Kristin Berkey-Abbott

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

This week, poetry bloggers were plumbing some pretty deep waters: genocide, dispossession, mothers and children, writing while parenting, the importance of linking and connecting, the rewards of political poetry, the perils of housecleaning, and more. Let’s jump right in.

I’ve thought many times about the line I’ve heard that goes: To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. I didn’t know the attribution, so I looked it up and found a much deeper sense of its contextual meaning. By luck, I came across a delightfully intellectual blog titled Mindful Pleasures, a literary blog by Brian Oard, and read this particular entry which contextualized and interpreted the quote from its original source, Prisms by Theodore Adorno (1903-1969). I was not very familiar with Adorno, but reading a small sampling of his writings today was fascinating; he wrote philosophy that is both relevant to the litanies of domination and suffering in the 20th century, but also prescient to the 21st. [Adorno was a leading member of the Frankfort school and an important contributor to the development of critical theory.]

I can’t pretend to have much more than a tortured history of attempting to read philosophy, attempting to follow arguments to their conclusions, attempting to live in a way that abides by and remains consistent to a core philosophical stance, but I’ve always aspired to.

With gratitude to Brian Oard’s dense but readable blog post, I am excerpting a larger portion from a latter Adorno text:

Perennial suffering has as much right to expression as a tortured man has to scream; hence it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems. But it is not wrong to raise the less cultural question whether after Auschwitz you can go on living–especially whether one who escaped by accident, one who by rights should have been killed, may go on living. His mere survival calls for the coldness, the basic principle of bourgeois subjectivity, without which there could have been no Auschwitz; this is the drastic guilt of him who was spared. By way of atonement he will be plagued by dreams such as that he is no longer living at all, that he was sent to the ovens in 1944 and his whole existence since has been imaginary, an emanation of the insane wish of a man killed twenty years earlier. (Negative Dialectics, 362-363)

Devastating. I can’t deny the ringing truth in this passage and I have had those dreams. I was surprised how–on reading it–I feel that striving to have a strong social consciousness and a true moral compass are worth the struggle, are still crucially important, might even save us.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Mourning

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Ivanka stands clapping — she’s sixty
miles away — while Mnuchin pulls off

the big reveal: the president’s name
writ larger than the thing it dedicates.

We see it all, live, this Nakba, the burning
tires, the streams of tear gas, a baby

grounded, inhaling dirty smoke in Gaza.
Maureen E. Doallas, They Call it ‘A Great Day’

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Sunday afternoon in The Leeds Library… the oldest subscription library in the UK, celebrating its 250th birthday in the most fitting way I can think of. A reading with the poetry legend from Beeston. The scholarship boy who took a long slow-burning revenge on his patronising old English teacher at Leeds Grammar School by writing two Meredithean sonnets. Them and [uz]. A rallying cry for all of us, that remind the world that [uz] can be loving as well as funny. Erudite, sophisticated and articulate, too. I set that alongside another of his lines in National trust

the tongueless man gets his land took.

Tony Harrison read with his trademark relish for the heft and texture of words; it was a Leeds event and he celebrated with lots of his poems about his mum and dad, from The school of eloquence..which are rooted in his personal history and theirs, but which speak for everyone exploited or conflicted by the class appropriations of language, literacy and education. It was joyous.

Tony Harrison. He’s the reason that I ever thought I might write poems (if not poetry). This comes with stories. In 1971 I moved to Newcastle to be a lecturer in a College of Education. When I took my children to school of a morning, there were very few men doing the same, and one of them was a striking figure..lean and handsome in an RAF greatcoat, very Dostoevskian. Eventually, I asked our Julie (5 yrs old) ‘who’s that bloke?’. ‘That’s Max Harrison’s daddy.’ ‘What’s he do, then?’ ”He doesn’t do anything. he’s a poet.’ I’ve dined out on that story, but the point is that though contemporary poetry meant absolutely nothing to me, then, I mentioned this to a colleague, who invited Harrison to come and read to our 3rd Year B.Ed English students, and so it was that I went to my first ever poetry reading. […]

What Tony Harrison did that night was a revelation. Poetry could be angry, political; it could give back a voice to the tongueless, it could be passionate, it could use rhyme and structure and scholarship as a natural part of its rhetoric. It could be funny and sexy. So I was hooked. I still am.
John Foggin, One of [uz]. An afternoon with Tony Harrison

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The repeated rhymes send the poem galloping forward, the pace accelerates as the poem reveals its truth, threatening to slip out of control the way emotions threaten to slip out of control. But then [Chelsea] Dingman regains control of the poem by shifting perspective – the I speaker asks a question “Is this escape for you?” – and by returning again to the controlled syntax of a shorter sentence and by a reducing of the repetition of that aching long a. Whereas in the center of the poem we heard that sound nine times in four lines, in the final nine lines of the poem we hear it six times: escape, blame, plated, frame, ashtray, ache. Like the sound of breath slowing down after a period of excitement, like somebody who had been crying uncontrollably regaining composure. The poem ends with two sentences that are grammatically questions but which function as statements, as a move towards acceptance: “In any homecoming, what can we do but echo & ache? / To leave ourselves as one thing & return as another?”
Jennifer Saunders, “In the Alcoholic’s Apartment, A Time Machine” by Chelsea Dingham

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She is the water drop on a lotus leaf
no grease marks on the stove
clothes folded away, dishes rinsed
on the sink. Being born afresh
is like dying in the right sense.
Uma Gowrishankar, Remembering Mother

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It has been a while since the blue heron
has shown his face, but I know he will return.
And I know my mother will shriek for joy.
She will bounce on her heels like popcorn
in a skillet. She will wave her hands like a flag
in the wind. Everything will become more real
in that moment.
Crystal Ignatowski, No Matter What Time Of Day

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You’ve heard me say before, poetry saved my life. It did. It does.

Reading and writing poetry, both.

I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon.

And because things were difficult for me at home, many of the poems were about family issues.

Family poems felt important to write.

But the hard part was not being able to share them with anyone.

The content of those poems felt shameful. Secrets that needed to be kept. Too dangerous to reveal.
Lana Ayers, Family Poems Are Hard–part 1

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Margot Kidder eased me through rising panic
every Friday at 1 p.m. as I was deposited
on the sidewalk and mother’s car shimmered
like a disappearing mirage, moving bullet time
away from me.

Margot Kidder was Lois Lane.
Feisty, brave, stubborn, in perpetual need of rescue.
Her dark hair, un-PC cigarette dangling,
whiskey voice, in love with the one man
she could never truly have.

Years later, when she had her publicized breakdown,
was found dirty and wandering the streets,
I cried in front of the TV, wishing I could give her
even a fragment of the comfort she gave me
when I was ten and in need of rescue.
Collin Kelley, To Margot Kidder, With Love

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I am not the hero of my poems; I am the villain. This poem is calling out my own bullshit for whenever I say oh, this time will be different, which of course is a myth that tricks women into performing emotional labor and taking on the thankless and pointless task of “fixing” men. What do we give up when we fashion ourselves to be desired? And, what do we sacrifice when we reject those notions and refuse to be this “dream girl?” Does that subject us to anger? Or, are we called bitter and jaded when we refuse to follow this narrative? These are all of the mental gymnastics I had to perform as I was writing this poem. I ask these questions throughout the book, especially as they play out in the conservative landscapes in Midwestern/Southern places that often rely on women fulfilling traditional roles.
Anne Barngrover, interviewed by Jennifer Maritza McCauley on Bekah Steimel’s blog

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I came across this article by physicist Alan Lightman on the TED web site about quiet time/mindfulness. Here’s a small sampling:

Somehow, we need to create a new habit of mind, as individuals and as a society. We need a mental attitude that values and protects stillness, privacy, solitude, slowness, personal reflection; that honors the inner self; that allows each of us to wander about without schedule within our own minds.

I have paid lip service to these values that Lightman writes about for years — since becoming a mother just over thirteen years ago. They became values because I no longer had an easy way to incorporate them into my life. Infants and toddlers do that to you. There’s little stillness, precious little privacy, and solitude only (mostly) when sleeping. They were aspects of being a person that I took for granted when I had them, and missed fiercely once they were absent.

My children aren’t toddlers anymore. My youngest is five and more self-sufficient by the day. She has her own sense of self. Her own need for stillness and even, sometimes, solitude. And yet my children growing older hasn’t created more space for my own stillness, privacy, solitude, slowness, or personal reflection. There’s less. Far less, even. But my children aren’t a cause, at this point, for my lack of that space.

For the past few years, this blog’s tagline has been “a record of panic, parenting, teaching and art-making.” It’s due for a change. In a conversation with A.P. this week, he reminded me that I didn’t grow up, let alone spend the last decade, thinking I wanted to be known as an educator or even an academic. I want, I have always wanted, to be known as a writer.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Reconsiderations, Reversals, Reminders

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The poem writing time usually comes out of my sleep time, and by the end of the month, I am drained and flattened with exhaustion. I do start the poems on the bus in the morning, jot bits and pieces throughout the say, but I don’t get to actual assembly until my son goes to bed and I have clear uninterrupted quiet time. As he gets older, that gets later, and my NaPoWriMo work gets harder and more exhausting each year. Realizing how much easier the strict form made things, I’m debating about perhaps taking on a sonnet redoublé or heroic crown next year. The risk of taking on too much form is that you may lose the emotional drive to write the poems. If they become overly intellectual, they are cute rather than touching, so I’m not sure about this yet. I suspect I’ll be reading a lot more sonnets while I ponder this.

Usually, I write most of my poetry during April, explicitly because of NaPoWriMo. As a single mom of a special needs kid, with a demanding professional career that is most definitely not poetry, it’s … hard. But I have always been a poet and always wanted to be a poet, and turned down a fellowship in a poetry MFA program to go to grad school in a program with a future that would allow me to support my kids on my own. Each year, I want to keep the poems going, and just become too tired. I really want to not drop out this year. I’m thinking I might be able to keep it going if I try to do one poem a week. I’m thinking probably Sundays. So, watch this space, and see if I can do it. Moral support welcomed!!
PF Anderson, On Writing a Month of Sonnets for #NaPoWriMo

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Unintentional Spring cleaning has come to the Typist household of late, but rather than serving to tidy things up, it’s caused widespread chaos. First, there was the aforementioned filing, which I did actually tackle last weekend, causing allergic reactions from an explosion of dust and masses of toxic ink particles released from shredding five year’s worth of old paper. Then….there was the rat. I’m not going to talk about the rat. It’s too upsetting, and it’s currently unresolved. Experts are coming over to assess. I can’t think about it. I’m just ignoring the fact that the contents of our hall closet are currently strewn all over the living room floor and under no circumstances am I to open the hall closet door.

But the big one is our bookshelf. I shall explain: Those Little Free Libraries that are getting popular are now everywhere in my neighborhood, and they’re like catnip to me. I cannot not stop and browse through them when I see one. I also can’t not take a book that I’m interested in. However, I have been violating the Little Free Library social contract by not contributing books as equally as I procure them, or let’s face it—by not contributing at all. The other day Mr. Typist suggested I “pick out a few books to give away” and we could do a Little Library stroll during which I could make good on my debt. I smiled and nodded agreeably in an attempt to hide my rising panic. “Pick out a few books to give away”??? That would be akin to picking out a few of my children to put up for adoption. My books are my precious. I have cultivated a beautiful, and to my mind, pristinely organized collection of poetry tomes and classics, and I could not possibly let go of any of them. “Pick out a few books”, indeed. What a monstrously callous suggestion.
Kristen McHenry (AKA The Good Typist), Spring Entropy, Bartholomew Cubbins Bookshelf, Hoard Denial

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Last year’s house-to-bungalow move necessitated a massive cull of STUFF that I hadn’t so much as glanced at in years. Operation Study took me three days of hard graft, during which time I faithfully reappraised just about every single sheet of paper in the filing cabinet and heaven knows how many ring binders, lever arch and box files. The poetry ones fared much better than a teaching career’s-worth of policies and planning but I decided to keep only those poems I love, or like enough to go back to (at some point…).

Since The Move, I’ve become firmer with myself about what I keep and what I give away. I no longer keep poetry magazines (I do keep contributor copies, though). Instead I pull out and box-file those poems that jump off the page and ‘grab’ me: the timely or current; those I wish I’d written; those that elicit a That’s it! or a fist pump; interesting forms, etc. In turn, I take some of these for discussion at Soundswrite and stanza meetings.
Jayne Stanton, Collecting poems

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Links appeal to me because they mean connection. The interconnectedness of the web parallels the many relationships among human beings, societies, and environmental entities from forest to desert, as well as infrastructural connections from town to city and across waters and the physiological connections that make life in a carbon-based embodiment possible. And neuro-connections that maintain our pulses and our consciousness–without such linkages, what would we be?

Our genetic linkage influences what we look like, what forms of illness or robustness our bodies possess, and the likelihood of carrying those traits to our offspring.

When we link ideas or concepts or theories, the resulting concatenation can be innovative, revelatory, novel–even if the result is a failure, there’s much to learn from trying to solve the puzzles we encounter when putting together unlike things.

Writing a poem, for example, involves such a combinatory effort. Combinatory logic is a mathematical concept but an intriguing metaphor for what poets do when we mash together observations with ideas and emotions and whatever values each writer operates under.
Ann E. Michael, Linkage

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As I was too sick to celebrate on my actual birthday, Glenn invited a couple of friends over for coffee and cupcakes on this last beautiful weekend, and it was great to watch up with all of them. Roz is a fiction writer, Natasha is a poet (and she’s writing a novel) and Michaela is a visual artist and writer, so we had great discussions about art and publishing and I realized how much it helps us as creative folks to hang out with other creative folks. I am also lucky to have such fun and talented friends, seriously. It helps to remember that each of us is part of a community – we are not actually alone in the artistic universe. It can feel that way sometimes.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Celebrating Friendships and Art, Spring Fever The Importance of Perseverance in Poetry & Looking Forward to Skagit Poetry Festival…

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It was time again for my task as first-round reader for a poetry book contest. Once again I approached with self-doubt and angst. Once again, I learned some things to apply to my own work.

The twenty-five or so manuscripts I looked at were uniformly pretty well-written, which tells me that people are taking the time to learn something of the craft of writing (or at least reviewing the rules of grammar) and the art of poetry.

But I found that several of these full-length manuscripts felt more like solid chapbooks with other stuff stuffed in around them. This is interesting and a useful cautionary tale. I need to examine my own current full-length ms to make sure I have truly a full group of good poems and not a core of good ones and some bubble wrap.

A corollary to this is that it seems like collections are getting longer and longer. And I’ve noted in an earlier post that contest rules are asking for mss that are of higher and higher page count. I just don’t think this is a good thing. I want a book of poems to be a small world I live in, roaming around, revisiting streets and vistas. I don’t want to wander forever in strange terrain. Too many times I’ve encountered collections that after a while make me say “Enough already.” This is not good for poetry, already fighting an uphill battle for readers. Too many poems invites too many weak poems. I favor shorter and stronger throughout. Whack ’em with some good stuff and go.
Marilyn McCabe, Another Round of Notes from the First Round

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A review is generally considered to be a critique, or a work of opinion. That’s true for many reviews, whether they are of literature, film, food, or art. The reviewer is out to convince the reader of a particular point of view; i.e., the book was delightful or boring, the film sensational or regrettable, the meal delicious or average, the art shocking or banal.

In the exploratory review, however, the reviewer’s opinion is less important than the potential reader’s experience of the book. In other words, the reviewer is less concerned with convincing a reader of a book’s worth, and more concerned with making the book available for the reader’s own judgment. This process respects the reviewing triad: author, reviewer, and reader.

When I review a book of poems, I’m not looking for something to criticize. As Anjali Enjeti writes in Secrets of the Book Critics, “I’d much rather celebrate a book than criticize it.” This doesn’t mean that I’m some kind of Pollyanna, heaping praise on every book I review. Nor am I aiming for a balance between the two; i.e., “this was bad” but “this was good.” My goal as a reviewer is to pry open a book of poems and let the light out, or dive deeply into the dark.
Erica Goss, The Exploratory Review

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Seeing pictures of people playing golf in the foreground, with the plumes of smoke from the erupting Hawaiian volcano in the background, makes me want to scream, “Get out of there!” Sure, they should be safe. But there were people in 1980 who went camping near the spewing Mt. St. Helens volcano thinking that they’d be safe. But they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the mountain exploded sideways, which no one anticipated.

I’m also thinking about the first case of urban ebola. That’s a bad, bad sign. But at least the actions being taken have been swift.

Still, it’s the kind of news nugget that makes me wonder if at some point, we’ll look back and say, “We were so upset about the latest Trump debacle that we didn’t see ____________.” Readers of this blog know that I’ve spent time preparing/thinking about the wrong apocalypse. I scanned the horizon for mushroom clouds, not seeing the oceans steadily warming and rising.

Of course, history often works in circles, not straight lines. Perhaps all that time scanning the horizon for mushroom clouds are still ahead: I feel fretful about Iran and Israel and North Korea.

In the meantime, I do the work that must be done: teacher observations, annual reviews, buying food for both school and home, paying bills, making dinner, washing dishes, washing clothes–these tasks too run in circles, making me feel that I’m never done.

My creative work, too, feels circular, not linear. I return to the same themes, the same ideas, but execute them in different ways.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Apocalypse and Other Upheavals

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

This week, I found a lot of Poetry Month post mortems, as you might expect. But several other themes emerged, as well, with posts on interdisciplinary influences and collaboration, translation and “envoicing”, spirituality and religion, and the importance of active engagement in the public sphere.

April’s gone, and the rigour of National/Global Poetry Writing Month is over for another year. So how did it benefit me as a writer?

  • The discipline of producing new writing, daily.
  • Motivation to get started and keep going, from a writing community.
  • No shortage of writing prompts to overcome self-imposed barriers/blocks to writing.
  • New and unexpected learning/discoveries from prompt-related web links.
  • Exploring form.
  • Approaching old poem drafts from new perspectives; fresh starts.
  • Unexpected/surprising outcomes.
  • An abundance of material to work on or cherry-pick from.

Jayne Stanton, After NaPoWriMo

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April wasn’t a different month for me in terms of poetry than any other month. I wrote a few poems and sent a few packets out. I got some new ideas for poems, which always makes me happy. I took a purple legal pad to school–right about the time that my administrator schedule heated up, and I didn’t have pockets of time during my work day to write. But I’ve set a foundation for later.

While getting a Fitbit may not be one of the goals we see in anyone’s writing goals, I do think it’s important to remember that our ability to create poems may rely on keeping healthy as best we can. I’ve spent the last year gaining 15 pounds, and I’m happy to be taking steps to reverse that. More important, I’m glad to have a gadget that will remind me to move away from the desk periodically.

What I’d like to carry with me: I’d like to write poems more regularly. I do admire the poets like Luisa Igloria who write a poem a day, year in, year out. I’d be happy if I wrote poetry 3 days a week. I know there are trackers for that–you don’t wear them on your wrist, but a tracker is available. Maybe I should try that . . .
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Last Day of National Poetry Month

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So, for the last year, I have been writing. When I have the time. Whenever I have the inclination. When there’s something that is nagging at the back of my mind. I stopped submitting poems altogether for about six months. I concentrated on creating work. And guess what? It’s almost summer. And once again, I really do think I may have a third manuscript now. If not, I have a whole lotta poems. And that’s a start.
Donna Vorreyer, Whole Lotta Poems

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My best writing has been done when I wake up with a clear mind and maybe 40 minutes just to dream on paper.

My best writing rarely happens when I am saying to myself, “Okay, you need to make this one excellent, you need to write your best poem ever.”

I have a friend I write with back and forth and on May 1st he sent me an email saying, “I haven’t lost the energy, I want to keep writing a poem-a-day…” And I agree.

So I will continue on trying to write a poem a day, but being happy if I get a poem a week or a poem every-other-day.

Because I love the journey and while I love a draft that leads to a completed work, I appreciate the poems that don’t. They are like sketches in an artist’s journal, practice swings on a baseball field knowing one day, we’ll hit it out of the park.
Kelli Russell Agodon, While I Was a Terrible Blogger During #NaPoWriMo, I Earned My Poem-A-Day Merit Badge… (Plus: Why Quantity Wins Over Quality in First Drafts…)

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In addition to having a goal of writing a poem each day, I also set a goal of reading fifteen books of poetry this month. I came close, reading thirteen books of poetry. A little short of my goal but considering some people don’t even read thirteen books in the entire year I think I did okay. And I read some damn good poetry this month.

But just because the month is over doesn’t mean I’m going to be any less focused on my writing. I’ll use the momentum to keep writing and keep putting words down on paper.
Courtney LeBlanc, 30/30

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The landscape’s brought colors and pollinators and all the juiciness of reproduction cycles into the season’s height. Time to take walks and breathe.

And say nothing.

And let the words subside for awhile, and percolate the way the rains percolate through the wet, warm soil and into the waiting earth.
Ann E. Michael, Wordless

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I love going to poetry readings when it’s clear the poet has studied acting, is a good actor. I’m thinking of Lola Haskins, who reads with her full body, who takes such time and care with her delivery. You see her wanting to do something with her audience with her performance. Beth Ann Fennelly is another poet whose recitations (though she usually holds her book, just to have it in case) are occasions where her poetry becomes something physical through her performance. Saul Williams, of course. Or think of singer-poets, Patti Smith. Or John Giorno. Or Marie-Elizabeth Mali.

Obviously, the whole spoken word movement celebrates performance and recitation, going back to Marc Smith, with roots in the Black Arts Movement, the Beat Writers, going back to Dylan Thomas and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s radio broadcasts, back to workers’ chants and back to call and response, back to Father Walt, oh hell, back to ancient Greek poetry. The beginnings of drama and poetry and ritual, all of this is old, old stuff. It’s because poetry, those words, don’t reside in the brain–to be accessed mechanically–but are in the breath and heart beat, in the body. Performing a poem, then, requires that bodily engagement.
Jim Brock, Recitation

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These are exciting times for the arts: eyes and ears are open wide and there are few if any barriers standing in the way of experimentation. So within these exciting times of relative freedom from the constraints of rigid tradition and strict orthodoxy in style and form, it’s a truism to say that art thrives on synthesis. In all regions of the wide cultural territory that lie before us in the early 21st century, there is abundant cross-fertilisation, the elements of which are drawn from the most disparate of sources and made subject to the broadest of influences. For painting, for music, for dance, for theatre, for poetry, these are, in many ways, the best of days. […]

Whilst driving through country lanes listening to Steeleye Span singing The Dark-Eyed Sailor, I began to ponder this demarcation between the immediate subjectivity of the ‘dramatic’ and the relative objectivity of the ‘narrative’. Suddenly it occurred to me that it might be interesting to tamper with the equation as interpreted by Brecht in his re-articulation of the Goethe/Schiller proposition and extract a poem from that traditional English ballad that moved back through the formalised structures of the rhyming ballad towards the immediacy of the events that inspired the song in the first place. The unifying themes, the sequencing of events and the ‘rhapsodic’ narration would remain the same, but there would be applied to the storyline an element at least of the emotional interactions between the human protagonists themselves and their experiences within the wider context, this forming a kind of ostensible mésalliance between the two oppositional modes that might, in fact, actually work.
Dick Jones, The Famous Flower

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This track has had a special place in my heart over these years and, revisiting it recently, I found myself beginning to make this video with it. In its final form, the piece is a hybrid of music video and poetry film. The images are from Unsplash, a website for highly creative photography from around the world, all made available for re-use on public domain licence. I selected and juxtaposed the images for their associative resonances with the words, and arranged them in an order to tell a kind of abstract, gestural narrative. I built up a visual motif in this video around the colour red, relating to the rubies of the title. In editing I added movement to the stills through zooms, reversal of framing, and jump cuts on the beats, like heart beats with the music.
Marie Craven, Videos: 1000 Rubies, Human Resources, St. Umbilicus

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Last Saturday I was honored to read my poem “Blessing” at Ars Poetica – Where Poetry Meets Art at the Front Street Gallery in Poulsbo, Washington. I had the pleasure to meet Artist Sylvia Carlton, who shared with the audience why my poem resonated with her and why she chose it. I was so moved that it touched her in such a personal manner. Sylvia shared how as a mother the poem put into words so much of what she also felt about that difficult time when we let go of our children and send them into the world. Sylvia captured beautifully the contrast between the tight formality at the beginning of the poem with a dark weaving of limbs and the openness at the end of the poem where the white space and lack of formal punctuation allows the light to come in—light that beautifully emerges from behind the trees.
Carey Taylor, Ars Poetica-2018

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Tomorrow (Monday 7 May 2018) I will be starting a poetry course with the Poetry School. Titled Transreading the Baltics, led by Elzbieta Wójcik-Leese, it will look at and respond to poetry in translation from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I don’t speak a single word of any of those languages but the thought of getting to know the poetry thrills me the way a TV travel show can whet your appetite for visiting a country. […]

As a blind person I frequently need to translate English into English. I personally do not understand the reason why some poets post their work as images rather than ordinary text. A picture of text is not the same as text that can be copied and pasted into an email, for example. Maybe that is the reason for doing it but, as Google Books proves, scanned copies of whole books can still be shared.
Giles L. Turnbull, Lost in Poetry

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Poet Pam Thompson wrote a really interesting comment on the last post, describing what I was doing with some of the poems was “envoicing”. I was much taken by the idea, conflating it, I suppose, with Robert MacFarlane’s idea of “en-chantment”….that is to bring into being, or to call up, by language. I’d always thought of the business of dramatic monologues as ‘ventriloquism’, but envoicing seems much more an act of imaginative invention. I’ve written before about what brought me into it. Basically, I was looking to break out of my own ‘voice’ and its way of seeing, and what unlocked the door was Carol Ann Duffy’s The world’s wife. An absolute revolution at the time, to me, ‘envoicing’ all those female voices in a series of revisionist versions of myth and legend. Eventually it lead me to finding voices for a whole range of sculpted figures…the angel of the North, Epstein’s St. Michael, Rodin’s kissing lovers, one of Anthony Gormley’s figures on Crosby Sands, and so on. But the first project, which produced a lot less than I thought it might, was to explore the relationship between the late Victorian painter, John Waterhouse, and his (supposed) favourite model.
John Foggin, The male gaze (4) “Envoicing”

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Your most recent collection of poetry is Sexting Ghosts. Can you tell us about the project and how it came into being?

The project is an interesting mashup of different things I started writing immediately after finishing my MFA in writing. I was, and am, so obsessed with spirituality, the universe, and where we sort of fit in. I was raised in a religious household and while I largely rejected a lot of the sort of “status quo” ideas of Eastern Orthodoxy (what I was raised in), I do believe in God/the universe, and it is important to me to explore this. I think, for awhile, I felt like I had to reject religion or spirituality, because it alienated me as a queer person — and because of the rigidity of it.

But now I’m comfortable with it, and a fluidity of traditions and approaches — I largely consider myself a witch with a mashup of Eastern Orthodox/Jewish beliefs, which is because of my relationships and upbringing and interest in largely just being authentic and true to myself. So this book is largely an exploration of that as a queer person, using the first part to explore gender and sexuality and dysfunction in the tradition family setting, while the other parts explore this within the technological realm. What does spirituality look like with texting, what does it look like when we look at the universe as a living thing separate from humanity?
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Joanna C. Valente on spirituality and the drive to communicate

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Making Manifest [by Dave Harrity] is a creative writing workbook. you are to read a different reflection each day and complete the writing exercise that goes along with it. the thought behind it is that writing can be a spiritual discipline–and, where i have found the book unique, it blends spiritual exercise with writing.

the exercises are appropriate for beginners and not-so-beginners, and did help me to become more focused on writing as a spiritual activity. i have been slow working through this book–it has taken me about two months to complete–but i have truly enjoyed coming to it each evening, sitting down in an attitude of worship in my writing.
Renee Emerson, making manifest: a review

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Q~How is the poem representative of your new collection?

A~slight faith is a collection of poems that consider ways of creating and finding meaning, ways of seeing the world in all its horror and still wanting to live. The story that my poem, “Bimbo: a Deer Story,” is based on looks to the natural world (a dead doe, the fawn helpless at her corpse) and positions the fawn in an unnatural environment (a woman’s home). The story is simultaneously heartwarming and anomalous. In the poem, the narrator tries to understand who she is under the circumstances she has been dealt. She looks for meaning, which I believe has its core in faith. Many of us who are not drenched in religious life have difficulty talking about concepts like faith, and yet these tropes are found everywhere in art. I’ve learned “god language” through my work in end-of-life care, as a way of connecting with people who speak it. My own experience of faith vacillates between feeling authentic (faithful) and feeling hopeless (faithless). At core, faith says there is meaning. I lose and recover meaning all the time. slight faith is a way of finding peace in that dilemma.

Q~You mentioned your work in end-of-life care, how much does your “day job” influence your writing?

A~There is no doubt that my years as a nurse, witnessing illness, suffering and death, has been a bedrock of my need to write. It has also given me experiences to write about, as I have done in my chapbooks What We Owe Each Other and In My Exam Room (both published by The Lives You Touch Publications). When life seems suffused with sadness, despair and even alienation, poetry carves out a place for these difficult emotions in the world.
Bekah Steimel, Bimbo, a Deer Story / an interview with poet Risa Denenberg

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As with several other poets this month, I had to — I wanted to — read Brock-Broido’s poems over and over. She values image and sound, and she choreographs her poems across the pages. I won’t say they are puzzles, but they are gems, they’re like Matroushka dolls with meanings tucked within meanings. “I am of a fine mind to worship the visible world, the woo and pitch and sign of it,” she writes in “Dear Shadows,” but I had a very clear sense that it was not the visible world that concerned her. “I ache for him, his boredom and his solitude. // On suffering and animals, inarguably, they do. // I miss your heart, my heart” (“Dove, Interrupted”).

I’m reminded of one of my university professors, who once told us, in seeming exasperation, “Stop writing about hearts and moons, it’s been done.” And then to spend day with these poems (and read Brock-Broido’s students’ testimonials upon her death) — it’s fortifying to see how much the heart is still written of, and cared for. It makes my heart glad.
Bethany Reid, Lucie Brock-Broido’s Stay, Illusion

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Keeping quiet such a long time, dry-eyed
and wet-boned, gone all limp and loose and lost.
There’s the little cave they keep you in, tied
to bricks so you won’t float away, arms crossed
over your chest. Is that to hold your heart
in your body? Does it really matter?
Some day, you’ll get out — a black arts jump start
for all the bits and pieces in tatters…
PF Anderson, Zombie Sonnet

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Yesterday, I went over to a friend’s house. I arrived at 4 PM; I left six hours later. In between we drank wine, cooked four pounds of mussels, grilled vegetables, and traded poems. I was grateful for the sunshine, the gorgeous cherry tree flowering in her backyard, and her overly enthusiastic (and freshly washed) pup clambering for pets.

Most of all, I was grateful for the balance of the exchange: two poets who have been following each others’ work for years, with a baseline of respect and appreciation, talking freely about drafts in progress. We don’t have particularly similar styles, especially in our projects of the moment. But we’re able to be frank about what’s working and what’s not on the page, and that’s worth its weight in gold. Everyone needs trusted readers.
Sandra Beasley, Golden Rule

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What’s really sad is that there is not a single bookstore in Tillamook.

Not even a used bookstore.

Though we do have a wonderful library.

But when I asked the library if I could arrange poetry readings there, they said no.

So guess what I went and did?

I asked if anyone in my community would want to join me in a poetry book club.

And 9 people said yes!

We had our first meeting and it was wonderful!!! People had such interesting and insightful comments about the poems we discussed from Lois Parker Edstrom’s Night Beyond Black.

It was so much fun, people want to do it again–the last Wednesday of every month!

I feel so lucky there are so many local folks open to discovering poetry along with me.

I’m not alone with poetry any longer.
Lana Ayers, Sometimes beauty alone is not enough…

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We’re also reading Kevin Young’s amazing long poem Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, from 2011. I think my students are struggling with it, much more so than with the shorter poems we’ve read, and I understand why–Ardency is not only long (250 pages), but Young steadfastly refuses to simplify this vast, complicated, powerful story. Instead, the book riffs on the languages and structures of religion, education, and music, with a section each focused on Covey, the free Mendi translator; Cinque, a captive who came to lead the rebellion; and a chorus of survivors on trial, often represented through letters. […]

Can a poem be a monument? I think so. A book doesn’t have the simplicity of a pillar or the accessibility of a garden, but there’s a public role, too, for the productive difficulties of intensely patterned language. We need to read poetry, alone and together, because it helps us remember (and imagine) what’s lost and imagine (and remember) a way forward.
Lesley Wheeler, May the river/ remember you

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If women writers were given as many chances, as many extra passes, as male writers, I think you would see a lot less sexism and abuse in the system. I see women writers being shoved out of the way, talked over, published less, paid less, treated as less important, and I think: Why do people think this is okay, and why does it keep happening? Of course the literary world is not protected from these incidents – in fact, in my experience, it’s worse than, say, the tech world I used to operate in (I had very supportive male bosses who promoted me at AT&T and Microsoft, in particular.) So if you have power and influence, try using it to help women succeed. I bet it would prevent so many abuses. It occurred to me one of the reasons I wrote PR for Poets is I felt women writers, weren’t reaching their audiences because they weren’t being promoted, reviewed, invited to speak, like male writers. I’ve seen very shy, unself-promoting male writers lifted up by their male colleagues, taken out for a beer and given tips and even having their books suggested to certain high-end publishers, but I haven’t really seen the same thing for shy, unself-promoting women. I wanted all poets to have the tools to help get the word out about their books, but I didn’t realize this was actually a subversive act. It’s subversive to help poets learn how to promote themselves because the literary world wants you to believe that it is a meritocracy, when it really isn’t, it’s a place where privilege and place and class and gender all reflect social norms, which means the disabled, the poor, people of color, and women are going to have less of a chance to really make it. When AWP ignores the needs of disabled folks, that means less chance for us to interact with others. When publishers skew their books to a male audience because male writers “are more universal,” well, no they’re not, unless you make that the case. Readers of books actually skew strongly female, so shouldn’t the authors of books also skew female?

I’m sorry if this tone disturbs you. I like to uplift people. I like to be inspiring. But lately, with the political tone of the country, the repeated shock at many men in power abusing that power, I have started to say: enough of the shock. Let’s do something to make it better. I may not live to see a woman president of America, but I want to make some noise for equality in the poetry world, at least. If I can support other women writers by bringing attention to their work (which is why I do book reviews even though they are time consuming and mostly do not pay,) I want to do what I can to make the literary world a better place. I want to encourage you to take action too.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, My Rumpus Review of Barbie Chang, Guest Post on PR for Poets with a Disability or Chronic Illness, More Cancer Tests, Faerie Magazine Poems, and How the Lit World Can Avoid More #MeToo Moments

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Night pavement, silver-slick with moon.

 

Owl. Mid-road. Blocking the way. Meeting my eyes. Slow, slower: it does not move. Mouse between its talons. Guardian of the veil between the land of the living and the land of the dead.

I drive around it, trembling.

Last time I met you, you were kicking me out: I have the scars to prove it. Head wounds bleed like bastard. Talon strike perforations. I don’t want to go back.

You say: do not pass.

I pass, trembling. Into steeper dark.
JJS, May 3, 2018: what the forest said

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

Little known fact: the full moon during April is known as the Poet’s Moon. Go out tonight and take a look. No, don’t just look—howl! Reconnect to that O at the root of language.

Memories dissolve in smog, mind maps shuffle
and tangle, brain cells lose ribosomes
and centrioles. Sucking my thumb at 8, in bed,
lights out, I thought, Where is God? What
I want to know now is: Exactly where am I?
I think about my childhood, my brother,
the playground, the uncle who . . .

. . . or that day with high school friends when
we skipped class, stood bundled tight, a yoked
circle in snow, unseen, fragrant joint passed
one to one. I wonder if the edge of the universe
will ever catch up with creation.
Risa Denenberg, If it rains when I’m thirsty, am I the orchard?

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She’s mostly gone, that wraith-woman of a year and a month ago who went under the knives and did not come out, not as she was: so mostly gone I keep thinking she’s dead, rather than built new from the ground up, muscle by bone by metal: so mostly gone I forget she is dead, yes, but the dead come back sometimes, shugorei, banshee, a haunting spirit familiar as the death itself and screaming: so when she comes into my mirror so haggard I’m shook—who is that, why is she in my house—before I realize this fleshhome can still lock from metal foundation to intercostal firewalls, paraspinal spasm and smoking bone, roof an iceburn language for what can’t be: walking, breathing, turning, reaching a thudding hammer shattering sound:

bloodroot, bone, comfrey,
belladonna, calendula, echinacea,
sandalwood, Flexeril, Tramadol,
milfoil, arnica, monkshood,
chamomile, daisy, witch hazel:

muscle, poem, blood.
JJS, April 23, 2018: wraithwrack

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The killer is an orca –
her beauty is more than he can bear,
the strength in her body breaching
the ocean, puncturing the air in a smooth
ballet. How the water glistens
on the day and night of her skin, winking
at his weakness, ploughing his place
to the stars.
Charlotte Hamrick, Evening Song

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Last week I attended the Split This Rock Poetry Festival. The festival coincided with Split This Rock’s 10th anniversary and it did not disappoint – it was three days filled with panels, discussions, readings, and friends. It was an inspiring time and I connected with old friends and made news ones. My friend, Maye, flew in from Michigan to attend the event.

Every day we went to panels and then met for lunch, discussing the morning’s events. At night, after the readings we chatted about our days – the best things we’d heard and experienced. I wrote poems every day of the festival, two of which are decent enough to edit and workshop.

The first night’s reading featured three readers, including the amazing Sharon Olds reading from her book, Odes. I bought the book, had her sign it, and fangirled a little.
Courtney LeBlanc, Ten Years of Power

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That ending, right? It is so powerful because of how she mixes the everyday things we don’t talk about–using the toilet in this poem–with the transcendent. And then the repetition just nails it down. This is what I love about her poetry–this mix, the bitter and the sweet, the everyday toenail-clipping part of the day with the falling in love part of the day, which is life, this mix, the unnoticed and mundane and sometimes disgusting with the beautiful spiritual and lifegiving.
Renee Emerson, Sharon Olds Odes: A Book Review

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I’ve never spoke a second language well, though I’m perfectly willing to give the thing a go when I only have a couple of pages of phrases mastered. So in Cambodia, I spoke a little Khmer / Cambodian, and in Thailand, some Thai. One thing that surprised me in Cambodia is that absolutely everybody seemed to be learning English in order to to better themselves, and so I could have conversations where I inflicted Khmer on people while they tried out English on me. Great fun, much laughter. In Japan, I expected everyone would know English, but only a very few did, especially on Sado Island, but I managed enough Japanese (thank you to my daughter, whose love for all things Japanese meant she could critique my pronunciation) to have odd little conversations and laugh with strangers. In Paris, my schoolgirl French, mostly forgotten, had a tiny revival. And for a trip to Chile, Peru, and Mexico, I had no time at all to study, so listened to recordings the day before and took a list of phrases with me. It’s surprising how much communication is possible with fifty phrases and a little boldness and rhythm-mimicry.
Marly Youmans, Oh, for the language of birds!

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These poems need to be read aloud. Jane Hirshfield, in a cover blurb, calls Toucan Nest, “a book of burnished, lapidary attention.” And it is. Each bird and bat is polished like a gem. The poems are dense with bright nouns, and repeated sounds. The lines in almost all of the poems are short, and short stanzas, too, leave white space as if the are images leap from the environs like birds from foliage. People crop up, too, guiding, pointing, speaking. I kept stopping to look up names and words (Gallo Pinto, bromeliad, trogon). If a poet’s job is to pay close attention (and it is), Peggy Shumaker here fulfills that role beautifully.
Bethany Reid, Peggy Shumaker’s Toucan Nest: Poems of Costa Rica

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We got into a political discussion with a cab driver, who complained a lot about the candidates in the upcoming election and the general state of things, but then, after having exhausted the subject, he smiled and said, “Pero, yo soy Mexicano!!” “But, I am Mexican!” It spite of it all, he identifies himself as Mexican, not with a political party, or a current government or current problems: being Mexican is so much more than that.

This is an attitude I’ve observed among other people — Iranians, for instance, or Chinese — with a long history who’ve seen governments, dynasties, dictators, emperors and kings come and go; they are united by language, place, culture and shared history, shared suffering. Mexican history goes back to the Olmecs, the first Meso-American civilization, dating from 1000 B.C., in the region near modern-day Veracruz. In America and Canada, we have nothing comparable: our national histories go back only a few hundred years, and the indigenous cultures were younger and less developed than in Latin America, and so decimated by genocide that few of us share that heritage, while in Mexico, a majority of the people are mixed-race. So here in the northern New World, we are left to piece our identities together from the fragmented histories of the places we, or our ancestors, came from. But it is never entirely satisfactory to understand oneself that way — at least it hasn’t been so for me.
Beth Adams, Re-entry

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Who can map the path of the breeze
fence the clouds shifting over the hill
Logos is a headless tree
waving into the starless night
Silence spelled like the absence
counters it
Uma Gowrishankar, Meditations On A Pebble

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It took us years/We were coral/dying/Though we could not find the waves/Could not find the underbelly of home/to breathe us transcendent/Sullied palates/in a city gone awry/It bends hot & steely/I only cast spells to love myself.
Jennifer E. Hudgens, 22/30-24/30

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I’m starting to feel a twinge of dread every time I open up a newly published book of poems from some of my favorite publishers. I read the blurbs and raves, think okay! as I open the first page. Read a poem, and hm. Read a poem, and falter. Read a poem, and fade. Read a poem read a poem, and I am lost in a maze, I cannot understand the announcements over the loudspeaker, I am in the Tel Aviv bus station again — a great place to get felafel (something about the added taste of diesel fuel?) but an easy place in which to feel confused.

I have this sense that the publishers are moving farther and farther away from work that I connect with, much less work that resembles my own. I am paranoid that I’m falling out of touch with the kind of poetry the modern world wants to publish, wants to read. I feel like people are connecting to poetry all around me and I’m standing in the middle of it lost. Is there a shift in taste happening? Or is it my tastes that are changing?

I guess there is indeed a kind of grace in contrast — this disconnected feeling makes it all the more wonderful when I stumble upon a book I do connect with, poems that inspire me, that cause me to wonder, to envy, to just enjoy. I fall upon them as a starving person. These are poems I can learn from, I think. These are poems toward which I can work.
Marilyn McCabe, Lost in the Tachana Merkazit; or, Embracing Changing Poetic Tastes

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With her Buddha poems, [Luisa A.] Igloria explores what I’ve been doing with my poems that imagine Jesus (and other forms of the Divine) in the modern world. So we see the Buddha waiting for a flight and considering the duty-free items, the Buddha at a Women’s History Month event on a college campus, the Buddha at a trendy eatery.

The poems are delightful and startling. They make me think not only about the Divine, but about my own movements in the world. It’s a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it; go here to get your own copy.

In her poems, the Buddha changes gender from poem to poem, which works. I wonder if a practicing Buddhist would feel the same way.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Divinities Along the Gender Spectrum

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Later, caught in the net of a computer screen, an email
reminds me to be mindful, to mind the mindfulness
competition beginning now: log-in to record for my employer
the minutes I turned off the phone to follow my breath.
Complete two weeks and earn an emotional wellness token.
Turns out meditation capitalized also pisses me off.
Instead I resolve to scatter any mystical currency my clean
trousers pick up accidentally. Spirit-lint. This is my log-in.
Breathe. What is the thread-count of anger? How soft,
how durable? Can I knot rages into a ladder and escape
myself?
Lesley Wheeler, That’s why they call it a practice (NaPoWriMo Day 29)

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It would be a simple thing
to self-heal, here against the lintel,

watching not the rise and fall of your
fish-breath, your insect pulse, but
the immortal trees beyond. Too easy;

but death looked in and turned away,
indifferent, and now it’s down to me,
the blood-bearer, to wish away your life

for you. The house ticks and hums.
A voice calls out, thin and querulous;
another coughs. I turn down your light.

There, against the window, dusk outside,
day by night you are becoming your shadow
cast against the shifting of the trees.
Dick Jones, Still Life

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[Rachel] Zucker writes “long poems are extreme. They’re too bold, too ordinary, too self-centered, too expansive, too grand, too banal, too weird, too much. They revel in going too far; they eschew caution and practicality and categorization and even, perhaps, poetry itself, which as a form tends to value the economy of language.” If this is her opinion, and she’s a fan of the long poem, what chance do I have?

I’ve decided to challenge my fear of the long poem. Today I am launching The Long Poem Project. During the next few months, I will read poems longer than one or two pages and share my discoveries here; i.e., were they extreme, bold, ordinary, self-centered, or weird enough to hold my attention? Did they go too far? Was I bored?
Erica Goss, The Long Poem Project

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HOPKINSON: How/why was The Deaf Poets Society originally started?

KATZ: Over the last couple years, the online community of D/deaf and disabled activists and community members has grown exponentially. Disabled members of the literary community have also been speaking out against instances of discrimination or exclusion, whether in publishing, the literary community generally, or at events, residencies, and conferences. As someone who went through an MFA program feeling, at times, that I was missing a Deaf or disabled mentor in my life, the internet has been my primary tool for finding and connecting with other D/deaf and disabled writers and artists who have also experienced alienation due to the stigma connected with disability.

While I can’t recall the precise moment in which I began thinking about starting an online journal, The Deaf Poets Society grew out of a personal desire to connect D/deaf and disabled writers and artists to each other. My husband, Jonathan, came up with the name, which resonated not only because of its tongue-in-cheek allusion to the 1989 movie, Dead Poets Society, but also because “deaf” is often misspoken as “death.” Freudian slip or not, disability and deafness are typically seen as aspects of humankind that are deficient, and perhaps representative of our mortality as human beings. But it’s an odd and plainly false connection to make, as D/deaf and disabled people live just as full and just as meaningful lives. This is a prejudice we intend to complicate.
Sarah Katz with Trish Hopkinson, PAYING/NO FEE Submission call + editor interview – The Deaf Poets Society, DEADLINE: Always open

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Between 10-15 editors on any given week gather around a big table in someone’s home. We open our laptops and fire up the iPads to call up the submissions that will be discussed. The poem is read at least once, and then discussion ensues! We try to be somewhat efficient given the volume, but often the six or seven minute timer goes off and the discussion about how well the poem works, how it impacts us as readers, how it fits with what we’ve published and what we’d like to publish continues.

Believe it or not, there’s not much arguing. We try to keep things friendly. We have editors working as teachers, self-employed editors, and retirees. Many of us have MFA’s but not all. Most of us write and publish our own poetry. Quite honestly, we celebrate the differences among us. We need those differences. Some of us lean to the lyrical, some the experimental, and others might be fans of a good narrative. We’re always paying attention to language. That’s hard to ignore! I’d have to say that when you read as many poems in a year as we do, a poem really needs to stand out to make it to the table. Maybe the language just sings. Or there is an adept handling of a topic that outshines many others, for instance, love poems or poems of relationship or family strife which are frequent. Taste obviously comes into play.

One of my favorite parts about the discussion is that on first blush one might not be interested in the poem at all. After a convincing argument is made, one can become a convert!

We vote by simple majority. If there are ten of us at the table, there need to be six votes for the poem to be accepted.
Gail Goepfert, A Stubbornness of RHINOs.

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Sometimes a gift comes out of the universe by way of the Saturday morning mailbox. Today is such a day. This little book (which makes Watson, my tuxedo, look like a giant) is the anthology, IN THE SHAPE OF A HUMAN BODY I AM VISITING THE EARTH, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and published by McSweeney’s. This is not just another anthology. This is the best anthology I have read in years because every poem will “grab you by the teeth” as the editors writing in the introduction.

The poems here were originally published in Poetry International, the beautiful journal published by San Diego State University (where Kaminsky is on faculty). I can name names here: Tracy K. Smith, Charles Simic, Seamus Heaney, Jericho Brown, Federico Garcia Lorca, Mahmoud Darwish, Eavan Boland, Carolyn Forche, Eric McHenry, Anna Swir, Malena Moorling, Jane Hirshfield and many others. Too many to name and really what are names?
Susan Rich, IN THE SHAPE OF A HUMAN BODY I AM VISITING THE EARTH (or a cat body) – READ THIS!

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Now, I help it open, ruffle;
remember once it was a flower at dawn,
each virginal petal held up, apart
from others, scent so sweet. Now, juice is tart,
yet, as I bend my face to peel ‘petals’
(eyes closed, inhaling), the scent is still sweet
but more vibrant, vivid, warmed with my hand’s heat,
than it was. This scent sticks, stays, and settles.
PF Anderson, Orange Sonnet

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

This week, poets have been blogging about death and rebirth, games and puzzles, loss and resilience. Among other things.

Start with the dead things, she says. The stink bugs
that hid under the floor boards and shriveled;
the spiders that starved blanketed in rugs
of their own soft webs. There is a brittle
delicacy in exoskeletons
prepared to shatter with a puff, the grace
of dry bones, the so tender elegance
of perfectly still lines in a limp face.
PF Anderson, Necromancy Sonnet

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Some of my friends consider me an expert in the garden, but I am merely modestly educated, mostly in the School of Experience. Expertise? I considered enrolling in the Master Gardener certification program; but frankly, I prefer to garden with beginner’s mind. I love what experts have to teach me and, being bookwormish by nature, I learn a great deal by reading books by experts.

Mostly, though, I learn from the garden–or from the hedgerow, the woodlot, the fields, the meadow, the wetlands. I’ve discovered that sometimes, the experts’ methods are not replicable in my yard; but a series of trial-and-error experiments of my own may produce the desired result. I have learned to let go of some of my “desired outcomes,” because the plant world and the weather control my stewardship of the soil more than anything I can attempt to do.

Letting go…well, that is the Zen of landscaping and raising vegetables and putting in a perennial bed. Also there is the constant, tedious maintenance–the tending and nurturing–that requires discipline. The discipline can be mindful, and it can also foster empty mind.
Ann E. Michael, Today’s eft

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As if it is easy to pack bags and drudge up the hills
follow the revolution of the earth, the length of days.

Not to grow roots, unattached to the pear tree that fills
the air with the scent of sweet blossoms.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Song of the Valley

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Recently I had a conversation with a non-poet friend who asked me why I write poetry or even read poetry. He had read some of my recent book, Tapping Roots, which was actually the first group of poems I ever pulled together. (I had already prompted him that I liked feedback about what people liked.) This book is about growing up Midwesterner, and in particular, Southern Illinois., about people who have influenced my childhood and adult pilgrimage. If you don’t count college, I’ve lived in thirteen “homes,” but the place I still think of as “home” is the town where I was born, Belleville, Illinois–even though I only lived there for the first FIVE years of my life. I’ve been in the Chicago area for two-thirds of it. If people ask where I’m from, I say “Chicago,” because of course in a way that’s true. The majority of my adulthood was spent in one suburb or another. There’s a certain odd pride in being “from” Chicago, but my heart, corny as that sounds, still belongs to the south of me.

I digress. My friend said he could really identify with so much in my book as he had similar experiences growing up (same generation and similar economic status in the early years), so he could see why this poetry at least affected people. On the other hand, he likes to read fiction that has nothing to do with his life–mysteries with involved plots–far from his daily life and work. The implication was that his choice of fiction did not “work” the same way as my poetry seemed to do. I walked away from this conversation having multiple conversations of my own in my head. The simplest answer to his question is that I write, and particularly poetry, to CONNECT. It seems like such a transparent yet “rings-true” answer. (Yes, I know that there are poets who say they don’t care if someone likes what they write.)
Gail Goepfert, Getting High

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If not praise, something like a thought or two
for archaeologists who dig up car parks
searching for the bones of a king

and for the council worker sweeping dust
and dead leaves with an edgy sway,
his tattooed face looking into cars, unseeing

as commuters look away. Watch
those involved in text spats
with boy or girlfriend; the woman

who stops and holds up her phone
as if it were a chalice and she sought
to quench her thirst; those who read

the pavement cracks and stones;
who walk as if on air, or weighed down
by something shocking left over

from their dreams.
Pam Thompson, For Those Who Walk Pavements

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After listening to Rachel Zucker’s long conversation with Sharon Olds, I felt liberated. Sharon Olds seems to live in a kind of poetic trance state that resonates with me. She speaks of how she pays attention to the fleeting thoughts that come to her, the thoughts we humans have a tendency to sweep under the rug. Her words gave me insight into how to go deeper into what I truly think about myself and the world and to try to put those thoughts into my writing.

I know I hold back a lot. The hardest part of writing and of living in general is to sift through received notions about the world and to instead open up to infinite possibilities. As Alan Watts states in his lecture series Out of Your Mind, the hardest part of life [and art] is “how to create a controlled accident.”
Christine Swint, Inter-National Poetry Month

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On Saturday I sat for two hours and wrote poems for anyone who stopped by. In total I wrote ten poems on the following topics: new relationships, cherry blossoms, libraries, spring, transience, traveling, graduating, bread, beauty, and ducks. Ten poems on ten wildly different topics. […]

The poems I write during this event are composed in just a few minutes. I don’t edit them or give them more than a quick read-over. I jot them down, and then rewrite them on the nice paper the library provides. They are usually relatively light-hearted and don’t touch on many of the heavier topics I usually write about. I never really expect much from them, so to get this email really made my day. It reminded me that words matter and that my words mattered to that person. And that’s a wonderful feeling.
Courtney LeBlanc, The Poet Is In

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In my heart, I know sharing work matters. When I was a child growing up in harrowing conditions, poetry saved my life. It still does. Every day.

As a child, I saw how people who’d suffered loss, and tragedy, and all kind of hurt, spoke out about their experiences in poems. Across distance, time, gender, culture, these folks spoke directly to my wounds. They lived to write about what they’d been through–a testimony to survival, and likely, even thriving.

I’ve come to believe that our words reach those who need them most. However that happens–whether publication in a literary journal, or in the community newsletter, or posting online.

Poetry is my spiritual practice. Getting work into the world is a necessary part of that practice. Rejection is a piece of it too. And the hurt. So I rest, take some deep breaths, and keep on. I hope you will too.
Lana Ayers, The Road Paved With Rejection

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April is conveniently both National Poetry Month AND Autism Awareness Month (which in my opinion, should be co-opted into a celebration to the extent that the witch hunt gets buried beneath our self acceptance and love). I can’t think of any one thing I have clung to more in my pursuit of Autistic Personhood than poetry and art. There is a WEALTH of autistic artists and poets out there, but, you wouldn’t know it from Google. I had to alter my Google search terms eightfold, to finally come up with material penned by actually autistic folk and not ‘Autism Parents’ (non-autistic parents of autistic children, mostly who describe themselves as warriors against Autism–not their children). Much of the poetry written by Autism Parents violates the privacy of autistic children and a good deal of it justifies their abuse, suggests their deaths or hints to their eventual murder. I read these poems and stories and end up feeling very afraid for the children.

When I did finally happen upon the poetry I was fervently seeking (thirstily drinking in all the imagery and not feeling so alone in the world), I saw that some of these works described the other side of the over-televised, tabloid-cast experiences of the voiced-over majority on the experience of autism. The bare bones were emerging and there was the truth. Often, the voice of the adult autistic child emerged, recounting vignettes from youth, sorting through the still frames of a world nearly lost. It was a narrative of survival, meticulous care given to wonder in surroundings, objects, the personification of things–everything is a relic, all is holy. In these words is a kind of beauty that I imagine most non autistics consider fantastical, exotic, or strange. This assumption is based on actual neurotypical reactions to my own work.
Hilary Krzywkowski, Honoring autistic poets for Poetry Month & Autism Awareness Month (guest blog post at TrishHopkinson.com)

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The other day I was in the grocery store, slinking along with my canvas bags and my head full of Li-Young Lee’s poetry (oh yes, his new book The Undressing in the car). Suddenly, a man that I only see about three times each year roared out, “I bought your new book and the poems are making me cry.” He grabbed my arm and swung me toward him. “I love this new work,” he continued in a voice so loud I felt like I might melt before it.

I know that he lost his father last year. Somehow, at least one of the poems that I’d written had been a key for whatever was locked inside him. I could only hope that he felt like I did when a poem fit perfectly inside an empty space I’d been carrying, a space made of feeling alone and now filled with words.

I could only smile and thank him. Thank him for reading my work and telling me so. Thank him for reading poetry. For reminding me that when I am at my desk, I am not truly alone.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Isn’t it time for poetry to be dead, again?

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The Meals on Wheels I ordered for him rotted in the refrigerator. Viruses destroyed his computer. He wandered around town, confused and disoriented. He ate less and less, surviving on Coke and the occasional fried egg, and refused to bathe or do his laundry.

Once while we were in the car, I put in the Poetry Foundation CD and told him to listen, skipping forward to “The Blue Terrance.” The rigid, defiant look in his eyes softened a little. He listened closely, this lover of poetry whose faint pencil marks I can still read in his 1950 copy of the Little Treasury of Modern Poetry, the one he took with him when he joined the Army in 1954. We sat in the car for the two minutes it took to listen to the poem. At the end, he was perfectly still, under the spell of Hayes’s voice as he recited the last lines:

That’s why I’m so doggone lonesome, Baby,
yes, I’m lonesome and I’m blue.

I could see the words of the poem as clearly as skywriting. I knew my father was moved, too, by the way he remained motionless for a moment, before slapping his knees and muttering, “huh!” The poem’s last lines hit me: sitting with my father, whose mind and body were slipping away, was one of the loneliest times in my life.

The Blue Terrance is at the Poetry Foundation.
Erica Goss, An Appreciation: Terrance Hayes’s “The Blue Terrance”

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Jezebel

I’ve not replaced Jezebel,
who died in my arms
with a needle in her paw

years ago. On this dismal
wintry day, shag of snow
in the yard, I’m on my own.

As my last lover shut
the door, she warned,
You’ll die pet-less and unwed.

Now I live like a nun
who’s slept too many nights
in a habit of coarse cloth.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Bo

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Sometimes my health problems can seem overwhelming – the time scheduling and attending all the medical appointments alone take up can be overwhelming – but I am happy this April to be seeing another spring, to see the little cherry tree I planted last year bloom, the tulips and daffodils show up in a garden that was pretty barren when we moved in. I got an award for my last book of poetry, Field Guide to the End of the World, which came in the mail yesterday (see below.) I’m happy to release this weird non-fiction PR for Poets book that hopefully helps some poets have an easier time than I did. I’m happy right now to be alive and able to go out a bit in the sun, to walk a little bit and watch the wildlife. I don’t know what my expectations of my life were when I was little, but I don’t know that I could have predicted how things turned out – but I know I don’t feel disappointed. I look forward to writing another book of poetry, even to sending out another book, and bringing that next book of poetry into the world. I feel scared of some aspects of my life – mortality and the scariness of the MS diagnosis and my liver tumors and etc – but I think writing has made my life better and happier, and I hope that poetry makes your life happier too, but if not, be sure to get outside and smell the…tulips.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Springtime and Aging, PR for Poets and Thinking about a Poet’s Choices

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The picture is a painting of a couple walking through a park in the rain. It’s not a good painting, managing to be both sentimental and garish — the colors are improbable. But as I’ve been working on the puzzle, my sense of shape and color is enhanced. After spending time sifting through the pieces, when I walk away I see the world afresh, my eye still alert for that certain shade of orange, for a piece with a little blue in one corner. I see new colors everywhere in the everyday world. And I’ve come to appreciate the picture painter’s bold use of color, his or her fearlessness at slapping a stroke of cerulean in a shadow, a smear of fresh-grass-green on a tree trunk.

Because I’m seeing the painting through tiny shards of it, seeing the bits of tree for the forest, I’m enjoying what’s been accomplished here in the details, as I pull back to look at the overall picture.

And it occurs to me that if I could bring this level of attention to my writing, it could be a powerful editing tool — to slow my process way down and see each and every word, how the words fit together, how they elbow each other, where space is used, and then pull back to understand each element anew as I view the whole piece. And also use that heightened awareness of word and silence as I encounter the world.
Marilyn McCabe, Easy Pieces; or, Editing as Meditation…Editation?

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As I put the game away at the end of the day, I reflected on the final board, with its mix of words and non-words, a board created by people who clearly don’t understand the rules of Scrabble. But it did look like a board that was created by people having fun with letters and language.

Throughout the day, I overheard snippets of conversations where people reminisced about the games they had played and enjoyed. Even if people didn’t have time or inclination to participate, the presence of a Scrabble game in process jolted them into a mindfulness that they didn’t have before going into the break room.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, National Scrabble Day at School

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Reading [Alice Fulton’s] work challenges me to be more playful, to take more seriously poetry’s higher calling to something beyond mere “sense.”

And Fulton does play! She plays with clichés and colloquialisms, tosses in science and politics, and somehow gets away with it all (masterfully). Although these poems predate the 2016 presidential election, their refusal to be linear seems to me strangely fitting for our times, and prescient.
Bethany Reid, Alice Fulton’s Barely Composed

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From Bruegel to Van Gogh, [Diane] Seuss draws inspiration from many artists and paintings besides the Rembrandt her title references. Seuss conjures these works into the modern era by personalizing the paintings, the way John Ashbery once did in “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.” Beneath the intensity of her gaze the paintings come alive:

The turkey’s strung up by one pronged foot,
the cord binding it below the stiff trinity
of toes, each with its cold bent claw. My eyes
are in love with it as they are in love with all
dead things that cannot escape being looked at.
It is there to be seen if I want to see it, as my
father was there in his black casket and could not
elude our gaze…

By bringing the father into the frame, the lifeless form of the turkey within the original painting is activated, here we get a sense of the poet’s hauntings, of the memories these still lifes bring to the surface for her; this one, evoking the corpse of the dead father is particularly traumatic. Surface itself becomes an illusion. Seuss’ poems reveal there are infinite depths available to the viewer. In this poem, as well as in others, the morality of the arrangement itself it called into question, the act of being invited to look on such horrors is interrogated as well as our own relationship with death. The speaker in the poem chooses not to look at the body of the father though without knowing her own reasons for this, and so the speaker feels as if they are “paying / a sort of penance for not seeing then,” she tells us, “Now I can’t get enough of seeing.”
Anita Olivia Koester, Unframed: Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl by Diane Seuss

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Granular now, this ice, this temperature differential, this oblique control: if I had a god she would be that nervous flicker exploding from thawed hay, iced crocus; she would be the question how? now so granular, the big parts answered, each single blade iced green, and stymied. […]

Ice-sheathed, spring willows try so hard. Nerve connections fire. A peregrine sails, fastest creature on earth. To be so fast, aglow with sap: where are you going? Each next thing, coming fast. Muscle snagged on titanium bone. It still hurts, you know, resurrection; just significantly less than what came before.
JJS, April 15, 2018: Lazarus, in mud season

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The lapwings are back in the fields and along the edge of the lake. Canadian geese have claimed their pastures along the motorway. Spring’s hypomania is in full bloom just after sunrise. The grove smells like dark earth. Like death and the greening that follows.

Where the trees stop and give way to the plowed fields, the stench of manure is a slap to the senses. This is what life tastes like. Want it or not.

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The puppy has a mouthful of moss.
I’m thinking it’s time to listen to the silence between the birds’ exclamations.

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Last night I watched a woman dance to the sound of a train passing. Bach spoke through organ pipes, from over 200 years ago. The sacred. The profane. The meaningless distinction between a pianist’s fingers – oh, where they’ve been – and the return of the lapwings.
Ren Powell, Returning with the Lapwings

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

It’s just-spring (in the northern hemisphere, at any rate) and the world is, to be sure, mud-luscious. But most mornings, that mud is frozen solid. A few hardy flowers try to bloom, only to wither in the next snow squall. Well, it is the cruelest month. But the birds are migrating through or returning to nest more or less on schedule. An honest-to-god trumpeter swan was just spotted in a farm pond less than a mile from me. And of course, since it’s Poetry Month, the poets are out in force. Even some poetry bloggers who went into hibernation back in January are emerging bleary-eyed like bears from their dens.

I am citizen of an overdressed republic
that knows itself as more than an illusion
and will keep donning clothes and moving on.
Sometimes I think I too am overdressed.
I think I should strip naked, walk the street
with nothing on, and face the filthy weather

we emerge from. I think I is another
as we all are. I think it’s getting late
and dark. It’s hard to see. I smell the dust
that’s everywhere and settles. I know it mine.
I am in love. I am standing at the station
waiting to board. I’m not about to panic.
George Szirtes, What I am Losing by Leaving the EU 1

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8. Write about a medical procedure that made you become a mystic.

9. Write from the perspective of a gym machine or a kitchen gadget/appliance.

10. The gods used to speak in cataclysms, burning bushes, angelic appearances. How would gods communicate today? What would Jesus Tweet?
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, 30 Prompts for April and Beyond

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I found the whole experience of choosing a book cover, and a title for the collection, a challenge – albeit a challenge I was happy to undertake. I spent time looking at various artists’ work, trying to decide if their paintings or drawings would make a suitable cover. I knew that I wanted to have some kind of real life connection with the artist, so I stayed away from browsing the internet or sites like Pinterest. This also helped me to avoid the sensation of being overwhelmed by too much choice.
Josephine Corcoran, My book cover

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All that he owned was a tamarind tree
even the land where the house stood was not his.

So, what is yours, the young wife asked coiling her finger
into his matted hair. His drunken eyes looked from her

to the pods on the tree, her skin the texture of seeds.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Anatomy Of A Tamarind Tree

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The thrill, for this class, is that we are reading works that were published in the last five years (I have to remind my students that the poems might have been written and finished years and years before that), and that the students and I are dealing with the same unfamiliar terrain–I have yet to “teach” or present a poem by one of these poets in a class. To be sure, my students’ footing may be more secure than mine in their reading and understanding of any one of these diverse poets. It’s also transparent to my students that these poets may share more with them, their world and concerns, than what these poets may or may not share with me. Our engagement is about the questions, the troubling disruptions, the things that seem a little beyond, and then those moments were we see something, right there, that the language reveals, animates, or kills.
Jim Brock, De-anthologized

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I’ve been meaning for a while to post some reflections about my winter term courses. One of them, a general-education level seminar, focused on poetry and music. We started with prosody and moved through a series of mini-lessons on poetry riffing on various musical genres: spirituals, blues, jazz, punk, hip hop. Anna Lena Phillips Bell visited and talked about old-time music in relation to her book Ornament. A student composer stopped in, and two other visitors analyzed song lyrics poetically, focusing on Kendrick Lamar and Bob Dylan. It was all tremendously fun, not least because my students were smart and game. I’m not sure I feel much closer to answering my big question: what possible relations exist between poetry and song? But I did write up the thoughts below for my students and they seem worth sharing.

First: while there are pieces about which I’d say with perfect confidence, “That strongly fits my definition of poetry,” or “that’s absolutely a song,” there’s a gray area where the genres lean strongly towards each other–a cappella singing, rap, poems recited rhythmically or over music. If music means “sound organized in time,” performed poetry fits the bill, whether or not the words are set to melody or there’s instrumental accompaniment. Rhythm is latent in words; voices have pitch, timbre, dynamics.

Conversely, song lyrics can be printed out and analyzed poetically, and singer-composers in various eras have had a very strong influence on what page-poets try to accomplish. I’m still bothered when people conflate the genres or put them in competition with each other, because the differences in media feel profound to me, yet lyric poetry and songs with lyrics share a strong sisterhood.
Lesley Wheeler, How poetry approaches music (and dances away again)

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Emily Dickinson/Ghost line (209/520): Mermaids in the basement came out to look at me..

(But) what if I am the ocean/my slim pout/dull teeth/what if I am a paper doll/cut from/from my mother’s grief/ the hate she clutches because I resemble/my father/how misery is her wheeze/her gaze bitter/I drink energy drinks/until my eyes bulge/heart screams/laughs/sobs/in empty parking lots/I could fall in love with myself/like a dog/a loyal hound falls in love with the sound/of fast food wrappers/crinkling/my pulse sugared and accountable.
Jennifer E. Hudgens, 6/30

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Last night, my husband gave me the word paraphernalia. My favorite phrases were: repel the leper, the bells peal, a panel of liars, the rapier’s rip. I ended up with a draft that might be going in the direction of a “dark days” type of poem. Today with my students, we brainstormed a list from ventriloquist. My favorite phrase from that list was a quiver in the soil brings violets.
Donna Vorreyer, The Sounds & the Fury…

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It might seem odd, but the most impressive part of the day was the award ceremony. You might think boring, long, drawn out, but more than 300 students gathered in the auditorium to celebrate each other and WRITING awards. Students CHOSE to attend this LitFest. chose to submit pieces of writing beforehand. Judges read and assigned awards for Honorable Mention, Third, Second, and First Place, and then lastly, the Critic’s Choice award. I actually felt quite emotional thinking about the efforts behind this annual event that has taken place for a couple decades, the people who made it happen, and the excitement of individual students when names were announced and celebrated by classmates who cheered them on. My mind spun to sporting events where the cheering can be deafening. How often do we get to see this type of jubilation over WRITING. It’s so often such a solitary endeavor, and often unrecognized. While judges read the top winning pieces, there was no audience chatter, no cell phone distraction, and no one exited. The audience was diverse, but the response was uniform–respectful!
Gail Goepfert, Back to High School, Mary, and Chocolate

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Some years I have endeavored to draft a poem a day for 30 days, some years I have been active giving and performing readings, some years in teaching; it varies on circumstance and energy. This year, I am celebrating by reading more than by writing.

When I buy poetry books, I try to purchase them–if possible–from the author or from the author’s original publisher rather than more cheaply (Amazon, used books, etc.) The author gets no royalties from books bought second-hand, and because few poets are rolling in cash from book sales–and while gaining an audience may be of value–even a small royalty check is a welcome thing, a confirmation of the work in the world.

Best-selling poetry is not necessarily the “best” poetry. Those of us who love the art can contribute in small ways by using the almighty dollar to support the writers we think need to be read.
Ann E. Michael, Poetry books & the $

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It is National Poetry Month, and having gone through all of my books in March (and letting go of a great number of them), I thought I would read an entire poetry book, each day in April, and then tell you about it. […]

The Moons of August is like a series of hallways and stairwells that take you deeper and deeper into a house. You turn a corner and find a picture of her late brother, or her lost infant. Sometimes, you find hieroglyphics or cave drawings on the walls. There’s the funny story about her mother measuring penises, that turns into a reflection about God counting the hairs on our heads. We see people walking ahead of us, catch only a glimpse of Jack Gilbert or Temple Grandin as they disappear into a basement or climb out a window. Humor and heartbreak and a wry, forgiving and encompassing compassion are threaded all the way through.
Bethany Reid, Danusha Laméris: The Moons of August

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Truth is brutal. So much we can’t recover,
years I’ve begged for you to wait for Spring to bloom
again, living in despair beside each other, and another

stormy season while we tussle for an answer
or a coda to the sum of all of life’s bother.
I’ve learned to hold my tongue, to question
nothing. Questions are another sort of winter.
Risa Denenberg, Abiding Winter

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In 2004, my debut poetry collection had been out less than a year and I was trying to book a gig in New York City. I can’t remember who suggested getting in touch with Jackie, who was the host of the Pink Pony Reading Series at Cornelia Street Cafe, but I got her email and, with little hope, sent her a note. A day or two later, Jaxx responded with an invitation not only to read at Cornelia Street, but to join her at the Bowery Poetry Club as well. When I spoke to her on the phone about my travel plans, she told me I was crazy for booking an expensive hotel room. “Are you crazy? Come and stay at my place.” And so I did. Jackie’s walk-up in Harlem would became my home-away-from-home for my many subsequent visits to NYC. There would be plenty more invitations to read at Cornelia Street and other gigs Jaxx was involved in. She was generous in ways so many poets are not, especially in championing new voices and giving them space. She thought the “po’biz” scene was bullshit and many of the poets involved in it were boring, self-important assholes. She was most definitely right about that.

Jaxx loved her apartment in Harlem. It was rent-controlled, steps from the subway and she loved the mix of people in her neighborhood. She believed in supporting the bodegas, the local restaurants and was livid when one of the big banks opened a branch on her block. Her apartment was full of books and music, great art and a giant, over-priced yellow leather couch. She loved that fucking couch (she even wrote a poem about how much she loved that fucking couch). I had the honor of sleeping on that fucking couch, as well as laughing, crying over love affairs gone wrong, and staying up late to gossip, talk poetry and politics or listen to music. Especially Patti Smith. Jaxx was inspired to create her own band, Talk Engine, which produced some fantastic personal and political music revolving around her poetry. […]

And, of course, her poetry was brilliant. Her collections The Memory Factory (Buttonwood Press) and Earthquake Came to Harlem (NYQ Books) are, as her mentor Ellen Bass said, “vivd, compelling work.” (You can read my interview with Jaxx about her poetry at this link.) Jaxx’s past was filled with harrowing tales of molestation, rape and living as a junkie on the street. She had the strength and determination to turn her life around, and was big in the IT world. When I met her, she was the director of employee support at Yahoo’s headquarters in Manhattan. In her spare time, she was tteaching poetry to inmates at Rikers Island prison. She also kept up Poetz, a calendar of all the poetry open mics and readings happening around the city.
Collin Kelley, In Memoriam: Jackie Sheeler

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Today I found the plaster Virgin with Child,
Her mountaintop avatar wound with plastic rosary beads
Left in offering. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
My father taught me to pray, but the incantations didn’t stick,
Maybe because of the good swift kick
He said I needed, and then gave, seeds
Of my future rebellions– Wiccan symbols, Celtic
Knots I traced in the dirt at Mary’s feet, the wind wild.
Christine Swint, Fourth Leg of the Journey-to-Somewhere Poem

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boom of surf at Bastendorff Beach
field of whitecaps on the Coos Bay Bar
seasick swells of the Pacific

brisk current of Rosario Strait
narrow roil of Deception Pass
Light-year twinkle on Admiralty Inlet

mirror of Mats Mats bay
foamy wake behind the Bainbridge Ferry
swirl of kelp beds off Burrows Island

When they ask her
what she will miss most

she answers

all     that           water
Carey Taylor, All That Water

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SHIFTING SANDS

Demons and marvels
Winds and tides
In the distance the sea has already vanished
Demons and marvels
Winds and tides
And you
Like seagrass touched gently by the wind
In your bed of sand you shift in dreams
Demons and marvels
Winds and tides
In the distance the sea has already vanished
But in your half-closed eyes
Two little waves remain
Demons and marvels
Winds and tides
Two little waves in which to drown.
Jacques Prévert, translated by Dick Jones

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I feel as if my head is bowl of sticky noodles and I can’t get my thoughts straight.

When I come to blog, I think, “What could I say that is interesting or useful?” And then decide to turn on Queer Eye and eat pistachios.

It occurred to me today (and maybe because it’s National Poetry Month and I’m writing a poem a day) that I need to lower my standards a bit on this blog, especially if I want to get a post a week.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Average Blogger = More Words Than Not

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Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~ee cummings was the first poet whose work I committed to memory—I suppose his poetry “looks” the most like poetry (or what I thought poetry should look like) on the page, with its crazy line breaks and spacing. There’s something about the sparseness in his poems that really resonated with me, the way he seems to say more in what he’s leaving off the page than what he includes on it. I still remember each line of my favorite poem of his, a short one starting “no time ago” and ending with two simple, devastating lines: “made of nothing / except loneliness.”
Bekah Steimel, Sirenia / An interview with poet Emily Holland

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I was wowed to discover the book Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics, edited by Chris Duffy, in our own public library! What a powerful book. Contemporary cartoonists “adapt” (interpret, illustrate) poems from the Great War, whether by the actual Trench Poets (poets who really served in the trenches) or others connected to that war. I reviewed it over at Escape Into Life, and should review more poetry books there this month, National Poetry Month, but I am a fast/slow reader of poetry. Even if I whiz through a book on first read, like eating M&Ms, I then slow down and go poem by poem, taking notes, savoring, mulling….um, to pursue the original simile, sucking off the candy coating to get to the chocolate. No, that doesn’t apply at all to most poetry I read! Never mind.
Kathleen Kirk, Above the Dreamless Dead

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Look up the vocabulary of an esoteric subject that has nothing to do with your poem. The subject might be mushroom foraging, astronomy, cryogenics, perfume-making, bee keeping, the Argentinian tango, or zombies. Make a list of at least ten words. Include a variety of parts of speech. Import the words into your poem. Develop as needed.
10 Revision Ideas for Poetry Month – guest blog post by Diane Lockward at Trish Hopkinson’s blog

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My father has a gun. I don’t know
where it is. It must be somewhere.
Maybe in his dresser drawer.
Maybe underneath his bed.

We don’t speak of it. The gun is not
meant to kill. We don’t believe in that.
I repeat, We don’t believe in that.

Outside, frost butters my window.
The world cracks at a slow pace.
Crystal Ignatowski, A Gun Is Not A Father Or A Husband Or A Saint

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bear with me here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week, a post by L.L. Barkat on Jane Friedman’s blog explained why, five years after she quit blogging, she’s coming back to it again, which is interesting timing because of course it coincides with this blogging tour thing, in which so many lapsed bloggers are trying to re-commit as well. The whole essay is worth reading, but I particularly liked her reason #5 to blog: Blogging as Playground. “The writers who know how to play are the ones whose work tends to be most vital,” she notes. So for this edition of the digest, I decided to focus on blog posts about play or demonstrating playfulness in some way. But it’s a shorter digest than most, because I think so many writers are still recovering from the AWP conference.

During my long years of writing and of having my writing critiqued, I’ve been advised more than once to watch my verbs. I recognize the stylistic impulse and agree that too much to be, too much is, was, or has been, can slow or decompress a poem.

Sometimes, exactly what the poet intends to do.

Other times, exactly what the colloquially convincing narrator or character would say.

A time and a place for every verb.

~

Zhuangzi:

“There is a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is being. There is nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be nonbeing. Suddenly there is being and nonbeing. But between this being and nonbeing, I don’t really know which is being and which is nonbeing. Now I have just said something. But I don’t know whether what I have said has really said something or whether it hasn’t said something.” (Watson, trans.)
Ann E. Michael, In defense of “is”

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I ended the day of [AWP] presentations by going to a session “Superconductors: Poets and Essayists Channeling Science.” It was a great session, but during the Q and A, I was mortified when my cell phone went off not once but twice. I thought I had turned it to vibrate, but I neglected to hit the OK button. I have a flip phone, not a smart phone. On days like yesterday, my phone seems quite dumb–or maybe it’s the user.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, AWP: Thursday Report

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The meaning of life: I don’t know and I don’t care. Bells don’t ask questions…When you’re old you have fewer questions about the nitty-gritty of poems. There are bigger fish to fry. Dying fish.
-Mary Ruefle in “Hell’s Bells,” a talk on tone

You cannot trust the sea.
-Ishion Hutchinson, plenary reading

On the days after the election, I had nothing to say, nothing to write.
-Virgil Suárez, plenary reading

Was was what we were.
-Diane Seuss, panel on persona poetry

African-American writers and other writers of the African diaspora–we don’t feel the sovereignty to write in the personal I, much of the time.
–Vievee Francis, panel on persona poetry

As soon as I put the I on the page I am abstracting myself. I can never be on the page…even the notion we can pin down a dialect seems kind of offensive to me.
-Gregory Pardlo, panel on persona poetry

Forgive me, but you have such amazingly thick hair! Sorry, that was inappropriate.
-very nice editor (with thinning hair) to me, in the bookfair, when I bent down to pull out a business card

Above are some high points from a conference filled with literary geniuses. I can also give you the most awesome Q&A reply ever, useful for all kinds of occasions, courtesy of Mary Ruefle: “That is such a beautiful question I won’t spoil it with an answer.” You’re welcome.
Lesley Wheeler, Heard at AWP 2018

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Last week, I tasked my middle school students with some exquisite corpse poetry (where students build their poem together, one line at a time (while only able to see the prior line)). One student started a piece with just the word “poetry” – and I think this pretty much sums up my relationship with poetry and writing and setting and committing to a routine and all sorts of et cetera:

Poetry
I don’t know
But I do care quite a lot
It was my favorite show
until last week
because last week I stabbed my toe
and my toe still hurts now
why can’t I skip school
Stop being such a baby
or else I’ll spank you
very hard
like a rock.

james w. moore, What is Poetry?

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The earthquake that hit Swansea while I was there on Saturday 17 February was 4.4 in magnitude, enough to be noticed but not sufficient to collapse any infrastructure. But writers in any genre should keep pushing their characters to the limit to find out what they do … I pushed the city to its limit, making the earthquake so strong that the city became uninhabitable and humans and animals alike headed for the hills … and then I dropped a man and a bird into the middle of the city.
Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry Takes Flight

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Maybe it’s all the Skyrim leveling, but for some reason, I have come to think of fjords as romantic, and plus I like the word “fjord”. Fjords seem very fresh and healthy-making, like they would clean out my lungs and strengthen my quads and whiten my teeth just by virtue of me being in proximity to them. And there is one fjord in particular with the poetic name of “Sognefjord” that boasts a sightseeing feature called the “Magic White Caves of Gudvangen.” By name alone that’s a tourist trap that is totally irresistible to impressionable me, although according to internet reviews, it’s just sort of “meh.” The pop-up on the site I was looking at for the Magic White Caves asked, “Do you wish to go?”, and I instantly thought, yes! Yes, I wish to go. And that is my answer in life from here out to all things travel-related: Yes, I wish to go.
Kristen McHenry, Fantasy Travel Blog

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I grew up with that hallowed Bombeck voice in my head, her wry one-liners the gold standard of humor writing (“I’ve exercised with women so thin that buzzards followed them to their cars”). So when I started to write essays and memoir pieces years ago, naturally I tried to make them funny. The trouble was, as soon as I thought “humor,” the card-catalog librarian in my brain immediately went and fetched the Erma Bombeck voice. But my version of it came out in a weird, over-the-top voicey-voice, a sort of quack that was trying way too hard to sound funny.

For a long time I didn’t see anything wrong with that voice, but I did notice that my nonfiction got rejected a lot. (Probably one reason why I turned to poetry.) Then somewhere in the past few years, I was reading one of my old essays and could hear how awful that ersatz-Bombeck voice was, a new clang that I hadn’t noticed before. I suppose my ear had become tuned differently.
Amy Miller, Being Erma Bombeck

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Imagine the crawl from sight to sightlessness.
Even in dreams you wear bifocals.

Imagine not knowing your grandson’s name, or being
lost in a word-salad thicket of sinister trees.
Risa Denenberg, Consolation

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HOPKINSON: Tell me a little bit about Underblong.

CHEN/WEIN: Underblong :: noun / verb / adjective / gaseous state / planetary magique / squishy soul-matter / nefarious sound. The sound of underblong is the sound of honey stirred into a hot beverage, the sound of a tortoise greeting you, the sound of something maybe sort of erotic sometimes, the sound of friends eating omelets while it is snowing outside and raining inside.

Underblong :: A portmanteau of “undertow” and “oblong,” nicknames the editors have given each other based on a long collaborative poem they may someday continue or turn into a multimedia art installation.
Let us underblong to Merriam-Webster for further underblonging.

Undertow
1. the current beneath the surface that sets seaward or along the beach when waves are breaking upon the shore
2. an underlying current, force, or tendency that is in opposition to what is apparent

Oblong
deviating from a square, circular, or spherical form by elongation in one dimension

Thus :: underblong is that which deviates in shape and travels beneath what is usually visible.
Thus :: underblong is a love for language doing bendy, twisty, knotty, naughty things.
Thus :: underblong is a poetry journal.
Trish Hopkinson interview with Chen Chen and Sam Herschel Wein

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Then stones and flowers might come
to know themselves. Day’s-eye, comfrey,
coltsfoot, mallow, vetch, stonecrop, feverfew.
Hornblende, granite, wolfram, flint and gneiss;
valleys might come know their depths,
and becks and burns to know the purposes of rain,
and the ways of the clough and the gorge
under blood moons, hare moons, the moon
when horns are broken. Then.
John Foggin, “For the true naming of the world”, in Where all the ladders start (2)

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Too often I’ve had the experience of a piece of writing never “in the end” revealing to me what it was really trying to figure out, so I loop around and around until I give up, or shove some ending on it like a cork. When I’m very lucky, a poem falls gracefully to some image that opens the whole poem up. Or, and again, this takes luck, I find the ending right there at the beginning, and realize I’ve just written the whole poem upside-down.

As a child I loved to hang upside-down on the handrail of our walkway, or off the couch watching TV upside-down. Lately I’ve been missing that perspective on things, and no amount of downface-dog or head-standing quite replicates the bliss of just hanging around in reverse of the known world. So if you come to my door and think you see feet instead of a head sticking up above the couch, well, I’m busy.
Marilyn McCabe, The Living End; or, On Writing Endings

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Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

A~I learned English as a girl, and I actually hated all the strange rules of it. English seemed like very alien, and I think writing poetry was, when I was a girl, a way to get closer to it. Now, it seems to be the best way to capture the strange extraordinariness of living. I think reading poetry for me is like taking in something so rich and beautiful, as if I didn’t even realize how thirsty I was until I read poetry.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~When I turned fifteen years, my mother gave me Pablo Neruda’s Veinte Poemas y una Canción Desesperada and said, “Estas lista para esto, hija.” It was her copy, a bilingual edition. But, even before that, when I was a very little girl, four or five, my mother had me memorize long poems in Spanish. I think that’s something that kids used to do in Chile once upon a time. She did it as a girl, and so she wanted me to do it. I still have memories of reciting those poems after dinner and at dinner parties when I was very young in Chile. I don’t remember the poems now but I remember the cadences of reciting long, beautiful words. That is how I fell in love with poetry I think, Neruda and Mistral just cemented my life long affair!
Bekah Steimel, The Order of Things / An interview with poet Soledad Caballero

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I often think Florida, at least Southwest Florida, fits me because it is such an end-of-the-road (and not ending at a particularly interesting, colorful place, like Key West). It takes determination, or desperation, to get here, and it takes quite a bit of energy to leave: a place to age out in, to transition into the nursing home, a place that welcomes a white, wealthy flight, a place cheap in infrastructure and expensive with prisons. And so, my mood had gone foul, cynical, and then turning onto 41 back South, I enjoyed the very blue sky, the low humidity, the last hint of winter hanging on, driving back into the sun.
Jim Brock, Not AWP-ing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Her arm, absent from sleep,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour (plus occasional non-tour poetry bloggers: this week, Kristin Berkey-Abbott and Ian Gibbins). If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poetry bloggers mourned departed writers and pondered questions of poetic craft, audience, how to keep the creative pump primed and where to go for renewal.

I am very sad to note the death this week of Ursula Le Guin, whose books I read in high school and who was an inspiration for speculative writers everywhere. She demanded – I saw her speak a couple of times, most memorably on the Oregon Coast during a giant storm where the windows were rattling with wind and thunder – that speculative writing not be put in a separate and lesser category, that women’s writing get equal considerations as men’s, and that poetry be given equal attention as fiction. She didn’t act like any of those demands were unusual or impossible. I still hope to one day gain her bravery and refusal to put with nonsense as well as her ability to imagine a better world.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, What is the Lifespan of a Poetry Book, Saying Goodbye to Ursula Le Guin, and the Value of Little Girls’ Voices

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It wasn’t just that she had incredible talent; she understood how writing as a woman might be different than what the mostly male canon dictated. Everything she wrote was infused with an incredible generosity that might at any moment turn into a lesson in intelligence as a spear to deflate wrong-headedness. But my heart, my heart lived in Earthsea.

The Wizard of Earthsea was a book that spoke to the deepest part of me. The part that longed to accept that my shadow, the bad self that was so often pointed out and scorned, might be integrated and necessary. The part that admired balance, equilibrium, friendship. The part of me that longed to know the true names of things, to work the magic of language.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, There is no other power. No other name.

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Is this going to be the year of losing our female literary lights? It’s only the fourth week of the year, and I just discovered the Claribel Alegria died on Thursday, as the rest of the world still mourned the loss of Ursula K. Le Guin.

Alegria’s loss did not go ringing across the literary world. She was not as famous as Le Guin. But I still feel the loss keenly, even though she was 94, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. […]

I did a search to find out more about Alegria’s death, but it’s missing from our newspapers in a way that Le Guin was not. There are plenty of term papers that I could buy–so that makes me happy in an odd way, knowing that she’s taught enough that there’s a term paper industry about her work.

I also discovered this wonderful interview done at the turn of the century in Bomb magazine. It includes a picture of Alegria and Carolyn Forche. I had forgotten that Forche had translated Alegria’s work.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Loss of a Mirror, Claribel Alegria

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When I found a few years ago that I genuinely wanted to find out what I needed to articulate, I chose to to write poems. Probably because I haven’t the stamina or the invention for anything longer. Whatever. The other thing I was surprised to welcome was the silence of the process. And finding language coming out of a silence in which I wasn’t imagining an audience, and therefore at no risk of imagining argument or opposition. It was just the business of concentrating on the moment, to find out if it was as significant as it seemed. Sometimes it was. More often, not. I found great consolation in this, and subsequently in the quiet company of people who wrote and shared poems.

I don’t know when I became aware that, as in almost any walk of life, there were factions and competitiveness in this business of writing poems; unhealthy kinds of ambition, too, and also envy and mean spiritedness. I do all I can to avoid the company of the vexatious, because what I need more than anything is serenity. But sometimes the noise of it all is too loud, and you can’t escape it. But maybe you can say your piece and walk away. So I shall.
John Foggin, The rest is silence : that P N Review thing

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Al Filreis may be the world’s most enthusiastic cheerleader for the formal aspects of modern poetry. He’s engaging and entertaining and a bit dorky and funny. He knows more about 20th century poetry than almost anyone I know in real life.

But what I really valued from the course was not Al’s comments so much as the sense of wonder at watching poems unfold over the course of a close reading in a group, like tea flowers in hot water. There’s something remarkable that happens to many of these poems during a group reading.

In the same way that I have found memory to be deeply social, this course showed me that reading poetry is, too. […]

Do we really want to address the modern era’s blurring and confusion of language by crafting poetry that is also blurry and confused? Now that public discourse is getting even more incoherent and multivalent, do we really want our poetry to do the same? ModPo seems to suggest we do. I am not so sure. Personally I would appreciate a return to someone like Oppen, or the Imagists, who sought a more crystalline, precise use of language.

Or maybe we want to think about the ways language could be used magically, in an incantatory way, like Jack Spicer.
Dylan Tweney, A few thoughts on ModPo

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I’ve always taken issue when someone says, “I don’t have time to write,” because what I hear is, “I have not made time for my writing.” Listen, if you’re reading this, if you have watched a TV show in the last week, gone onto any social media site, stayed up for fifteen minutes longer than you should, you have time to write.

Your life is happening right now, and you can make choices to use your time for writing. Even if it’s only 15 minutes. I have written poems in 15 minutes. Blog posts.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Distraction, Our Time, & My Best Morning Routine

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Ultimately, if I’m a writer I’m creating work that is intended for an audience, and that’s about purpose more than it’s about the superficial trappings of what we call ‘career’. I guess lately I’ve been thinking about audience and whether or not I have one — and not necessarily in a self-pitying way (although, let me be honest, there’s been a good deal of self-pitying going on in this blog). I’m thinking about who I’m writing for, who I create the work for, whether or not it does any real, good work in the world — otherwise, what’s the point? I want so much for my writing to be useful for something other than my own catharsis, my own navel-gazing, but what evidence exists that it IS serving some purpose other than meeting my own creative and psychological needs?
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Living with Your Work

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Amongst the racks of skeletons,
the glass-cased arthropods,
the frozen flights of butterflies,
the stalking bear, a jar of moles.

Like a pickled audience, they float,
hands in mid-applause, their mute
approval a thing of palms and fingers,
viscous suspension hiding faces,

lumping bodies into a mass of
saturated velvet.
Dick Jones, A Jar of Moles

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Writing an inauguration poem wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Once I sat down to do it, I had a moment of clarity about my process: I am a procrastinator. I spend too much time worrying about time lost when I should accept this is where I am and get on with it. And that’s what I did. I wrote it in a day and took three more to revise. You can make the case that I had been writing it in my head all along, but pressure is part of my process. When the poem was done, I felt relieved in a “mission accomplished” sort of way. Woo hoo!
January Gill O’Neil, Legacy

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I love the idea of video poems providing that extra dimension in trying to represent the strange mental limbo between memory and imagination and forgetfulness… the half-formed images, ideas, thoughts that flit through your mind pretty much constantly: this is the zone where conventional language and linear narrative fails.

All the footage in this video was shot specifically for the project around where I live. It took me months to do, learning the animation and layering techniques that are in nearly every scene… I made all the text animations from scratch, and well as many of the lighting effects. Almost every scene is constructed from several raw images… Almost nothing is as it seems.
Ian Gibbins, heist: what’s going on here?

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When the pen is stuck, my first inclination is always to read. To crack open a book or journal and roll around in someone else’s words and syntax for a while, let my vision guide me to a key that will unlock something new inside my own lexicon. Being a reader is an important practice for every writer, but I often forget how important it is to use the ear, to listen to the work of others to concentrate the mind and the ear on words that are NOT in front of me, to process them in a purer, more challenging way. I have been doing this electronically through the wonderful Commonplace Podcast with Rachel Zucker, but I always learn something from hearing poets read live.
Donna Vorreyer, The Ear as Portal

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Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Over the years, I have heard many poets and writers complain about writer’s block, and my suggestion for those who are staring at a blank page is to do something else, like go for a walk, organize a drawer, do the dishes, exercise, go for a drive in the country, take a break from your busyness. Depending on the activity, your creative consciousness can be subtly working on whatever you want to write. It’s quite remarkable how this works. For example, before I wrote my MFA thesis for Rainer Writers Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, I knitted it. Weeding our three vegetable gardens gave me Small Worlds Floating (Cherry Grove Collections, 2016) and This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). This method works, and you accomplish two things.
Shannon Steimel, Restless / An interview with poet M.J. Iuppa

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Q~How is the poem representative of your work?

A~“The High Road” is a poem that deals with my two greatest obsessions: the terrain of Texas and the terrain of my heart. It’s a poem that focuses on something deeply personal, and the ways in which the personal is woven into the far west Texas landscape, the way in which I am constantly surrounded by something greater than myself. I always find myself returning to the idea of place and space. After both of my chapbooks, I thought I’d said all I needed to say about landscape and its effect on a person, but as I delved into my thesis, I found myself returning to those themes yet again. Geography is, for me, as large and mysterious as God, and the way I wrestle with place is akin to spiritual exploration.
Shannon Steimel, The High Road / An interview with poet Allyson Whipple

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In addition to our regular months-long summer hiatus in Maine, for the past several years I have also been making regular trips to far northern New Hampshire during the height of winter (which also include detours into nearby Vermont, Maine and Québec). Trekking the ridges and hollows of the Great North Woods, among the chain of Connecticut Lakes hard on the Québec border, has proven a palliative for whatever ails me at the time, and it has helped me put my life into perspective on more than one occasion. I went there to ponder plans to retire only to return home confident it was time to move on with the rest of my life. Regardless of the season, this region has become my “panic hole” which, as defined by Gerald Vizenor, is a physical or mental place offering respite from the real or imagined pressures and stresses of daily life and the responsibilities that go with them. Who could not use one of these? Yet it has been the winter visits when I have connected most to this region. Much as Brodsky did in Venice.
Steven B. Rogers, Winter Dreaming

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Art-making is our attempt to find and express meaning—and to participate in the cosmic unfolding, whether to revel, rue, praise, lament, witness or question. There’s nothing to really “practice” here, as the urge is innate and happens by itself. We can cultivate awareness of forms and their effect on us as a species and personally. We can remember that we embody these fundaments. My own contemplation leads me to the understanding that all art-making is ritual and spiritual (and functional)—without any effort to make it that way. No matter what, it can’t be divorced from this essence, it can’t become single, alone, unmoored. When we struggle, when our work gets little recognition, even when it fails, it is grounding to remember that we are graced to be working in this archetypal realm, reflecting the cosmos, refocusing and dispersing it like lenses, little prisms. In making art, we are enacting behaviors as old as the human race. And we are continuing the unending re-expression of cosmic order. Underneath our struggles and the more mundane goals we have for our work, that is what we are doing.
Rosemary Starace, The Crocheted Cosmos

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One night it came to me
as I listened from the balcony
The ocean is the world’s pulse

The beach will teach us
dishevelment and disorder
and how to hang onto light
Hannah Stephenson, Family Vacation

Give me an armless angel
with an eroded face.
Bury me in an ivy-clad
graveyard, where you can let
my grave go untended.
Leave me in a land of ruin.

Don’t you dare deposit
me in a land left flat
for the convenience
of the lawn mower.
Plant a crop above me.
Feed the poor or provide flowers.

On that day of many dusks
when you must let me go,
remember a distant cemetery
near a college football field.
Open a bottle of wine
and remember the stolen
kisses of our youth, the illicit
thrill of a midnight ramble
in a neglected graveyard.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott
May 9, 2011

In response to Dave’s Highgate Cemetery photos. See the post at Kristin’s blog for background and process notes.