Lana Ayers

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’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poetry Twitter was rocked by a series of explosions, but in the blogosphere (do we still call it that?) poets seem to be largely staying the course, as Sandra Beasley puts it: not complacent, but taking the crises on board, learning from them, and continuing to read, write, and rage in our own ways.

Many people in the literary world have had a strange past week, where the waves of news have included the seeming implosion of an independent press, the exposure of a fraudulent agent, the revelation of a serial manipulator in our midst, and the publication of an offensively lousy poem in a prominent forum. Then we discovered water seeping through the floor of our living room. The universe, it seems, is trying every which way to keep me from taking pleasure in poetry.

But I’m going to stay my course, in part because I’m so determined to finish my manuscript by the end of the summer. Even on the days otherwise unproductive I’ve tried for a bit of revising, tinkering, fussing with order. And I’m thinking a lot about what makes a poem a worthwhile endeavor, why we do what we do.

Allison Titus is a writer I’ve been following and appreciating for a while now, and in a recent interview with Bennington Review she says this:

When I get excited about a poem, it’s always the same way, that I respond most to poets/poems that arrest me and startle me back to attention (to the world, to life, to living) all over again, in some strange or intense manner: I’m always mostly desperate to be staggered/astonished/undone (by the world and thus by language). I just really all the time want to be rearranged; Robert Creeley is really good at doing this to me (“I heard words / and words full / of holes / aching. Speech / is a mouth.”). When I’m working on my own poems, I like most to be surprised by something that develops/materializes in the way that feels as “true” as it feels wild, crucial, off-kilter.

This captures something really right to me, something essential. One of the things I’ve emphasized recently, in teaching and editing as well as my own work, is the importance of making space for the wild unknown. We often use the rhetoric of a poem’s “landscape,” but in this context the cartography is both science and art–we need to admit and honor elements that surprise us, that don’t fit on first glance. This feels especially important as I work on a fourth collection, and gently resist my natural inclination to plot and plan as a way of easing anxiety over how little control I have over where and how this book lands.
Sandra Beasley, “I just really all the time want to be rearranged” ~ Allison Titus

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Here, the sliders, the shiny-shelled, the leggy things
are eclipsed in nature: walls and trees bear their weight
in a symbiosis of colour, form and texture.
          Good to see them free, untrammeled,
          where they ought to be amongst the webs,
          the moth husks and the tendrils.
Dick Jones, MORAIRA 1

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About summer sun: She is shining in Sequim and all over the Pacific NW, and it’s hilarious that after barely a month, people who have lived here much longer than I have are complaining about the heat, when it’s 80 degrees and the rest of the country is sweltering and burning. I am bathing in light and warmth and a little sad because the days are already getting shorter. […]

What I’m reading: an advance review copy of “The Final Voicemails” (Max Ritvo) and “Birds of the Pacific Northwest”.

What I’m writing: I’m working on a new poetry manuscript titled “why I hate to cry”. I’m also dusting off a novel and made a commitment to attend a workshop next spring to work on it.

What I’m submitting: Poems to impossible journals- so I can reach 100 rejections before the end of the year.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Sun, Son, and Mourning: an Update

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I hesitate to explain too much about any of my poems because I want the reader to have her own experience with art. That’s a sacred space to me. I will say the poem was inspired by actual events, and it is dedicated to the girls from Galveston County that did not get to grow up, like me. I have not forgotten them.

How do you decide when or if to explain your work? I’m curious. I think I’m more on the Cormac McCarthy end of the continuum.

TLR asked contributors to record our work and the put it on Soundcloud for free. I think hearing a litmag instead of reading it is a great way to enter these pieces. Despite the weird aversion to my own voice (many of us have this strange reaction). I think I will save the audible issue for my next long drive.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, my daughter forgets to lock the door

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Great to be in Under the Radar alongside so many poets I respect, particularly Mike Barlow. However, I want to draw your attention to a friend of mine, Joe Caldwell, who teaches English in Sheffield. Not an easy thing to do, teach and write, but Joe manages it because he’s disciplined, and loves what he does.

Poetry’s not just about finding time to write, is it? It’s the push to send work out, deal with the rejections, edit, read something new, maybe start again, research magazines, track submission windows, try to go to a reading or two in between, attend workshops, read more, keep reading, berate yourself for not doing enough of any of these things, be happy for a fleeting moment when an acceptance comes your way, then worry that you haven’t got enough new work to send elsewhere.

And somewhere along the way, someone will have asked you what you do in your spare time!
Julie Mellor, Under the Radar

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I’m almost always suffering some dire form of suspense and trying to ignore it. Long publishing cycles are a large part of that–I have many mss out there and the odds of success don’t favor me. Often I can receive a rejection with a philosophical shrug, or go for weeks without thinking about a particular submission. On a rational level, I know it’s not personal, and it’s not helpful or healthy to get revved up over such extended, uncertain processes. But I am not rational every hour of every day. Ahem.

Because I spend so much effort trying to calm the hell down, it’s funny to realize I like suspense. In all forms of writing, it helps keep readers on the line. In novels and Netflix, I crave a zippy plot–strong characters in some condition of risk, to which events and feelings keep happening, unpredictably. In poems, I love that gasp-inducing opener that keeps you suspended, sometimes with a plot question (what’s going to happen?) and sometimes with another kind of problem, an image that begs unraveling or a pattern that needs resolution.

I started writing about poetry and suspense four years ago, for a book ms I spent a few years finishing and revising and am still in suspense about. I just reworked that material for a craft talk I’m giving Tuesday for the brand-new Randolph MFA in Creative Writing, at which I’ll be a visiting professor (seriously, click on that link and check out their regular faculty–Gary Dop is doing an amazing job). I hope to revise it again after this week’s adventures and send it out as an essay. In the process, I dug up a related blog from 2014, and it’s fascinating to see what I was in suspense about then: a ms, of course (it became Radioland), and a bad situation at work (which got worse before it got better, but is vastly improved now).

The latter involved a sickening rather than interesting variety of suspense, but a little suspense in life, as in art, can be good. I’m in many ways in a lucky situation, but I don’t want my life to be exactly the same or completely predictable for the next twenty years. That’s partly why I drafted a novel a couple of years ago, to try something new and see where it took me. I revised it heavily this spring–not for the first time!–and it’s now with a second reader at a small press I greatly admire. I’m in suspense about it, but the reader is expecting twins soon, so she’s in rather more suspense than I am. I need to cool my jets. It’s not easy.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and suspense: more twists

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Some of my little wins this week have been poem-related. Something happened Monday morning and I woke up with ideas for poems and they’ve been coming pretty steadily — five fully-developed — but naturally in need of time and reflection and editing — poems so far this week, which is actually more than double the amount of poems I’ve written in the past six months.

Something that might be “problematic” is that they aren’t poems that are part of the Repeat Pattern project I’m working on with M.S. and neither are they part of the verse play, but such problems are welcome problems. It’s nice to write something and afterwards recognize that it’s not just a “clearing of the throat” or merely evidence of “showing up” to the page . . . which so much of my morning writing has been these past few months.

In other-wins, I received an email from the Bread Loaf Sicily program this week asking for the manuscript that we’ll be using during the week-long workshop in September. While I’m not overly anxious to be in a workshop again, it’s a nice reminder that within two months I’ll be in Italy, far far away from Long Island and Stuffolk and all its nonsense, and part of a small literary community for a few brief days (something I am looking forward to doing again).
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Setting Small Fires (My Week of Mood Swings, Poem Writing, and Demolition)

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Since returning home from Sicily, I have been steeped in creative work and tending our vegetable gardens, which are growing by leaps and bounds. […]

I have been writing a lot of essays and poems, trying to recapture the best of the experience. […] Thus far, 3 poems and two essays have been selected for publication. What a thrill that is, especially when it’s challenging to make scenes as poignant as being there.

Maybe that is always the challenge. Besides writing about Sicily, I have been working on my 100 word story collection. Hoping to put together one hundred 100 word stories. I am writing 1-2 stories a day. Everything and anything can trigger a story. The characters, for the most part, are quirky and behaving badly, or are strangely righteous, or just trying to get by, day by day, and make sense of their lives. These stories are so different from my poetry, and I am having a lot of fun writing these terse ironic scenes. It’s deliciously wicked, letting readers “see” the underside of situations.
M.J. Iuppa, Oh Sicily, I miss you…

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

A~Short-form poetry is addictive, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. There are an endless number of publications to submit to. There are an endless number of contests to enter. And it is very, very easy to get caught up in the fray of accumulating accolades and credits and comparing. I know I did. If you begin to compare your creative trajectory to someone else’s, you will run the risk of extinguishing your own unique fire.

Q~You are also a visual artist. How do you balance your creative interests? How do they interplay if at all?

A~At this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way I can be successful at all of my ventures all the time, which has been a freeing and humbling revelation. There are times when I want to write poetry and only poetry, and then there are times when I feel compelled to exclusively create in a visual manner. I try to follow my inspiration and not force anything. Because I am both a poet and visual artist, people frequently ask if I’ve tried haiga (a combination of art and haiku). Believe me, I’ve tried it. I’m terrible at it, and the irony of that isn’t lost on me. But, I am OK with that. I enjoy poetry for what it is in my life, and the same goes for my visual art. In many ways, I like that they exist in separate spheres.
Bekah Steimel, Far From Home / An interview with poet Tiffany Shaw-Diaz

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I’m an inveterate recycler. I have a compost pile and six chickens so I can turn food scraps into soil and eggs. I love repurposed items: quilts sewn from old clothes, wind chimes made of bent spoons, collages of torn magazine pages. Therefore, I was delighted to discover that poet Eileen R. Tabios has created a database made up of 1,167 lines of her own poetry, selected from 27 of her previously published books.

She calls it the “The MDR Poetry Generator” (I referred to this in the July 16, 2018 issue of Sticks & Stones, which includes a review of Tabios’ book Love in a Time of Belligerence). Her new book Murder Death Resurrection (2018 Dos Madres Press) describes the five-year project of creating this database. In the introduction she writes, “The MDR Poetry Generator’s conceit is that any combination of its 1,167 lines succeeds in creating a poem. Thus, one can create – generate – new poems unthinkingly from its database.”

Each line in the MDR database starts with the words “I forgot.” Tabios writes, “Through my perceptions of abstraction and cubism, I’ve written poems whose lines are not fixed in order and, indeed, can be reordered.” I find this non-linear aspect wonderfully liberating. I can see its application in teaching poetry to children, or to people learning English, or as an exercise in creativity. (The book includes a teaching guide and workshop suggestion.)

Tabios’ database inspired me to create my own repository of poetic lines, but instead of using published poems, I decided to search through my old notebooks and journals…
Erica Goss, How to Create a Poetry Database

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Last year my friend Hayden Saunier, a poet and actor, came up with an idea to change up what a traditional poetry reading is like. She invited a handful of people to a meeting at her house, and there No River Twice was born.

No River Twice is a poetry improvisational group. Our group poetry readings don’t have planned reading lists, reader orders or themes–they’re completely spontaneous and responsive to audience input. At a NRT reading, the poets take cues and suggestions from the audience and each other, so each performance is unique, the poems interconnect, weave and flow in a unique way that connects the readers to the listeners. We’re not inventing new poems on the spot, but we’re inventing new synergies, which makes each performance collaborative and new.

We held our first public performance in January at Fergie’s in Philadelphia, and have had a few since. Our next one will kick off the new Caesura poetry conference in Phoenixville, PA, August 17.

It’s hard to explain exactly what NRT is, so you should just come to one of our events–it’ll change the way you think about poetry readings.
Grant Clauser, Check out No River Twice, Poetry Improv that’s Never the Same Reading Twice

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I’ve been laying a little low while dealing with MS symptom misery, but not low enough to avoid reading about scandal after scandal this week! A woman scams the literary world (and I mean, why would you target the literary community? It’s a community without a lot of money. Go pick on a richer group! And she was particularly targeting feminist writers. Did I mention I think I was Facebook friends with her at some point in the past?) And another literary agent was just accused of fraud, even writing fake letters with offers from presses to writers she worked with. Yikes! Writers beware, indeed. And a terrible poem that offended about just about every group that exists was published and that also caused a scandal. (Note: Persona poetry is not a crime, but maybe try to avoid taking the identity of someone who might be underrepresented…Also, it was not a good persona poem because it relied too much on obvious cliches…The editors of the magazine involved are really nice, hyper-socially-aware writers, which begs the question of…well, hey, even good editors have off days…) I tried to avoid getting too involved in the scandal and gossip maelstrom on Twitter etc. It is funny how many people would rather get together and hate on a poem than ever ever talk about something positive about a different poem. Ah well. Such is social media. Which brings me to the importance of in-person writer time!

Much more uplifting – real life time spent with real life writers! Spent a whole lovely day with Kelli Russell Agodon talking about our latest poetry manuscripts, the poetry world, and, bonus, I got a 20-minute Instagram tutorial on hashtags (which I needed because I am still so clueless on Instagram.) Glenn put out strawberry cupcakes and sparkling rose from the winery next door and it was just so nice to relax and spend time with another writer one-on-one. Plus, I was able to tackle my manuscript revisions the next day, so now I feel like I have a better, more complete version of my manuscript to send out.

Glenn and I drove Kels down to the Edmonds ferry and hung out on the beach to watch her leave. The sunset was beautiful and the breeze off the Puget Sound was perfect.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Heat Waves and Poetry Scandals, Poetry Writer Dates, and Sending Out Work in the Summer

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Over a decade ago through the magic of the internet and the wonder of email, I “met” a poet who lived far away in the southwest named Lisha Adela Garcia. We never met in person, though.

Lisha was putting together her very first full-length poetry collection and thought I might be of assistance. I’ve worked as a poetry manuscript organizer and editor for many years, and I was delighted to take a look at her poems.

The poems were amazing of course! And they turned into her wonderful, acclaimed collection, Blood Rivers, published in 2009.

Through the magic of web ether, Lisha and I have stayed in touch.

But despite never meeting in person, I always felt we had a deep connection.

The connection of our mutual love of poetry, certainly.

But it felt like so much more, too.

A soul connection, if you will. Maybe you’ve felt that too?

As if our life experiences sent us along similar paths.

I’ve always wanted to meet Lisha, hear her voice in person, look into her eyes.

And last week, I finally got the chance as she passed through my town on the way to a reading for her newly published book, A Rope of Luna.
Lana Ayers, Friendship Across the Ether

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So many. So many. We are
not alone. We are together.
We are a forest in autumn,
full of ripe fruit, bright fruit, bright words
to carve the light, the light that carves

us. We are sharp, crisp with edges,
with wounds. We are soft, moist and warm
as if coming out of ovens,
out of caverns, weak with hunger,
fading, yes, but first, branches blaze.
PF Anderson, Leaflet

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After some readings on metaphor and language, I tackled A Grammar of Metaphor (1958) by Christine Brooke-Rose. Admittedly, I was hampered in my reading by my lack of facility in the jargon and structure of what used to be, but is no longer, “basic” English grammar. It did help that I have read The Trivium and could refer to it now and again; and of course it helps to have a background in poetry and literature, though not one nearly as thorough as Brooke-Rose’s. I definitely can add this one to the “difficult books” I have enjoyed, and benefited from, reading.

The grammar part of metaphor was not something I took into much account when I studied poetry. Certainly, when I read for pleasure, I do not analyze for grammar. Poets often experiment with grammar–altering syntax purposefully, creating sentence fragments, run-on sentences, new compound words, jarring phrases, all in an effort to make something happen in the poem. That “something” may be sound, dream, argument, exhortation, emotion, surprise, pattern, recognition, or a matter of perspective on outlooks, worldviews, culture, tasks, the personal. I do not read for such insights until I want to return to the poem and find out how the poet managed to make the amazing process of language work upon me.
Ann E. Michael, Difficult books, iterum

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In the ever-astonishing Brain Pickings, Maria Popova’s treasure trove of ideas delivered right to my email inbox, I read some excerpts from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Dweck’s idea is that there are two types of mindsets that people have about themselves, mindsets that shape how we think about ourselves and the challenges we meet in life: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. She says this: “When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself. In one world, failure is about having a setback….It means you’re not smart or talented. In the other world, failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.”

And as usual these days when I consider something presented as a duality, I think, yes, and yes; therefore, no, the idea of a duality is just not appropriate. Spectrum, maybe. Spiral, perhaps. Of two minds, probably.

At any given moment, confronted with any particular challenge, I enter both those mindsets. What I do next depends on which one wins, which one wins depends on any number of factors, including how motivated I am with regard to the particular challenge, how distracted I am by something else outside of the particular challenge (hunger, having to pee, whatever), who I’m imagining is my judge and jury if I am imagining one, and what the next required step might be.

I used to play a fair amount of tennis and never got much better at it. At first I had a growth mindset, then, after I while, I had a fuckit mindset. I mean, a fixed mindset. Fixed on never playing that stupid fucking game again.

Often when I get a writing rejection, my thinking goes something like this: oh-crap-why-do-I-suck-I’m-so-not-good-enough-not-smart-enough-I- quit-okay-well-wait-maybe-I’ve-learned-X-about-this-and-so-I’m-going-to-try-this-new-approach. Or sometimes I think: okay-I’ve-tried-X-and-Y-and-Z-and-learned-these-things-but-I’m-not-achieving-what-I-want-and-seem-not-to-be-particularly-good-at-this-and-am-tired-of-trying-so-I’m-going-to-stop.
Marilyn McCabe, I’m Rubber, I’m Glue; or How Mindset Affects Action

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Roy Marshall’s poems in the Traces section of his latest collection, The Great Animator (Shoestring Press), are inspired by his nursing experience in coronary care and research. Self-effacing to the last, Roy is one of the most talented writers I know. Having read the collection soon after its publication last year, I was pleased to hear Roy read some of these poems at Lowdham book festival, last month.

My pre-ordered copy of Josephine Corcoran’s What Are You After? (Nine Arches Press) arrived just in time for me to read it from cover to cover before her launch reading at the Nine Arches Press tenth birthday bash. I was particularly pleased, then, that she included ‘Love in the Time of Hospital Visits’ among the poems she chose to read on the day. To say that I identify strongly with this poem is an understatement. You can read it here on the Bookanista site.

Poet and indefatigable blogger John Foggins has around 70 years of ‘form’ with the NHS. Last year, he invited his blog readers to send him poems about hospitals and their experience of them. They make for interesting and varied reading. You’ll find them all in his How Are You Feeling? series of posts starting here.
Jayne Stanton, One year on: Thank You, NHS!

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J35 carries her dead baby on her rostrum. Days pass. She doesn’t eat. Her human guardians say we won’t give up as long as she doesn’t.

I cry suddenly, helplessly, seeing her photograph, the beloved corpse pushed on her exhalation.
JJS, July 27, 2018: bad trouble

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Something blue,
this poem, the color of robin eggs,
the color of robin song,

of this day, holding us together
against gravity
for the rest of our lives.
Claudia Serea, Against gravity

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’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

A shorter than usual edition this week, but perhaps typical of what we’ll see during the summer months. Grief and loss were major themes, as well as the healing power of reading and writing. And several bloggers pondered succinctness, not necessarily succinctly.

Last night, I read an interview in El Pais with the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, who is now almost 89. It’s well worth reading. I don’t read a lot of pure philosophy, and I don’t know Habermas’ work, but I was interested in what he was saying about journalism, writing, reading, and the media. “There’s a cacophony that fills me with despair,” he said. Yes. Me too.

Lest we get off on the wrong foot here, Habermas doesn’t dismiss contemporary media, or specifically the internet and social media. He brings up and praises many aspects of new media that have helped humankind already, from the ability to organize from the grassroots to creating connections for support and research among people with rare diseases, saying that there are “many niches where trustworthy information and sounds opinions are exchanged.” He’s not a Luddite, and he doesn’t seem to have a fear of technology or change. What he’s concerned about is the same trend that concerns me.

He states the problem succinctly: “You can’t have committed intellectuals if you don’t have the readers to address the ideas to.”
Beth Adams, The Silencing of Thoughtfulness

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There is a feeling of being transported by literature that I crave and try desperately to hold on to after closing the book, although usually it is shortlived. I do catch a whiff of it when I am writing, and that is why I write. But comparing my own thoughts of suicide to others’ thoughts or actions, just like comparing my work to another’s work, it is clear that others transport me more than I am able to transport myself. That may sound so obvious that it needn’t be uttered. I suppose I am chiding myself for not opening to others sufficiently, or more like, closing myself off so deeply.

This brings me to “Diary of a Bad Year” by JM Coetzee, which is brilliant and complex and devastated me. I’ve always loved Coetzee’s work, which over and again teaches me that self-knowledge is insufficient, others’ knowledge of us is distorted, and knowledge itself breeds the most desperate of feelings: typically guilt, remorse, powerlessness, hopelessness, angst. Although in Coetzee’s case it is a very quiet angst. There is no suicide in this book, more of a quiet withdrawal from life, which brought me to tears, and yet transported me to that feeling of belonging somewhere.
Risa Denenberg, Friday Morning Muse with Suicide on My Mind

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[W]hen I read the news about Kate Spade’s death by suicide it felt personal. Here was one of my heroines – successful business woman who supported charities I cared about, creator of interesting and artistic accessories still appropriate for working women (probably the first purchase I made as a working woman to prove to myself I had “made” it was a Kate Spade bag.) It’s horrible thinking about her 13-year-old daughter going through the trauma. It’s a loss.

But here’s the thing – hidden illnesses are just that – hidden. I’ve never seen a picture of Kate Spade where she wasn’t perfectly put-together and smiling. She had plenty of money, plenty of success. But that had nothing to do with it.

I twittered about my sadness over her death, including a string of her accomplishments. A Trump supporter (literally that’s all I could tell about this person from their Twitter bio) wrote to me asking me about her charity involvement. I was wary – usually Trump supporters only write to me to say racist, sexist, hate-filled things – but it turned out through our twitter conversation that this twitter person was struggling to understand the suicide of a seemingly good, happy person, much like the rest of us.

It’s a reminder that many of us have struggled without showing obvious signs. It’s a reminder that we are all trying to get through the hard parts.

I write about the good things in my life but I have also tried to share some of the bad parts, too, because I don’t want to try to pretend. No one’s life is perfect. Every writer or creative person struggles first to create, then get their creations into the world, then the responses to their creations – then the cycle starts again. Chronic illness takes a toll. I carefully construct an image – you don’t often see pictures of me in the hospital, getting blood drawn or getting yet another MRI, or the days when I feel too bad to get out of bed. But that doesn’t mean bad days don’t happen – of course they do. Just a reminder that we should have compassion for each other, for ourselves, because no matter what a life looks like on the outside, each of us has days when it can all seem like too much.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Speculative Poetry Interview and A Guest Blog Post on PR for Poets – Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone and Getting Through the Hard Parts

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The winged things that called to me as a child,
singing on the sidewalk in front of home,
as if they were weeping, as if they were
so tired of weeping, as if grief lifted
their feathers, separating and spreading,

as if grief was joy and beauty and love
twisted in time. As if only nameless
beings could open the boxes, break them,
remake them.
PF Anderson, Of Numbers, Names, and Weeping Things

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I am so sick of this story. Its novelty and shine wore off in my teen years. Now, in my 40s, everyone around me is on antidepressants that do less good than my swimming, and cause ugly side effects on top of original causes. I shrug. I’d rather be strong and bullied by hormones than drugged, riddled with side effects, and bullied by hormones. Still, sometimes it gets the upper hand, life; attempts to dig out of the poverty caused by the year of unemployment for surgery just making the hole deeper; endless struggle and pain on too many fronts simultaneously, including my own flesh: choked out by panic attack, the neighbor’s dog comes for a visit just in time, gives me a long hug. I can’t tell any of you what to do. Seeking comfort, I sleep with a box of ash. I don’t even like talking about it. It’s dull, pain. Mine. Yours. It’s joy I stayed alive for, the reason my nails are ripped out from just hanging on through this last year and a half. The only reason. The rest is crap. I don’t know how to get through more than the next hour. I know that, though. Get through the next hour. I don’t know what to tell you, any of you. There are times when even the reasons to do an hour seem thin and pale, and we just do it anyway, so tired.
JJS, June 6, 2018: untitled

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I wrote “dead boy” poems because my brother died too young.

Because all my memories became entangled with his too-early death.

I never intended to publish these poems.

But I did share a few at readings.

Listeners asked me about where they could find these poems in print.

(nowhere)

Still, I didn’t really plan on a book.

And then, a year later, my mother died.

My mother died in her sleep. Peacefully.

Unlike my dear father who suffered a horrible cancer death.

Unlike my aunt who suffered a terrible, ongoing battle with cancer.

Unlike my dearest friend who died too young–bled to death on the operating table during a procedure meant to extend his life.

I was relieved my mother hadn’t suffered.

But angry all over again that other people I loved had.

To be honest, I was glad to be free of my mother. At least this side of the earth.

But her hurtful words live on inside me–make me doubt myself and my self-worth.

So why the bejeezus was I crying so much?

Because fresh grief re-opens old wounds.

Shreds them, actually.

I kept going over family and over family stuff in my head, like a dog scratching at fleas.

And more poems came.

Because there was more to say about family.

And I was willing to speak my truth because it was mine.

If people would judge me harshly over that truth, it no longer mattered.

Because deep inside, I knew from reading my first book of family poems in public, that sharing my family situation could make another person feel less alone. Feel they could get through the worst of it.
Lana Ayers, Family Poems Are Hard–part 3–final part

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Several weeks ago, I wrote a list of fragments and observations that went on to become an interesting poem. Let me try this again:

–This is a love letter to the two parrots in a palm tree that screech at each other.

–This is also a love letter to a pair of abandoned shoes at the beach, tan suede, clean, barely used, made for a man’s foot.

–The sun rises, as it always does. The clouds are the middle managers. They know that their job is to make the boss look good.

–This morning, the clouds have settled on apocalypse as a theme, in contrast to the man sitting on the steps, playing his harmonica.

–Does the sun see the people running to the sand to catch the sunrise? Is it aware of how many people ignore the sunrise for whatever magic their phones offer?
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Sunrise Snippets

*

Q~How has workshopping helped your writing? What advice can you share?

A~Two pieces of advice that I have been reminded of lately: “Write for yourself, and you will reach the most people,” and “It really isn’t about the publications.”

I recently tried writing a poem about race. I workshopped it with two women of color and it was a very intense, powerful, yet intimate conversation. One of the women reminded me that I should stick with what I know and write for myself. She could tell I was struggling with this poem, and we talked about how sometimes it is okay to not write about the things that seem big and worldly right now. I have a desire to write about politics, race, gun violence, all these things, but deep down, I just want to write about my everyday life. I just want to write about driving in Pulaski with my uncle. She reminded me to stick with what I want to write because those things are going to resonate with the most people. Write smaller, reach wider.

This year I made a goal to get 100 rejection letters. What I learned is that submitting your work is a full time job! Just the habit of researching publications, workshopping poems, and sending them out into the world has been a wonderful experience. I have gained confidence in myself and my writing. And, with so many rejections, they don’t hurt or sting as bad! But, what I learned most is that it isn’t about the publications. It isn’t about the rejections or the acceptances. It is about the writing. I recently have been giving out a lot of poems to family members for birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc, and seeing a family member cry from receiving a poem about them, wow, that is bigger than any publication.
Bekah Steimel, Learning to Drive In Pulaski, Wisconsin / an interview with poet Crystal Ignatowski

*

At the opening of the collection, Barbie Chang leaves behind Wall Street, and a world of lanyards, podiums and insincere applause in the hopes of “something better.” It is a longing many of us have felt, a longing for an authentic life; perhaps Barbie doesn’t want to be so plastic. Barbie Chang herself is born out of a longing for another identity. In a panel at 2018’s AWP Conference, Victoria Chang spoke of how these poems originally began in the I, but that once she happened upon the persona or alter-ego of Barbie Chang, the poems found their voice. It is often when a poet is released from their own poetic voice, even just by a small alteration of it, that they can discover a kind of music and style they weren’t able to find within the confines of first person.

The style that Chang discovers is as playful as it is masterful; rhyme, homonyms, and word-play are used throughout to propel the poems forward and often to surprise the reader with deft turns away from and back to the central theme of the poem. Yet, Chang’s movements away from the central theme of a poem never feel random, instead, in a rather surprising way they deepen the impact of the poem through their interruption.
Anita Olivia Koester, A Remarkable Persona: Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang

*

On a recent episode of the ITV quiz show, The Chase, there was a question about what the computer acronym WORM stands for. As a former IT infatuation junkie I knew the answer instantly; the chaser also got the correct answer but took a while to verbalise it. The acronym expands to Write once, Read many.

I wish my brain was a WORM. I wish that I could just flip a switch — press play, if you will — and deliver my poems verbatim, no matter how long ago the data had been written to the storage device. I wish the act of writing a poem instantly planted it into my memory circuits where its fruit was always ripe and ready to be plucked.
Giles L. Turnbull, The Poetry Worm

*

Earlier this evening, I was trying to get a couple of poems ready for our local Penistone Poets workshop tomorrow night. It’s an informal gathering over tea and cake to critique each others’ work, but although it’s informal, I really didn’t feel I had any poems that were good enough. Also, having been away has left me short on time. Still, something about the pressure of having to get the work ready (I’m back at the day job tomorrow) has made me ruthless and I’ve taken a few lines out, particularly one last line that hopefully allows the poem to now have a new and more subtle ending. We’ll see what the group says tomorrow, but reading Allnutt’s comment gave me heart. Sometimes it’s not about the words you put down on the page but the ones you remove. In a previous post I talked about the perils of over-editing. It’s a fine line, I think, between pruning a poem and hacking it to death. The sort of editing Allnutt’s talking about is swift and decisive. It needs to be done quickly, so setting a time limit is good. And workshops are helpful, as long as the time limit is adhered to. There’s no point spending ages pulling a poem apart, just make one or two suggestions that might strengthen it and move on. That’s what we’ll be doing tomorrow and I can’t wait to hear the poems.
Julie Mellor, ARTEMIS poetry

*

It’s a poem with not a wasted word, its release like the breaking of a storm after oppressive heat, and the cool of after. It’s as true and frightening and real as a folk tale. It was told, rather than read, and then he told us about the white painted bedroom he shared. He didn’t need to explain anything. I’ve thought since that what enchanted me was its tenderness. What do I mean by that? I mean the tenderness of Rembrandt’s portraits of his wife and unwavering eye of his self-portrait, the loving honesty. Not a shred of sentimentality. That tenderness was in his reading At the grave of John Clare. I had not known that a poet could talk to a dead poet like that.

‘O Clare! Your poetry clear, translucent / as your lovely name’.

I had not known it was possible to use the word ‘lovely’ so frankly and simply. The only other poem I remember from that reading was Death of a poet. I’m still not sure that, despite its total accessibility, I understand it yet, but this last stanza stays and stays.

‘Over the church a bell broke like a wave upended.

The hearse left for winter with a lingering hiss.

I looked in the wet sky for a sign, but no bird descended.

I went across the road to the pub; wrote this.’
John Foggin, Passing the time with Mr Causley

*

It’s true
The light shines everywhere upon the sea
And it is only in certain moments, certain angles
That we see it clearly — too much light
Is overwhelming, it hides itself in excess.
So too with my words: Let me find the few
That carve a straight line through the soup of language
In which I’m drowned. Find me a way. Let me follow a line
From island to headland, from point to point, and call it a swim.
Dylan Tweney, Invocation for an Epic Poem

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. I was on my honeymoon last week, whence the double issue. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

Despite the hiatus, this edition isn’t any longer than usual, because I kept to my usual pattern of no more than one post per blogger. I just feel that too long a digest isn’t going to be read, which defeats the whole purpose. (I did save for next week’s edition any post published since Sunday the 3rd.) But with twice as many posts to choose from, I think this might be one of the more compelling digests I’ve had the pleasure of assembling.

Nesting season. The earliest fledglings have begun to leave their temporary homes. Some birds seem to return to their house sites–or perhaps their offspring do so. There are ledges here that shelter robins’ nests every year; there are certain trees the orioles seem to favor over and over again.
Ann E. Michael, Nesting

*

According to Hesiod, Zeus swallowed Metis in order to keep his philandering a secret from his other lovers. But Metis was secretly pregnant; her daughter, Athena–child of cosmic knowledge and the king of the sky–eventually found her way out from the nesting doll of her parents, emerging from Zeus’s head, dressed in full armor and brandishing a sword.

By the time Athena is born, the story of Metis is long over; Hesiod doesn’t mention her again.

The idea that Zeus gave birth to Athena is often interpreted as being an inversion–that is, that the act of giving life could be ascribed not to the offspring’s mother, but to their father.

It also shares striking similarities to the story of Zeus’s own birth; before Zeus became king of the Olympians, there was the ancient Cronus (the cosmic essence of time), who maintained power by swallowing all of Zeus’s older siblings, while continuously impregnating his mother, Rhea, through rape. Ultimately, Cronus was tricked into swallowing a stone instead of Zeus, causing all of his siblings to be vomited up in reverse order; Zeus, once the youngest, was now the oldest of the Titan children, allowing him to inherit the throne and become king of the gods.

So what, then, should we make of Athena, love child of sky and thought, goddess of wisdom and strategic victory, who, against the patriarchal obsessions of the Ancient Greeks, still emerged, from a certain fate, as a woman? What should we make of Athena’s mother, Metis, the anthropomorphism of thought, who, cosmic as she is, was not killed, but rather, fully internalized by a king-god who stood to lose everything because of her knowledge? Somehow, despite the attempt to silence one woman’s voice, another was born, one who was revered because of her wisdom, rather than denigrated for it–why has this version of the story persisted, despite the astounding misogyny of the Western world?
Stephanie Lane S., On Beauty: A Manifesto

*

The ode’s impulse is always to praise or honor, and yet [Keith] Leonard shows us the depths inherent in honoring, and how easily an ode can slip into an elegy, and an elegy become an ode. In “Ode to Dreaming the Dead” Leonard finds himself unable to pivot towards joy, as he does in some of the poems, and writes instead:

All I want is to hear
them hum a tune—
my dead which populate
the dream like a mute
chorus of horses,
for which I unlatch
the barn gate
and point to the open
field, and click
my tongue, but which
only stand there
staring at the grass.

This ode dismantles into longing, longing to hear the voice of the dead again, but it is the immobility of the horses that is particularly haunting. And yet the ode is not written to them but to the “dreaming of the dead,” and so, though the speaker of the poem longs to release the dead from his dreams, the poet chooses to honor their continual remembrance, even though the act of honoring itself is difficult.
Anita Olivia Koester, Brazen Hope: Ramshackle Ode by Keith Leonard

*

Unremarkable, that chapel
with its scattered single pews.
Then the curly-headed priest
in white, drawing the tincture,
a communion for two, into
its tiny phial. My blood, my
talkative blood, spinning
my secrets into pixels.

He reads through light
the narrative of basophils,
of monocytes and bilorubin,
antigens and ace inhibitors.
He knows the names of all
the heroes and the villains
and he calls them in, the
good shepherd, the sweet
young physiologist. His way
is calm; his song is soft and
when it’s run from clef
to staff, he turns away.
Dick Jones, Phlebotomy

*

Q~Your writing has received a lot of acclaim. What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Acclaim is nice when it comes. A greater part of one’s life is spent in doubt, I think. And, when one is in doubt the best thing is to turn inward and focus on listening, focus on process, focus on figuring out how to call out of the place that feels most singular and human in your being. Also, to read the work of others you admire. And go to art exhibits. And to jazz clubs and live music and the symphony. To both center oneself and feel oneself be unsettled by art. To cultivate one’s faith not in success but in the processes of art.
Bekah Steimel, Elk at Tomales Bay / An interview with poet Tess Taylor

*

The first time I ate mushrooms
I was in Central Washington.
The dry landscape was baked
and thirsty for a drink of water.
I remember faces blurring
like smeared chalk drawings
on a cement sidewalk freshly washed
with rain. I remember voices sounding
hushed and muffled, the rumble
of the car sounding both near and far
away. We stopped to get gas and while
the pump was working away, I wandered
through the convenience store, ran
my fingers across the shelves, let
my palms brush against boxes of cereal,
bags of chips, sponges, and air fresheners.
Crystal Ignatowski, Welcome To Vantage, Washington

*

–A cold claws at my throat. I didn’t have anything important to say anyway.

–A man who looks like Vladimir Putin with a crew cut takes pictures of the underside of the bridge. Is he a terrorist or someone who appreciates the machinery of a good bridge?

–I thought I was buying a box of wing nuts for $5. I bought a $5 wing nut. It doesn’t look significantly better than the cheaper wing nuts.

–We battle an infestation of mosquitoes. We have moved the bug zappers inside.

–I’ve invited a robot into our home. It vacuums until it gets stuck under the cedar chest.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Machinery of a Good Bridge

*

I’m so prone to re-working and over-editing my poems that about three years ago I started making sure I kept the first draft, and often that has turned out to be the best version.

I had a poem accepted in Brittle Star this week and they asked, as magazines often do, for an electronic copy. I trawled document after document until I finally found the poem, many versions of it in fact, but the one they’d accepted was the first version.

Although I remembered writing the poem (at a Poetry Business Writing Day) what really sticks in my mind is the redrafting I subjected that poem to, a process I think of now as smoothing the life out of it. After all, it was done with such care and good intent.

I’m writing this now as if I’m free of the habit. I’m not. I still spend hours tweaking a poem or worse, battering it into submission. The end result is invariably a bad poem, but when this madness is upon me I convince myself I’m working, and therefore I’m doing something good.
Julie Mellor, It’s when you begin lie to yourself

*

I was looking over a newish poem, and, of an image I used, I thought, Oh, no, I can’t use that. I used it already in another poem. But as I was exploring an exhibit about Picasso’s creation of “Guernica,” I found out how often he recycled images. I don’t mean, for example, his various drawings and paintings using the image of the Minotaur — he was obviously exploring various mythological and psychological aspects of that character. I mean, oh, there’s a variation of that screaming horse. And there it is again. And there’s a disembodied arm. There’s another arm. In “Guernica,” the screaming horse became a central image, but he had used it previously sort of beside other things. It grew into its ultimate place in “Guernica,” even moving upward in the composition even as Picasso was working it out over the short period in which he generated the piece. So if I want to reuse the image of, oh, I don’t know, the often cloudy fish tank in my mother’s old folks’ home, well, I can, dammit. It’s my screaming horse.
Marilyn McCabe, Rinse, Repeat; or If Picasso Can, So Can I; or, Using Images in Repeat

*

If you encounter the heartbreak of an empty reading audience room (it happens, even when we do our best to promote a reading,) laugh it off, get a drink or browse the bookstore, and chalk it up to experience. If your book doesn’t change the world when it comes out, don’t worry – most books do not change the world. Maybe your next one will be a hit. When we compare ourselves to other people and get jealous of their success, that doesn’t really set us up for success – unless it gives you motivation to aim higher with your goals. The art of practicing graciousness – with other writers, with publishers, with reviewers, with our communities – and being grateful for the good things that come our way are key to remaining a happy and not bitter writer. And believe me, I understand where both these writers are coming from…Every time I start to feel that bitter feeling of “I should have gotten that award/grant or I can’t believe so and so rejected me” I try to think of the lucky opportunities I’ve had and the unexpected gifts I’ve been given. The kindnesses I’ve received. And I just feel that the best way to deal with those feelings is to reach out to those around us and help them. Say something nice to a friend. Buy their book, or review it or order it from your local library. A lot of times that will make us feel better, and them feel better, and maybe create a more beautiful writing community. If you add grace to the world, it will probably come back around – but even if it doesn’t, you’ve accomplished something great.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Who Will Buy Your Book Thoughts, and Skagit Poetry Festival Report

*

So what really happened at each reading I gave?

People were polite, applauded.

Several people bought my book.

Sometimes one or two folks asked me to sign it.

But one person came up and confided in me that my work spoke to them about what they’d been through.

That person thanked me.

And I cried tears of joy as we hugged.

I realized I’d come full circle.

Poetry saved my life as child in harrowing circumstances. Poems reached across time, distance, gender, culture, and spoke to me of survival. Poems taught me I wasn’t alone in my suffering. And if others could survive, so could I.

Finally, my poems provided that message and reached out as well.

My words only connected with one other living soul. And that was more than I could ever hope for.

I may not have changed the world.

I may not have bettered that person’s life.

But for one brief moment in time, that person knew they were not alone.

And it was enough. For both of us.
Lana Ayers, Family Poems Are Hard–part 2

*

But back to a community of poets—I think this is the essential link for finding an audience. Many poets find this in an academic setting, but it is possible to locate oneself in a community without any academic cred. It’s possible to find poets in your area or to locate a community online. In 2012, around the time I was publishing my first chapbook, I joined Mary Meriam in founding Headmistress Press. We met on an online poetry workshop, where she asked to publish one of my poems on her online zine, Lavender Review. As two no-longer-young lesbians, we commiserated on how difficult it was to get our work noticed as marginalized poets. The first Headmistress publication was Mary’s chapbook, “Word Hot.” Since then, we have published 42 books of poetry by lesbian/bi/trans poets. Take note: I “met” Mary on an online workshop. Odd as it may seem, we’ve run a press together for 6 years, living in different states, without ever meeting face-to-face.

Working outside of the larger poetry community makes it difficult to attend poetry gatherings and readings, but over the years, I’ve gone to as many as possible. I use vacation days to attend writing workshops all over the US and Canada to work with poets whose work I admire. I receive a dozen excellent daily poems in my email and comment positively on poems I like. I buy a ton of poetry, and leave reviews on Amazon or on my own blog. Most of my friends on Facebook are poets. I’ve stayed connected warmly to poets I’ve met at workshops. I’ve made connections with dozens of wonderful poets through running Headmistress Press. I’ve also found a network of regional poets and editors that I keep in touch with. As I labored over my latest manuscript, I made a commitment to see it published by a regional press and was thrilled to have slight faith accepted by Lana Ayers of MoonPath Press, here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m starting to feel accepted as a ‘Northwest’ poet!
On Getting Your Poems Noticed: The Essential Need for Community – guest blog post by Risa Denenberg (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

*

Earlier in the week I had to fill out some paperwork that required going back into my old notebooks and searching for relevant information, and I came across notes from the SECAC panel in Columbus last year. One of the panelists, Elaine Luther, gave us her rules for a committed studio practice. The first two are about holding space for yourself and self-love and acceptance, which are probably necessary but evoke from me this kind of visceral gag-like reaction to the new-agey sound of it all, but the last two I found more interesting: #3, Decide what to be bad at so you can focus on becoming good at your art (i.e. I’m going to be bad at volunteering, cooking, housework. etc.) #4, Create boundaries (i.e. “Build a fortress around your studio time”).

I’m going to make some drastic — for me — moves toward building that fortress. First, I’m stepping down from all college service for the next academic year. I’ve decided to be a bad colleague: No meetings, no emails, no creative writing festival, no union activities. Next, I’m going to be bad at social media, like FaceInstabookgram. I think I might just go radio-silent for the next year and either delete my accounts or log out from them, wipe them from my smartphone, whatever. Something to that effect. (I’ll keep the blog, because shouting into the void isn’t really social and it’s my form of accountability and part of my writing process.) And I’m going to take a page from M.S.’s book and the visual artists I know and create my own version of “studio Fridays” — a block of time in the morning for sustained work on my writing, i.e. my verse play.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Building a Fortress

*

I’m mindful that my inbox currently holds 770 emails. Almost all of these are poetry/writing-related subscription emails. They’re fantastic resources for an ongoing poetry education (Brain Pickings, POETRY magazine, Poets.org, Poets & Writers) so why do these ‘Round-to-its’ continue to stack up? I think most of the backlog is a legacy from my working life when I used to daydream about WHEN, of sitting in my favourite armchair, reading my way through the lot. I thought I’d have oh, so much more time for all my Neglecteds when I retired. How misguided I was!

One day, I’ll give myself permission to delete the lot and make a fresh start. Maybe. Right now, I’m heading for my lounger with a book. The garden’s looking starry-eyed, despite last night’s storm.
Jayne Stanton, After GDPR: some thoughts on my inbox

*

That hot. That yellow. That blue. Dancing robots, and us,
old cyborgs that we are, all the broken bits and cracks
and worn out weakness that washes away in waters

rinsing today’s laundry; doing what has to be done,
doing the things that carry us one day closer to
when we can do nothing, with no one. Time to let go
of my own leash, at least to think about it.
PF Anderson, Bobby, Billie, and Blue

*

Coffee cup, stapler, daisies, composition book open to a fresh page.
Eight distinct bird calls, soft wind chimes, and three gas mowers are the morning sounds.
Bo cries to go outside, agrees finally to chase toy instead of bird.
Three loads of laundry and three hairballs removed.
The very wonder of it all, as if all is well.
As if all is well.
As if.

Time for writing now.
Time for writing.
Time.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning View from My Desk

*

How is time moving so quickly
Invent a new creature
and through him time emerges
At first you are the new creature
and then you can only marvel at the small
ones emerging from it seems nowhere
And the new ones make us old and uncool
which means we know the unendingness
of time has ended
And no one declares at our birthdays
Look how old she is
and still alive
except for ourselves
Hannah Stephenson, Paint the Cake With Fire

*

I realize I can walk miles backward
not once glancing over the shoulder.

Let fatigue rest in the intersections of limbs
there will always be someone to spread

ash for the plants, turn soil with bone meal.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Body Spans Three Landscapes

*

I submit that it is possible to have a body
in this world and not understand the extent of it
to discover its mass and velocity only

through repeated trials, to misplace one’s body
and then find it, by hammering it again
and again against the cage that contains it
Dylan Tweney, Sonnet

*

A true thing: these vital organs are never domesticated. Should never be.

Another true thing: it takes the radical risk of wild love to root in place, in leaps of faith still evidence-based, in flesh and bone that is wide open.

Another: one should love oneself wildly, one’s own mortal flesh; there is no other way to survive this, until that inevitable moment when we don’t—and, it is either very brave or gluttony for punishment to extend this abandon beyond the margins of one’s own life, one’s own imperfect body; to risk again and again the holes carved out by mortality and loss.

Either way, this is what must be done to remain wild, to see or experience or be anything worthy at all.

The wild self is so vast it cannot do anything less than yes, when beloved abandon calls.

The voice of an owl, a deer, a hummingbird, a pileated woodpecker, a particular soil’s smell, a porcupine, this quality of light, a wolf, coyotes, this transient summer, this violent winter, bears, so many deer they cannot be counted: undeniable.

Inevitable, the yes, when wild is answered with wild.

When he says will you come live with me there can be only yes, I will—

Hard-won, our every step. The affirmative answer the rare and perfect point.

Wilderness to be charted, a new terrain of open.
JJS, May 31, 2018: this poorly domesticated creature

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

*

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’

*

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

*

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

*

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.

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.

This week’s digest begins with several posts about the challenges of writing and publishing poetry collections, then spirals out into descriptions of other sorts of writing projects and the importance of connecting with others and with the earth.

I’ve probably mentioned I’ve been reading Sylvia Plath’s newest collection of letters for a while now. I’m finally getting to the end of Volume I, which ends when Sylvia’s about 24 (on page 1300). By 24, Sylvia had already been a Fullbright scholar, had poems accepted by Poetry, The Atlantic, The Nation, had an internship at Mademoiselle and sold several short stories. Looking at her, I look at myself at 44 and think: how do I measure up? I mean, she didn’t publish many books while she was alive, and I have five, but I’ve had fourteen extra years on her already! I didn’t publish my first book until after age 30! I still haven’t had acceptances at any of those magazines (and Mademoiselle is defunct.)

Now Sylvia Plath, along with a few other poets, remains one of the best poets of the past hundred years. You can watch her poetry get better in her letters over the years, from 15 to 21 to 24. Dating Ted Hughes, whatever kind of decision that was for her life-wise, was great for her poetry – she suddenly starts putting a lot of nature in her poems when she starts dating him, specific names of plants and animals, adopts the fierceness of the natural world as her own.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Measuring Up and Marching Towards Spring

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I don’t envy any one poet’s path. The overnight sensation, winning an NEA fellowship before turning 30 and winning a major first book poetry competition . . . . well, some of them are lucky to be alive in the first place, and some of them are riddled with imposter complex. The long-hustling poet, gradually climbing the literary magazine food chain, from the Doglick Undergraduate Literary Review, to the Greater Rockford Quarterly, to the generic MFA Literary Magazine at State U., to the very established and tony Poetry Journal of the Stars, and then finally big time, landing something in Poetry or the American Poetry Review. The hot-shot university poet, finally getting tenure, and then somehow, going out of fashion, out of favor, getting fat, becoming fossilized. The blazing street poet, putting up that hot YouTube channel, getting thousands of subscribers, and currying all that heat into some legitimacy.

What I see is great investment of time by these artists, dealing with the improbability of getting anything published, and treading that highwire of caring and not-caring. It requires arrogance, foolishness, determination, patience, idealism, and dreaminess. All that pressure, just to stay up there, suspended, where the audience is either dazzled by your light-footedness or is hoping, just a little, to see you slip. The worst of it, of course, is our own self-questioning.

So when I consider the roads of those poets who face additional cultural and societal burdens–be it race, gender-identification, class, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity–I realize those roads have more hazards, fewer signs, fewer rest stops. That’s just a fact, one that doesn’t lessen the individual hardships I might’ve faced, but one that requires me to be alert to how my road was more level, more predictable, more well traveled. To state the obvious, my road is built on privilege, protected by privilege, and contingent on privilege.
Jim Brock, Unlikely Roads

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I’m frequently victim to The What Next. The Is This Going To Be A Book. The Should I Write More Poems Like This Or Just Stop. I think awareness, and giving it a name, is a crucial first step in confronting such feelings. Then I ask myself if this particular anxiety (I have many) is one that is doing me any good, such as the nagging feeling that I really ought to clean out the cupboards and merge all the almost-empty boxes of uncooked pasta.

Sometimes this energy can encourage me to revisit a project, or to think about it with more seriousness, but usually it causes me to spin my wheels and fret and do another load of laundry just to feel as if I’ve accomplished something.

A book is like a hardy yet reclusive fruit that needs to grow in a certain degree of dark. If you keep walking into its room and flipping the fluorescent overhead lights on just to check to make sure it’s still there, you’ll make it wilt. Or so I will tell myself as I attempt to write some new poems this coming week.
Mary Biddinger, The What Next

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Outliers are often difficult to place, particularly when the imagery of the poems tends toward the natural environment, and the subject of the poems tends toward the speculative, and yet nothing about the poems is particularly edgy or youthful or ground-breaking.

This book represents me, the person (not just as poet) perhaps too well. I do understand why it’s been difficult to place.

As to how [The Red Queen Hypothesis] acts as obstacle in my writing life? Um. I guess I have to say I am finding it hard to move to the NEXT manuscript when THIS one still hangs out in my psyche and on my hard drive, unpublished. I know that should not impede me; I have many colleagues who work on multiple books simultaneously, sometimes even books in different genres. How they do that remains a mystery to me, however; I guess I do not share that operating system–though I dearly wish I could learn it.
Ann E. Michael, “Next Big Thing”

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Though I think I could pull the manuscript together to make a book at this point, I prefer to let it simmer. as I mentioned in my post on chapbooks, I’m not in a great place to launch a book right now, both geographically and seasonally–my life is all diapers and babies and picture books and parks, not so much readings and academia. my poetry spirit-animal right now is Wendell Berry. do you know that he spends most of his time on his farm? and that is deemed fitting? I think that route makes the most sense for me, though I know 99.999% of poetry is born out of the dusty halls of academia. not that i’m out on a farm–domesticity and suburbia is a trifle less sexy and i’m too religious to be cute and not in a religion that is fashionable (though presbyterian might sound a little less southern hillbilly than southern baptist).

all that to say, i think, when the book is done, i’ll likely have about five readers, so i might as well take my time with it and include it all. my husband reminds [me] a poet is still considered a young poet til her 40’s, so i’ve got time to wheedle away, lines to tinker with.
Renee Emerson, new poems in Dappled Things and an update on the 3rd poetry collection

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Friends and family have been extremely generous about supporting my poetry — buying each book as it has come out, sometimes buying an extra copy to give away, sometimes even reading them! Sometimes even reaching out to tell me about a poem that affected them in some way. But a few have said things like “I’m sorry, I don’t really understand the poems” or “I don’t like poetry” or “I don’t read poetry at all.” With them in mind, for my last book, Glass Factory, I created a short reader’s guide, thinking that I could provide some hand-holding to those who might enter the book with trepidation, or those who might not enter at all without some guidance.

It turned out to be quite a fun process for me (although I confess, I don’t know if anyone really used the guide — perhaps it was more fun for me than anyone else….)
Marilyn McCabe, Let Me Take You By the Hand; or, On Developing a Reader’s Guide

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My friend Ronda came over at 1 pm on Friday and we wrote until 11 pm at night. Since it was so late, she spent the night and we woke up, had coffee, and wrote 3 poems in the morning.

There’s a magic to these “mini-retreats” where I sit with a friend and write all day.

Maybe it’s the energy of focus, of two people each writing poems.

Or maybe it’s just intent–we intend to write poems, and we do.

Sometimes we do prompts, or sometimes we just find a line in a book of poems and use that as our jumping out spot. There are so many ways to begin a poem.

What you need to do your own writing retreat at home?

–a laptop or journal

–books of poems (for inspiration)

–snacks

–time and a semi-quiet house

Optional:
–A friend can be helpful, especially if you find yourself not making the best use of your time.

I have found the times I’ve done these retreats (or even writing dates) with other poets, I end up with a lot stronger work than if I just hang out by my own. I think sometimes the interaction, the listening to poems, the talking with another poet can get my mind working in unusual ways. It’s the back and forth that is helpful to me.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Confession Sunday.. Mini Writing Retreat

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Currently I’m writing a lot of . . . just verse, and it’s a stretch to call it that, I suppose. I’m participating in the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project through a collaboration with M.S. — we alternate weeks with the sketchbook and add to its pages (me, sketches through text; her, sketches through drawing). In late April we’ll mail it back and the B.A.L. will catalog it and create a digital copy. It’s something that’s different enough from my normal mode of creating — and sharing — poems that my interest is piqued and pressure is low — it’s fun, invigorating, and keeps me from obsessing too much over what’ll happen to the work in the long run because, ultimately, I already know: It’ll be archived. Some people will see it. And M.S. and I will have created something together, accomplished something, and that’s keeping me afloat while all the other stuff tries to sink me.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Pressure of Silence, Poems Like People, and the Pleasures of Digging Snow

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Fifteen years ago today, the U.S. invaded Iraq, and I started this blog. I just re-read what I wrote on March 20, 2003 (link here, scroll down to the last entry on the page), under my then-new moniker of “Cassandra,” after the Trojan princess and prophetess who was cursed to be always right, but disbelieved. Those words from 2003 still sound like me, and I still think what I wrote then is true: that we’re witnessing the death-throes of patriarchy and, especially, white male domination of the world and its systems, and that ultimately we’ll see a world with greater justice and equality for all of its people — though the fate of the natural world is not at all secure. In 2003 I tried to take a long view., and still do. But even I would not have prophesied that things would go from bad to so very much worse in the space of this decade and a half, with so much suffering for so many. […]

[M]y life changed because of this blog. In addition to the extremely valuable practice of near-daily writing, it has given me some of the best friends of my life, and relationships and conversations that continue to this day. In recent years it’s given me a forum for sharing not just my thoughts in words and photographs, but my art, and all three of those personal pursuits have improved hugely as a result. In turn, I’ve been privileged to read your words and see your bodies of work develop and change. Out of those relationships have come several collaborative efforts, including a literary magazine, qarrtsiluni, and my own publishing venture, Phoenicia. And this blog also functions for me like the diaries I kept before: as a personal record of my life and thoughts that would now fill a small shelf of books. So I can’t even find words for how significant blogging has been for me, but I’m extremely grateful.
Beth Adams, Fifteen Years

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Q~What appeals to you about erasure/visual poetry?

A~This is my first foray into erasure poetry. At the time I erased this piece, my mother-in-law was staying with us for end-of-life care, and I found that though I had vast swaths of free time while she slept, the need to be on-call at all times meant I couldn’t get into the writing space in my head. So, I decided to try erasure instead, and that worked really well for me, possibly because the act of erasing mimicked the experience I was having as I watched my mother-in-law dying, disappearing slowly.

Q~So sorry for your loss. Your new book, Whiteout, is also about loss. I am fascinated to hear more about the book and your experience as writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. How did that come about?

A~My most recent book is about my uncle who was a mountain climber. He died on Denali in what was, at the time, the worst mountain-climbing accident in US history. I applied to be a writer-in-resident in the park in order to finish that book. I stayed in a one-room cabin out by the Toklat River, with only my sister. We were in the park (Denali National Park and Preserve) for 10 days. Being there gave me an understanding of why my uncle was compelled to do such a dangerous thing as climb Denali. Wandering around the vast park, feeling completely alone in the wild, going places we knew he had been, was profoundly moving. We were there 49 years and one week after he was lost—watching the sun wheel around the sky instead of set in the evening, I knew he had seen that, too. For the park I wrote a series of poems as an artistic donation. They say better than I am doing now what my experience was. Here is one:

The Wandered

My sister’s drawn to clean-edged kettle ponds,
learning how to tell which pools were formed in basins
left behind by glaciers, and which weren’t.

I’m captivated by erratics, empty-house-sized
boulders stranded in a strange land by ice
that melted out from underneath them.

Erratic comes from the Latin errare,
meaning to wander, to stray, to err. We are
not wrong, my sister and I, to feel kindred—

kin and dread—with what remains after
a mammoth force, no longer visible,
has carved out such a tattered landscape.
Bekah Steimel, At the Landing / an interview with poet Jessica Goodfellow

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It’s almost the end of March, and I haven’t begun even thinking about the garden. I have enough leftovers in the fridge so there was no need to cook. Laundry, done. The sun was out for a couple of hours, but by the time I took a shower, the sky had clouded over. I never made it out of the house. Listless. Uncommitted. Tired. A wee bit hopeless. Perhaps it was just one of those days.

Of course, there was this: I knelt in awe of students who were out in the streets speaking truth to power, demanding an end to gun violence in their schools and communities. And I was heartbroken by it too. Wanting to be hopeful, yet wondering whether demonstrating against war in the sixties really made any difference in the long haul towards a more peaceful world.

Then, Sunday blooms with possibility. There will be breakfast, coffee with a friend, a walk, some writing. Finding the effort, the will, the inner resources that allow me to find meaning, to move forward, to survive. To be grateful.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Leftover Saturday Ennui

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Yes, oh yes, it is enough to say
what you can, the gift of transcribing
ordinary suffering into
extraordinary joy, your name
hangs in the brilliant morning air, a
feather, eyelid of a magpie, closed.
Lana Ayers, In Praise of Philip Levine