside, perhaps. These are poems that reveal themselves in layers, and reward repeated readings.

rob mclennan, Zachary Schomburg, Fjords vol. II

Periodically I watch some free videos offered by artist Nicholas Wilton, who has a program called Art2Life. He’s unflaggingly enthusiastic and filled with wonder at discovering or uncovering processes by which he, and theoretically we, can bring our creative impulses to fruition on the canvas.

In a recent short one, he talked about how he’s trying to stay present with and focused on not what he is putting on the canvas but how he is feeling while doing it. And the feeling he is trying to maintain is, basically one of openness and a sense of possibility. And deliberately NOT a sense of assessment, judgment, predetermination of what should be happening on the canvas. He talks about having a “free outlook” and the “sense of wildness and freedom” with which he often starts a new painting — all that blank space, how it frames the first few marks beautifully — and maintaining that outlook and free sense throughout the process.

By focusing on the space out of which he is creating, rather than what is being created, he’s able to allow all kinds of things to happen. He says he can see both his own training at work in this more intuitive way of making, as well as a new “wild”-ness that is exciting.

Yes, I say. And thank you for the reminder. I’m talking as a writer now, and agree that the key to when I’m writing well and interestingly, and maybe the key to revision as well, is the center — i.e., me — out of which I am creating. And I love that feeling of openness and possibility. It’s a kind of ebullience, a word that means boiling up, bubbling up.

Marilyn McCabe, Warped by the rain; or, On Letting Go Control

Throughout the pandemic, in warm and cold weather, I often sit on my front porch. We’ve set up a table and chairs, curtains and heaters. I can be outside and work on my writing despite the weather. Or in celebration of it. 

It’s very pleasant—fresh air, bird song, many trees. 

Across the street, I frequently hear my neighbour, the artist John Miecznikowski, practising cornet. I understand that his son was an accomplished trumpeter and he gave the instrument to his father to learn. (They also share a love of motorcycles, and John has told me some great stories about his riding exploits in the 60s and 70s.) 

Because John is “learning,” he often plays what sounds like hymns, or at least, simple tunes, but on cornet they have a English brass band sound to them. 

Recently as I was working on a new novel, I listened to the sound of the trumpet entangled with the sound of the wind and the birds. I had been working on a cello piece for my old high school friend George. I decided instead to write something for John, something that evoked that entwining of trumpet and bird song. 

Gary Barwin, My neighbour John plays trumpet and I hear him while birds sing.

Being at sea suits me sometimes. I like learning. It’s why I’m always trying unfamiliar forms and genres. I just published a short essay, “Hand of Smoke,” in Speculative Nonfiction, that’s about being a student and also demonstrates me in a state of experiment–what am I willing to say about myself in the plainer mode of prose, and is this a risk I can succeed at? Enjoying being at sea can shipwreck into stress pretty quickly. […]

The other side-effect of my mother’s death, though, is a changed perspective on what’s urgent. Apparently I CAN put everything aside for big swaths of time to take care of others and myself. I’d lost that muscle memory since my kids became independent. It’s a lucky thing to like your work, but work doesn’t always like you back. When it’s too much, it really is fine to say screw it. Literature is watertight and unsinkable.

Lesley Wheeler, I don’t know what I’m doing again

Roche sits snugly below the limestone promontory from which its name derives, and straddles Maltby Dike which provided water for washing and beer, presumably upstream of its use as a depository from the latrine. It’s a beautiful setting, as ruined abbeys almost always are. No wonder that Turner, Constable, Piper, Sutherland and others were drawn to paint them so often. On a day like today, when the sun has finally arrived to announce the start of summer, the scene at Roche looked very beautiful indeed. It reminded me very much of Waverley Abbey, near Farnham in Surrey, the Cistercians’ first abbey in England. There, I wrote this haiku, published in Presence no. 54 and undoubtedly echoing [Peter] Levi subconsciously:

ruined abbey:
the dark mullein’s yellows                                               
light the transept

I wrote some more haiku this morning. It would have been rude not to, since they’re such inspiring places.

Matthew Paul, On ruined abbeys

I have to admit I went into Katherine May’s new book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times with specific expectations which is unusual for me with non-fiction books. Expectations about what wintering meant and what I was looking for from the book. I can’t remember where I came across the recommendation for the book, but idea that caught my eye amounted to learning to cope with the winters of our life and a connection to Finland. […]

The book contains many of my favourite wintery things which is saying a lot because to be honest I am not a fan of the season of winter at all. But I do love the darkness and magic of Samhain, the Cailleach, standing stones, hibernation during the cold dark months, wolves. She also looks at a few I don’t like as much like saunas and winter swimming. Both these latter things are very much part of the Finnish psyche, though Finland really doesn’t feature much in the book outside of this. May turns to these various things to try and work through her wintering periods. 

Oddly, it felt like she was full of energy to go off and try all these various techniques, on her own and with other people, something I think many people who need to ‘winter’ would struggle with, to be social, try new adventures. I realise that the events and adventures she wrote about were maybe separated by years at different periods of wintering, but I would have liked more examination of how to face the dark stillness of winter when there aren’t friends around or even strangers to go stand at Stonehenge on midsummer. This would have made the book even more helpful in the last year when we couldn’t go out much when we have been forced to winter and many of us found it incredibly difficult.

Gerry Stewart, Book Review – Wintering by Katherine May

as if life ripens on our limbs, sweetening
with every step, every right step —
I watch your uneven breath, the awkward
shape of your sleep, so much of the night
is just a defence against another morning.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, As if death is so discerning

Notice how the rain
falls down,
the old monk said.

Think like that, like
the falling rain.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (17)

A squirrel stopped halfway up the tree trunk to stare at us. Perfectly silhouetted against the blue sky, so that the silly fur-forks standing up from the tips of his ears were visible. I still have no idea if the tussle we witnessed a few weeks back was a fight for territory or some kind of mating activity. Maybe there is a second squirrel tucked away in the tree with babies.

It almost makes me sad to be so ignorant of something so close. I think maybe this summer – when school lets out in two weeks – I could pack a lunch and settle under the trees there. Bring binoculars and spy a little. Why not?

It’s odd. I actually have plans to do something similar next month. We are flying and boating all the way up to an island above the arctic circle to stay in a cabin with friends, without running water. I hope to spend a few days on the beach waiting and watching for porpoises and otters. Scanning the sky for birds of prey and trying to identify them.

Why do I feel a need to go away from home to pay close attention? It’s almost as if it is “allowed” then. It’s not indulgent, or eccentric, or peculiar. It’s a vacation.

Ren Powell, In My Own Front Yard

scrolling slowly
through a wet temple garden
on my time line

Jim Young [no title]

The range children are allowed to travel on their own is what psychologist Roger Hart has termed the “geography of children.” This range, for an eight-year-old, has shrunk from 6 or so city blocks a few decades ago to barely beyond the front door today. In the 1970’s, Dr. Hart spent two years conducting informal walking interviews with every child between the ages of four and 12 in one Vermont town to discover where and how they played. Kids particularly enjoyed the type of play that manipulated the physical world, making forts or using sticks and dirt to create (as one child did) a miniature airport. Dr. Hart observed that four and five-year-old children were allowed to play in the neighborhood without direct supervision, and children had the run of the town by the age of 10.

He went back to that town three decades later to see how childhood might have changed. No surprise, parents were much more involved in the moment-to-moment details of their children’s lives, resulting in much less freedom for children (and adults, presumably). As he did in interviews back in the 1970’s, he asked children to talk about secret places they liked to play. One child called out to his mother to ask if he had such a place. Dr. Hart wrote, “That would have been inconceivable 30 years ago. Then, most children I interviewed had places they went to that their parents had never been to.” Thirty years later, Dr. Hart found no children who played with sticks. This impeded freedom to play away from adult gaze has only gotten worse since.

Laura Grace Weldon, Neighborhood Kids & Authentic Freedom

When I was a kid the tree was impossibly enormous. It was like the giant Christmas tree that rose out of the stage, dwarfing everyone, in the local ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker. But mine wasn’t a Christmas tree. My tree had a big smooth trunk and thick, sturdy branches. One branch protruded over the jasmine, and there was another one a bit higher and to one side. The lower one was perfect for sitting on, letting my legs dangle. The higher one was perfect for leaning on with a book. I always had a book, Laura Ingalls Wilder or EB White eventually giving way to Robert Heinlein and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Eventually I got brave enough to climb higher, onto the roof of the playhouse with its asphalt shingles. Sometimes I would read up there, instead. Once I carved my initials into the bark with my red pocket knife, alongside the initials of the kid I had a crush on. The magnolia’s leaves were big and oval-shaped and glossy and they cast pockets of cool shade that kept the playhouse roof from overheating. The best time to climb my tree was late May — right around my mother’s birthday — when the magnolia would open her great creamy blooms. Her flowers were as big as my head. The petals bruised easily. Later, when they dried up and fell off, they were like scraps of tan leather. I used to try to stitch them together with monkeygrass to make doll clothes. By then, they only had a shadow of their former fragrance, but they were still sweet. I can almost remember that fragrance, forty years later and two thousand miles away.

Rachel Barenblat, Grandiflora

I finished a fiction book this week and I’m still reading Poets at Work, which is wonderful and strangely … well, comforting, for lack of a better word. I’ll be sad and bereft when I finish it. The Lowell interview is my favorite thus far, although I also just began the Walcott review — and I love reading it because it reminds me of being in his classes, and also the few precious times I had conversations with him outside of class.

But it also might end up be my favorite because of what he says in the interview, and how it resonates alongside other things I’ve been engaging with, like the Airea D. Matthew’s episode of the Commonplaces podcast. 

 For instance, this morning, I copied down this from the Walcott interview:

“What we can do as poets in terms of our honesty is simply to write within the immediate perimeter of not more than twenty miles, really.”

This made me think about my own art in this context, and about how I write, and my subject matter — which is often very much centered around my own experiences, not necessarily things that would seem universal — and I can’t escape that this is determined by my gender, my sexuality, my race, my socio-economic class, my career, where I live, etc. And then I was wondering if that’s worth anything. But I don’t think we can ever really know, or worry, about whether or not our work is worth anything to anyone else, unless we just want to make canned, color-by-number nonsense. We have to be honest, with ourselves and others, and perhaps in the way that Walcott suggests. 

Sarah Kain Gutowski, How to Ease Away from a Particularly Traumatic Semester: Reading, Listening, Thinking, Walking

I think Adam Zagajewski’s poems were easy to love, which is no bad thing. When I think of his poems, words such as the following come to mind: humane, gentle, affectionate, clarifying. After 9/11, his poem ‘Try to Praise the Mutilated World’ became very famous in its English-speaking translation by Clare Cavanagh when it appeared in The New Yorker. Not one of my personal favourites of his poems, I still appreciate it and its immense value in the wake of a huge, world-changing tragedy. It distills what I think Zagajewski did best – the acknowledgement that dark, horrendous things happen but the equal observation that life continues and that the value of light, beauty and faith remains unchanged. […]

It’s so hard to choose a favourite poem by Zagajewski. When I reread them now, years after first readings, they remind me of emotions and moments in my life, and they take me to places which I’ve visited or which I hope to visit some day. ‘Star’ has been a talisman for me for many years. ‘Vita Contemplativa’ occupies a central place of importance in my pantheon of poems, and lines from it often surface in my mind. ‘Poetry Searches for Radiance’ is a powerful mission statement for poetry. Whether one of his collections, a selected poems or something randomly found online, his works will reward both casual reading and prolonged engagement. What is much harder than finding the right poem by Zagajewski is accepting that he’s not here any more. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, Remembering Adam Zagajewski, 1945-2021

This project, the best kind, emerged from the whim of writer and artist, Matthew Wolfe. When the pandemic began, he started assembling and sharing on Facebook a daily photograph of possessions, many with notes. Each photo carried a shadowbox appeal, a frozen moment in time. Enter Sheila-Na-Gig editor, Hayley Mitchell Haugen, who suggested moving this work to a book format, and to open a call for writers to share their writing in response to Matthew’s photos.

And so the birth of Pandemic Evolution!

It is a hefty volume, beautifully crafted. The book contains Matthew’s writing, a record of the early days of the pandemic, his photographs with notes, and the writings of 46 poets from the U.S., Canada, India, and Wales, who responded in kind, ekphrastically, to Matthew’s work.

I am grateful to have three poems included in this collection: “Day 79: Something Cohen Said,” “Outside Terrace, B.C.,” and “Day 100: Road Trip Is Life.”

This project is truly an act of a collaboration in both the project and more global sense. It is one that I’ll look back on in gratitude having had this chance to document those early days the world entered into a period of social distancing, questioning, uncertainty, and survival.

Kersten Christianson, Pandemic Evolution

Last Saturday, 22nd May, was Artists’ Book Club Dove’s first in-person meeting since September last year. We have had ark-building weather recently, but by great good fortune this was a warm sunny afternoon with very little wind. We carried our chairs and picnics through knee-high buttercups in Dove Meadow to a clearing beside the Tree House (visible top right in the photo below, taken by Bron) and passed books and ideas around. What it treat it was to be together. […]

I’m only half-way through India
I’d rather do the washing up
if I were a reptile

in between the showers
a bit of deckle-grooming
cuckoos bitterns warblers marsh harriers

hot chocolate with a dash of brandy
hedgehog highways and rabbit lintels

Ama Bolton, ABCD late May 2021

This book has just been published by Suffolk Poetry Society as a response to the diminishing state of nature. It forms part of a collaboration between the Society and The Lettering Arts Trust (Snape), where an exhibition of the same name opens in July. I am delighted to have two poems and a micro-poem about IUCN red-listed species included. 

The topic resonates closely with Robert Macfarlane’s work (supported by Jackie Morris and her artwork) in response to an increasing concern over the fact that ‘nature words’ (the ‘lost words’: see here) were being removed from the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Apparently space was needed for words deemed more valuable in a digital and technical age. You can read my post here about a previous exhibition at The Lettering Arts Trust on this subject. 

Caroline Gill, ‘On a Knife Edge’, a new anthology from Suffolk Poetry Society

It was shocking, and not a little dreamlike, to experience going from a very small social circle that included my nuclear family, my sisters and niece, and a few very good, close friends and suddenly finding myself in Memorial Day travel at the Atlanta airport.

We were traveling to Oak Park, Ill to see my mother-in-law, more than likely for the last time, or maybe not. She is quite old, infirm, and suffering from dementia. She remains tied to her body by a silken thread, and so we plunged into the stream to be with her. […]

The Pandemic has made me much more conscious of my mortality. At 60, I’ve retired from public school teaching with a small pension, and I try to spend evenings on the back porch watching the sun set through the poplars and pines.

I’m so grateful to be alive, to have survived thus far, for breath, community, and connection. I want to dwell in these moments. My body and mind bask in the peace I feel under the trees in the evening air.

Christine Swint, Airport, Pandemic, and Gratitude

The littlest doll is also the one that doesn’t come apart, the one who stands complete. A inner strength that comes through in the poems that touch on the poet’s father’s death when she was aged 15. In “Matryoshka”, after the funeral, some dolls are taken apart some are “some shut tight, permanently locked in grief,” which leaves,

“The littlest doll found herself rattling around
in the wrong size body,
suddenly bulky with responsibilities
and listening to echoes.
To all eyes an adult, within, a child.”

The implication is that in the transition from child to adult, we don’t shed layers, we gain them. The intact baby doll is wrapped in experience and expectation. The external appearance is of an adult but the speaker still feels her inner child, hesitant and lacking confidence.

Emma Lee, “Russian Doll” Teika Marija Smits (Indigo Dreams Publishing) – book review

According to recent assessments from the eager
to travel again, have drinks with friends, shed

the year’s wardrobe of almost sackcloth
and ashes—we’ve come through to the other

side. But what is the other side if not a reverse-
engineered vision of this one; a looking glass

in which (we pray) each full-blown tragedy of
the past year shrinks back to what it wasn’t

before the unfathomable struck?

Luisa A. Igloria, A Tunnel has Openings on Both Ends

I had thought I would write about cicadas and husks and post-menopausal Noah’s wife feeling like she, too, is a husk.  This morning, I’m thinking about cicadas and Noah’s wife wondering why they got a space in the ark if they’re only going to emerge into life every 17 years.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cliche with Full Moon and Sunrise

beneath my house of memory :: a wind of unknown depth

Grant Hackett [no title]

Can you tell me how In an Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered came into being? 

I laid all the poems out on the floor to see how they spoke to each other. As I was going through them my biggest surprise was that the bulk of the collection was written using a very different voice to the one that I am most familiar with. I am a lyric poet by default. I tend towards the experimental, cross genre, free verse. I also approach subjects by going in slant. But this writing was radically different, it was narrative, direct, it employed characters and had a plot. Through the characters not only was I able to re-enact the past, but also to understand what happened and speak about it – although in these poems the boundaries between reality and fiction are blurred!

Crystal was one of the first characters on the scene and she was fierce and feisty! She had her own voice and demanded she be featured in her own book. The title In an Ideal World I’d Not Be Murdered is taken from the title of the penultimate poem in the publication, where Crystal sets out her own manifesto for an ideal world – full of contradiction and ambiguity:

Crystal knew what she wanted and that was somewhere quiet, but not so quiet I get
murdered.

Other characters trauma-wounds are experienced and displayed through the body, but are also expressions of fragmented memory, such as:      

Ash held off the stab wound
through her laugh. 

Abegail Morley, In Conversation with Chaucer Cameron

By the time I landed back in the city, internet journals were blossoming all over, and my first publication there (a site called Poetry Midwest)  was just as exciting as the one in print.  I was all in for sending out work at the rewards of publication, especially in those pre-social media days. Somehow, the community felt more connected then, or at least, the online journal community did.  Journal publications would be met with fanfare and sometimes fan letters from other poets. Some of the people I met in those years are still my online friends now, decades later and across several states. Some of the journals are still publishing, some faded into internet obscurity and 404 errors.  (Stirring and Pedestal Mag, for example,  are still going strong.)  At first, some poets scoffed at the online word, poets who now embrace it pretty regularly. I learned quickly that print journals were nice, but online was where things were more likely to get read (esp. by non-poets.)

The poetry world was, and still is, a constellation of communities.  I moved in several for awhile and at different points.  The online poets, the blogger poets.  The open-mic poets I did readings with in local bars and coffeehouses.  The MFA poets I was meeting at Columbia. Each community had their bibles.  The most exclusive online journals were the ones I couldn’t get into, but I kept trying and eventually did, though sometimes it took years.  (A couple others I am still trying to get into..lol..)  The open-mic crowd had their own local pubs and presses. The academics had a ranking of “high tier” and “lower tier” that I will never quite be at home with or understand. Community journals, academic housed journals. Journals run by one person and some html skills (wicked alice was very much this.) As such, I moved through journals in all these communities and met many different people in them. Even more awesome, was often invited to submit by editors who liked my work that landed in places I might not otherwise even thought about sending to. 

Ultimately, I have always kind of sucked at the submission game.  I was better a decade ago.  More often than not, even when i am writing a lot, I will go months without sending out a thing, then fire off a round to some familiar favorites and some pie-in-the sky places I’d like to see word.  Maybe some new discoveries I think are cool (Twitter has been awesome for this.). I stopped trying to get into places it didn’t really seem like my work was a fir for or whose work or values I didn’t esp appreciate..  At some point, I stopped trying to build a resume or appear in the sorts of places that got a certain kind of attention  and more just wanted to see if I could reach new or existing audiences with them. I began to think of poems as breadcrumbs you leave out in the world that lead back to a larger body of work, either just in general or to specific projects. This has made all the difference. 

Kristy Bowen, breadcrumbs

Further to my post last week about certain poetry readings in London, I thought it was only fair to focus today on regular events that are held all over the country (having mentioned them in passing as a point of comparison and/or contrast with London).

I myself have been a guest poet at regular events in Leicester, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Manchester, Huddersfield, Edinburgh, Chichester, Portsmouth, Cambridge, Coventry, Oxford, Shrewsbury, Bradford on Avon, Reading, Lewes and Birmingham, so I’m speaking from personal experience when I state that these events are all idiosyncratic and play an important role in many people’s lives, reaching far beyond the stereotypes of open mics, etc.

First off, there’s invariably a dedicated individual or team who volunteer to run things, often without any funding whatsoever (the irony, of course, is that this is where poetry really flourishes and makes a contribution to society). Secondly, there are the regular attendees, some of whom even arrive from outlying towns and villages, coming together for the reading in question. And that’s before considering their personal circumstances: on several occasions, a member of the audience has told me that poetry events provided their main (or even only) source of social interaction.

In other words, this post is a celebration of regular poetry events all over the country, though it’s also a lament, as their temporary shift online provides yet another example of the huge damage that the pandemic has inflicted on many people who already suffered great loneliness. And then, finally, it’s an expression of hope, that poetry can still form communities, even maintain them via the internet, and emerge into a post-pandemic era where we’ll be able to gather above a pub or in a village hall, and listen to each other’s poems once more.

Matthew Stewart, The communities created by regular poetry events

And so the job I’m applying for is one who praises. From, again, Li-Young Lee:

“Praise is the state of excess, ecstasy. We counted up all the deaths; we counted up all the dying: we counted up all the terrible things in life, and guess what? There’s still Van Gogh painting sunflowers, there’s still morning glories. There’s an excess in the universe, a much-ness, a too-much-ness.”

So I’m turning to Van Gogh, to the sunflowers, and to the morning glories. I’m going to change the station, flip the dial, change the channel in my brain, and devote myself to the hum of the universe. The mess is going to continue, I know that, and it totally sucks. I’m so beyond exhausted by heading into the fray (both physically with the day job and mentally). So I’m just setting it aside. I’m going to be a fool and turn back to the beautiful, I’m going to fix my broken hearing. I’ll end with another passage of Li-Young Lee speaking about the hum:

“I think it’s bad when poets say, “I don’t believe in the beautiful anymore. Look at the world.” Well, I say, “You’re looking the wrong way. You’re looking at the past. Poets should traffic in the ideal. You don’t traffic only in the past.” For me, as far back as I can remember, I was trying to hear a kind of hum, trying to feel it, and if I could hear or feel that hum, then the words just came and perched on that hum. If I don’t hear the hum, then I have to make the poem out of words. But if I’m hearing the hum and I hear it very clearly, the perfect words like birds will come and perch on that line. They will be the perfect words. but if my hearing is off — if it’s a little broken — and I’m faking it, then I’m putting the words in there, making the illusion there is something underneath. No. I’m interested in the frequency under those words.”

Shawna Lemay, The Hum of the Universe

After three cloudy, seasonable days–with no rain (we are in a drought)–the temperatures here got up to around 80° F and the cicadas emerged. I took a long walk around campus to observe the hatch.

Judging by the divots in the mulch around the trees, skunks, squirrels, raccoons, and other omnivores had a feast last night. But enough fourth-instar nymphs made it up the trees that I quickly lost count of how many exoskeletons clung abandoned to the bark of pines, maples, rowans, and assorted campus-landscape trees. There were also pale, newly-emergent cicadas–not yet imagoes–most of which were drying out their wings and bodies in the breeze. A few were still in the haemolymph stage (teneral adult stage), which is fascinating. Their wings are still furled, as they haven’t yet inflated with whatever fluid circulates through their systems, and the insects look particularly weird.

Brood X hatches mostly south of us, though this county is right on the border. Definitely seeing more of them this year than I have for many years past.

Magicicada are justly famous for their loudness. There were not many full-fledged adult bugs on campus at noon today; but when I return (on Friday or, perhaps, Tuesday), I expect the place will be buzzing. The students are not here to make the place buzz–I’ll be happy to hear the cicadas.

Ann E. Michael, Hatching day

Every day, more and more faces are stepping out from behind their masks,

lips making their debut on reality’s stage after having been in hiding for well over a year.

Thin lips, full lips, heart-shaped lips, turned-down lips.

Throughout L.A., all these rediscovered lips are like the new Norma Desmond, emerging from their Sunset Boulevard seclusion,

telling the ghost of Mr. DeMille they’re ready for their close-up.

Rich Ferguson, The Itness of Lips

So, last week I talked about discouragement from the whole rejection-cycle of being a poet. This week I’m going to talk about poetry dreams. The sort you’ve thought about for a while and think – now may be the time to take steps towards making them a reality. You know, I’ve been sending out resumes for jobs in the literary world (this is a big secret) but it got me thinking about what kind of work I could start on my own. I’ve thought a long time about opening up my own press, and lately I’ve gotten to start thinking about Virginia Woolf – the way she cultivated her own circle of talented artists, writers, and critics, and invited them to her home because her health didn’t do well when she was away. I thought about maybe investing in a little writer’s retreat cabin in a resort area that I could use, but could also rent out to friends (writers and artists), and maybe even running a little writer’s retreat of my own. I think that would be within the range of things I could do without endangering my health, especially if I had an accessible place to host from. What do you guys think?

The main thing keeping me from starting a press in the knowledge that while I have some gifts that are good for running a press – enthusiasm for getting underrepresented voices out into the world, a great reader (and pretty good editor, if I do say so myself), PR and marketing know-how, a pretty good idea of how to run a business – my worry is that I recognize I don’t really have a great mind for detail (even worse since the MS). I wonder if I could get a partner in the press who was great at detail-work. I know that the caveat of a one-or-two person press is that if, for instance, one person’s health fails (which has happened at two of my own publishers) then the press is gone. Thus my hesitance to “go for it.” (Well, that and paperwork – one of my least favorite things in life.)

So the kinds of jobs I’ve been applying for would be doing marketing and PR for presses – or even acquisition editor, a job I’ve had before in my previous life at Microsoft. While it would be fun to be part of a team in that case, would it be more fun if I had more ownership?

So, even if I don’t have the money, partners, or plans completely available right now, there’s no harm in putting these things out into the universe, is there? Please chime in in the comments if you have any thoughts, encouragements, or ideas about what I’ve posted here….

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Almost Summer – Memorial Day Weekend, Supermoons, and Dreaming Some Poetry Dreams

Collective dreaming, tons of it, was being reported early in the pandemic. It was a phenomenon of nocturnal spaces around the world.  I was thinking about that this morning around 4am, looking out from the second story window at a sea-green garden,  an octopus’ garden, to use the Beatles’ words, with the blue-green flesh of hydrangea calling out, the pompom leaves of trees being shaken in a hynotic motion; thinking of the way we tapped into soft, amorphous time and space world during the pandemic.

I was thinking of this after we had our first dinner party; as people return to social space, they rush towards individuation only to find they fit awkwardly in their bodies. 

What was all that dreaming about?  The unconscious was ordering things in a way of deeper reality, and people not previously accustomed were becoming awake to it.  When we needed it, a curative, creative depths became available beyond the frontal barking of social media, beyond the dominating mind.

What can we now collectively gather?  Is it too much to think of reforming a collective mythology, desires and fears of our shared humanity behind the lids?  What if we made a bank of dreams — the way we bank money, and bank blood, now bank sperm and eggs and genetic material. Thinking on the model of cloud banks, dream banks will mark undivided and shifting spaces where psyches run into each other, billow and split and dissolve. I’ll start. I dreamed C.D. Wright gave me a haircut, very slanted across my neck as we talked about her waiting to receive a certificate to teach swimming; I dreamed about my mother’s belly, my bodily home, in different ages and stages. Of course, I dreamed of bounding outside of lockdown, climbing over roofs and living in endless reconfiguration of rooms. The possibilities are endless.

Jill Pearlman, Dream Bank for the Post-Covid World

Rain against the window. The sound of my wife laughing in another room. A sadness for the mounting grief in the world. Things that tell me I am still alive.

James Lee Jobe, The universe. My wife laughing.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 15

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.

After last week’s flirtation with a tighter focus on poetry, it’s back to the usual, glorious miscellany of poets thinking out loud about all manner of things (but mainly poetry). Some themes did emerge: poetry about women’s experiences, hopefulness about the easing pandemic, the pleasures of books, and the numinous power of large animals. Enjoy.


paperboy
delivering births and deaths
on his cycle

Jim Young [no title]

Here I am again. Is it spring, with its stuttering reenactment of incarnation, that renders me numbskulled, vacant?

I’m inert. Such a great word, short-stopped by that cul-de-sac of an -ert.

Like the newly snow-emerged and dim-colored field, I am empty.

I have not written in a long time. Nothing is on my mind. I am thought-less. Seem to have nothing to say. Have no idea how to write a poem.

No idea why I would even do such a thing.

Have no sense that I’ve ever done such a thing in my life nor that I will ever do so. As the damp field curled with squashed lines of old weeds and broken stems of milkweed, languid pale humps of grasses tangled in mud will never be anything other than that.

Will it?

Marilyn McCabe, This must be the place; or, On Not Writing

What I know of grieving is that we have to feel all the feelings to move through it to some better place. Not back to the old place, but a better place than the one our losses have us currently in. I hated how I felt watching that video. I don’t have the capacity, right now, to feel those feelings. I have a lot of things to get through in the next 7 weeks. The morning I watched the video the first time, I didn’t get as much done as I would have if I hadn’t.

Still, there is this: This morning, for the first time since I wrote my last post, I felt like writing. Not this post; I worked on an essay I abandoned more than a year ago. And it felt good, which made me want to write to you, here.

I might have to think more deeply about what really needs getting done by June. In the meantime, what I want to say today is, I hope you’re all doing OK. It helped me to realize that I haven’t been as OK as I thought, and I wondered if sharing my experience might be helpful to you in some way. I’m understanding in a new way that coming out of this pandemic is going to be a process, and likely a long one. At least for some of us.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Just popping in with a quick note…

When twigs swell
and begin to bud

and leaves emerge
chartreuse and tender

I’m proclaiming
what I nurtured

in secret silence
through the long winter

and sleep’s cold blur.

Rachel Barenblat, Spring

I’m so grateful to Editor Carolina VonKampen of Capsule Stories for including some of my work in this sweet publication. This edition is chock-full of spring-themed poetry, and it couldn’t have landed in my mailbox at a better time. After a long year of Covid challenges and mitigations, the compilation of writing contained not only demonstrates that many small presses and their editors have persevered through this stretch, as have many writers. The struggle is real, and I know this firsthand, whether gathering the focus to edit, or the wherewithal to set aside time each day to truly write. I know it’s tough to put pen to paper, but if not now, when? Start small. Word into sentence into stanza, or paragraph. Start. The other piece I so greatly appreciate about Capsule Stories is much of the writing gives me hope. Much of the writing touches upon the natural world. Anyway, it’s a fantastic read.. Thank you to Capsule for publishing this. I know it’s not easy, but hopefully, it will become easier.

Kersten Christianson, Capsule Stories, Spring 2021 Edition

Spring as an ice storm spring as the first watermelon of the year is so blood red and perfectly sweet that your heart breaks a little spring as lilacs that refuse to let down their green knickers to show their purple spring as pale pink tulips in the house in a milk jug nodding their heads

all the tulip tourists have descended upon this quiet island so my coffee shop bakery is now overrun with women wearing bedazzled jeans dragging small children in by their arms to get an ice cream or use the bathroom while their tired cranky husbands wait so the line stretches out the door everyone crammed shoulder to shoulder ignoring the pandemic go away tourists I don’t love you eating my fear and scaring the whales

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Remember how the mist fell, a veil
floating from the sky’s crown, the sea

reaching up, up, up – a meeting of waters?
You said There is no horizon, no distance,

only the here and now. And it was true, the sea
and the air mingling, salt and oxygen drifting

into our faces as we watched under our tent,
the canvas billowing like lungs after a hard run.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo Day 12

Yesterday afternoon we’d walked along the beach at Horsey, and my wife turned to me and said “I feel better already”. That’s the kind of review we should be leaving in a guestbook—if beaches had guestbooks. Perhaps we should have just scratched it into the sand as a temporary review, and perhaps we would have done if a) we’d thought of it at the time and b) the beach wasn’t lined with seals. Horsey is famous for this, and it is one of my favourite places in the world, even though I don’t get there much. […]

The seals there are a magnificent sight, and the sea air was the perfect tonic after the best part of a year in the city. At the risk of being incredibly self-centred (and hey, why not) It reminded me of my poem, ‘Horsey Seals’ – can you tell why it reminded me of this?? [Click through to read it.]

Mat Riches, The Sea(ls)They Cure Everything

Driving back from the doctor’s this morning, a horse was standing at the top of a hill all alone. I can’t explain why it felt important. Single horses standing on hilltops just feel profound. I felt a flush of awe. […]

I am learning to leave awe alone. To accept the flood of emotion, like slipping into a warm bath, and let go of associations and interpretations about what it means to me or for me. I am learning to let the horse on the hill be a horse on the hill, and relish the flush of emotion for its own sake. Children do that, don’t they? Thrill in things without believing them to be omens or signs from the oracles. Without believing they either deserve them, or have to work to deserve them. They just observe. I’m sure there are adults who do that as well. I actually think I know one or two.

They think I’m weird. […]

I probably take a hundred photos a month. But I love what it has done to me. Now, when I am driving, or in the passenger seat, I see how beautiful the scenery is. I “frame” it in my mind and appreciate the reflections, the colors, the incidental composition of elements, the repetitions, and patterns.

I notice more – camera in hand, or not.

I also think it’s helped teach me to be passive. In a good way – to leave my ego out of the situation when my ego isn’t necessary. To fully embrace the value of being an observer and not a participant at times. To understand that it is possible to take center stage when it’s appropriate and then step back without the fear of losing “my place”. To be more generous. Less judgmental. Less fearful.

Ren Powell, The Horse on the Hilltop

The virus screwed itself into my cells,
twisting communication lines, breaking
code, inverting instructions. The bells
ring at night, my blood pools all day. Waking
like a hamadryad from hibernation,
wondering why, when everyone else sleeps,
why still leafless and bare. Claudication
reversed, cold pain crawls up from toes to knees
as I cocoon in fleece and furs. That freeze
is the sign of high noon’s warped heat baking
the cold sleeper into a fluffy sleeve
like a human Baked Alaska. Shaking
doesn’t warm enough. The body repels
vulnerability, recodes its shell.

PF Anderson, Sleeping

A woman walks to church the Monday
after Easter. She’s wearing a light
sweater because at last it feels
like it could truly be spring. But who
even goes to church anymore
on a weekday morning in New York?
The immigrant healthcare workers
will tell you. The nannies and short-
order cooks, the 1 AM custodial
workers; grandmothers who spent
years polishing other people’s floors
on their knees as if before a god who only
cares that every surface reflects
his many countenances.

Luisa A. Igloria, They Ask What Came First: The Hate Speech or the Attack

I was recently having a small discussion with someone on IG about our angers and our darknesses. I am maybe at the stage where I have identified a few new dark parts of my soul. And I think there is a value in sharing those, but that also there is so much darkness right now, that I don’t think it’s a useful time for me to sort of interrogate it in public. Others have more pressing issues, more is at stake currently. I was thinking about the difference between taking dark things into a dark time vs taking something dark into a light place. And really, just the privilege to even be mulling over stuff like that gives me pause.

Maybe it’s worth something small though to yell out, yes I am dealing with the new dark parts of my soul! I honestly don’t know if this is true.

I think part of me would rather be planting flowers in unexpected place on a city street. But there is another part of me that feels it’s worthwhile to just sit and try to understand.

Shawna Lemay, Peace Love Chocolate Cake

Kelli Russell Agodon and I had not seen each other in over a year and she and her husband Rose came over. We were all fully vaccinated and so happy to be able take one more step towards re-entry to a normal life. Hugs! Unicorn sprinklers! Pink cupcakes and sparkling rose for my birthday AND to celebrate Kelli’s new book from Copper Canyon, Dialogue with Rising Tides.

It was great to talk poetry, gardens, hang out on the back porch on rocking chairs with hummingbirds, and just goof around. And we had a lovely day for it – the warmest day of the year so far. The tulips in our gardens bloomed while our visitors were here, which seemed like a sign of something good.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Post-Vaccine Visits with Friends, A New Poem in Chestnut Review, and a Zoom Reading

I have always joked that I’m a medieval mind trapped in a modern body.  And what I’ve meant by that statement is that I’m queasy when it comes to bodies, that I see myself as a soul trapped in flesh, flesh that is out to betray me in any number of ways.  I’m queasy when it comes to fluids and all the ways the body wants to ooze. […]

And now my poetry brain has the last word:  I seem to be writing a series of poems about breast cancer.  I’m a woman who has tried to deny the power of the flesh, only to be reminded again and again, in ways both affirming and terrifying.

My thoughts keep returning to my medical sleuthing, looking for diseases in the family tree.  I think of my grandmother and her sister, who had breast cancer that did not kill them.  I think of their aunt, who took a train from the Tennessee farm to Johns Hopkins but nothing could be done about the breast cancer that would kill her.  I think of breast cancer as a runner, that shoot of mint that shows up in a different part of the yard, far from the mother plant.

My grandmother told me stories about this spinster aunt but never mentioned her breast cancer or the train trip.  Until my medical sleuthing, I had always had this idea of my grandmother as the one who achieved escape velocity, the only one who left the family farm with the others never leaving the farm at all, since my grandparents always went back to visit, never the other way round.

I have inherited the cedar chest made by the older brother Andrew, filled with quilts made by the spinster Aunt Jenny.   I’m thinking about chests and breast cancer.  I’m thinking about cedar and trees, the newish research on trees, how they communicate to each other in subterranean ways, how they nourish each other.  My thoughts often go to this article in The New York Times which introduced me to the arboreal work of Suzanne Simard.

This morning, I have spent hours trying to twist/weave/braid these strands into a poem.  At this point, I don’t even feel like I have a tangle, so much as strands that don’t want to come near each other.  Let me go for a walk to ponder what’s next.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Flesh and the Diseases that Shoot across Generations and the Poems We Try to Create

I move among this cemetery of words,
run my fingers along the headstones of conversations.
I asked my grandfather to interpret my dreams as, kneeling,
I trimmed the grass by the grave of his faith.
The details will blur, moss and lichen will muffle voices.
Slowly the earth of our thoughts will turn, subside.

Bob Mee, 5 a.m. APRIL. WRITING YOURSELF OUT OF WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

I wrote my poetry collections Noir and The Girl Who Cried from what I’ve called my ‘Understory’: I’d always had a distinct sense of life running along two parallel lines, even as a child. And I learnt very young there were things it was acceptable to talk about, and things it was not. On the whole, unhappy things were the ones that caused trouble.

I think in terms of having an ‘elephant’ that decides what I actually do in life, whatever my rational brain might say. It makes the big moves. 

And I, or my elephant, ended up shaping my collections around the subjects I’d found most painful in my life, and most difficult to talk about. Noir (HappenStance, 2016) explored vulnerability as a teen, and the fallout from exploitation; and The Girl Who Cried (HappenStance, 2020) probes a lifelong struggle with attachment.

Writing these made more sense of things, somehow. As though the invisible suffering wasn’t all for nothing.

Ongoing group

So then I decided to set up an ongoing online group under the banner ‘The Understory Conversation’ – for other poets who are also curious. The group has been meeting since autumn, and feels truly nourishing. […]

The thing I think we most value is the fact we meet with a shared understanding that having an Understory is part and parcel of normal human experience. So we start from there, without pathologising.

It’s liberating. 

Common themes emerge in a way that’s almost uncanny. We learn so much from hearing from each other. We really listen.

And the group offers some refuge – as each member wends her way through the processes of writing, submitting, publishing.

Charlotte Gann, THE UNDERSTORY CONVERSATION

I’ve been working this week on preliminary design for the next book project, which is my collection of midwest gothic awesomeness, dark country.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve finished an ungodly amount of full-length manuscripts (well, it’s just 4, but it feels ungodly when they are sitting quietly unpublished.) I decided this year, since I don’t have any book releases on the immediate horizon, and it had been a year since Black Lawrence released sex & violence, that I might as well get them out in the world.  It’s been a learning curve–and something altogether different than publishing zines or chapbooks, which I am used to. A full-length book is just so much more unruly than a shorter book. More editing, more proofing, more design hits and misses.  And also, the after work of actually getting it in the hands of readers and getting any sort of blip on the promotion side. It feels hard with anything I write and put out there, but especially something like a full-length collection. 

I’ve spoken before on my reasons for self-publishing this series of books–mostly that my current publisher passed on a couple of them during reading periods (and obviously, they can’t publish everything I write, cause yo, I write a lot.) I’m not feeling like sending to other contests and reading periods is really something I want or have resources to do.  I am also aware of the space I take up as a mid-career, already reasonably well-published author when there are so many other emerging writers out there who could have those opportunities. (I think this sometimes when I’m on the self-pity train, the why not me? train, but really sometimes, things like publishing luck seem really capricious and obviously skewed toward the privileged–whether it’s age or gender or ethnicity.) We should all take up less space. Or at best, try to make room through our endeavors. But you also have to balance this with a desire to find your readers and thrive as a creative. 

Of course, there is a lot of uncertainty when you don’t have someone–an editor, a publisher, backing you up.  Lots of doubts that you’re not just putting more crap into the world.   Other people who probably think your work is crap.  But one thing I hope I’ve gained as I get older is not so much blatant overconfidence (which is totally true sometimes) , but moreso an ability to discern what is good, what is crap, what’s worth launching into the world, and what should just stay safely on my computer for awhile or needs more work.  I also know how to put a book together now, more than I ever did.  Have even been able to help other authors with their through manuscript consultations.  Consultations which actually have taught me as much as I’ve helped the other author (hopefully anyway..lol… I may have just muddied the waters).

Kristy Bowen, a year of self publishing

Who I am is constructed, in part, out of books I’ve read. When I read, especially if I love what I’m reading, I feel as if the book has entered my very bone marrow. But I read, on average, four or five books a week. Often more. Where has my mind put decades of books?   

Julie Beck’s article in The Atlantic offers an answer. It’s titled, “Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read.” She writes, “people often shove more into their brains than they can possibly hold.” She cites a study from 2009 showing the average American encounters 100,000 words a day. Our memories simply cannot keep all this information readily available. I say pish posh, the memories we take in from what we read has to do with its relevance. We hang on to the information that most impacts us, intrigues us, or that we put to use.  

Beck also points out we’re better able to recall the context in which we read a book, so we remember reading a green-jacketed novel based in Sierra Leone while on vacation, but are likely to recall the book’s contents. To me that’s one of memory’s gifts. I’ll never forget reading The Color Purple while nursing my firstborn or reading The World According To Garp while on the couch recovering from knee surgery or becoming so immersed in by Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House while at an airport departure gate that I missed my flight.

Okay, maybe I feel threatened by the idea that I’ve wasted literal years of my life reading books that simply float beyond memory into a void. But there’s plenty of evidence that books change us, whether we remember them well or not at all.

Laura Grace Weldon, Forgetting Books We’ve Read

Life’s been way too busy but I did want to get a post out this week to shoutout a few notable poetry collections published recently:

Janel Pineda’s Lineage of Rain (Haymarket Books) is a dynamic collection that I’m happy to see out in the world. I’ve been teaching and admiring Pineda’s work for years now. Check out her poem “Rain” to get a sense of her compelling lyricism.

Amelia Díaz Ettinger’s Fossils On A Red Flag (Finishing Line Press) is another recent publication that I’m happy to shoutout. I got a chance to spend time with this chapbook and write a blurb. Here’s what I said:

Fossils on a Red Flag by Amelia Díaz Ettinger is a powerful collection of poems that interrogates the (mis)use as a gunnery and bombing practice site by the U.S. military of Puerto Rico’s Isla Culebra. This work grapples with what is lost in the language of official government orders and, by doing so, sheds light on the human and environmental costs. With sharp turns of lyricism and image shaped by the insistent voice of witness, this collection honors the history of los Culebrenses who have spent generations gathering “baskets of loss / —[and who] still gather after so many hurricanes.” Like the queen conch, present in a series of these poems and whose shell is a symbol of survival and beauty, Fossils on a Red Flag presents a vision of perseverance.

José Angel Araguz, shoutouts

Even without knowing that Ashley Farmer is predominantly the author of works of prose—including the forthcoming essay collection Dear Damage (Sarabande Books, 2022), the chapbook Farm Town (Rust Belt Bindery, 2012), the short story collection Beside Myself (PANK/Tiny Hardcore Press, 2014) and the novella The Farmacist (Jellyfish Highway Press, Inc., 2015)—the pieces in The Women might suggest that. This isn’t a swipe or a complaint, but an acknowledgment that her poems are constructed very much out of sentences, allowing one to build upon another, and allowing that accumulation, or even that collision, to inform each piece’s short narrative. Sometimes the narrative is a collage of ideas around a particular phrase or thought, and other times, the narrative is more straightforward, allowing one foot to step directly in front of another, towards a conclusion.

The poems included here are constructed via selecting threads and phrases from Google searches. Through her searches, Farmer collects sequences of threads and interweaves those searches into poems that each sit beneath titles that one might suspect were lifted from her original search phrase, but for the acknowledgments that include that certain “of these pieces previously appeared, sometimes in slightly different forms, under slightly different titles.” It would suggest that the searches, however they were conducted, utilized an array of phrases and sentences, sorting the barrage into bins, and from each of those bins, crafting each poem from those materials. The Women plays with elements of exploring and documenting how women are seen, depicted and discussed, pulling at a variety of depictions of cultural space, worked neither as flarf nor conceptual, but shaped into poems that write of domestic labour, violence, home, love, fear, strength and community, body image, health, leadership, marriage, weathering storms and notions of being bad or inherent goodness.

Her poems include shades of the works of Cindy Sherman and Francesca Stern Woodman, in that all three determined their gaze on and around the form and cultural ideas surrounding women, from the abstract, the absolute and the absurd to concurrently acknowledge and document as well as strip away those layers of overlaid determinations by a male-dominated culture; all three of these artists, in their own way, allowing the women they were viewing and/or discussing, their subjects, to determine the shape of their gaze, but also shaping that final result. “See two young women harvesting hope in Marion County, / 1944,” Farmer writes, in the poem “Women Land,” “cultivating new pathways to the boardroom.”

Stop Women

Sometimes one wonders if our nation is a public strip club. A mother and daughter who run a brothel for truckers fight back when the mafia tries to take over their operation. Men’s fragrances smell like excuses for getting home late. You will not stop women.

rob mclennan, Ashley Farmer, The Women

I couldn’t have been more thrilled to hear that Rena Priest will be our new Washington State Poet Laureate. I took a workshop with Rena at Chuckanut Sandstone in 2018, and have been happily singing her praises ever since. She is an exceptional poet and—you have only to meet her once to know this—a generous and kind teacher.

Plus, I had just ordered her book Patriarchy Blues, from Village Books so that I could include her in my blog line-up this April. Serendipity all over the place!

Patriarchy Blues was published by MoonPath Press in 2017, and received an American Book Award in 2018. Many (all?) of its 26 poems are about desire, specifically, the lopsided desire that comes of living in a patriarchy. Dedicated to “the subterranean homesick matriarchy,” the book holds up a mirror to the world and the world puts on its lipstick and dances. Scissors desire the thread and the moon longs to turn her face away. “Can you climb into a person’s / longing for you and float away?” asks one poem (“The Encyclopedia Britannica, Sunshine, a Mosquito”); another, “Is desire not acted upon a betrayal?” (“Creeping Out of Orbit”).  And, always, this lushness, the body nourished by drums and bells and honey.

Bethany Reid, Rena Priest

“A Cap of Horror” is subtitled “First World War poetry written by female nurses and carers” and is edited by Leo van Bergen, Marijke Foncke and Renee Schoffelen. Leo van Bergen’s introduction explains the rationale behind the anthology, “I wondered whether besides Brittain and Borden other female nurses had turned their wartime experiences into poetry as well. Eventually I found seventeen women, nurses and others working in the medical line, who in forty poems and a cycle of sonnets reflected on various aspects of the (medical) war. Many of these touched me deeply, as I hope they will do you.” The anthology is bilingual in English and Dutch in the hope of gaining recognition for the poets in Dutch-speaking countries. Open the book from the English language title to get the poems in English, reverse the book to the Dutch title to get the poems in Dutch. The contents list includes Vera Brittain, Mary Borden, May Sinclair and Rose Macauley and the poems are organised by theme. […]

“A Cap of Horror/Een Kap van Afschuw” is a welcome anthology of war poetry from the viewpoint of nurses and support workers who cared for the casualties. While there is some jingoism and some poets cast soldiers as heroes, others temper this by addressing the affect caring for the injured had on the nurses. Loss is also acknowledged and questions raised about the nature of war and the importance of remembering. The research in tracking down the poems and rediscovering women poets of the period is a useful reminder that there is more to be written about war than the work produced by soldier-poets. A useful addition to the canon of First World War poetry.

Emma Lee, “A Cap of Horror/Een Kap van Afschuw” edited Leo Van Bergen (dt) – book review

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a riveting conversation with Sarah J. Sloat about her new book Hotel Almighty (Sarabande Books). […]

“When I was doing [Hotel Almighty] and even now when I work on projects, a lot of what I find I’m doing is just expressing a love of reading and of books themselves,” says Sloat in discussing her new book. “I mean, I just love paper. To take a book and be able to make it into something — that was really fun and exciting for me.”

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Hotel Almighty by Sarah J. Sloat

Yellow. How do we read you?  Sickly or simple as happiness?  Simple as just living without ponderous thought.   Daffodils in their junior prom dresses.  Come rain, come light snow petals quiver but they don’t drop.  

Forstyhia too.  On the frontline of joy.  Out from under, like Easter.  In the face of death.  Breathing quivering glaring at darkening rain clouds that glare and brighten them

 A duck egg’s yolk, outsized sun.  That which feeds in scarcity is revered as a goddess

and fear, and disillusion, too much optimism, too much yellow that fades, becomes dingy, a street sign — crossing! bus! children! — in need of attention

and fear of the other in their own birthed skin —

Jill Pearlman, A Season of Yellow

Those distant sirens are spreading rumors. They say the seasons are loveless and can only offer damage as a diamond ring.

Those sirens swear that zombie-walking romeos are the only fix we can find for what ails us. That the streets have nothing promising to share, they can only teach us how to curse in gutterspeak.

Those sirens don’t reveal how we can have our lighter moments, like loud-sugar lovers in some FM pop song. Or that we can outlast destruction, just as Joan of Arc was made saintly when ravaged by flames.

Those distant sirens don’t mention how optimism, dressed in its halo of golden moments, can linger with us in alleyways, show us how to find that one good vein even in our darkest moments.

Rich Ferguson, If you listen carefully

But wow, did today feel like my dream of orcas who invited me to ride them: two of them side by side so I could stand with one foot on each orca back as they held a rein of kelp through their mouths so I had something to hold onto: their powerful, pent bodies also reined in to not throw their rider, the ripples of trying to remember to go gently because right, we invited this weird fragile thing to come along and we don’t want to drown her by accident something I could feel in them through my feet: the body does what the body loves. What it is made to do.

You know what happened in that dream? They said you know what this is dumb just come down with us and I answered but how will I breathe? And they said you won’t need to, and I didn’t. I went down with them, orca myself now I suppose, and I could see their powerful bodies with my own, flashing even in that dense weight of black depth.

It was pure bliss.

The body does what the body loves, so for the final 100 of the 4rth 400, I loped with powerful pull reserving nothing much at all, and for the final 50 kicked like I was finishing, and for the final 25 turned up the volume enough to bring it in at 1:15 again and slosh the wall.

What did my heart rate do during that last 100 of the last 400? It went DOWN. Ha.

My body loves wholeness: animal power unconscious of itself, just pure expression and pure experience.

JJS, Day 6: 4x400s round two – the body does what the body loves

Imagine it: gathering again, with other human beings, engaged in listening, in art, in entertainment. You know–all that stuff we once took for granted, pre-pandemic and back when virtual events were mostly either experimental or TV shows.

In recent years, I have not been participating in many poetry readings; attending them still, yes–when possible, when life has not intervened too much–but not actively looking for reading venues, not the way I did in previous decades when I was learning how to present my work publicly. Lately, even when I’ve attended readings with open mics, I often choose not to sign up to read. I need to get home to grade papers or go to bed.

This situation has led to a gap in my reading-poetry practice. True, I teach; I am accustomed to speaking in front of a group of near-strangers, and that is a kind of public-speaking skill. There’s a distinct difference between being the authority and being the author, however. I found myself trying to explain this difference to a friend of mine last evening as we drove home from: MY FIRST IN-PERSON POETRY READING IN AGES!

[An aside here to express boundless thanks to Jenny Hill and Dan Waber of the Wunderbarn in East Greenville PA, who asked me to lead off their Just about an Hour and a Half Variety Hour for the 2021 season–quite an honor!]

I had some preparation, however, because local friends-in-poetry had invited me to read for a video that will stream on April 27th from the Facebook page of Bethlehem PA’s venue The Ice House. That was a new experience for me, though strange: I had to stay in one place without walking and fidgeting while reading to a very kind person behind a camera and another kind person connected to me by a microphone and earphones–in an otherwise empty performance space. O, Brave New World…

The reading at the Wunderbarn commenced the following evening, so the practice in front of the camera helped by giving me the opportunity to organize both my poems and my thoughts. I would not say that putting together a reading is exciting, but it offers some of the quiet challenges of a puzzle or word game. The act of reading in person to an audience changes those challenges to one of performance. It has been a pleasant task to expend energy thinking about poetry; I’ve been attending readings and craft talks remotely all month. And the performance space at Wunderbarn is sweetly rural. We were seated outdoors, and as dusk came on the human voices were accompanied by ducks and frogs. As so many of my poems feature the natural world, that felt fitting.

Friends in the audience, an added boon. That fact encouraged me to read two or three newer poems that I’ve not read out loud before and not to feel too awkward about possibly stumbling through my own lines. Also, though the grounds were muddy and the air rather cool, the rain held off. If I were the sort of person who believed in omens, I would say this event bodes well. Instead, I lift up my voice in gratitude.

Ann E. Michael, In person

fires lit in circles
burning across the page

elliptical but intersecting
on late-night bridges

off on a lark
in front of the crowd

looking through telescopes
wondering what we are

cloud-obscured stars
outside the bar

Jason Crane, POEM: orbits

We might take off our shoes and walk together through the dew-damp grass of the very early morning. We might sit down together with coffee and quiet talk, speaking of those things in our lives that are real. It might be that we have beliefs and values in common, and that our hearts are our own, that we are not controlled by some dogma or ideology. That who we are and what we are might be more important than where we were born or how we pray. Wouldn’t that be something? In these things I will place my hopes, and I promise to leave room for your hopes as well.

James Lee Jobe, Our hearts are our own.

Red buds
of the silver maples

making promises
to the wind.

Tom Montag, RED BUDS