Kevin J. O’Conner

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

This week, I didn’t notice too many common themes. Poetry bloggers were all over the place—in a good way. But I sense a shared restlessness, prompted perhaps in part by the feeling, in many places around the northern hemisphere, that spring is seriously overdue.

It is not uncommon to have a day like this during the month of March in the Midwest. It’s almost Spring, but the threat of snow is still very real on any given day. (This morning, we woke to an ice/sleet storm. It was melted by 2 PM.) My spring break begins next Friday, and I’m not sure whether it will be sunny long walk weather or inside with a blanket weather. The plants aren’t sure, either–the day lilies are already pushing their green through the cold ground, as are the clusters of crocus. The coyotes from the nearby forest preserve are getting bold, loping into the neighborhood yards, and the birds are back, shimmering the trees with their tentative song. Everything seems to be waiting for a change, one long inhale held and held and held.

Changes abound, and not just in the weather. I have resurrected the YA novel manuscript I began two summers ago in the hopes of trying something a little different. The poems are coming slowly, so slowly, and yet I want to write. On any given day, my writing seems very much like strange weather – something begins well, then it dissolves into something beautiful but meaningless; it occasionally gets a little dangerous, and then melts into oblivion or a journal page that I won’t look at again. Even the writing of this post seemed to follow that pattern – at first, it came easily and then, when I got to this paragraph, fits and starts. A lot of deleting and rewriting. A lot of fog and dissonance. (You can decide what the weather is like as reader here…) And I may not post next week during my time off from work, giving myself a break from the self-imposed resolution to post once a week, my own internal weather just as fickle as Mother Nature’s.
Donna Vorreyer, Fluctuation

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I like birth as a metaphor for the creative process, but it’s a bit of a cliché, plus it’s not accessible to everybody (make that every body). I can see how another bodily function could be an apt metaphor, too, one we all share. You may have heard of the children’s book Everyone Poops? It’s true, we do.

Think about it. The creative process is a lot like the digestive process. We take life into our bodies. We let it travel through us. We absorb what we can. We express those things that need to come out.

Bear with me here.

Sometimes poems and stories come out in a messy, smelly, gush. Sometimes we are surprised by their colors, by the kernels of life embedded inside. Sometimes we strain and strain and all that comes out is a little pebble of language, maybe nothing at all. Sometimes a piece of writing slides from our bodies and we feel cleansed and light.
Gayle Brandeis, Arse Poetica (Or, A Shitty Metaphor) (h/t: Kim Bailey Spradlin)

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Perhaps the plethora of poets, poetry readings, poetry workshops and poetry programs today has made some versions of the “first person lyric grounded in everyday experience” seem too easy, too artless—just the sort of thing anyone who decided yesterday to call herself a poet can write. Perhaps the subjects of such lyrics have begun to seem too predictable. Perhaps the tide has finally finished turning against “confessional” poetry—an archetypal twentieth-century version of first person lyric grounded in everyday experience—and especially against less-than-artistic versions of it. Here’s Marjorie Perloff (an academic critic I don’t always trust, whose championing of the “new” in poetry can seem only intellectually motivated), in one of her updates of Pound’s Don’ts:

“Don’t take yourself so seriously. In the age of social networks, of endless information and misinformation, “sensitivity” and “the true voice of feeling” have become the most available of commodities.” (Poetry, April, 2013)
Judy Kronenfeld, Is the first person lyric unfashionable or outmoded? (guest post at Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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In the Midwest, people are afraid of death, they ignore it until they can’t, they tuck it away in little boxes in their attics, they buy roses for the funerals with all the thorns pre-cut. But Erica Wright’s poetry collection doesn’t take place in the Midwest where I grew up, it emerges from the Southern Gothic tradition where, let’s face it, all the bayou stories do end with the word—drowned.

In Wright’s second collection, death arrives in a thousand and one forms: from tsunamis to volcanos, spontaneous human combustion to beheadings, from bullets to simply time or disease, death is ever-present. Interestingly, what is not ever-present is despair or even grief. And this is where the particular genius of Wright’s poems surfaces, her poems refuse to be mawkish, except perhaps in the original meaning of the word—maggotry, as in the decay of a corpse. Death instead, becomes a muse, and Wright’s poems in All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned pay homage to the macabre.
Anita Olivia Koester, American Gothic: All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned by Erica Wright

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This chapbook explores the received images of the feminine in fairy tales. The women and girls in this collaborative chapbook resist the common tropes of red riding hoods, gilded mirrors, and iced palaces. Every girl becomes the wolf because every girl has the power to tear apart the cultural conceit of wicked stepmoms, heartless mothers, and voracious monsters. Witches, hags, and mothers of damaged creatures from myth, movies, and lore prowl through this poetry. Lilith settles in to enjoy the county fair rib-off, Grendel’s mother holds her son close, and the Sphynx bears the weight of mythic secrets. Mothers demand their own freedom, daughters refuse gendered expectations, and wives leave what spoils with rot behind. As they wrestle with their place in these stories, they transform into figures outside of the victims or villains they have been perceived to be.
Andrea Blythe, Preorders Open for EVERY GIRL BECOMES THE WOLF!

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I have a lot of interconnected poems about Appalachia with Latin titles. The choice is inspired by my great uncle who died extremely young during WWII in an airplane crash in Brazil. He was this hillbilly kid who loved machines, and oddly knew Latin, which surprised me. He ended up in the Air Force where he traveled around the world. I have a box of his letters home, and they’re fascinating. He would write his younger brother in Latin so the censors during the war didn’t know what he was sharing. He was clever and charming, and he inspired me to learn Latin, too. At the very least I wanted to understand what he had written. Sadly, his younger brother also died in an airplane crash. Gravity does not love my family.

Another inspiration for this poem is not something I normally talk about directly except to family really, but there are many women in my family who hear voices. It’s not a frightening or a troublesome thing, but a fact. Are they real? Who knows. Is it psychic ability or mental illness? Probably both. Centuries ago they’d be saints or witches, right? The fact remains that we hear voices, and those who do hear them love them. They’re a comfort of sorts. So, when I wrote this I was thinking about my extended family and the voices (literal and not quite literal) of those family members we lose during our lifetimes. Those people live on in the stories we tell and those things we’ve learned or come to understand by growing up in a space shaped by their presence: place and voice and sorrow and joy and love and struggle going back generations.
Amanda Rachelle Warren – from a guest interview by Allyson Whipple at Bekah Steimel’s blog

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But the line as a mere element of writing or drawing is incomplete without the recognition that it is essentially a representation of an aspect of human experience. We inhabit this world, as though it were a canvas or page, scratching our lives into its containment, and we live in time, on a line from birth to death. Our lives, like a geometric line, are in a sense infinite. We enter at a point in history, a place with antecedents and influences. And after we arrive at our personal point B, the line drawn by our lives continues in unknown ways to affect the future. As we inhabit our time, we string up memories and impressions from here and there, bringing disparate things together.

For a line also joins things—not only literally, as in connecting a spatial or literary point A to B, but also metaphorically. A line functions as a simile. Once two things are put together via the bridge of a line, we are asserting (or simply revealing) an underlying similarity that may not have been apparent before. Sometimes, in any artistic practice, we set our ends and then work to discover the path of connection. We may have an idea or point we are aiming for, but for authenticity’s sake, we have to be alert for and welcoming of the detour and the unexpected joineries we stumble upon. Other times we pay attention to the line itself (the process) rather than its points of origin and destination. Stafford: “The authentic is a line from one thing / along to the next; it interests us.”(5) (And note how Stafford’s lineation breaks right as the sentence joins one thing to the next! The authentic becomes more complex than we may first assume.)
Rosemary Starace, Following a Line

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i mislearn elation as sated moans
i misread sanity as a modest tramline
a sermon in entrails and snarled talons
mistold in idle, silent yodels

— a ‘beau présent’ (beautiful in-law) – created using only the letters found in a person’s name. for this one, i used a name that is an anagram of the poem’s title.
james w. moore, Dreamy Tonsils

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Trying to write a poem in which no words repeat when I’m falling asleep resulted in this…

I
ache
a weird iconography of indifference
clamoring to fight
battles no sane person would invite into the chamber

Spaces
get larger and stranger
warping howling buffeting winds snapping collars weeding out time

E-bow tone
sharp-edged jagged plain-faced speaking power surges confined
melting hoverdrum struck under glacial disappearances

Kevin J. O’Conner, Struck dumb (a sleepy poem)

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My cabdriver likes to give advice, has a sort of philosophical take on gender after the end of the world, and is clearly influenced by certain strong female characters on The Walking Dead, a show I still watch compulsively even though it’s much less smart and riveting than once upon a time. It’s also the only show I forgive for casting mostly skinny women, given the post-zombie-plague food situation (though I find their endless supply of tight-fitting jeans implausible). Mostly, though, my poem, like a lot I’ve written lately, is about surviving middle age. Having walked through the door of age fifty, I DO know what the moon really thinks of you. “Says the Cab Driver of the Apocalypse” just came out, appropriately enough, in the new Moon City Review, handed off to me at the AWP last weekend. Thanks to the editors from granting me right-of-way.
Lesley Wheeler, It’s red, reflecting all our sunsets

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We talked about wondering if English majors have a different approach to narratives of apocalypse than the general population. On the way home, it occurred to me to wonder if a certain segment of English majors chooses that major because of their love of dystopian literature.

We talked about the apocalypses we never thought we would see in our lifetimes, but now we seem to be in a race to see which apocalypse will win. The specter of nuclear war has raised its head again, and we agreed that we’re seeing alarming similarities between our time and Europe in the 1930’s. And we live in South Florida which will be a ground zero in this century of rising seas.

Our literary experiences have trained us to spot the apocalypse on the horizon, but I’m not sure they’ve told us what we should do. Of course, part of the problem is not knowing which apocalypse will come for us first.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Choose Your Own Apocalypse

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Here’s the peewit whistle across the garden fences –
Francis or Steven after summer teatime ready to play.
And then we three sharing the dank smell of the flowerbed loam
and the sharp prairie forever scent of grass
(because we move our tiny armies crouching,
lying sideways on the earth, down where the ants teem
and the snuffling dog knows his world. Planes may burr
across some limitless sky somewhere and the train
stammers along its steel horizon, but we’re grounded
and utterly but fearlessly lost)…
Dick Jones, There is a Courtyard

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

Over the past few days I’ve been studying César Vallejo’s poem “Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca” (“White Stone on a Black Stone” in the Poetry magazine translation by Rebecca Seiferle), in which he famously “remembers” his own death, and turns back con todo mi camino, a verme solo — “with all of my road, to see myself alone.” Perhaps conditioned by this, I’m struck by how many poets this week have been writing about facing fears.

Owls wake me in winter. Thin talons worry into my scalp. Time immemorial, time that passes. My days are dark with black ash and bone, the rot settling into sickly flowers. Sometimes, I dream of nectar, sometimes, of blood.
Lakshmi, This Winter Heart: response to a question from another Tumblr user

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In 2014 I embarked on an anonymous adventure, publishing some poetry chapbooks with my super small press Twenty-Four Hours. We did 4 books between then and now, each free of identity-confirming information such as author names, biographies, photos, or anything else that would give away the gender, race, or age of the poet. The reasons were multi-fold. It would take away the puffery of an author bio and force the reader (and the writer) to consider the poems themselves, not the previous accomplishments of the writer. It would also take away any preconceived notions of what a particular work a writer of a certain gender, a certain race, or a certain age is “supposed” to produce. These were a smashing success and the philosophical ideas behind them resonated with many people.

So around this time in 2016, a few weeks shy of Christmas, I decided to make the next logical step and use myself as a test subject. I was going to publish all of my work anonymously.
Josh Medsker (guest blogger for Trish Hopkinson), My year of living anonymously

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Usually winter is a productive creative time for me- the weather is not tempting me outdoors, and the long drag of school days without breaks usually leaves me very eager to think about other things at home. Any other things. But not this winter.

After the poetry writing I did in January at the conference I attended, every bit of writing I’ve done since has been non-poetry related – this blog, reviews of other poets, proposals and lessons for work, etc. The poems are dormant.

I am hopeful that they are dormant in the same way the iris bulbs in front of my house are dormant – sleeping safe beneath the soil of everyday “stuff” but ready and able to push through and bloom when the weather dictates. But there is a nagging fear that, this time, the poems are dormant the way a volcano can be dormant – seething beneath the surface for years and years and years, roiling and alive but never surfacing. And this is a little scary.
Donna Vorreyer, Fear of Hibernation

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I had a dream a few nights ago in which I was touring a new university opened by Donald Trump. I do not know why, in my dream, I was touring a university owned by Donald Trump, but apparently, I was considering signing up for classes there. The building was being touted as “new”, but it was shoddily built and some of the larger rooms were still under construction. I wandered into the staff kitchen to chat with some fellow prospective students and I kept saying, “But what’s the curriculum? I haven’t seen a curriculum.” Suddenly, busted-elevator-style, the entire kitchen sank with a stomach-lurching thud and crash-landed in the basement, right next to the university swimming pool. Shell-shocked, I wandered out into the pool area. Trump came ambling up to greet me, and I explained to him that his school seemed to have some infrastructure problems, as the kitchen just fell through the floor and missed landing in the swimming pool by mere feet. Trump seemed totally unfazed by this news.
Kristen McHenry, Dystopian Round-Up

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This still from Werner Herzog’s ‘Encounters at the end of the world’ has been called ‘one of the great existential moments of modern cinema’. It’s one that has me in tears. For some reason this one penguin has left the tribe (according to wikipedia , a group of penguins on land is called a waddle. Other collective nouns for penguins include: rookery, colony, and huddle. None of them seem to credit their air of social purpose. I’ll stay with tribe). The others are purposefully plodding seaward, towards food and salvation. This one is equally purposefully heading inland to a certain death. The camera pulls back, and goes on pulling back until the penguin is microscopic in an infinity of white. Herzog’s voice-over speculates that the only reason for this behaviour is that the penguin has become insane. It’s heartbreaking.

I should say that I’ve spent the last couple of days in bed, feeling physically done in. A bit like the early symptoms of flu, without the coughing and sneezing. Just very tired and achey. So this post post might be more incoherent than usual. Still. Press on. Basically I’ve been thinking about how to introduce today’s guest poet, who happens to write short poems…not necessarily lyric, but short. I’m very conscious that I don’t do short, and admire poets who do, mainly because I think it takes more confidence and craft and discipline than I have. I suspect I’m afraid of white space, because, essentially, it leaves no hiding place. Every word is exposed, and has to justify itself.
John Foggin, No hiding place…. and a Polished gem: Matthew Stewart

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I face a slice of pink sky and await
words, dormant bulbs interred in dirt. Your absence
invades my slumber, I will die of it. The rawness
is too much.
Risa Denenberg, Nostalgia is an illness you might die of

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I keep trying to write about my impending book publication, about the process of writing, about poetry. But all I can think about are the students and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I spent twelve years in a high school classroom – one as a full-time substitute teacher, eleven as an English teacher.

I’ve taught every kind of student: eager, disinterested, poor, rich, parents overly involved, parents totally absent, some good at school, others disheartened by it. I’ve taught students as articulate as those who are speaking out now about gun reform. I’ve taught students who I know were capable of killing seventeen of their peers.

Every time I sit down to write about writing, I come up dry, because it doesn’t seem important in the face of dead children. Then I remember Alex Schachter reading his son Max’s poem. A poem that Max wrote two weeks before he was gunned down in his high school. I think of how people turn to poetry in times of love, in times of sorrow.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, What can a poem do?

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I find the main themes I return to are mental health and legacy. My first two chapbook manuscripts dissect my mental health diagnosis and my relationship with others with mental health challenges. Because mental health does affect every aspect of life, it’s important to me to speak about it and work against the stigma surrounding it. I feel the need to be very vocal about it because of the silence and stigma still surrounding mental disorders in Latinx communities, particularly the one I grew up in. I feel I wasted a lot of time feeling like something was wrong with me, and I find it important to write to let others like me know they’re not alone. Legacy is also interesting to me to explore, particularly definitions from others and from oneself. I feel most satisfied writing about the complexity of my heritage and am currently working on a few projects questioning my relationship to the colonizer/colonized sides of my family tree. I think a lot about when to use language, and when to use stillness, so I often edit and edit until the rhythm of a poem is evident on page. Some images I return to frequently are surrealism and dreams, and water and all of the implications they can have.
Marisa Adame, interviewed by Shannon Steimel

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I do write about the things that frighten me in life and the world, but I think I am also fascinated by my fear, by my inner demons, by the notion of fear itself. Some of these fears, like sexual or domestic violence are easy to understand as frightening, but I have other responses to things that only take on significance because my psyche associates them with other things. Engaging with fear tends to expand one’s personal resilience and strength, and I think that has great value. The ghost story reminds us to stay strong against thoughts of what we will one day be erased from life and memory. The creature story reminds us that what makes us different isn’t always cause for exile from polite society. And, enduring the trust terrifying world of nightmares tells us that we are stronger than we think, that we have the power to survive the torments our demons serve us whenever they can.

I feel myself, as a person, haunted by the darkness in the world, but in my work I can choose to wear it or face it, and I have the choice of how. Beyond contending with the bigger issues of monstrosity and complexity, I think that some of us just really love dancing in the dark. My poems definitely come from a desire to explore the complexities of the human psyche, the ineffable void inside us all, the flip side of the incessant, banal need to demonstrate happiness in our worlds. Something in that darkness speaks through sharp teeth, reminding us of what is really human, what is authentic.
Saba Syed Razvi, interviewed by Andrea Blythe

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Her arm, absent from sleep,

has great adventures. And then she wakes and shifts her weight,
only to discover something cold and clammy in the sheets beside her,

a lump of flesh she cannot call her own. Her other arm,
the one remaining in her bed, loyal until the end,

investigates by lifting the offending, foreign object
and then, in shock, dropping it.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, “We Surrender Our Dreams to Hunger” (accompanying an interview by Shannon Steimel)

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If you’ve always relied on your brain, rather than your body, for a sense of self-worth and self-respect, and it lets you down, it’s disheartening. It’s frustrating. But one neurologist who specializes in recovering from different types of brain injury (including MS lesions) told me that we don’t really know what the brain can do when challenged, how plastic our memory and abilities. As a writer I’ve tried to continue to write through all the health challenges I’ve had, even when my fingers could barely type. The piece I wrote about the consequences of being raped when I was six (and pondering the long-term consequences for so may girls who have had these things happen to them) was written a few months ago when I was still practicing my motor skills and swallowing, and I hope it will be helpful to someone. Talking about rape isn’t super fun or upbeat, but until we start protecting people and standing up against a culture of “boys will be boys” and “it’s okay for girls to suffer in silence” and “well, it happens to everyone” I’m afraid that little girls will be in the same danger I was in in 1979. As I talked about in my last post, it’s important not to get so fatigued mentally, spiritually, physically that we stop fighting for what is right. I am trying.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, A piece on rape culture on The Rumpus, outrage fatigue, a renovation and accessibility, and what to do when your brain lets you down

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Look, I can’t adequately explain to you what it is to feel terror at frost heaves in the road you’re shuffling, or of curbs, or of a span of loose pebbles, never mind a hill or stairs: what it is to know that uneven ground is impossible, that even that flat-ish forest path is off limits to you, creature of wilds, because one exposed root can end you if you fall: I can’t adequately explain months and months of severed paraspinals screaming and conscious mind explaining to nerves and muscles how to lift, and move, and set down each foot (and please oh please body do it for me without impact that blows the world apart in blinding, nauseous pain that makes me want to die). I can only tell you this: today the water was so still and calm after days of furious winds and violent waves, salt-spray crusting everything in a moment. I can only show you what I saw: this Atlantic, these creatures, this vast sky, this small, irrelevant body in the midst of it so completely sure-footed and strong on loose sand and weathered steps, having forgotten again to take even ibuprofen, still and calm with oceanic joy, moving like it didn’t mean everything.
JJS, February 22, 2018: pause for gratitude

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I needed to write the poems I have written.  I will continue to write poems about the loss I feel each time a person is gunned down in mass shootings in this country.  But I can no longer only do that.  I will stand behind the youth of America who have raised their voices and said You are either with us or against us, because I believe being silent is a form of complicity.  I will be in attendance on March 24th in the March for Our Lives.  I have already made a donation for this event at March for Our Lives/Go Fund Me.  I have begun reading about how our elected officials vote on gun laws.  This is just my beginning.

As a poet, I will continue to process my grief through writing, but with an understanding that my writing is not enough.  I understand we can never eliminate violence—as the arc of history has proven—but we can do more, we can promise to do our best to keep our children as safe as we possibly can, and I will work towards that end until my poem Math That Doesn’t Add Up ends differently, with a line that in the very least suggests— And all our promises of safekeeping are NOT lies.
Carey Taylor, May You Find A Way

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I spent part of the afternoon fiddling with a sea level rise map, in part because I knew we were meeting our friends for dinner, but mostly because I fell down that internet rabbit hole when I found a news article that says that new research, released last week, says that Miami will experience 2 feet of sea level rise by 2050–not quite far enough away for comfort, since water is rising faster with every report. At one point, the date for 2 feet of sea level rise was 2100.

I think our plan will still work: to fix the house, enjoy the house for 5-10 years, and then sell. We may stay in the area and rent, if my job (the only full-time job between the 2 of us) still exists.

I find it interesting to watch the nation argue about guns, while all the while the sea eyes our shores with growing hunger and impatience. But I also understand the way that a violent event can transform both individuals and communities. I will go with my church tomorrow to a prayer vigil because I’m always going to be available to pray for peace. That might work. I’m not sure that our prayers can change the processes governed by physics or chemistry that we’ve already set into motion.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Prayer Vigils, Planetary Warming, and Other Ethical Dilemmas

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I’m
tired of being split open
and not knowing how to sew
Kevin J. O’Conner, Undarned (a poem)

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 Here are a few things that caught my eye this past week. If you’re new to the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, read Donna Vorreyer’s explanatory blog post with the official list of participants (expanded with a bunch of new bloggers on Friday). I may occasionally also include links from other poetry bloggers whom I’ve been following for years, and who may be too antisocial or commitment-averse to join the revival tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, a lot of poets have been blogging about books…

 

I have a little game I play in bookstores. First I find the poetry section. Then I run my eyes along the shelf, head cocked to the right so I can read the books’ skinny spines. I’m looking for a book I’ve never read by an author I’ve never heard of. I’m looking for something new and strange, for the experience that only poetry delivers. I want to be moved.

Yesterday in J. Michaels Bookstore which has a better-than-average poetry section, I scanned the shelves until I found City of Regret by Andrew Kozma. I pulled it from the shelf and held it in my hands. Yes, I felt it: the ripple of intuition informing me that I had found the book.

I tested my intuition a step further. Part of the game requires me to find a poem that is one or more of the following: a) deeply disturbing, but in a good way; b) weirdly provocative; or c) just weird. I opened the book to page 7 and read: […]
Erica Goss, The Bookstore Game

 

The books on the shelves
don’t prefer
one or the other

Their purpose
does not depend
on which words we choose

Their obsessions
and ours
sometimes align
in a game of Concentration
we don’t know
we are playing
[…]
Kevin J. O’Conner, Bookstore Poem #56. A few words about words

 

Recently, I spent awhile browsing the Walter Kerr collection of books in the library of the college that employs me. Kerr and his wife Jean were writers in New York in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s; he was best known as a theater critic and she as a playwright and essayist. His family donated his books to the school, and it occurred to me during my perusal that this section of the stacks seems more personal than the collection as a whole. Here are Kerr’s quirky book choices, his favored influences, his academic interests with a place among the trendier tomes on movies and Broadway.

A personal library acts as a unit, books that are kept together rather than disbursed upon the death (or before-death donation) of the book collector. It therefore parallels–and predates, of course–the social media concept of the curated self[.]
Ann E. Michael, Curation

 

I’ve done just enough archival work to be fascinated by poets’ commonplace books. It’s been more than a decade since I worked among Marianne Moore’s papers at the Rosenbach, but I was impressed by her fantastically crabbed hand in a series of tiny notebooks, recording quotations she liked. At the Library of Congress, you can leaf through Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sparser notes, mixing drafts, travel plans, and lists of poems that might go together in her next collection. And how I wish Anne Spencer had kept notebooks! Instead, I learned last summer how hard it is to date any of her drafts, many of which must be lost in any case, because she penciled ideas on any scrap of paper or cardboard within reach.
Lesley Wheeler, Twitter as commonplace book

 

When I went down to Los Angeles in November last year to empty my storage unit (and do some poetry readings), I discovered that at some point (probably during the terrible rain storms that hit in earlier in 2017), water had leaked from the roof and damaged some of boxes of books I had stored. In total, I lost around 30 books (out of 900) and 50% of a collection of sample issues from different literary journals (roughly 100 items ruined). While I wasn’t particularly attached to the literary journals (they were just representative samples I sometimes use in workshops), I did feel sad that they were all headed to the dump. So I decided to try to find a way to salvage them — then reclaim a line or two from different poems and weave them together into something new. In the end, I choose to use couplets rather than single lines (so these aren’t centos exactly — although you might argue they’re 2-per-centos (gah, I can’t believe I just wrote that!).
Neil Aitken, Project: Cut Up Poem #1

 

Ten years ago, I didn’t write many poems, and the ones I wrote were not worth anyone’s attention. Five years ago I put my mind to it and determined to do something about it. Don’t ask me why, because I’m not precisely sure, but the thing is that essentially, I followed the exhortation of that Nike advert. Just do it. Whatever it is, do it, as well as you can. Don’t put it off, don’t make excuses, don’t talk yourself out of it. Just do it. And then keep on doing it. It’s really that simple. […]

The thing is, you won’t get better if you keep mediocre company. You learn from the company you keep. […] When it comes to poetry, I’ve set myself an annual task/routine. I choose a poet who I like via a handful of poems. It has to be a poet who’s kept on writing and writing. Enough to have a big fat Collected Poems. And then I read X poems every day for a year till I get to the end. So far Ive read Charles Causley, Norman McCaig, and U A Fanthorpe like this, and on January 1st this year I started on David Constantine. 374 big fat pages.
John Foggin, Just do it

 

I received my contributor’s copy of what I suspect will be a very important book—for me, surely—and perhaps for others. How to be a Poet strikes me as not only “a twenty-first century guide to writing well”, but also a guide to living well as a writer.

I also quite like the alternative title proposed in the introduction: “A Poem-Writer’s Guide to the Galaxy.” After all, we contain multitudes.

It features the wisdom of two of my favourite poetry people: Jo Bell and Jane Commane, interspersed with excellent guest contributions by Mona Arshi, Jonathan Davidson, Clive Birnie, and many other well-known names in UK poetry. I thought I’d spend a moment or two thumbing through it on the couch when it arrived. I couldn’t put it down.
Robert Peake, How to be a Poet

 

As a teacher, whether or for a creative writing or literature course, I simply do not use anthologies, just for these very reasons. I also dislike anthologies because they amount to a goofy, disjointed “greatest hits,” reifying the idea that a poem is singular, discrete, and denuded construct. Most poems I know are in direct contact with the other works of the poet, finding some kind of home, some kind of deeper contextualization, in a book. Thus, I order individual books of poetry when I teach a class.

A literature syllabus is really not that much different than your typical anthology, but what I like about ordering individual books is that I end up covering fewer authors–this amplifies the absences, that my students understand that I’m casting a small, small net, and there’s no pretense of being comprehensive. We also get a chance to study the works in relation to other poems in the book, explore the conversations between very good and not-so-very good poems (but where the “mediocre” poems may be more impactful). We erase the editors of collections, the intermediaries, and all their credentials, all their impressive footnoting and bibliographies.
Jim Brock, De-canon, Irish Women Poets, and What I Do

 

I am working on being mindful in my actions and making better choices with my time, and it’s not always easy. I am trying to bring back my deep focus in life. I can be so distracted, so drawn into the shiny object, the quick fix, the impulse purchase, reaching for my phone when I should be reaching for a pen. […]

Technology is wonderful when it’s not zapping our time. I try to use it to my advantage when I can. I know I’ll still get sucked in to some sort of time waster (did you know my high-score on Tetris is 98,000?) but I find the more I care for my artistic pursuits, the less I want to eat the junk food of the internet, the more I reach for the healthy book option and the exercise of writing.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Strange Inspirations: Past Resolutions & Tools to Help You Stay Focused Today

 

Though Silent Anatomies hovers close to the women in the family, it also works to understand the silence of fathers and grandfathers, to understand what is beneath surface of a tongue. Many of the poems are arranged in series, in “Profunda Linguae” the poems are captions for diagrams that reveal the muscular structures of the tongue, these diagrams are arranged over the Chinese-Filipino recipes her mother typed on her father’s prescription pad when her mother first came to the United States. […]

It is a shame that so many book contests specifically state that if a manuscript has images, to leave them out; what a loss it would have been if a book as rich and complex as Silent Anatomies were never published due to such constraints. Fortunately, Ong’s marvelous collection does exist in the world and so our notions of gender, race, culture, and identity are further challenged with grace and precision. In Silent Anatomies Monica Ong has seamlessly woven a multilayered collection that in its form of combining images and text is in itself a revelation, these visual poems intimately reveal the ways in which our bodies are sewn to our families, and our tongues are sewn to our cultures, but also the way art can transcend any boundary.
Anita Olivia Koester, Diagram of a Tongue: Silent Anatomies by Monica Ong

 

Last semester, a visiting writer told the audience that “empathy is overrated.” As you can imagine, this bit of glib frosting wasn’t what I was expecting (read: immediate sinking feeling) because I believe in empathy, I promote empathy, and I knew my very literal students would take this young writer’s word as gospel, whereas I knew he was just being flip. You have to have life experience to be truly cynical, and I personally think that this young writer was given success on a platter. So his ennui was facade. I get it. We all wear masks. He even confessed to wishing he were marginalized. He felt he should be writing about that. But to write about that, I think you need to have lived the experience, right? Of course, all of this plays into stereotypes, which seems to be my battleground– to help my students, family, friends see that our culture reinforces stereotypes in our everyday life. Now, more than ever, we need to question authority. Authority. Just look at that word, with “author” big as life itself. Is the author reliable? Do we believe what we are reading, hearing? I think this is the challenge nowadays, trying to figure out what is the truth. To think we’re all living in a pop-up book.
M.J. Iuppa, Writing from Place

 

Now he’s bedridden and can barely speak. I went to see him for Christmas day. I lay on the bed beside him and held his hand and told him about my travels, about the town where I was teaching poetry in Estonia, where on the Russian side of the river there was a great castle facing another castle on the Estonian side. And how it had been bombed to smithereens during the Soviet occupation. Of course he’d been there. He’s been everywhere in the world. He tried to talk back, able only to say a few words which I pieced together into sentences, just like writing a poem.

I understood two stories, told in a string of words, that he’d once seen an abandoned church in Estonia and had carried a photograph of the ruins with him for a long time but had since lost the photograph. (ruins–church–Estonia–picture–lost) The other was that he’d wandered into the inner courtyard of a museum in St. Petersburg and to his amazement found eighty live bears gathered there. (St. Petersburg-Museum-Courtyard-Eighty Bears).
Heather Derr-Smith, Dear New Year

 

Corpse pose is a preparation for death, not a moment to fear, but rather a letting go. I slide into the velvety, warm blackness, this state of consciousness where poetry is born.
Christine Swint, What I Need Is More Yoga