Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 5

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, I was charmed by the outpouring of affection for Linda Pastan on social media, most of us not realizing how many other Pastan fans were out there until she died. Judging by the size of the reaction in my feeds, she was at least as popular as Charles Simic, which might surprise a critic or two. So Pastan appreciation bookends a digest full of new book and manuscript news, strategies for writing better or more regularly, and the usual weird and wonderful assortment of essays, reviews, and poems. Enjoy,


I am still in shock that Linda Pastan has died. I liked knowing she was in the world. We first met when I was sixteen and she visited my high school library to give a poetry reading. 

Twenty years later we met again at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. She was the one that suggested I return to graduate study for an MFA. As she hugged me goodbye at the end of the two weeks, she asked me to keep in touch with her so she could follow my career. I looked over my shoulder sure she must be speaking to someone else. As a creating writing professor now myself, I’m stunned by how much power that one sentence had to change my life. And yes, reader, we did stay in touch. I last saw her when she came out to Seattle with her husband for a reading. […]

I wonder what it means to write one superb poem after another but not to win the Pulitzer or become Poet Laureate, to not be given the gold ring by the powers that be? Pastan did not take multiple lovers (as far as I know) or commit suicide; she did not behave badly. I remember telling a professor in my graduate program that she had been an important influence and I could sense his dismissiveness. I’ve since heard that same story from several women poets who wanted to study her work. Why not Eavan Boland was weirdly the response.

I am hopeful that someone organizes a book of critical essays on Pastan’s work or perhaps is already at work on a biography. Perhaps that will be me…

Susan Rich, Linda Pastan (1932 – 2023)

In the Belly

As a woman carries an insect, unconscious
of the sign it shapes with diplomatic footfalls
across her skin, she carries me. As a lake
lifts the sky’s image, all burnished admiration, or
proffers a crushed cup, a leaf, a rainbow slick
of grease. […]

“In the Belly” is one translation of Imbolc, a.k.a. St. Brigid’s day, midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, a time for lambing, spring cleaning, and many blessings, including lengthening daylight. I’m no expert on Irish, pagan, Christian, or any other kind of festival, but this seasonal turn matters to me. I wrote the poem above around Imbolc years ago, when a sensation of being held up by a benevolent force arrived suddenly and very strongly. I perceived the feeling itself, and the poem accompanying it, as gifts.

Lesley Wheeler, She carries me

It is strange how an absence of weight makes me feel heavier rather than lighter. Her warm, black-furred body, usually pressed against my hip all night, has been replaced by emptiness when I reach out for her in the dark and fall into a depth of grief I thought had passed. Perhaps that one small grief for a cat calls out to the others that are still sheltering in my heart. And maybe all they want to do is shake off their sleepiness for a while, take a walk around my bed. Still here, they say, proving to me, once again, that grief is the proof of great love. But this addition of a cat’s life to the parade seems, for now, almost unbearable. This will pass, I know. We owe it to ourselves, the living, as well as to the memory of the dead, to turn our faces to the light of the world, remind ourselves of the joy we have gathered, the joy there is yet to be gathered. 

Lynne Rees, Prose poem ~ When cats curl up in your heart and fall asleep there

This year, as I thought about the feast day of Saint Brigid, I thought, I could make a woven cross. Sure, I don’t have reeds or rushes, but I have cloth. I have so much cloth. Just a year ago, I didn’t have enough to even think about a small project, much less a bigger one. But now I have enough cloth for several large projects and any small project I might want to do. […]

I am glad to have had this experience, although it took longer than I thought it would, about an hour from start to finish.  I tried to do it meditatively, giving thanks for women like Saint Brigid, who founded some of the first Christian monasteries in Ireland, most famously the legendary one in Kildare.  She also founded a school of art that focuses on metal working and illumination. 

Now let me go out for a walk.  We got our first dusting of snow last night, and it’s beautiful to look at from inside.  Let me go get a closer look.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Saint Brigid’s Cross in Cloth

There is maybe a melancholy
in the burdened curve
of its filaments, but
there’s a wisdom too
within the flesh of its anthers.

And, if you peer close,
there on the single stamen eye,
the limpid markings
that they call old man’s tears.

Dick Jones, OLD MAN’S TEARS

Nine years ago, I reviewed Rebecca Farmer’s first pamphlet, Not Really (Smith-Doorstep, 2014) on this blog, admiring its subtle treatment of love, suffering and death, noting…

the role of ghosts. They crop up in several poems. They are characters. They take on human traits. As such, their haunting qualities are exacerbated.

And today, as I sit down to write about her second pamphlet, A Separate Appointment (New Walk Editions, 2022), I’m struck by how much of my previous review holds true for these new poems, which seem to present two different strands – roughly speaking, hospitals and those afore-mentioned ghosts – that intertwine. In these poems, Farmer reminds us that death cannot exist without life, and that the living have to contend with others’ deaths.

In this context, the final stanza of ‘The Ghosts regret joining a self-help group’ provides an excellent illustration of the latent tension between life and death, Farmer’s work inhabiting a no-man’s land between the two.

Matthew Stewart, The intertwining of life and death, Rebecca Farmer’s A Separate Appointment

Weekend mornings are for writing, and submitting writing, and keeping the coffee hot and topped off. This morning, I’ve supplemented that routine with the read of an interview, the listen to a podcast, and a read of an article written by poet friends; each piece as diverse and wonderful as the thinker writers behind it. Worth your time to read and listen and marvel. Thank you, Eric Coughlin Hollowell, Lisa Stice, and Vivian Faith Prescott.

Kersten Christianson, Untangling by Beach, Military Poetry, and Salmonberry Dreams

snow
the lights of the houses
on the river

Jim Young [no title]

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they  even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

There are loads of roles writers can take on. Amanda Gorman took on a public role with her inauguration poem “The Hill We Climb.” Jericho Brown and Ilya Kaminsky seem to be part of larger discourses that go beyond poetry.

I often remind myself of all the Archibald MacLeish books that lined the book aisles of every thrift store in America I’ve ever been to. We’re all writing in a historical context about things that address very specific historical contexts. If we’re lucky one or a few of pieces might speak beyond that, but that isn’t really up to us.

I recently read Ted Hughes’ translation of Racine’s Phedre. I think poets translating poets is an essential role that those of us who are bi- or multilingual should consider. It’s a service to the craft.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with David Harrison Horton

The other evening I was in Lewes listening to Jackie Wills and Grace Nichols being interviewed by Mark Hewitt. One of the topics they discussed was the idea of having a ‘personal canon’, in other words those poets or poetry collections that have either been formative influences, or that you dip into regularly for inspiration. The talk was of how important it was to remember that poetry is very much a matter of personal taste, and that it’s pretty difficult for everyone to agree on ‘the poetry canon’, except perhaps for Shakespeare and a handful of other ‘greats’.

It made me think of the huge variety of ‘exemplar’ poems you come across in poetry workshops. On Grace’s list were Derek Walcott, Elizabeth Jennings and Sylvia Plath. She very cannily declined to mention the names of any living poets, for fear (she said) of upsetting anyone, since many of her contemporaries are her friends.

I started wondering who would be on my list.

Robin Houghton, A quickfire ‘personal canon’

I was especially pleased to hear Pat Winslow’s poem ‘As for the owl’ which carries a dedication to the late, much-missed Helen Kidd. By a strange coincidence, Helen was one of the members of the Old Fire Station Poetry Workshop (led by Tom Rawling by in the 1980s) ) about which I talk in my piece.

I also talk about growing up in rural Wiltshire in a house with few books. My years spent pursuing science – beginning to study medicine at Guys Hospital in London – then my drastic shift to studying Philosophy and English at Lancaster University, where I worked with the Scottish poet, David Craig, on one of the first Creative Writing courses in the UK. At Worcester College, Oxford, in the 1980s I was writing a DPhil thesis on the poet Shelley while also attending poetry workshops with WN Herbert, Peter Forbes, Pauline Stainer, Keith Jebb, Anne Born (and Tom and Helen).

Kathleen also asked me to say something about the poets I go back to and I talk a little (and read from) Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and WS Merwin. Trying to pick contemporary poets to highlight is an impossible task but, on this occasion at least, I speak about Marvin Thompson, Nancy Campbell and John McCullough.

Martyn Crucefix, Interviewed on ‘Poetry Worth Hearing’

Can’t force a poem,
only invite it.
Like spring.

Keep the door propped
the circuits open
bag packed

for when
Elijah arrives, singing
better days coming.

Build a perch
for the goldfinch
from painted willow.

Even if
it’s hard to believe.
Especially then.

Rachel Barenblat, Open

If nuclear winter were just a long dream of spring.

If clocks took an occasional time out to give us more breathing room between good times and the grave.

If lies wore prison stripes and could be easily recognized.

If police brutality was nothing more than that song talking about how early one morning, the sun was shining,

and everything was tangled up in blue.

Rich Ferguson, Blue

Throughout my reading of Year of the Murder Hornet I kept marveling over Cane’s ability to linger over the spaces in between things. Specifically, the choice to include additional white space within the lines of each poem emphasizes both how stalled shifts in the pandemic can make us feel as well as how necessary it is to take our time. By take our time I mean in terms of reading the situation — whether it be assessing what the reality behind phrases like “the new normal” actually is like, to preparing (mentally, physically) for the changes brought on by decisions at our jobs or by the government which we have no say in.

The poems “Essay on Gentrification” and “Minority Report” also work in this vein and are good examples of how this collection takes its time interrogating the nuances of life during a pandemic, nuances that are often lost in debates and political discourse.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Year of the Murder Hornet by Tina Cane

Lee Ann Roripaugh’s fifth volume of poetry, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 (Milkweed Editions, 2019), was named a “Best Book of 2019” by the New York Public Library, selected as a poetry Finalist in the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards, cited as a Society of Midland Authors 2020 Honoree in Poetry, and was named one of the “50 Must-Read Poetry Collections in 2019” by Book Riot. She is the author of four other volumes of poetry […]

What are you working on?

I’m currently in the process of finishing up my sixth volume of poetry, a manuscript titled Kaze no Denwa / The Wind Phone. While conducting research for my prior book, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, I learned that a man named Itaru Sasaki had placed a phone booth with a disconnected rotary-dial phone in a hilltop garden overlooking Otsuchi, Japan—a century-old town decimated by the 2011 tsunami. Sasaki originally used the phone to process his grief over the loss of a beloved family member. He described these conversations as phone calls made “on the wind.” After the tsunami, survivors who’d lost loved ones started visiting Sasaki’s phone booth from all along the Tohoku coast—making pilgrimages to speak to their dead on what became known as the kaze no denwa, or “wind phone.” Apparently, visitors would share their daily news, or express their regrets. Sometimes callers would plead with their deceased to please come back, or beseech them to look out for one another. Sometimes they’d simply say that they were lonely. In the most heartbreaking phone calls, callers would apologize for not having been able to save their dead. 

Needless to say, I found these accounts of the wind phone resonant and incredibly moving. But also, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about intersections of loss (environmental loss; personal loss; parental losses due to aging, death, and dementia; losses due to trauma; losses due to disasters such as COVID-19 or climate change), I began to ask myself what it might mean to write a “wind phone” poem. And so I began drafting direct-address elegiac poems that speak to these types of grief, putting them in conversation with one another: my father’s death, my mother’s Alzheimer’s, extinction, climate change, COVID-19, as well as psychological and emotional losses due to abuse, illness, or trauma.

These direct-address poems are interspersed with poems written in five parts that circulate associationally and linguistically around a single word, or concept. I’ve been thinking of these poems as “mappings.” I also wanted to set these mappings in dialogue with an ancient Japanese map called “Jishin-no-ben.” “Jishin-no-ben” represents an ouroboros, a dragon eating its own tail, circling around a geographical area in Japan. This map was apparently meant to serve as a visual explanation, or warning, for the earthquakes and tsunamis that had occurred there. These are poems in which I map out a larger context for the disasters creating the griefs, or losses, that are spoken on the wind. Each section also contains a hybrid prose poem/lyric flash essay “notes” piece that unpacks some of the related psychological underpinnings, or fallout, of trauma. 

Thomas Whyte, Lee Ann Roripaugh : part one

It is one of those mornings when I put my fingers on the keys and stare a few moment at my hands. The pattern of blood vessels on the back of each. Ropey and bluish, like a coarse crochet work. There are still things these hands will learn to do, or learn to do better. They are the rough beauty of solid machinery. They are their own “back in the day” and still going.

They are the touchstone for earned wisdom. Sometimes offering the touch that frightens young and old alike. Where bones become stone, and foreshadow everything overwrought in our poems.

As here.

I wonder what it would be like to live without mirrors – without looking at oneself, or pieces of oneself, as a constructed and staged other.

Ren Powell, Can We Look Away?

I haven’t felt like writing lately. I mean, as in I don’t even have the desire nor does it bother me. Or does it? I saw a call for micro poems this morning which closes today and began looking through my files. But that’s done writing, not to-be-done writing, so it doesn’t count. I keep seeing calls for submissions and think should I try to write something? but the thought flows away like a cloud with another destination. I have made some minor changes in the essay I’ve been working on from time to time. I have a vague feeling I’d like to sub it here but I don’t know that I’ll make the deadline. I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing is a general malaise or a rebellion. (Isn’t that a provocative statement?)

Charlotte Hamrick, Reading and Eating

A few days ago, realizing that the daily haiku practice was reminding me of why I stopped last year, I changed the task on my daily to-do list from “haiku” to “write something.” That’s what I’m trying to do each day. It doesn’t need to be a haiku or a poem or a story or any specific thing. I just need to write something. I guess I mean something more than a photo caption or a tweet. Something that exists for its own sake, if that makes any sense.

Most days I’ve written something. As time passes, I’ll probably come up with a stronger feeling about what “write something” means to me. For now, though, I like that it’s nebulous. The idea is to just keep using my brain and heart via the medium of words. The rest will work itself out.

Jason Crane, Write something

They say when the migratory cranes come to the
Phobjika Valley, they circle the monastery three
times. They fly around it again when they leave
after winter. The places we go to sink deep into
our bones.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 32

It’s been a challenging few months for poetry.

I don’t know of another art form that is subjected to such frequent death threats. When have you heard someone proclaim the death of music, dance, or the visual or performing arts? None of these seems to inspire the type of fury that poetry does. As Muriel Rukeyser wrote in “The Resistances,” the first chapter of her essential book The Life of Poetry, “Anyone dealing with poetry and the love of poetry must deal, then, with the hatred of poetry, and perhaps even more with the indifference which is driven toward the center.”

Erica Goss, Poetry Survives Latest Death Threat

The road from spark to book is long. Longer than you would guess. For some writers, that moment from inspiration to finished book can span decades. My newest collection, Corvus and Crater, was a year in the writing and revising. That’s pretty quick, even for a poet. After you finish the manuscript, there is the long road to publication – and well, that took three years. But I’m very excited to announce that Corvus and Crater will be released next month by the wonderful publisher Salmon Poetry.

Corvus and Crater sprung from my fear that with the weight of responsibilities of my beloved work at Storyknife Writers Retreat and the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference I would just never write again. That I would become a full-time arts administrator, zero-time poet. A past poet. So, on my birthday in 2019, I set myself an assignment: write a poem each day with fifty-four syllables – six lines of nine syllables apiece. There was no end destination – it was just a way to keep myself going.

The limits of the form really pressurized my writing, and the poems became a conversation with myself and with the books I was reading and the ideas that I was surrounding myself with. And because they were all written within a one year period – they held together as a manuscript. Here’s the description I wrote for the book: the enigmatic poems of Corvus and Crater explore a single winter though the eyes of Crow. The wheeling constellations, seasonal rituals, and Alaska’s charismatic landscape feature in a struggle to claim home and bodily agency, to control the myths and stories that form us. Composed of fifty-four sestets of fifty-four syllables apiece, Corvus and Crater resides in the tension between gleam and darkness, introspection and outward conflict, the self and the world.  

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Introducing Corvus and Crater

Here’s a bit of glad tidings. My manuscript The Red Queen Hypothesis won the Prairie State Poetry Prize and will be published before the end of 2023–maybe even by the end of this summer! It’s thrilling to have won an award like this.

In fact, I should be jumping up and down with glee that RQH finally will see print, as it has taken me numerous submissions, two acceptances that did not come to fruition, and a considerable number of pauses to reassess the manuscript. But my initial feeling is more of relief than elation. Relief that now I can turn all of my focus to newer work: a manuscript nearly completed and one that I’m just starting to collate and imagine. Well–not all of my focus in those directions. There is the work of promoting the new book, work that I find difficult and challenging because it’s not really in my wheelhouse. Highland Park Poetry is a tiny independent non-profit press and doesn’t have the resources to do much promotion; Jennifer Dotson, Founder & Creative Engine behind the organization, runs several contests, produces a newsletter, and hosts a Facebook page of contributing poets. She also hosts a poetry podcast and at least one reading series…a busy person, working on a small budget. People like her and Larry Robin are the guardian angels of poetry in the USA. Many thanks, Jennifer. I’ll do what I can to promote my book.

Ann E. Michael, Book news!

Well, this week held a happy surprise: three boxes of books arrived at my door yesterday morning! Since the book’s official release date is several months down the line in spring, I was happy but also felt that I was suddenly behind on everything related to the book.

The book is bigger and more square and substantial feeling than all of my previous books (which should make shipping more interesting), but it felt absolutely terrific to be holding a book that was six years in the making—and contains some of my most vulnerable work, from the most challenging time in my life.

I tried my hand at making videos again (this time, a short unboxing video) and took pictures of the cats with my book. I was so overwhelmed I felt literally light-headed!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Early Arrival of Author Copies of Flare, Corona (!!!), Celebrations with Poet Friends, Fun Videos, Imbolc/St. Brigid’s Day/Groundhog Day and the Sun’s Slow Return

In school, I was struggling with forming perfect letters, but at home, I was filling notebooks with things only I could decipher. When we mastered printing and moved on to cursive, it was better, though I was still not as neat as I would later be, when in high school, I modeled my perfectly slanted penmanship after my French teacher with her perfect little crossed sevens.  I still continued my brand of writing even after I was learning how to actually write–it was faster, less laborious, and really no one was reading it anyway, not even me. […]

My mother, in her later years, once remarked to a stranger, at a reading they accompanied me to at a university, that she always wondered what I was doing, hiding in my room with my pen scratching across some notebook, or writing hunched over the coffee table cross-legged on the floor, even in summer when I was not studying. Only now she saw the fruits of it in the poems that I read and published (this was 2008 or so). That she finally got it–what I was doing all that time.  What I continued to do. 

Still, I love a pretty notebook and occasionally buy one just for the beauty of it, even now when so much of my writing happens through the click of keys. I also decorate my notebooks much as I did in high school to keep them identifiable according to which writing job they’re for. They sit in a stack underneath my monitor, though I do, at least, throw them out when they’re full.

Kristy Bowen, on graphomania, or for the love of notebooks

When I was a little left-handed kid growing up in Ireland we used fountain pens and I always smudged the letters as I wrote. I was really happy when I began going to Hebrew school and found out that Hebrew is read from right to left—the opposite of English. I could write clearly while all the other right-handed kids smudged their writing and got ink all over their hands. This was electric: this idea that language could be turned around. That it could make you look at things differently. Your inky hand. The page. Your way of being in the world. I know that in the modern world, in modern Israel, Hebrew is used to ask for an oil change or go on the Internet and order socks, but for me, my first association these particular letterforms, the Hebrew alphabet, the otiyot, was that it was the language of my ancestors, the shape of my people. Ancient, mysterious, and numinous. Not that they didn’t speak of socks and B.O., but for centuries, it was a sacred, but not an everyday language. Its shapes: thick lines of black-and-white each ending in a little curl like a black flame rising. Was this flame something to do with the temple? With eternal light? Or perhaps an arcane Kabbalistic alchemy of words. The prayerbooks in the shul of my childhood were musty and worn, like the old tefillim of the praying men…or the threadbare carpets. The prayerbooks had been shaped by use, the way an old tool takes the form of the hand that touched it. And it seemed like the Hebrew letters had also been shaped this way: They had been worn over millenia by the touch and speech of those who had muttered their sounds. And Hebrew, at least in the traditional shapes, seemed to preserve the motions of ink and brush, the motions of a scribe not writing so much as drawing the letters, his hand floating above the surface of the parchment like a hovering bird.

Gary Barwin, BROKEN LIGHT: THE ALEFBEIT AND THE MISSING LETTER

One thing I noticed about painting stripes onto paper is how much more difficult it is than I had imagined. For instance, I couldn’t go ahead and paint each sonnet in one sitting but had to, instead, wait until each stripe was dry to prevent the colours bleeding. Sounds blooming obvious, doesn’t it, but not to me! I’m conscious of using a lot of paper for this project so I’m grateful to have in my possession a box of different sizes, types and colours of paper that were left on the pavement of a neighbour’s house. They originally belonged to a lady who died, and her family gave away some of her belongings rather than discarding them when they sold the house. I think about that person each time I make a poem using some of her paper. I hope she feels my gratitude, wherever she is. As well as painting, I’ve also been pattern making, using Sharpie pens, and I’m going to cut into these patterns to make more visual poems.

Josephine Corcoran, January Update

Wednesday was the biggest day of action for decades but the government didn’t care. They appear to be only interested in ruining the country. But enough of the public school educated elite who are not interested in the people they are supposed to represent, I found an old poem the other day, one I had forgotten about. I rearranged the layout and changed the odd word.

DECOUPAGE FOR THE MIND

He can think photographs
scry alternate worlds

He holds the light sensitive paper to his forehead
his thoughts embellish it with another life […]

Paul Tobin, DECOUPAGE FOR THE MIND

In the adjoining room a man from Missouri is proud that, according to the radio station KCFZ, four of the thirty-four greatest poets who ever lived are from Missouri. He tells his seven hundred and sixteen followers on Twitter about this and waits excitedly at his laptop for replies to come in, for retweets and likes. After twenty minutes he walks into the communal kitchen to make himself a coffee but there is no milk and he can never understand people who take their coffee without milk. He returns to his room. Still no replies. His day has taken a morose and bitter turn. He tells himself: Somebody, somewhere, will pay for this.

Dolores tells Edith, who helps her with washing and dressing: Dance until the bagpipes kill the sheep. That’s what you must do. You’re young, my dear, so very young. And after all it is forbidden to climb the steps of the pyramid of Kukulcan and Avian Flu has been found in otters and foxes.

Bob Mee, DANCE UNTIL THE BAGPIPES KILL THE SHEEP, SHE SAID

Moths tuck themselves
into drawers, where they
work out their hidden
citzenships in scripts
of perforated silver.

The taut threads
of the hammock loosen;
day loses to night,
and night again to day,

Who was I
before the earth
shook my world to pieces,
before parts of barely formed
history were buried along with beams
of a house that no longer exists?

Luisa A. Igloria, Dear Exile

how far from her moon shall the sleeper wander

how far from water can one drown

when all that is dust returns to song
where will i be found

Grant Hackett [no title]

As I shared in December, I’ve planned a kinder, gentler approach to my creative life for 2023. The new approach is like sensible shoes: not quite as sexy but less pain, more mileage. At least that’s the idea. And so far, so good!

I’ve been keeping up with art and writing by doing at least one small thing each day.* Some days, I’m happy with what I get done. Other days, it’s hard to believe that these small efforts will reach critical mass. And on both types of days, I’m trusting the process. Overall, that means less fretting, so that’s an early win for the self-imposed shake-up.

It’s also helping me reconstruct the idea of myself as a poet and artist, and I’m shamelessly nurturing that both on my “regular”/poetry Instagram (@carolee26) and my visual art Instagram (@gooduniversenextdoor).

Carolee Bennett, the shake-up is shaping up

Even if one reads the haiku merely as an expression of curiosity – that the moon has appeared to align its bright white roundness into and with the roundness of the glass’s bottom – it is still a magical moment, like the alignment of planetary bodies.

A more cynical reading might be that including ‘the well / of’ enables the haiku to fall unobtrusively into a 5–7–5 pattern and provides an alliteration with ‘whisky’. For me, though, the addition truly enriches the poem. This haiku is the exception to the rule that 5–7–5 haiku in English are generally too verbose and therefore need trimming: here, cutting back to a 5–4–5 would diminish the poem’s effectiveness.

Matthew Paul, On a haiku by John Hawkhead

I spoke to a new writer the other day. They were rosy-cheek-excited about how they were writing right along, happily, regularly. They also mentioned they’d signed up for a course at a community college about how to get published.

I groaned inwardly. (It’s possible I groaned outwardly.) I know the way excitement about a creation leaps quite readily to trying to put that creation out in the world. (I fall prey to it still all the damn time.) I also know how people are happy to take your money to tell you some handy things without mentioning the other stuff, specifically, in this case, the waiting, the doubt, the rejection after rejection after rejection. (I may have mentioned to them that last item.)

What I didn’t mention that maybe I should have , or maybe not, not quite yet, is that vital, hard-won, takes-a-lifetime-to-learn, oft overlooked middle step: the revision step. The put-your-tender-darling-in-a-drawer step. The read-read-read step, which means not just read slaphappily, but read as a writer. Which means read with questions in mind: what is pleasing me about this work, displeasing me, and why, and how can I apply any lessons learned to my own work.

Marilyn McCabe, The real thing come and the real thing go; or, The Bad News About Revision

I have finished my poetry manuscript. “Finished”? I finished it last April, too, and sent it out, then withdrew it from several contests. I couldn’t say why it didn’t feel ready, it simply didn’t.

A friend suggested that I not think globally, condemning the entire ms, but to instead focus on individual poems. What I actually did was ignore it. I took a class. I worked on my send-out practice. I (finally) returned to my mystery novel. Then, in October, I finished the rewrite of the mystery.

And the poems were still sitting there, muddy and neglected, their unwashed faces looking up at me.

I again found useful distractions. A short story re-write, notably. Then, I broke my arm and was unable to type.

Bethany Reid, Where You’ll Find Me

As with many writers, I’m better known outside my community than within it.

Sure, a couple dozen of my poems have appeared on signs at local events, and yes, the people in charge of the events liked my work (thank you so much! <3), but I don’t think anyone who didn’t already know me connected the poems with the poet. (In one instance, someone looked at one of my poem signs and actually turned to me and said “Who is Bill Waters?”) So I’m hoping that an article in the widely circulated Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine (pictured below) will serve to introduce me to readers where I live.

It’s not that I’m seeking attention. It’s just that local publication will add greater credibility to my reputation so that perhaps I’ll have an easier time getting people interested in future public poetry efforts. “Have you seen this article? Here are the kind of poems I write,” I’ll say in a way that’s both enthusiastic and modest. (In my dreams! In real life, I’ll probably just stammer something out and then wish I were someplace else.)

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine

This is one of a couple of poems that I can date fairly precisely — at least in terms of the year. I was working in London and living in Luton when I found an online poetry forum called Crystal Lake Poetics. It ceased a long time ago, and it was pretty small, but this was the early days of the internet — before the social media world that we are familiar with today. The forum was based in America, and it had a chat box where I chatted most nights to a couple of girls from Denton, TX, and one from Stockton, CA who had lived in Denton. The time difference therefore was pretty substantial! And that is what made me think of portraying these conversations like the scene in Turandot, where Princess Turandot has decreed, as related in the famous tenor aria, Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep), that none shall sleep that night until the unknown prince’s name is known.

We really were like shadows nattering back and forth, talking about everything and nothing; occasionally I’d start something poetic based on these discussions. I remember a favourite random acronym that got flung into the chat window related to tacos with extra cheese and lots of mayo, though I can’t remember it exactly enough to recreate the acronym!

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry On Stage

I don’t know about you, but sometimes a poem just hits hard and is the right thing to read at the right time. It’s been one hell of a week at work and in life. Despite the wonderful news this week that I now have a publication date for my Red Squirrel pamphlet and that work can now begin in earnest on it (not that it hasn’t already, but you take my point, I hope), the week has been dragged down by the continued decline of our eldest cat, an unexpected and unwelcome outlay on a new washing machine, and a hectic week that has barely allowed for a moment to pause.

So when I sat down to read my copy of Pearls this week after it had made its way to the top of my TBR pile, I found myself being absolutely smacked round the chops (in a good way) by reading the poem above. I felt Philpott’s pain. I was there with him in every sentence.

Mat Riches, Pearls before sauces

What burdens would you let that abyss
of worn satin swallow?
And what would you tuck away
in the place of honor, that one-off
disfigured, awkward pocket
where you stash your favorite secret
like a stale and stolen butterscotch?

Kristen McHenry, Baggage

Judith‘s large-format Buttonhole binding is made from a huge charcoal drawing done in 1989, torn apart and machine-stitched onto washi paper. The charcoal cover and pages are sealed with beeswax polish. The book smells wonderful! […]

Here are some photos of my Buttonhole binding. On cotton rag paper pages dyed with vegetable waste I have handwritten a found poem written on a dreadful day when I avidly consumed the news on BBC Radio 4. The silk for the book-cloth was alum-mordanted and dyed with red cabbage leaves and onion skins. The cover is lined with a piece of marbled paper that has been lying in a drawer for years.

Ama Bolton, ABCD February 2023

Weren’t we lucky, once?

I want to say that we had no idea how good we had it, but that’s too easy and not quite true. Filling out an intake form recently, I wrote that I am, right now, the best I’ve ever been. And I am. That is true. Sure, I would love to still have my 20-year-old body–and so many of the things and people and places and opportunities I’ve had and lost since then–but not the fears and worries and nearly unbearable weight of the impending choices my younger self struggled to carry.

Yes, we had so much. Yes, we had it all ahead of us. Yes, there is something wonderful about a mostly blank slate. And also: It was terrifying and hard and confusing because there was so much we didn’t know and so much pressure to get it All Right. We didn’t know, then, that all right was a fantasy, a myth. That we would never be entirely OK, no matter which choices we did and didn’t make. That simply choosing right would not prevent wounds or heal the ones we didn’t even know, yet, that we had. That even the golden ones among us would suffer. That our lives would always be as they were and had always been, a terrible, gorgeous mix.

Rita Ott Ramstad, And don’t it feel good

I had taken these still life photographs at about the same time I learned about the death of Linda Pastan. I knew she had written a poem about still life, so I looked that up. I read her obit in The Washington Post, finding it interesting that she placed first in a contest in Mademoiselle magazine where Sylvia Plath placed second. She was 90. Poets always feel so timeless in their work so this was a surprise, too. In short, I did all the things I always do when a poet I’ve read and admired died. Took her books off my shelf. Read a few dogeared poems.

It never seems enough, but there it is. […]

I recently picked up Diane Seuss’s Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl. I’ve honestly just opened it up and read a line or two here or there and you know that thing where something is so freaking good you just can’t? Yah. I mean for sure I will read it, but also, it’s hard when it’s also your big subject and likely this writer did it so much better :) But that’s GOOD too, right?

Because, here is the big secret of the writing life. We can all do it. Some people will get more acclaim and some will deserve it and some will maybe not quite so very much but none of that actually matters. The writing matters. Your life is going to be made so much more amazing by doing the writing you do, or whatever art you make. So just persist and be rigorous and joyful and delight in the whole beautiful ridiculous mess of it, sometimes rubbish, sometimes chocolate cake delicious. Laugh at your successes and laugh at the rejections and your bloody anonymity and be graceful and humble and raise your eyebrows at times and take such a deep and wonderful delight at everything that everyone is making. Because it could be fucking otherwise? You’re here. This is your time. Make whatever things you have always wanted to make. Please. Trust me it’s all worth it. You’ll look back some day at your little pile of books or stacks of paintings or files of photographs and go, huh! And really, ain’t that pretty cool?

Shawna Lemay, Still Life and Learning to Abandon the World

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 4

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: digesting terrible news, labor vs. work, an ode to irritable bowel syndrome, Mandelbrot images, Scots poetry, ChatGPT poetry, and much more.

I feel I should say a few words about my decision to include Substack posts here, since I’ve just added the fourth feed from that platform to my roster. Although they wisely position themselves as a newsletter delivery service, they aren’t doing anything that you can’t do with WordPress, for example, or with any number of other home-brewed blog + newsletter delivery app combos; they’re just making it a hell of a lot simpler and more affordable. I also like the emphasis on making money for writers, though obviously I’m not going to include any posts that aren’t freely available. Critically—for my interest here—Substack blogs have RSS feeds, which means I can access them from the same Feedly dashboard I use for everything else.

If you do decide to start a Substack, please be sure to post about it at your old blog so I can find the link. (This may seem so obvious as to not need saying, but, well, I know poets. Self promotion is not always our first instinct.) Anyway, enjoy the digest.


I’ve been thinking how easy it is to write tragedy–and while necessary, how redundant: the cat plowed into her blanket fort beside us, purring; the first day of real snow unspoiled by rain and a thermos of cocoa; the secret languages and contexts lacking drama: those. Those deserve more poems.

JJS, Untrammeled: a sonnet

I meant this to be an upbeat blog post but it’s hard to feel upbeat and I want to be authentic in this blog. I was sick all week (hence the lack of selfies) and it was cold and foggy out, absolutely the kind of weather you don’t want to go out in. I had a strange harbinger—a beautiful juvenile red-winged blackbird at my feeder, which I thought was unusual (they don’t usually visit feeders). Then tonight I learned about the death of a poet/friend/editor of Menacing Hedge, Kelly Boyker Guillemette. She was also a Seattle poet, so it impacts this community that I live in. I was sad I didn’t get to tell her how much I appreciated her, or even get to have coffee with her, just to visit. This pandemic has been so isolating, I realize, that I’ve lost touch with friends I shouldn’t have.  

The news has been pretty relentlessly terrible, too. Outside today we had some sunshine, and I had been in bed, barely leaving the house even to get the mail this week with cold, miserable fog every day, so I took a short walk, but in the end, it was too cold to stay out long. I noticed how fallow everything was—all my usual walks, usually with some flowers or greenery even in winter, looked unusually barren. January is a hard month for many reasons. Anyway, readers, hug your friends and editors, tell them you appreciate them, buy them a coffee. 

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sad news about a Seattle poet, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Superhero Poems, and Some Vision Boards and Kitten Pics to Cheer Us Up

Don’t say apple or flag or Thanks-
giving. This country is becoming

the loneliest country in the world. It is
the smell of floors bleached after a rain

of blood, the blind heat of hatred
strung like lights in dance halls,

incandescent as bullets boiled
in a crucible of darkness.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Loneliest Country in the World

In a dream around 7, I was eating the soles of a pair of black leather shoes, peeling off pieces. These delicate shoes, full of eyelets, usually sit in my closet. After my first rush of radiance, ecstatically led by someone offscreen, the dream began to think: disgust side by side with beauty: the shit. Appeal and revulsion, beautiful and the monstrous. Nestled in. And the hilarity of pragmatism: would I walk like a bird, scratching out a steady path with half the shoe gone. Missing pieces. Was I practicing for starvation in Leningrad? During the siege in the 40s, they scraped off glue from shoes and tables. Also, I was observing my oral French. Somehow that mattered. A traveler’s exile ends in language. Wrens meet at the branches of a bush beak to beak, nose to nose as if mistletoe. Pebbles on a gray slate play with their shadows, not a cat and mouse game, one will always prevail. The open emptiness of cobalt blue. Pop pop pop.

Jill Pearlman, Blue, Gunshots, Eating Shoes

Even if you watch this country with the sound turned down, all the hate and hurt still bruise through.

So many derangements arranged in strange and familiar ways.

Intoxicated logic. Unmended melodies with not enough pills or winning streaks to take them to the finish line.

Even with the sound turned down, you can still hear a cry take hold in the throat and refuse to leave.

Rich Ferguson, A Gene for Tears

turning up Marquee Moon in the otherwise
quiet night of someone else’s house

wearing headphones because the world’s asleep
its madness closely contained in a thin layer
of clean-toned guitar riffs, slicing through

the flesh around the heart
no blood, so much blood

Jason Crane, POEM: for Tom Verlaine

whose sorrow heals as a wing

whose wound mourns the gun

when did my shadow first walk underground

Grant Hackett [no title]

Thursday was the first day of spring in the Hindu calendar, and I missed it. Saraswati is honored on that day, with lavender, saffron and turmeric. I wouldn’t have “celebrated”, but I would like to have known. There is something life-affirming in rituals, regardless of belief. There is something I envy.

A moment of envy can be an awesome thing. It is an admission – a recognition of desire. It’s humbling. It situates you clearly outside of the center of your own subjective concepts of meaning.

I just learned about the goddess Saraswati last month while talking to the theater director and artist Anupama Hoskere. (I am working on an article for Drama magazine, and will link later.) She explained the connection of education through the arts to the universal. She talked about means and desire, and about Dharma.

I am still letting all my thoughts bump up against each other. I don’t really want to put them down as sentences yet. Poetry, maybe. Poetry at the moment is an expanse of dark, open water.

Ren Powell, Calendars, Conductors, and 31 Dosas

You unwrinkle me on a table and try to understand the words but the ink is smudged into a language you cannot read. This is what you mean. The calligraphy of incomprehension. Meterless. Wordless. Endless.

A grave is a box. Death, a label. We must ultimately be nothing and everything and be labelled when we are not left to call. The herd of the dead in rows for the final migration.

This is what you mean. The inevitability of sameness. The primal stereotype. Beyond the pretence of resistance. The line. The blue river. The danger. The other side.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The box. The other side.

I had been thinking of a poem possibility before last night.  In the wee small hours of the morning earlier this week, I had awakened to the sound of someone singing.  Sounds travel in strange ways in this building, so I’m not sure who was singing or why.  I’m fairly sure it was a human singing, not a recording.

This morning, I turned my attention to my prayer book, as I do every morning.  I use Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours, which is rooted in the lectionary that comes to us from the ancient monastic tradition.  One of this morning’s passages leapt out at me:  “The Lord executes righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed” (Psalm 103: 6).  

It’s not the first time that a passage seemed chosen for our particular day and time, and I do realize that the beauty of the Psalms rests in the broad scope of them, everything from mourning/lament to joy to anger and all the emotions in between.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Time, and a Psalm, for Lament

The hills
are dressed

for morning prayer
shoulders wrapped in wool.

Their winter tzitzit
are made of ice,

turn to tchelet
after the last snows.

Do our houses serve
as their tefillin?

We’re the tiny scrolls
tucked safe inside.

Rachel Barenblat, Minyan

Hurray! Spring is on its way! Well, the days are lengthening at least….It’s been a busy start to the year although I don’t seem to have got any poetry written. I’ve actually mostly been reading and researching a story which might turn into (whisper it) a novel – I know, I know, and me always saying I couldn’t write fiction. It may just be a nice break from poetry, something different and even energising, at least, that’s what Peter said when I mentioned it on the podcast. Whatever it is, I’m enjoying the process. If you see me please don’t ask ‘how’s the novel coming along?’ I’ll let you know when/if there’s anything to report!

Robin Houghton, Why I missed the TS Eliot readings, plus the good and the bad of January

It is a gladness to be able to call one’s daily work a labor of love, and to have that labor put food on the table the way any work does, dishwashing or dentistry. And yet such labors of diligence and devotion — the kind William Blake called “eternal work” — are somehow different, different and more vulnerable, for they enter the world in a singular spirit and are recompensed in a singular spirit, distinct from dentistry or dishwashing.

That spirit is the spirit of a gift — not the transaction of two commodities but the interchange of two mutual generosities, passing between people who share in the project of a life worth living.

Maria Popova, The Vital Difference Between Work and Labor: Lewis Hyde on Sustaining the Creative Spirit

Honestly, though, I’m finding the distinction a little fuzzy. How can it not be, when money is what we need to survive in our current world, and some labor is paid and some work is not? Yet it is clear to me that writing a blog–this kind of blog, at any rate–is clearly on the side of labor, and not work. It’s a labor I have been feeling ambivalent about.

What do I have to offer here? Do I have anything to say that anyone will benefit from hearing?

It’s a challenge to create a gift to the world when my instinct these days has been to retreat from it. Until now, I’ve had no choice about engaging with the world; continuing my existence required me to live deeply with it. Grading papers, planning lessons, submitting book purchase orders: These are all acts of work, and one can, I suppose, do the work of being a teacher or librarian without doing the labor of being an educator. But I never could, and laboring as an educator requires full immersion in the world. Now, I have a choice. Now, I finally have the resources I need to give myself to labor of whatever kind I might choose, and all I want to do is hunker down in my little shelter from the world.

I’d like to think it’s just a seasonal thing. Winter is a time of hibernation, of course. Or, perhaps, it’s a recovering from burnout thing. It feels like something more or different, though. The world feels increasingly foreign to me, and something with which I can’t keep up. Don’t necessarily want to keep up. In recent weeks, for example, I’ve been wondering what it will mean to be a writer–or any kind of artist–in a world with ChatGPT.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Labor enough

An acronym close to that computer firm.
There are dress codes at IBM, I have you know.
Irritable? Yes, often. I’ve been pissed off,
imagine bowels as a curled-up, snarling cobra.

Syndrome is, I believe, where spectators
gather to see retired pilots take off
in noisy small planes. Banking
is a dangerous manoeuvre.

Fokkina McDonnell, Ode of sorts…

In the season finale of the Culinary Saijiki podcast, I talked with Mark Scott of Naturalist Weekly, which was one of my favorite blogs of 2022. In the conversation, I had the idea of spending 2023 investigating the micro-seasons around me. I decided that since I wanted to find a way to write more consistently in this space, I would make that my project for 2023.

Of course, the first month of the year is nearly over, and I’ve yet to get started! In part that’s because I’m balancing a full-time job, finishing my Pilates training, and my other haiku endeavors. But there was another challenge: it became clear to me that the micro-seasons Mark describes in his blog would have been developed over many years of watching and observing. An awareness of micro-seasons would also require one to be intimately familiar with the flora and fauna of their locale.

Having lived in Missouri for just over six months, neither of these things are particularly ingrained in my consciousness.

Allyson Whipple, New Year, New Home

skies that make islands
of familiar trees
and cause us to imagine
great waters in between
near and far

and so probability
yields to dreaming
and there are wings

Dick Jones, islands

I love it when I find a poet I haven’t heard of before whose collection absorbs me and keeps dragging me with it through three or four readings. So it is with Alexandra Fossinger’s Contrapasso, which I bought a week or two ago.

She works with the in-betweens, the unexplained areas of experience, so it takes some work to get to its layers. I hadn’t read anything about Fossinger and didn’t notice the short biography at the back until after the second reading but it fits my initial reaction – She is mostly interested in the spaces between things, the tiny shifts in time, the overlooked, the unsaid. She’s Italian, from the South Tyrol near the border with Austria, lives in Germany and writes mostly in English. She’s done the usual round of magazines.

I don’t know the specific details behind the poems because she avoids telling us and concentrates instead on creating an atmosphere of increasing isolation. The drama is cumulative. It seems – and forgive me if you see it differently, or think I’m way out – that she is writing for a lover now estranged in time and distance, imprisoned somewhere, and so lost, except to memory and these poems, which seem to combine to form a message that deals with the experience of continuing to be fond of someone it is no longer possible to see or speak to, of where that experience can take a person over time.

In that so little is explicit, she is a demanding poet, but not obscure for obscurity’s sake. There is a real sense that she is trying hard to examine a particular experience of loss and come up with an appropriate way of communicating it. Yes, she could have been kinder by offering more easily understood facts, but it feels as if it’s the emotional experiences and not necessarily the physical facts that interest her.

Bob Mee, CONTRAPASSO – A COLLECTION BY ALEXANDRA FOSSINGER

As contemporary poets invent more and more forms for their poetry, it is perhaps surprising that the sonnet is undergoing something of a revival. Last year saw the publication of Hannah Lowe’s superb, award-winning The Kids , which demonstrated so well how this traditional form can be used for current content and now we have Paul Brookes’ Shakespearian sonnets in is latest collection, These Random Acts of Wildness (Glass Head Press, 2023) , which treat a range of enduring issues such as our experience of being alive and the nature of the natural environment.. His use of the form is as adept as Lowe’s, often concluding in memorable rhyming couplets, such as: ‘We collect the wild as ornamental/ Domesticate, put on a pedestal’; ‘My hard weight tames the uneven and wild/ makes it all proper, gentle meek and mild’; and ‘The wild dance of the swifts amongst the dead/ reminds us life goes on restless to be fed.’ The sonnet is clearly alive and well and has much to offer poets today.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘These Random Acts of Wildness’

I was very pleased to hear of Chicago-born poet Jessica Laser’s latest, Planet Drill (New York NY: Futurepoem, 2022), recalling how struck I was by the work in her debut, Sergei Kuzmich from All Sides (Seattle WA: Letter Machine Editions, 2019) [see my review of such here]. The poems in Planet Drill are predominantly shorter, lyrically-compact first-person examinations, each line constructed as a kind of self-contained statement, set as a layering of poem-shaped brick-works. In certain ways, she constructs her poems around the shape of what otherwise couldn’t be seen without staffolding, allowing the poem to exist as the absence around which her poem draws. Listen to this stretch in the middle of the two-page poem “PLUMBER,” that reads: “I kept along my secret, plumbing / for keeps. State-employed, / I’m hungry, have glory, now money, / now sadness, now none, concern, / joy, fear, grief, / humility, anger, pride, peace, / I’m happy stricken, afflicted / with so deep a burning / of which ice is and can’t help.” There is a playfulness to her lyric of indirect direct statements, one that offers wry commentary and tongue-in-cheek swipes. “Nothing in pride but a flower.” she writes, to open “POEM WITH LIES,” “Nothing in a stare but glass life. / No fruit but a spore / and silent nectar. To remember / this is to bear all things. Life bears / no fruit but of too much color, stands / for taste where sun and taste ally.” Laser’s poems blur between surfaces and depth, moving in and out of focus at remarkable speed, and employing a precision that both illuminates and contorts. “A sad girl a sad alas is.” she writes, to open the poem “CRENELATIONS,” “Best to forfeit disposition. / All exposure. Best / Not to make / A judge love you, / Particularly / You.”

rob mclennan, Jessica Laser, Planet Drill

Carolyn Forché has a new collection of her own poetry, which is always cause for joy. She has compiled anthologies and written memoir and essays, but her poetry collections don’t appear frequently–five collections since 1975, averaging one poetry collection a decade. This is not a prolific output in terms of poetry collections compared with some of her peers, but her books are worth waiting for. I suspect that her poems, crafted with such memorable pacing and imagery, which unspool so purposefully–even mindfully, though that term is overused–must take time to consider, revise, or compose. I have to slow my breath just to take them in.

In the Lateness of the World lies on the book pile beside my bed at the moment, and I read about three to four poems at a time. Savoring them, thinking about their implications; despair and concern and grief, and deep love for the world we inhabit and the people who labor through the days. Forché, because of her “poetry of witness,” often gets called a political poet, mostly because she never shies away from confronting, and writing about, the injustices and damages inflicted on people and on the planet–and implicating the perpetrators. But she also avoids ideology. The perpetrators are not easily pegged in her work: all of us can be implicated, and all of us are affected, a network no single person or nation can untangle or resolve. Forché’s poems resonate with a complicated love and a recognition of how much work we must be willing to do.

Ann E. Michael, Admiration

This pamphlet features two longer sequences, starting with the title piece, and four shorter poems. In a nutshell, “Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain” explores the life of a woman in youth, age and death through a lens of motherhood. The poem doesn’t flow in in chronological order, it’s a series of recollections from differing perspectives. […]

The two longer sequences explore multiple voices on a common theme while the shorter poems are more focused. All demonstrate a love of language, both of meaning and sound, not just as single words but how sounds build patterns and add texture to the poems.

Emma Lee, “Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain and Other Poems” Oisín Breen (Beir Bua Press) – book review

Finished reading Deathbed Sext by Christopher Salerno, 2020, Two Sylvia’s Press.  This was a winner of TSP Chapbook competition. There are some remarkable lines in this poetry. It is rich with dissonance (something I love) throughout the book.  Personally, I felt its strength was in individual poems and not so much as a cohesive manuscript, but that was just my opinion. 

Michael Allyn Wells, January – Birthday – Fountain Pen

It occurred to me suddenly last week that next year, we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the first dancing girl press chapbook. There is no way this could be at all possible, and yet, there it is. It also means that 20 years ago this fall, I was just starting my MFA program. While wicked alice existed prior to those years, the press is somewhat tied to that program, not really the poetry classes, where they all seemed slightly horrified I had the audacity to start a press (or at my audacity in general,) but a brief dip into the Fiction Writing program’s Small Press Publishing class where I created first a print annual of WA, then my own little chapbook project as a test runner for bigger things that fall. Granted, that class imagined far larger goals for starting a press than a tiny chapbook operation.  I remember my classmates coming in with grand schemes and even grander budgets, none of which quite lifted off the ground. My tiny little print annual flew..mostly because my expectations were small..a saddle stapler, some cardstock, some paper, a word file. I did it all for less than a $100 for both the annual and my little chap. This was proper to social media, prior even to this blog (I was still on xanga at the time.) And yet, people found their way to the website, the crude little initial version I had built on Angelfire  for like 10 bucks a month where I hosted other early sites (where it still lives, more or less, at least the landing page, which then gives way to the shop hosted elsewhere.) 

The success of course, depended on the smallness. Keeping things manageable financially, with each book paying for the next. This is still the model that works, with other funds coming through from the shop goods in general. It’s a lot more solvent and in the red than when I rented the studio space, but it’s still very much a micropress. Occasionally, I entertain the idea of full-length offerings, which are do-able as my own self-publishing endeavors attest, but I still love the handmade factor, the smallness factor, of publishing chapbooks. It’s still a low-overhead endeavor, which makes it possible to continue even in times when many other presses and publishers went under. (Ie even if traffic is low and the economy shit, books can still make their way into the world, even if I am paying out of pocket myself.)

I also like that not much investment means that I can afford to take chances on authors who might be publishing their first work but aren’t going to be big sellers, at least not right away. Or strange little weird books no one but me may love. Or books by authors who release a lot of work, but because their fans are split across so many new projects, they might not sell well initially (I sometimes am this author, I know what it’s like)  There is a pleasure in being small, but also really free. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | january 2023

There was a lovely range of ages in my first workshop, a few younger siblings joined in, as well as parents, grandparents and carers. We talked about pattern, repetition, shape and rhyme in poetry, and how that might be represented visually. We also learned that George Crabbe wrote long narrative poems, predominantly in the form of rhyming couplets, and I showed the group some of my own visual poems, where I’ve used the same flower at the end of each line to represent a rhyme, and more recent poems using photocopies of fallen leaves.

Then the group spent time with George Crabbe’s herbarium, carefully handling specimens (all kept under clear protective covering to preserve them) and selecting the ones they wanted to work with. Hannah, from Trowbridge Museum, photocopied the chosen specimens, then the participants set to work, cutting and pasting photocopies of flowers, or drawing and colouring them, or making 3D models of flowers and a garden landscape, or a combination of all of this. One workshop member had a go at writing rhyming couplets in the style of George Crabbe. We talked about how Crabbe included common wildflowers in his collection and the group was very knowledgeable about the insect-enabling, pollinating benefits of flowers and plants, incorporating bees, butterflies and other insects into their creative work, a few samples below! [Click through for the photo documentation.]

Josephine Corcoran, Flowers, visual poetry and George Crabbe’s herbarium in a workshop at Trowbridge Museum

Thank you Matthew Paul for reminding me about The Iron Book of British Haiku. You can read his very detailed and engaging post about this book here – a real insider’s account of how this book came together. I’ve featured the poem on the back cover (above) [“Morning sneeze / the guitar in the corner / resonates” —Dee Evetts] as a gentle reminder to myself to get back to the guitar! It’s been a marathon month of blogging, and it’s really helped me focus on the poetry, but I’m well aware that it has also taken up some of the time I would normally have spent practising the guitar. My aim was to post every day in January, and we’re almost at the end of the month, so February should be, by rights, a month where I pick up the guitar every day. Let’s see how that pans out!

Julie Mellor, the guitar in the corner …

It’s Saturday morning and I’m doing everything except writing although my mind keeps going back to writing. I’m watching a documentary right now called “Laurel Canyon” on Prime but in the back of my mind I’m restructuring a creative nonfiction piece I’ve been working on for a while. […]

The main thing that impressed me was the mystique of Laurel Canyon itself, as a community, at that moment in time. I felt like I was watching a lost world that will never be again, a world more personal than the one we live in today. People trusted each other, didn’t lock their doors, wandered in and out of each others homes. Their lifestyle was free, innocent, expansive. It seemed it was a community that shared, without envy and competition. It’s hard to believe in our current world that this ever existed.

The landscape itself was verdant, moody, primitive, even dangerous in the way beauty often is. I can imagine being bewitched, living there at that time in such a richly creative, beautiful, and nurturing environment. It oozed creativity that came through in the old home movies and photographs. It really cast a spell on me for several hours. I can relate to how music and art is inspired by being immersed in the natural world, how the peace of it empties the mind of chaos, replaces it with wonder and a calm that allows creative ideas to grow.

Charlotte Hamrick, Creative Communities

The second poem for this week comes from Fergus Allen and his first collection, The Brown Parrots of Provedencia. I think I’ve mentioned his work before, and may have shared a poem, but if it’s taken me two years to get to Katie’s book, it’s taken me about 25 to get to this one. I’ve had this since my days working at Bertrams and have hauled it with me wherever I go, but if I have read it it didn’t land with me, or perhaps I didn’t have the tools to comprehend it, but now I”ve started it I am enjoying it. It looks like my three Fergus Allen books made it to the TBR pile a couple of years ago too, so I really am getting down into the sub-strata there. I’ve now discovered that a) he’s dead b) there are two more books I don’t have of his c) Brown Parrots came out when he was 70 (wither the definition of an emerging or developing poet argument) and d) this is an interesting interview with him.

Mat Riches, Attitudes, Anteaters, Brown Parrots, and early kicks offs for the Eliots

I’m so delighted to be included in the most recent issue of Eemis Stane, a primarily Scots language publication. The team is just brilliant and so helpful with getting the Scots in my poems jist richt. I’m still learning, so it’s been great to work with them and to be included, though Scots for me is a learned language, rather than a native tongue. The scope of the magazine is amazing and global even though it’s focussed on a minority language, from a sample of Catalan translations of a Scots novel to a whole collection of great Scots poems and a review of a book of Scots translations of Chinese poets. I feel like I’m a small part of a new vitalising movement. 

Gerry Stewart, The Keeking Light

I’ve excited to announce that my next collection of poetry, Her Whole Bright Life, winner of the Jack McCarthy Book Prize and forthcoming from Write Bloody, is now available for pre-order! Books will ship in April, order today!

***

Her Whole Bright Life is a collection of poems that weave together the trauma and exhaustion of a life lived with disordered eating and the loss and grief of the death of the poet’s father. Love and hunger intertwine and become inseparable as the poet grapples to find, and listen, to both. With a distinct and feminist voice, this collection delves into a life now lived without a beloved parent, while trying to survive a pandemic, and battling demons that have lived inside her for most of her life. With both fierceness and tenderness, we see a woman trying to find her place within her own body and within an ever-changing world. This collection of poems is both an elegy and an anthem – praising both those who’ve been lost and those who remain.

Courtney LeBlanc, New Book Available for Pre-Order

I am amazed to see that I have yet another review of my new chapbook (The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants)! I think this is a testament to the hustle of my wonderful editor at Belle Point, Casie Dodd (thank you if you are reading!).

Erijo Edward writes, “The book is a moving masterpiece that allows for the author to mourn, for the reader to see through the most trying period of her life and also appreciate the essence of what life is, for it is in moving on and finding the will to survive we coexist with the planet and once again appreciate the beauty of nature and life in itself.”

Masterpiece?!?! I am really flattered!

Renee Emerson, The Commonplace Misfortunes, reviewed in The Poetry Question

I was thrilled to receive an acceptance this week for some poems I submitted to an upcoming anthology. I haven’t submitted work in a very long time, and I had forgotten the rush of good feeling it gives me to be granted a “yes” on my work: Someone thinks I’m worthy! Someone likes what I wrote! Approval is a powerful drug, and it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a good dose of it. Most of the time these days I go around seething to myself, “If you want to tell me about all of ways I’ve disappointed you, you’ll have to get in line behind everyone else.” So being given the Nod of Worthiness felt pretty darn good.

Kristen McHenry, Emotional Wins Hot Streak

One of the joys of social media (and there are plenty of aspects of them that are less than joyful) is that occasionally a notification pops up from an unexpected source and when you check it out there is something really worthwhile to be found. This happened the other day – via Instagram. Someone called Matt McGettrick had tagged me. I don’t know Matt, but he is a student on the BA course in TV and Radio Production at the University of Salford.

Matt’s instapost said he had recently created a soundscape based on a poem I published in 1990, in my first book from Enitharmon Press, called Beneath Tremendous Rain. It’s unlikely that the poem was found in that book itself, but I remember it was selected more than 10 years later by Sean Street to appear in an anthology called Radio Waves: poems celebrating the wireless (Entharmon, 2004). There, I was happily rubbing shoulders with the likes of Auden, Brecht, MacNeice, Heaney and Carol Ann Duffy. Sean – whose is a poet, broadcaster and recently retired Professor of Radio at Bournemouth University – had divided the anthology up into sections variously titled, Music Radio, Talk Radio, Weather, Listeners and Signals. My piece was in the section called ‘In the Car’.

Martyn Crucefix, ‘Air-Waves’: poem as audio soundscape

The thing I found fascinating about Mandelbrot images, was the way you can zoom in and in and in, and the same patterns emerge at every level of detail. That was the effect I wanted to portray in this poem. To my mind, a thesaurus behaves like that; you can look one word up and then find its synonyms, and then proceed to synonyms of those synonyms. As the poem imparts, spiralling and sprawling, spawning a myriad thesaurus points, and genociding a kaleidoscope of others.

Giving the name Julia to one of these fractal sets felt very anthropomorphic.

Giles L. Turnbull, Patterns Amid the Poems

it’s the fag isn’t it
chomped in the blown corner
making way for the mouthed words
exhaled frown yet to crease that young brow
where the fish words garner thoughts
that glow and fade
drop like blown ash
his mind as far away as the fields
in the tobacco shop on st helen’s road

Jim Young, dylan thomas in a chair with a fag

In the bright frosty days when rain paused I remembered how sparrows spring clean as nesting time approaches – sweep sticks and feathers from hiding places in the eaves. Foxes are mating and calling. Something of that fever got to me in the last couple of weeks. I’ve spent hours online rooting through names on my mother’s side of the family.

There are few narratives attached to these names, other than the streets they lived in, the churchyard they’re buried in (masses of them in the same one) and occupations on census forms – agricultural labourer, laundress, unpaid domestic duties. Interrupting these, a house painter, groom, a charcoal burner, gardener. Unsurprising handholds in the story that kept mum’s family in the New Forest for generations, mainly around one village. For a while they lived in Silver Street, which the New Forest Explorers’ Guide reckons is a corruption of Silva, meaning road to the woods. Whether or not that’s true, I’ll take the beauty in that name as truth. Just as I was delighted to find a female ancestor called Martha Candy.

Jackie Wills, The forest ancestors again

I hear of two so search for the third
as death always comes in threes
this is a hard and fast law
my mother steered our family by such stars
bad things can happen any time
tea leaves held clues
and she interrogated every cup for omens
but none were as accurate as
Coop Indian Prince Assam

Paul Tobin, TEA LEAVES HELD CLUES

The photos in this post were taken in Rome in November. And it was such an interval of pure play. At first I was disappointed that the carousel was draped in the protective tarp. But it started to seem a bit symbolic. The messages and words written on the plastic in the dust. Someone had torn away a bit of the plastic so you could see in a little but largely the carousel animals were a murky blur. The fun part was obscured. Still, the decorative top was a visual feast. I can’t tell you how many photos I took of this and Rob off to the side patiently just letting me do my thing. At the time I couldn’t even say what drew me to this but I was COMPELLED. Now it makes sense to me but I knew enough to just go with it and enjoy the play. To just delight. I remember taking some pains to line up the angels on the carousel with the angel on top of the Castel Sant’Angelo, and the bird perched on the lamppost. […]

As most creative people know, when you’re just playing around, goofing about, that’s often when neat stuff happens. You’re open to it, it’s open to you. Who knows. In the next two frames, a couple of birds began to play. You could tell they were riffing off of each other, taking turns perching on the horse. Delightful, yes?

It helps, anyway, is what I’ve found, to just go and play at something (in my case photography). Then when you come back to the day job or whatever work you have to do, it’s easier to find that comedic distance.

Shawna Lemay, Participate Joyfully

Like many people, I’ve been experimenting with using AI tools to write. In one way or another, AI has been part of my writing practice for decades. I begin using Ray Kurzweil’s “Poet’s Assistant” ages and ages ago after hearing Christopher Dewdney speaking about it. You could feed it a corpus of a poet’s work (I liked Blake’s) and then add another corpus (I’d feed it old manuscripts of mine) and then you could get it to generate entire poems, or, even better, to complete sentences. I found it particularly interesting to prompt it with words or phrases that confounded it. “Underwear” isn’t in the Blake poems, for example.

I’ve often used Google Translate, and an N+7 generator, running next through them multiple times and generally trying to exploit the strange corners of the software.

Lately, I’ve been exploring ChatGPT and GPT-3. With any AI, the trick is to figure out how to give it productive prompts which cause it to respond in interesting ways and hopefully generate something of use. I’m not a purist–I’m happy to take output and edit it. The first example below (and set to music in the video above) The Ocean was created without any significant editing — a couple of tiny nips and tucks. The second piece, The Leaves was more substantially edited and I merged two different GPT-3 prompts and results together. I love the idea that you give a prompt to an AI and then the result is kind of like a prompt back to you.

Gary Barwin, The Ocean, The Leaves and AI

How many times
do two words go

bump-bump
before it means

something,
the old monk asked.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (389)

How does a poem begin?

Sometimes with a ghost, sometimes with a joke. Although before that, before the immediate inciting incident, there is a slow and steady accumulation of fragments: overheard phrases, unbidden ideas, resonant texts, facts that scream to be made into metaphors. I spend my time moving through the world and collecting these little fragments, jotting them down in notebooks, suspending them from the rafters of my brain where they can sway and sing together.

And then, the inciting incident: A hypothetical question about eating your clone, for example. That gives the fragments something to coalesce around. It gives them a shared premise. It illuminates their similarities, heightens their differences. They all begin casting light and shadow on one another, melting into one another, gesturing toward other fragments, morphing into strange new entities with many faces. It’s all quite chaotic. 

So what you need to do, then, is find that line or phrase to anchor them – like binding a spirit to a cursed object.

Matthew Kosinski : part five (Thomas Whyte)

but when I stop and listen

I realise I am not
the only interruption ~

a passing train, the cries
of children in the yard

of a school half a mile away
and then in the next moment

the peals of the school bell
calling us all to order

and I am a child
in another schoolyard

in another landscape
bouncing on my heels

turning towards this future
I have yet to imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ It is so still today

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 2

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: trees, ghosts, good questions, dead poets, and more. Enjoy.


Two trees stand out like postcards I might have posted to myself from nearly a year ago if I’d listened to the prophesy. 

The bulbous ends of pollarded trees used to fascinate me when I was a child and the woman’s head, so sculpted among the stumps, is wise and collected. She maintains her calm. 

The ghost tree was in a wood below ramparts built high on a hill in one of those small towns in Provence that defy cliffs and sheer drops. The trees around it were conifers, evergreens, but somehow this silver birch grew into a landmark by a bend in the path. Comrade trees, I report to you that bend in the path and all who look after others who are standing there. 

Jackie Wills, To comrade tree

I awake to dread, and the cold winter light
walking its fingers down the wall. 

There is a little comfort in the thought:
maybe God has called you to this task

not because you can do it, but because you can’t.

Dale Favier, Comfort

I was on a journey, a memory check. After a poetry reading in Baton Rouge, I drove back to Missouri by way of East Louisiana State Hospital. Most folks just called it Jackson, same name as the nearest town. Many weekends during elementary school and junior high, Daddy and I drove there to visit my mother. It seemed to take hours to get there—turns out it’s just 33 miles from our old house. I don’t know how often or how long we stayed. This trip, I hoped the visit would help me with details. I can’t ask Daddy. He just says the place was torture. Sometimes he cries.

I’m still not sure how much I want to know. But when Talk Smack to a Hurricane (Ice Floe Press, 2022), my first book, was accepted for publication, I knew I wanted to read the poems in Baton Rouge and stop at Jackson. The collection centers on my mother’s mental illness, which was diagnosed within a few weeks of my birth. The poems explore our relationship—tender yet volatile—as well as psychiatric treatments of the latter part of the 20th century. She was diagnosed in 1959. Mama narrowly missed the ice bath, insulin coma, lobotomy. But she was just in time for (what I consider) rudimentary electroshock therapy and Thorazine. Lots of Thorazine. That I was angry at psychiatry rather than my mother surprised me. Not until I was preparing the manuscript did I fully recognize the shift in my emotions.

Lynne Jensen Lampe, Old Colony 5 Road

In the city at the end of her mind it’s minus forty-five degrees.
If you sit by her bed, she will tell you
there are rules for walking between trees,
rules for carrying a spider out of the fire, how
laughter fades under the weight of the heavy water of desire.
One by one pilgrims leap into the hole in the frozen lake.
As they fall they make the sign of the cross.
Atonement. At one ment. Take what you need to be free.
She remembers the priest called it debauchery.
If you sit by her bed, she will tell you trees know
what they’re doing, know how to move, which way to sway,
until it’s time for them to fall.
We become forgettable, forgotten, she says.
Inbox Zero, even if there’s a signal.
There never were any heroes, not then anyway, just
urgent whispering at the top of the stairs.
What did they want? she says.
I never found out what they wanted.

Bob Mee, THE CRACKS IN THE EARTH (IN EVERYTHING) SCREAM PLEASE FORGIVE ME

On its own at the end of a line, “missing” invokes the ongoing history of femicide along the US / Mexico border. Then the latter “missing / fingers” rings out both in its evocation of a musician’s physical absence but also its implication of violence.

Even without knowledge of Juárez, one reaches the end of the poem with a haunted sense of something more than music being lost here. This haunted sense is what grounds the poem in its urgency. All the distancing through image and metaphor makes the city and its history all the more present, and offers the speaker a chance to voice the ultimate difficulty implied via the speculation of the title.

José Angel Araguz, dispatch 011223

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

All my books, in their own way, dwell on and participate in a variety of concerns, from identity to violence to ecology. I find it close to impossible to read any work of literature and not uncover such concerns, if not simply see them on the surface, the exception being those writings that go out of their way to demystify just about everything—and even then, they still speak to something outside the work itself.

I’ve read and taught ancient literature for many years, and those works reveal that our many of our concerns today are old as dirt. Some are new, obviously, but if they are described generally enough, it becomes clear that we’ve been dealing with similar problems as the ancients, just differently. I’m not 100% sure, for example, that my children, if they choose to raise children of their own, can even live where we now live. Another way to state this concern: our world is falling apart, is fragile. We live in Houston, and there’s a strong possibility that in a few decades, the geography will change so dramatically, because of the climate crisis, that the city as we know—portions of it, at least—may not be inhabitable or else may be too dangerous, too unpredictable to live in. It already feels that way. Only a few years ago, Hurricane Harvey dumped 60 inches of rain on parts of Houston—that’s 33 trillion gallons of water, in about a week. Places that have never flooded, not since records began being made, were under water. That’s a concern. But is it new? No.

I’ve also always been very concerned with political violence, the history of which has unfortunately touched the lives of my family all too closely. And that kind of violence, from the perspective of the last few decades, seems ever more likely. It was always present in my family’s homeland (Lebanon), and in my hometown (Detroit), and it seems to be more pervasive today, more spread out, targeting more people, more groups, and the rules have changed, the technology on which violence thrives has become more sophisticated.

The list of concerns goes on and on.

What I won’t do, as far poetry goes is allow the concerns to take the reins. I’m not writing theory, I’m not writing newspaper stories, or history, or memoir, or political manifestos. Yes, genres blend. Yes, disciplines inform each other. Yes, the boundaries are porous, and at times they disappear. But I write poetry, which is to say that’s what I have in mind when I am making a poem. This informs not only what I do and how I do it, but also what I knowingly resist.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Hayan Charara

At the heart of the poem is the symbol of ‘fire’, which is as important to other poems in the collection, such as The brown berries have turned black, Amazon and Ashes. The symbol is developed by Clive in such a way that it resonates with a rich complexity of meanings. Fire he suggests has the capacity for good: it is one of the bounties of nature. It brings us warmth and safety from danger: ‘the campfire … keeps the dark at bay/ as it prowls, hungry, indiscriminate, waiting to eat us’. It can also guide us or direct us, like a ‘beacon, a torch, / a mighty Pharos raised to guide ships to harbour across tumultuous seas raised against us.’ Yet in humankind’s hands it has become destructive: ‘sacred groves we now cut down/ to feed the fire.’ In our hands it destroys because is fed by ignorance and greed. We are blind to nature’s beauties and bounty because our minds are ‘filled with smoke and fire’ so that ‘we have stopped being able to see miracles’. The effect of this is to think ‘it is reasonable to consume each other as indiscriminately as we consumed the world around us/ with no regard for what we damaged or destroyed along the way/…this is the way of things in the age of fire…/as the fire consumes without replenishing its source’. There is both greed here and a recklessness, a disregard for the consequences of our actions. We have the knowledge and understanding to be different and to help us find a more productive way forward. Yet this type of  ‘fire’ is directed towards serving the consumption of goods and the pursuit of material wealth (‘the fire was honed until it became hot/ and narrow enough to cut through metal,/ great metal sheets with which we clad the ships of our mind/ as they traversed new realms of knowledge/ welded fast and tight’) and to engaging in conflict (‘we choose to see a fire/in the same we  choose to see a blade/ hidden in a lump of virgin flint/ see the shaft of a spear in every pine.’?

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘the end of the age of fire’ by Peter Clive

Every once in awhile a book comes along that makes me totally rethink my received or assumed knowledge by shaking up the usual perceptions. The most recent book to have wrought such a rethinking on my part is The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, by David Graeber and David Wengrow. The effusive blurbs–and there are many–on the MacMillan page the preceding link takes you to strike me as accurate; on every page or two I find myself saying, “I have to look that up! I never heard about that! I need to read that book/author/article!”

Beyond the illuminating information, though, what excites me most about this book is how revelatory it is concerning human possibilities. These authors (unfortunately Graeber died in 2020) are drily funny and unrepentantly anarchists among the scholars of so-called pre-history. The research they gather and present, and their theories based upon what we now know about ancient peoples, upend the evolution of human society that I was taught and that seemed so logical I never thought to question–the foragers/hunter-gatherers/agriculturalists/city-makers “development” of human societies and cultures that Rousseau’s philosophical state-of-nature idea essentially founded. I was aware that archeological discoveries have been found that challenge the narrative, but I wasn’t aware of how many of these are being examined and the amazing data they reveal. I was aware that views of indigenous peoples, past and present, are most often through a lens of “Western civilization” and tainted by the assumptions of researchers but was not alert to my own blind spots and received assumptions.

Which makes me pretty much a human being, right? We do tend to short-cut to our beliefs and accept the “logical information” we learn from parents, teachers, and other authorities. Then, we use that framework to test out the logic of other assumptions. Sometimes that framework is not as strong, correct, or universal as we thought. And it feels marvelously disruptive, sometimes, to buck the system, make art, behave differently–illogically–and find that new ways of thinking about the world can be fun.

Ann E. Michael, Received assumptions

White erasers in different sizes and shapes are indispensable tools for charcoal work – they allow you to erase large areas, for sure, but also to go backwards and forwards, working with both the charcoal and the eraser. The main use is to lighten areas or pick out highlights and create texture. And you must work on good paper that has some “tooth” to catch all the little particles of charcoal, but will stand up to scrubbing and both the buildup of dark areas and the erasure of others.

Beth Adams, Working in Monochrome

Sometimes the words
want to go right
through the paper,
the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (102)

I got an opportunity from the Arizona Commission On The Arts to do a reading that incorporated projected images throughout the performance.

So I was able to put together a show at one of the iconic Phoenix venues The Trunk Space with some of my favorite artists and we called the night Jackalope In Retrograde.

JJ Horner was doing live painting. 

GOHNE opened the night (new band project from Lonna Kelley and Jay Hufman)

Writer Erik Bitsui came down from Flagstaff.

The Necronauts played as a two-piece and were also joined by Rocky Yazzie for a set.

Most of my images were Jia Oak Baker’s photographs from our collaborative book Gravity & Spectacle, but we also had some bonus content, videos etc. [Click though to view photo documentation.]

Shawnte Orion, Jackalope In Retrograde

Beginning in 2007 with four books and no intention to publish more, CBe has been humming along fine for 15 years: here a prize, there a shortlisting, quite often semi-silence but every one of the books was more than worth publishing.

It’s now 2023 and print costs have been escalating and postage costs too; there are other small presses who can sell X’s new novel or Y’s book of poems into bookshops better than CBe can; and I’m into my 70s and getting smaller. From this year CBe will concentrate on publishing, perhaps exclusively, small A-format books, the model being the three books published last year in that size and with covers with image on white card (Agota Kristof, The Illiterate; Caroline Clark, Own Sweet Time; myself, 99 Interruptions). This will mean goodbye to the brown covers (those books are more expensive to print: retro costs). It will mean hello to more short books: if prose, fiction or non-fiction, say 10 to 20,000 words (rough guide only). And poetry, yes: Cape Editions did poetry in A-format, and so now do NYRB.

Charles Boyle, Plan B

Part of my hesitancy to leave full time work was fear. I’d had the same job for 21 years.  I was never really entirely sure how I’d been lucky enough to land that job in the first place.  At least in the beginning.  Because I was scared to try something new, I stayed longer than I should have.  In fact, under different circumstances I may still have hesitant to leave.  I’ve heard friends say this about bad relationships. It wasn’t working. or he was abusive, controlling, but they were afraid of making their way in the world alone. And while I admit I stayed in bad relationships for a number of reasons (usually impulse control, masochism,  or thinking I could change things) this wasn’t one of them. I’ve had entirely single spans, most of my 20’s, in fact. But then, later, when a relationship was in the death grip, there were other people and things to occupy my time. I was okay with alone, but rarely was I actually without something going on in that arena, even if it was just a crush I wanted to become something more. 

And this is true of art and writing.  The years where the words were more fallow were some of the best years for art, and maybe vice versa. Even now, I don’t get much time to spend with collage or painting, but I do spend a lot of time making video poems and designing covers.   I like having many options, especially when some options are more fleeting than others.  Other things have to earn their way into your daily practice. Or seem like a good thing for awhile but then you move on. 

There’s a lot of talk these days on the potential harm of the gig economy and people working multiple jobs to make ends meet–driving uber or deliveries–and actually not getting the sort of stability of things like paid sick days, insurance, etc that traditional employers provide. But then again, you have a certain amount of freedom and discretion you don’t get being beholden to one workplace, so I totally get it.   Everyone, coming out of covid lockdowns, wondered where all the workers went.  Could it be that many of them were willing to trade certain securities for lower pay, but more freedom and more eggs in many baskets. That when you decide you’re getting screwed, you can find somethings else. When the alternative was sometimes tyrannical bosses, unwieldy shifts, unsafe workplaces, and toxic corporate culture. Could be. 

Kristy Bowen, eggs and baskets: on jobs, art, and love

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’ve been engaging with poetic audiobooks. There is something really special about listening to the poet narrate their work. I recently listened to The Blue Clerk by Dionne Brand and Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith. I love the audiobook experience because I can hear the intended emphasis in the poet’s own voice. It’s magic to be able to push a button and have Dionne Brand read to you. I’m also reading a few paperbacks—Tend by Kate Hargreaves, which I am loving. I’m always in awe of poetry that can rile me up and then make me laugh on the next page. I have Victoria Mbabazi’s FLIP on my side table. I was hooked on Mbabazi’s work after reading chapbook and look forward to reading more. I’ll be lined up for all future work by Mbabazi.

Thomas Whyte, Samantha Jones : part five

I want to form poems
I can hold in my palms and make use of.
I want to sew a skirt of a poem
that blooms like a flame when I twirl.
I want to make a silk bag of a poem
to tote home my onions and wine.
I want to crochet a long warm
scarf of a poem, with matching fingerless gloves.
I want to slow-cook a poem like a pot roast, and
serve it with beer and potatoes.

Kristen McHenry, Poetry of the Practical

I also practice my balance by 1) putting on pants 2) putting on shoes. Sometimes I try to stand like a crane, one leg straight, one leg bent, to put on each shoe. This morning, by chance, Facebook offered me a picture of the flamingo sculpture at the Tampa airport, making it a Random Coinciday in the blog! Also, I dreamed of putting on a shoe. And often I write poems while walking, a different kind of walking meditation.

Kathleen Kirk, Balance

With the thwack

of a cleaver handle, I sever
the drumstick joint just above
the ankle so I can work it free

of meat and muscle. I stuff it
with a mixture of pork, ham, and
hard-boiled eggs before patting it

back into shape and sewing it shut
with twine. What I have then is what
cookbooks describe as a farce—

Elaborate comedy of illusion, the lengths
we’ll go to keep an appearance intact,
armor over the soft jelly of flesh inside.

Luisa A. Igloria, Farce

In one passage in the 1663 diaries, they have a blazing row, and Pepys calls Elisabeth a ‘beggar’ because she brought no dowry to the marriage and she responds by calling him ‘pricklouse’ (which vexed him) referring to him being the son of a tailor. A cracking insult. Since I read this altercation I have seen her in my mind’s eye, mad as hell, sitting on the bed with balled fists fuming at him. I wonder what else she was mad at. Pepys records how often she fell out with servants and lady’s maids, probably because she saw his eye turned to them. What a precarious thing it must have been, to live at that time and to be owned and how did those women create a life within the prison of their husband’s lives? I wonder what she would think of me, remembering her and her flung insults, 360 years after she flung them. She died of typhoid in 1669. Pepys had stopped writing his diaries by them, but there are letters to naval captains excusing himself from work for a good four weeks because he is so devastated. After her death he was in a long term relationship with Mary Skinner, but never married her. When he died he was buried next to Elisabeth.

The diaries can be quite challenging; they are, after all, written in a world very different from our own. But at the same time, there’s a thread of human behaviour which simply hasn’t changed and I love that. That the complexities of human behaviour are still complex, that marriage and love and this short span of life in which you try to do your best, and fail and win, that hasn’t changed. Mrs. Pepys, Elisabeth, today I remember you and your life; as a person separate from your husband, though I don’t know you but through your husband’s diaries, I acknowledge your life and your anger and your love and the short span of life you spent on the earth.

Wendy Pratt, Remembering Elisabeth, Pepys’s Wife – Reading the 1663 Pepys Diaries

This is what we were made
of, soft skin and paradise and the bouquet
of unbearable desire. This is what we can make
of soil and water and endless sky. This is what
bubbles in the orange shaft of light that falls
upon my empty couch. I watch, I inhale, I
shiver, I hide, inside a perfumed shadow.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, This is what

Dan Brady’s “Songs in E–” was winner of the Barclay Prize for Poetry. It has an intriguing premise, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” translated into Portguese and then back into English via an unreliable internet translator and the resulting material reshaped into “Songs in E–“. A similar process was used for the latter half of the book, “E–‘s Song” which used Robert Browning’s “One Word More” also dubiously translated into Portguese and back into English and then reshaped. […]

It’s no surprise that the poems in the first part are recognisably sonnets. None contain the most famous lines either. This underlines the value of translation is not just about fluency or vocabulary but an understanding of what’s being translated and a sympathy to the aims of the writer. Barrett Browning only pretended her poems were translations to distance herself from them because she thought them too personal to publish. The poems returned via the translation process have become so generic as to be almost impersonal. Most of them seem to have lost sight of the originals being love poems.

Emma Lee, “Songs in E–” Dan Brady (Trnsfr Books) – book review

Yesterday as I quilted, I watched two movies, each one about a nineteenth century woman writer.  Mary Shelley was compelling; I wrote this Facebook post:  “The weather has turned gloomy, so one needs an appropriately gloomy movie to keep one company while one stitches. I’ve chosen the 2017 movie “Mary Shelley,” which takes some liberties with the biography. I love its depiction of writing and creativity, and the costumes and sets warm my Brit Lit heart. But the movie does make me feel ancient. I see Mary and Claire Clairmont making a terrible mistake in running away with this cad Percy Shelley who has already ruined one woman’s life (his wife Harriet), and I want to talk some sense into them, even as I know that talking sense into these besotted girls is impossible. Sigh.

Enter Lord Byron–oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”

I also watched A Quiet Passion, about Emily Dickinson.  While I appreciate aspects of it, parts of it were slow, slow, slow.  While I can appreciate what Cynthia Dixon went through to inhabit the role, did we really need to see the extended scene of her shaking because of her kidney disease?  And there wasn’t just one scene of her shaking either.  I also got weary at the end of the movie substituting voice overs of poems instead of dialogue–that part seemed to go on for hours.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Scrapping Plans

This trip happened back in 2005 — far too long ago to remember the nitty-gritty as I write this blog post in 2023. The one thing I do remember well, and which features in the opening of the poem, is that it matters what you have on your feet! My friend Fliss, editor of Splinter, and I were emerging from a London Underground station. Fliss was wearing flip-flops … and it was raining!

I liked the idea that, at least for women, a day can be different choices of footwear that features at different times of the day. In this poem we’ve got the inappropriate flip-flops in the daytime, followed by an elegant pair of heels in the evening. Before Dressing Up (the pamphlet) had been one of the Cinnamon Press pamphlet winners, a day-job colleague had kindly adapted a ShutterStock image that I’d paid for into a cover that, I felt, would have been perfect for the cover of Dressing Up. I later learned that there wasn’t the possibility of using cover art, so the cover never got used … but I’m delighted to post it here to brighten your day.

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetic Naming

Turning 50: I’ve decided to celebrate this milestone instead of dreading it, so I’m having a party on my actual birthday. Do I look 50? Am I dressing correctly for a 50-year-old? Also, can I still have pink hair? The rules are different now than they were when I was a kid. I do know that I see living this long as a real victory, for someone who has been told she was going to die by multiple doctors not so long ago. Hey, every year above ground is a good year.

Launching a book (still) during a pandemic: so, how does one plan a book launch when there’s still sort of pandemic conditions and you worry you’ve forgotten everything about doing book promotion (are there still book festivals, for instance? If so, which are disability friendly? Can I do college class visits virtually? How much travel can I do as someone with MS and a junk immune system before the body crashes? So many questions…and the first phase of 2023’s publicity efforts for Flare, Corona will really start soon. (In the meantime, check out BOA’s new book page for my book, with blurbs and a sample poem!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Healthier Kittens and Sicker Me, New Hair and Imagining 2023: Re-Entry Fears

冬空や猫塀づたひどこへもゆける 波多野爽波

fuyu-zora ya neko hei zutai dokoemo yukeru

            winter sky—

            a cat can go anywhere

            walking on fences

                                                Soha Hatano

from Haiku Saijiki electronic version edited by Kadokawa Shoten, published by Kodansha Sophia Shuppan, Tokyo, Japan, 2018

Fay’s Note:  Soha Hatano (1923-1991)

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (January 10, 2023)

Those of our readers who live in Las Cruces, or who were contributors to Sin Fronteras Journal may remember Joanne Townsend, an active poet in our circle since she and her husband Dan moved down from Alaska in 2005, with several poems in the Journal.  She hoped to produce a collection of her poems in her later years, but when she died two years ago, she left a pile of poems in hard copy with no indication of a possible order.

Thanks to Joe Somoza for his ordering skills and Ellen Young and Christine Eber for following up with the details, a manuscript was created and has now been published by Cirque Press.

Sample, from “Ponder, Partake”

On the church grounds, a single white iris,
its velvet petals calling
wind from the west.
Speak, Memory  Nabokov insisted.
Crimson spilling into parched throats –
Wine.  Poetry.

Poetry was central to Joanne’s life.  Between Promise and Sadness” is available on Amazon via the Cirque Press website: From Promise to Sadness

Ellen Roberts Young, Joanne Townsend: Between Promise and Sadness

I have bought this book several times as it seems to always be disappearing. In the early 90’s, I had never seen a book with this color on the cover, I’d never read a prose poem, or heard of Joseph Cornell. This all seems impossible looking back, but this book was a unicorn. There was no other American surrealist that I had ever heard of and the ekphrastic tradition of poets finding inspiration in the visual arts, was, if not exactly frowned on, it certainly was not in vogue. I read and reread this book. I still do.

A friend of mine had a husband who had studied with Simic at the University of New Hampshire and adored him. This week’s piece in The Yale Review by Megan O’Rourke gives a moving homage to her mentor, friend, and dinner companion. (You can find it here)

Oh, yes, and of course, Pulitzer Prize winning poet. I just found this video of Simic reading his poem “Stone” and for a moment, he comes alive again. 

The great poets I grew up on: Elizabeth Bishop, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Seamus Heaney, W.S. Merwin, Derek Walcott, and now, Charles Simic, are all gone now. The people, not the poems. 

Susan Rich, Thinking about Charles Simic

I also recalled the joy of singing along, badly, to various songs on the drive down, and the fact that I was about to go and see more friends. All of the travelling and visiting, etc meant that I was quite late to seeing the interview with Don Paterson in the Guardian last week. When I did see it I thought it was all fairly nondescript, but there seems to have been some “discourse” of late about a comment he made about poets and not being able to drive. It all seemed quite throwaway to me, but some of the reactions showed just how seriously some poets can take things and themselves. I was more reminded of Wendy Cope’s poem about Typically Useless Male Poets.

Oh well. In other news, where do I file my copy of Don Paterson by Ben Wilkinson? The book is a brilliant look at the work and themes of DP’s life. Do I put it under Don on my shelves or with Ben’s books???

I was reminded again of Don Paterson when I saw the news this week that Charles Simic had died. Simic is a poet I admire, but don’t know brilliantly, despite reading his Selected once. I make the connection with Paterson as I once saw them on the same bill at the Southbank. I think it was when DP was making his famous speech about leaving poetry to the proper poets (or words to that effect), but I could be wrong about both. I remember being enthralled by both, but not quite getting Simic. I’m still not sure I do, but I like it. That seems to be enough.

Mat Riches, Disappointing Baguette

This book is full of memory, and mysticism, and God speaking the world into being in Her own inimitable way, and Reb Nachman with his tears under the table pretending to be a turkey.

Fallen leaves recite kaddish. The infinite arrives on lightning feet. Every word is broken. Only the hidden can burst forth. We forgot what we were yearning for. Every one and every thing is for you.

I’m cheating: that paragraph is a pastiche of Rodger [Kamenetz]’s lines. If that doesn’t entice you, I don’t know what would. I want to start a new commonplace book so I can copy these lines in my own hand.

Rachel Barenblat, Finding The Missing Jew anew

[Jonathon] Cott explains that the journalistic interview was a nineteenth century invention and that the word comes from the French entrevue meaning, “a meeting.” And then this word is derived from entrevoir, meaning “to glimpse, to catch sight of, or to get an inkling of.” Cott then connects this to Martin Buber saying, “all real living is meeting.” And then, he also quotes the psychologist James Hillman saying that “the interview itself is a kind of love…How can one do an interview without love, without imagination working…”

So, if you’ve read Everything Affects Everyone, you can probably see why I was so excited by Cott’s words. I’ve not read every interview in the book, but I started off with the Bob Dylan one, which is so honestly wonderfully weird. Cott quotes Dylan saying, “The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?” There is a point where Dylan says: “Music attracts the angels in the universe. A group of angels sitting at a table are going to be attracted by that.”

Shawna Lemay, Did You Ask a Good Question Today?

street light
half moon
half awake

Jim Young [no title]

Not sure where I’m going with this blog but, inspired by Patti Smith’s A Book of Days, I wanted to try and post something every day for a month. I wanted to reflect some of her generosity, her reverence for things, but I also wanted to consider what makes me ‘me’, my influences, my surroundings. So, there will be some random stuff I suspect, which is a bit of a disclaimer, but at least you understand the thinking behind it.

Anyway, this photograph was taken on a walk to Heptonstall last summer. I like the fingers pointing in opposite directions, challenging me to decided which way to go. Could be a metaphor. Early January is the period when we take stock, try to figure out where we’re going, where we’d like to be. I’m trying not to think too far ahead though, to be present. I tell myself it’s okay to drift a little, to take in what comes along rather than push myself to find new things. So, forgive the random stuff. It comes with good intentions.

Julie Mellor, Slanted landscapes II

Wondering…what it means to be a poet (or anything, really). In the context of a conversation this week, a co-worker of my daughter’s said to me, “You’re a poet, right?” and I wasn’t sure of how to respond. Later, she and I debated my answer to the question. Since I rarely write poetry now, I don’t really think of myself as a poet. She says that, since I have written and am still capable of writing poetry, I am one. Which has me thinking about the labels we attach to ourselves and how we use them. Am I still a teacher? What about a librarian? Am I still a grand-daughter, even though I have no living grandparents? Was I a skater all those years (45!) I didn’t skate? If I’m not the things I used to be, what am I now? (Is this a question we need/get to keep answering until we die?)

Rita Ott Ramstad, Following serendipitous breadcrumbs

who remains when all that is silent is said

who arrives when death is a seed

how deep within the breathing pine
is sky and open sea

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 1

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 first week of the year saw many bloggers recommitting to blogging, among other resolutions, hopes, and reflections about the new year. The weather and food also figured prominently, as one might expect.

I’ve added several new bloggers to my feed reader, as I usually do after Matthew Stewart posts his annual Best UK Poetry Blogs list (here’s this year’s). Theoretically, the more blogs I read, the more selective I can be, but enthusiasm always gets the better of me, so look for these already long digests to get even longer in 2023. Happy New Year!


the air thickens as we work.
steam mists over the white-sheeted windows,
fog forming indoors from the flying sweat
& heavy exhalations of the class.
January, but someone opens the door anyway;
cold air gasps in.
[…]

This poem describes my first (or second?) real experience with Hatsu-Geiko, the martial arts tradition of a vigorous practice on New Year’s Day — the first lesson of the year, the first practice of the year. This was at Chicago Aikikai back when they were located on Howard Street. There was literally so much sweat in the air it was hard to breathe. The flower described was an anthurium.

I was recently cleaning house and found an old printout of this poem, in dot matrix print on yellowed paper. I’d been looking for this one, and for another about sharpening stones in water sounding like crickets. Finding this gives me hope that the other one isn’t lost forever. I wish I’d written more poems about martial arts when I was young and vigorous.

PF Anderson, Falling Into Focus

This is why             we bundle: freezing rain, a loss of pitch. The accuracy
of this ink white sheet. Forecasts                     one might reach by water.

Schools closed, pajama days; suspension                              of a letter.
Our small children                      abide. This day, separated

by music, returns    to earth.

rob mclennan, Short poem for a long winter

Happy New Year, everybody! I do hope 2023 will be a good year for us all, walking out of some of our woes and into more of our joys. I’m very aware of people’s losses and changes and the lingering trauma of these pandemic years. We’ll be walking together, won’t we? We got to spend Christmas with our kids in Portland, Oregon, where they both were, amazingly, able to buy houses this fall, after a wild real estate market began to settle down a bit. It was great to see them in their new lives and neighborhoods! We hiked the snowy trail to Tamanawas Falls, and saw the waterfall rushing over frozen sections of itself, misting up into the air and gently raining down on us and the heaps of white snow and blue ice. Just lovely. A magical trail of snow and ice laden trees (primarily cedar and Douglas fir), alternately silent or accompanied by the rushing creek, depending on the bends in the trail. That was Christmas Day.

Tuesday morning we visited a charming patisserie, Champagne Poetry, for breakfast. We had delicious treats, coffee, and tea…but, as it was breakfast, no champagne. It’s all in shades of pink with a rose wall and neon wings, as evidenced by the wacky picture of me and cooler picture of my son! Back home before New Year’s Eve, some of us had a wee bit of champagne before feeling sleepy by nine p.m. But yay for those who made it to midnight!

Kathleen Kirk, Champagne Poetry

I love this time of year. Anything is possible and perhaps, even probable. There are all the poems in the world to write, and all the poems on the computer to send out to journals. This season of beginning fills me with optimism. And so, after an epidemic, a new book, and some epic times of wonder, I’m here again. Over the past few years, I’ve tried to balance more poetry writing with more poetry community.I know I need a vibrant and diverse group of poets around me. 

The classes I teach and the Poets on the Coast retreat I run are both for the poets that come to the events, but they also feed me. Something inexplicible happens when we write in community—as if the air we breathe is filled with even more poetry than usual. Somehow as a group, we are more than a sum of our parts. Or maybe it’s something even simpler, when we share a safe and creative space, the poems come in new shapes and forms. We surprise ourselves.

Susan Rich, My New Year’s Resolution is to Write Poems and…

A paradox this, in an age of over communication,
there is too little with any meaning. Like packing waste,
deleted texts find their way to a landfill, their tasteless
apathy never decaying. How do you relearn sustainable
conversation, biodegradable, returning to the earth to
bloom flowers? Somewhere in the middle of the day,
your message pings. You send me an AI generated
poem about hope for joy and prosperity and success.
I feel a dark kinship with the fish at the bottom of the
sea that has never set eyes on a human, still dying of
microplastics. Happy (and on this I insist) New Year.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Earth 2023: A poem for the new year

I’m holding onto a quotation I found in Italo Calvino’s memo on “Lightness” in his Six Memos for the Next Millennium. It’s by Paul Valéry: “One must be light like the bird, not like the feather.”

I’m holding onto words that I previously has as my WOTY (word of the year). Uplift, amplify, calm etc. I’m going to continue to go where the love is. I’m going to continue to cultivate Marina Abramavic’s directive to “elevate the public spirit.”

I’m going to try and be useful. I’m going to read this list of 20 helpful things I made recently and try to actually walk the walk.

Rather than a word this year, I’m going with the phrase “my ALL.” Which is borrowed from Sophie Calle whose book with that title is an inspiration for my work in progress. This is my year of my all. I mean by this that I’m going to use all my talents and gifts and I’m going to claim my expertise. I am not going to waste my energy and I am not going to squander.

Of course, you saw how I got on last year, but I think this really will be the year of my ALL. Please feel free to also have a year of your ALL.

Shawna Lemay, Some Practices for 2023

I had intended to write a cheery Christmas post but I put it off because I wanted to share a  new poem that went live at Quartet Journal (USA) on January 1st. The poem is titled ‘Mary Ruefle is Right: Menopause is Adolescence All Over Again’, and it pretty well sums up my preoccupations in 2022. Quartet is an online journal of poetry by women fifty and over. I admire the work in Quartet very much, and am really pleased to have this particular poem accept in this particular journal. CLICK HERE to read my poem and all the other super poems in Quartet’s Winter 2023 Issue.

Caroline Reid, I Just Wanna Wish You Well

A new thing that I have been doing since delving into the new year is keeping track of word counts in addition to income tallies each writing day. Partly, this is just for my own curiosity, but also, as I take on new jobs, helpful in figuring out what to charge for my time. I quickly realized I was running around 5K per day the past several days, which set my slow, little poet heart aghast. Granted, some days one piece is like 2500 if it’s longer, and lessons tend to be 1000 or more, with everything else slightly shorter, so it’s actually easy to hit. I’ve often speculated I don’t have the endurance for writing long things like fiction or novels, but these counts are promising, though I imagine creative prose, like poetry, is a little tougher going. I can write a 1000 word lesson or article in the same time I write a poem around a hundred words, each using a different part of my brain and a different set of creative muscles. That poem, like they always have, takes much more out of me. Sometimes I need a nap even though I’ve only been up an hour. Last summer when I was writing some fiction I could get maybe 1000-1500 words out of a block of several hours.

Kristy Bowen, word counts and strange weather

Looking at my yearly stats, I can see that I write more poems when I write fewer flash pieces. And my stories often involve episodes (epiphany moments in particular) that might otherwise have become flash pieces.

Sometimes I look through my journals/notebooks to find fragments that will inspire me to write. More often I wait until 2 fragments link up. This inspires me to write a first draft. I then sweep through the fragments again, to find ways to bulk up the piece. Once I’m writing a short story it sucks in many little details and observations.

So I reckon that a flash piece costs a poem. A story costs at least 3 flashes or poems.

Tim Love, How many poems does a story cost?

I was delighted to be asked by Trowbridge Museum to create and facilitate some visual poetry workshops for young people (aged 7+) working with the museum’s extensive herbarium collected by poet, botanist and clergyman George Crabbe, who lived and is buried in Trowbridge. These free workshops form part of a programme of events Trowbridge Museum will be running this year called ‘Retold: Trowbridge’s Past as Told by its Future’ and are part of the museum’s participation in ‘The Wild Escape,’ a major new project (led by Art Fund_ and funded by ACE) uniting hundreds of museums and schools in a celebration of UK wildlife and creativity. Free places on my workshops, which will take place on 21 January, 18 February and 18 March, can be booked here.

Crabbe is nowadays, perhaps, most often associated with Benjamin Britten who based his opera Peter Grimes on a character from Crabbe’s poem The Borough. However, in his day (1754 – 1832) he was read and admired by many leading writers, artists and thinkers of the time, including Jane Austen, Edmund Burke, Joshua Reynolds, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Samuel Johnson and others. He mostly wrote long narrative poems in rhyming couplets and was noted for the way he scorned an idealised image of the countryside and wrote instead about what life was really like, especially for poor people in rural areas.

Josephine Corcoran, Visual Poetry Workshops at Trowbridge Museum

The last batch of one-point-of-interest reviews for 2022 were published on Sphinx yesterday, here. They include my reviews of pamphlets by: John F. Deane, here; Clare Best, here; and Mark Wynne, here.

As ever, though, there are lots of reviews, by and of a diverse range of voices, to enjoy and pique your interest.

Thanks for reading my blog in 2022 and happy New Year!

Matthew Paul, OPOI reviews of John F. Deane. Clare Best and Mark Wynne

In an earlier post this year I shared that I had a goal of 100 rejections in 2022. I didn’t make it. I heard a firm “no” only 71 times and among those I had a number of encouraging notes and invitations to resubmit. (It’s all good, in other words.) A large number of poems and about 4 essays are still out, some from as long ago as February, 2022, so I could (conceivably) get to my 100 rejections.

Of course it’s way more fun to look at the acceptances. I’ve shared a few of these over the year, but recently the mail brought my contributor copy of Catamaran, a journal which, if you don’t know it, you should. As their banner says: “West Coast themes, Writers and Artists from Everywhere.” My poem, “A Mask of Forgetting,” is paired with art by Elizabeth Fox, and the whole thing is beautifully put together, well worth the trip.

This month I also received a contributor copy of Peregrine, from Amherst Poets & Writers. They picked up two of my poems: “Reading Andrew Motion’s Biography of John Keats,” and “Every Cell of Me.” I appreciate all the on-line journals now encouraging writers, but it’s still a treat to get a copy of a real, flesh-and-bone journal.

Bethany Reid, Giving Thanks for 2022

stairwell
which is Purgatorio
when everything’s on hold

save the blue and gold
for heaven
three stitches for a rune

Ama Bolton, ABCD January 2023

The sunset on the 2nd January 2023 was stunning. I have been discussing it with the Secret Poets. We have been exchanging photographs and thinking how we must write something. I have not written anything over the festive period and this morning the words did not want to come. […]

Black Stalin, the esteemed Calypsonian died last week. He will be missed. I leave you with Burn Dem.

Paul Tobin, WORDS HAVE FLED

Proposition. A song is a song and a poem is a poem. They share words but they don’t share function. I wrote this as a poem and then Steve Moorby of MoorbyJones, the band we share with his daughter Gemma Moorby, set it to music and we recorded it. It’s due for release imminently and I’ll link to Spotify when it’s out in the world. And then, if the proposition has value for you, gentle reader, you may judge!

Dick Jones, STAND UNDER FALLING WATER

The fact is that the book is Dylan writing about 66 songs that he felt moved to write about, and criticising him for not writing about other songs is missing the point by a mile. One more quote seems apposite. In the essay on Pete Seeger’s ‘Waist Deep in the Big Muddy’, he tells the story of how Seeger’s performance of the song was cut from the Smothers Brothers TV show in 1967 (Seeger had been excluded from television for his political leanings) because it was seen as critical of the Vietnam War. A year later, the tide of opinion was turning and he was invited back to sing it on the same show. The point being made is that in those days, everyone, pro, anti or indifferent to the war, tuned in to the same programme. Dylan bemoans the fragmentation that has replaced media forums where we were exposed to lots of views and kinds of cultural performances:

Turns out, the best way to shut people up isn’t to take away their forum – it’s to give them all their own pulpits. Ultimately most folks will listen to what they already know and read what they already agree with. They will devour pale retreads of the familiar and perhaps never get to discover they might have a taste for Shakespeare or flamenco dancing.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Billy Mills, The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan: A Review

I am honored to be one of 47 poets in this anthology to raise funds for Ukrainian Refugees. My poem title was also used as the anthology title. The anthology is published by Black Spring Press Group out of Westminster, London. 100% of the sales profits will go to the Sanctuary Foundation which is a charity that helps Ukrainian people to safety and homes in the UK.

If you would like to help refugees from Ukraine who are victims of this terrible war, please consider buying this anthology (and maybe another for a friend).

Carey Taylor, Poets Support Ukraine

The Other has been running in Manchester since January 2016. Michael Conley and Eli Regan organise the event where writers are put in pairs to read and perform each other’s work, with plenty of time beforehand to prepare. It is a fascinating idea.

During the pandemic The Other moved online and I took part in a memorable Zoom session where I was paired up with Adam Farrer. The Other is now ‘live’ again. Dates are on Facebook and Twitter. Sessions also raise funds for Manchester Central Foodbank.

Fokkina McDonnell, The Other (Michael Conley)

I’ve read the words
and heard them read
searching for someone

to whom I can
address these lines.

Yet again I speak the question
into existence.

Yet again I listen
for the answer.

Jason Crane, POEM: Margaret

TSP: Suzanne, we have been fans of your work since your first book, Lit Windowpane (2008), now your new book Fixed Star has JUST been released from Jackleg Press! (Congratulations!)  How have your poems or writing process changed since your first book, and in what ways did you stretch yourself in Fixed Star?

SF: That’s so kind of you to say! Thank you so much. It’s very exciting to have a new book out in the world. These are great questions. Both Lit Windowpane, and my second book, Girl on a Bridge—for the most part—are collections of spare, lyric poems. In Fixed Star I wanted to write against that inclination and write longer, lusher poems. You will still find lean poems in this collection, but the two sonnet coronas in this book helped me write longer poems, and something about writing the prose poems lent itself to lushness for me.

The other way this book differs from my two previous collections is that it’s the first book I’ve written with an intent. I knew I wanted to write about my heritage and to do that I had to immerse myself in research. A little background — my father was a Captain in the Cuban Revolution, and my parents met when he was transporting arms for Fidel Castro through the border town of Brownsville, Texas, where my mother lived. Once Castro took power and revealed his true intentions of dictatorship rather than democracy, my parents boarded a plane to the United States, where my father ultimately became a US Citizen. Cuba was rarely spoken of in our home for fear it would upset my father and as a result, I learned very little about my heritage. To write Fixed Star required learning about Cuba’s history, the United States’ history with Cuba, the Cuban Revolution, and The Special Period. In the process, I came across Cuban poets, writers, artists, and musicians. I reconnected with extended family, and I traveled in search of answers. I definitely didn’t have to leave town to write my first two books.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Interview with Suzanne Frischkorn from Two Sylvias’ Weekly Muse

Recently, I put together a list of “the best fantastical and frightening books about women reclaiming their own power” for the Shepherd website, which aims to help folks discover new books. Generally, I balk at using the phrase “the best,” since there are so many more amazing books in the world that I had yet to read. However, this is the format the website uses.

As per the request of the editors, I specifically picked books that felt connected to my collection of prose poetry, Twelve.  This means that I wanted to include a mixture of prose and poetry books, as well as focusing on books that are connected to fairy tales and/or folklore. And truthfully, I love each and every one of these books and I hope many other folks come to love them, too.

Andrea Blythe, Fantastical and Frightening Books About Women Reclaiming Their own Power

Heavy and beautiful.

That’s my 3-word review of the anthology [The Best of Tupelo Quarterly: An Anthology of Multi-Disciplinary Texts in Conversation].

It’s a thick volume — over 350 pages of gorgeous work, including poetry, literary criticism, prose, collaborative and cross-disciplinary texts, literature in translation and visual art (some printed in full-color). And I suppose “heavy and beautiful” also works for the challenges and themes the anthology aims to tackle — getting it right, expanding what’s possible, challenging the rules of society with new beliefs about what texts are legitimate.

I agree with Darling that this is “necessary work,” and while much of it does fall to gatekeepers, it also falls to individual readers (and reviewers) like myself. There’s always room to do better, but I try to read and champion work from diverse authors and to challenge my own ideas of the kinds of texts that “work.” (I recently confessed, for example, that I’m new to embracing different types of poetry.)

As I noted in a blog post on inventive poetry forms, unconventional work often presents topics that should challenge the reader, and there are some poems and voices to which editors should give special attention by creating spaces where they can be celebrated. TQ, as showcased in this new anthology, appears to be such a space.

Carolee Bennett, “electrifying experiments”

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Billy-Ray Belcourt for sure. When I read NDN Coping Mechanisms, I thought holy crap, you can do this with poetry?! Incredible. Belcourt’s work is so visceral and beautifully humble. It inspired me to get to the bottom of who I am (an ongoing process) and how I need to show up in my poetry and writing life for those around me. Adebe DeRango-Adem and Andrea Thompson are two other poets that continue to blow my mind. They edited an anthology called Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out and it was life-changing for me. That sounds very cliché, but it’s true. The book is packed with contributions from many creatives with mixed heritages, including pieces by the two editors. Reading Other Tongues was the first time I ever felt like a book was speaking directly to me and a lot of its power was in the multiplicity of voices sharing their stories. It was a whole community of people reaching out to me. I started having success publishing my work after I figured out that I didn’t need to write about the fancy trending things that I thought I needed to include or explore. My story was interesting, and before I could go outward with my writing, I needed to go inward and do some excavating. This was a fundamental shift in my understanding of how I should and should not occupy space with my work. 

Thomas Whyte, Samantha Jones : part four

When I was a graduate student at San Jose State University, I stumbled across a rolling cart (literally stumbled—I tripped over my own feet and almost fell) displaying the tempting label “Books $1 each.” That’s when I found 50 Contemporary Poets, the Creative Process, edited by Alberta T. Turner. In spite of its slightly sticky, caramel-colored 1970s-era cover, I paid for it, stuck it in my backpack, and limped to my next class.

That dollar is one of the best investments I’ve ever made. This book has provided me with a wealth of ideas for writing, teaching and understanding poetry. In this book, I discovered Peter Everwine, Gary Gildner, Nancy Willard, and Vassar Miller. It’s filled with Professor Turner’s wise and witty observations about poets and poetry, i.e., “Any poem successful enough to be noticed will be analyzed, categorized, and explained—by those who had nothing to do with its making.”

The book is based on a questionnaire that Turner sent to one hundred poets.

Erica Goss, Visualize the Reader—or Don’t

Two Christmas presents from my husband this year, a bottle of Tullibardine, and this beautiful book, Patti Smith’s A Book of Days. When we saw her perform at The Bearded Theory festival last May, she began her set by reciting the footnote to Alen Ginsberg’s Howl, ‘Holy, holy, holy’, and she spoke it with such conviction the poem could have been hers. Everything is holy … ‘Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!’

Julie Mellor, A Book of Days

Claire Booker takes readers on a journey over the Sussex Downs, a range of chalk hills which include 37 sites of special scientific interest that stretch from coastal cliffs to inland grasslands. There are diversions into family life, paintings, motherhood and childhood memories. […]

“A Pocketful of Chalk” is firmly rooted in its Sussex Downs location, exploring the landscape’s environs and raising concerns for climate change and what could be lost. There are also very human concerns: motherhood, intergenerational relationships and grief. All approached with the vitality and empathy of a poet wishing to share her concerns and love for the topics covered.

Emma Lee, “A Pocketful of Chalk” Claire Booker (Arachne Press) – book review

6. The alphabet is connected to the mouth, to the tongue, to the place where the sounds, particularly the consonants, are formed. Teeth invoke speech, the primal experiences of reality, childhood, and the oral, but are also resonant archetypes from a parallel alphabet. There’s a connection between teeth and the alphabet, between teeth and the keys of a typewriter. 

7. A lost tooth is a letter, a sound, a meaning extracted from the mouth, fallen. It is a sign out of place, removed from the locus of signification, from the place of utterance. It becomes itself, its own talking head. It is a tiny megalith, a dental henge, a miniature inukshuk. A prize from the Kinder Egg of the mouth.

Gary Barwin, TEETH ASK THE BIG QUESTIONS

Who stirs the pot
remains calm —

which explains
the universe,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (373)

I read a Chinese folk tale of a boatman 

who lost his way and wound up in a village fenced
        from time, suspended in peach blossoms—

The story says, everyone who forgets what such
        happiness is like, loses the chance to be immortal.

I also know a poem that gave me a peach before I ever 
       bit into the actual flesh of one: that traced its provenance 

before a boy at a roadside stand dropped them, 
       still warm from the sun, into a paper bag. And thus 

I learned how words, too, conjure the same 
       sugar and skin, how they dapple in both 

shadow and sunlight.

Luisa A. Igloria, Stone Fruit

Perhaps perceiving my no as code for “we can’t afford it,” the woman suggests we keep the pastry for free.

I tell her no thank you.

This time she insists. Her kindness floors me.

She’s selling hotdogs on the street to keep body and soul alive but offers the pan dulce, no charge.

Her intentions are bold and clear as a diamond. To decline her generosity feels like it would be an insult, an unshining of her jeweled gesture.

My daughter and I say, Thank you. Gracias. We share the pastry, which no longer feels like an excess treat, but manna from above.

Wherever that woman is, that saint dressed in white, come rain or shine, bless her.

Rich Ferguson, A Saint For All Days

I am the border agent who looks
the other way. I am the one
who leaves bottled water in caches
in the harsh border lands I patrol.

I am the one who doesn’t shoot.
I let the people assemble,
with their flickering candles a shimmering
river in the dark. “Let them pray,”
I tell my comrades. “What harm
can come of that?” We holster
our guns, and open a bottle to share.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Epiphanies Past and Present

I crossed the invisible border into 2023 while in India. The occasion: my son’s close college friend, Rish, is from Bengaluru and wanted to show us the country. The Christmas break worked well for this bunch of students and teachers; the only other break we have in common would be summer, when heat is extreme. He ended up heroically organizing a complex trip for nine people: Rish himself and two families of four (my family plus the family of their other college friend, Neville). It was a rich and intense adventure I’ll be processing for a long time. I’m not a TOTAL ignoramus–I listen to people, read a lot, follow the news–yet the barrage of new information, sensory and otherwise, put me in a constant state of awe.

We arrived in Delhi at 2 am on the 24th, and by 10:30 we were already on the move. Our very first stop began to open up histories that were unfamiliar to me. The Qutub Minar complex, mostly built around the year 1200, is in the Mughal style but provides glimpses of many versions of Delhi and the conflicts that shaped this palimpsest of cities: it contains a mosque, minarets, and cloisters built with the stones of earlier Hindu and Jain temples. I’d read up a bit on the Mughals before traveling but seeing so many forts, mosques, and monuments made that history more vivid, of course–and uncovered some layers within contemporary Indian cultural conflicts that I hadn’t understood. Even just talking to tour guides is revelatory, because each describes the history through different lenses and sometimes biases. And why didn’t I know that the Taj Mahal, commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved Mumtaz, is roughly contemporary with the British renaissance? What an important thing for an English professor to understand!

Visiting the Taj Mahal was a metaphor as well as a lucky experience. It was magical watching the symmetrical silhouette of the marble mausoleum take shape in the mist (we arrived before sunrise, at 6:30 am). It was amazing in a different way to get up close, where all that whiteness yields to complex detail: much of its surface is carved with flowers and inlaid with precious stones or painted in Quranic verses. Proximity to the past changes you.

Lesley Wheeler, New year, old places

Time feels like an endless sea at the beginning of all our holidays, all our love stories; we float and play in it with nothing but delight because all we can see is water. We know there is a shore and that the waves are taking us relentlessly toward it, but it’s so far away. Until it isn’t. Eventually, always, the calendar turns. Something ends. Someone leaves or dies. The tree comes down. But that there are always endings means that there are always beginnings, new versions of us to fall in love with, new waters to dive into with joy.

As the fire burned down and we talked about all that we love and have loved, the room began to feel a little more full, and I began to make peace with the changes in it. Or maybe my eyes just began to get used to how it is now, as they always do. We’d planned to cook dinner at home, to make a good new memory in our favorite place, but we were both tired from the day and couldn’t bear the idea of cleaning up afterward. Instead, we went out for Chinese. “It’s still the holidays, right?” he said, and we laughed.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Epiphany

Friday afternoons in January I run a poetry group, a small band of poets seeking the same thing, I think: a way into poems, the promise of absorbing the craft, of finding voice and finding paths through the words. This is how I work. I like to work with others in the same way. This week while the writers were working, studiously, heads down, involved in their own internal world, I drank my earl grey from my wide rimmed cup with the blue hares running round it and allowed myself to sit and watch the sky. The sun was setting, the jackdaws were leaving to their overnight roost. One day I shall seek out the evening roost. In that moment when i could feel the joy in my chest, watching them stream across the frame of the window, I realised I had found the peace I was looking for.

Even if this all changes again and I no longer have the privilege of seeking peace through my working day, I have it now. You have to love the things you have, in this world, and if you don’t then you either change the things you love, or you change your life until you love the things that are in it. I feel like I have been far out at sea for years, and now am resting on the shoreline I was seeking.

Wendy Pratt, Seeking Mid-Winter Peace

Several significant U.K. poetry publishers appear to be constantly bringing out new books, month on month, and their skeleton marketing teams can barely keep pace with the revolving door. Is it any surprise that in this context the sales of many full collections from prestigious outfits struggle to reach three figures?

And what about the effect of social media and newsfeeds? We all scroll so quickly, a new book becoming an old one in the space of weeks, pressure everywhere to be constantly publishing or be left behind.

A number of poetry people whose opinion I value have long held that poets should allow at least four years between collections, firstly to enable the previous book to garner and gather a readership that gradually builds and accumulates, and secondly to allow a poet’s customers to have a rest from shelling out on their wares, not to feel there’s something nearing an annual fee to keep up with their output. I myself am still encountering new readers for The Knives of Villalejo, my first full collection, which was published back in 2017. I’m not sure that would be the case if I’d brought me second collection out a couple of years later.

Matthew Stewart, The Poetry Publishing Machine

How can you be sure you’re doing enough for your book? The answer is, even with a team, you can never be sure. If you’re a workaholic and achievement oriented, it can be overwhelming. I’m hoping not to have that stress this time around. I hope that I’ll have info after this that will help me write an update to the PR for Poets book! Will Twitter still exist when I publish the next version of the book? Will all book promotion be done on a platform that doesn’t exist yet? Stay tuned!

Anyway, if you are like me and in the middle of getting ready to launch a book during a pandemic, please leave your comments, complaints, and helpful tips. It’s been some years since my last book, and a totally different world!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Week of the New Year, Cat and Weather Dramas, and Prepping for the New Book in a New Year

I was recently honored to be invited to submit some poems for an anthology about a particular subject, the only problem was that I didn’t have any ready-made poems on said subject, so I have to write some. Its been an interesting process. At first I had certain ideas about a sestina, but try as I might I couldn’t make it work. A whole other poem was in me that had its own ideas and wanted its say. Once that was out of my system, I found myself going back to the sestina, and low and behold, it’s working. It’s interesting how both have emerged and how one needed to get in front first. It’s also interesting how little control I have over the process. I don’t believe that anyone “channels” writing, but sometimes it feels close to that for me. I’m also really enjoying the process of writing a sestina, which is one of my all-time favorite forms to write in. I think it’s a quite a brilliant and elegant form, and I may one day write an entire chapbook of them. We’ll see how it goes after this next one.

Kristen McHenry, Game-Induced Verbal Tic, Diamond Update, The Glory of Sestinas

It feels like time to look at some new poems–but new is a relative term.  Most of these are recent, but some are just new to me, poets whose names I’ve known but haven’t read at all or haven’t read closely.  Poems from recent books by poets whose previous work I do know.  New ways of seeing and hearing, of taking in the world and giving voice to it.  Most of these are new to the blog.  Poets are always torn between reading new work and re-reading long time favorites, and of course we do both, shuttling back and forth between them, sometimes resisting the ones new to us, arguing with them, then seeing what they mean, all that they open our hearts and minds to.

Sharon Bryan, Some Recent Poems

This November, we celebrate the centenary of the birth of James Schuyler. As readers of this blog will know, he has become something of a go-to poet for me. And while I know I am not alone in being a fan of his work, I somehow feel that he is not as fêted as his illustrious friends in the New York school, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and Frank O’Hara. Leaving the scientific veracity of this to one side, a centenary is still worth celebrating, no?

This is, therefore, an open call to anyone who would like to write a guest blog post celebrating his life and work. Jacket 2 did a splendid special feature on Schuyler a few years ago, and this might be a good place to start in your search for inspiration in writing about him.

What am I looking for? Close readings of and responses to poems; readings of his prose, including his art criticism, the novel he coauthored with John Ashbery, his diaries; reappraisals of his work in the context of his aforementioned friends, including the New York poets that followed him; readings of his long poems; readings of his short poems; how he wrote about friendship, love, art, other poets; his elegies; his writing about the natural world. You will not run out of things to say.

Anthony Wilson, James Schuyler: Centenary year celebrations

and now these days
when it snows
there is a blizzard
all across the twitter sward 
images 
one need not imagine
anymore 
other than the words that speak
of the invisibility we seek
are we not all falling now
like the snow

Jim Young, blizzard

We’re made of weather — electrons twirling
like tiny twisters, blood-tides rushing and pumping.
How can anyone predict how we’ll blow?
Or what will come of our combative forces —
disease, health, madness, illumination?
Wild planets with fierce cycles of emotion,
we wobble on elliptical trajectories
toward idealized destinations,
subject to massive buildups of uncertainty.

Rachel Dacus, Why I Like Weather – a timely poem

Right now it’s starting to snow again, so the scene is even whiter and more ethereal than in this watercolor sketch, completed only an hour ago. Color fades to the barest hint of itself; the indistinct horizon blurs even more and comes closer; trees and rooftops lose their sharp edges. 

Today’s view feels chalky, and I’m looking forward to trying to capture it in pastels, but in a little while the sun will have gone down, so that may have to wait until tomorrow — when who knows what the sun and sky will be doing? 

Beth Adams, New Year in a New Neighborhood

Through New Year’s open doors
a host of voices echo, Say Yes!

Back then, I was weary of Non: 
Don’t run down the stairs! Don’t cry!

OUI! Formed in France where I broke apart 
and transformed, child in my belly, “I” to “we.”

 The exquisite shell of myself shattered by my own egg.
A future lifetime of “we.”  As we all should be.

To the new year, OUI.

Jill Pearlman, OUI/WE

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 50

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: the weirdo lottery, wild forms, snowball poems, hermetic research, a loner’s manifesto and more. Enjoy.


I don’t make people comfortable very often. I think that’s why I turn inwards for long stretches of time. If making other people comfortable is the measure of my existence, maybe converting to a religion that offers me long stretches of solitude is my only option if I want to stay “sane”.

Solitude can be the privilege of the artist, of course. But there’s the committee that will decide whether you (or them, or I) make what society deems art. Or whether we are just deluded. It’s the weirdo lottery.

There’s no safe bet for the outliers.

Just juggling the social pressures as the holiday shifts them. Thinking a week in my library is as good as a cave.

Ren Powell, Pulling Inwards

As of the implementation (application) of the system (entity)
to increase efficiency of output and streamline to improve (better serve) workflow portability and redundancy reduction and to seamlessly integrate, store, access, analyze, harness productivity, and increase ROI with a complete suite of capture tools, your efforts will be un-measurable.
You will no longer need
to view your stacks grow thinner as you’ll become so
efficacious there will be no results. Therefore you may come
to dream of butterflies, which may rise up
from a field of lilacs on 8½ x 11
wings of bright white acid free paper of ten percent post-consumer content that will not yellow or
crumble over time, and will land
expertly in green hanging files alphabetized in rows.

Kristen McHenry, Paperless

Elee Kraljii Gardiner sent me a post by artist Laura Kerr referring to the lungs of the blue whale. Whales are mammals like us, but there is something inspiring, otherworldly, planetary about how large they are and how the things that they do (like breathe) is both like and unlike us. And the fact that live in regions so foreign and mysterious. Also, they have songs and they communicate across vast distances. How they communicate, are alone, travel in pods. Their lung volume is around 5000L, about 1000x a human lung, and enough air to inflate about 2000 balloons! The 5000L of air in the lungs can be replaced in around 2 seconds.

Gary Barwin, Inwhale

Pantoums are a nice form. I think I’ve said before that I like repeating forms. I like them because a lot of my work is about the overlaying of self over self, the seams between past versions of self and current, the way that times move in a non-linear fashion and often life events feel like they have just happened. This is, obviously, a difficult concept to capture in a poem. Any big concept is difficult to capture in a poem. Structured forms can help in that regard. Where free verse is structured from the inside, structured forms are containers, or exterior scaffolding of the poem. They can shape how the reader comes to the poem and a poet can use a structured form to enhance the content of the poem. Which is what my aim was for the pantoum sequence.

The pantoum form is derived from the ‘Pantun’ which is a Malay form, an oral poetry form thought to be older than written language. The idea that I can capture my own poem, about my own experiences, in a poem form derived from a form that was passed mouth to mouth in a part of the world far, far away, and that there is a link there; between the timelessness of language and story telling and more – humanity and our need to communicate via art, it gives me goose bumps.

Wendy Pratt, Pantoums: The Boulder’s Dream

Restraint is out of fashion, along with linguistic control. And few poets trust us to probe beyond what’s left unsaid. But these are precisely the qualities that make Hilary Menos’ poetry so convincing.

My review of ‘Fear of Forks’, Hilary Menos’ new pamphlet from HappenStance Press, is now up at Wild Court (read the piece in full via this link).

Matthew Stewart, My review of Hilary Menos’ new pamphlet on Wild Court

Guelph-based poet and paramedic Candace de Taeye’s full-length poetry debut is Pronounced/Workable(Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2022), a collection composed as sketch-notes during work-shifts. “Two thumbs on the lower third of the sternum with fingers,” she writes, to close the poem “BLS STANDARDS -OBSTETRICS,” “tearing into that croissant, cradling cappuccino. / Encircling the chest and supporting the back. / Promoted off the road at your discretion, or it’s / been determined that birth is imminent.” Through a progression of first-person lyric narratives, de Taeye writes directly into the nuts-and-bolts of her work and experiences as a Toronto-area paramedic, offering description and commentary, or simply the jarring effect of pure detail. And yet, de Taeyre’s poems read with a particularly casual and deceptive ease, as though composed in mid-thought, mid-stride, and everything in-between, even through utilizing an array of formal techniques, whether the pantoum, list poem, call-and-response, open lyric or sonnet-sequence. “And service providers from being subjected / to,” she writes, in the opening poem, “PREFACE TO BASIC LIFE SUPPORT STANDARDS,” “always remember that resuscitation is one part lullaby. // Provide verbal and where deemed appropriate, tactile / comfort and reassurance. That you have mistaken my hunger // for sadness.” She works through formal structures almost as a way to sharpen each poem’s focus, hold each mess of language, experience and realization together as she attends to medical emergencies and the chaos of working on the front lines of medical trauma and recovery. The chaos is held, it would seem, precisely by and even through such formal techniques.

rob mclennan, Candace de Taeye, Pronounced/Workable

I’ve never wanted to
make anything too

big for fear it might
collapse on me,

the old monk said.
This explains all

my short poems.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (363)

In the past, I’ve been guilty of skipping over poems that are formatted outside the “norms” of stanza and line. I’ve sometimes struggled to find my way into these poems, assuming they required an intellect or brilliance that evaded me. I would have told you I couldn’t understand what they were doing.

But then I found Natalie Diaz’s “My American Crown” (linked in the list below) in which Diaz uses diagrammed sentences in place of sonnets. It clicked for me: These inventive poetry forms are an invitation to participate in the poem in ways that are important and necessary.

Encountering the diagrammed sentences in “My American Crown” takes me back to a very specific place: a sixth or seventh grade classroom in a small paper mill town in northern Maine. Mr. Russell stands at the chalkboard. He wears a V-neck red sweater over a button-down dress shirt. I am sitting in a row of desks, where I try to understand the parts of speech and learn other basics about the world, like how we’re “supposed to” see it. What a perfect space to breakdown American history, as Diaz does in this crown!

As grown-up me worked to piece back together the sentences (and harmful sentiments) Diaz had chosen to deconstruct in this crown of nontraditional sonnets, I struggled to make them make sense. And that’s just one of the many experiential layers of metaphor embedded in Diaz’s inventive form. It also hits home the way history had carefully composed these racist nuggets in the first place. Their authors had labored. The work in this country to “other” indigenous populations was an active crafting and shaping. And now, we are tasked with exposing the structures behind that work.

Through “My American Crown,” I started to understand inventive poems as opportunities for heightened reading experiences, chances for something to travel from my brain (the intellect) to my body (all those cells).

Carolee Bennett, 15 wild poetry forms for writing inspiration

Worse still are those workshops where the dominant voice or voices have decided that poetry needs to be poetic and can’t possibly be in that dingy alleyway that collects windblown carrier bags or drunkenly swagger home after a hazy night out or lie in the spill of oil reflecting the moon. Their poetry lies in miraculously unindustrialised farmland, in the feminine voice of a torch song or looking up at the moon, in lyrics untainted by ugly crying, a hacking cough or even swearing.

All these commentors are falling into the same trap: they are imposing their own expectations and ideas onto a poem and making it conform to their rigid ideas of what a poem should be. Instead of engaging with the poem on its own terms, they have brought their own agendas to the poem and found it lacking.

It would never occur to them that their judgment might be lacking. That breakup poem doesn’t want to be tidied into a constrictive form, it wants to be ragged and breathless and spilling on the page. That tanka is never going to be compressed into a haiku. Sonnets need a volta, but even Shakespeare had to reinvent the rhyme scheme because English lacks the access to rhyming words that Italian has.

Emma Lee, Reviewers must not have an Agenda

It’s Solstice season, and I’m thinking harder about my life, what I want to keep and what I want to let go, about my relationships too, with my family, with Glenn, with my friends, what I want in my life as a writer, how I can help my health, both mental and physical…envisioning what’s been problematic in the last few years (besides the pandemic), and how to envision a better, more satisfying life. I had a dream in which Santa (yep, that Santa) told me “You always plan for the worst. Why not plan for the best?” And for a minute, this familiar positivity mantra made sense to this admitted skeptic.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Holiday Happenings and Lights, New Book (and New Kitten), and the Big 50 on the Horizon…

My new studio is very small, but efficient, and the north light in it is beautiful. I was really worried about fitting myself into it, and got rid of everything I could in order to make it work; that meant some steely decisions about equipment and studio furniture I’ve had all my working life, as well as weeding out a great many books, supplies I either didn’t need or could easily replace, and even a good deal of artwork and project samples. I photographed things, and let the objects go. It wasn’t easy, especially at first: I felt like I was giving up my identity and admitting to being much older than I feel. But as we found homes for our things with younger people who would use them, we both felt better.

Beth Adams, Of Studios, New and Old

The poems unfold against a Wiltshire backdrop of henges and standing stones and reflect a time when my life was interrupted by grown up children leaving the nest and returning home in a global pandemic, the natural world in crisis but still finding a way to cling to its wonder. I’m still thinking about a title for this short collection – ‘Last Chance, Strawberries’, a title of one of the poems, is a temporary name badge until I make a firm decision.

When I heard the news that I’d won pamphlet publication, my lovely family sent these beautiful congratulatory flowers but I should be the one sending flowers to them since they feature in some of these poems and I couldn’t be a writer at all without their patience, understanding and support.

Josephine Corcoran, A new pamphlet in 2023

I have a couple of poems in the latest issue of Stand Magazine, a couple of poems in Ofi Press issue 71 which you can read here. And, I’m particularly pleased to have a poem in the latest issue of The Manhattan Review.

Quite probably the last poems in magazine publication from my next poetry collection, Look to the Crocus, before it is due out in Springtime (may Spring come quickly). 

I’m going through various drafts of my forthcoming collection, editing and cutting poems from it. I have way too many poems. It’s a pleasant process to be absorbed in, particularly in these wintry cold days. 

Marion McCready, And then it was December…

So I guess that concludes my year of literary events. I’ve seen Zoom-only, hybrid (in-person and remotely), in-person, and residential (a weekend). People are in the main comfortable with the technology now (few “can you hear me?” interruptions) and the all important chit-chat aspect is catered for, whatever the delivery method.

Organisers of future small events have decisions to make. Some people can only attend remotely. Others like the in-person vibe and interesting venues. Hybrid might sound like the best option but it’s the most challenging technologically and organisationally. Some groups are planning a programme with mix of in-person meetings and Zoom meetings. This risks splitting established groups (which may be small already) into 2, but at least it keeps most people happy most of the time.

Tim Love, Future Karaoke #2

I’ve finished a novel and will see it published on December 27 of this year. Attending to a lot of the homework of promoting a new book, I find myself yearning for a new long-form story, wading through many plot, character, and title ideas, and yet frozen as the leaves that remain on the trees in this wintry month. I can’t summon energy to write scenes and do plot outlines, so I fall back into my home turf, poetry. Every image and moment of this month and the cold snap that has gripped the San Francisco region slows down my creative process, chips off excess words like breaking icicles off a roofline. I am as bare as the trees, as windy and skeletal. And that’s a good place from which to contemplate.

Rachel Dacus, Poetry as a Winter Sport

What are you working on?

Funny, if you’d asked me this a month or so ago I would have said nothing at all, and then all of a sudden, after a long barren patch, something clicks and you start writing again (though it has to be said, I’m not writing as prolifically as I used to and that’s a strange space to be in). I’m working on a new sequence of snowballs, a form I’ve worked with before. Snowballs are perhaps most associated with Oulipo and usually have ten lines. Typically, in a snowball, line 1 has one letter, line 2 two letters and so on until ten letters in the tenth line. Rather than letters I’ve changed the form by increasing the amount of words per line. There’s a lot of flexibility in the form and it shares a similarity to the sonnet in its effects. A few months ago I finished editing my collection it is like toys but also like video taped in a mall, which is out with Pamenar Press. I’m really pleased with it. It’s a series of 201 two-line minimalist poems, which took around five years to write and edit.

Thomas Whyte, James Davies : part two

This week has seen a long serving star of the scene, someone that always delivers, but has yet to win the ultimate plaudit and accolade finally achieve the pinnacle of their chosen field.

No, not Lionel Messi and Argentina winning the (Men’s) World Cup—at the time of writing that isn’t guaranteed, France have just pulled a goal back. Christ, now they’ve equalised—where else do you get live commentary, eh?

No, I mean Matthew Stewart and his appearance on the final Poetry Planet podcast of the year….I’ve loved all of the PPP’s to date, but go and have a listen to this one. Matthew makes a lot of sense…and says the word “Exactly” a lot.

When you’ve heard that, it would be worth spending some time reading the following.

Bad Lillies. Issue 11 is out now. I can’t lie, I’ve not read it yet, but the line up looks very strong, so I reckon it can’t fail.

London Grip – I did read this all yesterday, and despite theme of poems about poems and mothers, what stood out for me was Glenn Hubbard’s Heron poem. I think it resonated because I saw a heron on the roof of the house behind mine this week.

Mat Riches, A Bat(tlestar), Galactico from Heron in

I drive with the sunroof open
increased petrol use wind in my branches

I eat for two in autumn
in preparation

my thoughts sluggish this second winter
as the tree on my head slumbers

Paul Tobin, A TREE ON YOUR HEAD

Like wearing my coat and hat indoors, like bringing a tree into my living space, like eating big meals at the wrong time of day, like speaking and writing to forgotten relatives, like listening to other people’s music, like a World Cup at the wrong time of the year, like a baby born to the wrong family, Christmas, the thing I love/hate/can’t wait for/want to skip/can’t do without, comes to me dressed in unfamiliar clothes, disrupts my life and my complacency and holds a steady mirror to my consistent inconsistency.

Anthony Wilson, Advent meditation

When I started the newsletter in 2018, I wasn’t sure how long I would continue it. I didn’t really have a plan beyond making sure that I wrote the best possible reviews about the books poets sent me. Now, over sixty reviews later, I’m committed to continuing the practice for as long as I can.

2022 brought a wealth of incredible books from poets who wrote with depth and compassion about the times we’re living in. They wrote about relationships, death, love, the vulnerability of the planet, politics, and simple survival, which, as it turns out, is pretty complicated.

More people than ever are finding solace and inspiration in the art of poetry.

Erica Goss, Sticks & Stones: 2022 Book Covers

One thing I did realise, though not until after the pamphlet was published and I started performing this poem at events, is that I use the word, card, three times in the last two stanzas, which is too much. When I perform the poem I try to remember to change library card to library ticket; this is, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, a perfect example of why it is important to read your work aloud because you might spot something that didn’t spring out at you when you looked at it on the page.

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetic Awakenings

I do love when I find snippets that an artist has said about their own work, a poet’s backstory of a poem. I figure that information, freely offered, is fair game. (Also, of course, suspicious, as when do any of us really know what we’re up to, in the moment?)

But aren’t we all dancing to the rhythm of the tinking and clanking of our own griefs and oddnesses? You may not hear it, literally, you watcher, but you can see it in my dance. I just feel uneasy at this tendency to eyeball the dancer extricated from the dance, to look at a poem through pathology’s lens, to insist on biography as part of someone’s art. Do I need to understand the entirety of a suicide’s artistic output through the suicide? I’m just asking. I do have my DSM right here, just in case, though.

Marilyn McCabe, Put on my my my…; or, On Poetry and Biography

Recent read: Party of One: A Loner’s Manifesto by Anneli Rufus, a book that I would have found enlightening if it had only been around when I was 18 years old. But many things were as yet unwritten 45 years ago, and even if this book had been–I might not have discovered it. Rufus celebrates social loners, decrying the myth that people who prefer time by themselves to socializing are by nature dangerous and threatening. That knowledge would have been a great relief to me when I was young; but I eventually learned on my own that the “loner myth” is, indeed, a mistaken idea perpetrated by too many so-called experts in our society. Through my lifelong bookworm habit, I learned a great deal about people who chose to be alone, chose small circles of friends, or chose to keep friendships going by letter rather than through visits. […]

Loner, introvert, eccentric, moody, artistic, creative, sensitive, weird–at my age, I don’t need a manifesto. Experience demonstrates a person can be friendly and funny and easily-tired and sometimes withdrawn and able to speak in public and irritated by too much noise or novelty and can dance at parties and laugh too loudly and a thousand other things that are contradictory and not simple to pin down. (And capable of polysyndeton!) But if you know a child who is content being by themselves and who may feel pressured by well-intentioned adults, I recommend Leo Lionni‘s Caldecott-winning book Frederick. It is a story I loved as a child, and now I realize why. The quiet mouse who is off on his own while his busy community harvests food for winter proves valuable to his mouse-society by offering them poems and stories that ease their discomfort when they are cold and hungry.

In some ways, that has been my lifelong dream.

Ann E. Michael, Alone not lonely

This lovely little stack of AUTOMAGICs arrived in my mail room on Wednesday and I can’t quite stop staring at them. The exterior turned out even more lovely than I imagined as I was designing it over the summer. While the release, which was expected around Halloween was delayed due to my dad’s passing, I was able to finalize the tweaks that were in progress and order a set of copies to make available at the end of the month. One of the biggest blessings of self-publishing of course being that flexibility in scheduling and timelines. The manuscript itself had been finished for a year when I first started the editing project to make the book a reality and I appreciated the space between finishing the last section of the poem in spring of 2021 and starting those edits this summer. Even though some of the segments were chaps and zines previously, its good to spend some time away from work and then come back in with fresh eyes, another benefit of creative control on a project. 

Kristy Bowen, the self publishing diaries

I realized during the fall term that there was a recent book on H.D.’s intense relationship with the occult: Astral H.D. by Matte Robinson. I have an idea for a hermit crab essay that depends in part on what kind of tarot deck H.D. used. Could it be among her papers at the Beinecke? The finding aide says the collection contains astrological charts. Robinson’s book is very useful, but I need to triangulate with an older book, Susan Stanford Friedman’s Pysche Reborn, as well as read a lot of other materials published since I was last deep in H.D.-land. Anyway, no luck so far, but Robinson describes H.D.’s readings of Jean Chaboseau, who designed a deck that’s partly pictured below, so maybe his? I can’t find a duplicate deck of Chaboseau’s; his book about tarot is rare and might not exist in translation. In other words, these hermetic materials are hidden from me, so far. My research into H.D.’s occult research is getting very meta.

But I’m about to cut off this poking around because we’re going to INDIA Thursday for a 12 day trip. I’ve long been sorting out immunizations, visas, what to pack, etc., but at least my grades are in, so I can now get a jump on January tasks. The new term will start less than a week after I return in early January.

We took yesterday off for a short post-grading hike in a wetlands park. I’m appreciating the winter palette perhaps more than usual because I’m about to temporarily depart it. I’d also never done this particular walk with the leaves down and didn’t realize the upper trail had mountain views. Even though plenty of 2023 is occluded from sight, it’s nice to glimpse or at least imagine a vista beyond this school year’s work grind.

Lesley Wheeler, H.D., tarot, & occluded vistas

So recently I submitted groups of poems to magazines once again. Not this time just to a selection of the excellent little known publications that abound on the internet, but to the best known and most highly regarded ones. I have much less time in front of me than there is behind so it’s now surely that this man’s reach should exceed his grasp! And in reaching further I set myself up, of course, both for almost inevitable rejection and its corollary dejection. 

No surprises, then, that to date Poetry London and the members’ page of Poetry Review have said no thanks. However, with that grasp in mind, I’m delighted that London Grip is taking two poems for next spring. But even on the back of that success I’m far from optimistic that the other poems are going to find landfall and I regret greatly not having pushed back harder a long time ago. Maybe had I spread the words more energetically and celebrated success more loudly , then I’d be occupying a bit more shelf space now! 

Dick Jones, POEMS: IN HERE AND OUT THERE.

The difference in how I work, now, is striking: I used often to hit a wall — if I was lucky, not till mid-afternoon — beyond which I was utterly unable to push myself to do anything more. This happened daily; and there were days when I never managed to work at all. That just doesn’t happen to me now. I get tired, sure, but if I look at a stack of work that will just take an hour more, and make tomorrow much easier — I just do the work. No fuss, no bucking or shying of the mind. This is intimately related to restraining my eating: it’s subjectively obvious that the virtue that enables me to proceed with work is the same one that enables me to refrain from eating what I’ve decided not to eat. I’d call it fortitude. Psychologists call it self-regulation. The general public calls it will power. 

I really think fortitude is a better name. Because it’s not a matter of one part of me dominating the other parts: it’s a matter of holding fast to a larger understanding of what’s going on, and a matter of the various constituents of my spirit being better aligned. Self-regulation and will power suffer all the ills of despotism: blindness and caprice and grandiosity. And they’re prone to sudden catastrophic failure. Fortitude is the opposite of that. I don’t try to not to be tired, or not to be hungry. I just do what needs to be done anyway.

There is not much glory to this progress. I am well aware that this is remedial work. Many people were trained up in fortitude, as children, or at least discovered it early. I came to it late: so I’m celebrating triumphs more appropriate to a nine-year-old than a sixty-four-year-old. But it was the obvious, first thing that I needed to do, and I’m doing it.

Dale Favier, Because I Think I’m Making Progress

I’m still wearing dresses for Dressember. Really, to raise awareness and protest human trafficking, I should be posting pictures of myself in dresses and starting a campaign page to encourage donations, but I am not good at those things. I am better at supporting people and causes through words, human contact, and moral support. I am pretty good at wearing dresses, too. They have patiently waited for me in the closet, and tolerate my winter layering–long sweaters, scarves, multiple slips, tights, boots–so I can wear them (the dresses) to work. Today I am wearing a sort of fancy black-and-white floral dress, three-quarter length sleeves, not really a summer dress but for an indeterminate season, with a white sweater and a black pashmina, so I can go out to dinner with my husband (and a friend in town from Chicago) for our 33rd (legal) wedding anniversary. Forty-one years of togetherness, but who’s counting (correctly)?*

*math-challenged me

This afternoon, and yesterday afternoon, too, I have been reading and revising poems I wrote in spring. (I’m in a dress! How could I do housework after regular work? OK, I did go down into a cobwebby basement to retrieve boxes of Christmas ornaments for my mom and dad.) I fiddle, I make notes to self, I set them (the poems) aside (electronically…the files are open in various windows, even now). Yesterday, I actually managed a submission. There are December deadlines… When, if ever, will I bake the pumpkin bread?!

Kathleen Kirk, Anniversary in Dressember

It’s terrifying to read a book set during a time called “the Great Depression,” a time synonymous with darkness and poverty and pain, and see in it the familiar sights and sounds and stories of our era, more than eight decades later. This is a book to be read from the safety of your own home or apartment, the novel propped on your tummy as a cup of tea cools on the end table beside you. To read it when you yourself are in a state of turmoil is to add fuel to a fire that would be better extinguished.

This is all sounding quite dramatic, I’m sure, but I’m feeling quite dramatic. My life has slid rapidly downhill in the two years since my partner and I split up and I started living in a van, and no amount of pithy Instagram wisdom or TikTok psychology is enough to paint a rosier picture. On my best days I can imagine the little studio apartment I’ll have in some small, warm town where I talk on the radio and meet someone who cares about me. But a lot of the time I feel like the Joads, looking toward the promise of endless fields of fruit and cotton but finding that you’ve just taken the hardship with you.

So look, I’m not really telling you not to read The Grapes of Wrath. I’m just saying that it’s a heavy book and if you’re not careful it will make it hard for you to breathe. Perhaps that’s the best compliment I can pay to Mr. Steinbeck. Consider yourself warned.  

Jason Crane, Don’t Read The Grapes Of Wrath

This is the part of life when
a great silence approaches;
if not, then a chorus will burst
from unimaginable mouths.

You don’t believe when I say you
are a thought I carry every day, a seed
I scoop out of a hull of green, hoping
its heart returns to green.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Spell

Long ago I shed the parts of the holiday season that make it most stressful.  I do only the decorating and the baking that I want to do.  We don’t do much in the way of gifts anymore.  So far, I can manage the holiday grief that sometimes comes when I think about people who are no longer with us, the past holidays that I miss, the children (including me) who have grown up.

So in some ways, my Christmas is a bit more minimalist this year.  I decided not to put the ornaments out.  I won’t bake cookies, particularly not the ones that need to be rolled out and cut into holiday shapes.

This year, though, there are some elements I haven’t had in past years.  It’s chilly, downright cold!  I know that I may get tired of cold weather in months to come, but right now, I love it.  I love walking through the beautiful neighborhoods around the seminary, enjoying the decorations both in the daylight and in the dark, when the lights shine.  Yesterday I went to see the therapy dogs; the seminary brings them to campus several times at the end of a term to offer some self-care and stress relief.  I wasn’t feeling the same stress that the end of the term sometimes triggers, but it was delightful anyway.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Season’s Enchantments: Santa Lucia and Small Stoves Snippets

The midrash says when the invaders left
they carried off the golden lamp as loot.
The absence of the lampstand was an ache –
without its light, reserves of hope ran low.
We had to improvise with what we had:
the iron spears our enemies had dropped.

We made our Ner Tamid that year with trash,
repurposing the implements of war
for bringing sacred light. How about now?
The planet is our Temple – and it burns.
We can’t just close our eyes. We’re all
indicted by the plastics in the seas.

Rachel Barenblat, Recycling (first published in The Light Travels)

It doesn’t matter how many times I read this poem, I feel it. The slant rhymes, the eh, eh, eh going through the poem like muffled cries themselves. The helpless sense of being witnesses to each other and at the same time unable to do anything but bear witness.

Pearl Pirie, Loved then, Loved now: My Neighbour

I’m feeling a bit of sadness, too, some longing for holidays of years past. Today some of my cousins are gathering, but I won’t be joining them, much as I’d like to. They are too far away, Cane has to work tomorrow, and we are limiting our contact with others to increase chances that we’ll be healthy for a visit to my parents in the week after Christmas. We haven’t seen them since the summer, as illness keeps canceling our plans. The last time my extended family gathered was the Christmas of 2019. We ate the food we always eat together (Croatian spaghetti, kroštule, scotcheroos), and after dinner we sat at the table and played Apples to Apples. It was normal, familiar, comfortable, unremarkable, wonderful. For much of my life we gathered every year, around my grandmother’s table, but that year was the first time we’d been able to do so in several. We said then that we needed to make sure we didn’t let so much time pass, that we would need to make sure to meet again the following year. We had no idea what was coming at us in 2020, or that it would be years before we could gather in such a way again. Writing these words, I can’t help wondering if we ever will. How many years can we go before a tradition that had already frayed breaks completely?

I’m doing my best to let that sadness sit beside different kinds of comfort and joy–to accept that a long life is a thing of constant inconstancy, a coming-and-going stream of people and places and things that we love, a rich amalgam of grief, abundance, loss, gain, and surprise of various kinds. (We never know what might happen in any given day, do we?) This year we have my daughter with us, and her husband will be joining us from Sweden. We are looking forward to good food, a fusion of Swedish and American holiday traditions, and a day designed for introverts. I am sure there will be a year in the future–if I’m lucky–in which I will look back on this one and miss the parts of it I no longer have.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Tidings

If only we could sing tombstones back into sand.

The sand to build castles by seashores, where oceans sing us to joy.

Rich Ferguson, Working Backwards From That One Particular Moment in Time

cold swim
the dance of my hands
all the way home

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 24

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 musing about downtime and leisure time, outsiders and Ozymandias, collaborating with photographers, the life history of hermit crab, and more. Enjoy.


My friend, John Rae, husband of my godmother Anne, has died. John collaborated with me on the book of this blog, sending me line drawings through the post during 2020 when we were in lockdown. The drawings were, and are, a source of joy. […]

I thought of other friendships that have come to an end, whether through death or separation. I felt sad. Nearly 50 years after first setting off for Norwich (see, I Arrive In Norwich) I finally went into the cathedral, experienced evensong. The music, the company of other Lizes, the stained glass – all these became a still point in my turning world. 

John was a skillful artist, architect and teacher. A humane man – much loved. After our book was published, I received notes through the post from many people asking to buy a copy. The majority of these were friends of John and Anne’s. All spoke of long friendships, with affection and admiration. 

With death comes ending, as well as a continuation of thought and feelings. My thoughts and feelings have, this past few months, been circling around ideas for next poems. I’ve written little down, but I must get onto this in order to grow a little more. I also need to work out how to put up a curtain pole so that the curtains I bought in Norwich hang straight. 

So without either a bang or a whimper, I end this blog here. 

I Am Read.

I Thank You.

Fin

Liz Lefroy, I Sense An Ending

fragrance in a time of sadness 
petrichor says the emerging sun as
all steams right with the world again
the scent of a rambling rose

Jim Young, a vignette

One thing I’ve been thinking about quite a bit the past few months working on my own is the concept of leisure. What is it? Is it important? What legally constitutes leisure activities and what does not? Do hobbies count? Maybe, but what if your hobbies are in some way like a job? It’s especially wrought and all wound up if you are an artist, since so much of your way of being in the world is a kind of work..you are never NOT being an artist, even if it’s just thinking like one?

Kristy Bowen, all work and maybe more work

Jan always makes each issue [of Finished Creatures] look and feel glorious. Getting a copy in the post is always a joy. The envelopes they come in are lovely things with a string tie on the back. The addresses are handwritten, and if you’re getting a contributor’s copy then your page is bookmarked for you.

I’ve already mentioned that there was some back and forth on my poem that went in the mag. Jan was very helpful and very understanding, and while I’m happy with the version we ended up with, the poem is one that I’ve worked on and tweaked since it was accepted.

So it was a bit strange to be reading the published version on Wednesday evening as part of the online launch. It’s obviously a bit weird to be reading in a “room” full of the kinds of poets in this mag. I mean look at this lot…sadly not every one could make it.

I was disappointed not to hear Arji Manuelpillai read any of his poems as one of his is after mine in the mag, but I did get to hear Alex Josephy read hers, and that’s the one that precedes mine. I also got to hear Rebecca Gethin, Amlan Goswami, Hilary Hares, Joanna Inham, Simon Madrell, Caleb Parkin, Sarah Salway,Penelope Shuttle, Paul Stephenson and Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese read. I was in a break out group with Anthony Mair and Julian Bishop, but sadly we didn’t get to hear their poems —FYI both are excellent.

A couple of the poets that couldn’t make it also had their work read out, one of which was me reading James McDermott‘s excellent ‘Wild Flowers’. I prefaced it by suggesting using the names of flowers in poems is cheating as it’s guaranteed to sound great, but I love this poem. There’s a lot going on in there around belonging and survival.

Mat Riches, **Slaps Forehead**Remembers about Finished Creatures #6

Today, I enter the pebbled shallows of a man-made lake.
My footsteps tear through the reflection of pine trees,
Warp their curve upwards with hill’s rise, their sun-bright
Branches greening the water’s mirrored darkness.

Christine Swint, Memoir as a Body of Water

I read a book of poems, book of short stories, and finally finished a novel that had sat on my coffee table with a bookmark halfway through it for maybe…a year? It was finally the right time to finish it. But my favorite reading lately has been The Book of Eels, nonfiction about…yes, eels. Fascinating creatures, about which we finally know a few things, but which remain mysterious. They are all born in the Sargasso Sea and then swim/drift elsewhere.

I have also been writing–a variety of things, including a script I got to see performed last night at the History Makers Gala, honoring 4 wonderful people in our community! My poetry feels on standby, but I do remember writing some, sending some out, and storing some in the weird, dusty drawers of my mind. Sometimes, when I am waiting for something to come out, everything feels on hold for a while. I just checked the mail. It isn’t here yet, but it’s still very, very hot out there. The poor mail carrier!

Kathleen Kirk, Down Time

This syllable
means death in Hebrew
but let’s prolong
hope’s steady drip.

A tor rises
from the hillside:
aspiring only
to keep existing.

Listen to the trill
of cricket opera
as my little boat
glides on.

Rachel Barenblat, Lake

Out there boats patrol the coast on the lookout for misunderstandings.

Out there the remains of failure are found, or so it is announced.

Out there an armoured military truck smashes into a car. The invaders cover everything like fog.

In here what can I tell you? This is the factory of the mind, of the poem, of the portrait.

In here I thought I could leave but the battle for the bridge over the ocean was too intense.

In here are hundreds, thousands, millions of languages.

Out there someone is saying No really, I insist.

Bob Mee, OUT THERE, IN HERE

Finding your own community when you are an outsider is hard and made harder by not being close to the usual networks of support in the extended family, neighbours you grew up with, being able to rely on a childhood friend during a mid-life crisis. Moving on and reinventing yourself often means cutting off your roots and learning to sustain the plant you’ve become in shallower soil while others regard you as a weed, something grown outside the formal lines of the original flower bed, leaving you unsure as to whether you’re going to be left alone or cut down to size. Both the individual poem and collection explore that theme of how to maintain or keep in touch with the culture you belong to while settling. It questions how far compromises can go and whether those compromises are worth it. From the specific lens of Portuguese-Americans, it asks universal questions about the status of those regarded as outsiders.

Emma Lee, “Through a Grainy Landscape” Millicent Borges Accardi (New Meridian Arts) – book review

Percy Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ is not exactly a neglected poem. It was an option in my GCSE anthology fifteen years ago. For all I know, it still is. It’s tempting to approach the poem as a kind of relic, like those ‘two vast and trunkless legs of stone’ standing in the desert, a monument that won’t really speak to us.

But Ozymandias does, literally, speak. Reading the poem again after several years away from it (and, more recently, several months of looking around ancient ruins) the first thing that struck me was the number of different voices involved. The poem is a kind of Russian doll, reported speech enclosed within reported speech enclosed within reported speech: Ozymandias on the plinth, the traveller and the narrator.

It all happens very quickly. And not just the grand sweep of history: two words into the second line, someone new is already speaking. Do you pause at ‘said’, or carry straight on? It makes the poem surprisingly difficult to read: you can’t recite it ponderously like some people imagine this kind of poem needs reciting. The play of tone and phrase within the sheer square block of the poem and its metre give ‘Ozymandias’ a kind of glassy, artificial quality, like the sort of stone you might make a statue out of.

Jeremy Wikeley, ‘Ozymandias’ (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

How do you get from
nowhere to nothing?
You follow directions,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (71)

a brief morning rain
dances on the van
I follow my breath

Jason Crane, haiku: 16 June 2022

Last night was our experimentation with silence so we left the worship service in silence, except for the thunder that had been rumbling for hours. As I stared at the icon on my computer, I noticed that my west facing window was full of a strange light. I knew I could look at images of icons at any hour, but I wouldn’t ever again have this exact sunset with the light diffused by the gray clouds. I watched the sky for half an hour, but just something I do not do very often.

I didn’t even try to capture the light with my camera. I decided to use our experiment with silence as a prompt to be fully present to the light of the sunset, to the darkening sky, and to the presence of God.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Praying with Icons

Turning in the final copy of the book, as many writers will tell you, is stressful and involves a certain amount of “letting go”—you know, you can hold on to the book making tiny or large changes forever, and often making the book worse because of anxiety. A little like my garden—you can desperately edit, weed, fertilize, and at some point you will just make the garden worse with all your worrying. You have to appreciate the parts that are working, that are flourishing, like peonies, as much as you regret letting go of your four-year old rosemary. A good thing about turning in your book is that you can start working on your next book—I already have two manuscripts in progress going, still shaping them and writing new poems for them. I am hoping for the launch of Flare, Corona to be post-apocalypse—I mean, post-pandemic—and for next time this year to be peaceful, healthy, happy, with normal-ish weather and getting together with friends and family. I’m hoping.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Gardening in the Rain and a Plethora of Birds, Turning in the Final Copy of Flare Corona to BOA, and Favorite Father Poems

The thing about Offcumdens is that a) it has the courage to work in the same territory as [Ted] Hughes and [Fay] Godwin and b) it rather wonderfully provides the reader with an appendix of detailed commentaries, in which Bob and Emma write about their involvement in particular poems. There’s one telling moment when Bob, writing about the poem Walking away, says

“Emma is called upon to be very patient while we’re out walking together. I see something in the landscape that I think will make for a good photograph, and go running off to find the right spot……I often see shapes and textures in the patterns of the clouds, imagining how they are going to look in black and white…”

Emma’s comment is that 

“It can get very cold waiting for Bob to take photos…this was in March with frost on the ground and a bitter wind”

I really like the sense of the to-and-fro of the collaboration in which sometimes the image will generate the poems, and at other times the photographer will work to respond to or illustrate the poem.

As Philip Gross writes in his endorsement on the back cover: “Each double page is a conversation” That’s it, exactly!

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Emma Storr’s and Bob Hamilton’s “Offcumdens”

How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to collaboration)? What do you see as the appeal?

I was living with a photographer for whom English is a second language and Korean the first. But it was even more complicated than that, he’s a photographer! There’s a line by the poet Rob Schlegel – “language is not my first language.” We had to find a way to communicate if we were going to stay together. You can fall in love with a lot of people but if you want to spend your life with someone you have to develop a language together. What was a necessity in my life became the necessary conditions of my work.

Collaboration is not a picnic. As I say this I remember that Young and I made a movie about a man and a woman having a picnic with a donkey – with an actual donkey. The donkey messed up every shot we planned, though we also planned the donkey’s messing up into the shooting script. When I say “collaboration is not a picnic” I mean it’s not a unity, it’s not a perfect marriage, and if it’s going to be interesting it can’t stay play or process forever. Collaboration surfaces misunderstandings and ruptures, it reminds one always of the distances one cannot travel. It can’t hide a power struggle even if it converts that into the making of something.

The appeal is that it’s real. Forrest Gander’s book Twice Aliveuses the word “combinatory” to describe this intuition, that one’s perceived aloneness is at least in part an illusion. I am not sure whether we are truly alone or truly collaborative beings. I do not know the nature of the great web of things, the way we might be connected to animals and plants and the earth, but I know I am involved with the question, sleeping or waking, paying attention to it or not.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Katie Peterson

the words go back to change what the words once were
my DNA the same as another giant tortoise found in 1906

wild and precious life intertwined
I will be a fantastic giant tortoise in my next life, too

Gary Barwin, fantastic giant tortoise

We cannot bring about a more regenerative and compassionate future using the same language that got us here– the kind churned out by advertisers, pundits, and politicians. Poetry calls us to make big world-restoring decisions by listening to voices wilder and wiser than our own. What does sea ice say? How about honeybees, gray whales, storm clouds, bonobos, leatherback turtles? What do our ancestors, leading all the way back to the First Mother, have to tell us? What do the smallest children want us to know? The oldest people? Poetry doesn’t offer answers, it simply helps to tune our capacity to see, hear, and be. That’s a start.

Laura Grace Weldon, Finding Solace In Poetry

In between booster shots, orthopedists, and ordinary life tasks, I’m seeking a daily and weekly balance between literary chores and literary delights. I continue to query bookstores, podcasts, and the like, hoping to get more “eyeballs on books”–what a smart former student, now in marketing, says is the most important task for authors. That emailing and calling isn’t much fun, though, except in the rare moments when you make a real connection. I’m making sure I spend part of each weekday, too, focusing on poems themselves. I’m deep in revisions of the next poetry ms, trying to transform each poem, as well as the whole, as into powerful things.

I discovered in the process that I’ve only drafted 4 poems in 2022 so far. Normally there would be at least a dozen. On the bright side: I typically toss out at least half of my drafts, but these 4 all seem to be keepers. It’s an interesting shift; I wonder if it will be a trend in my writing life.

Lesley Wheeler, Eyeballs on books & minds between covers

Last fall, I was asked to deliver a keynote to open the 2021 Fraser Valley Literary Festival. I spoke about my mother’s dementia, and moments of social dislocation (Pandemic, anyone?) and how poetry can see us through. I was really pleased with the talk and hoped it might find a way to live on in print. It was a blessing, then, when a few months later the League of Canadian Poets asked if I could write them an essay for their Poetry Month series “On Intimacy.” The essay that resulted expanded on my lecture, and you can read it here: “Why? And Why Now?: On Poetry and Companionship.”

Rob Taylor, Four Essays

I remember the days of abalone ceilings, the yolk
of my belly nestled in porcelain ribs, nights
when we met the Pylochelidae in secret,
to whirl across the sodden dune,
showing off our spiral cloches.
We danced to forget that our shelters
would again abandon us.

Kristen McHenry, Poem of the Month: Hermit Crab’s Lament

What I didn’t know then
and what I know now
can be summed up by the same

question: aren’t we all
born of some catastrophe
authored by other bodies?

What did we have
to lose but our early
sense of self.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Palimpsest (8)

once again, i find myself awake in this bed—

this ambien labyrinth, this insomnia museum 3:13 a.m. bus stop to sudden wide-awakeness, all-night waffle house of tossing and turning, this zoo of doom, crusher of circadian rhythms, hippie commune of sleep apnea, truck-stop along the highway to hell, war zone of snores, tram ride to slam time, snotwad of snoozelessness, scheme of rusted bedsprings, 9-1-1 crank caller, off switch to sleep onset, enigma of pin cushions, bloated corpse of corporal punishment, this boxspring lobotomy, dante’s inferno with a pillowtop—

this bed, this bed, this head, this dread, this way station between sun and moon that won’t let me sleep…

Rich Ferguson, this bed

I remember the half light of the pantry, 
where I stole packets of cocoa powder 
from people who had been only kind to me,
and would have given them to me if I had asked.

If I had asked? Who knows how to ask? The wind
comes up suddenly from the darkened beach.
It was a weary long time, before I would think to ask.
A life of erratic tacking, whose only through-line

was a desperate desire 
to disappear as I was and to appear as I was not.

Dale Favier, Half Light

PP: What’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?

AE: Managing my diabetes through changes in diet and exercise. I’m writing a poem series about diabetes. As a writer, I am forever curious and need to understand the history, etymology, science and culture in about just about everything I get involved in, I can’t help looking things up in order to learn. My brain doesn’t seem to be built for science, even though I’m fascinated by it, so I’ve been trying to learn more and understand the underpinnings of diabetes, the connection between blood sugar levels to food, exercise and sleep. This leads me down a rabbit hole of wonder and it excites me.  I might as well write about it.

A few days after the diagnosis, I began a blog: the Sexy Diabetic and from there I ended up starting to write poems. I have always written as a form of catharsis, connection, whimsy and exploration. Life and literary pursuits are usually not separate for me.

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: phafours poet: Amanda Earl

At the readings I gave when the book first came out in 2006, I made a point of including “Melissa’s Story” and “Bill’s Story” in my set pretty frequently. Reproductive rights had been a major issue in the 2004 presidential election, and I wanted to do my part to keep the issue front and center in whatever way I could. I wrote the poems after reading Back Rooms: Voices from the Illegal Abortion Era, edited by Ellen Messer and Kathryn E. May. “Melissa’s Story” is spoken by a woman who pays a doctor for an illegal abortion. “Bill’s Story” is spoken by a man some non-specified but significant number of years after his pregnant girlfriend was sent against her will, and against what the teen couple wanted for themselves, to what used to be called a home for unwed mothers, where she was forced to put the child they conceived up for adoption.

In practical terms at least, we are no doubt farther away from men having to live Bill’s experience than we are from women having to live Melissa’s. Given the particular form of Christian morality that is driving the anti-abortion movement, however, it would be naïve to think some version of homes for unwed mothers could never make a comeback. It was, and is, important to me to give voice to Bill’s experience because it represents a rarely acknowledged stake that those of us who can’t get pregnant have in reproductive autonomy.

Richard Jeffrey Newman, Three Poems Of Mine That Should Never Have Become As Relevant As They Are Now

let’s make it easier

I’ll write a poem about you
you write one about me

there are so many words
to describe
someone else’s life

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Anatomy of a poem

Death or glory
under the lights,
the sun, the stars,
we the mutualists,
the diggers and
the levellers
are bound in
a cargo net
of love that fills
the heart and stops
the breath. There’s
a joy you simply
cannot buy
in the moment
pledged towards
the shared self.

Dick Jones, MUTUAL AID

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, I tried something different: compiling the digest in a completely random fashion, without any effort to find common themes. I think it hangs together just about as well as usual! Go figure.


Many years back–let’s say decades–my friend David Dunn and I briefly became small press chapbook publishers. It was not an easy task at the time, and expensive; but I worked at a type shop and could get the type set for free and a discount on the printing. We dubbed our concern LiMbo bar&grill Books. It was decidedly a labor of love, but we published four chapbooks and two broadsides before packing it in. The name emerged from David’s postcards and letters to me, in which he’d sometimes begin “Greetings from the Limbo Bar & Grill.” We were poets in our early 20s, underemployed during a recession, without any network to universities or well-connected writers. It felt like limbo.

Forty years later, dear David is dead; I have had modest success as a published poet since then–not enough to move me past avocation status–and the entire globe spins in limbo as pandemic, climate crisis, war, and oligarchies combine to keep things as interesting and unsteady as ever they were. It feels like limbo.

Feels like limbo on the publication side, too. Because my poetry collection that was supposed to be in print by 2020 seems to be indefinitely on hold. Covid interfered, the contract never arrived, and I’m beginning to wonder whether my emails are ending up in the publisher’s SPAM filter. It’s not surprising that a small independent press–in most cases underfunded and understaffed–might lose track of, say, a manuscript or two during the hassles of the pandemic protocols and all that has wrought.

Or perhaps the press has decided not to publish my book after all. The oft-rejected writer who lives inside my head supposes that could be the case and mourns, assuming the worst.

Ann E. Michael, Limbo

In the “mom-and-me pandemic book club” news, we have started a new novel, Lorna Mott Comes Home, by Le Divorce‘s Diane Johnson, about a sixty-something formerly highly respected art historian who ends her second marriage and comes home from France to California. The passages about trying to promote her book in a post-internet world are particularly appealing – the frustration trying to get back in the game after being out of it for 20 years – her daughter writes her Amazon reviews and she goes to bookstores for signings and they can’t find her books. Her adult children and two ex-husbands are in various levels of crisis as well. I might have mentioned I’m fascinated by these newer books that seem to focus on women in academia (or post-academia) going through midlife crises – there are so many about men, so few about women! The last one I really loved was Lesley Wheeler’s Unbecoming. (If you have recommendations for others, please leave them in the comments!)

Speaking of Lesley, I finished a new book by Lesley Wheeler that’s a fascinating mix of poetry close reading, cultural criticism, and personal essay, called Poetry’s Possible Worlds. She navigates difficult subject matter – including the death of a parent and political turbulence – by reading contemporary poems and then connecting them to the wider world.

She talks about how each book of poetry opens up alternate possible worlds for us to inhabit, which can help us deal with life’s crises and foibles alike. Like poet-essayist Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves, which combines personal essay, navigating a mysterious autoimmune illness, and pop culture representations of disability, it’s a thought-provoking collection that makes me want to try my hand at this kind of hybrid essay-criticism. Anyway, if want to curl up with a good poetry/criticism/personal essay hybrid book, pick this up. The last essay, about her writing process, was one of my favorites in terms of its descriptions of writing flow and how projects interact with each other.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Somber Week, Reading Lesley Wheeler’s Poetry’s Possible Worlds and Diane Johnson, and a Visit to the Japanese Gardens

rest up
get well soon

how easily it is said
however sincere
it doesn’t help much

i lost my voice in the sea a while ago
felt very miserable
i found it later on the shoreline
it had been on an adventure

now it is back we’re on speaking terms

it hurts ~ then you laugh again

Jim Young, for beth ~ hope you are bether soon

I sat with my twelve year old on the deck, and listened as he chanted the first few lines of his Torah portion. His voice cracked once or twice. That’s been happening lately. All I could think about was the parents in Uvalde whose ten year olds won’t grow up to be twelve year olds with cracking voices. 

Shortly before we started Torah portion practice, I’d told him that there was another school shooting. I wanted him to hear it from me and not from a friend at school in the morning. I assured him that where we live is one of the safest places to be. He said, “I know, Mom,” and changed the subject.

I believe what I said to him. The place where we live is as safe a place as any I can think of. And yet I can’t promise him that an angry gunman won’t break into his school, or into our synagogue, or into the supermarket where his auntie shops with his Black cousins. I can’t promise safety. No one can.

Rachel Barenblat, Morning after

Finding the glowing pine
Is not enough. I need to travel
Down the winding road
To the decrepit cabin
Full of cobwebs, broken boards.
Even deeper, I need to go,
Below the foundation,
Down to the level of packed dirt,
Down to the damp, dark place
Where memories sleep in fits,
Pushing like roots in the soil.

Christine Swint, The Numinous Pine

This is a post that begins by saying, “trust me.” This is a post written from a place of pure love. This is a post about how an author can change your life, about how books matter, and about how writers are simultaneously magical and utterly real. It’s also a post that references a line from Jane Austen about how if I loved this book less, I could talk about it more. […]

The introduction to this collection is by Kazim Ali, and it’s perfect. It ends, “These novels are meant to be experienced, not just in language, but in their rhythms, in their interruptions and silences, in their structures and patterns and shapes of thought.” Ali finds in them “a music daily as life.” Ali notes, “they are themselves alive. And in them a reader comes to life.”

Writers, too, will come to life.

Shawna Lemay, The Scent of Light by Kristjana Gunnars

It was the intriguing title that made me want to read this beautiful collection in the first place. I love the way in which the Moon Daisy weaves her way through the pages. I admire the sense of balance between joy and wonder on the one hand, and concern and pain on the other. This judicious inclusion of this ‘light and shade’ seems fitting for a dappled woodland backdrop. There are, however, other habitats to explore and enjoy; the opening poem offers a coastal setting, while the kingfisher prefers the willows by the river and the fox prepares ‘to curl up tight nose to tail’ in an urban garden.

Like Jill, the author, I found myself very worried when I first heard that a significant number of ‘nature’ words (‘acorn’, ‘buttercup’ and ‘catkin’, to name but three) had been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary back in 2007. Many will be familiar with Robert Macfarlane’s book, The Lost Words (illustrated by Jackie Morris); the poignant reference to ‘last words’ in Jill’s final poem, ‘The Nightjar’, did not pass me by.

The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy will surely appeal to adults and children alike. The author’s subjects are most engaging; we marvel at the Moorhen in her ‘green stockinged feet’ and are introduced to the Dandelion with its ‘mustardy roar’. The collection can be enjoyed for these wonderful descriptions alone, but I sense most readers will allow themselves to be transported downstream on the metaphorical undercurrent of something a little deeper, something linked to the joys, sorrows and responsibilities that reflect our humanity. 

Caroline Gill, ‘The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy’, a Poetry Collection by Jill Stanton-Huxton

Sometimes I start a class with a book that takes me straight to the heart of wanting to write poetry: First Loves: Poets Introduce the Essential Poems that Captivated and Inspired Them, edited by Carmela Ciuraru (Scribners 2001). If you don’t already know it, I’d recommend the amazon page review for a sense of what it’s like. Ciuraru asked a wide range of contemporary poets to choose a poem that inspired them early on and say a few words about it. Every time I read around in the book I’m taken back to some of my own sources, and the same thing happens to students when they read it: a direct line opens to those original urges. The book is full of surprises: Robert Creeley chooses Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman” and Wanda Coleman picks Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” for example.

A number of experiences made me fall in love with words: my father asking “What’s black and white and red all over?” I was stumped. “A newspaper.” What? Oh! Read! That language could do that. Or my grandmother writing out “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and little lambsy divey” after she’d sung it. Later it was Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and—like Creeley—the galloping “Highwayman.” But it was Frost’s ability to see through tranquil surfaces to the depths below that resonated with something in me, from the opening of “My November Guest” (“My sorrow, when she’s here with me/ Thinks these dark days of autumn rain/ Are beautiful as days can be….”) to the horrifying “Out, Out—,” where a young boy is mortally wounded as he’s sawing lumber.

Sharon Bryan, First Loves Redux

My first book had come out the previous fall, when I was both at my sickest and my most romantically fraught.  I only remember it in bits—bright yellow fall trees, a downtown fire that closed down our campus, headaches and lingering lunch dates. I was already in my 30’s. I was older than almost everyone in my program. I had long before determined workshops were only useful when everyone actually shared some idea on what made a poem good, which was an impossibility. In many ways, I found the program to be a nice incendiary, spurring me to projects I might not have done otherwise (my archer avenue poems, for example, or actually finally finishing my Cornell poems for an ekphastic class.) The lit and craft classes were interesting, the workshops mostly tedious.

We all know the horror stories of the MFAers who walk out of graduation and never write another thing.  I worried over this, in that stretch right after I finished the program, when things felt too close, too tight, and I wrote very little. I would talk to other writers and get insanely anxious when they asked me about new projects, the dreadful “what are you writing now?” I did lots of other things–like move the press operation into the Fine Arts–start the web shop, sell vintage and paper goods, and soap–and all the while, tried to distract myself from the non-writing self that only churned out a poem every couple months, nary anything I really liked. I tend to be a prolific writer, before grad school, during grad school, and even now, but between 2007 and 2011 I probably wrote about 20 poems total. A couple things happened in 2011 that set me writing again, one being the process of writing the James Franco pieces that barely felt like poems at all.  The other was girl show finding a home at Black Lawrence. By the end of the year, it seemed possible that I might actually want to write more than I was. The next spring I finished what would become beautiful, sinister that had been languishing for a couple years. I also wrote what is one of my all-time favorite series, shipwrecks of lake michigan. The poems were back and I’ve been pretty steadily writing since–an output that has filled 9 other book mss. in a decade. It’s hard to believe sometimes that I have that many poems in me, let alone that I managed to get them successfully on the page and out into the world. 

Sometimes, when eyeing my student loan balance I have been chiseling away at in small ridiculous bits, I wonder if the degree was worth it.  If either grad degree was worth it.  I do feel some of the lesson content I’ve been writing is served well by my MA degree, but the yeilds of my MFA are a little more slippery.  I absolutely believe I could have written and published (and was doing so) without the degree.  Would I be writing the same poems? In the same style? Would I be as good? Maybe not..but then again, so many poets I know do just fine without advanced degrees.  I also know many really lackluster poets with a train of them.  Many say the time to work uhindered by other things is priceless, though doing it while also working full time cut into that experience and made it more unweildy and harrowing. On the other hand, I got a discount for working on campus, so maybe it was a trade.  The 29 year old me who enrolled wasn’t sure what I was looking for.skills? legitimacy? knowledge? She could scarce have told you any more than I can now. I got better by writing more, reading more, of course,  and for that, maybe I owe those few years of study and attention I may have not gotten otherwise. 

Kristy Bowen, 15 year itch | notes on the mfa

How it is
when it comes apart
is how it is,

the old monk told
the mechanic.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (213)

“Holy Things” comprises confessional poems about relics, other items held with reverence, and bodies with a self-deprecating sense of humour. The poems don’t go the circular route but get straight to the point. In “Goddamn”, a light bulb blows,

“You unscrew
the supernova.
Mind the black
hole webs.
They’re torture
in your hair.
There, now
don’t drop—

Goddamn.
Spores of
stardust
everywhere.
It’s a nightmare
trying to get
celestial crumbs
out of the
good rug.”

A simple task to replace the bulb spotlights other areas of neglect: the ceiling cobwebs, the dust falling from the fixture or lightshade, the mess on the rug that now needs cleaning. Might it have been better to have left the bulb alone? A familiar scene where an improvement in one area, makes others look shabby in comparison and suddenly you’re spring cleaning the entire house.

Emma Lee, “Holy Things” Jay Rafferty (The Broken Spine) – book review

Tonight, tired and worried about my father, I came into this room, which we seldom use, and stretched out on the couch. I did my Duolingo lesson and the Times mini crossword and Spelling Bee on the free phone app which always kicks me out after a certain point. Then I pulled a knitted afghan over myself, thinking I might take a little nap, accompanied by the contemplative robin that’s nesting in the light fixture just outside the terrace door…but my eyes kept opening and gazing across the room at the desk. After a few minutes I had gotten up, opened the top, and set to work sorting the incongruous things I found inside: a strange, heavy antique brass writing stand with two glass inkwells; bottles of disk cleaner for LP records; three old letter openers, an intricate silver one that looked Turkish and quite lethal, and two that are clearly African; a collection of DVDs; a Silva compass with a leather case; a collection of old brass drafting equipment and a velvet snap-top jewelry box filled with old Schaeffer and Parker graphite leads; a handwritten wiring map for my father’s cabinet of turntables, tape decks and DVD players. As I did this, slowly, the thought began to form: could I actually use this desk? Could I write something here? When all the surfaces and pigeonholes were empty, I removed the vases and candlesticks to the piano, and wiped the wood with a barely-damp cloth. My sketchbook and watercolor palette went on the left side, some pens on the right. Then I ascertained that, yes, there was an outlet on the wall in fairly close proximity, set my laptop, mousepad and mouse in the center of the open desk, noticing for the first time the reassuring dents and scratches in the old mahogany — and turned the computer on.

It felt like… a moment. Like introducing your close but perhaps slightly questionable young friend to a beloved elderly grandparent. But the hinges didn’t give way, the marquetry didn’t fall out: in fact, the wood felt warm and beckoning and somehow personal, and I began immediately to write.

Beth Adams, Desk, Domain

Having finished Ulysses, I’ve gained the confidence to read other books that have been tapping me on the shoulder for years. One such is Jung’s Memories, Dreams and Reflections, recommended to me by  Anne. It’s as if, having climbed Everest, I can consider K2 (though I’d like to make clear this is a metaphor – I have attempted neither, and if I did, I would need to be carried or air-lifted down at some point).

I’m currently dog-sitting a beautiful lurcher, and she and I take long walks together. Sometimes, on these walks, I listen to the birdsong in the woods, or the lambs bleating in the fields, and sometimes, I plug myself into my phone and listen to a book. And this is how I’ve read Jung. 

It’s not an easy read – though parts of it are. That would be my review if asked for a line for the back cover. 

As Jaffa was trotting about, this is what I heard the other morning, and it illustrates my summary: 

“I never think that I am the one who must see to it that cherries grow on stalks. I stand and behold, admiring what nature can do.” Carl Jung – Memories, Dreams and Reflections. 

When I heard this, I stopped and typed it into my phone to remember the wisdom.  

I called Jaffa to me, and she came up, looking hopeful. I read out Jung’s words to her and she looked at me with her deep, kind eyes, hoping for a more edible treat, or perhaps something on the interpretation of dreams, then trotted off, ears flopping gently with each step. She urinated on some bracken. 

Liz Lefroy, I Read Jung (With Dog)

and here we are
we two
you crazy free
me creeping across
the fallen leaves
a poacher sans
traps lifting only
the mushrooms picking
only the berries
breathing just the
loaded air and
its traffic of
loam and pine
pitch and the
musk of deer

Dick Jones, Dog Latitudes §17

I could tell you how many civilians
were killed today in Iraq or Afghanistan
or Gaza or Pakistan or Yemen
by us or by our allies or with our weapons
but what’s the use?
a new season of your favorite show
will start soon and you’ll plop down
on your couch with some popcorn
or a nice plate of nachos
and go back to sleep
in a few weeks you’ll have to
Google this date to figure out
what this poem is about
and in another few weeks after that
so will I

Jason Crane, (Re-post) POEM: this changes nothing

It was chilly, the day I wanted to be dead,
but the azaleas finally tipped with pink,
finally breaking through the long cold that now bled

tiny vivid spearpoints struggling thru blunted blades,
as if their shrieking magenta opened a chink
in the brick wall. The day I wanted to be dead,

I actually didn’t. Some neuro biochem’d,
gamed my brain, meds and pain that brought me to the brink,
flipped the switch, and broke through the long calm that now fled

from my eyes, while logical-me questioned, and said,
“This makes no sense. I don’t want this. Dammit, stop. Think.
Who loses, and who wins, if I want to be dead?”

PF Anderson, Villanelle (“the day I wanted to be dead”)

I feel like I’ve been rather ruthless, but we’re still going to end up with about 10 boxes of books. That’s about half of where we started. I’m trying to give myself credit for being willing to part with so many books. I’m trying not to think about the fact that in later years,  I’m likely to part with some of the ones that I’m keeping. I’d like to get better at buying books and letting them go right after I read them, but that may not happen.

As I’ve sorted books, I’ve thought about what’s happening, across the nation and the planet. I’ve thought about the power of words, and I’ve wondered if any of our words can make a difference. I’ve thought about these books that have been important enough to me to hang onto for years and decades. I’ve thought about books as solace and inspiration. I’ve wished that I could create the kind of works that people will hang onto for decades. And who knows? I still have decades of writing life left he read. Perhaps that will happen.

But even if it doesn’t, I am grateful for the solace of words, for the solace of words collected into books.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Solace of Books

In certain ways, this is a collection of poems composed around and on the very idea of silence (reminiscent, through that singular element, of Nicole Markotić’s debut novel). “My birth / mother found me decades later,” [Nancy] Lee offers, “only to lose her own mom. This was / a sign, she was sure of it. The gods made her a trade for silence.” Composed through great care and a deep attention, Hsin emerges as a work of grief and loss, discovery and searching, held as the notes produced across the journey as it unfolds, unfolding. “predictable /// if you know // from where / in the sequence ///// does a mother / want [.]” she offers, elsewhere in the first section. There are elements of this collection that echo some other titles that Brick has been producing lately, especially since the shift in editorial and ownership; an echo of other of their book-length poetry debuts that explore familial loss, identity and placement through the gathering of meditative and narrative lyric fragment, whether Andrea Actis’ Grey All Over (2021) [see my review of such here], or David Bradford’s Griffin Prize-shortlisted Dream of No One but Myself (2021) [see my review of such here]. “Nothing from nothing means nothing,” Lee writes, early on in the collection, “she hummed from the back- / seat of the Pontiac, swallowed in afternoon sun.” To open the collection, she offers a brief note for the sake of context to her title. The short note ends: “Body is history and Hsin holds silence in ways that both claim and keep it at bay.”

rob mclennan, Nanci Lee, Hsin

Yesterday, as I was troubleshooting on various book-related fronts, I started wondering if “troubleshooting” was another of the military metaphors that colonize my vocabulary (“front” is one). The original meaning of troubleshooting, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was a pleasant surprise. Here’s the first usage in print: “1905, Strand Mag.: ‘A good looking young ‘trouble-shooter’—as a mender of telephone lines is called—had asked her to marry him.’” Whoa! It’s a COMMUNICATIONS metaphor!

There have been plenty of broken connections lately, so after an initial high, I’m struggling to focus on the good stuff. Appearing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival last weekend, for example, was lucky and lovely (it’s a pretty interesting festival, too, with a political flavor). Early readers have been generous–I so appreciate every thoughtful note. None of that, though, stopped my spirits crashing. Maybe that was inevitable after logistical hairiness and physical stress (the festival was outdoors with 95 degree temperatures, plus my Achilles tendinitis flared up). The turning point mood-wise was a paradoxical one. Seeing Poetry’s Possible Worlds amid the many, many books Politics & Prose was selling was great, but it also reminded me how many, many authors are trying to get attention for their book-babies. I do have a strong core of confidence that my book is a very good one. But it’s increasingly clear to me that while I’m working harder than ever to get word out, in addition to investing money in a publicist for the first time, Poetry’s Possible Worlds is unlikely to stand out in the mob. Placing “Brave Words” on the Poets & Writers website was a glorious win, but each successful connection has 10 failed attempts behind it–magazine pitches, event queries, and other efforts that mostly don’t even get replies. I keep throwing out filament, filament, filament (sorry, changing metaphors here to Whitman’s spider), but I suspect I need to rewire my hopes as well. After all, twenty years ago, I longed to reach any audience at all, feeling increasingly hopeless about ever publishing a creative book. Here I am, after so many successes, doing that tiresome thing: training my vision on the next line of mountains.

Troubleshooting Monday involved updating various websites, including improving the book’s Goodreads listing. I finally figured out how to get the cover to appear, yay!, but can’t seem fix the issue on Amazon, and it’s such a handsome cover. I can’t get it to appear on Bookshop.org at all. How much does each of those little efforts even matter? I don’t know. I managed to settle myself down, though, by putting up a couple of reviews for other indie books. Helping other writers feels better, sometimes, than trying to boost your own signal.

Lesley Wheeler, Filaments & telephone lines

We don’t reach strong conclusions about the poem’s meaning as a class. We are a diverse group. I like leaving them with some ambiguity. I want them to figure it out for themselves, to be able to sit with complex and contradictory truths. I know that me telling them what to think or insisting on a particular interpretation won’t meet my goals. They might say what they think I want to hear, but they’re going to think what they think, do what they want to do with their ideas.

As they are gathering their things and heading for the door at the end of class, the boy who shared his ideas about the birds says to me, “I liked class today.” He’s a student I have struggled to engage. We are very different people, he and I. He hasn’t done very well with me, and I know that most days he hasn’t liked my class.

“I’m glad,” I say. “I really appreciated your contributions to our discussion.”

“Thanks,” he says, with feeling, and he smiles at me. I smile back, also with feeling. We have such different views of the world he sometimes astounds me, but I will miss him when this school year ends in just a few short weeks. I am glad to have known him, and I think he might say the same about me. There are things in each of us that the other likes and respects. I want to believe that, anyway.

We have no way of knowing, right then, what the afternoon will bring. I don’t know that after I spend it grading my students’ reading logs–which will prompt me to think hard about purposes and how I might determine if they’ve been met–I will learn, while waiting for the copy machine after school, about the latest shooting in Texas. I don’t know that I will numbly run off copies of another poem for our next class, then go to my empty classroom and sit at my desk and wonder what I should feel and do. I don’t know that I will spend long minutes wondering about the nest I’ve built for us, with its twinkle lights stretched across the ceiling, and posters with art from around the world, and a cart full of window/mirror books, and chart paper with our lists of class norms. I don’t know that I will sit in that space, remembering the day in September we began building those norms as we discussed memes about gun control, or that I will leave memory as I tune into the sounds of students playing ping-pong in the foyer while they wait to be picked up, and that it will be the pock-pock-pock of those balls hitting the paddles that will be the thing that brings me to tears.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the morning of the latest massacre of American schoolchildren

Someone said the word obliterate.
Meaning an erasure so hard,
Nothing remains.

As children we were told
not to whistle too loudly at clouds
so they wouldn’t come too close.

The world must have whistled
in a great chorus. Or that’s what
we might want to believe.

But wind and rain have
their own voice, their own
logic.

We are always trying to put
our unformed words
into their throats.

Luisa A. Igloria, Rain Writes, Wind Erases

When our pains become so great we can no longer bear them.

When our feelings seek release, when they move us to the ends of the earth,

our hearts desiring an Eden of our own making.

It’s then we create: sing, dance, paint, write, cry out.

Our expressions: beautiful cracks in the bell of a perfectly toned hallelujah.

Not so much a cousin to longing, but the pure longing itself.

Rich Ferguson, Cracks In the Bell

In the last month or so, the book I’ve most enjoyed reading is the excellent Everyman (selected) Poems of James Merrill, edited by his biographer, Langdon Hammer. The combination of his formalist brilliance and his hedonistic, but engaged, attitude to life is irresistible.

Here’s Merrill reading Elizabeth’s Bishop exemplary villanelle ‘One Art’ and a poem of his own which he dedicated to Bishop, ‘Developers at Crystal River’.

And here’s a short but fascinating interview with him from 1991, four years before his death, in which he discusses political poetry, his awareness of the luck he had in being born so rich, and the datedness of language.

Matthew Paul, James Merrill

The downside about Napowrimo: the writing hang over.

Though I think that my month of writing a poem a day was pretty productive — probably about half the poems are usable– I was wiped out this month and only wrote one poem.

I have a kind of plodding type of writing schedule though–I usually complete two poems a month. I guess like running sprints, shaking it up and writing thirty poems vs. my typical two, could help my creativity possibly.

But after all that poetry, I find my mind wandering to different things, different projects.

I’m currently working on a cross-stitch (because it’s good to work with your hands), starting to consider revising my sci-fi middle grade novel again, and in the beginning (obsessive) stages of getting a new project (an anthology?) off the ground.

I used to worry when my steady two-poems-per-month pace was interrupted–existential questions of “will I ever write again?” plagued me. However, after many years of writing, I’ve found that there are some seasons in life that breaks are needed and good. I tend to take a break over part of the summer and let my mind wander other fields.

Renee Emerson, Writing Hang-over

The poet was exasperated that his voice had become a metaphor;
he wanted to see the blood of his voice, its lard and flesh,
its lineage—to hear its chords vibrating
even if a single utterance would cost him his life.

In our language, he finds himself placing nouns before verbs,
tainted by the lyrical I, perhaps. He picks words
that had wilted until they turned to gold. Wiping away
the dust of the centuries, he plants them in small pots.
The poet thinks he can
heal the dumb, and revive the dead.

Meanwhile, in their language, he crosses mountains and oceans
leaving a talisman on every tree
to find his way back.

Mona Kareem, Four poems – tr: Sara Elkamel

I haven’t worked on the wasp project for two weeks now. It is in my head, but I have not put in the work. Today I will pick up some parchment for the flexagon poems, though. Tomorrow, I will make the paper for the corsets and hives.

Last week on Instagram I saw something freakishly similar to what I am working on. It was well-executed, too. It has taken me a while to remind myself that there is nothing new under the sun and that the existence of something similar out there doesn’t discount the authenticity of what I am doing. I might keep my head down a while. I have a feeling if I go looking for it, I will find more similar work. And really, that is a good thing, right? It means there is something – if not universal – then relatable. Something that is a successful expression of human experience. So what?

Too often I am my own gatekeeper. That little voice. That bird with the sharp beak that keeps wounds open and blood flowing out of habit.

Not working is not humility. This assumption, belief, and self-deception that eventually I will turn out something stunningly, unequivocally unique is a kind of arrogance.

Ren Powell, Fear of Exposing Oneself

Book: Quiet Night Think: Poems & Essays  (a misFit book, ECW, 2022) by Gillian Sze. […]

During the remarkable period of early parenthood, Sze’s new maternal role urges her to contemplate her own origins, both familial and artistic. Comprised of six personal essays, poems, and a concluding long poem, Quiet Night Think takes its title from a direct translation of an eighth-century Chinese poem by Li Bai, the subject of the opening essay. Sze’s memory of reading Li Bai’s poem as a child marks the beginning of an unshakable encounter with poetry. What follows is an intimate anatomization of her particular entanglement with languages and cultures.

Sze invites readers to meditate with her on questions of emergence and transformation: What are you trying to be? Where does a word break off? What calls to us throughout the night? […]

PP: Your opening essays starts with all the paradoxes of translation, what is literally said, what is implied, what is embedded. It strikes me that poetry in the translation from life to words has some of the same challenges. In your work you mention letting work set until it has clarity and heft. Do you find that way in time alone or do you have a set of readers who help you see what is distilled enough?

GS: I think one of the best things to do with a draft is to forget about it and return to it afterwards. That little spell of amnesia allows me to, for a moment, pretend that the work isn’t even mine to begin with, and I can examine, edit, and revise it more effectively. Only when I feel like I have moved the work to a less vulnerable space do I seek out my trusted first readers.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Gillian Sze

Of all the ways to encounter loss, I picked the one in which it arrives as a stranger. A stranger who emerges from the bowels of a subway station, into the sunlight, as I hurtle down the steps into the darkness, directly in his path, looking away, refusing to meet his gaze, only a strong musky scent of an unborn morning , staining the air as we pass.

It returns sometimes, that fragrance, like a wind from a faraway place, come to moult its memory skin . Or like a pigeon that flew into a room that it doesn’t know how to escape, thrashing against the glass pane, screaming at the walls in low, gurgling sounds, rising and falling, rising and falling, trapped, afraid…alone.

On some nights, the stranger stops and calls my name. A name he should not know. A voice I should not recognize. A longing that should not be. For a morning, yet to come.

what should we call it,
the sky that does not know
it is the sky?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A name he should not know

My next book, Look to the Crocus, will be published in 2023 by Shoestring Press!!!

I’ve been going through the editorial process poem by poem over the last few weeks, gradually ironing out the errors, tightening up poems, culling the weak. It’s been a wonderfully therapeutic process! 

It’s great to have such editorial support going through the manuscript from both publisher, John Lucas, and poet and editor, John Killick, who has been such an enthusiastic supporter of my work since he wrote a rather wonderful review of Madame Ecosse a few years back. 

The current format of the collection is a thematic division into 4 parts each with their own sub-title and each prefaced with a quote from Theodore Roethke. 

I’ve moved backwards and forwards on the idea of breaking up the manuscript into sections, and overall, I do have a preference for sections. I love the structural element of it – like chapters / seasons / weather systems. 

Also, I love introducing the sections with titles and quotes. Roethke has been such an important poet to me and I love having his words flow throughout my manuscript. 

Marion McCready, *Look to the Crocus*

I belong to a Facebook writing group called Every Damn Day Writers.  We set it up to encourage ourselves to write  every day. The practice of writing every day builds the habit of creating and of course pushes your manuscript forward. A daily schedule stirs the creative brain into action. It’s a magical key that unlocks the door — not only to a new room, but eventually a whole new book. So how do you establish a daily writing habit? Read on.

Writing Practiced

Writing practice is like ballet. Whatever talent you possess, it gets better with daily exercise. It’s impossible not to improve if you sit down to your work on a regular basis. Like meditation, the act of creating is vigorous. It’s intense and difficult, requiring great focus, making it hard to think of anything else.

It can be argued that writing is meditation. Though the body may be still for long minutes during this act, a lot is going on neurologically. Your sympathetic nervous system calms, the scientists report. And over a long period of exercising this function, the brain changes, studies have found. It moves toward the habit of sustained happiness.

Changing Your Brain to Enhance Creativity

Do you feel happier after a period of writing? I call it “writer’s glow”. It occurs to me even after a short bout of creating, say working out a one-page poem. The focus drops away the “monkey mind” habit of my brain to be distracted by passing thoughts. The space left afterward is clear and fresh, like a beautiful landscape. In fact, everything feels beautiful for a while writing.

The lucky thing is that this daily writing practice becomes easier the more you do it. It’s the power of habit, which works for good habits as well as bad ones because we’re all essentially addictive personalities. I choose to be addicted to writing because it makes me happy. And because of it, I have published four novels in four years.

Rachel Dacus, Writing Tips — The Practice of Writing Every Day

I was listening to a podcast recently with a guest who explained that after a terrible period of psychological distress, she decided that she needed a project in order to focus her mind on something besides her own emotional pain. She bought an enormous amount of yarn and spent the next six months steadily knitting a gigantic blanket, working on it every single day no matter what. At the end of the project, she felt a little better, but just as importantly, she learned the value of persistence and consistency, and her faith in her ability to heal herself was restored. I think that was a very wise thing for her to do for herself. As a culture, we seem to have abandoned the value of pushing through and persisting in the face of adversity. Fuddy-duddy concepts like patience, stoicism, and simply taking our minds off of our pain for a little while with something productive like work or creative pursuits is considered old-fashioned. The trendy way to cope with mental distress is to make TikTok videos and engage in pathological wallowing. I say this as someone who has wallowed in many bouts of psychological distress, especially when I was younger. I have since learned that emotional distress is often passing and that it’s okay to subsume it in work, physical activity or other distractions. Contrary to popular counseling wisdom, I believe that distraction is a very useful tool. In many cases, the distress simply resolves itself on its own due to not having been fed. As the Brits tend to say, sometimes you just need to get on with it. I’m also reminded that I still have a punch needle embroidery project to finish and I should get on with that.

Today would probably be a good day for it, as it is a pre-planned No-Leave Sunday, wherein I stay in pajamas all day, eschew make-up and don’t leave the house, not even to check the mail. I used to engage in No-Leave Sundays fairly regularly, but they have fallen by the wayside over the years for various reasons. I find No-Leave Sundays very restorative. I like to have what feels like an enormous expanse of unscheduled time in front of me in which to knock around, putter and waste. It helps my brain unravel from the work stress of having way too freaking much to do all of the time and never enough to time do all of it. It feels lavish and indulgent and a little transgressive.

Kristen McHenry, Coping by Crafting, No-Leave Sunday Revival, Litmus Test

In spite of myself, my resentment that they are rats with tails, that they lounge in my chaises longues and massage themselves in the rims of my flowered pots, I have been admiring squirrels.

Such looseness; such fearless sense of play.  One — followed by her playmate — in motion leaps to her sure death from the roof but catches a frail branch, hangs belly-up as the branch dip low with weight until she rights herself, scrapes the bark with her nails — and darts.

Lilies of the valley have dropped their sweet white flowers, confetti is scattered around the hawthorn tree, the Dionysian rally of spring is exhausting —

but there are the squirrels, defying reason.

Once they’re hanging from a thread, how do they will themselves back? 
Do these masters of risk appraise a car tire and decide— uh uh,  not this one, over and over? 

And don’t these tricksters know these are dark times?  That destructive forces are overwhelming us?

And yet they play, play, play.  Before our tired eyes, they play, as if their very survival depended on it. If I banished them from the garden, who would remind us to play?

Jill Pearlman, Lessons from My Backyard Enemies

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 18

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: skylarks and stitchwort, politics and mental illness, pondering the use of the first person in poetry, American Mothers’ Day, and more. Enjoy!


For a year I have been thinking about getting back to fitness with each run I take but back is surely the wrong word to choose when ahead is where the gift of full recovery lies. And today the lane I am running along reminds me that neither word serves and it is only the now of the cow parsley, the fields of beans, the North Downs holding up a sun-bright sky that matters, this moment, this breath  

here now
stopping to listen
to the skylark’s song

Lynne Rees, Haibun ~ Words

Whatever the cause and whenever it began, I am grateful that in this week in which we are reaching, again, for Mary Oliver’s “Of the Empire,” I used my time to eat slow dinners with my family and care gently for our dying dog and meet my students with compassion and skate until my body broke a sweat and sit on our front porch in the early evening sun. I am grateful I had space to write these words for no one but you and me and to imagine going back in time and taking aside that struggling, striving woman I once was and telling her this:

You don’t have to earn your right to be here, to take up space on your little speck of the planet, for the blip of time that is yours. You have no more obligation to the world than a tulip or hummingbird or raindrop does. You, too, get to just be. Make your choices knowing that everything you have and do and love will pass. Everything. The best way to serve the world, probably, is to grow and be guided by a heart that is large, and soft, and full of kindness. That’s a project it will never be too late to start, but the sooner you can, the better. Maybe don’t be so slow with that one, yeah?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Slow Going

I came this way a day ago
and thought I heard a flock of angry geese
it was the screech of machinery
a tractor and plough

today harrows
have broken up the clods
and shattered stalks of maize
litter the furrows

white drifts of stitchwort
in the narrow field-margin
vetch and speedwell
buttercup and herb-robert

Ama Bolton, Sunday walk

You can leave your hometown but still feel a loss when it is wiped out by a tornado.

But these tears are for my grandmother’s America which seemed to be on a path towards a more compassionate culture. When I was in high school, my grandmother thought that the local segregated schools were appropriate, and she once dragged me out of a theater performance of Mahalia because we were the only white people in the audience. She wasn’t a forward-thinking woman. But by her 80s called to tell me about a “brilliant young man” she was going to vote for named Obama.

My grandmother went to church twice a week as long as I was alive. Well – until the pastor retired and a young guy took over and preached that it was the wife’s job to “obey”. That was the last time she or my grandfather went to church. She thought it was a weird glitch. She didn’t imagine it was a harbinger of something that… is here now.

I am glad she didn’t live to see this. This promise of death for the women who grew up the way she did. Hand to mouth. No bus fare to a safe clinic. No safety net of people who will help. Who care. My grandmother didn’t need to say that her friend could have been her. And knowing what I know now about my grandmother’s life, I wonder…

Ren Powell, Sorry for the Discursion

There are people who consider it their job to argue about politics. Fine. I let them. There are American-made celebrities who are so ripe with their own importance and wealth and the rushed necessity of using their “platform” (I dislike that term) that they simply must talk of such things. I am neither of those creatures and prefer to go on using what art I possess to make beauty and truth (though what I make is not devoid of thought and may be known, surely) and so add to the sum of what is good in the world. That is what you might label as my politics–to stand against evils and blight by working in my small, nearly anonymous way to add to that sum of truth and beauty.

Marly Youmans, On being asked for my politics

The schools in Helsinki are on strike, so the kids and I are at home. It feels strange to be in a union and on strike after 30 plus years of working freelance or low wage jobs. Schools in Finland only had the first 6-week lockdown due to Covid, but have stayed open since, so it feels weird to shut them for this. But necessary. 

I’m not sure how long the strike will last, a week at most at least to begin with. I can’t do school work and can’t do much of my research project beside go through literature, but I have so much I want to do, I need to read for my course tomorrow, plant potatoes and onions, tidy the garden after cutting down a tree, clean the house (ok, I don’t want to do that, but it needs doing) and write, of course. 

Vappu (May Day or Beltane) was cold as usual. We tried a picnic with our Scottish Society friends, but it was short-lived. […]

It has felt non-stop with worries these days. Climate change, Covid, Brexit, Ukraine and Finland wondering whether to join NATO and now the possible repeal of Roe vs Wade. I tend to keep away from the political here as it’s so overwhelming and I need a respite, but it feels like we’re sliding towards something dark and omnipresent that’s slowly consuming us.

I started a list poem about the time the Amazon and Australian fires were happening, a list of ‘I can’t breathe’ lines, each a body blow of breath-stopping events from across the world, from George Floyd to the streets of Bucha. It keeps growing, saddeningly. I see no signs of being able to stop writing it, but I need to speak up in my small way.

Gerry Stewart, May Days: On Strike, Out of Breath

PP: What do you consume that keeps play alive for you? What’s the secret to staying so alert?

GB: One of the things that keeps play alive, that helps me feel the possibility of exploration, of being open and also transcending my own self-imposed limitations is error. By making mistakes, but not trying too hard not to, and by being open to what they might suggest, I’m often shown another way to proceed, to consider something that I might not have. Another practice is collaboration. I continually collaborate with a wide range of writers and creative artists. Through this engagement, I can’t hold on to my preconceptions, or my ownership of work and processes, but instead have the opportunity to follow this new process, these other ways of conceiving of the work and the creative process. Of trusting the writing itself and the collaboration. I do try to work on craft and at getting better, to be able to do more things and do them better, but at the same time, I make a point of trying new approaches, of learning about other ways of writing and other approaches. I try to pay attention to what interesting writing is happening or has happened. I try to watch with three eyes and clap hands with one.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Gary Barwin

When this latest dark period struck, the intensity took me totally by surprise. I’d certainly had dark periods before; 2020, for example, saw the end of what I thought would be a lifelong relationship and the start of my life in a van. But this was something different. It was debilitating in a way I hadn’t experienced since the breakdown that put me on meds in the first place.

This period also coincided with National Poetry Writing Month, aka NaPoWriMo. I decided to participate. Over the years I’ve likened poetry and Buddhist practice, in that both help you see the world as it is. That can be great, but when the world is a pile of poop, writing a poem every day is less about observation and more about being slowly buried. Art can amplify the bad as well as the good. Looking back at most of the poems I wrote in April, I can see a terrifying darkness and despair. And I wonder whether writing a poem every day was less about processing and more about wallowing.

Somehow, for reasons I can’t even begin to name, that dark blanket lifted after two weeks, and I’m doing much, much better now. I’ve accepted the reality that I’ll have to live in my van until summer, when I can afford to rent an apartment. I’ve begun to adjust to my office job, and even to find comfort in the nice folks with whom I work and the access to a bathroom and a tea kettle and a paycheck. I can look ahead to a time when I’ve got my own place and feel more stable and secure.

This year’s NaPoWriMo gave me a lot to think about concerning the relationship between my writing and my state of mind. I’ll definitely exercise more caution if this happens again, and I’ll try to pay more attention to the interplay between art and emotion.

Jason Crane, The Art Of Despair

A post I wrote in September of 2018 titled, 10 Poems for Loss, Grief, Consolation has been consistently the top post here on Transactions with Beauty. It has always been popular, but in the last two years, as you can imagine, the stats on this post keep growing. In my intro to that post I said that I hope you had no need of the poems at present. But the thing is, we have almost all needed them, or at least, we have all experienced loss of some sort these past two years, we have grieved for not just our loved ones who have left us, but for so many things. So. Many. Things. We have needed consolation but I would wager that you have also consoled.

The second poem I included with my 2018 post was my own In Lieu of Flowers which can be found in my book The Flower Can Always Be Changing. (My publisher has copies if you need one). And that poem is everywhere — including on a list of poems about losing a loved one on Book Riot.

As of today’s date, the sobering news from CBC: “The World Health Organization is estimating that nearly 15 million people were killed either by the coronavirus or by its impact on overwhelmed health systems in the past two years, more than double the official death toll of six million.” It’s difficult to think in such big numbers, to feel. As the poet Wislawa Szymborska said in her poem “A Large Number,” “Four billion people on this earth, / but my imagination is still the same. / It’s bad with large numbers. / It’s still taken by particularity.” And many of us don’t need to use our imaginations, we know the particularities. We are familiar.

Shawna Lemay, 5 More Poems for Loss, Grief, Consolation

As if I sit, silent, fishing gear suspended over dry
earth, the ocean, far away, pushing against an

indifferent shore. While all the love has escaped
into the sky and become the sun, the sharp May

heat a reminder of what it could be like, closer,
higher, if we dared to leave the shade. I dream of

asking the questions that matter. Not looking for
answers.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The conviction of jasmine

In 2018, at the 100th anniversary of World War I, the Great War, the war to end all wars, I immersed myself in lots of WWI reading and movie-viewing, sort of curating a WWI film festival for the library. So I was well aware of the famous carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, and how she saved the Lost Battalion. And also how she was misunderstood as a “he.” Hence, the male version of her French name. 

Kathleen Rooney develops all this so beautifully in Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, also giving us a full look at the major who led his men into the Argonne Forest, following orders, and doing it brilliantly and efficiently, thus, accidentally, leading many of them to their deaths or maiming. Alas! Part of the charm of this book is that the chapters alternate in point of view, between the pigeon and the major. It was easy to believe in the way pigeons might “think,” how their homing instinct might work, and how consciousness continues–especially if you are taxidermied and live on in the Smithsonian Institution. 

So probably Cher Ami pre-disposed me to pick up Dr. Bird’s Advice to Sad Poets, to find out what a real pigeon/imaginary therapist might “say” to a depressed high school boy. Also, sometimes I am a sad poet myself. And I do love this book’s cover (see above; at hand is the movie cover). I am glad that the boy also gets a human therapist. I watched a lot of movies over the past few years, but only today did I realize that Dr. Bird was released as a movie in 2021. (You can watch it on Hulu. But I can’t.) I liked how the humor in this book ran gently under the depression and family dysfunction, and I loved Dr. Bird!

Here in real life, the sun has come out! I am clearing out gardens, looking at the pink and white bleeding heart and dark lilacs, and birdwatching. Coincidentally, my parents have actual nesting doves at their house!

Kathleen Kirk, A Coincidence of Pigeons

The other day, poet Matthew Stewart tweeted this, sparking off a very interesting discussion about the use of the first person in poetry, and the frequent assumption by readers (and Matthew was talking specifically about critics) that this is the poet themselves.

I don’t have a great deal to add to it, but I do find it odd that this assumption gets made with poetry by people who have no difficulty in accepting that a first person narrator in a novel is not necessarily the writer themselves.

That said, I wonder whether it’s also a question of degrees for poetry readers? If the poem is written in, say, the voice of a historical character, or an animal, the reader has no trouble knowing that the “I” is not the poet. Does the problem occur mainly when the “I” is not the poet, as such, but a character not that far away from them?

Matt Merritt, The first person in poetry

(after Billy Collins)

I think the poem speaks for itself. But for clarity:

When I say ‘I’,
I do not mean me.
Except when I do.
Or when I didn’t,
but it turned out
it was me anyway.

Oh, and whether ‘I’ is me or not
does not mean any of the things
in the poem actually happened,
or that if they did, that they happened to me,
or to anyone in particular.
Though they probably did.

So, for the record:
‘I’ may not be telling the truth
and this will be deliberate.
This may be for the purposes
of a greater truth,
or that I just don’t want you to know the truth.

Anyway, I think the poem should be clear now.

It’s called ‘Me’.

Sue Ibrahim, Introduction

I like writing
a poem that does

what it does
without me,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (196)

Imagine this: A line of women poets stretching back, back through history, back through through layers of crinoline and taffeta and silk and underskirts and corsets and back, and back through kitchens and studies and libraries and maid’s quarters and milking sheds, back and back, all the way back to the oral traditions, to the women we can’t name, the anonymous women of history, their poems; their voices lost. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about those women, and the tail end of that link that is me, and how I sit here, how I am attached and connected to this line, how I sit alongside the other women poets that I know. Last night I met with my regular Fettling group. This is a group I set up a while ago. It’s a small group of just eight people, who meet every two weeks, and the purpose of the Fettling groups is to really focus on moving poems forward with group discussion, but also to find new ways to invigorate the way that attendees write, to find new ways of taking risks and pushing boundaries and comfort zones. Of all the groups, workshops and courses that I run, this is probably my favourite. Last night I brought along some wisdom from Eavan Boland. We discussed the ‘domestic poem’ and the revolutionary act of writing about interior life; how these mostly female spaces had been marginalised, de-valued, how poems about these places were perhaps devalued too, in the wider context of the poetry ‘community’, how that might, in turn, put women off writing the ‘domestic poem’ for fear of not being taken seriously. And then we took the radical act of writing a domestic poem, based on a painting by Eric Bowman. We talked about the term ‘poetess’ and the way that it’s purpose is to highlight the feminine of the poet, how it has become something of a criticism, or at the very least a condescending term that ‘others’ the woman poet, dividing her from the flock and herding her away. There is something to be said for this sort of contemplation, alongside being prompted to write, there is something necessary, at least for me, in accessing the thoughts of other poets in the development of my own self, in terms of becoming a poet. The wisdom of other poets is crucial to me, it connects me to the poets that have come before me and especially to the women poets and authors upon whose shoulders I am standing, precariously, and hoping that I am doing a good job. It was good to be in a group sharing this with other poets. There is something special about the way that a small group can meet on zoom, and open themselves up, how the intimacy of the safe space means that poems shared become as much about craft as they are an acknowledgement of the experience and process of creating the poem.

This morning I read this quote:

I like to think that the customs of friendship, as well as the loving esteem which are so visible in the communal life of women, will become evident in the practice and concept of the poetic tradition also. That women poets from generation to generation, will befriend one another. Eavan Boland

That’s what this is to me, this slow journey to myself. I am finding the connection to other writers and especially women writers and poets to be a kind of befriending. I feel welcomed into this long line of poets, this long line of women writers, and I am cherishing their wisdom.

Wendy Pratt, Women Asserting their Place in Poetry

Windsor, Ontario-based poet, editor, writer and critic Nicole Markotić’s latest full-length poetry title is After Beowulf (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2022), a book of simultaneous translation, transelation (as Moure coined it, via her 2001 Anansi title, Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person) and reimagining of the classic Old English poem Beowulf (c. 700-1000 AD), rifling through a myriad of forms as a way through her own reading of an ancient poem imagined, interpreted and reimagined from Seamus Heaney’s translation to an episode of Star Trek: Voyageur. Reworking one of the earliest of epic poems through English and Danish traditions, there is a swagger to Markotić’s lyric, one propelled by both character and the language, writing a collage of sound and meaning, gymnastic in its application and collision. As is well-known, the old stories adapt themselves to our requirements, and update to meet and suit us [see also: my review of Helen Hajnoczky’s Frost & Pollen, which includes a reworking of The Green Knight], and Markotić works her assembling of language, lyric and permeations of English into a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster, stitching together scraps from a variety of prior adaptations, and a language-hybrid that blends contemporary banter with Old English. “Herewith trespasses / Grendel – no introduction – breaks into / the Introduction,” she writes, early on in the collection, “foul foundling, heaping with narrative potential / (contrast: that ‘one good king’ / repeating line, colossus-driven) / his celebmentia gains real estate / then fades to black, fades / into macabre backstory.”

rob mclennan, Nicole Markotić, After Beowulf

Marianne’s poem is published on the Tinywords website and it appealed to me because I love collecting bits of unusual paper (I have a carrier bag full upstairs). I’ve done a bit of collage, but always thought of it as separate to haiku. Having seen her work, I feel inspired to do something similar, although I’m well aware that there’s a huge amount of time gone into her piece – it’s not just the making, it’s the thinking behind it. These days I’m wary of setting myself up to do something I don’t have time to achieve! Still, her work will stay lodged in my head until the right time comes along.

Similarly with Bill Water’s work, I can see there’s a good deal of time spent not only on the crafting of the fairy doors, and the haiku that go with them, but also positioning them, finding the right space/ environment/ backdrop (call it what you will). Bill has many poems on public display and I like the generosity of that.
Both of these pieces seem to have a playfulness about them. ‘Playful’ is a word that is often applied to art, suggesting some sort of trick, or in joke, but I think in this instance, it’s in the creative process itself; the fun that was had in the making shines through.

Julie Mellor, thread of light

Although not back to how it was before the pandemic, I am increasingly venturing out in the world to attend poetry events and readings, as well as still going to online things. Trowbridge Stanza, the monthly poetry group I organise, is meeting in person again, although not monthly, as we previously did, but every other month (this might change in the autumn). I went to an interesting talk about The Wasteland at Bristol Library last month, part of Lyra Poetry Festival. It was so great to be out and about and to travel home while it’s still light. Spring brings such longed-for delights. I felt the same way last Wednesday in London for a launch of Kathy Pimlott’s debut collection the small manoeuvres (Verve Poetry Press). I’ve followed Kathy’s poetry for several years, bought both of her pamphlets from the Emma Press, and long-admired her precise, original, engaging poems. Her poem ‘As You Are 90, I Must Be 65‘ is published at And Other Poems and is one of those I nominated for the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. It was just terrific to hear Kathy read, she has an assured and unshowy performance style that held everyone’s attention last week in the rather beautiful setting of the Phoenix Community Garden which is (amazingly) hidden within the heart of London’s West End.

I was also impressed by readings I heard at the online launch of books by Betty Doyle, Qudsia Akhtar, Erica Gillingham and Nicki Heinen (all Verve Poetry Press). Unfortunately Nicki couldn’t be there but Geraldine Clarkson read some of her poems, as well as poems of her own. My overwhelming feeling at this event was a feeling that poetry has upped its game since I was last at a reading (pre-pandemic). These are strong, strong poems. I was similarly dazzled at the launch of books by Anita Pati, Jemma Borg and Denise Saul (Pavilion Poetry Press). I will be surprised if at least one of these aforementioned poets isn’t on one or more of the big poetry prizes this year.

Josephine Corcoran, Out and About Again

I’ve written before on this blog about the excellence of Kathy Pimlott’s poetry – a review, here, of her first Emma Press pamphlet Goose Fair Night (2016). Kathy’s second pamphlet, Elastic Glue (2019), was just as good, and contained several poems concerning the gentrification of her neighbourhood of Covent Garden and Seven Dials in central London.

I was therefore delighted to be able to attend the launch, on Wednesday at the lovely setting of Phoenix Garden, of Kathy’s first full collection, The Small Manoeuvres, published by Verve Poetry Press and available to buy here. It was a very enjoyable evening, which included Kathy reading some of the fine poems in the book.

Like the two pamphlets, the poems in The Small Manoeuvres are full of Kathy’s clear-eyed perceptions, a palpable sense of social justice, deep respect for family, friendship (especially amongst women), history and memory, and finely-drawn character studies. They are, in the best way, very readable poems, without any irritating tricksy-bollock nonsense. For these reasons, Kathy is among my very favourite contemporary poets.

Matthew Paul, On Kathy Pimlott

Diabetes has not defined the speaker but it is part of who she is and managing it has forged the adult she has come to be. Her achievements have not come despite her diabetes but because of its successful management.

“Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic” is a contemplative journey from childhood to adulthood of life with type 1 diabetes. Sarah James has a compassionate ear, she never turns to self-pity even when being mocked or describing the sense of unfairness at being disabled: having plans go awry or letting people down because of her diabetes. It’s a journey through acceptance and learning to live with its consequences through powerful, thought-provoking poems.

Emma Lee, “Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic” Sarah James (Verve Press) – book review

In his recent book Singer Come from Afar, Kim Stafford suggests the difference between great poems and important poems has something to to with the occasion of their relevance. He says important poems “are utterances written as a local act of friendship or devotion, and given to a person, shared at an occasion, or performed in support of a cause.” Such a poem may later be considered a great poem, though more often would be relegated to the status of “an expendable artifact of the moment.” Framing poems as expendable artifacts does seem accurate in many regards. A page, that can be burned or shredded; an oral performance, uttered into time and lost thereafter; a digital event, that can be corrupted or invisibly archived in the “cloud”–those fragments and unfinished pieces we let languish and eventually discard. Perhaps important to us once, these poems are ephemera.

Stafford’s recent collection celebrates the local and the relevant, even the immediate, at the risk of not being lasting, whatever that may mean. Published in 2021, the book includes a selection of pandemic-related poems, many of which appeared on his Instagram feed @kimstaffordpoetry. Few of these poems are “great” in the literary sense, in my opinion, but that doesn’t mean they are not worthy of publication; this reader appreciates the urgency in the pandemic poems, the need to connect with others sharing the predicament of “social distancing.” We should not ignore the value of local, person-centered poems, narratives of the everyday. Not every human interaction requires epics, and really–the majority of contemporary poems address the small important events and metaphors that sometimes resonate with larger aims. My own work tends that way, so I’m not one to talk about greatness.

Besides, there are a couple of poems in Stafford’s book that will hold up well to literary explication, poems I have already enjoyed re-reading, such as “Chores of Inspiration” and “Do You Need Anything from the Mountain” with its lines “Bring me that skein of fire/that hangs in intimate eternity, after//the dark but before the thunder, when/the bounty of yearning in one cloud/reaches for another…”

I guess each of us has the capacity to evaluate what it is we consider important and what we consider great. I happen to like the bounty of yearning in Kim Stafford’s clouds.

Ann E. Michael, Important

ND Poet Laureate — 1995 until his death April 28, 2022

While much has been and will be said about this remarkable poet/writer, his ability to be intensely present will be his legacy for me – and a personal reminder to carry that forward in my life. He gave 100% of himself to the conversation or the moment. Like when he said to me, “Sit on this side. That’s my good ear and I want to hear everything you say.” In a world overrun with too many distractions, let’s agree to always give others our good ear and be intensely present.

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Honoring the Memory of Larry Woiwode

Out of the corner of my eye, and not on the syllabus, a small green book, left lying around under ash by Squirrel. I ask to borrow it, take it everywhere. Poems that take my breath away. Wishing I had done him and not Ted Hughes.Poems I have been waiting all my life to read, falling head over heels instantly, insanely. That vase. Somewhere becoming rain.

And now this. A wasted first year, a disappearing act in the second, playing catch-up in the third, just as I realise this might mean something. Mrs Dalloway. To the Lighthouse. Jacob’s Room.

Their greenness is a kind of grief. Oh yes. Like something almost being said. Chatting up Molly at the end of year drinks, Dutch courage mixed with fear, knowing it would come to nothing. Having wanted to say something for three years. Always in the row just behind. The almost cutting through me. Words at once true and kind. Greenness. Grief. A lesson in almost. And now the future.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: The Trees, by Philip Larkin

One thing that took my mind off of the abscess/root canal business was that my author questionnaire for BOA was due on my birthday, and then the finished draft of my manuscript of Flare, Corona was turned in a half-hour before my root canal a few days later. (I knew I wouldn’t be up to much the rest of that day, because they give me some anesthesia – Versed – for the root canal that doesn’t take away pain but does make your memories fuzzy and makes you very sleepy the rest of the 24-hour period. Also keeps you from flinching as much when they’re trying to drill your teeth.)

I’d been working on the book since its acceptance, so there wasn’t much left to do: shifted some poems around, updated the acknowledgements, added a couple of newer poems, and had my mom proofread for obvious grammar/spelling issues, and sent it off to my editor at BOA. Now I just have to wait for edits – exciting! You may think: “Jeannine, isn’t it awfully early to be thinking about your book which is slated for release in spring/summer 23?” But no, it’s really not! My next steps include finding good cover art and starting to collect blurbs!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Root Canal Birthday Week, Work on My Upcoming Book, and Talking about Timing and Poetry Submissions

got my voice back
it was there all the time
one has to be phlegmatic
and curtail your expectorations

the swim to cure my cold killed me
the swim to kill my cold cured me

acute coryza is such a violet word
don’t you think

Jim Young, cold comforts

I’m working on the premise of circa 25 poems will make it in. The current list is at 27, with four more backups. There is so much to do, each one will need its tyres kicking to make sure it’s as strong as it could be, even the more recent ones where I think my writing has improved.

They’ve all got to earn their place, so after (or is it before) the above there’s the process of seeing how they talk to each other. Do I want sections? It’s sort of loosely fallen into 3 sections so far, but are they something to be called out? It seems like overkill in a pamphlet to me, but who knows if that will change? Do I need a theme? No, I don’t think so as yet. Not least because that probably means more poems need to be written and at the current rate of knots I wouldn’t be ready for 3023, let alone next year. Also, as much as I love a themed collection, it can get a bit samey. I don’t have a theme as yet, so it would be forced.

I’ve just reviewed a debut pamphlet by someone where the work seems to either have been written circa 2008ish (at least when it was first published somewhere) or more recently during lockdown, etc (based on the themes of the poems). I can’t tell which poems fell between those dates, but it feels like an old-fashioned debut of the best poems you have available in the best order and that is just absolutely dandy with me.

There will be loads more prevarications, changes, questions, pacing up and down, heavy drinking (not essential, but I like it) and the like to come, but this feels like day one, a marker in the sand, etc.

Mat Riches, The work starts here…

What is it to be a “Southern” poet? Is it merely where you were born? Is it what you write about, or a style of writing?

Let’s say someone lives most of their life in California, and moves to Tennessee. How long before they can call themselves “Southern”?

With all of our moving, I feel a bit displaced as a writer. When I first began writing, I would solidly claim to be a Southern, mid-south poet, but now, when I type out my current address on a submission, I wonder what I can really claim.

How do you define regional poetry? By the poet being from there, currently living there, or writing about the place?

Renee Emerson, What makes a Southern writer “Southern”?

Somewhere around 2010, I taught a class in our four-week May term on writing poetry in forms. One project we did together: after reading more serious haiku and renku, my students had to staff a public booth and write haiku on commission in exchange for donations to the local foodbank. This involved interviewing clients about the messages they wished to send; composing custom haiku based on the interviews; and transcribing them on pretty postcards the clients could send to whomever they wished. To give my students practice in advance, I had them interview me about my mother, and I sent their haiku to her in time for Mother’s Day.

To my amazement, my mother wrote haiku back to my students (English 205). I spotted the sheet earlier this year but wasn’t in any frame of mind to reread them, so I resolved I would pull them out for Mother’s Day 2022. It feels uncanny to hear her voice in them now. She references my daughter dying her hair blue at thirteen; after returning to blondness for more than a decade, my twenty-five-year-old daughter has recently gone blue-haired again. The Lydia in the last verse was my daughter’s closest friend then (I have no idea about “handsome poopface.”) The “cheeky, cheeky boy” is my son Cam (twenty-one and still cheeky).

My mother was a reader, not a poet, other than on this occasion (as far as I know). I’m grateful to have this gift now and smiling as I remember how she upstaged me every Mother’s Day after my kids were born–phoning early to wish ME happy Mother’s Day before I managed to call her.

Lesley Wheeler, My mother’s haiku

We all came from mothers: we have something in common.
Our first act almost unspeakable 
hurtling towards bright lights, causing our Other shrieking pain.
Mothers let us off the hook — 
it wasn’t really our fault —
the pea-green stuff was cleared off, we sucked from the core of the earth,
nestled, smiled, were cutely dressed, learned the Hula hoop, read Nietszche, 
or learned to shoot, worked EMT 
or spent years shooting hoops, opened a laundry

How ridiculous the way life steps in to scatter one ur-motherhood story
it cannot be mastered
as every “birth plan” and over-imposition will veer off course

Let each birth be
or not  
as it wants 

Jill Pearlman, The Howl of Motherhood

Today is Mother’s Day, and I’m thinking about my mother-in-law who passed away this year on April 1, just a week after her 88th birthday.

She spent so many holidays and other visits at my house, and although I would not say she was like a second mother to me, she was a positive presence in my life, and she imparted her tidbits of elder wisdom to me and our family over the years.

At the end of yoga class yesterday my teacher wished us a happy Mother’s Day, and I responded that I wanted to wish her a special day, too, because even though she never gave birth to a child, she has nurtured me and many others over the years as her spiritual children.

I’ve tapered off the anti-depressants that I’ve been taking since my youngest son was three months old. For almost thirty years I’ve been on one kind of SSRI or another, all stemming from severe post partem depression and then ensuing trauma.

Maybe because I’m off the meds, a certain kind of pervasive sadness has returned. I’m trying to work my way through the fatigue and mild anxiety in the hopes that my body will re-learn to regulate itself and I can learn how to let these moods come and go without latching onto the idea that I need the SSRI to cope. Thirty years on these meds is a long time. I want to give my body a chance to heal on its own.

What helps me is going to yoga class with my beloved teachers, listening to guided meditations, and being outside under the wild waving trees who stand sentinel over my garden, these oaks and pines that quiver with nonjudgmental aliveness. And tea. Tea steeped in my MIL’s pot.

Christine Swint, Mother’s Day and the Blues

Thanks to “Range,” the book I reviewed in last week’s post, I recently made the astonishing discovery that in 18th century Venice, there was a famous orphanage called the Ospedale della Pietà (Orphanage of Pity) that became known for producing some of the world’s most accomplished female musicians. For some reason, I was captivated by the detail that outside of the orphanage, there was a stand of drawers. If a baby was small enough to fit into a drawer, it could be left there, and when the drawer was closed, a bell would go off and one of the nuns would come and collect the baby. Many of the babies left there were born of ladies of ill repute, but some were illegitimate children born to members of royal families. The story of how the orphanage developed their young musicians is fascinating, but not as interesting to me as pondering how many times a day that bell rang. I imagine early-morning misty Venetian skies, the mournful sound of the bell, and the mother scuttling furtively away, her figure hidden in a bonnet and voluminous skirt. There is a whole other story to be told there aside from the virtuoso musicians.

Kristen McHenry, Bells of Venice, Latent Strategist, Too Far In

Welcome to the Sunday edition of the pig and farm report. It is bloody cold out here on the island 41° this morning. My lilacs refuse to open my herb garden looks like the saddest bit of vegetable you find in the bottom of your refrigerator bin in autumn and forget about planting tomatoes those ruby beating hearts. Still it is unbearably beautiful when the sun shines and the rain makes my yard smell like the most intense lovely day you can imagine from camp in utter girlhood. Bunnies are still hopping about deer still play statue in the yard and the rhododendrons that grow everywhere in my yard carry on voracious and bright. Spring continues in spite of wool trousers cashmere sweaters heavy blankets and the propane fire blazing from dawn until bedtime not to mention snuggly cats. 

Today is difficult for me. The echo of mother precious mother that is everywhere today strikes my ear as vinegar my mother being the sort of person to prove that just because you can procreate doesn’t mean you should. I guess that’s all I have to say about it but those who know know and those who don’t carry on believing that we all had brilliant loving parents. I did go to the grocery this morning and the smell of flowers and guilt for sale at every cash register was palpable. I listened to John Lennon wailing on my car radio on the way home. Maybe all my dials really have flown off. 

That’s it for today. Look how beautiful my front yard is blazing in frozen sunlight.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Why her mouth always twists
every question into a story. Why the story
wants to pull out everything that is past.
Why the past can’t seem to figure out
it’s only a difference in the SIM card, if at all.
Why all the data in a chip cannot house the world.
One type of world wants to be touched, but never
tasted. Another is entirely made by a frenzy of moths.
Why the paper doll lost its hat, traveling in the mail.
She doesn’t know how to tell the mother
who made her that she will likely never arrive.
The other mother is more like her. She is faithful
to the one script still legible in her mind.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Causative

In this dream I gallop, trot, and prance. Yes, that’s right. Actual prancing. It feels good to be a fast horse. In another dream I was a moose, and in still another I was a dog. There may not be an exact explanation, but there is this – it always feels pretty good. Excellent. In this dream I am a fast horse, moving swiftly across a grassy prairie. The bright sunshine is warm and fine on my back, and when I awake I see the saddle and bridle waiting silently beside my bed.

James Lee Jobe, In my dream I have somehow become a fast horse.

Every morning, the sun manages to find our one good vein, and delivers its dose of roaming gold.

Radiant blood enriches the senses. Dharma oxygen feeds the foolish heart.

Call us dream addicts, jonesing for the promise of another day.

Joy’s ever-wandering junkies searching for that shimmer of clear calm beyond the bottle, bullet, or bad decision.

Lift our bones into the light, their carbon hopes shining.

This life, this love.

When we’re ash, glue us into the book of good intentions.

Rich Ferguson, Roaming Gold

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 16

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, a very full digest (urp!) with all the great themes in play: love, death, time, war, NaPoWriMo, etc. I’m a little sad that there’s only one more week of April!


before coffee or cricket before
the bullfrog’s unholy racket
just a book a cat staring at me
with her bright constellations
and my wrist’s constant throb
it is in this quiet that I remove my
head arrange it among corn
flowers and baby’s breath
in the florist’s refrigerated
case breathe the promise
fragrance of gardenias in boxes
rose cramped arrangements
elephant shaped vases for the ill
I’ll return for you at nine
I tell my empty skull
don’t worry I tell my blue
blue eyes I’ll always come back
I lie without blinking and close
the soft fleshy door

Rebecca Loudon, April 20.

Dear Camilla,

Fingers crossed this letter finds you in good health and still enjoying poetry!

I’m afraid I can’t quite remember your face from my reading at the New Park Centre four years ago, though I do just about recall resisting a dodgy joke about the royal family while checking the spelling of your name and signing your brand-new copy of The Knives of Villalejo. However, I’ve been thinking about you a lot these past few days, ever since my friend spotted that very copy at the Oxfam shop in Chichester last week and whizzed a photo of it over to me.

On the one hand, I hope you enjoyed it and then passed it on, rather than regretting your purchase. And then, of course, I hope that you yourself chose to give it to Oxfam. Far too many books in charity shops are from personal libraries that have been dispersed by relatives (see my blog post about Peggy Chapman-Andrews from a few years back).

And on the other hand, I’m writing to thank you for granting me this poetic rite of passage: the first time my book has been spotted at a charity shop. I’m pleasantly surprised not to feel annoyed at all that it might have been discarded. Instead, I’m excited to wonder about the prospective new life it’s been granted. As soon as I get back to Chichester, I’ll be popping in to the Oxfam shop to find out whether it’s found another owner.

In other words, I’m proud of joining the ranks of the charity shop poets. I’ve always loved second-hand books, and my collection’s now among them! For that, Camilla, I’ll always be grateful to you.

All the best,

Matthew Stewart

Matthew Stewart, A letter to a reader

iii.
After salt, tap water
tastes almost sweet, still
like nothing, flavored
with memory more
than with anything.

iv.
From the living room,
giggles (cat like tread,
is everybody
here?), the playlist faint
and set on repeat.

PF Anderson, 5 Answers

I wanted to write about writing about being in love. I thought I could write something grateful and insightful and intelligent. It turns out I can’t. In the end you simply have to sit down and do it and let it be what it will. This I learn from the to and fro of Kim Moore and Clare Shaw egging each other on to stick to their NaPoRiMo challenge via Facebook. They are each distracted by children or by work or by tiredness and still they do it. A couple of days ago each of them posted a piece for which the prompt was the challenge to write a love poem. […]

And that was the year
I made you paper hyacinths in a paper box
painted with hyacinths , and a poem for its lid.

I suppose I was thinking of cruel months
and hyacinth girls, and unexpected rains.
I was thinking of surprises. I was not thinking at all.
I was in love, and in various ways I am, still,
and thinking how we have assembled things around us
and cannot bring ourselves to throw away anything.
These cards, those bits of ribbon, these fragments.

John Foggin, Words of love

April 21st (Thursday just gone) was World Curlew Day. Curlews (or Eurasian Curlews to give them their full name) are one of my favourite species, but sadly are in steep decline. In the last few years, they’ve disappeared from a couple of areas where they previously bred on my old local patch, and the news isn’t generally good elsewhere. Related species such as Whimbrel also face pressures, and of course the Slender-billed Curlew has effectively gone extinct within the last 20 years.

All of which means World Curlew Day is a thoroughly good thing. One thing I learned on Thursday was that the date was chosen, according to the Welsh Ornithological Society, as it’s the feast day of the 6th century Welsh saint Beuno, who blessed the birds and said that they should always be protected. That sort of thing is a bit of a recurring theme with Dark Ages saints – St Cuthbert, for example, was supposed to have protected Eiders, and was also tended to by Ravens and Otters, among others.

Among other things, St Beuno is supposed to have been to have been so appalled to hear the English language being spoken that he went as far west as he could (the Llyn Peninsula) to found a monastery and get away from the uncouth Germanic invaders. I wrote a poem about it, that appeared in my second collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica.

PS I’ll try to post the poem some time soon, but I’ve mislaid my copy of the book. 

Matt Merritt, World Curlew Day

Joseph Bathanti’s new poetry collection Light at the Seam, published by LSU Press during Lent, could not have arrived at a more propitious, or more precarious, time in our lives. Though we have just retraced, in faith, Christ’s journey to death and still behold in wonder His mysterious rebirth, we remain threatened by ruinous instruments of our own making; amid what we take for granted, air and water, birds and game, the earth that feeds us, we are too often oblivious to how the “[s]undial / casts its shadow on the hour” (“Sundial, West Virginia”). We have forgotten our charge to be caretakers of daylily and webworm, thistle and Queen Anne’s lace, snake and vole, “whole kingdoms of. . .whirring ethnographies of insects” (“The Assumption”).

Fundamentally a personal response to, even an indictment of, Appalachia’s coal industry and the destruction that continued mining wrecks upon the Appalachian landscape, a place “almost Heaven— / but decidedly not heaven” (“Limbo”), Light at the Seam is, ultimately, a gesture toward resilience, renewal, and hope.

The collection comprises four aptly named sections whose religious connotations are deliberate: The Assumption, The Windows of Heaven, Limbo, and Light at the Seam. These sections suggest not only only glorious beginnings and hard endings but also the in-between “imaginal phase” (“My Mother and Father”) of the likely or inevitable, be it disastrous runoff and floods, clouds of powdered coal that catch the air on fire (“Oracle”), slurries streaming toward once-pristine rivers in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, or the simple sign “No Trespassing / [that] impends / a large red / caution” (“Keyford”). Bathanti sources in these sections the workings of both the human and the Divine, drawing unmistakable contrasts: between the beauty on earth, where [f]ireflies torch the night” and “flowers shrive, and prick eternity” (“Blessed Thistle”), and the ugliness of mountain-top removal that renders a creek “sick // green-brown in slabs of sunlight— / dull as a gorged serpent” (“Postdiluvian: Mingo County, West Virginia”); between the holding of Creation as sacred, and therefore ever-lasting, and the ill-served-taking by humans by authority and assumption, “men [not] beholden / to words on a page” (“Sentences”) who exact what’s “beyond our ken” (“Boar”); between the clarity of witness and the dark acknowledgment of our “sin black as bituminous” (“Glad Creek Falls”); between loss and the possibility of regeneration. No matter the place named, whether Mingo County, West Virginia, or Dubois, Pennsylvania, how we “look upon the earth” (“Floyd County, Kentucky”), the poet indicates, is how we map our fate and our future. But, “make no mistake: // you are permitted entry through grace” (“Daylily”), the poet reminds us, adding, “Life is more than fable, // but never stops stunning earth” (“April Snow”).

Maureen E. Doallas, Joseph Bathanti’s ‘Light at the Seam’ (Review)

On the screen, the men abduct the women willingly into sailboats and helicopters and Yves St Laurent dresses. They emerge immaculate from baths scented like money and lavender. Honey in their voices, the way they hold their coffee til it goes cold. The neat fold of their sweaters in drawers. The author’s inheritance was a patch of weeds in a meadow surrounded by smokestacks and rusted out cars. The author’s inheritance was worry, that slipped into her bed each night like a cat beneath the covers.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #22

and do you find
you asked after
the first bottle
(hesitantly because
this reunion shared
only the fumes
of a maybe past)
that tears come
more readily
these days?
oh yes i agreed
barely a day
goes past without
you looked
into your glass
lachrymae rerum
you pronounced
man’s relentless
cruelty to man
as the default state
and far too long
of trudging that
same old road
more like riding
that same old train
i said
only this time
it’s terminus bound
with only the last
few stations to come
ah
our waterloo
you smiled
kings cross for me
i said
and we laughed
earlsfield
you declared
potters bar
i countered
vauxhall
you intoned
finsbury park
i whispered
and we laughed
to tears
as we used to laugh
back when the line
stretched far ahead
and impatience grew
as each platform
glided to a halt
and we yearned
for the turnstiles
and the streets beyond

Dick Jones, stations

I eat my toast and look at a news website.
It says twelve hundred homeless people died in Britain in 2021.
The reporter writes of the homeless problem.
The homeless are not the problem.
The system that makes them homeless is the problem.
The people who make the system are the problem.
I see somebody has decided April will be National Poetry Month.
I click on the link. National Poetry Month would not be possible
without the support of our sponsors.
It lists them.
On twitter two poets complain they are suffering from PPD,
which apparently stands for Post-Publication Depression.
On the TV news it’s time for sport.
I hear the phrase A rain-affected day in the cricket,
switch off.

Waiting.
It will take our new friends twelve or thirteen hours to reach the border.
Train stations are sometimes bombed.
I have their photographs, open the folder and look at them
smiling, not knowing.

Bob Mee, WAR POEMS

I’ve lived an interesting life and have often been asked if I was planning to write a memoir. The events that seem to be of interest to others are sometimes personal (getting kicked out of high school, having an illegal abortion, delivering my son in a hotel room in Kabul Afghanistan, losing my best friend to AIDS), sometimes political (protesting the American war in Vietnam, being tear gassed by police at Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, running a feminist abortion clinic, being a member of ACT UP NY, co-founding a lesbian press). I always deflect the question. I’ve told the story of the birth of my son many times, but something always rang untrue in the telling. If you read memoir or listen to true stories as spoken on The Moth Radio Hour, there is always a central drama and some sort of resolution; it may be something learned or revealed; settled or accepted; reconciled or forgiven; avenged or rejected. The problem I faced was that I couldn’t name the central drama in my life’s story, so how could it possibly be reconciled? I write, but I’ve always hidden my sadness in poems, not in stories.

So, when it revealed itself, it was as if my entire life needed to be rewritten. The event that encumbered me, that I didn’t tell—or spoke of rarely—was losing custody of my son to his father when he was five. Facing that fact now, trying to undo the effects of the shame I have carried for decades, has made it possible for me to want to tell this story. A story with an omission in it is a story untold. And yet the omission itself, once revealed, is only a small part of the story.

Risa Denenberg, Coming Out of Hiding

It’s too late to become a philosopher. I don’t have the stamina now to do mountains of difficult reading. I’ll have to accept — as I never did, as a reader of literature — secondary sources and summaries, watered-down versions adapted to the meanest understandings. Well, bring it, then. I’m not reading the complete works of Kant and Heidegger at this time of my life. But I may need to know something, at least, about what they meant. I don’t aspire to be a figure of any sort, literary or philosophical — which is all to the good — but I still aspire to understand: I still aspire to live a life that might mean something. I still aspire to take a bit of the edge off my own suffering, and other people’s, in whatever way I can.

It’s not just reading, of course. It’s practicing. It’s meditation, contemplation, prayer, visualization. Mushrooms. Being a damned fool, or even a blessed one. And it’s writing poetry, and possibly even making art.

I don’t see what else I can do, honestly. It’s no just that there’s no other path forward. There’s also no path back. 

Dale Favier, No Path Back

If, as you wrote, to die is truly                         to become invisible,

then perhaps                     this isn’t possible. A dram of single malt,

the waves of which                               

have crashed. These poems, carved                  from bread and butter,

shorelines, secrets             , tundra                   : something brittle,
ancient                    , deeply human. Stone                

as old as wine.

rob mclennan, Requiem for Steven Heighton

The first thing I thought of when I saw that the Russians had attacked Lviv was Adam Zagajewski’s poem “To Go to Lvov.”  In fact, the only things I know about Lvov/ Lviv come from his poems, and from his prose  book Two Cities, about Lvov and Gliwice.  Zagajewski was just a few months old when his family was forced to leave Lvov, a beautiful old, cultured town, a World Historical Site, for Gliwice, an industrial German city traded to Poland at the end of World War II.  Zagajewski’s family kept the city they’d had to leave alive with stories, and the poet absorbed their vision:  “My grandfather, despite walking right next to me in Gliwice, was in Lvov. I walked the streets of Gliwice, he walked the streets of Lvov.”  This in turn made me think of poems where place looms large–real places like Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, Frank O’Hara’s New York City, Alice Oswald’s Dart, about the river.  But I also think of wholly imaginary places, like Xanadu in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” or Dante’s vision of Hell in the Inferno, or the metaphorical ship in Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck. And then the places in between–actual places summoned up in memory, like Zagajewski’s Lvov.  The place could be as small as a room or a garden, as large as a city or mountain range or ocean–Frost’s “Once By the Pacific.”

Sharon Bryan, Poems of Place

a moose came out of the woods and
stepped on my heart, yes
a moose, horns like driftwood oaks
came out of the forest and
stepped on my heart
a moose or maybe an elk hard to tell
given my position and the fact that
the moon was radiant, glowing, but
behind clouds and I was lying down
curled in fetal position and
holding my head in my hands

Gary Barwin, a moose came out of the woods and stepped on my heart, yes

Robert Fillman: Thank you, Meghan, for taking a moment to chat with me about your ambitious debut collection, These Few Seeds, which I loved! The book covers a lot of ground—Brooklyn, London, Greece, California, New England, Texas—was your intention to evoke place (and a range of places) when you set out to write this collection? Or did you have some other governing principle in mind? 

Meghan Sterling: It is a whirlwind, isn’t it? A big part of my life has been traveling the world—it was actually in Peru that I decided to have my daughter. As my first collection, I wanted to give it the breadth of my life, all that came before that delivered me to my daughter, as it were, that made me the person who could be her mother, who could mother at all. Traveling also gives me a broader sense of grief about what we are losing to climate change. And she may not take after me, but if she does, I hope she can travel a world that still has sacred and pristine spaces.

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

Two deer coming down out of the woods
each foot a needle sewing

footprints to the dew.
Two Roe adults the colour

of last year’s leaves,
picking through the headstones

gentle as mist

Wendy Pratt, Twelve

Unfortunately, the Monday after our celebratory Easter weekend, I was due for a long-postponed brain and spine scan. I always feel a little wonky after brain MRIs – sinus infection? magnetic allergies? – and so I was a little down and out this last week. I also found out some good news (no new brain or spine lesions) but also a little bad news – a thyroid node pressing on my jugular vein and carotid artery I need to have an ultrasound on, and terrible degenerative disc disease in the neck, which I guess is why my neck hurts all the time – as well as a pinched nerve. That’s how it always is, right? As we get older – a little good news – my MS hasn’t gotten any worse – with a little bad news – age related arthritis in the neck, something I need further testing on the thyroid (which, let’s face it, my thyroid has been wonky since I was a teen.) The funniest part of the test was the front desk person, as she was handing me my MRI on disc, said to me “Your hair is the same color as the cherry blossoms – you have to take a picture with them!” So I did.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, National Poetry Month, MRIs and Upcoming Birthdays and Publications, and Signs of Spring

I walked streets
past closed shops
stood on the beach

the wind raised waves of fine sand
until it combined with the rain
to send us all indoors again

the cracked pavement
a broken mirror
reflecting the street lights up to the stars

Paul Tobin, BETTER DAYS

I’ll write more about the retreat later. I am trying to get ahead with both grading and seminary work, since I do have an appointment with a hand surgeon on Thursday, and I don’t want to get too far behind. We are at the end of the semester for both my teaching and my seminary student work. When this semester started back in January, I worried about the new Omicron variant, and I worried that my job might keep me from being successful with my classes.  A broken wrist was not on my radar screen of things to worry about. I am aware that I often worry about possible negative developments only to be blindsided by something else. Breaking that habit of worrying about the future may take more years than I have left.

Again I realize I am very lucky. I am grateful for the voice recognition that I have with my version of Word, for example.  I am grateful to be able to be at this retreat, broken wrist and all.

Kristen Berkey-Abbott, Broken Wrist Woes and Gratitude

I was told little girls don’t howl like banshees. They don’t go around with messy hair and dirty ragamuffin faces. They say please and thank you. They keep their elbows off the table.

I heard for goodness’ sake, stop harping about not being hungry. There are plenty of children in the world who would be happy for what you’ve got. Don’t get smart with me, you know you can’t share your supper with them. You will clean your plate, missy, before going back outside. No need to panic because your friends are waiting. And no hiding food in your napkin. If you think that will work you’ve got another think coming. That’s quite enough backtalk from you.

Not till I’m grown do I learn:

Banshee comes from my Irish kin, meaning a female fairy or woman of the elves.

Ragamuffin comes from Ragamoffyn, the name of a demon in a 14th century poem.

To harp comes from harpies, winged half-human half-bird creatures in Greek mythology representing hungry wind spirits who steal food.

Happy comes from my Nordic kin, from heppinn (fortunate) and hap (luck).

Panic is related to sudden terror when woodland god Pan lets loose fierce cries, causing enemies to flee and saving his embattled friend.

I am glad to live for goodness’ sake. But hair messy, elbows on the table, I fly beyond what I used to call remembery, toward a world where another think is, indeed, coming.

Laura Grace Weldon, Backtalk

It was in the golden hills that I stopped holding your death in my arms. Your corpse, my soul. Where one stopped, the other began, fifteen years passed that way. In dreams you would come to me, miserable, suffering. And as you could not explain your life to me when you lived, you could not explain your death. Why you embraced it so. Was death the key to your cell? 

In the golden hills that I stopped holding your death in my arms. I walked along the Yuba River for miles. Purdon Crossing, Edwards Crossing, and I left the trail and went down to the water, and there I covered your death with rocks. I balanced one rock on top of another. And again. And again. And I climbed back up to the trail and left your death behind me. 

It was in the golden hills that I stopped holding your death in my arms. And that was years ago, over thirty years now since you swallowed the pills with vodka. Your corpse, my soul, for so long they have gone their own ways. You, in the light. Me, in the world. I’m just on the edge of getting old. And I like it, Cathy. I still like life. 

-for Cathy Kochanski, 1954-1983 

James Lee Jobe, the suicide of Cathy Kochanski

how it is to be
deep in league with the plants
incessant rain

Jim Young [no title]

I confess to the usual nerves about whether all this would line up right. I know the tone of book promotion is supposed to be all yay-yay-gratitude-everything’s-going-dreamily–a beautifully produced book is a really lucky thing. It’s also a really frigging hard thing: to plan, to write, to revise revise revise, to find a publisher and revise again. Then tossing the published book at the world so that it produces even a tiny guppy-size splash is hard. I find myself riding peaks and troughs. Just so it’s clear, I spend way more time fighting anxiety and inertia about this promo stuff than feeling triumphant.

This week I read the tarot cards on the future of the book and they told me, eh, false starts, disappointment, it won’t go as you hoped. I then did a consolation reading next about something lower stakes–how about my May trip to Budapest?–and they said wow, amazing, the world (literally The World) is at your feet! Um, thanks, cartomancy.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry’s Possible Worlds for pre-order–so there, Three of Cups reversed!

Forget the vowels. Speak only
in consonants. Thick-soiled
like freshly plowed earth,
thick-soled & thick-souled.
Forgive me. I held a word
all morning like a limp-necked
bird in my hand. Would
that it drank. That it opened
its one lidless eye. That it sang.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMO Day 19, 2022

“Ambiguity is the world’s condition.…As a ‘picture of reality’ is it truer than any other.  Ambiguity is.”  So says Charles Simic.

In that spirit, I submit spring.  Yes, spring is a bouquet pulled and given from the dark dead closet of winter by a surprise lover — and yes, spring is a wide sky of clotted clouds and warty trees.  Yes, canopies of white cherry blossoms making the city street into a wedding lane, and yes, wondering if those branches that scratch the blue sky are dead or slow or what?  

Yes to bemuda shorts and flipflops, yes to down vests with down parkas.  Yes to breath-scented bacchanalia; yes to depletion and childhood colds that repeat every season.  

Yes to People of the Book celebrating religious holidays like overlapping dinner plates; yes to fractricidal wars.  Yes to moral imperatives that command and consume us; yes to the audaciousness of hope.  Yes to too much, yes to breath.  

Jill Pearlman, Ambiguity, Thy name is Spring

The ears, two snails stuck out of habit
on either side of the head. The nose,

windbreak in a field no longer at war with
itself. Declension of the chin that in the past

rested too long in the bowl offered by the hand.
Citadel of shoulders from which no doves

cry at twilight. The knobs on the back
which at night still flutter toward the idea

of wings.

Luisa A. Igloria, Dream of the Body as Strandbeest

The collection ends on a sequence, “Political Poem 2.0”. Part VI,

“I say poetry is
not escapism.

But I had not yet
understood how

to sit at a table and
drink a glass of water,

gratefully,
watching clouds pass.”

Poetry, regardless of the poet’s intent, is often read as autobiographical in a way that fiction isn’t. Whenever the lyrical “I” is used, some readers assume the poet is speaking which isn’t always the case. The opening two lines suggest poems are not read for the reader to escape their lives yet the remainder of the poem undermines this. The reader has not matured to understand how a simple pleasure: stopping for a drink of water and watching, being present in that moment and noticing only what is happening in that moment allows the speaker to temporary ‘escape’ other pressures and concerns. The next poem, VIII, observes a desert hawk,

“For you know
there is neither

beauty nor play
without sustenance,

and nothing, truly
nothing

without water.”

Water is life, both its source and the force that keeps life going.

Thoughout “and then the rain came”, water is literal, metaphorical and sustaining. A force that enables life, weather that revives the natural world and sustenance, not just physical but spiritual and mental. Edward Ragg has created a pamphlet of complementary lyrical and narrative poems linked thematically but experimental in approach, using language as a fluid probe.

Emma Lee, “and then the rain came” Edward Ragg (Cinnamon Press) – book review

I am playing the little game with the flowers.
This one droops to the left.
This one droops to the right.
Another has leaves like bowtie pasta.
Another has leaves like questioning arms.
I match this flower to its companion,
these leaves to their mates across the board.
As each match is made, both halves disappear:
Isn’t that the way of the world?
Eventually even the little filigreed borders are gone;
nothing is left but empty white boxes.
I press Play Again, spawn
another version of the board,
as if I’d never been there.

Jason Crane, POEM: Tiles

When I opened the carton stamped D R I V E on the side and held this carefully-made object in my hands, for the first time, I felt the impact of the oddity of the image, combined with the title, making a poem of the cover. I was holding a poem. Like a parent with several children, who loves each one differently, and who is not supposed to have a favorite (but does), I’m forced to admit that, when it comes to the cover, Drive is mine. And, here’s why. I’ve always wanted a book whose cover makes you to want to pick it up. With Drive I like the feel of the matte finish. The slightly smaller-than-standard width, made to complement the short lines in the poems––the whole glove-compartment-size of the book––makes sense. Katherine Bradford’s artwork invites the reader to reach for the book, to look, and look, again, to ask questions like: what does that airborne woman have to do with the word drive? […]

Among the notable covers of poetry books from last year is Diane Seuss’s, almost unbeautiful Frank: Sonnets. Here is a book whose shape and size fit the poems inside, the width expanded to accommodate the poet’s long lines, the cover is in evocative/provocative conversation with the poems, and the image, personal to the author, to the title, integral to how this happens, making it a perfect cover. I’ll stop there, as the discovery of how this happens is one of the many pleasures to experience in the reading of this book, and a lesson in how to judge (and appreciate) a book by its cover!

Cover Stories: Judging a Book by Its Cover – guest post by Elaine Sexton (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

Sometimes I drag my husband to art-house-y films and when someone asks, “Was it good? Should I go see it?” I hesitate. Yes, definitely good. Also, scarred me for life.

That’s how I feel about this amazing, abrasive, challenging, brilliant book of poems by Diane Seuss. It is like nothing I’ve ever read. Your mileage may vary.

From the back cover: “Every poem in frank: sonnets is an example of the incomparable Seussian Sonnet, where elegy and narrative test the boundaries of the conventional form” (Terrance Hayes). “…an ambitious, searing, and capacious life story. The poems themselves use an ecstatic syntax to unite Seuss’s lyric leaps from one wretched sweetness to another….narratives of poverty, death, parenthood, addiction, AIDS, and the ‘dangerous business’ of literature are irreducible” (Traci Brimhall). In short, it was a little like reading a memoir—bizarre, fragmented, mesmerizing. When I first purchased this book and read a poem here and there, I was missing the point.

I’m trying to pluck out a few sentences to illustrate (but some of these untitled poems, always 14-lines but with unbridled-lengthened-lines, are all one sentence). Maybe this one about her son: “I’d authored him in my bones, he was my allegory, analogy, corollary, mirror, I forged / his suffering, his nail, his needle, his thrill” (p. 66). And, often, provocative statements that I don’t quite know what to do with: “All lives have their tropes over which we have minimal control” (p. 83); “I fell in love with death” (p. 80). Or in a poem beginning, “Thirty-nine years ago is nothing, nothing,” this ending:

I was nothing, I knew nothing then of nothing, its shacks shawled
with moss, its bitter curatives and ancient hags redressing my narratives. (p. 60)

Traci Brimhall sums it up brilliantly: “It’s a book to inhabit, to think alongside, to rage and laugh with, to behold the ways beauty is both a weapon and a relief.”

Bethany Reid, Diane Seuss: Frank

Ana Silvera is a fabulist – a teller of fables. I heard her first on Radio 3’s The Verb on 28 February 2020 and have been haunted ever since by her song Exile, with her own sruti-box (Indian harmonium) accompaniment. It starts one and a half minutes into the broadcast. Tree seeds carried in the mouth – what a strange and potent image. I carried her song in my mouth, and found myself writing new words to the tune. I sent the words to Brittle Star, a magazine that consistently published excellent poetry and prose until about 18 months ago. I was overjoyed to have my song accepted and published.

Ama Bolton, The Fabulist

Coming off
the mountain

I can say things
I cannot say,

the old monk says.
That’s why I go.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (182)

We went to the Peak District for half term, we had a lovely time in among the snow, the wind, the rain (as a Twilight Singers fan I’m now duty bound to link to Feathers, even if I am slightly misquoting the lyrics), but the weather sort of curtailed our outings. This did give me time to complete and submit my review of Stewart Carswell’s first collection, Earthworks, for London Grip. My thanks, as ever, to Michael for taking it and being so quick to publish it.

I really have to start saying no to reviews, but some how I still have 4 to do. I did start another while I was away. It’s only 350 words, and I got half way through and now I think I have to start again. Get on with it, Riches.!!

I woke up to some ace news yesterday, a mag that I have admired for a while have agreed to take one of my poems (pending acceptance of edit suggestions). I am working through their totally sensible suggestions at present, and hopefully it will all be good. I’ve gone from rarely getting editorial feedback to having a fair bit (albeit not massive) of late. I like it, I think. More news on this soon, I hope. No chickens are being counted in the making of this paragraph.

I also had the chance to catch up on some* reading while I was off. I say some, it was nowhere near enough. Every time I finish a magazine, a new one arrives, and that seems to take the place of reading the books that are piling up. It’s not exactly the end of the world though, is it?

Mat Riches, (Inspiring) Carpets

The Italian place I remember
had dark walls, and candles
in cut-glass red votive bowls.
I thought the owner was Polish.

He and my dad were buddies,
talked business, smoked cigars.
I wore black-patent Mary Janes,
drank Shirley Temples, feasted

on baskets of crusty bolillos:
French bread reimagined
into perfect torpedoes
by Mexican hands.

That’s where Dad taught me
how to relish soft-shell crab,
and the names of big wine bottles
like Jeroboam and Methuselah.

All I knew about Methuselah
was that he lived a long time,
maybe forever. I thought
Dad would too.

Rachel Barenblat, Fine Dining

To be clear: Like any love–perhaps, especially, a late-in-life one–it’s not all rainbows and confetti. Every person who’s lived a good chunk of time carries baggage, and unpacking mine has meant coming to new terms with aging and mortality and the passing of time and dreams.

In the past two months, I’ve become grounded in the reality that my body has changed and is changing. That I am going to get old and die. For real. Not in some abstract, “some day” sort of way, but in a concrete, wow-I-can’t-do-things-I-could-do-just-a-few-years-ago sort of way. In my head, I’ve still been mostly the same physical being I was in my mid-30s or so. Sure, I’d gained a few pounds, but I could still do all the same things, right? Ummm, not exactly. Now, in both my head and body, I know I’m not the same physical being I thought I was. (If you want to know how old your body really is, take up a sport you haven’t played since you were a tween. You’ll know, too.)

I know this might sound kind of grim–and I’ve had my moments of feeling fairly terrible about it all–but it’s really not. It’s becoming the foundation for a kind of gratitude I’ve never felt before. Yes, I’m going to die, but I’m not dead yet. A thing I thought was lost to me has come back. (What else might this be true for?) My body has deteriorated, but not so much that I can’t embrace this opportunity. The ladies I skate with tell me I’ve come back just in time; I’m still young enough to regain many of the skills I once had, but if I’d waited even a few more years that might not be the case. For the first time since–well, since about the time I quit skating, really–I’m feeling more gratitude than resentment toward my body.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Becoming a unicorn

Listen to the whirl of guitar & drum riding
on the breeze with whiffs of
The Big River & roast beef po boys
Listen to the rustle & crunch of
people clapping, feet dancing
in a crush of bodies & fun
Watch nimble fingers plucking strings
of steel, hair flying like freedom on fire
Watch an elderly gentleman, dapper
in dark suit & bowler hat, mesmerized
by musicians’ whirl & pop, a whisp
from his cigarette jigging overhead.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo 2022 day 24

The Path to Kindness is another anthology by James Crews, who also put together How to Love the World which I referenced in this post on reading poetry and on always carrying something beautiful in your mind. There’s a line from Danusha Laméris in the intro where she says, “kindness is not sugar, but salt. A dash of it gives the whole dish flavour.” Kindness is connection, and connection is something I think most of us are craving right now. It’s a good book to have on your shelf. I sort of forget who I used to be two years ago, someone who I would have described as a kind person. And this book helps me remember that. It’s also helpful to remember that kindness isn’t sweet or saccharine. It’s salty. […]

The last book in my stack is by Teju Cole: Golden Apple of the Sun. I really admire his book Blind Spot, which I’ve written about before. His latest has been well-reviewed in various places including: in Musée magazine, and Art Agenda. (Worth clicking through to see the photographs). You know I’m always up to read a book about still lifes and this is a good one. The photographs are that lovely balance between studied and unstudied. They feel natural even if they had been quite arranged. There’s just some good breathing in the photographs. A kind of very deliberate calm which is reassuring. They remind me a bit of some photos you see in recent cookbooks, but also not quite, because they’re not trying to sell you on anything other than the shapes and forms, on the experience of enlivening dailiness. If I were to use the word poetic to describe them, it would be the poetry of Derek Walcott, maybe. Precise, in control, but not without humour, not without flourish.

Shawna Lemay, Sustain the Gaze

What if everything we tell ourselves about why we feel a particular emotion at any given moment is nothing more than another story we’ve learned to compose as a way to soothe ourselves? To control one another and keep the world predictable?

Kids wake up happy without questioning their sanity or looking for the reason for it. I know there are some adults who do this, too. I have heard people talk about them and rationalize it by describing these adults as “simple-minded”. Or “special”. Unexplained cheerfulness is definitely anti-social behavior. It makes us giggle nervously. I’m not sure if it is a named archetype, but it should be. (Note to self to look it up when the headache subsides).

What if all art is just an act of unlearning? Resisting. And that our ideas of what poetry is can get in the way of that? What if art should start where we are familiar and then chisel at it until it leaves us speechless. What if instead of giving us more stories related to our own stories, it tears down every story?

What if it is the “made thing” that shows us the artifice in all made things? Even our own stories?

Ren Powell, The Artifice in Made Things & the Pleasure in Dis-Order

I know a woman that can turn a bullet into a church bell.

I know a child that can transform ill will into cotton candy bombs.

I know a man that swears it’s quarter till heaven and half past hell whenever he checks his watch.

I know enough to know I’m not even close to knowing everything.

But I do know that when I refer to my fret hand, I mean the one that plays guitar

instead of the one that worries over the weight of the world.

Rich Ferguson, Fret Hand

Now I rise like a heron in the midnight pond.
My spine is infinite, my bones divine.
Upon re-entry, I find my flesh
intact. It is worshipful, this vessel. Its
storm of neurons, its earthen feet, the prayer of my hips, my
heart’s cauldron. My ribs engorged with grief. My belly a safe house.

I shocked the clocks into obedience. In time, I will rise and
rise again,
come to rest in this spawning ground.

Kristen McHenry, Poem of the Month: The Odyssey