A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.
After two weeks away, I’ve had to be a bit more selective than usual to keep the digest to a reasonable length, though I’m not sure I’ve quite succeeded in that! Na/GloPoWriMo, Easter/Passover, and the generally fucked-up state of the world have given poets a lot to blog about. Enjoy.
April is National Poetry Writing month, and I’m writing a poem a day to celebrate. I have a string of poems based on a movie I’d like to write on, and I’ve been interested in working through my Handbook of Poetic Forms to challenge myself to write form poems. To be honest, I’m not sure if either of those veins of writing will produce anything book or chapbook worthy at the end, but I think there is much to be said for simply practicing your craft in a steady way. So that is why I participate in NaPoWriMo just about every year.
Renee Emerson, NaPoWriMo
So excited to embark on this journey once more! Outside my window, April is in full bloom and pouring buckets of rain, but I find the rain soothing; it can’t dampen my joy. This year, NaPoWriMo is celebrating its 20th anniversary and I’m beyond happy to have joined its cohort of intrepid travelers in 2017! Many thanks to Maureen Thorson for launching NaPoWriMo in 2003. A whole flock of baby poems I wrote during the month of April in the past six years were subsequently published in journals and will appear in my two upcoming books. I’m so grateful for this unique experience that once upon a time pulled me out of the I-can’t-write-worth-a-damn fog and set me firmly on my writing path. There’s some kind of magic that happens when time is short, when you have a juicy prompt, and, most of all, when there’s a whole community spurring you along and cheering you on. It’s a race against yourself, really. The bad habits you’ve worked so hard to develop the rest of the year simply don’t stand a chance. I’m glad and honored to be part of something so nourishing.
Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2023
Week 1 of GloPoWriMo, the Global Poetry Writing Month, and I’ve managed something every day. Sometimes a whole poem comes, sometimes just notes. Some of the notes have been used in other poems. some will just decay as compost. I’ve used a mixture of the NaPoWriMo website’s daily prompts and ideas from other places. One poem was inspired by a 6th-grade maths lesson I was in. I hope I didn’t look like I was fangirling while taking notes.
Today I have an online write-along booked with Jen Hadfield. It seems strange to write silently with other writers on a Zoom call. We don’t interact except at the check-ins at the beginning and end. We don’t share what we’ve written, and many turn off their camera and mic while writing. It’s the booking time with other writers, with the muse to write and the shared activity. Others are with me, struggling to put words on the page, finding the gentle pressure to produce. It does inspire me somehow.
Gerry Stewart, GloPoWriMo and Spring Cleaning
all the poems
I saved up
out of me
all the stones
I saved up
all the bones,
PF Anderson, LEFTOVER BITS #NaPoWriMo
well, the bones
as they do
you know, like
It’s been weird having a desire of late to write in the blog but also having very little time for the blog. During my sabbatical last fall, I had time to write in the blog but little desire. I didn’t want to take time away from my project to write about the project, so I didn’t.
I suspect that because I’m no longer engaged in being a writer full-time, the impulse to record in the blog has come back because it will make me feel, well, more like a writer. Nothing has really changed, though — time I use to write in the blog is still time I could use to work on my project (my play, but like anyone needs reminding of THAT).
I’m intuiting, however, that my need to write in the blog is about laying my thoughts out about the process, keeping a record of my ups and downs, marking the history of the play’s creation — something that didn’t feel necessary last fall when I had the days and weeks open to me.
That openness, and that silence, actually, is what I needed most in order to move forward with the play, and I think that was also why I didn’t write in the blog quite so much. It felt more like an interruption, then.
Now, as I try to work on the play while also writing reviews of poetry collections and teaching classes and grading (I am always, always behind in grading), I need the blog as a way of remembering where I am. Where I stood the day before, or the week before, or the month before. So much is lost if I don’t write it down.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Blogging vs. Not Blogging vs. The Word Blogging is So Strange and Not Really a Word
I’m not as concerned about whether or not kids learn cursive handwriting in schools from a motor-skills viewpoint — after all, no one can argue that there’s not major dexterity involved in typing on a phone with both thumbs at high speed, and most young people seem amazingly good at that. The brain’s ability to form ideas and thoughts and transform them into words is probably not hugely different when the end result is written with a pen than when it’s typed – although, let’s admit it — there’s a big difference between texting and writing a long, thoughtful letter to a friend.
But because the development of writing, as symbols made by hand, was such a critical part of human development itself, I do suspect that some sort of evolutionary neural pathway is no longer being used when we do not use our hands in this way. Maybe another question to ask is, “What Else Died when We Killed Off Penmanship?” I’m being somewhat facetious: plenty of people, like my left-handed husband, never learned cursive handwriting, and that fact didn’t interfere with either his dexterity or creativity. It’s not cursive that’s at issue: it’s what happens when we write words and thoughts down by hand. It’s a slower process, related to drawing, that requires us to think carefully — there’s no delete button — and use fine-motor coordination, as our brains navigate a complex communication pathway between mind, eye, and hand — and from there to the intended recipient of whatever we wanted to record or communicate.
What specialized and complex tasks DO we actually use that mind-eye-hand pathway for, anymore? We brush our teeth and dress ourselves, we might prepare some food; some of us play sports; we certainly type. But fewer and fewer people play instruments, learn to draw, learn to write beautifully, know how to do needlework or woodworking, make a really good meal from scratch without taking all night, throw a clay pot, know how to fix their own cars or a leaking faucet — the list goes on. Cars are a good example — even if someone might want to learn how to service their own car, most vehicles have become so complex, with computer-controlled systems, that it’s not even possible. In this sort of world, where the knowledge, desire, and need to do such things are disappearing, I wonder if the human being isn’t becoming something quite different from what we were in all the preceding centuries. How are our brains changing in the process?
Beth Adams, Can We Reprogram our Brains?
Most writers have some kind of degree in something…..Creative Writing, English, Fine Arts, other subjects I can’t even name. As a self-taught writer, I have none of those things. The reasons I don’t are varied and, honestly, inconsequential to who I am now. Since I don’t have a formal education in subjects helpful (essential?) to writers, I’m constantly “discovering” writers, essayists, poets that everyone else has already read. For me, this is exciting because, at the age of 60-something, I am still learning. I often become aware of writerly things because of the online writer community, my community of writer friends. I am indebted to them. (You know who you are, tweeps.)
For a while, at first, I was very insecure about my lack of literary education. No, actually I wasn’t insecure for a few years because I was clueless about literary things. I was working, living my life, writing without a support system at all. When I began noticing people’s bio’s attached to published pieces I went through a period of insecurity. But I was being published myself regularly so I decided, What the hell? I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. If a litmag needs writers with degrees to accept a piece, it’s not the litmag for me. And that’s easy enough to figure out.
I was deep in the What the hell phase when I applied for Creative Nonfiction Editor at Citron Review. During the Zoom interview I told them up front that I didn’t have a degree, that I understood if that was an accomplishment they preferred their Editors possessed. I was assured it didn’t matter and, yep, they took me on. I’ve been with Citron for two years now and I can’t say enough about the welcoming, encouraging, supportive culture there.
Charlotte Hamrick, Coming Clean
Rooms: Women, Writing, Woolf by Sina Queyras came out in 2022 and I bought it then, read the first 50 pages and and set it aside. I was going through my blue period, tilting into darkness, and nothing I was reading was sticking. I picked it up yesterday and read the rest of it in one sitting. I think about Woolf a lot, and women and rooms, and yet Queyras had me thinking again about all of these things in new ways. I won’t say a ton, because it’s so fresh in my brain, but I’ll venture to say that this is a necessary volume. They say, “I am a flawed, working-class, queer writer, and also a flawed queer. I was never even gay in the right way. Always out of step.” And then, “I ask myself constantly….why do you return again and agin to Woolf? It is because the text made me!” And isn’t that a moment of joy for us all, to be in the presence of such a wonderful engagement with a text.
They talk about the intertwining nature of life and work, and “the wisdom of one’s work being throughly, beautifully, productively, ethically entwined in one’s life” They ask, “What have I longed for? Not for prizes, or fame, or bestseller lists, but for an authentic intellectual and creative practice. Time and money enough for work.”
Queyras also voices this: “One of the great questions is, how do we show up for each other? How do we appreciate the writers we love? Also, how do we manage the relationship to our own room and the access of those we love to rooms of their own, too?”
They point out, “in our society, a room comes generally at the expense of someone else not having one.” As I sit here in my reasonably instagrammable room I type out that sentence and I feel it. For a decade and a half I’ve worked for the most part in public libraries where I’ve taken a special interest in connecting houseless and other folks to the services they need. Through the pandemic and now it’s been especially harrowing work. The job has been other things and more than that but also that. And I admit that I come home to my pretty study space after hearing trauma-laced stories, and it feels just very wrong, you know? The brutal disparity.
Shawna Lemay, Recommended Reading: Ghosts, Rooms, Blue
It had never occurred to me before that evening that a famous poet would care whether or not his words mattered to an awkward young woman. And that woman wasn’t me but my friend who summoned everything she had in her to crash the party and speak to the poet who meant so much to her.
My words fail me here. This remembrance isn’t about Merwin’s stellar and important work. It’s not about all the times I saw him read after that night, or how the evening shaped me as a poet. It’s about that one small gesture: to answer my friend with kindness, to see her as a fellow poet, and to honor that connection.
Decades later, a friend gave me a copy of this poem, “To the Book” as my book The Alchemist’s Kitchen came into the word and now, this past February, this poem opens the book Demystifying the Manuscript which I have co-edited with my friend Kelli Russell Agodon. This is how poetry enters our world: threading its way through gate crashing parties and via kind friends.
Susan Rich, Crashing the party, then speaking to the guest of honor: W.S. Merwin
In Haggards I wrote about the world as ‘a web of speaking beings’, and, though The Well of the Moon is a more personal book than that, it built on and developed that concept. It’s one I got from Julia Kristeva, who used it to help children with mental health difficulties, particularly victims of abuse. She stressed the importance, to a person in difficulty, of being able to speak your truth, and know you are heard, and, through my own experience and that of members of my family, I have come to value this very much. But The Well of the Moon is also about something else. I believe a human person is not only a ‘speaking being’, but a ‘listening being’ – a being in dialogue.
Elizabeth Rimmer, The Well of the Moon Live Launch
I’ve had the pleasure of participating in three readings from Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology, including one just the other day at University of Wolverhampton in the UK. There’s another virtual reading coming up with the Wild & Precious Life Series on Wednesday, April 12, at 7:30 p.m.
On Feb. 2, I read in-person at the Let Me Say This Anthology launch hosted by Georgia Center for the Book. This was my first reading in front of an audience in three years and since my cancer surgery. I was incredibly self-conscious about my droopy face, but I made it through (thanks to Karen Head for the photo above). We had an incredible turnout, so hats off to editors Julie Bloemeke and Dustin Brookshire for making it happen.
In May, I’ll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Modern Confessional blog with a special post. Twenty years?!?
Collin Kelley, A Spring Update
Q: What happens when a poet attempts to write a full-length book of prose?
A: She learns to count words.
On January 2, 2023, I started writing my first memoir. I’d spent October, November and December going over notebooks, journals, photo albums, and emails from the last ten years, recovering memories, reconstructing scenes, and asking myself how I would shape this book. I also read a dozen books of memoir, as well as books about writing memoir, and every other resource I could find regarding the subject. I watched films based on memoirs and biographies. I took Marion Roach’s memoir class. I drilled my family on their recollections. I asked myself, over and over, what is this book about? No, what’s it really about?
Erica Goss, Thousands of Words
Big news arrived this week: Wednesday morning, I talked by phone with Jeffrey Levine, who told me that Diane Seuss had named my next poetry book, Mycocosmic, runner-up for the Dorset Prize, and they want to publish it with a $1000 honorarium, likely in winter 2025. I said yes. I’m still stunned. My adoration for Seuss and her work–I’ve never met her, but I’ve been a fan for years of her poems and her literary generosity–makes the honor especially wonderful. And Tupelo will be the largest indie I’ve ever published poetry with, so it’s a lucky break.
I’ve been working toward Mycocosmic for some years, although it kept mutating. The “cosmic” in the title evokes the spell-poems, blessings, curses, and prayers I’ve been writing for a while, after gathering more my overtly political and historical poems in The State She’s In (although there are a few spell-poems in that book, too). In the late twenty-teens, I started to consider other ways poems might make change, particularly through lyric entrancement (repetition, rhyme, meter) and petitions to other-than-human powers. In a 2019 panel at the C.D. Wright Conference I called this mode “Uncanny Activism,” a title I redeployed for a Copper Nickel essay that became a chapter in Poetry’s Possible Worlds (in the book, called “Magic”), and I will use the phrase again for a panel gathering at the New Orleans Poetry Festival in a couple of weeks. For a Shenandoah portfolio of spell-poems, I used a different title, “A Grimoire: Poems in Pursuit of Transformation.” Same idea; long thinking.
“Myco” means fungal, a motif that crept up on me as I wrote and revised.
Lesley Wheeler, Mycocosmic and plutonic
There is a small flame inside each writer that becomes a little brighter when a reader takes the time to respond to their work. I was lucky enough this week to have my new book Corvus and Crater reviewed in Terrain.org by the talented writer Renata Golden. I am so profoundly grateful for Renata’s close reading and the conversation she opens up about my book. She saw that it is not just a book about grief or landscape, but also about fighting to be a whole person in a culture that tells women they need to be less.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Corvus and Crater begins her debut
Bookspines, uncracked, accrue
in tomblike rows, stone caveats
a daily reproach. Each inscribed box
looses doubt, poisoner of wells—
too obvious to mention Pandora here?
the one gift always unread.
How dull it is to die
while still alive.
How the mystic
Meanwhile, in the cemetery, groundbees
emerge drunk on light and heat.
I’m old and I shall die soon. This much is true. For much of the time nowadays such anguished queries as to what manner of ‘soon’? whose ‘soon’? when does ‘soon’ transmute into pretty much now? go unspoken. The day is shopping, bed-making, emptying the dishwasher, walking the dog. I have a beer with friends; I talk, I argue, I laugh with my family. So that ‘soon’ simply ticks over as a managed sense of diminishing future, an intellectual awareness rather than a red-light imminence. And it goes without saying, of course, that throughout all the sturm und drang of childhood, youth and middle age, the immortality diode through which all experience was filtered performed its function admirably and my existential voltage flowed unimpeded forwards, always forwards.
Then 13 years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After surgery and with treatment I live with it now and am assured by my oncologist that it’s not going to carry me off. But that door to the mortality ante-room was opened with the urologist’s words of diagnosis and with the passing of the years since that day the darkness within it impinges increasingly on that voltage flow.
Dick Jones, HOW IT IS.
The sky is luminous yellow and we’re all at the table with potatoes and wine. Everyone’s arguing and why won’t Jesus overthrow the state?—we don’t need heaven on earth but better civil society. I kissed Him and an otter entered into me and is doing flips. It’s like an orgasm 24/7 in there. This is the secret. There’s an otter inside everyone and it makes them come 24/7 just like the sun and the moon, the stars and all those unexpected holy rivers.
Gary Barwin, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JUDAS
Jesus on the cross is Good Friday‘s most “popular” image. And it’s not far away from what many people go through somewhere, not always far away, actually never far away, from us.
The war in Ukraine, the bombings in Israel and the never ending conflict at the occupied Palestinian territories, the civilian pain and hunger in Afghanistan, the many forgotten wars, ecological disasters in the so-called Global South, the bloody borders of the so-called Western World, deathly traps for refugees, for people who run away from all catastrophes mentioned. Crossed people, crossed nature and closed crossings, on land, on water, and often, in our minds.
Magda Kapa, Switzerland
This is the season for pruning
trees, folding winter clothes,
cleaning the clotted dust
from window frames,
listening for tiny signals
for help. Glass panes
shatter from schoolroom doors;
and watercolored sunflowers dry
above the heads of children
cowering under tables.
Luisa A. Igloria, Ecclesiastes
Here we are, Maundy Thursday again. I am in a house that I didn’t own last year. Last year, Maundy Thursday was the day before I broke my wrist. This year, I am hearing all the broken body parts of our liturgy differently.
Diana Butler Bass has already written the perfect Maundy Thursday essay, the type of essay where I almost decide I don’t need to bother to write anything further. She writes “Christians mostly think of Maundy Thursday as the run-up to the real show on Friday.” And then she writes a whole essay to address this idea: “What if we’ve gotten the week’s emphasis wrong?” She writes a whole essay to expand on the idea that the table, the meal, should be the main point, not the cross.
On this day, I’m thinking of Anselm and his ideas of atonement. On this day, I’m wondering what would have happened if Christianity had emphasized something different, if the cross could have been a different kind of symbol. More on that tomorrow.
On this day, I’m thinking of those earliest Christians, sharing all they had, not calling themselves Christians yet, just a group of people who had experienced something shattering. They gathered to try to understand what had happened and how to move forward.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Maundy Thursday: Back to the Table
Here is Buxton Spa, Easter, green hills.
Not a credit card between us.
Good intentions: it’s the year of the Pig.
We’ve been to China, lugged back
soldiers from Xian, wrapped in towels.
Now they’re resting under the Red Cross.
For our next birthdays, we say,
we just want Prosecco, book tokens, no bric-a-brac,
but our hands are restless,
Fokkina McDonnell, Easter Monday
our fingers flick through a tray of rings.
Happy Easter and Passover to those who celebrate. I always loved Easter as a kid, mainly because our family celebrated by watching “Jesus Christ Superstar” and we got chocolate bunnies. It’s also a time of rebirth, of celebrating spring, of renewal – even in the cold rain today, you can feel the flowers and the green leaves happening.
What happened to April? It started with a few early book launch events (the book is officially out May 8th,) nothing crazy, and then I started getting e-mails and now every week is packed with classes, lectures, and readings, culminating in a reading at J. Bookwalter’s Winery on my 50th birthday on the last day of poetry month! Take a look at the events of the right side of the screen and come to some of the in-person or virtual readings and get a copy of Flare, Corona.
I guess this is no surprise, since this is National Poetry Month and all! And I’m actually looking forward to being a little bit busy after a few years of the only “busy times” were dental work and blood draws. And being in person with people is such a great experience as a writer – it takes you out of the isolation of writing, editing, submitting and into a community of writers, readers, that it’s not just you and your words, that you and the words are out in the world.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Easter and Passover, An Avalanche of Poetry Events in April, Spring Sylvia and Katie Farris’ New Book, Cherry Blossom Fest
Words, world making. The whole
Jill Pearlman, In Our Cups of Seder Freedom
shifts in parts, the bottom glitters,
we teeter in freedom
white flowers in a night garden.
I’m not 100% sure a blurb will sell the book—eg it’s not the thing that gets someone over the line, but as with all last click attribution models, that thinking ignores the contribution of other things in the sales funnel, so I’m going to work on the grounds that a well-written and intentioned blurb is not just what I am calling Hyblurbole (has that been coined before? Probably), but it should be something that helps get onto people’s radars (along with all the other stuff I need to do to sell the book).
You know what I mean by hyblurbole…it’s the sort of film flam written on the back of books that says stuff like this absolutely destroyed me or one of the greatest books of all time or OMG, like who is this not written for?
Mat Riches, Hyblurbole and getting an (anth)ology
Not for the first time, I’m indebted to Mat Riches’s ever-excellent blog – and in this case, an especially brilliant and poignant post, here – for alerting me to something which I may otherwise have overlooked: Peter Kenny’s interview with Robert Hamberger in the latest edition of the Planet Poetry podcast, available here. I’m a big fan of Robert’s poetry, so it was a sheer delight to listen to the interview, not only because of his insights but also because it was interspersed by him reading poems from his latest (2019) collection Blue Wallpaper – available to buy here – which I reviewed for The North, here, and absolutely loved.
Robert aired so many quotable reflections on poetic practice that I had to keep pausing the podcast to write them down. His poetry is often concerned with the past and how it interacts with the present, and I nodded furiously in agreement with his conviction that, “I am preserving experiences or people I loved, or even the person I was at that particular point in my history.” The gist of that is a common enough motivation, but it’s the careful choice of the word ‘preserving’ which is particularly noteworthy; that the poet is as much of an archivist as – if not more than – someone who digitises old photographs or curates items in a museum.
Matthew Paul, On Robert Hamberger
Jon Stone was the speaker at last night’s hybrid Cambridge Writers meeting. He told us about the kind of poetry that interested him, and read out a manifesto. He’s interested in dissolving boundaries – between writer and reader, between authors (hence collaborations), between genres, and between games and poetry. He pointed out that poetry’s more suited to games than prose is, because it already has rules, it has units (lines, stanzas) that can be recombined, it already has an audience prepared to put work in, and there’s little marketing pressure. He saw himself working in a niche within the niche of poetry, both as a participant and a publisher.
Tim Love, Jon Stone at Cambridge Writers
This post is a document of links to resources I’ve used in recent ecopoetry and nature poetry workshops and for my own writing. I’ve found these short films and poems helpful in classrooms, and elsewhere, in developing conversations and creative responses to the climate crisis. Some of the resources I mention were also included in a post I wrote in 2019 ‘Poetry responding to climate change’.
I brought this short film Rise: From One Island to Another into a Year 9 workshop (young people aged 14 – 15). The film is a poetic conversation between two islanders, one from the Marshall Islands and one from Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), connecting their realities of melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Other helpful resources have been the Climate Change and the Anthropocene issues of Magma poetry magazine, and the Ecojustice issue of Poetry magazine.
The poem ‘The loss of birds’ by Nan Craig (published in the Climate Change issue of Magma) – which imagines a conversation between an adult and a child who has never known birds – has been particularly good at prompting poems that consider what we are in danger of losing because of the climate crisis.
Josephine Corcoran, Ecopoetry in the classroom and beyond – some resources and ideas
Poetry keeps pouring out of me, onto a chalkboard and a computer screen and into a composition notebook. (Meanwhile, rejections.) I’ve been doing both poetry and prose in a Lenten workshop online that’s about to end, and I provide prompts and poems for another online workshop every April. There’s a great sense of camaraderie in both these workshops, for which I am grateful. Now my kids are coming home for Easter, so 1) some of the poetry may pause 2) I must not eat all the jelly beans!!
Kathleen Kirk, Being Human
I’m going for a 30/30 this month for National Poetry Month. I’m using this form calendar [image] from Taylor Byas and Sofia Fey as a way to get me started each day. You can follow them on Twitter to get the information about the workshops.
Carolee Bennett has also posted 30 prompts for the month at her blog Good Universe Next Door. Be sure to check them out any time for some writing inspiration. She provides a prompt and a sample poem to get you inspired. […]
I am diligently working on the project that has grown out of my obsession with Billy Budd mentioned earlier this year. It has taken on a life of its own, and it is much more experimental in nature than anything I’ve tried to do before, making it at turns exhilarating and frustrating. I am waiting to hear about a wonderful residency opportunity that is HUGE longshot, and I have two different chapbook manuscripts out at two different contests. Hoping that the universe comes through on at least one of those opportunities.
Donna Vorreyer, Is It Any Wonder I Gave Up Blogging?
Just grabbing a few minutes on Easter Saturday to write this. There’s only so much gardening you can do before needing a break. So, now I’ve tackled the wayward honeysuckle…
Last week, Peter Kenny and I treated ourselves to an informal ‘works do’ by going along to the prize giving for the National Poetry Competition on the South Bank in London. We were armed with a handful of home-made business cards for Planet Poetry, just in case, I and even gave a couple out, but we didn’t do any ‘roving mic’ interviews or anything, as I’m not sure we’re organised enough for that. But we enjoyed hearing the winning poems and (naturally) dissecting everything on the train home.
We talked about it on the podcast, so I won’t repeat myself here. The winner was Lee Stockdale, an American poet who we heard had entered the competition many times before before nailing the jackpot. Of course, hearing each poem read, just once, wasn’t nearly enough time to appreciate any of them properly. Certainly, there were poems (including the winner) which left me a bit nonplussed by on the night, but I warmed to them subsequently after reading them in the Winners’ Anthology.
Poetry competitions are a bit nuts, aren’t they? But lovely if you win, of course, and even a ‘commended’ or a ‘longlisting’ in the National can be a boost. But to keep entering all the competitions and never win anything I guess you need to have a thick skin and healthy self-belief.
Robin Houghton, National Poetry Competition and a Finished Creatures launch
It’s April, and having been asleep since January – at which time the only new CBe title on the horizon was Patrick McGuinness’s essays, carried over from last year – I wake up to find there are now eight, or maybe nine, new books in preparation for publication later this year and early next.
For starters, a reissue of J.O. Morgan’s first book, Natural Mechanical, first published by CBe in 2009: winner of the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, Forward-shortlisted, all that kind of stuff and more. His more recent fiction and poetry have been published by Cape. The reissue is in A-format size, part of the little gang that started coming together last year: photo above. Available from the website now. For the first orders (I’ll stop when I start to get worried) I’ll add in copies of Morgan’s At Maldon and a Poetry Archive CD of his reading that (from memory: an hour) for free.
Charles Boyle, A New Season
Today launched my NAPOWRIMO adventures and I’m liking the first poem so far. I may move off the technogrotesque project later in the month and on to something else. I may stick it out and make it a chapbook. I may abandon daily poems entirely. April is always an unpredictable month, but also I feel so much less ragged than I used to when usually, the library would be hitting full stride in terms of programming stuff and just general work, at least before the pandemic anyway. The absence of academic rhythms is still something I am getting used to, after an entire life subject to its ebb and flow.
I am still sometimes finding the rhythms of my days to myself, and it also changes seasonally and by mindset. This week, I wrote about Virginia Woolf and A Clockwork Orange and coyotes in Native American myth. About ceiling medallions and slow design and substitutions for corn starch. This too is an enjoyable rhythm–the research, the drafting, the polishing. The later afternoon is about editing and designing, steadily moving through the chaps delayed from late last year, of which there were many (and thankfully, I pushed everything new this year to the end since I suspected this would be the case.) I sometimes write poems when I first get up, sometimes later at night. Used to be, the mornings were key since the rest of the day would leave me with little to work with, but it’s far better now. Even after a full day of other kinds of writing and editing, there are still words left shaking around at the bottom that can maybe be made into poems.
Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 4/1/2023
I find this hour of the day 7-8 the most productive; not in terms of getting lots of words down, but in terms of the space to think. Writing is not always about pushing and pushing and forcing yourself into a routine, sometime it is about creating the space for the work to come and settle. Consistency is the key, I think, coupled with the understanding that it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be.
In the summer I start my routine even earlier; starting the day with a walk down the lane early, early doors, before it gets warm. This too, is a magical place, to walk where no person has yet been and see the dew prints of the Roe deer, the fox, the rabbit, to watch the owl hunt over the meadow and along the railway tracks, to see the sun rising rich and orange over the lip of the valley. This is like an act of prayer, for me, an act of enchantment, of seeking beauty, of placing myself before nature and to feel a part of it. This is where I come to the altar of the world and set down my whole self; finding, instead of the world’s worries, the intuitive act of creation. Then, back to the desk to net that elusive, magical thing and bring it to the page before life – washing, working, cooking, cleaning – crowds in and that space is lost.
I feel like I might be over romanticising the act of early morning writing, of writing in general, but I also think we don’t acknowledge enough that writing isn’t just about bashing words out onto a page, it isn’t just about learning how to edit successfully, there really is something quite magical about it, about capturing those snapping neurons and building the structure of words around them.
Wendy Pratt, Early Morning Writing Time
Rebecca Elson, whose book A Responsibility to Awe I just finished reading, keenly reminds me of how fascinating the study of the universe can be and how little we know of it. Each decade the science and the theories take immense leaps in measurement and exploration, and each leap reveals how many more questions we have yet to ask, let alone answer. Not just inquiries into the galaxies, but also biological and ecological worlds to explore: salmon, eels, oceans, mountains, our own histories and our own mortality. Elson’s area of study centered on galaxy formation–the chemical evolution of stars, and globular clusters. But she started out collecting rocks with her geologist father who was doing fieldwork in Canada, then studied biology. It wasn’t easy to be a young woman studying the sciences in the 1970s, and she felt she was drifting a bit; writing, however, she felt more sure of. In the essay that ends this collection, she states that the atmosphere at Princeton during her post-doctoral study was “a stronghold not just of men, but of theoreticians” who looked down on work which involved “mere” observation, which is what she had painstakingly been doing in her research in Australia and Cambridge. At Princeton, though, she met a group of poets who encouraged her work and who made her stay at the university more comfortable. Good observation skills make a terrific foundation for poets.
If the ocean is like the universe
—from “Some Thoughts about the Ocean and the Universe”
Then waves are stars.
If space is like the ocean
Then matter is the waves
Dictating the rise and fall
of floating things…
She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma when she was 29, died ten years later, and this book is the only example I’ve been able to find of her poetry. But it is revelatory what Elson does with simple language and deep, theoretical concepts as metaphor, topic, or theme.
Ann E. Michael, Astronomy
What we also see here is the characteristic movement of Harwood’s thought in his poems, as we move from scene to apparently unrelated scene with an underlying cohesion which is a function of the linguistic surfaces of the poems. In their very useful introduction, Corcoran and Sheppard discuss this aspect of the work in terms of Harwood’s use of collage, which derives from his early reading of Pound and Tzara. It is, however, important to note that unlike in the case of, say, Pound, knowing Harwood’s sources would not enrich the reading of the poems. In this, he shares much in common with an early admirer of his work, John Ashbery, like Ashbery, Harwood’s work demands our full attention precisely because everything we need to understand (not the right word) his poems is there on the page, in the words he has chosen to present to us and the order he presents them in. His obscurities, such as they are, are the obscurities of the human mind at work in the world.
Billy Mills, Lee Harwood New Collected Poems: A Review
“Xanax Cowboy” is a book length sequence of poems, each of which could stand alone, but the cumulative impact of reading as a whole strengthens each individual part. None of the sections have titles and horseshoes are used as separators to underline the theme. Xanax is a drug used to treat anxiety and panic disorders which often occur alongside depression. “Xanax Cowboy” is a sort of alter ego created by the sequence’s narrator as a way of exploring and dealing with her issues and hopefully bridge the gap between where she is now and where she wants to be.
Emma Lee, “Xanax Cowboy” Hannah Green (House of Anansi) – Book review
Jacksonville, Florida-based poet and editor Jessica Q. Stark’s second full-length poetry collection, following Savage Pageant (Birds LLC, 2020) [see my review of such here], is Buffalo Girl (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2023). As the press release offers, Buffalo Girl writes the author’s “mother’s fraught immigration to the United States from Vietnam at the end of the war through the lens of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.” As Stark offers at the offset of the poem “Phylogenetics,” “When it began isn’t clear, but isn’t it obvious that we always had a knack / for stories about little girls in danger?” Stark examines, through collages of text and image, an articulate layerings of breaks and tears, intermissions and deflections; examining how and why stories work so hard to remove female agency. “In this body is my mother’s body,” she writes, as part of the extended “On Passing,” “who paid the fantastic price in / fairy tales written mostly by men.” She offers elements of her mother, including pictures of her mother repeatedly on a scooter, providing a curious echo of Hoa Nguyen’s A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure (Wave Books, 2021) [see my review of such here], a collection that explored her own mother’s time spent as part of a stunt motorcycle troupe in Vietnam. “You can paint a woman // by the river bank,” Stark writes, to open the poem “Con Cào Cào,” “but // you can’t ever imitate // a sound, fully. This story is // not simple.”
rob mclennan, Jessica Q. Stark, Buffalo Girl
I suppose it’s something of a responsibility to be selected as a new poetry press’ first pamphlet, particularly in today’s unhelpful economic climate. Though Flight of the Dragonfly Press had published a magazine earlier in 2022, it selected Niki Strange as the author of their debut pamphlet. I’m pleased to be able to say that this turned out to be an excellent decision. Body Talk (Flight of the Dragonfly Press, 2022)is a fine debut, featuring authentic poems of courage, resilience, and optimism, which test the boundaries of form in imaginative and appropriate ways.
The pamphlet begins with the profoundly moving prose poem, Float. It is written in the first-person, making it close and personal, as if we are inside the narrator’s head. The syntax is fragmented, the rhythm broken, erratic, capturing the life-changing effect of cancer diagnosis and treatment: ‘Bedtime stories. Swings and roundabouts, And sandpits. Go again. Two lines. Oh yes. Oh gone. Holiday or running away. Stage 1 melanoma. I see the robin every day as I lie in bed. Skin grafted from thigh to shin.’ Strange refers to daily domestic tasks, such as caring for her child, driving the car, arranging flowers, baking bread. Yet the account of each routine activity is never developed or sustained; it is punctuated by specific moments in the treatment of her illness. The effect is to convey the shattering nature of this potentially fatal disease. It wrecks normality, disables concentration, fills every waking hour. No wonder the poem ends with the lines, ‘Run. Run across the sh-sh-shingle into the amniotic waves. And float.’
Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Body Talk’ by Niki Strange
This week I bought more books than I should have. Because of Bethany Reid’s review, I bought Linda Pastan’s Almost an Elegy: New and Selected Later Poems. My purchase was prompted because of this poem (continuing to speak of generations and cusps) that Bethany shared:
The Last Uncle
The last uncle is pushing off
in his funeral skiff (the usual
black limo) having locked
the doors behind him
on a whole generation.
And look, we are the elders now
with our torn scraps
of history, alone
on the mapless shore
of this raw new century.
I’m not the elder generation in my family yet, but many people my age are in theirs. In a conversation this week about whether we are at the beginning or in the middle of what’s happening to our country, I could see how I was gathering my own “torn scraps/of history,” and Pastan is a good person to provide guideposts into the later stages of life. (Any stage of life, really.) I also bought Kate Baer’s What Kind of Woman, because Bethany’s post reminded me of how much I like a certain kind of plain-spoken poetry (Ted Kooser is a favorite in that vein), and I saw it in the bookstore one day after skating. I decided it was time I got over not wanting to buy a book by a popular, best-selling poet. Her writing fits into the plain-spoken category, and I’ve liked some of her poems that I’ve encountered via social media, so why wouldn’t I buy her book? (I’m not going to delve into what my aversion is about or where it comes from. Probably more social programming from my youth that involved responses to Rod McKuen.)
Rita Ott Ramstad, On cusps
I have the same kind of fear of a gun as I did of the forklifts I used to drive when I worked in a grocery warehouse. This thing can kill you or someone else, so respect it. Don’t be flippant when you have control of it.
I don’t fear the gun as rhetorical tool so much. I don’t even really fear the people who use it that way, who try to push back their feelings of powerlessness or loss or their own fear by loudly possessing guns. I say loudly for a reason. I’m talking about the “Come and take them” types who open carry because they like the way they think people look at them in public. I treat them warily and am cautious around them, but I don’t fear them because there’s no point in it. The people who worship guns and the power they think their guns project are in it for themselves. They don’t care how everyone else really feels because they have a fantasy of how everyone else sees them.
Many of those kinds of people make appearances in the book that I’m pulling the poem I’m talking about from, which is Matt Donovan’s The Dug-Up Gun Museum from BOA Editions last year. I think this is the first work I’ve read from Matt Donovan, who I’ve never met that I know of, but it’s his third poetry collection and I will certainly be looking for those other collections based on this one.
Brian Spears, When the first thought isn’t always the best thought
When the news broke, we danced.
I danced beneath an alien sky.
Plants bloomed: I tasted guavas
Marian Christie, When the news broke
firm and sharp upon my tongue.
I’ve still been spending time with Lear this weekend. With Shakespeare’s language and the rich stories. And I am chastising myself for the arrogance in wondering… why is so much left unsaid?
An example: Edgar – as Poor Tom – meets Gloucester and hears his father say that if he could just touch Edgar’s face again it would be as though he had his sight again. So why doesn’t Edgar reveal himself?
The Tragedy of King Lear wasn’t written as a closet play, and I wonder then if the audience – groundlings or otherwise – were able to get under all the psychological machinations in Edgar’s head to make sense of this moment, in the moment, as the lines were spoken, passing quickly over the heads of the orange-sellers and the old women bitching about their sore feet? Did anyone care? Or am I just thicker than the average Elisabethan?
I’m not interested in the question of authorship that has been recently staged in a “court of law” in London. I think it’s funny that we should care so much. And that maybe it is more about a projection of our very real personal fears of insignificance, than an actual interest in whether a single person wrote the work.
There’s never been a serious question of the originality of the stories. Of any story, if you want to take it that far. And as for the language, I very much love the idea that it began with a sketch of a script that morphed naturally in the mouth of a performer, and then again in memory before it was recorded in text. Maybe adapting Shakespeare isn’t sacrilege at all, but the best way to keep communication between us and “them” alive.
But the question remains. Are we all just thicker now?
Ren Powell, The Mysticism of Shakespeare
I find I am rather late to the party, in terms of appreciating John Freeman. His bio notes include… well, so much (follow the links to see), and Dave Eggers called him, in a Los Angeles Times review, “one of the preeminent book people of our time.” Freeman’s previous books of poetry are Maps (2017) and The Park (2020). I found traces of him all over the web, and you’ll find a couple more links at the bottom of this post.
But my goal here is to write about Freeman’s exquisite third book of poems, Wind, Trees, and perhaps tempt you to take a look for yourself.
This short poem I include simply because it blew my mind (and I have a thing for pianos). It is in the wind section of the poems, by the way, and it beautifully chimes with the book’s epigraph from Jack Gilbert: “We are a shape the wind makes in these leaves / as it passes through. We are not the wood / any more than the fire, but the heat which is a marriage / between the two.”
Bethany Reid, John Freeman’s Wind, Trees
Here’s a link to the text and the poet’s reading of James Fenton’s superb short poem ‘Wind’ on the Poetry Archive: https://poetryarchive.org/poem/wind/
It’s a poem that brings tears to my eyes when I read it. Paradoxically, I think it does so at least partly by the serene beauty of its composition and the lightness with which it touches its matter. This lightness is reflected in the poet’s reading, which is thoughtful and tinged with sadness but never heavily emotive.
Despite its being so short, I would call it a great poem. Its point of view, its subject matter, is epic, dealing with the movement of peoples, with sweeps of space and time and processes of cultural change as vast as those in Saint-John Perse’s Anabase.
Edmund Prestwich, James Fenton, ‘Wind’
Dead flowers mix with the soil and
become other things: fruits, different
flowers, a bird. Ephemeral things. When
love runs out, it becomes a poem. A
forever being. A trellis of quiet words
peering into the water. Like tree rings, a
poem cut open can tell you its age.
Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 41
Meaning grows inside it in concentric
circles. Each measuring the growing
distance between poem and poet. Poet
and love. What if we had another hour?
Another month? Another way?
Anyone visiting the New Jersey Botanical Garden in April will see signs of spring — and signs with spring poems on them, too! :- )
A poem of mine is on one of them:
Bill Waters, New Jersey Botanical Garden haiku installation 2023
and the scent
It’s the nickname for people who rushed west
Jason Crane, POEM: The Age I Am Now
in search of gold but really fleeing
from the horror that all the days to come
would be like all the days behind,
hoping instead that the rivers ran with possibility
that could be dragged glittering into the sun.
plum blossom time
Jim Young [no title]
the painting goes visiting
the tree outside