Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 43

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week’s digest begins with insomnia and the breath and ends with the weather, with a lot of pandemic thoughts and soul-searching in between. Also: Reports from the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, an online retreat, emoji rebuses, and much more.


The pandemic has settled like protracted fog on the asphalt,
a needy god wanders the empty streets, faith like a cold stone

in his pocket. Here, at the traffic light, where the push carts
sold biryani and men jostled outside the tiny paan stall,

there are only insomniac shadows of dreamless sleepers.
You think the moon knows, or the birds? That something is

amiss?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, You think the moon knows

I wake in the night, every night, sometimes sucking air, sometimes with limbs clenched, always the remnants of struggle dreams floating away from me. Always needing to pee, and then calculating if I can tend that basic bodily need without waking the dogs. If it’s early enough that I know they won’t stir and start barking, I stumble across the hall, not as stiff and unsteady on my feet as old Rocky–but I see how things are starting to go. When I return to bed, I wait for the flash of heat to roll through my body, and then I breathe the way the personal trainer taught me: inhale through my back (1, 2, 3, 4) and exhale through my diaphragm, ribs shifting down and back (4, 3, 2, 1). Sometimes it works, and sometimes I pull up a Times crossword on my iPad and hope it will lull my brain, not unlike the way desperate parents will drive a crying baby around dark streets, hoping the car’s quiet rhythms will soothe it back to sleep.

In a moment of optimism last week I bought two skeins of chunky yarn and cast stitches onto fat needles. I’m not making anything in particular. Maybe a pillow cover. It’s not about the product. It’s about breathing, and movements like breath: in, up, around, down, over, in, up, around, down, over. It’s a thing to occupy my hands and mind at the end of the day while giving the dogs some time on my lap and watching TV that doesn’t require much focus.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Mid-fall

Breath is music. Human steps are music. Songs sewn from our every thread of existence.

DNA blows blissful sax riffs. Eardrums hum, lively thoughts drum.

Lips bebop, feet hip-hop.

Human touch plays double dutch, makes hearts skip beats.

Breath is music. Human steps are music.

Rich Ferguson, Human Breath in B-Natural

then there’s the sea
it’s about the sighs of it

i gasp for words

Jim Young [no title]

I inhale like the tide pulling away
from the small pebbles on the shore,
and I exhale
like the flow of the tide
teaming with new constellations
of all that has been
and all that will be.

The stars appear
to be fixed in the darkness –
an illusion of distance
and tempo.

The world is a master
of the sleight of hand:

every moment a misdirection
every moment a seduction, and
the deliciousness of our oh-so-willing
dance – the suspension of doubt.

Ren Powell, A Serious Practice

Doc says my lungs are still “constricted” in o2 transfer and function, no worse but also no better than they were in mid-July: I will continue to bike 20, 30, 50 miles at a time and hike hills and eat well and sleep well and use the spirometer to build another miracle of erasing ground glass opacities and fueling epithelial cell regrowth and—what?—visualizing functional alveoli? I’ll do what I have to do to set up conditions for another miracle.

My heart is still tachycardic and arrhythmic—the tachycardia is surely being worsened by the low grade infection happening as a result of the bone and gum damage of covid, the arrhythmia is all covid fuckery. A resting rate that should be 50 for an athletic sort like me sits at 80 on a good day, 105 or 115 the rest of the time: this is a great improvement from active covid’s 155 resting rate, but can it be repaired? No one knows yet. Ok, I bike. Hike. Restore fitness of muscle, bone, diet, everything, bring myself back and visualize—what?—myocarditis erased? Damaged muscle restored?

The rest of my body—except for recurring inflammatory storms that keep burning through like unpredictable wildfires and currently have me back on steroids to extinguish them again—has reset: food stays in, instead of losing it within hours for four months continually, so I can be nourished and my bone density has been restored to athlete hell-yes, because that, at least, is a resilient thing. My temperature holds at my nice usual ice-queen 97 instead of the four months of 100-104 every god damned day. My will to not just live but thrive is back.

I am raveling striations of red and glistening power-ligament-muscle-bone-oxygen molecule-joy back together again at the level of individual cells, forestalling the arrival of death, so I can be myself in this world: animal, in fearless power and joy.

Because I can’t live any other way, and don’t want to.

JJS, Costs

Nearly two weeks of bed-ridden illness (not COVID) seems to have led to a reset. Of course, I’ve had many resets in my long life – but not so long a time without writing as this year. Even during times when I was not writing poems, I was keeping up with my not-diary journal, recording my dreams and whatever loose thoughts occurred to me. And even during times when I was not journaling, or blogging, the occasional poem would appear, out of air, or in response to random prompts or classes. And for several years, digital art journaling and collage kept the creative joints fluid. 

This year, and the year before, not so much. 

Now I return to recording my dreams, a practice which is, for unknown reason, essential to my writing. If I do not record my dreams, I do not write. Last night my dreams told me I need to return home, to the place which gives me words, and images, and poems. That is where I breathe most deeply, where I live most richly. 

So. Begin again. 

Sharon Brogan, Begin Again (how many times must I . . . )

When I made my video “ISOLATION PROCEDURES”, we were in the early stages of COVID-19 close-down here in South Australia and I wondered what would happen if the laws necessary for restricting the spread of the virus became entrenched in a more authoritarian government regime. With things getting worse around the world on many levels, it seems opportune that my video has been selected for screening at the 2020 Fotogenia International Festival of Film Poetry and Divergent Narratives in Mexico City in November. Rather than subtitling the video in Spanish, I’ve integrated a Spanish version of the text into the video, as part of my long slow project on exploring how text and image can interact. [Click through to watch the video.]

Ian Gibbins, ISOLATION PROCEDURES Official Selection in Festival Fotogenia 2020 in Mexico.

This is the first day of Level 5 lockdown in Ireland, the highest level, which we will be for the next six weeks until the end of November, in this crazy year of 2020.

We got to Wexford back in March this year, just in time for everything to shut. Luckily we were able to change our plans and stay in the holiday home, originally booked for 5 nights, for what ended up being nearly six months.

During the last lockdown I went out walking, as I usually do, every day, except that I was suddenly walking up and down a lane in Bunclody every day, instead of being in the suburbs of Greater London. I walked and photographed and wrote, as I usually do, and one of the poems from that time, St John’s Eve, Bunclody, is up on the Pendemic site.

Another poem, Conker, was written to go with Dean Reddick’s beautiful bronze conker, as part of CollectConnect’s online Sentinel Trees show. It was also partly inspired by the horse chestnut tree I walked past nearly every day, on the lane down towards Clonegal.

Many other artists and writers responded to the lockdown too, much more consistently and cohesively, with whole projects. Particularly gorgeous is Kel Portman’s lockdown garden walks – photos and verses – some of which are available to buy as packs of cards here.

I’ve been writing and painting a bit, making collages, taking photos and walking. I took up running again in mid-June as a way of staying sane and getting fitter but I haven’t settled down to an actual writing / walking art project until now.

Lucy Furlong, Walking Furlongs

While the pandemic continues to rage with no sign of any light at the end of the tunnel (in supposedly libertarian societies at least, where a political obsession with the theory of individual freedom is ironically leading to its practical curtailment), as people and poets we mistakenly feel left with a stark, binary choice: to sink or swim.

In the early stages of this phenomenon, social media was buzzing with examples of surges in creativity, of creativity being put on hold, of extreme reactions to an extreme situation. However, everything seemed temporary and sudden, something we would soon be able to place in temporal brackets. As the weeks and months go by, so we’re forced to come to terms with a long-term scenario, and our mindsets consequently change.

There’s one analogy that I find useful on a personal level. When I first came to Spain as a student and language assistant, I loved it. There was always a clearly defined time period for my stays and I relished the counterpoint to my life in Britain. Nevertheless, once I made the decision to move out permanently, that buffer was removed and time yawned ahead of me, vast and disorientating. I took me several months to get to grips with the waves of homesickness that hit me.

And that’s what we’re dealing with now: a form of homesickness and longing for our previous lives, of not knowing when they might return. This process requires us to be patient, to reset our day-to-day routines and then by extension our reading and writing. It’s not a question of sinking or swimming. It’s a reconciliation with ourselves.

Matthew Stewart, To sink or swim…?

I, perhaps foolishly, took a big pile of notes and unfinished poems to work on, thinking that being out in the middle of a forest would get the old creative juices flowing on some half-started ideas, or even start off some new ones, but it wasn’t to be. And that’s all fine; it’s only poetry after all. I did, however, get to read a few things of an evening, although nowhere near the amount of books I’d taken with me.

One highlight of this week, aside from the time with my beloved family, obvs, was reading ‘Homing: On Pigeons, Dwellings & Why We Return‘ by Jon Day. I’d set this aside to read on a break and I’d been looking forward to it.

The book, er, flew across my radar a few months ago when it was recommended to me by someone at the BBC during a call for a project we were working on. She mentioned it because it was written by the husband of someone else on the call, my colleague at ITV, Nat. I like Nat a lot and the subject matter is basically catnip to me. I am a sucker for anything that sounds like it will be slightly mundane, so a book about homing pigeons was never not going to interest me.

While the book is about homing pigeons, it turned out to be so much more than that. […]

I enjoyed the fact that there were plenty of references to poets throughout the book, including Marianne Moore, Mina Loy, Henry Thoreau, Douglas Dunn and John Clare, What I wasn’t expecting to find was the details about Nat and Jon’s family life, their miscarriages, the relationships Day forms with his fellow fanciers and how much the philosophical explorations of what it is to make a home would, er, hit home with me.

It could have been because we were so far away from home, it could be because of the restrictions placed on visiting homes at present or the fact that I’ve not been back to Norfolk for a while that made it all feel very real when talking about what home means.

Mat Riches, Homing Beacon (Blue)

I don’t know anything about the artist who created this print. I found it in the San José Artisans’ Market in Havana, in the last moments before our bus left the city and took us into the provinces. The art market is enormous, a warehouse filled with stalls where artists sell everything from oil paintings to handmade hammocks. I browsed its aisles, wandering, and this print caught my eye. The price was low, maybe twenty CUC$. What leapt out at me was the bright crescent moon over the close city rooftops.

The previous night we’d walked the streets of Old Havana under a new moon. Because of the embargo, tourists were few and far between. We stopped in at La Bodeguita del Medio, sipped rum, savored incredible music. We wandered the streets, our group breaking into smaller clusters as we found places for dinner. After dinner my foursome wound up on the rooftop of the Hotel Raquel, where a porter showed us mezuzahs and a cupola adorned with Biblical frescoes and spoke wistfully about cruise ships. 

The crescent moon above us was the marker of a new month. Cheshvan: the month with no holidays except for Shabbat. The month when we return to the rhythms of “regular life” after the long stretch of spiritual work from Tisha b’Av to Simchat Torah. Today is Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan again. The pandemic isolates us now. I’m traveling in my mind: remembering walking with friends on the old cobblestone streets, marveling at the new moon over the city rooftops as music drifted through the air.

Rachel Barenblat, Cheshvan moon

I had not intended to impose a quarantine on my blog, but many, many days have gone by since I have written here. I’ve been reading and writing and getting out the vote in my precinct, working, gardening, and doing a little outdoor visiting, safely, while I can. The weather has changed several times–rain, chill, return to summer–so I’ve done some of my reading outdoors, and I’ve transplanted five bright yellow mums into the ground, hoping they return, as, for me, yellow is the color of joy.

I feel suspended, at loose ends, busy, scattered. I know it is election anxiety on top of Covid uncertainty, flux, change, stasis…  I’ve written some small monster poems, a couple inspired by the book I am now reading: Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, by A. Brad Schwartz. I’m reading it to get ready for a broadcast of Howard Koch’s radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, the science fiction novel by H.G. Wells*, coming up October 30, at 8:00 p.m. on WGLT, our local NPL affiliate station, and produced by Heartland Theatre Company. This is the famous radio play broadcast on October 30, 1938 as part of Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre of the Air, and some people who tuned in late, after the announcement that clarified it was fiction, an entertainment, did get scared and confused, thinking the “fake news” aspect of its presentation was real news, about a possible meteor landing, poisonous gas attacks, or Martians taking over the earth. Apparently, most who heard the Martians part realized it was science fiction…but some ran out of their houses to escape, just not as many, as this book makes clear, as newspaper reports the next day seemed to suggest. 

Kathleen Kirk, Broadcast Hysteria

Chew this, crow says,
offering me
my own tongue.

Tom Montag, CHEW THIS

Edible flowers as well as chard, basil, chives, and other tender plants grow on my front and back porches. I water them each day, aware a killing frost will arrive soon. I’ve been succession planting lettuces and globe carrots, but missed replanting one pot. That explains its proud crop of weeds. When I water, I water those weeds too. They might as well enjoy what time they have left.

This is my favorite season. Gorgeous autumn leaves, vivid blue skies, and a certain slant of light in late afternoon illuminating everything with a stained glass glow. Each one a reminder that what flourishes must also die. As I can, freeze, and dry our produce each fall I can’t help but think of my ancestors, yours too, whose preparations for winter were about survival.   

We are living in difficult times. Unprecedented times. Rampant disease, devastating injustice, and a climate teetering toward ever-worsening disaster. Somehow it helps me to remember our ancestors endured famine, floods, war, ill health, and oppression. Our existence is the direct consequence of ancestors who persevered despite the odds. We carry their resilience and courage in our genes.     

Thinking of my ancestors’ stories magnifies my sense of gratitude. Unlike nearly everyone who came before me I have a safe home, enough food, and access to medical care. I can connect with people anywhere in the world. I have rights, including the right to make my own choices, something that would astonish my foremothers. The very desk where I’m sitting is filled with writing and art projects as well as stacks of library books. This is true wealth.

Laura Grace Weldon, Gratitude via Mental Subtraction

The other day we got up early and drove to western Augusta County because the hikes there are much quieter than along the Blue Ridge Parkway, where foliage is peaking and so are the visitors. On autumn mornings here, especially if the day is going to be sunny, mist hugs the ground, gathering most densely over water and other warm places, wreathing the mountains. As the car wound along the empty highway, past farms and Trump signs and gun shops and churches, we alternately dipped into foggy hollows and rose up into sunshine where dew spangled the trees and the last wisps of steam curled up from roofs and embankments. The drive was an obvious metaphor for this October. I have moments of shiny hope but I keep crashing into feeling bad in the most sweeping ways, fearing the election and many more months of isolation, losing faith in everything I’ve written, unable to concentrate on the work I should be doing now. I’m pretty sure everyone feels the same–unless you’re stuck entirely in the lowlands. Here’s hoping the view gets clearer soon.

I can’t write poems but I need to work on prose anyway, particularly honing Poetry’s Possible Worlds, a book of hybrid essays due sometime in 2021. It blends criticism and memoir in a discussion of literary transportation–meaning immersive reading or getting lost in a book–in relation to short twenty-first century poems. I was going like gangbusters last week, but I’m dragging myself through the work very slowly this week. That’s okay, I keep telling myself. The two weeks before the US presidential election were always going to suck. Even when the world isn’t in dangerous meltdown, writing is full of hills and valleys.

Lesley Wheeler, Blue/ jazzed

I’ve raked 8 bags of leaves. I spent hours yesterday trying to sort out my poems that are scattered over several files, so they’re all together and all the latest version. Life ticks on. 

I’ve worked on a single poem for ages over the past week. This morning I put it in a word mixer and totally dismantled it to start again. I’ve never thought to do that before, but I might go back to some other half-written pieces and try it. There was something freeing with removing myself from the previous idea and just focusing on what the words say when they were scrambled together. Wish I could do that with other half-sorted problems littering my life. 

Gerry Stewart, Scrambling

I picked up my poetry legal pad today and I haven’t been as idle as I think.  Plus, I went to the quilt retreat and finished one big quilt and created a baby quilt.  I’ve been sketching each morning.  I’m still blogging most mornings.  Why do I feel like I accomplish nothing?

In past years, I have done more:  more writing, more quilting, more sending out of manuscripts.  Of course, in past years we haven’t had a plague raging across the country; in past years, I haven’t been working for pay in quite the same way.

As I think about the online resources I’ve been reading and savoring, I’m seeing a theme.  There’s this essay from Molly Spencer, about how she carved out writing space in tiny bits of time and even smaller spaces, time which finally led to a book, but it’s not the process many of us want or expect, that experience of writing time as sacred (and regularly sacred and set apart).  There’s this essay from Luisa A. Igloria that talks about motherhood and the PhD process.

This morning, I was hunting for a pen and fuming about not being able to find my favorites.  I thought about my quilting/sewing friends who protect their fabric scissors with a similar fury.  And then, a poem came, one based on this blog post on my theology blog.  The poem begins with these lines:  “The quilt does not strive / to change itself into a different color.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Creation in a Time of Pandemic

Coronavirus safety protocols continue to affect my teaching at the college and life in general–also, the life of the shared and diverse arts community, near and far. But arts folk are creative folks, by nature problem solvers and think-outside-the-boxers. This weekend, I have been attending the biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival via technological interface (my laptop); it has so far been as mixed and as enlightening an experience as teaching has been for me this semester.

It has been years since I have been at the Dodge in person. Teaching and tutoring are busy for me in October, and I have been free to travel to the festival only once since its move to Newark in 2010. Times have changed, and I have changed. I’m taking notice of what I like and do not particularly like about the virtual platform of the 2020 festival. Bear in mind that I am only marginally tech-savvy and not a person who’s wedded to the screen (television or computer or phone).

First impression, from the “opening ceremony” and an initial panel, is that I like the closeups of the poets–something I seldom had the chance to see when in the crowded auditoriums or tents of past Dodge festivals. As an older attendee, I have to admit I appreciate hearing the readers more clearly. It’s also nice not to have to wait for stumbling about on stage as presenters navigate the stairs, step over wires, chat with emcees, or shuffle through papers and books marked with post-it notes.

There’s a downside, too, of course. I cannot see the holistic figures of the poets, their attire and body language, their posture on the stage. I do not feel the attentive excitement of fellow audience members, hear appreciative murmurs, applause, or the rare but spicy snide remarks. The readings seem somewhat static and prepared (which they have been). The festival thus loses some of its remarkable spontaneity. I suppose I’m referring here to a lost physical community–but all of us should be accustomed to that feeling by now.

On the second night of the event, Pádraig Ó Tuama moderated a panel discussion on the theme “Imagine a New Way” with Martín Espada, Vievee Francis, and Carolyn Forché. The poems were intensely engaging, the readings remarkable; and the discussion among the poets and moderator managed to feel lively and immediate. Oh, notes to take, things I must read, ideas that go ‘pop’ in my head…

The takeaway after day two is that my sense of skepticism about online performance and conference events has begun to wane a bit. True, there is less chance of bumping into colleagues and making connections with fellow poets while grabbing a snack, and the bookstore browsing is not nearly as lovely an experience when the bookstore is online. True, there is much I miss about the hubbub and the buzz of past festival experiences.

Yet it turns out I rather like watching and listening to poets while sitting home in my pajamas and drinking decent, not-overpriced wine in the company of no one but my cat. In fact, at present, the scenario rather suits my mood. And I will be ‘tuning in’ tomorrow.

Ann E. Michael, Festival, virtual

The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival begins this evening, Oct. 22! I’m still gobsmacked to be part of this year’s event. 

My reading is this Sunday, Oct. 25, at 5 p.m. EST. I’ll be reading in the same block as George Abraham, Rich Villar, Grisel Y. Acosta, Robert Carnevale, and Paul-Victor Winters. At 6 p.m., we’ll be doing a live Q&A. 

On Nov. 1 at 2 p.m, EST I’ll be moderating a panel called “Masks & Masculinity” featuring Richard Blanco, Tyehimba Jess, Edgar Kunz, and John Murillo. I’ll be moderating a live Q&A with the poets immediately afterwards at 2:45 p.m. 

Visit www.dodgepoetry.com to see the full lineup or readings and conversations and get your festival pass! Be sure to follow #dpf2020 on social media for more.

Collin Kelley, The 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival Begins!

Spent some time discussing Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet “What lips my lips have kissed…” with my students this week. I shared my would-be-in-conflict-if-it-wasn’t-me ideas of needing to look into the tradition of the sonnet while also subverting it for their own contemporary ends–like seriously let’s shut down the tradition of sonnets centered around the male gaze and the needing to sound clever and Shakespeare-like and have sonnets about chanclas!!! One student contributed to the spirit of this by making us aware of a volta before the volta–volta meaning the turn in argument that a traditional sonnet has. While the standard volta happens at the line “Thus in the winter” where the poem’s image parallel of the lone speaker and lone tree comes into play, there is what I would term a minor turn earlier at the line “And in my heart…” where the speaker goes from looking outside to looking at what she feels inside. Check it out and see what you think.

José Angel Araguz, turn, volta, turn

The reason I succumbed to another Pound collection was that I had the yen to read him while reading Timothy Steele’s interesting nonfiction book, Missing Measures. Having a memory like a sieve, I did not recall–or else Steele has been an indefatigable hunter–so many expressions of uncertainty about vers libre from Pound, Eliot, and Williams. I’m afraid I laughed at Eliot’s dismay when his niece sends him some of her school-assigned homework: free verse poems. What you and the public schools have unleashed on us, Thomas Stearns! A Niagara of poems… Steele talks at length about the disappointment of all three with what was accomplished, and how no hoped-for new metric emerges from Modernism and why that might be. It’s a fascinating book that zooms back to the classical world to show the roots of free verse, and how various ideas pertaining to prose writing and poetry writing become braided, swapped, or muddled along the way. It’s a useful book for any young poet, I would think, and might just convince one of the need to return to roots, or at least examine them.

Marly Youmans, New reading, new poems–

How do you make a living as a poet? I have gotten three degrees (one on scholarship, the second while working full-time and with grant support, the third I’m still paying off), worked in jobs as a makeup artist and retail manager to working a dozen years as a tech writing manager to teaching at an MFA program online to serving as Redmond, Washington’s Poet Laureate – and the answer still eludes me.

It’s tough – especially when talking to people who, like me, didn’t come from money, don’t necessarily have support in terms of family and friends, and have to keep the bottom line in their priority list as well as their dreams. I realize I was very lucky in that my mom encouraged me from an early age to recite poetry and that my husband never thought my dreams of becoming a full-time writer were stupid. I really emphasized in my talk how important it is to surround yourself as much as possible with people that support your dreams and goals – it makes it much more likely that you will succeed.

These guys don’t need abstract answers – they need specifics in terms of how to make a living in the real world of poetry. I gave them resources, recommended reading, talked about my own experiences – and wished I’d had someone to give me this kind of talk when I was their age. Real talk about the costs vs benefits of college – especially during covid-19 – and building networks when you maybe don’t come from the “right” schools and aren’t friends with the “right” type of person.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Things Done in October, Mentoring and Making a Living as a Poet, Pursuing Goals and Dreams, and a New Instrument

He would mail me items occasionally, and randomly. Small notes, occasionally on print-outs of images not fit for all audience. All sent mischievously, and with a positive note and a great deal of love. The piece Alana Wilcox posted yesterday over at Coach House reminded me of such.

And of course I can’t find my copy of his second poetry collection, Invisible to Predators (ECW Press, 1999), to verify how much or how little of that material might have appeared there. I really don’t know. If not, that would presume that these pieces never made it into print beyond these small bits of ephemera. During this same period (most likely in 1997, possibly as a tour for his poetry debut), he read for my reading series, The Factory Reading Series at Gallery 101, when the series was still called “poetry 101,” and held in the gallery space above Wallacks, at Bank and Lisgar Streets. He was reading with British Columbia poet Joe Rosenblatt, who had returned to town to read from a volume of selected poems and visual art that had been refused by the original printer (a whole other story), thus missing the event that had already passed by, the opening of Rosenblatt’s gallery show at the Carleton University Gallery. I think the week that fit into their schedule was one that had held a number of other literary events, which meant our audience was but two people. Rosenblatt didn’t seem to expect much (the empty liquor bottle underneath his chair after he had left provided some answers to Joe’s casual indifference to the small crowd), thanks to the printer of the book, and Richard just seemed amused by it. Richard read first, and one of the audience, most likely not prepared for Richard’s openly gay content, walked out during his reading. Richard seemed delighted by this, and said after that he was going to tell people that “half of his audience walked out” at the Ottawa launch. And in hindsight, Richard’s response to this one lone audience member underscores the realities of his approach to life and to art, having come out as a gay man during a period of time that wasn’t necessarily safe or welcoming; and the fact that he was an openly, and seemingly comfortable, gay man exploring some of this content in his work, makes it that much more remarkable. He wasn’t the first, not even of his generation, to be writing out gay themes and issues, but from the time I first became aware of him, he was consistently producing work, writing and publishing and exploring, in a way that might have provided him enormous difficulty, or even harm. Simply by being himself; his own delightful, funny and scathingly-witty self.

rob mclennan, RM Vaughan (1965-2020)

I’ve been trying to hunker down to writing in my childless house. Some days are more successful than others. All year I’ve slowly been writing prose, not sure exactly what to categorise it as yet, maybe one big story, maybe some linked stories, maybe something other than a story. Poems are also slowly turning up on the page and, since lockdown, I’ve been experimenting with collage, word and image pieces, visual poems and hybrid writing. I’ve shared some of my pieces on a new Instagram I set up, andothermakings, which I mentioned before.

The Pop Art MOOC has also been feeding into my collages. I’m especially interested in artists who use text in their images. I was intrigued to learn about Robert Rauschenberg, for example, who spoke about the importance of titles in his work – “they are the starting points… the title is like another object in the work…”

Josephine Corcoran, Pop Art – online course with the Centre Pompidou and FutureLearn

I’ve thought of putting out a call for collaborators among the visual artists, videographers, and musicians with whom I’m acquainted. I’ve stopped myself basically because I can’t come up with a vision or a goal or a thematic framework or anything to basically create a nice bag around the empty space of possibility. Also, of course, there’s no money in it for any of them who actually make their livings through their art. (Well, really, who does that these days, and how on earth would they know ME? I mean, yeah, I happened to have dinner in the same empty restaurant where Laurie Anderson was eating, so consider myself having had dinner with her…but…well…there’s a limit to how far delusion can get one…) I know that I don’t necessarily need a framework, but it would be helpful for the pitch.

Or am I just afraid? Fear is good. As long as it doesn’t stop me from moving forward. My latest fantasies revolve around collaborations not with other artists but with scientists — a geologist studying the ancient terrain around here, an ornithologist tracking all these owls I’m hearing at night, or a limnologist peering at water samples in a microscope (do they do that? I just wanted to use the word limnologist in a sentence). But will they just think I’m eccentric? Who has time for a poet?

Just do something, I say to me.

Gaah, I say.

Just shut up and make work, I also say.

It’s exhausting just collaborating with my many selves. Who has room for someone else?

Marilyn McCabe, We belong together; or, The (Im)possibilities of Artistic Collaboration

Back in July, inspired by Leslie Hurtig’s tweet of three book titles in emojis, I started creating “Emoji Book Title” puzzles over on Donald Trump’s favourite toilet read, Twitter.com. If you’re old, you call these rebus puzzles. But I’m trying to pretend I’m young, so “Emoji Book Titles” it is.

Whatever you call them, I figured some of you sensible folk who don’t use Twitter might also like to play along. In the last three months, I’ve posted 139 rebus puzzles: Canadian poetry, fiction and non-fiction, US poetry and fiction, Nobel prize winners and even a bonus mystery round! You can give them all a read below, and you can click through to Twitter if you are curious about an answer – every one of them has been correctly guessed by someone in the replies.

It’s been tricky finding ways to connect with others in the writing community during the pandemic, and playing these games has done just that. Kinda? Anyway, it’s been a heck of a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy them!

Rob Taylor, In case you need a fun distraction (or 139 of them…)

After a few months of daily poeming (and so much to show for it in terms of the new completed collapsologies manuscript) I’ve been taking a momentary break before moving on to the next thing.  It would help immensely of course if I knew what the next thing was, but right now I’m treading water in the uncertainty of it–notes in my notebook about things I’d like to write or research, formats I would like to play with. Stories I would like to tell. I’ve been dipping a toe back into some visual exploits, including some design stuff and postcard collages for my Patreon. It’s slow, but it’s a start. Maybe some of those will lead to writing.  Or writing will lead to new artwork. 

It feels like a weird time to be making plans, once again with the contingency that the world may be on much tighter lockdown at some point during the next few months. This feels more apt at the Library, where everything–exhibits, programs–is being planned dually, both on the walls and on the web.  We are holding in there, and most of my days are filled now with ILL flow, which has ticked up a bit. Obviously, timewise, whether I am homebound or not shouldn’t affect more creative work that much (if anything I gain back a few hours in the hustling to and fro) but if March & April is any indication, a world in turmoil (or more tumultuous than the past couple of months) blows a huge hole in motivation and concentration. It took til the end of May to get back to any sort of routine.  I still, outside of the dgp manuscripts, have a hard time reading for enjoyment. 

I’m thinking of holding off on starting something new until at least the election has passed and we are into November.  I have no idea what the world will like or where, and if, my concentration will hold. 

Kristy Bowen, daily writing hiatus

Who hasn’t wanted
to inhabit a tiny room

in the soil cushioned by darkness,
soft and without hurt? For a long
while I had no name for the thing

that cleaved me from this pock-
marked plot in the same way
I pulled daughters

out of the wilderness
of my longing.

Luisa A. Igloria, Underworld

There has been no shortage of winter posts in the history of this blog. Which makes sense because Edmonton, at latitude 53 is pretty firmly a winter city. I’ve always loved the lessons that winter offers up and living in Edmonton means we have a fairly lengthy interval to ponder them. I’ve been wondering about how our usual winter lessons might change or be adapted during this pandemic. I typically enjoy the slower pace of winter, the cocooning, the hibernating, the holing up. I enjoy being a recluse. I enjoy the cozy bits. The hygge, the getting down to lagom. But what else can we take from this season? We could do worse than to listen to Wendell Berry:

Suppose we did our work
like the snow, quietly, quietly.
leaving nothing out.
—Wendell Berry

I have a lot of work that I want and need to attend to this winter, including reading a large stack of books I’ve collected and only had the mental energy and attention span to dip into in a cursory fashion. Of course the more I dip, the more my attention span grows, so that’s a lesson and a reminder to myself right there. One book I have been loving is Index Cards by Moyra Davey. I have half of it underlined and the other half dog-eared, but I still want to spend more time with it when I’m more alert. There is a piece where she quotes Dalie Giroux, saying “Give the whole planet a one-year sabbatical…” and “dares us to imagine what that would be like. An echo of Vallières can be heard here — his desire for a society where all people, during their time on earth, could be free to experience their “maximum joy and jouissance.”

Of course this pandemic is nothing like a sabbatical at all. For many, it’s a time of extreme stress and a complete restructuring of the workplace. And that’s just those of us who are lucky and privileged enough to still be working. Right now we’re all just focusing on US politics (even in Canada), (even though the politics in my home province are just about as bad, a complete rubbish heap), and that’s understandable. I keep telling myself, I need a winter plan, a plan to get through, no matter what. I need some new winter mantras.

Shawna Lemay, Winter Calm in the Middle of a Pandemic

Will McInerney, our poet and journalist friend at Cambridge said, “poetry creates a safe space to illuminate problems.” 

And, when it comes to problems like climate change, Oliver Miltenberger, our climatologist-poet friend in the US, told us that “we will never understand the magnitude of what we are losing.”  

Next, we spoke with Dr. Craig Santos Perez from the University of Hawaii, who gave us some perspective on writing to affect change, “poems help heal us individually, are shaped into art to share with the world to help readers cope too.” 

Our caring poet-friend from Washington State, Kelli Russell Agodon told us about how she, “take(s) what scares (her) & makes (her) feel powerless and put(s) it into poetry to put into the world.” 

Then, finally, yesterday in a very generous one-and-three-quarters of an hour zoom call, the presidential inaugural poet Richard Blanco compared our topic of writing with love when he said, “when it comes to climate change, it is like a nation of the mind, without borders.” 

Cathy Wittmeyer, This Is a Writing Retreat for Poets

The rain comes again as if we were a secret, you and I.
Snuggle down with me, my dear, on the beaten old sofa,
And we will sip tea and listen to the rain fall on the roof.

James Lee Jobe, The rain comes again as if we were a secret

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 41

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week the poetry blogosphere was a bit quieter that it had been the preceding week, but Louise Glück’s selection for the Nobel Prize certainly created a stir. I’ve scattered reactions to her win throughout what I’d hoped might seem a rather miscellaneous gathering, trying for once just to post things at random and not impose too much order. Of course I failed miserably.


where will they scatter the blue dust of earth

Grant Hackett [no title]

These days I’ve no interest in writing memoir. I have kept a journal since I was ten years old, and that constitutes enough self-indulgent scribbling on its own. I treasure, however, the practice all that writing gave me: practice in constructing sentences, employing vocabulary words, creating metaphors, using punctuation in various ways, expressing abstract ideas and describing concrete objects. Writing, learning to write, critique, and revision have been immensely valuable to me.

I’m not sure who I would be if I hadn’t been constantly writing (and reading). Maybe I’d have been a contemplative.

~~

All of which is to report to my readers, who may be experiencing their own obstacles to their art, that –yes– the writing continues in the face of loss and grief, anxiety, and the work of the body in the world, in the mundane spaces of daily grind and in the wakeful hours, and in the containers of dreamwork and consciousness. Right now, the writing is not “good,” not crafted, aware of itself, ready to speak to others than the self. It is, at present, more akin to what the Buddhists call practice.

Ann E. Michael, Practicing

Gluck was something from the past, and definitely an influence on the work I was writing then and probably for the next four years.   It was unfashionable to say, particularly in my program, that you loved Gluck, and yet, I regularly found poets out in the wild who professed their love for her work and would continue to. I feel like, stylistics aside, the experimental poetry world (i.e. the male poetry world if we’re getting specific) has a particular vitriol toward Gluck, which I never really understood, and now, as the news spreads of the Nobel, are rustling restlessly with their keyboards.  Admittedly, I was surprised they’d chosen a poet so very white in the current world where everyone else is making strides in recognizing POC, but I don’t think that’s the angle these criticisms stem from.  I once heard a male poet dismiss Gluck as a “flower poet” and fumed for days. My chief criticism is the poems are a little too tidy and heavy handed.  Constantly moving the reader toward epiphany tied neatly with a bow. She wields this more adeptly than other poets of her generation (particularly male) but she still wields it. 

I do not write those sorts of poems–not anymore–but I can see the value in work–the strands that are still woven in how I learned to make poems.  

Kristy Bowen, not the moon | gluck and poetic foremothers

squirrels in the roof
sloe gin in my cupboard
the most terrible quarrels

a cull of the poets
we are drowning
in the quagmire of online art

Ama Bolton, ABCD October 2020

My new chapbook, Tropospheric Clouds is now out from Adjunct Press, of Milwaukee (who have done a wonderful job of it).

Info: Tropospheric Clouds gives fragmented images that seem to be dispatched from a larger and elaborate narrative world. The poet is a multiplied character separated from the world. Rather than being presented in the Romantic cringe mysticism, here the separation of the poet is seen as a cloistering or perhaps a sense of imprisonment by vocation. The poet-as-seer image is cut again when the legitimacy-creating obscurity is saved only by publication. Tropospheric Clouds uses the unseen narrative to show the idea of the poet vocation within the reality of profession.

Michael Begnal, New Chapbook: Tropospheric Clouds

I go further and further into it, broken and silent, ‘struggling to keep hold’ of memories, words, phrases from the funeral. Did we do a good job, did I do a good job? Was she pleased with what I said?

The new term hurtles on. Already we have finished week 3, week 4 comes crashing towards us like a train. Where is the breathing space? Where can I find a moment to sit and just be?

My desk looks like a bomb site. There are at least four important letters I need to reply to. I sit down to make a list of what needs remembering for the but my mind just blinks at the page.

No one warned me that grief would be like this, its lonely lack of focus. Its unmemory. I think ‘How can a body withstand this?’ I cup her face between my hands. Her laughter. Her smile. I will love again.

Anthony Wilson, The Thing Is

The calendar I picked for 2020 offers beautiful tree-themed art for each month. And like everyone else’s calendar, it lies. I no longer even cross off what’s cancelled. Why bother, when there’s nothing to add in its place? Looking at it I imagine another me, in a parallel universe, doing those scheduled things. My other self doesn’t appreciate them nearly enough. She complains about being rushed, about traffic, about long lines. She vows to slow down and appreciate the moment. When she does she notices new things while stuck in traffic, enjoys the faces of people standing in line, savors more fully the pleasure of a porch chair after a long day. But she’s not always so mindful.

None of us could have imagined the year we’re in. Time takes on a different dimension when so many people have died and so many are suffering. We can’t help but sink more deeply into these hours of ours.

My calendar hangs by my desk, beautiful and useless. Time’s measure no longer fits on its pages. 

Laura Grace Weldon, Empty Calendar

conflagration 
the promises of summer
in falling leaves

Jim Young [no title]

I was up at 5:30 this morning, fretting about the political scene, finally getting out of bed and stumbling to my writing desk.

I finished the review I’ve been trying to write for months, revised a poem, and queried one more agent, regarding my mystery novel. I was typing today’s date, 10.8.20, when I remembered that today is my mother’s birthday. Or, as we say when someone has passed, today is the anniversary of her birth.

Since Mom’s death, on October 12, 2018, I’ve written a lot of poems that seem to be about her. Even this week, writing about two great blue herons on a dock, I was drawing from the memory of a walk I took after visiting Mom at her skilled-nursing facility. The poem felt shot-through with her presence.

Mom and I had a lot of differences. Setting up her apartment after she moved from the farmhouse, I would set out her knick knacks and pictures so they were asymmetrical. I like triangles, staggered lines, angles. She would come behind me and straighten everything to be evenly balanced and straight across.

Mom was proud of  me, I think, but she didn’t understand my choice to become educated and we could never talk about it. She thought being a teacher was a good thing. But I had overdone it, getting a Ph.D. in literature. It seemed like a waste of money to her that we were saving for our daughters’ higher education. “College has ruined your mind,” she said to me once.

Bethany Reid, Happy Birthday, Mom

–We had a debate with vice presidential candidates, a debate which was better than the presidential debate, but many of us will most remember that fly on Mike Pence’s head.  I will remember Kamala Harris saying variations of this phrase, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”  It made me want to assemble a directory of womanist separatist communes–or maybe start such a commune.  And you might think it’s abnormal for a woman happily married to a man to feel that way, but I am fairly sure it isn’t.

–When I create my ideal womanist/feminist separatist commune, will I allow men?  Perhaps.  I’m using separatist fairly generally–I want to separate from many things in our patriarchal culture.  But that’s a subject for another day.

–It’s been a week of good news when it comes to recognizing women.  The Nobel Prizes went to women:  for Chemistry, for Physics, for Literature.  The MacArthur Fellows were announced, and I was so happy to see Tressie McMillan Cottom, N. K. Jemisin, and Jacqueline Woodson on the list.  You can “meet” all the Fellows here.

–I’ve also been happy to see attention given to Maggie Smith’s new book Keep Moving (see NPR radio interview here and Slate article here).  I keep expecting to feel jealous, but I don’t.  On the contrary, I’m happy to see a poet like her succeed.  I am also not jealous of Louise Gluck, our newest Nobel Laureate.  Both women have been more focused than I have of late.  Both women write poetry I love–so I’m happy to see them get success.  And even if Maggie Smith is getting publicity for her newest book, which is not a poetry book, I’m happy.  I like to see the many ways we could succeed as writers.  I like the reminder that all is not lost.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Week of Womanist/Feminist Challenges and Triumphs

I was interested to read Jonathan Jones’s Guardian review of the Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition at the National Gallery. It’s an important show, which rightly seeks to claim Gentileschi’s ‘greatness’, as Jones calls it, as a woman artist among the traditional pantheon of almost exclusively male painters.

The physicality of her painting of ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ reminds me of another rendering of the same story, by another great artist, the poet Vicki Feaver: her Forward-Prize-winning poem ‘Judith’, from her essential 1994 collection The Handless Maiden, which strikes a perfect balance between the sensuality and calculated violence of this tale from the Apocrypha.

As a poet, Feaver has the advantage of including a back-story of motive for the murder; Gentileschi, of course, is unable to do that, but her own motivation, outlined by Jones, clearly informs the unflinching manner of her depiction. Ultimately, the result is more-or-less the same: Gentileschi shows us blood dripping from Holofernes’s neck and a look of terror on his face, and Feaver likewise ends her poem, in an half-rhymed couplet, with the brutal truth:

                      And I bring my blade
down on his neck – and it’s easy
like slicing through fish.
And I bring it down again,
cleaving the bone.

Matthew Paul, Judith

I can’t leave Montreal, at least until the end of the month, because a new lockdown was imposed on October 1, so there is no question of driving out into the country to see the fall foliage, visiting a natural area, or going apple picking, let alone visiting Vermont or the Adirondacks. I’m fortunate to be able to see trees and fall color from my window, and to have begonias, geraniums, nasturtiums and sweet peas blooming on our terrace, but I still have a persistent sense of being trapped — as so many of us do.

It helps to turn to images of places I love. A couple of weeks ago I re-explored a garden we visited at the Ex Convento del Carmen (former Carmelite convent) in the Mexico City suburb of San Angel, and made a few drawings and watercolor sketches. […]

As you can probably see, these watercolors are getting looser, less realistic, and more expressive — but often I still do a fairly realistic black-and-white drawing first to work out the shapes and compositional relationships — plus, I just like to draw. There are few activities that feel more absorbing, and even though I’ve done it all my life, it always feels like magic to start with a blank sheet of paper and end up with a representation of something observed and a record of that particular time and place and state of mind.

Drawing, more than any other art activity, also connects me to all the artists who’ve filled sketchbooks and made drawings. I feel my eyes travel from the object to the paper and back again, without much conscious thinking, as my hand somehow — I don’t pretend to understand it — translates that seeing into lines and forms. Even when the drawing doesn’t come out particularly well, it still seems like a little quiet miracle that human beings try to do this, and have always done it: “I sat here, I was still, I looked, I used my hands and eyes and made this.” Maybe there’s some hope for us after all.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 41. Searching the Landscape

I think my cat was perplexed. He has grown accustomed to me leading services from the dining room table: the laptop, my microphone, perhaps a pair of Shabbat or festival candles lit on the table beside me, lots of singing.

These days when I daven from the table, he looks up briefly from his favorite perch on the cat tree and then returns to napping. But he has never seen me dance around the room holding a big metal-bound Tanakh encrusted with gems. 

I don’t have a Torah scroll at home, so I danced with the big metal-bound Tanakh that used to belong to my parents. I waltzed with it; I spun around in circles with it; I danced with it in a circumnambulation of the room; I cradled it like a baby in my arms. 

Seven songs, seven poems, seven hakafot. Evoking the seven days of the first week, and the seven “lower sefirot” or qualities that we share with our Creator from lovingkindness to boundaries and strength all the way to presence and Shechinah.

I thrilled to the secret heart revealed when we go from the end of Torah directly to her beginning, from loss to starting over, from lamed to bet. I opened my Tanakh to a random word and from that word I gave myself a blessing.

And then I went to bed, and I slept the sleep of the overtired rabbi and elementary school parent who could finally relax into knowing that the work of this long, challenging (and this year, pandemic-unprecedented) holy season was done.

Rachel Barenblat, A Simchat Torah like no other

I have an uneasy relationship with prompts. I can’t trust the whole set-up, because sometimes they work: I drop into some strange space of utterance and up bubbles things strange and fantastic; and sometimes they don’t, and I’m clutching my pen and strangling the empty page with grabby fingers of text.

It has something to do with breathing. No. It has something to do with attention. No. Is it in the set of my jaw? Should I squint my eyes? The whole enterprise seems impossible. Except when it’s glorious.

If the effort toward writing from a prompt seems too effort-full, the only thing to do is walk away. Go yank weeds or walk or lately I’ve been taking objects and slathering them with blue paint and dragging them across paper. A bottle cap. The red mesh that onions come in. A stick. Good fun.

Marilyn McCabe, All the noise noise noise; or, On Writing from Prompts

There is an interview on On Being with Jericho Brown where he says, “Poems have to make our lives clear. Poems have to make our lives real on the page. And nobody’s living an easy life. Nobody’s living a life that is anything other than complex. And there are things about our lives that TV’s not going to give us, that movies, even, are not going to give us. And poems are where I go for that. That’s where I go for the complexity, the thing in us that we don’t really understand.” What I want is the complexity and powerful possibilities that a poem or poetic language can give us. What we know right now is as Brown says, “Nobody’s living a life that is anything other than complex.” So I want to give thanks for that thought, and acknowledge how complex life is for so many people. And I also want to give thanks for the space of a poem, how full it can be, even when it seems thinned out, spare, careful. How wild a poem can be in and of itself, and how it can surprise us and delight us and guide us to a wholeness in ourselves.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, and it feels more important than ever to acknowledge the complicated history of the holiday. A lot of us have cancelled get-togethers due to Covid-19 concerns which feels like a small sacrifice. I’m asking myself, what do I have to share, who can I donate to, since we won’t be spending money making a big meal. So that’s one place to start on a day where we give thanks.

Shawna Lemay, Poems for Giving Thanks, Praise, and Comfort

Los Angeles poet Tanya Holtland’s stunning full-length poetry debut is Requisite (England: Platypus Press, 2020), a lyric suite constructed as a quartet on, as she writes in her preface, “spiritual ecology,” and the ways in which we are interconnected to the physical and natural world. There is a meditative precision to Holtland’s lyrics, finely-honed with the ease of a quick sketch, but one that also knows how to pull apart the minutae of an idea, to stretch it across an expansive canvas. There are elements of Holtland’s ability to accumulate poems into sections and sections into a full-length whole that provide comparisons to the work of her partner, the poet Hailey Higdon. In Holtland’s 2019 essay for “my (small press) writing day,” she hinted at such a cross-influence between the two, a pair of writers occupying similar physical and emotional space: “To say that we influence each other as writers is understated only by what we influence in the larger field of each other’s lives.” Whereas I’ve long understood Higdon’s poems to exist in groupings that slowly reveal their interconnectedness (such as through the publication of her 2019 debut full-length collection Hard Some [see my review of such here]), Holtland’s work through this collection, as well, exists as a detailed suite of individual poems that, together, pattern to reveal their larger coherence. […]

Holtland’s ecopoetic exists in start contrast to many other examples I’ve seen in the same vein: there is a reverence, but her lyric exists simultaneously at the level of the sequence, the fragment, the word. Even the smallest unit contains the whole in a way that is reminiscent of, say, Fanny Howe or Sylvia Legris. Her poems fragment and fractal, and accumulate in a singular direction. “If the impulse to expand comes to fight a hard rain,” she writes, as part of “Fated,” “remember // the curve of the earth / comes to meet you, / to the smallest / portion of the soul.” 

There is such a wonderful, careful complexity to Holtland’s lyric meditations, setting pause against pause. She holds, she halts, she slowly pieces together. For Holtland, place is not simply being or landscape but an all-encompassing entity of which we are an important part, and even moreso, given the incredible amount of damage we have inflicted upon it. Holtland holds her distances against ours, and our distances against the ether.

rob mclennan, Tanya Holtland, Requisite

I was pleased to hear that Louise Glück has won the Nobel Prize, as the championing of her work can only encourage non-readers of contemporary poetry to realise that the genre offers multiple interpretations beyond their preconceived expectations. However, I was struck by a quote from Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel committee, which read as follows:

Even if her autobiographical background is significant in her works, she is not to be regarded as a confessional poet. She seeks universality…

The above statement is unfortunate, to say the least. It perpetuates numerous fallacies. For a start, no poem can ever be fully defined as autobiographical or confessional, even if the poet in question were to claim such a status or label. This is because role playing always becomes a factor once the creative process is set in motion.

And then there’s the absurd implication (beyond reference to Glück herself) that a poet is somehow barred from universal appeal if their poetry is also partly autobiographical or confessional in its point of departure. How many of the greats would that rule out? Such a claim would definitely cast aspersions over certain previous winners of the same award!

All in all, Glúck’s win is excellent news, but its annoucement was couched in terms that could at the very least be interpreted as critical shortcuts. Her poetry and the genre in general both deserve a more nuanced understanding of the role of autobiography in any and every poem.

Matthew Stewart, Universality (on Louise Glück and the Nobel Prize)

The pure clarity of certain dreams, how they drive us across night’s dark distances, change fury into feathers, the unbloomed into overbrimming wonder.

Myrrh, melody, wings, waterwheels.

Those dreams carousel and uncrush, motor and unmurder.

They crystallize doubt into diamond, leave our fingerprints on the wind as we drift down highways of after-midnight sleep.

Rich Ferguson, When Hitchhiking Dream’s Highway

The pine smelled so sweet and sharp this morning. Somewhere near my solar plexus I felt a heaviness like guilt. I know it must smell this pronounced because the trees have been freshly cut. It’s not the smell of death – but of wounds. I’ve had wounds myself before that have wept, clear and sticky. I should have enough compassion for the trees not to be drawn to this smell. But I inhaled so deeply I had to stop running.

I exhale melancholy.

Someone had raked together all the long, dead branches and placed them around the bases of individual trees. E. told me that it’s a kind of slow fertilizing process. But I think the trees look as vulnerable as martyrs waiting for the flames.

I exhale anxiety.

My mind wanders on these forest runs and it isn’t always easy to sort what to take, and what to leave in the forest. Today I took home four fallen leaves home to make paste paper for chapbook covers. I took home a photo of an abandoned boot someone placed on a tree stump. I took home the reminder that this body is aging and mortal, that each day is made more precious with that knowledge.

I wonder what I leave after these runs? Footprints, certainly. Carbon dioxide.

I wonder if we shed dark matter in our wake, just as we shed bits of DNA.

I wonder if the blackbirds that overwinter here are disturbed by my having been present with them.

*

We talk about breath being life: inhaling, exhaling. But the pauses between – the effortless moments of waiting – without a glottal stop – are as integral to the flow of life, as death. Or is death, rather, is the hum of existence beyond this constellation of atoms.

These breathless, lifeless pauses are where we touch the dark matter of the universe – these are what is expressed in the leaps in our poetry.

Ren Powell, What You Find in the Forest

Don’t think I don’t
see you, trees,

talking with the stars
all night, the stars

telling you how to
say steady

against this
sadness. The wind

has nothing
it wishes to add.

Tom Montag, DON’T THINK I DON’T

I never put my hoses away, lazy man,
They lay wherever I drop them.
I never bother to remember where either.
I have spent my life walking around
Looking for the far end of hoses.
I imagine finches watching me, or raccoons,
All of them thinking me a fool —
Stupid man! He should put the hoses away!
Well, to hell with them all.
I don’t have feathers or fur,
And I don’t go around judging people
With poems on their minds.

James Lee Jobe, Looking for the far end of hoses.

Only the 16th woman EVER to win the Nobel in Literature, and an American Poet at that, this can be nothing but good news for American Poetry. Of course, I’ve been a fan every since I saw her read in my twenties in Cincinnati from Meadowlands. I took my little brother, then 17, and a few of his scruffier friends to the reading, and to my surprise, they all enjoyed it. My little brother went up to her after the reading and complimented her shoes. She must have been about the age I am now, 47, at the time, and she just lit up.

Also, think of this what you will, but Louise Glück taught me, along with Margaret Atwood and Lucille Clifton, what it meant to write the villainess. I will always owe them a debt, in my writing and my life.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Good News: A Poem in Boulevard, Louise Glück Wins the Nobel Prize, Our Book Giveaway Winner, and an October of Uncertainty

Before she dies, her offerings
slip into pockets called galls.
When it’s time,

these pods will release
her children so they can start
the cycle all over again: the males,
wingless and blind, will mate with
their sisters before carving for them

a path out of the garden. Most males
die before they themselves reach the gate.
But the females who make it out follow
the wind’s warm scent, tracking down
the next tree with fruit

that must be nudged to full ripeness
by these small offerings of death.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Apple May Not Have Been the Forbidden Fruit

I’ve been learning that grieving can be a long time coming. Or maybe that it’s a thing that’s never really done.

I have a recurring dream in which I’ve lost a season. It’s usually a spring dream, and–somehow, impossibly–it’s the end of summer. But, wait, I’ll think in the dream. It can’t be time to go back to school. Where did the summer go? I’ll think of all the things I wanted and didn’t get to do, and I feel panicky and cheated. Then I’ll realize I’m dreaming, and that I have not, in fact, lost the summer, and relief washes over me. One day in Grace’s last week here, I got disoriented about where I was in time, the way I do in the dream. For a moment, I lost what season we are in. Something made me feel like it was still summer, and I had to tell myself: No, it’s October. It’s not summer any more. But then it felt like it couldn’t be October, because I hadn’t really had summer, just like in the dream.

I understand my confusion. The whole summer felt like a bubble in which we were all suspended in some time out of time. Having my daughter back in the ways I did, after having earlier let her go, while we both prepared ourselves for what’s coming next, felt like simultaneously living in the past, present, and future. Where were we in time? Who were we? Everywhere and nowhere. Everyone we’ve ever been and no one we’ve ever been and everyone we’ll someday be.

The day she left was unseasonably warm. After returning from the airport, I pulled spent tomato plants from their box and filled the compost bin with cedar branches Cane had trimmed from the tree that overhangs my shed, sweating in the sun. That evening, I sat on a front porch with friends and we talked how we might continue to safely meet when the nights turn cold. It felt like a summer night.

But, the next morning I woke to rain and dark skies. The patio furniture was soaked when I put the dogs out to pee, and they stepped gingerly on the wet pavement. The power flickered off and then on again, while I worked on these words, and just like that, the season had undeniably changed.

I hated to let it go. I knew I had no choice.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A rambling meditation on time, grief, impermanence, children, love, etc.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 38

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week’s digest comes front-loaded with poetry because I feel there’s been a bit of a deficit of actual poems in recent editions. Of course personal essays are always the bread and butter of this series, along with book reviews or appreciations and the occasional literary criticism, but let’s not lose sight of what we’re all about.

Though as the rest of the digest hopefully demonstrates, poets do tend to be pretty damn good at not losing sight of important things—even (or especially) those things that the culture or the state is heavily invested in us not noticing.


There’s a farmhouse at the edge
of a Romanian village, lonely and thick
with shadows as dusk sets in.
People inside are afraid to turn on the lights.
Once in a while, stones fall
from the sky, dent the roof, chip bits
from the eaves. Stones fall, never bigger
than someone’s fist, never hurled
from great distance to burrow
through the roof and kill.

Romana Iorga, The Meadow Is Filled with Stones

At first I think I hear the binder,
wheels beating, turning at the headrow,
but the fields are bare.
Such a beating, a clattering.
More geese searching for a lake
in this land of furrows? Or
the rector in his Wolesely
come to seek me out?

Dick Jones, FLIGHTPATHS – POEMS ABOUT AEROPLANES

I think of my father,
if I’m meeting him

here. This
night-colored wine
wavers between us,
its taste shaped

by so much waiting.

José Angel Araguz, new poems out in the world!

this morning I was finally able to go outside and breathe I stood on the front porch and inhaled the scent of rain soaked forest then I went out to the deck to take that photo of a sugar maple in my yard I opened all the windows in the house put the screens in then drove to the beach there is some stuff going on with my mental health that I am not ready to write about here and so I am stopped from writing anything at all for now last night I dreamed of a giant cabbage and women with weary intelligent eyes and huge dogs I am okay but not okay I will be okay just checking in here to say hello hello

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I’m sick of the coronavirus. Sick of wildfires and hurricanes.

Sick of hate-mongers and a derailed America. I’m sick of Twitter tantrums and conspiracy rants.

Sick of days so bleak, it’s like a chapel of black cats is a safer place to pray.

Sick of flossing with barbed wire and counting the newly bloomed flowers along the boulevard of the bereft.

Sick of watching the walls close in, businesses close down, neighbors move out.

Yet despite it all, I still recall those stories written on your skin. All the stories written on my skin.

I still marvel at our shared storylines, all our mysterious twists and turns.

How they held me, how they held me.

Rich Ferguson, Second Thoughts in the First Person

That video brought to mind something my family used to do years ago, when the kids were little. If someone cut us off in traffic or was rude in public we’d say, “What is her story?” and then everyone would volunteer random possibilities. Her baby was up all night or a stone was stuck in her shoe or she’s late for work (or as one of my sons liked to contribute) “her butt itches but she can’t scratch it.”  It didn’t just distract us from our annoyance, it was a playful way to consider other people’s perspectives. I hoped this practice let us feel closer, for a moment, to the oneness underlying all life on this planet.

Laura Grace Weldon, Reframing the Story

It was freezing in the winter. I got those Dickens gloves without fingertips. It was sweltering in the summer. I took off all my clothes. It was at that desk that I made [Once he forced a small miracle…] and [Fluid the promise…] and many others. I was in the apartment in July 2018 when Sarabande offered to publish the book.

After a year I moved to an apartment closer to the sea. It too had a desk, but a small and charmless one. I adopted the dining table. I lived alone. I could. In March I left in a hurry for Germany without giving the future much thought. All my things are still scattered across that table with no one to touch them.

I’ve been back with my family in Germany through the spring and summer. It’s greener here. I speak the language.

I took the day off as a gift to myself for writing a book.

Sarah J. Sloat, Hotel Almighty

I’ve brought the angel wing into the house now that the temperatures have dropped below 15C. The perennials are dying. Or going dormant.

The honeysuckle has twined its way far fast the trellis I put up in May. It’s choking the thuja, but blooming with such a fragrance that I can’t bring myself to cut it back.

I do have hope. There’s the winter to read, and to learn. And there is something to be said for learning one’s place in the making of things.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

INTERPRETIVE TRANSLATION OF TALMUDIC TEXTS. Gratefulness.org

There is a personal grief in private failures, in every missed deadline – every lost hour.

Ren Powell, Cultivating My Mind

She walked until                                 she couldn’t
identify a single species of tree

to learn anew
                                         which one yielded edible berries
if Pandanus bore flowers
in the rosette                               of spiked leaves

Uma Gowrishankar, the flower discovers the poet

They are cutting down the pine tree on the corner. It was maybe 80’ tall and almost three feet in diameter, perfectly healthy, an old tree full of years. And now it’s mostly wood chips. Today, for the first time in weeks, the sky is blue, and there is more of it than before. I walk past, grieving.

air quality index
counting the trees
we have left

Dylan Tweney [no title]

In a time of grief and gravity and gratitude for some wonderfully-lived lives, I happen to find myself reading Mark Doty’s book What Is the Grass? Walt Whitman in My Life.

And I find this paragraph; and for now, I need add nothing more.

The dead are not lost, but in circulation; they are involved in the present, in active participation. Bits of them are streaming through your hand and mine, just as language is circulating through us. Lexicon and materiality forever move onward and outward in the continuous wheeling expansion this world is. This is no mere philosophical proposition on Whitman’s part, not an intellectual understanding but a felt actuality. We are alive forever in the endless circulation of matter. Nothing luckier, stranger, or more beautiful could ever happen. There is no better place.

Ann E. Michael, No better place

What is a love poem in the underworld, in the light, in that worst of all place in between? I orca between them, or crawl. Liminal. What if the beauty is only that.

In my kitchen, a love poem to the vixen by Adrienne Rich. For a human animal to call for help on another animal is the most riven the most revolted cry on earth, she says while I drink my coffee all sharp and soft.

When covid was killing me, I ate oranges two, three at a time. How my body demanded them, sure they would save me: how I scraped their peels with my teeth for even pulp. How I wished I could get them all the way inside my lungs, rub the dying walls with their acid light. Convinced. If I could just—

Corona: a halo of light, hallucinatory and orange. Too late now for arrhythmic heart, a thing that actually happened. Too late for sacred marriage, also a thing that actually happened. What the body remembers is joy: that part was real, and while some is better than none, all is what is required—and so it was immolated. A fever dream, teethmarks in pulp and bone on waking: the body remembers that salmon colored haze is where this all began. In fire, and cilia burned away. If I could just—
Just—
Even corona extinguished, only the carving is left

JJS, Covid-19 and Other Deaths: The Descent

Before Tisha b’Av, I gathered a group of liturgists to collaborate on a project that became Megillat Covid, Lamentations for this time of covid-19.

In recent weeks we’ve gathered again — in slightly different configuration — to build something new for this pandemic season: a set of prayer-poems for Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which we’ve titled Ushpizin. That’s the Aramaic word for guests, usually used to refer to the practice of inviting ancestral / supernal guests like Abraham and Sarah into our Sukkah… though this year, what does it mean to invite Biblical guests when many of us don’t feel safe inviting in-person guests? That’s the question that gave rise to the project.

The prayers / poems that we wrote arose out of that question and more. What does it mean to find safety in a sketch of a dwelling in this pandemic year? With what, or whom, are we “sitting” when we sit in our sukkot this year? What about those of us who can’t build this year at all? And what can our Simchat Torah be if we are sheltering-in-place, or if our shul buildings are closed, or if we are not gathering in person with others? 

Rachel Barenblat, Liturgy for Sukkot in times of covid-19

To the best of my knowledge, Ellen Bass does not identify herself as a religious poet, or as having any personal belief in God. What I love about this poem is the way that she has kept that worldview out of the picture as it were and created a universe in which it is possible to imagine a being (Anne Lamott says if you can’t cope with the word ‘God’, try David Byrne, the name of your favourite pet, or the word Phil) who is sentient, suffers, and therefore goes through grief like the rest of us, its ‘heart huge as a gray whale’. As I enter a new stage of grieving, this is the kind of god/God I want to believe in. That Ellen Bass has outstripped her unbelief and created this space in which it is possible to spend time believing, if only briefly, is something I am grateful for this morning.

Anthony Wilson, God’s Grief

cut out the dead herb growing spirals inside your chest
inside the sour plum, find a seed with the initials of god

see how the mouth hungers for the unwritten century
collect, if you can, the honey left by ants on the road

in the morning, run and unfasten the gate to the sea
keep the first feather that brushes against your throat

Luisa A. Igloria, resetas (1)

It has been a labor of love to walk this one into the world. There are poems gathered here that were composed years ago in sweeter times – and others written through days more heartbreaking and challenging.  Initially, I envisioned this collection to be one of grief and bereavement.  What else could it be after the sudden death of a husband?  In fact, when I first organized the manuscript under that tarp, it was titled Clutter & Scree – the things left behind, the rubble that proves difficult in which to establish firm footing.  The poems then were largely too fresh, too close, too raw, and at a time I simply needed the motion and process of writing as one might need a trekking pole on a hike.

The manuscript as such did not initially get picked up.  So, I pulled it apart, blue-taped the poems on the walls of an empty room at home, and spent a winter subtracting, adding, writing, revising, and organizing what would become Curating the House of Nostalgia.  I aimed for better balance between between the two titles.  The collection shifted from straight sorrow to envelop the beauty that ultimately embraces and occasionally overshadows heartache in one way or another, often in small ways.  With each day comes night.  What else could this manuscript be from a northern woman poet who refuses to claim the word widow?  This shift was especially important as my now 14-year-old daughter and I continue to move forward in ways that are hopefully both spirited and healthy.

Kersten Christianson, Curating the House of Nostalgia

I recently ordered a 2021 calendar–I favor a portable Moleskine number–but, with heavy-handed symbolism, the order keeps being delayed. I’m a planner by temperament and I SO wish I could anticipate my future doings again. Not possible. It’s all clouds.

For the near term, all a calendar-minded person can do is brainstorm short-term ways to mark the passage of time, because around here, the cooling air and spots of yellow at the tops of trees strongly imply that the fall equinox is near. I keep daily work rhythms, even on sabbatical. On Saturdays, we take walks somewhere outside of this small town, hiking in the woods if we can. I’m applying for writing-related opportunities that might bear fruit next spring or summer. Other people are desperately trying to layer multiple workdays on top of each other right now–work, homeschooling, other responsibilities–so feeling lost in blurry weeks means I’m getting off easy, but to a surprising degree, it’s still a stressor.

Here’s a small anniversary: my fifth poetry collection, The State She’s In, was published on March 17th, 2020, so if it were a baby, it would be a chubby little person rocking forward onto its hands and trying to figure out locomotion. I bought it flowers and arranged a photo shoot to celebrate the occasion. It actually IS a book about time, among other subjects–the history of my region but also the approach and arrival of my 50th birthday, an event that I could watch descending like Wile E. Coyote awaiting the anvil. Processing age and change, I wrote many poems that reference the dreaded number explicitly (as in “Fifty-Fifty”) or use 50 as a formal constraint: poems of 50 syllables, 50 words, 50 lines, and more. I’m sure much of that formal play is invisible. It worked, though. Attacking a number every which way gave me some control over its meaning. I wonder if I could do some version of that by writing poems about 2021? I refuse to give 2020 that honor.

Lesley Wheeler, 6 month birthday for THE STATE SHE’S IN (time does not exist)

I’ve been trying to take things a little slower lately. Maybe it’s the shortening days, maybe it’s a hangover from lockdown when life slowed almost to a standstill and I was actually able to notice the small things for the first time in ages. As I write this, there’s a wasp crawling up the pane of the patio door. It does this busily, zithering about (zithering, if I remember rightly, is a word I picked up from Jacob Polley’s Jackself – he uses it to describe greyhounds I think, but it suits wasps equally well). Of course, the wasp is trying to find an exit, in order to survive. Everything it needs is out there, beyond the glass, easy to see, hard to reach. If the wasp slowed down a bit, it might realise how close it is to freedom. As it is, it continues to buzz frantically, getting nowhere. Eventually it will burn out and drop to the floor exhausted.

Okay, I’m not the wasp. Not exactly. But I know that feeling of trying too hard to get to something that seems close, tangible, achievable, having to work like fury to get there. Poems that come out of that state of mind generally don’t please me, and neither does the process of creating them. I’m not saying that I now intend to sit about and do nothing in the hope that poems arrive unbidden. Most likely they won’t. But I have promised myself I won’t be so anxious about ‘doing’ things and overloading myself. Hence the photograph above. We spent Sunday picking blackberries to make some wine. I had a hundred other things I needed to do but I gave myself over to picking this humble fruit. It was slow work, but the sun was out and the fruit was ripe and I felt like I was doing something important. The blog didn’t get done on Sunday because of this. It didn’t get done yesterday because I had a heavy day at work. I’m writing it today because I feel like it. This is as it should be.

Julie Mellor, Blackberry moon

I’ve recently took a little inventory of new projects and while this year has been a doozy on all other fronts, and while I was paralyzed a bit when it came to writing and creating through the spring, there is still quite a bit of work to show for the summer months–the overlook poems, the tabloid pieces, the bloom project, and now, my series of plague letters.  While visual art feels a little bit harder to settle in with (mostly due to time constraints) I am enjoying the video projects. On the whole, a productive season as we settle into fall.  I have a few more epistolaries and then I’m not sure where to go next, but we’ll see what I’m in the mood for.  I have a notebook full of projects and ideas that are ripe for the picking.

Today, warmer weather, but it’s supposed to get colder by the end of the week. There has also been strange milky white skies from the smoke in the west way high in the atmosphere.  People are dying and the worlds on fire, so it seems hard to exist sometimes. To person sometimes. I’ve been busy, so less for the doomscrolling now that the semester has started and my days are full with reserves and ILL.  I spent the weekend in Rockford, which at least granted some outdoor campfire s’more activity in a summer that has barely been a summer.  As always, I most like coming home. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/15/2020

This week was so stressful, among other things, I broke a tooth in my sleep. My regular dentist couldn’t get me in because three other patients had done the same thing that day. Hoping to get it fixed on Monday, but of course every dental trip brings anxiety because of Covid risk. […]

The enforced enclosure of the terrible smoke did result in one good thing – I got to catch up on my reading. Besides reading Joan Didion with my mom (this month: The Book of Common Prayer), I finally read the wonderful third book from January Gill O’Neil, Rewilding. (Pictured to the left: Sylvia loved my “fall mood” table so much that she came and put her paws directly on January’s book! She really does love to cuddle a poetry book!)

This book addresses the natural process of rewilding – what happens when we leave a field or a stream alone for a while – and the dissolving and building of bonds between family members during a divorce. January’s language is clear and straightforward, but lovely, in this collection that will move you and make you rethink your own search for your rewilding self.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Field Guide Book Giveaway Winner, a Heck of a Week: Broken Teeth, Birds in Smoke, and Saying Goodbye to RBG, Poetry Reading Corner – Rewilding

A rare glimpse of an owl hunting in the park. I imagine a field mouse running for its life. Watching, I feel so hollow. I am a steel tube. Something is missing inside of me. Empty. What? The owl rises back up from the field, flapping hard. She has something in her claw, but I can’t tell what it is. A slow mouse, perhaps. She lands high up in one the tall pines to eat in privacy.

James Lee Jobe, No, you fool, it’s only the moon.

“And there you are – happened a few minutes ago.” In a sense, this is the retrospective acknowledgement that a subjectivity—you—has been constituted by this text, and that someone is now looking back upon and narrating you’re having happened here. And now, this “voice” is proceeding to weave you into its own material, which is sutured to the cosmic and the violently technological. That is, “you” exist here as subject in a process of analysis, subdivision, transduction, routing and relay, etc. As reader, you are partly subjected: an operation is happening here, and it is not immediately clear what it intends.

R.M. Haines, Reading the Pharmakon: Part III

why do i re-read this?

is that turned corner stuck in my craw?

are the words vesiculating

in your / my / that heart?

so many question marks that

i have to re-read it again and again 

that turned down corner

stuck in this my crowing

Jim Young, why do i re-read this?

Readers who think they can see what a poem’s “about” (who can paraphrase) have a foundation to help appreciate the poem. It probably means that the poem has some cohesion, which also aids conventional understanding. It may only be a prop to be discarded after use, but there’s no harm offering a helping hand to readers, is there?

If a collection has aboutness (e.g. a theme or two), the themes can provide the narrative for a review, which helps both poet and reviewer. It makes commercial sense for the back cover to say what the collection is “about” even if a minority of the poems match the description. If the poet’s autobiography matches the theme, so much the better.

But “aboutness” isn’t univerally popular. I’ve heard poets say of a poem of theirs that “If I knew what it’s about I wouldn’t have written it.” I rather like trying to discover what a poem is “about”, which is perhaps why I’m not so keen on single-theme autobiographical collections. I like trying to work out how a poem achieves its effect, which leads to psychology and market awareness more than soul-baring. Even if a poem doesn’t work for me, I’m interested in how might it work for others.

Tim Love, Aboutness

Richie McCaffery is an unusual poet. To start with, his poems are immediately recognisable. And then there’s his commitment to his method. Instead of shedding a skin after every book, reinventing himself for the following collection, he chips away at his concerns. This quality shines through once more in his new pamphlet, First Hare (Mariscat Press, 2020), which builds on the foundations of his previous books, layering them with additional nuances in both aesthetic and thematic terms.

I’ve mentioned in the past that McCaffery is one of the best in the business when it comes to so-called poetic leaps. This device involves the invocation of an object, person or situation, followed by an unexpected, startling comparison with another object, person or situation. The comparison might at first seem incongruous, but poets of McCaffery’s skill render it inevitable and enlightening, thus capturing their reader.

One such instance in First Harecan be found in Lighthouse. This poem portrays a picture that’s hung on a bedroom wall in the first stanza; the second stanza introduces the figure of a sleeping partner; the third then brings both elements together as follows:

…It’s drawn in such a way
to imply that the onlooker
is deep in the eye of the storm.

Matthew Stewart, The darkening hue of the years, Richie McCaffery’s First Hare

I was also very pleased to discover the work of Jamie Baxter as a result of Matthew Stewart’s (him, again, FFS!!!) success this week with placing a poem in The Spectator.

I urge you to seek out this poem by Jamie. I am going to dig into his poems as soon as I find some more. I understand he’s not got a pamphlet or book out yet, but I hope this is resolved soon.

And to go and get a copy of The Spectator to see Matthew’s poem. I know there are many things wrong with The Speccie (not least that they continue to give Rod Liddle, T*by Y*ung and James Delingpole opportunities to peddle their racist, shortsighted shite*). However, it does feel like this is a shift into a different world for Matthew’s work. I am sure that Hugo Williams has a very different editorial approach.

The idea of being published in poetry journals and websites, etc is, of course, an absolute dream. He’s been published in a great many of the “biggies” and, still, of course, it’s important to try to get into them. I certainly won’t give up, but when you’re being published in places where the opportunities to be seen and read by folks that may not normally read poetry are increased is a massive achievement, and for that I applaud the lad.

*Please note that I know Matthew does not share the views of that particular bunch of shithouses.

Mat Riches, Echo Location

Lately I’ve been feeling some sadness about the cool classes that I used to teach, about all the classes that I will likely never teach again.  Of course, I’m remembering the fun parts, the actual teaching, not the endless grading.

Part of my sadness is triggered by finding some old teaching materials when I cleaned out some boxes, materials from almost 20 years ago now, back when I was first teaching creative writing.  I cut out all sorts of pictures of humans from magazines, mainly from ads.  Each student took a picture from the envelope–some terms I let them look at the pictures, while in others it was done blind.  Then I asked a series of questions to help people think about the picture as a character.  Then I walked them through the character’s deepest desires in a way to help them think about plot.

I kept the pictures because I thought I might want to do the exercise some day–but I’ve never had any trouble creating characters.  Plus, there was always the chance I might teach creative writing again.

I also had a huge interoffice mail envelope full of words that I used for a sestina exercise.  First we read a sestina and tried to ascertain the pattern.  Then I had them choose six words and put them in the end of each line in the correct order.  Then I gave them some writing time to see what happened.  Did we create brilliant sestinas?  Rarely.  But it was great fun.

I realize that even if I had gotten the kind of teaching job where I used these teaching materials all the time, I still might arrive at a time when I needed to decide whether or not to keep them.  Sandra Beasley has a poignant blog post about the closing of an MFA program, and I think we’re just seeing the beginning of lots of program closures of all kinds. 

My grief is not that kind of sharp grief, but more the mid-life kind, the kind where I stumble across an artifact and think about where I thought I was headed and where I am right now.  I realize it’s not where I’ve ended up–that could still change, although many of my options look a bit less bright now than they once did.  But finding those artifacts is like getting a letter from my past self, in a way.  What would my future self observe?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Letters as Teaching Ideas, Artifacts as Letters

My devotion might have been particularly acute because I had nowhere else where I taught on a regular basis. Tampa will always be where I developed my workshop style: bright, performative, probably reading- and vocabulary-heavy, hopefully with a lot of laughter to ease the rigor. Tampa is where I developed my first dozen go-to hourlong lectures, which I’ll carry with me for the rest of my teaching career. Tampa is where I discovered what I’m most gifted at (line edits) and what I spend way too much time on (line edits). Tampa is where I had the time to form lasting mentorships with students, often seeded by the solidarity of shared identities or reference points. 

Tampa is where, ironically, I learned these mentorships were not limited by geography. I took student work with me to Cyprus, to Kansas, to Ireland. I conferenced with a student on my wedding day, while someone fussed with the back-closure of my dress. I conferenced with a student while I was hunkered down on the floor of my SW DC apartment with my dying cat. 

Students, you have been so, so kind and patient with me, and you trusted me with such valuable material of life and art. I’ll never forget that. 

On the scale of 2020 losses, this is bearable. I’ve already heard from teachers delighted by the UT transfer students landing in their respective low-res MFA programs. I have every faith that they’ll thrive. I’m fortunate to have a final two talented students, both of whom I taught in earlier semesters, with whom I’ll get the satisfaction of shaping thesis manuscript–one last poetry collection, one last nonfiction work.

That said, I wish we’d gotten a proper send-off. When we met in January of this year, though there was open concern, there was also a resolve to rally and recruit. By February, the program had been shut down via an e-mail. In March, all of our AWP gatherings were cancelled. The June residency moved to Zoom because of COVID-19. I suspect the January 2021 capstone events for our last round of graduates will also be online or, even if there is an in-person component, it will feel risky for our scattered (former) faculty to fly in for the festivities. We deserved one more dance party. 

Sandra Beasley, “The End of an MFA”

Much has been written about meetings by Zoom, Google Meet and the lamentable MS Teams. In general terms, I can only add that online work meetings have been more focused and more courteous, with much less interruption and talking over one another. For poetry, it’s been a boon, of course, enabling launches and readings to be attended from anywhere in the world, and Leicester. Not that I’ve been to that many – work’s been so full-on that frequently the last thing I’ve wanted to do of an evening is continue to stare at a screen. There have been some memorable events, though, chief among them Happenstance readings/webinars involving Alan Buckley and Charlotte Gann, in support of their respective brilliant recent collections. It isn’t the same as being there in person, naturally, because you can’t go and talk to the poets after and get them to sign copies of their books, or natter to other poet friends.

Write Out Loud Woking, hosted by the estimable double act of Greg Freeman and Rodney Wood, has seamlessly gravitated from the cafe in The Lightbox to Zoom, enabling guest readers from far afield to join in the fun, welcoming and diverse proceedings. I’ve tried out five or six new poems in those Zoom readings, which has been very helpful for hearing where the poems catch and need tweaking. More to the point, it’s been lovely to see all the regulars, like Karen Izod, Heather Moulson, Ray Pool and Greg and Rodney themselves.

The Red Door Poets have also moved to Zoom and at a time of day more conducive to my occasional attendance. I’ve also attended a few Poetry Business virtual residential weekends and one-off workshops, all of which were as inspiring as if they were in-person.

Heading towards the last session of this current, 2019–2021, Poetry Business Writing School programme, I’ve been grouped with Jim Caruth and Philip Rush, two poets whose distinctively personal poetries are right up my street. So far, we’ve had two very enjoyable Zoom sessions, comparing notes on various poets’ poems and workshopping our own, with another session due soon, shortly before the final Zoom session with Ann and Peter Sansom and the other participants. The plan is still, I think, that, Covid restrictions permitting, there will be an end-of-programme celebration next February or so at the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage in Grasmere. I know from last time how exciting a prospect that is.

Matthew Paul, The last six months

I’ve been thinking, as I often do, about how both photography and writing are on many levels about waiting, the discipline of waiting. Someone last week on Twitter wrote that hope is a discipline. And I was thinking about how photography, and writing, but maybe more tangibly, photography is about hope. Photography is about waiting and hoping that the light will be interesting or workable or better yet, magical. Photography is about that hope that our seeing and our skills will converge with a lucky or split second, with a sweet moment of light or an essence or quality of the day that is surprising or at the very least lovely.

A book I’ve been dipping in and out of for months is Blind Spot by Teju Cole. I highly recommend it for those interested in photography, writing, noticing, being alive, alert.

The intro to the book is by another writer I admire, Siri Hustvedt. In it she says, “The camera’s eye is not the human eye. The camera takes in everything inside its frame. We do not. Human beings have poor peripheral vision. Details vanish because we cannot focus on everything at once. Sequences blur.” Because I do a lot of my seeing with a camera, I often see things at least twice. Anyone who processes their photos in Lightroom or another program, is looking at what they’ve shot in a way that is not our usual way of looking. And so that in turn affects future seeing, looking, noticing. Am I any better at seeing the world than anyone else? I doubt it. But the discipline of pursuing an image I’m interested in seeing in a digital form has taught me a few things. Well, obviously, the discipline itself is a thing.

I’ve learned that sometimes we see what we’re not seeing. We know, somehow, that those things at the outside edge of our peripheral vision are there. The camera has trained me to trust in what lies beyond the focal point. Anyway, the book is great because it’s an amazing example of how we process what we see, what’s in the frame, what’s just out of it, and then all those other things we bring to an image, things from way beyond it. We process a lot more than we think we do. But it’s good to sit with things, process how we’re processing, to allow ourselves tangents, peripheral thoughts, precision but also blur, quirkiness and the obvious, not to mention the ordinary and the odd, expansiveness and detail.

Shawna Lemay, Waiting is a Discipline

As news of Ginsberg’s death moved swiftly on Friday, I saw a slew of reactions along lines I’ve come to expect in the aftermath of any perceived political threat: “Of course they can’t fill her seat until we have a new President!” (Yes, they can, if enough Republican senators toe the party line, which they have done unfailingly for the past nearly four years.) “Now we really have to get out the vote!” (Sure, of course, but with respect to the question of the Supreme Court in general and Ginsberg’s seat in particular, that ship really left the dock in 2016.) Inspirational memes about coming back to fight another day. (Without any acknowledgement of how unfair the fight is, or how the unwritten but fundamental rules of engagement have changed, or how losing this fight might make future fights almost impossible to win.)

Initially these responses filled me with frustration because they remind me of 2016 me and because I cannot understand how anyone paying real attention now can think any of those responses are grounded in reality. Later, they filled me with sadness because that is just where a lot of people are, and it’s how they hang onto hope, and I have to accept that reality, too.

Please don’t misunderstand. I know that hope is crucial and that we are truly doomed if we all lose it, but it needs to be a critical hope. Our hope needs to be grounded in what is actually true right now today, not in what used to be true or what we wish or believe to be true–which means facing and feeling our sorrow and fear rather than pushing them away with half-truths that make us feel better. We need to accept the contradictory truths that things are terrible and that hope is reasonable so that we will take actions that might actually make a damn difference in our fight to make a better world, one in which we can all live and work without threat of death and raise children who believe they can make good lives for themselves on the soil from which they sprang.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Testing, testing

The universe is
a pair of angel
wings. I have seen them.

The angel itself
is dark matter, of
course, which I have not
seen. See dark matter?

Don’t be silly.

If you could see dark
matter, you couldn’t
hope to see the wings.

Tom Montag, THE UNIVERSE IS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 34

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week I’m cheating a little and beginning with a post from a couple of weeks ago because I missed it at the time. (Some of the poetry blogs I follow still aren’t in the proper category in my feed reader.) It sets the tone for a digest of mainly sombre and reflective posts as summer comes to an close and schools begin attempting to re-open. But as usual, there are still moments of levity — and lots of poetry books to read.


Once the entirety of my consciousness, a cellular fire, now my grief is most often soft-bellied and tired, complex and nuanced as so much seems to be as I get older. It began as only a void, an absence, a searing loss and now it’s sometimes that, but is also a warm room I can go to when I want to think or just feel. It’s a sail that moves me through relationship storms and it’s a small pebble in my sandal that reminds me to pay attention to others’ pain. It says, “Don’t stay too comfortable, here,” and “Pull your head up and look around you.” This grief used to be only mine and I guarded it jealously, decadently, but then I had children who had also lost my father, albeit many years before they were born, and I had to learn to both share and comfort.

Sheila Squillante, Wellspring

So I guess this is to say, in unusual-for-me-lately-regular-blog-post-style: things may stay sad around here for some time.

But part of grief is immense, inchoate tenderness for the beauty and joy that has been so cherished–and in the digital art practice I’ve been developing in the last few years, the flash/poem habits here: some of that sweetness may well be the catharsis of joy, of beauty, even as it is also finally-inarticulable loss.

My god, I may have fucked up almost everything, or been unlucky, or been injured unnecessarily in ways I don’t have the first idea how to recover from, or or or–but I have also loved beauty and joy with the devotional worship I reserve for the animal and embodied world, for the Salish Sea and the scapula, the vixen, doe, and sycamore, the way the beloved smells in peaceful sleep, the sense that all is right with the world for brief moments of this communion, even when it so self-evidently is not all right at all and the whole horizon is loss.

I am not okay. Not even a little.

But there is blessing in being this kind of animal.

And in being able to walk, and to breathe around the edges of lung scarring: the forest has more help for me than words do right now, so I will lose myself in it until I can find my way.

JJS, A blog post

bent tree‬
‪carrying the wind‬
‪long gone ‬

Jim Young [no title]

my right hand hurts because tendinitis has gripped my first two fingers the fingers in my bow hand my right hand hurts because I have been practicing Bach my right hand hurts because I am anxious my right hand hurts from pulling weeds and kneading bread my right hand hurts because I have been driving so much and I’m gripping the goddamn steering wheel like I’m about to be raptured and I’m not right with jesus I have not treated my hands as precious babies throughout my life they are pretty beat up

I go to the beach every day I watch the beach for hours I am not in a hurry with it I have distributed the silk sheet I have rinsed my hair in a tide pool I know which seabirds will be standing in the mudflats I know how barnacles stink in the sun I know what the tides are I have read and memorized the tide tables I have culled and given away the sea in my head I have considered how long it takes wounds to heal 

sometimes my son feels like my jailer everything wobbles and is in flux especially time during covid I am at 37% or 10% or perhaps 22% I cannot function after a few days of rain last week or two weeks ago or last week or yesterday I realized it was autumn as firmly as a handshake as riotous and alarming as a sneeze or a white boy high five never high five me my right hand hurts from high fives my brain hurts from high fives there will be no more high fives I love my son who takes care of me and he never tries to high five me and I am so glad and so lucky that he’s here

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

The plunge is breath-taking, awakening, vital. It confirms my body to my senses, pushes the air out of my lungs and into a shout. The plunge is essential for what comes next – the swim into the meaning of paradise: a new day, everything freshly rinsed by night and dawn’s caress. Birds skim the air, call to each other across our bobbing heads. We paddle the length of the reservoir, paddle back, return and turn until we feel the core of ourselves chilled like Chablis. 

To clamber out into the rough care of a towel, is its own pleasure. We talk of stitching two together to form individual changing tents like someone else’s mother made years ago. Many swims into the season, and we haven’t done it yet, but no matter. 

Back down at the car park, filling up now, we sit in camping chairs by the stream, breakfast on tea, hard boiled eggs, strawberries and banana bread. Not even the Famous Five ate this well after an adventure.

I can be back from the hills and at my desk by 10am on these swimming days, having taken the plunge, the waters, emerged from the vigour of a real paradise. 

Liz Lefroy, I Plunge Into Cold Water

The technician slicks her wand with gel, slides it
around the top of her right breast. On the screen,
pictures of moons under the skin.

*

Crepe myrtles blasted from trees by wind.
Sidewalks stippled with fuchsia and white:
another summer slipping off its wrappers.

Luisa A. Igloria, (more) Thumbnails

It’s been five years and five months since I embarked on a project that is far from being finished. The plain navy-blue cardigan is now highly colourful. I can see thin places that will soon need to be repaired. There are patches on patches and patches on darns. The button-band and the buttonhole-band and the ribbing at the bottom have been reinforced. The pockets are no longer usable. The owner is still wearing it, and wearing it out. I think there’s a moral here somewhere, but I’m darned if I can find it.

In other news, the dozen or so plants I grew from the seeds of a squishy tomato have been wonderfully productive. Yesterday I picked 33 ripe tomatoes of various shapes and sizes. They are small, but delicious. The sprouting potato I cut into five pieces has produced five healthy plants that are nearly in flower. And Hari is producing chicken-manure to feed next year’s crops.

Ama Bolton, Visible mending, continued

The last few years in this family have been rough, health wise. Far be it from me to fess up to more magical thinking than is psychologically normal. (None is normal, I’m told. That can’t be right.) But if there is a ever a time to indulge in some elf-sized superstition, it’s now. Why piss off the Elm Realm if you can avoid it?

But I’m not sure how to deal with this decapitated head. I consider a respectful burial. Consider letting it rest in a box with other sentimental things. And then I consult the son who had that elf birthday party many years ago. “Put it back on a picture frame,” he advised. “He’s still our elf.”

Laura Grace Weldon, Elf Trouble

We live in a time during which taking delight in small things is absolutely essential. This week, several small things delighted me:

I stepped out onto our landing on my way to work and was astonished to find this magnificent little snail, pictured here, hanging out by the steps. It has been years since I’ve seen a snail, although they are pretty common around here. I do not know how he made his way up a flight of stairs to find himself lingering on our landing, but I applaud his determination. His shell was a work of art, and I’m no snail doctor, but he looked healthy and alert. His little snail ears were erect and his coloring looked good, or at least what I imagine healthy snail coloring looks like. Clear and unblemished. I was kind of hoping he’d still be around when I got home, but there was no sign of him upon my return from work. I wish him safe travels.

I came across an article on my favorite trash site, the UK Daily Mail, about how to grow an avocado plant from an avocado seed! The article was much-derided in the comments section by sour Brits, their main gripe being that this is a commonly-known thing not worthy of having an entire article dedicated to it. I disagreed wholeheartedly. I had never heard of this before. I was enthralled by the entire process and the resulting vibrant, deep-green plant—to the point that I marched straight to the kitchen, plucked the seed from an avocado, and followed the first step of wrapping it in a damp paper towel and sealing it in a zip-lock bag. Of course Mr. Typist had to pop my plant bubble by insisting that it was going to grow unsustainably huge and that I was creating a monster and had no plan for how to deal with the outcome. He is correct that I have no giant-plant management plan in the case that it turns into an Audry and starts trying to eat us. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Right now, I just want to see a tiny little sprout of green life spring forth from my avocado seed.

Kristen McHenry, Garden of Small Delights

The advertisement was for a rustic cabin for sale. Looking at the photograph, I decided that rustic must mean beat all to hell. I looked down at my aging body; I must be a rustic poet. And then, from somewhere outside of my also rustic house, a dog began to bark. It barked for a very long time.

James Lee Jobe, The advertisement was for a rustic cabin for sale.

The cat is back in Oklahoma. I still talk to him, brace for the possibility he’s underfoot. Old habits. Like this: someone delivers an oversized zucchini I did not ask for. As if it’s a normal August. Nights turn colder.

Someone spray paints “SMILE UNDER YOUR MASK THIS TOO SHALL PASS” on a white sheet and drapes it from a bridge over I-90. I don’t remember when I first noticed it and just now realize I’m unsure it’s still there.

Hulu knows where I am better than I do most days. Whether I watch on the big screen in the living room or on an iPad in bed, it picks up where I leave off. It holds my place.

I email a local music shop to see if they want to buy my french horn. I haven’t touched it in years, haven’t become who I thought I would.

I order makeup I don’t know how to use. I will watch YouTube videos on boy brow and dewy glow and emerge from this a new person.

The retailer promises radiance and a 30-day return policy, like so many advertisers who have my undivided attention. It’s important to buy leggings you can’t see through. Surely, we need new furnishings to elevate our home offices. I guess the company that invented car vending machines prepared us for this moment. But where will we go?

Carolee Bennett, asked about forever, he does not say no

I fell down a rabbit hole of writing–but not far enough to finish the post. I pulled myself up out of the writing hole to attend to painting chores the room requires: repainting the bottom of the open section of the cabinet we built (because we didn’t build it right the first time and had to re-build, which messed up the paint) and painting the door to the room.

I could have done/faked the room tidying I need to do to be able to finish the post (because the post is about the room, but I need some different photos than I’m able to take with it in its current state), but I decided to do the things that really need doing.

And then I spent some time gathering and delivering a bag of treats for a colleague who is home sick with Covid, taking care of her daughter who is also sick with it. I did that because one of the things I’m writing about in the in-progress post is about values I want to live by in the coming school year, and connection with others is at the top of the list. I’ve gotta tell you: Strengthening that connection felt so much better and more meaningful than having pretty office photos and a complete post would have.

After that I took a nap. I’d had a low-grade headache since Thursday, and even though it’s not the kind of headache that disables me, three days of that kind of pain takes it out of me. It makes me tired. There is something so delicious about climbing under cool covers on a sunny afternoon. That sensation might be as healing as the actual sleep. (Health is another value I want to prioritize.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, In progress

Far from the
knife edge of
the moment

they are but
the empty
husks of dead

insects trapped
in a sill.
Try as you

might you can’t
breathe life back
into them.

Tom Montag, WORDS

Can’t believe it’s been more than a month since I wrote.

Occupied with the garden… at last, the butterflies arrived with the beginning of August!

Terrible heat and humidity for most of July, but better now.

Also occupied with finishing up the Syllabus to publish.  

School has started; this is the end of the first week.   

After some weeks of worrying, I decided to apply to teach the course completely remotely, from Zoom.

Since I am in the “most vulnerable” population regarding COVID 19, I was granted permission.  My university is primarily operating classes on a “hybrid”  of half in the classroom, half online.  If the students behave themselves and comply with the many rules about social distancing,  it will work. So far so good.

Anne Higgins [no title]

My dean wrote back to me, and it was the most grace-filled, kind, and understanding professional e-mail I’ve gotten in awhile.  In a week of political conventions, tweets from the president, and the swirl of news of schools opening and closing right back up again, it led me to think about how we’re managing.

I use that phrase in so many ways.  On the one hand, I use it to mean the way we’re all coping with our current situation.  I think I’m coping fairly well–OKish is the term I use when anyone asks me how I’m doing.  And then I copy all the details into the wrong course shell after I’ve checked not once but several times.  Harmless accident or some sort of outlier incident?

I also think about the way we manage in HR terms.  I think about an essay I had students write after reading a chunk of Machiavelli, an essay that answers the question, “Is it better to be loved or feared?’  My dean was operating out of a space of love.  I’ve had more bosses who have operated from a space of trying to inspire fear.

We see these competing narratives across all sorts of platforms, and in this upcoming political season, I predict we’ll see them both prominently utilized.  The fear narrative tries to make us believe that there’s not enough of anything, that we’re not enough.  In HR terms, I’m intrigued by which people in charge believe that we’re all doing the best that we can in any given moment, while so many managers seem to believe we’re all just eating bon bons and goofing off if someone isn’t there to yell at us all the time.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I prefer the love narrative–we have enough, we are enough, we can expand the circle, we can include everyone.  As I was preparing my course shells, I went back to the ones I used during the spring, as the pandemic was overturning all sorts of plans.  I was struck by the tone of my announcements.  I gave everyone blanket amnesty–if you needed more time, no need to write and let me know, just do the best you can.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Questions as Old as Machiavelli

I’ve enjoyed working as a teaching assistant this week, much more than I was as a middle school teacher last year. I’m not sure if it’s the age group or being able to actually work one on one with kids a bit more rather than trying to speak to the masses. We’ll see how things go. I wish I knew what I want to be when I’m grown up. Substituting has been a good option to try things out though.

I’m struggling with motivation this week with my writing. I see so many writers being awarded this and that, publishers and art bodies offering opportunities I can’t take advantage of because of where I live, so I feel I’m just spinning my wheels, wondering why am I bothering. I’m sure it’s just a blip and I will get a burst of enthusiasm again. My writing group stayed up late chatting online last night and that helped. I’m happy to have their life line. 

It’s raining today after several really hot days. I need an indoor day just to relax, but I really want to get out to my allotment and start sorting it for winter. I can see hints of autumn everywhere, heard the ghostly calls the Barnacle Geese flying overhead last night through a dark, opened window. That sound always makes me want to run away myself, but since I can’t I want to prepare for what is coming. 

Gerry Stewart, End of Summer Slump

Meanwhile, this week brought me a lot of late-August beauty, birds, deer with fawns, the dahlias bursting into fantastic bloom, the last of the late roses. I even have a bouquet of late lavender by the bed. I’ve been slowly getting my mental energy back, and yesterday I had enough write a poem and send my book manuscripts to some new places (for me.) I’m really hoping to have a book taken soon so I can direct my energy in a positive way as the fall comes, and opportunities to be outside dwindle. It’s good to have something to worry about besides coronavirus death rates, the post office being threatened by our evil would-be dictator, my own struggle to overcome threats to my own body, my family back in Ohio, etc, etc. […]

One of the kind gifts sent to me this week was Anna Maria Hong’s new book from Tupelo Press, Fablesque. If you enjoy fairy-tale-twisted poetry, mythology, experimental poetry, prose poetry, and harrowing tales of fathers escaping North Korea, this book is for you. I very much enjoyed it, and as you can see, Sylvia cuddled up to it right away.

I tried a bit of This is How You Lose the Time War, a sci-fi novel my little brother recommended, and finished Joan Didion’s White Album, thinking about starting the Year of Magical Thinking next. I’ve also been continuing my re-read of AS Byatt’s Possession, particularly as I go to sleep. In the heat, in my fatigue, reading is a way to make my mind and body work together, pass the time while I heal, while I hide out. Not so different, really, than my reasons for reading as a young kid.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Waiting for Fall to Arrive, Deer and Dahlias, a Week of Recovery and Reading, and a Giveaway

1988

Right before school starts, we spend a week at a cabin near Black River, with an amazing purple armoire tucked into the corner of a sleeping porch where I spend most of our time there popping jolly ranchers into my mouth and reading Sweet Valley High books in an effort to prepare for high school, which is this vast unexplored territory in front of me. Despite driving through fires on either side of the highway  on our way north earlier in the summer, this trip is rainy and cooler and our last before summer vacation ends.  High school turns out to be nothing like Sweet Valley High, but I adjust pretty well.  Later, I mine this summer of droughts and fires shameless for the poems in my first book.

1993

It’s my second year of college, but my very first at RC.  I’ve just successfully dyed my hair from blonde to dark red and wear things like broomstick skirts and tapestry vests (because, hey, it’s the 90’s.)  I love my classes that first semester and most after–Shakespeare, social psychology, philosophy. After long waits in registration lines, I spend most of my time on the patio outside the library, where they’ve set up long tables with metal folding chairs. I’ve no idea if they are intended to stay there, or if they are left up after an event, but that year, they are up through Thanksgiving break, and protected from sun and weather by an overhang, are where you would would find me studying between classes and eating vending machine snacks and carefully packed sandwiches from home. .  When it got cold, I moved inside to the library’s second floor and started scavenging books from the stacks, where you will find me for the next four years.

1998

This is the fall the tap comes on fully for poems, and most of the fall is spent writing the work that would land my first publications and form that first ill-conceived book manuscript. I’m starting my second year of grad school at DePaul and enrolled in a course on Modern British Poetry, which isn’t very modern at all, but very British, except for the weeks we spend on TS Eliot, faux British by way of Missouri  I become obsessed with Eliot’s recorded voice and soon, cannot read The Wasteland without hearing his voice in my head.  Later, at Columbia, a similar thing happens with Anne Sexton.   While I had read bits of it before as an undergrad,  this time The Wasteland loosens something in me that becomes a flood of poems that next year, and ultimately leads me to abandon any other plans–to teach, to continue Ph.D. studies, and just find some sort of day job and focus on the writing. Basically, I blame Eliot for everything. 

Kristy Bowen, snapshots | august

Although we’ve only been back a week and a half, the holiday seems a long time ago now. It was a great time for browsing and buying books as we started off by camping in Hay-on-Wye, ‘the world’s greatest book town’. Here I managed to pick up two haiku pamphlets/ magazines from 1980 and 2003, containing poems by writers I’m starting to become more familiar with. […]

As I love walking, another holiday read was Simon Armitage’s Walking Away. I’d had it a while and had been meaning to read it but just never found the time.

Hay-on-Wye is on the Offa’s Dyke path and there are a fair amount of walkers passing through. So, when I’d finished the book,  I did my bit for the book town by donating it to the book swap under the bridge, in the hope that some weary traveller might pick it up and get as much pleasure out of it as I did.

Whilst in Hay, I also bought Albert Camus’ The Plague.  I’d heard a dramatised version on Radio 4, recorded during lockdown, so I knew the main story, but reading it was so much more enriching. It’s a terrifying but redemptive story about an outbreak of plague in an Algerian coastal town, and life during the subsequent quarantine. The book reflected so much of what we have already been through, and are likely to continue to experience, putting human behaviour, both good and bad, right at the centre of the story (although mainly through male characters, I have to say, but that’s a minor quibble and no doubt reflects the time it was written). It might sound like a morbid read, but in the current situation, I found it oddly reassuring. It had the feeling of being important, of being necessary. That’s not always the case when you read a book. It made me question my own novel, and how ‘necessary’ it is. It remains as a second draft, which is to say there’s a fair amount of editing still required!

Julie Mellor, I love books …

Like many of you, I’ve been reading a lot more lately including some books that have languished in the procrastination pile. One goal has been to read and study one Shakespeare sonnet a day. They are too rich a diet to ingest more than that especially if one wants to understand them in their historical context and unpack Elizabethan usage. After reading a few, your ear will tune to the syntax. I urge you to read them aloud (all poetry should be read aloud!) and if you want to hear them in a lovely British accent, search for Sir Patrick Stewart’s (Picard of Star Trek fame) reading of each of them. […]

Here are the 4 commentaries that I used for studying each sonnet plus another intriguing book about Shakespeare being gay/bisexual and that author’s premise about the young man’s identity. It’s interesting to note that older commentaries are written by scholars whose work is based on the belief that WS is the absent narrator and the speaker in the sonnets is an unknown character created by the dramatist in a non-sequential collection of somewhat connected poems. Their posture seems rooted in an unwillingness to accept that WS was gay/bisexual or that the sonnets are autobiographical. More contemporary authors/scholars are accepting of both as reality—like more contemporary scholars understanding of Emily Dickinson’s sexuality.

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Pandemic Reading Project

Promises to keep. I’ve promised myself for months that I’ll write something about Jane Burn, a poet who unfailingly makes me sit up and pay attention, whose writing is full of turns and rhythms and moments that draw me in. For five and a half months I’ve been ‘shielded’, which is a euphemism for ‘under house arrest’. And I’ve been distracting myself with projects like ‘When all this is over’ and an abortive project which attracted precisely zero responses to an invitation to illustrate stories by my friend and collaborator, Andy Blackford. 

But inventive or analytic thinking has been beyond me quite. Concentrated, reflective reading, too. I decided I should systematically read the whole of Auden’s Collected Poems and see what I could learn…about technique, for instance. That lasted about a week, rather than the planned year. It’s hard to concentrate, especially when you’re distracted by frustrated rage at a country seized by the sleep of reason, and at the dreadful schism in the British nation.

Seeking for hook to hang the post on I went back, as I often do, to Tony Harrison. The school of eloquence, especially, and the extended sequence of sonnets that grew from it in Continuous. The theme that runs through them all, in one way or another is articulacy , the making of language and meaning which is ‘the tongue-tied’s fighting’.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Jane Burn and glossolalia

California is burning, Covid-19 proceeds unchecked, and twin hurricanes are headed to the Gulf of Mexico to hit land next week, so I chose this book for today, for the strange cheer and dark comedy of its title: Let’s All Die Happy, by Erin Adair-Hodges (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017). I gasped when I opened the book and read its epigraph by Bruno Schulz, because I had just encountered him that morning while reading An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine! Alignments and coincidences keep happening. I’m sure I’ll tell you about more.

Well, here’s one: hurricanes. In her poem “Pilgrimage,” full of beauty I’ll let you discover when you get this book for yourself, I find “goodbyes distinctive / and precious as hurricanes.” Speaking of goodbyes, oh, “Seeing Ex-Boyfriends” has such an excellent ending, and here’s an excellent title for you: “A Murder of Librarians.” Plenty of disasters, including asteroids taking out the dinosaurs in “Natural History,” but plenty of joy, too, as when her little son is delighted by that! “His fingers turn claws as the film / starts again and we wait for his favorite part, / the hungry meat, in the sky a coming fire.” I needn’t mention the coincidence of fire. Sigh…but I did. And in “Rough Math,” “I…want your grief / to pour from your eyes like smoke…

But, “Let’s all die happy.” That’s the first line of another poem with a wonderful title, “Everybody in the Car / We Are Leaving without You,” which sounds like a familiar threat, and a real invitation. Here I particularly love the hooking up of the Mother and Father of American Poetry:

                                …Let’s set Whitman
     & Dickinson up on a date & watch
     as the awkwardness flames.

Aauggh, flames again! Here’s a tender coincidence instead. In a scene I read this morning in the novel, a music box is important in a mother-daughter relationship. It’s also part of the mother-daughter relationship in the poem “The Robin Tanka,” used as an aural image: “Her voice is a music box / grown tired of being turned.” My attentiveness to connection, alignment, and coincidence keeps happening, as does my commitment to this reading of a poetry book a day in August. It has felt like work, but work I love, schoolwork (and I loved school), homework, even, in a weird way, holy work. So, of course, in her poem “The Last Judgment,” I find the phrase, “His Holy Homework.” This work is getting me through, giving me joy, and I hope giving you some joy, too.

Kathleen Kirk, Let’s All Die Happy

During sleep, I have referred to you by many names: candle, nightswimmer, monkeyshine.

Your voice comes to me in many forms: crow song, dog howl, the transcendental hum of wheels on highway.

Bouquets of rubies and summer rains I leave at your door.

A divining rod I offer you to seek out the purest peace.

Should your angels ever turn to ashes, I will sweep them up for you.

Together, we’ll build a new faith from the ground up.

While the signature of our journey has yet to be completed,

our country of devotion is just an embrace away.

Rich Ferguson, When Sleep’s Terrorism Slips Away

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 27

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, poets had trouble sleeping and trouble waking up, trouble celebrating and trouble mourning, trouble writing and trouble not writing, while all around us flowers unfurled and swelled into fruit.


I’m writing this post while sitting on a bench by the side of the canal in Bradford-on-Avon.  I’m writing in a small sparkly notebook and I’ll type up these notes later when I return home.  It’s nearly 3pm on Friday, 3rd July, 2020.  I left home just after 2pm to catch the train here, just one stop from where I live.  The journey took six minutes.  It was the first time I’ve used public transport since the lockdown started in March.  I wore a face mask and I sanitised my hands with gel once I’d got off at my stop.  These are items that I always carry now, in the small rucksack bag I wear on my back.  Most other passengers were also wearing masks, but not everyone.  My carriage was about one third full.  I bought my ticket from the machine at the start of my journey using contactless payment – I tried to book online using my phone but those tickets were unavailable on my app.  There were no staff on board the train checking tickets or face mask-wearing.

Today I feel I’m rejoining the world again, in my own way.  Using public transport is important to me although I realise it’s riskier than driving a car, in terms of being exposed to Covid-19 and other germs.  But I’d started to make a concerted effort to reduce my carbon footprint before lockdown, and I want to return to that lifestyle.  I also felt an urge to get out of the house and to be alone.

My household’s lockdown began with all four of us watching The Tiger King on Netflix.  It’s coming to an end with each of us involved with a BBC iPlayer series I May Destroy You: Andrew and I watching together on the telly in the front room; our daughter watching in her own time somewhere in the house on her laptop; our son not yet watching but listening in to conversations about the series when we meet in our kitchen.  Perhaps we survived this enforced time together without major arguments because we’ve circulated around each other in our lives, giving each other space.  Some of us would probably appreciate more space than others.

Josephine Corcoran, With lockdown hair and a face mask, I rejoin the world

A hot night, no sleep
to cool down thoughts and doubts.
Then the light, the birds,

a cup of coffee,
as one must declare defeat.
A win is this dawn,

yellow and rosy,
the earth, a sweet funfair candy.
Fine, I’ll stay awake,

dream of lilac dawns*.

*dusks

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time – Throwback June

ruby is my birthstone the gem of July Ruby was my grandmother’s name this moon is a jack moon a jack knife moon a Jack and the Beanstalk moon a jackoff moon a high noon moon a Jack Torrance moon a screw you moon a moaning moon a moon of betrayal and butter knives this moon leaves suicide notes in cookbooks then makes dinner this moon shoots a gun on black and white television this moon dangles over the Aurora Bridge in the middle of the day but it’s a strong swimmer this moon shakes up history this moon is a tourist a sham a mark a shill a Shaklee salesman needing a drink of water a used car salesman with a cigar

Rebecca Loudon, 100% full

In the wee, small hours of the morning, once again, I couldn’t sleep. I was having one of those dark night of the soul kinds of night, where I couldn’t quiet my brain and go back to sleep. I decided to get up and do some offline journaling.

I ended this way, “So many roads circling back to a question: what am I going to do with the rest of my life? How can I plan now that this pandemic has changed everything? Or has it changed everything?”

I did some sorting. My spouse has an idea for a shelving project; I am fighting despair as the plan has gotten ever more complicated. All I wanted was a place to put my books! Books that have been packed away for 2 years now. Insert a heavy sigh here.

I came across some map fragments.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Fragments of a Map to an Unknown Future

I made this box for you

I filled it with fragments, beachcombed
sea glass, wisps of snagged wool.
I wanted you to know
the random loveliness of being alive,
to know it in your bones and blood.

I put in :

snow, to remember draughts
and rooms with cold corners;

a black handled knife, sharp as silk,
in a grey-vaulted market, the scent
of cut flowers to show that fathers
give like the gods; a bicycle stammering
through stems of barley, willowherb,
to understand that gravity may be defied;

the humped glass of a brown river,
black branches snagged on the weir’s rim;

these bundled letters in different hands
and inks to show how words fall short of love.

John Foggin, Our David’s Birthday

The language of illness is, as Woolf puts it, “primitive, subtle, sensual, obscene.” It is urgent, terrifying, and sacred. These are qualities found in poetry.

Later in the same essay, Woolf writes, “There is, let us confess it (and illness is the great confessional) a childish outspokenness in illness; things are said, truths blurted out, which the cautious respectability of health conceals.” 

The part about “the cautious respectability of health” implies that when we are ill, we can blurt out truths we wouldn’t dream of when well.

This is the time for honesty and fresh, raw language. This is the time for poetry.

Erica Goss, Plague Poetry

In the Google search bar, I type “how do you know when it’s time” and the first autofill response that comes up is “to put your dog down.”

Followed by: to break up, to leave your church, to dig up potatoes, to move on, to retire.

I don’t go to church and I haven’t planted any potatoes, so Google’s powers of divination are limited. But I was seeking information about how to know when it’s time to let go of my dog, and I hate that Google’s algorithms correctly anticipated that.

I wish I were searching for some of the other “how do you know when” topics; many are about food and their harvesting or cooking: salmon, mangoes, pineapple, garlic. I wish I cared about food more, the way I used to.

I try “how do you know when it’s too late” and I get both “to get your ex back” and “to have a root canal.” I’ve never had a root canal, but from everything I’ve heard about them, those two things might have more in common than one would think.

I trim the inquiry back to “how do you know” and the stakes are suddenly much higher: if you’re pregnant, if you love someone, if you have anxiety, if you have depression, if you have coronavirus.

“should I” yields a mix of results that speak to the absurdity of these times, of our lives: refinance my mortgage, get a covid test, get bangs, stay or should I go. Or, maybe just of my life. I suppose Google knows that I’m of an age where lyrics by The Clash might be what I’m searching for.

It’s only when I click on the lyrics to that song and read them–rather than listen to them through a haze of alcohol and hormones and unresolved childhood trauma (hell, completely unrecognized childhood trauma)–that I understand I’ve misunderstood them for my whole life.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A day in the life

The weight of other people’s suffering can be palpable, whether someone weeping in the next room or someone in agony across the globe. How do we go about our own lives knowing others are in anguish at the same moment? This question has haunted me, especially in my growing up years. I suspect such questions weigh more on children than we imagine.

By the time I was eight or nine years old, my parents had cancelled their subscriptions to news magazines because they couldn’t deal with repeated questions like, “Why is that village burning? Who hurt that man? Why isn’t someone helping that baby?” Even the most well-intentioned adult would rather not think about such questions, let alone answer them. Try to explain war to a child. No matter how you skew it, the answer comes down to whoever destroys more property and kills more people, wins. Try explaining poverty or prejudice to a child. It’s impossible to morally justify the indifference and greed that helps to prop up “normal” life in the face of truly open, honest questions.

Laura Grace Weldon, Compassion By Design

America,
we can shine and scrub your floors
without a Hoover or a Roomba, then punch
holes in the bottoms of fruit
cocktail cans so we can grow bird
chillies and tomatoes on the veranda.
We let a dentist in our old hometown pull
out all our teeth so you wouldn’t get
the chance to do it and charge us
triple. There is a fish we like to eat
whose belly is soft and sweet and full
of fat; but every bone in its body
is a tree that bristles with more than
a dozen spears. Like you, America—
if we’re not careful, we could choke
on even the smallest mouthful.

Luisa A. Igloria, America

The Unafraid is deeply moving in parts, as it portrays quite well not just the multi-generational struggle to create a better future in America, especially but not only in the Deep South, but also what forces those with no money, no education, and no papers to leave their countries for the United States. The sacrifices made are tremendous, and what it means for families to risk everything to come here is wholly unappreciated by policymakers who would rather erect walls than uphold the values this country is supposed to represent. Our cluelessness robs human beings no different from ourselves of so much, from the most basic rights and services we born here take for granted, to the opportunities to realize better lives for our children, opportunities slow in coming, if at all, to the undocumented.In addition to showing us the truths about forced migration and its life-changing consequences, the documentary also sharply reveals the racism endemic throughout this country. To be brown means having a life that doesn’t matter, if you want to go to college, if you want to make a living that lifts you out of poverty. To be brown means not having the right to believe in the “American dream”. To be brown means, in the argot of the film, to be “very afraid” until you become one of “the unafraid” who finds the strength to risk opening a closed door. That any one of us might watch this film and not see the wrongs we perpetuate in our government and socioeconomic and cultural policies, as well as through our myth-making, is to be deliberately obtuse and tragically indifferent to the riches that immigrants, undocumented people, asylees, refugees, and DACA recipients offer us.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXXI

Independence Day (or Interdependence Day, as I’ve heard it called): The country has been thrust back on me.   I’d left it countless times, then straddled between two countries, then made a life of motion.  But circumstances being what they are, I am simply facing it, America…  

posthumous, finished, junked, done — or part of the process of rising and passing that covid-19 has made us so aware of?   A “Finale for America” as clever wits have referred to rogue fireworks that have been exploding nightly?  In recent weeks and months I have agreed.  But the 4th gave me — what — freedom of stuckness.  I looked kindly on things; it wasn’t forced, it just happened.  

I thought about the Declaration of Independence and read, along with many, Frederick Douglass’ bracing famous 4th of July address: “You may rejoice.  I must mourn.”  The polyvocalism of these declarations of values – that we are living in the polyvocalism – unstuck me from singularity.  The truth and reconciliation process we’ve so long needed might be here.  I listened to the very best of American song — the sinuous pairing of elegant contrast, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald duets.  In a flight from nihilism, there are ways to combine the large and small. 

Look how beautiful the day after – peony petals against a pile of oyster shells. They are dissociated from their meaning — yet in this time of appreciating passage, the wisdom songs of covid as well as garbage day, here they are.  The flowers had been flush and full, the oysters a marvel. The energy of passage keeps us from getting stuck.  The poet Alice Oswald talks about this in her new Oxford lecture, “An Interview with Water.” Poetry, dance, rhythm and water all keep us moving. Then there’s the leaping between odd things – country, trash and renewal – that keeps the mind buzzing.

Jill Pearlman, Of Oysters, the 4th and the Surreality of it all

& awaken cranium of geraniums, awakeness will make your thought gardens grow brighter.

& awaken all relatives of relativity, awakeness will travel you at the speed of light.

& awaken evil-faced clocks snuffing out lives with every tick, awakeness will allow you to more carefully consider each moment of every day.

& awaken those whose blues are blacker and bluer than the blues, awakeness can allow you to sing above the pain.

Rich Ferguson, & awaken

Despite saying I probably needed a certain amount of distance to write about the current state of events, and in fact a 2-3 month span of being unable to write at ALL really, I find myself mid-project on a series called BLOOM–named so because of the ways illness (actual, metaphorical) blooms in the body, in society, in the world. Also the way nature this spring, despite humans and their stupid diseases, continued to bloom while we were still dying. While people were being killed by the virus, by the government, by the police. But even still, I usually need more distance, and who knows how much time there is for any of us.

Kristy Bowen, bloom

On my walk home from Launcherley yesterday I made a note of the wildflowers I saw: Sweet Woodruff, Meadowsweet, Agrimony, Camomile, Pineapple weed, Yarrow (both white and pink varieties), Creeping Cinquefoil, Yellow Trefoil, Spear Thistle, Hawkweed, Common Mallow, Field Convolvulus (both the white and the pink-and-white varieties), White Deadnettle, Sowthistle, Herb Bennet, Herb Robert, Willowherb, Ragwort, various docks and sorrels, Water Hemlock, Spurge, Redleg, Fat Hen, Wild White Clover, Field Scabious, Burdock, Teasel, Marjoram, Hedge-mustard, and a Mullein when I was almost home. […]

My family moved from London to an isolated cottage in a rural part of Surrey when I was ten. It was the beginning of the summer holidays and, not knowing anyone locally, I spent my days happily wandering alone looking for wild flowers. My aunt in the Isle of Skye, a keen amateur botanist, sent me Collins Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers, newly-published, far too big and heavy for any normal pocket, but just what I needed. I learnt a lot of names that summer.

Ama Bolton, As I was out walking, part 2

Standing in my yard just after sunrise I picked a ripe peach from my tree and ate it right there. The fine and soft part of a morning in summer. Not far off, the sounds of birds.

James Lee Jobe, Standing in my yard just after sunrise I picked a ripe peach

So I’m contemplating memento mori with all my soul of late. Maybe if we all contemplated the theme memento mori we’d be a little kinder, a little more mindful. We’re here so briefly, so beautifully. And self-portraiture, I know it might get confused with the influencer culture when posted on Instagram, but they are two different things. Though interestingly, and I adore this, when I posted a picture there, I had a lot of comments on my sunglasses. (Which are from Simon’s btw — not a paid product placement, but interesting that that’s where we go in our minds, and I’m no different).

The thing about posting photos of yourself through time, is that you really begin seeing yourself, and seeing yourself differently. You see angles, you get to know your best side, your wrinkly neck, your flaws and your beauty, and your ridiculousness. One does begin to accept certain aspects of oneself. And also, because it’s not just one session per year or every second year for an author photo or work photo, it’s less important. There will be another moment.

The best thing though, is that you don’t seem to change as much, it’s much more about the slow process of living, aging, being. It’s all okay. Yes, I’m still picky and I’m choosing how I’m presented, portrayed, touched up in Lightroom, but that’s part of the art of it. I’m sure these photos say things about me that I’m completely unaware of.

Shawna Lemay, Contemplating My Themes

I have never considered myself a person who had any power; and yet I now recognize that just as I have privilege I never earned, I have power I never earned–and that I have indeed been using that power (as I have unwittingly benefited from privilege) and can do more with it. For educators possess power.

So do poets.

The past three months, as spring has bloomed into summer, poems of protest and poems that inform society have likewise bloomed. Poets of color, marginalized poets, poets who are disabled or queer or immigrant or for other reasons yearning to be heard are all over social media–which is not unusual in itself (the voices, the poems, have been online for decades)–but the difference lately comes through retweets and viral videos and shared posts at a higher rate than previously. These poems, and the prose and interviews that often accompany them, create discourse. Badly needed discussions. Confrontations that cannot be shoved away as easily as they were. I’ve been reading and observing, hoping a change is gonna come.

Ann E. Michael, Top ten, discourse, power

I’ve been advised enough times not to do it, you’d think I’d stop trying. But here we are again. The royal “we,” I mean, possibly, or the group of us who do such a thing, as opposed, I guess to the “they” who do not; that is: use the first person plural pronoun (we) in poems. Why do I keep trying to make it work?

It interests me to write poems from the perspective of this identity: a member of the human species. From this perspective I can think about the so-called “human experience,” not as “in opposition to the nonhuman,” but as a part of a, let’s face it, pretty significant force on the planet, and as a representative of a species that is able to think about itself and go “Hmm…really?” A member of a species that is aware of, possibly obsessed with, death, and, therefore?, a bit obsessed with life and its meaning.

But the use of “we,” or MY use of “we,” shall I say, has caused people to become argumentative (“you do not speak for me,” they say, or sometimes just “oh yeah?”) or to be otherwise put off by the lack of immediacy and intimacy (“hm, what are you distancing yourself from,” they ask). I don’t know, though. Do I not have the — what: right? capacity of imagination? proper hubris? — to speak out of that human stance?

Marilyn McCabe, We shall be released; or, On the First Person Plural in Poems

have you ever wanted to be that man
the one with the stick
you know – the one with the metal pole
who listens to your stopcock
out in the road
with his ear to the shiny wooden cup
at the end of his decision

or the man with his hands on the handles
of the surging tube that goes up and down
up and splurging down in the storm drain
that keeps the kids enthralled

or the man with the shiny wooden pole
with the pig’s tail hook that darns
the coupling links between the trucks
with such deft luck that barely at moment
between the buffers shine bouncing the
chains tight in a juddering offwego

Jim Young, have you ever wanted to be

Here’s a few of the poetry books I read during lockdown. Some took longer to arrive than others, but I liked the wait, the feeling of anticipation when something new is on its way. The Penguin Book of Haiku was one I felt I should have read a while ago. Here’s a lovely haiku from it, by Socho:

in the riverbreeze
a cluster of willowtrees
spring revealed

And then there’s the wild imperfection of Kerouac, and a haiku that sums up those days during lockdown where I waited for the books to arrive, and felt fully imersed in both my reading and my writing:

Big books packaged
from Japan –
Ritz crackers

I tend to nibble on oat cakes, not Ritz crackers, but I identified with the sense that really all you need are some good poems and a few snacks to keep you going.

It’s hard to pick a single poem from any of the collections I read, especially from Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, which is a gem. I’ll quote this one by Max Verhart for now:

out of the haze
the dog brings back
the wrong stick

Isn’t it wonderful? Precise, evocative, profound.

Julie Mellor, Lockdown reading

Rob Taylor: In “Talking with Ancestors After the Show” you write “if there is a moment this is it / know better than to beg a minute’s sojourn // reminder to the artist: this is it.” I can imagine so vividly that line being delivered in a spoken word performance, and how it might resonate differently (and, in some ways, similarly) in that context. That Venn diagram between the “stage” moment and the “page” moment — their audiences, their performative spaces, their “voices,” their ephemerality.

As a writer whose background is in spoken word, how have you found the experience of putting your words, often first meant for public performance, onto the page? What have you been able to bring over with you, and what have you had to leave behind? What new opportunities has writing for the page granted you?

Jillian Christmas: I love that you frame them as opportunities. When I first approached the challenge it seemed to present itself as a fear of what would be lost, what eye contact or small facial expression would be missed and what emotional information would go with it. But your framing is absolutely correct, somewhere along the process, I discovered that it was in fact a great joy, almost a game, to figure out what choices I could make on the page that uplift the poem to a similar effect as I would have on the stage. In some places I learned that the voice of the page poem would be different, more concerned with shape, spacing, or a leaning, possibly tumbling word. In some places a more direct translation would occur, a long slender diving presentation, where my voice might have dipped or swayed (as in “But Have You Tried”). In the end I decided that there were no limits to my choices, allowing each poem to have as many lives as it needs, perhaps one for the page, a longer more lyrical or repetitive version for the stage reading, perhaps a third snappy edit for tucking inside the nest of the perfect song. A multitude of mechanisms to coax every bit of connective tissue from any given piece.

Rob Taylor, Playfulness and Gravitas: An Interview with Jillian Christmas

Mr Hoyes was no ordinary English teacher. He’d already had an extremely youthful Matthew Sweeney as his Poet in Residence at the College for a year, while numerous workshops with Ian McMillan were still in the future. I suppose I fell between those two stools, but I didn’t have an inkling of that at the time. Instead, all I knew was homework turned into writing stuff of my own accord, turned into staying behind after class to show it to him, turned into him gifting me copies of literary magazines such as Iron, where Peter Mortimer had published his short stories.

This sharing of his own work, treating me as an equal, was just one example of Mr Hoyes’ generosity, as was his gentle prodding of me in new creative directions. His support meant that I suddenly stopped feeling alone and different from everyone else. As such, he was crucial in my becoming the poet I am today.

However, things developed even further once I left for university. On my first trip back, I visited all my old teachers at the college and showed him some of my more recent poetry. He suggested looking at it together over a pint at the Hop Blossom the following Friday. Thus, Mr Hoyes became Richard, and our friendship began, involving London Prides over more than two decades, all combined with swapping our latest work. He’d bring short stories, articles he’d written for the TES and extracts from his regular column in the local paper, and I’d contribute my drafts of poems.

Matthew Stewart, A tribute to Richard Hoyes

I suppose I want to believe there is always
a way out and a way through. Because

what else can I do? Collapse into whatever
strangeness and fear I encounter and weep?

How quickly the cat shifts from panic
to acceptance. Look at her rolling

in the dusty earth, as if this place
is what she has always known it to be.

Lynne Rees, Poem: No Through Road

Death is an
unbroken horse.
All the wind

is wild. The
sun is risen
and we move

on, chasing.
Some day we
will catch it.

Tom Montag, DEATH IS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 23

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week felt possibly pivotal in American politics; time will tell. Some poetry bloggers did write about other things, but most of those posts sat uneasily with the uprising- and COVID-related content, and in the end I took them out. I do want to acknowledge two extraordinary texts emerging this week that are (sadly) not blog posts but Google docs: the Letter to the Poetry Foundation from Fellows + Programmatic Partners and, a few hours ago, Phillip B. Williams’ Letter of Apology from a Ruth Lilly Fellow. Both were sparked by the Poetry Foundation’s “A Message to Our Community & Contributors“—just the sort of vapid, substance-free message of support for #BlackLivesMatter that Maureen Doallas calls out below.

News broke as I was assembling this digest that a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council has pledged to disband its police department, just over a week after protesters burned down a precinct building there. So be careful before you join the mob… of comfortable liberals and conservatives whitesplaining protest tactics to the oppressed.


When people murmur in a mildly moralising way about peaceful protest, maybe they should stop and think about Emily Wilding Davison.

A militant suffragette, she was repeatedly arrested and imprisoned for breaking windows, setting fire to mail boxes, and on one occasion for attempting to horsewhip a clergyman who she mistook for Lloyd George.

She undertook repeated hunger strikes in prison, was forcibly fed 49 times, and attempted to kill herself in Holloway by leaping off a landing. She said after that she thought that her death might cause people to pay attention to the cause of women’s suffrage. On June 4 2013, Emily Wilding Davison travelled to Epsom, went to the racecourse on Derby Day, waited behind the railings at the bend to the final straight, and as the horses came round the bend, ducked under the rail, and walked in front of the king’s horse. On and off for 30 years I tried to find a way to write about it.

I think about images that have, one way or another, changed how we see the world, and maybe changed the world itself. The terrified villagers of My Lai in Vietnam, and the small girl stripped naked by napalm, her mouth a silent scream; a Buddhist monk in flames; a student holding up his arm against a tank. A white policeman kneeling on the neck of a black man until he dies.

I was staggered when I learned that the death of Emily Davison was filmed live by a Pathe news camera, and duly appeared in British cinemas. I had thought the stills I had seen were remarkably in-focus single camera shots. I could not understand their clarity.

John Foggin, A grating roar

tomorrow my son is going to photograph a protest in Snohomish a small town no one had heard of until it became patient zero for the corona virus Snohomish where I attend the county fair every summer Snohomish where a handful of peaceful protesters were greeted by a sidewalk full of white american proudboys standing with spread legs holding automatic weapons snickering among themselves not only their stances but their faces threatening and ugly

the american president’s boys with a long tradition of  hate

my son quoted Shakespeare to me this morning

The blood of the citizens of Verona makes the hands of the citizens both bloody and uncivilized; that is, not polite, and possibly murderous.

then he quoted some of the lyrics to Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and he said that George Floyd was lynched I think so too deliberately horribly and in the open

my son believes we’re at the beginning of true worldwide revolution that the protests are not going to stop that they have just begun that the citizens of the world have been oppressed long enough they are rising up as one body to demand change and they will not stop until change is brought forth he tells me he sees children in the street some high school age young people finally finding their voices their rallying cry

Rebecca Loudon, What our sons say

What could be more dispiriting than a biological enemy, an invisible enemy, an enemy that has turned the morality schema upside down?  Yesterday’s bad guys — alienation and isolation  — are today’s heroes of good health.  Those heroes of isolation are also conditions for authoritarianism, which makes them still count as bad guys.  No wonder we’ve felt so lost and confused.

No wonder the police murder of George Floyd has changed the moral landscape.  In its horror and shame, in its immorality, it prompted the massive outpouring of public grief and collective protest.  It has a clear-cut narrative, with victims and perpetrators.  The unequivocal police brutality has no moral ambiguity. It liberated us from our own cells. Our listless selves had been told that this narrow narcissistic world was heroic – perhaps with limited horizons, we didn’t trust it. 

Walking on a summer afternoon to the RI State House, I refound my “we.” We were some 10,000. To hear the roar of thousands who respond in unity to the call of a leader – to feel the vibration in our bones, as my daughter said – began to restore a self in relation to others.  Collective, actively scooping up a sense of purpose. Rebellious. Called to look into our selves where moral ambiguities will most obviously arise. That has to be part of the pact. We can still do that while dissenting injustice, abuse of cops and our homegrown tyrant crossing new red lines at every turn.   This is not bad news wrapped in a protein. 

Coronavirus is still a threat, as we’ll always remark when we look at photos, in the future, of protesters in masks in photos.  As a young friend said, “History looks back at the past.  We’re in the middle of history.  But we don’t know what it looks like — we’re living it.”  He wasn’t comfortable with not knowing.  He shrugged: he knows he doesn’t have a choice.

Jill Pearlman, The Protests: Sprung from Moral Uncertainty

Since the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, I have read and viewed countless news articles, op-eds, solidarity statements, video webinars, social media posts, tweets, and photo albums related to Black Lives Matter (BLM) in the Pacific Islands and our diaspora. 

The first thing to note is that there is widespread support for BLM amongst Pacific Islanders (PI). There have been numerous solidarity events in Hawaiʻi (where I currently live), Aotearoa, Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, West Papua, Australia, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and my homeland of Guåhan (Guam). There have also been Pacific-organized events in California, Washington, and Utah, and I have seen PI participate in protests from Kentucky to New York to where it all began: Minnesota. At least one PI was arrested/detained, and there are perhaps more. BLM solidarity in the Pacific is not new (many events that occurred in after the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown) but it is definitely more expansive today. […]

The most wonderful part of all this is that so many PI have interpreted this history to mean that we have a “debt” to the Black community because of all they have done to empower us, directly and indirectly. In Pacific cultures, “debt” is not a capitalist phenomenon. It is much deeper and refers to ideas about gift-giving, social reciprocity, interdependence, kinship, obligation, support, and mutual aid. Chamorros call this “chenchule’” and it is one of our most cherished values and practices.  […]

Within U.S. settler colonialism in Guam and Hawaiʻi, I have noticed that there are some politicians and individuals (who are White, Asian, or POC) who are vocal in their support of BLM and even for police abolition. However, I have seen these same people stand AGAINST Chamorro and Hawaiian sovereignty and self-determination. This to me points to how some settlers in the Pacific support liberal and progressive reforms, but they don’t support decolonization, which would completely unsettle their power here. This also speaks to a divide between civil rights and indigenous rights.  

Craig Santos Perez, Black Lives Matter in the Pacific, 2020

These days, I put an ear to America’s chest to make sure democracy’s heart is still beating.

I share my breath with others ‘cause the air is so choked with tear gas and political propaganda.

I rearrange our collective spirit into a beatbox offering solid, uplifting rhythms as we witness secret police wandering the streets, bashing bruise tattoos into the flesh of peaceful protestors.

In my higher conscience, I’ve started an Etsy store selling necklaces made from the words and songs of Gandhi, MLK, and Billie Holiday.

I’ve created see-through face masks where we can witness one another’s lips as we speak words like, “Peace,” “Love,” and “ Dream.”

Rich Ferguson, Beating, Not Beating

Official Wear Orange Day was Friday, June 5. June 5 is also Breonna Taylor’s birthday. She was killed by guns in a terrible police mistake. But Wear Orange Day was created by friends of Hadiya Pendleton, dead at 15 by gun violence, back in 2013. My poem for that is hard, quick, and blunt. You understand why. 

Today I Wear Orange

to honor the dead girl
killed by a gun. Orange
like a hunting vest,
meant to say:
I’m not prey.

Hadiya had just been in the parade for President Obama’s second inauguration and was dead a week later. […]

I don’t like to jump on any bandwagons, but I do wish to stand in solidarity with all our nonviolent protestors today. At a distance, masked, I attended our local NAACP/Not In My Town rally to see, feel, and be part of the local support. I came late and left early, not wanting to mingle with any crowds. Couldn’t hear or see the presenters, but felt the solidarity. My peripheral vision made me turn at the right time to see potential danger, a young white man wearing a bandana on his forehead riding a motorcycle on Front Street. My gut said, Trouble. Later, he drove through the crowd and injured people; he’s been arrested. I listen to my gut now, having ignored it sometimes in the past. After seeing him, I scanned the crowd, as well. I was looking at the young white guys, I have to confess. There’s my current bias and tendency to profile. I apologize for the past, the present, and the future. I’ll do what I can, which doesn’t seem like much, but I do vote and help get out the vote, via a tiny elected office.

And my tiny poems will continue, at least through June. If I can remember what day it is. And who I am.

Kathleen Kirk, Wearing Orange

Small bamboo stakes with tiny flags on them were placed six feet apart, all along the north side of route two, from First Congregational Church to Thompson Memorial Chapel.

We gathered with our signs, each person or household to a flag. Most of the signs were homemade, made on posterboard or on cardboard recycled from boxes.

“Black Lives Matter.”

“Stop systemic racism.”

“Covid + racism = mourning in America.”

“Lord have mercy.”

“Seeking justice.”

“Black lives matter.”

“We stand with you.”

The church bells tolled. When they were done, a bagpiper stood on the steps of First Congregational and played somber songs.

As cars drove by, from one side or the other, we turned so our signs would face them, like sunflowers moving with the sun.

Most cars honked in support as they drove by. A few big rigs drove by and honked as they passed us. One bicyclist pedaled slowly by, reading each sign in turn.

A light rain fell. We stood in quiet solidarity with the victims of SARS-CoV-2 and the victims of systemic racism around our nation. When the clock tower rang for 5:30, we quietly went home with our grief.

Rachel Barenblat, Vigil

I marched at the parade with my daughter, surrounded by people her age. I thought about the world I thought I was bringing her into–what I thought I was giving her–and I wondered what the parents of all the others there had thought they were giving their children. I want to tell you how it broke my heart a little, to see these people taking action to try to make the world be more like the one I (wrongly) thought we once had, to see their anger and frustration and courage and hope. But my broken heart is not the important thing here, and my tiny heartbreak is nothing in comparison to those of the parents who have lost their children at the hands (or knees or bullets) of police, or those who worry that they will.

Last week a journalist claimed that America is a tinderbox. Last night, in a peaceful protest in a town known for its liberalism, I could feel it–people brittle as leaves and sticks on the forest floor after a summer of drought. Our youth–all of our youth, not just those privileged by social class and race–need real hope for something like the kind of future I took for granted when I was their age, and they need it in the form of action, not empty words and gestures without substance. They need more than police taking a knee one minute and then rising up to throw teargas and shoot rubber bullets the next. They need relief from corrupt leaders, inept government, gross income inequality, a trashed economy, crushing debt, racist systems, and a dying planet.

We all need that for them, too. As activist Lilla Watson once said,

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

A lit fire can be hard to contain, and people who feel they have little or nothing to lose are going to be quick to reach for matches.

We all have more to lose than we realize, I think.

Rita Ott Ramstad, No justice, no peace

June—not even rounding the cusp of summer; yet heat
pours out as if from a cauldron on every surface.

And the heat of bodies building as a fire
in every city, refusing to be staunched.

These last few months, we raised our windows
at sundown to salute those among us whose work

takes them closest to the edge of the fire.
Each night we hear the distant sound of choppers

circling overhead, and see the arcs thrown by
their beams. Only in the fitful pause of sleep

does the day’s sadness distill into a sort of quiet
blue egg. Every wing in it, every breakable bone.

Luisa A. Igloria, Domus

It’s been a week. You can tell because a giant Russian oil spill and asteroid hurtling towards earth didn’t even make the top five news headlines. Coronavirus, levels of which are still rising in the US, has been knocked out of people’s minds by gigantic protests and riots across the country – and even across the world – about police violence against unarmed, innocent African Americans. Police violence isn’t a new problem in the US, and it’s been remarkably persistent, so we need to think about how reform can makes things better, from sending in social workers and therapists to de-escalate with domestic violence and mental illness and wellness checks instead of police to eliminating the budget for police altogether. It’s clear that what we’ve done before hasn’t gotten rid of police corruption, racism, and abuse, so we need to look at new ways to address the issue.

This is a really important time to register to vote, because not only do we vote (hopefully, out) our president in November – which seems crucial to fixing some of America’s problems – but local elections like sheriffs and mayors are coming up. We the people have more power in voting than we think, and I hope we use it.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Turmoil, A Poem and Photo in 805 Lit + Art, and reading at the St. Martin Bookfair Saturday Night

My email has filled and refilled with messages from various publications, nonprofits, and other organizations and companies, all stating, in white type against black background, that  they stand with protesters to demand justice and are donating money, sometimes huge sums of money, to various race-related causes or foundations because #Black Lives Matter.

Although these actions can be regarded as good things to do, are they meaningful? Because I want to ask, What else? […]

What does the word “justice” mean to you? “Freedom”? How do you define “fair treatment” and “equal opportunity”? Or are those just sound-good words for your public relations announcements?

What specific actions do you pledge to take when your white CEO commits an EEO violation? Or your HR director turns a cheek to managers’ failure to meet diversity objectives? 

What are you going to do in the communities where you’re based to ensure the history we teach our children includes the true stories of our crimes and African Americans’ many accomplishments? Will you send your children to the same public schools that black children attend? 

Which of you in fact will “stand with” Black Americans and link arms and march the next time a black man out for a run is stalked, beaten up, or killed by white supremacists? What are you going to do to help ensure every Black American has the right to vote? Or prevent a political party from killing legislation to right our wrongs against? Or help rid this nation of food and housing insecurity? Are you going to stop supporting political campaigns that keep in office white men and women who take an oath to uphold our Constitution but are owned by lobbyists and do their bidding, no matter that bidding wrongly discriminates? 

Will you invite your African American neighbors to dinner, or allow your child to have a playdate with his or her black peers?

Whose story are you willing to listen to and defend if one is black and the other white?

Will you support and engage in a national, state, or local race-reconciliation initiative to acknowledge publicly our racism so that all of together can begin to heal and transform our society and culture?

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXVI

–Yesterday, my niece, who goes to grad school in South Florida, asked if any of us had any information about protests or marches. I was a bit abashed to realize that I didn’t. In grad school, I was connected to all sorts of peace and justice groups, both local and national. I was much more plugged in, even though we didn’t have e-mail or social media, or we had a different kind of social media.

But I did know some folks who knew some information, so that’s a plus.

–I have become the kind of person I despised when I was 19, the middle aged person who does support work of social justice by writing out a check. But let me remember the pastor of the inner city Lutheran church in Washington D.C. who educated me by telling me that suburban people and their checkbooks were what made the inner city ministry possible. He did it in the kindest way possible, and I will be forever grateful to know that the work of social justice takes many forms.

–I have always assumed that I was the kind of person who would be the first shipped to the radioactive Colonies in an Atwood dystopia. But I’m thinking I may have flattered myself.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Marching and Writing Checks for Justice

So much has happened since you wrote to me. There are little fires burning everywhere. I don’t think any of us were made to take in all this hurt. I feel the edge of apathy tempting me like a daemon hovering off the edge of a cliff, while beasts and bleeding bodies are rushing toward me in a nightmare. Well, not toward me, but toward us all. I am coincidental.

Are all individuals coincidental?

What can I do but sit on the ground where I am, and breathe? I am irrelevant in the bigger picture of things. And yet integral to all of it.

I am not on the front lines of anything, as you say. I’m not tending to the ill, not protesting in the streets of my homeland. I don’t speak for the suffering, or the dead.

There has to be a way to accept the fact of one’s own helplessness- or uselessness -and not give into likegyldighet. I’m drawn toward the word in my second language because the unfamiliarity seems to put the word’s meaning in relief. The literal translation of the word: the same-validity. Two equally legitimate realities. Facts. It is not a matter of “alternate facts”, but conflicting facts. True phenomenon that coexist necessarily in a state of conflict.

Facts. Disconnected from desires. Desires are interpretations, and there is nothing solid about them.

The fact is we are human. The fact is humans desire. The fact is little good comes from automatic writing.

You are on a font line, Richard. Your day job. It is tending to the vulnerable. It is working towards a kind of justice.

Ren Powell, The Front Line

In the time of COVID we washed our hands with the spittle in the air and prayed for death. We touched our eyes and waited for death or a ventilator, whichever came first. We counted the number of deaths but not the names of those who died.

The names of the dead were written somewhere with invisible ink, but no one knows where. If someone does have that knowledge, they have never admitted to it, and who could read invisible ink anyway?

In truth, a few people prayed for life, but we also failed to record their names, and there was no god to answer such prayers. Death was everywhere.

In the time of COVID the televisions worked just fine, and computers streamed concerts and videos. You could get anything delivered to your home except cheer. We ate pizza and cut our own hair and stared at social media until it invaded our dreams.

Many of us now distrust social media as much as we distrust the spittle for its infection, as much as we distrust the fools who lead us. Indeed, is there any leader worthy of trust? Spit for me and I will wash my hands again.

In the time of COVID we shaved off our body hair and covered ourselves with oil. Naked, we rubbed against each other until we screamed and our house pets screamed along with us, not understanding.

Or perhaps I am wrong, and house pets understand more than they let on. Perhaps they find the sounds of human orgasm to be funny.

In the time of COVID the police continued to murder Blacks until riots overtook our cities and dumpster fires lit the night, the sound of police sirens was a symphony of horror, a symphony of fear.

Even now we can hear the music starting all over again. Even now it is the time of COVID.

James Lee Jobe, In the time of COVID we washed our hands with the spittle in the air

I’ve spent a good portion of the weekend watching the Epstein docuseries on Netflix (of which I think the web of corruption is only the very tip of the iceberg among powerful men) , and last night & finishing later, the Hunger Games movies, of which I have only seen the first two.  (I love the books, but I just never have gotten the chance to get to the two final ones.) They are a strangely appropriate thing to be watching at this very moment and I was hoping they didn’t just spike my anxiety higher, but so far I think I’m okay.  I am back to focusing no further than the end of the day. Especially as my anxieties & fear about going back to work are beginning to creep up on me.  There is so much we don’t know and so much I feel people are paying attention to  (notably that we are not expecting a second wave, and only that the first wave is still very much still happening, only that the news, understandably, is focusing on other things. )  I feel no safer out there than I did in late March. I feel esp. helpless about the decreased seriousness of people out there who seem to either be misinformed or just defiant that they need to wear masks and be careful. I actually feel like the mass protests actually look pretty safe and masked up, but the people in bars and on beaches not so much.

Inside, I am better able to focus on writing-related things than I was a few weeks ago. I have a new book, after all, and want to figure out ways to celebrate and promote it as much as I can. There are also a couple new series–one devoted to Weekly World News headlines and another that just might tangentially be  about the virus, but also about intimacy and connection.  Also just the notion of “viral” and things hi-jacking the body from a scientific standpoint. I feel like I need to tread carefully…I’m not particularly keen on most current events type writing since I think it tends to fall into cliche and hyperbole very easily.  The lit journals are filled with mediocre coronapoems right now. I think I, myself, need a little more distance. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things : June 7, 2020

there’s massive evil going on
and I study the grasses
oh god I’ve retired

I lit a fire
it was like putting down a pet
I cried

Ama Bolton, ABCD: June 2020

This intense week, I’m featuring a new collection by activist-editor-poet Sonia Greenfield (check out Rise Up Review sometime, too, for brilliant poems of resistance).

Letdown consists of 64 numbered prose poems about pregnancy, birth, raising a special needs child, miscarriage, grief, and recovery. No poems can be assembled into tidy chronologies–they slip and blur, associate and meditate–but the book has a strong emotional arc, through an underworld of pain, to emergence into love and compassion. I love that the book ends in empathy for other parents, but that’s enabled by Greenfield’s own difficult rebirth: “Though I am better now, sometimes I can feel a kite string tied inside cut through me when what I want yanks.”

Maggie Smith gets it right, too, when she calls Greenfield “a master of the prose poem.” Each has a boiled-down lyric intensity. Many investigate the meanings of words, putting the lie to the literary-critical truism that pain short-circuits expression. Poems about diagnostic language, the tone-deaf consolations and blame friends offer, and her sons words are very powerful. Her son is on the autism spectrum and the recurrent description of his “weird energy” could describe the book, too. This collection channels a strong charge of loss and love. As she says, “It takes a while to strip expectations away, to peel off the layers until we’re holding our child’s happiness in the palm of our hand, as pure as the simplest silicate mineral, and say it is enough.” This is a testament to celebrate.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #13 with Sonia Greenfield

“The apocalypse…is not when the world ends; it’s when one single person is killed. The entire universe becomes deformed when one single person is tortured.”

—Raúl Zurita, trans. Borzutzky

“The death toll is always one, plus one, plus one. The death toll is always one” —Teju Cole

…we are each other’s
harvest:
we are each other’s
business: we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.

—Gwendolyn Brooks

Beauty will be here for us, but this time, this time. We have to be here for it. We have to end this. Because one unnecessary death is intolerable. Evil is intolerable. Racism is intolerable. Inequality is intolerable. Hatred is intolerable. The disparities are intolerable. Violence against Black people, and Indigenous people and all BIPOC is intolerable.

I’m honestly just a gutted horrible mess over this. I haven’t cried over Covid-19. I’ve cried over this. I read Twitter most of the day, various news sites. And then we had a family Zoom call and that was lovely. What a privilege to know that all your loved ones are safe. And then a big cocktail while listening to Jason Isbell’s song, Be Afraid, repeatedly. Most of us don’t even know what real fear is. I know I don’t.

The line by Teju Cole just keeps repeating in my head, the death toll is always one. It guts me.

Shawna Lemay, Try to Say Something; Also: Shut-Up

Imagine as fully as possible that a crowd of desperate people are at your door. Their eyes and lungs are burning, they are afraid, angry, out of options. You have seconds to decide. Imagine you open the door and now your home is filled with these strangers, every available space taken up. They need food, water, aid. Can you do it?

Now imagine this. You are on the other side of a stranger’s door. You’re the one in pain, afraid and desperate. Will the door open for you?

Laura Grace Weldon, Hospitality To Strangers

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

The poetry blogosphere was relatively quiet this week; I think U.S. poets are worn out or simply stunned by what’s unfolding on the streets. Today, as Erica Goss reminds us, was Walt Whitman’s birthday. Come back, Walt, we need you! Oh well, I guess we’ll have to look for him under our combat boot-soles…


The dark threw its patches down upon me also, Walt Whitman wrote in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Nearly as often as he reflects on his own tingling senses, Whitman, it turns out, writes about distance and solitude, sometimes expressing pain about it and reaching for touch across impossible gaps. “It avails not, time nor place–distance avails not,” he insists. We can be together, apart. This violent week has proven again that in my country, unity is a fiction. Some U.S. citizens are protected by police; in overlapping territory, other U.S. citizens are murdered by police. I admire Whitman’s desire to heal damage and division, but I can’t love my country the way he did.

Yet the fellowship of writers in other places, even other times, helps my heart. I wrote last week about feeling rested by the kind intelligence of Ned Balbo’s new book The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots, and before that the pleasure of revisiting Martha Silano’s Gravity Assist.

Lesley Wheeler, It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall

I struggle to find words right now.

The virus has stolen life and breath from so many. Systemic racism has stolen life and breath from so many more.

What words could be equal to the murder of George Floyd? To the unthinkable horror of a police officer kneeling on a man’s neck until the life leaves him?

And we know that the pandemic disproportionately kills people of color because of the same systemic racism that causes police to arrest, and to kill, people of color in disproportionate numbers. It’s injustice heaped on injustice.

Rachel Barenblat, I don’t have words.

Say anything over and over,
word you love or word you loathe
it reduces to sound,
to nonsense.
As a meditation,
this nudges us
closer to edges,
toward wilder realms rarely visited.

But be wary of ideas
ranted over and over.
They lose something too,
lose the softness of grass on bare feet,
of hand touching hand. They become
strictures against the way rain speaks,
barriers to what nourishes
the ground we are.

Laura Grace Weldon, Now, Reality Is Surreal

I spent a fair amount of time yesterday writing a post I’m not going to share.

Writing is my way of processing what’s happening, and it served that purpose, but even I am just not all that interested in my perspective on what’s happening in my country–so I’m not going to share it here.

I am weary of so many people I know pontificating on social media when, frankly, they don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. And, sorry(notsorry), their opinions (and mine) just aren’t as important as those of others who know more than we do. I’m thinking I don’t need to join the cacophany of white noise any more than I already have.

I think the best thing I can do as a white person is shut the hell up and listen.

Here are a few voices that need amplification far more than mine:

A Timeline of Events That Led to the 2020 ‘Fed-Up’-rising (from The Root)

George Floyd, Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery & Amy Cooper | The Daily Social Distancing Show (Trevor Noah)

Remember, No One Is Coming to Save Us (Roxanne Gay)

Rita Ott Ramstad, The best thing I can do

If he’s been working hard,
his skin glints
as if lacquered with gold
and if you’re lucky enough
to behold it, my nephew’s
contagious smile
will lighten your burdens
for a while,
despite his dark skin.

So when you ask me why
I’m outraged
ask yourself why
to white policemen
&
to white supremacists
&
to whites who say they
don’t see color,
my nephew’s skin
is the color of fear,
the color of hatred,
the color of oppression,
the color of lynching
in broad, bright daylight.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, The Color of Racism

Here in Canada, I’ve observed the Truth and Reconciliation process with the indigenous community. Although America has perpetrated even more injustices, including genocide, against its native people, this did not feel like “my” issue when I moved here; because of the time when I grew up, I was more concerned, more familiar, and more invested in the struggles for civil rights, women’s rights, peace and nuclear disarmament, gender equality, and the rights of immigrants and religious and ethnic minorities — all of which had been major issues in the United States during my lifetime.  But I have seen the painful steps toward truth-telling and reconciliation here, as well as in South Africa, and I believe that this is the ONLY way to begin to redress the wrongs that have been done, and to bring a society into greater understanding.

Yet in Canada, in spite of believing that we’re better than our neighbors to the south, we have our share of racism and hatred, especially directed against Muslims and Jews. Just this week, in one of the worst attacks in recent memory, a synagogue here in Montreal was violently ransacked, its religious objects desecrated — a Torah had been cut up and stuffed into a toilet — the floors covered in red paint, and the walls with antisemitic graffiti.

Meanwhile, the poor, and people of color and of ethnic minorities are dying at higher rates of COVID-19, while they fill a greater number of poorly-paid service and health care jobs. The same Quebec government which recently threw out three years of immigrant applications just had the gall to start a new fast-track program for immigrants who are willing to come here and work in the deplorable care homes for the elderly, where the virus has spread like wildfire, resulting in 80% of the deaths in the province. The message is clear: we didn’t want you before, but now we need you to take care of us, so we’ll make you a deal.

We white people of conscience have no choice: we have to stand for justice and against racism in all of its forms, against violence, against oppression, and for equality for all people regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. And you know what? It is not the job of black people, or Muslims, or Jewish people, Asians, Arabs, or any other minority group, to educate us about why their lives matter, and what needs to be done. It’s our job, and we had damn well better get on with it.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 27: A Summer Already Ablaze

This week, we hit a different grim milestone:  100,000 dead in the U.S. of COVID-19.  It’s a number that’s hard for me to get my head around, so earlier this week I looked up #s of deaths in past wars.  The number that we heard this week is that we now have more COVID-19 dead than in all the wars since Korea.  Daily we lose the number of U.S. citizens that we did on September 11, 2001. […]

In this week of deaths of all sorts, I was sobered by the loss of AIDS activist Larry Kramer, especially since I had just seen archival footage of him in How to Survive a Plague, footage that reminded me of how powerful and effective (and irritating) he was.  But Robb Forman Dew also died.  This obituary in The Washington Post noted that she emerged at the same time as Louise Erdrich and Ann Tyler, and that’s how I remember her, as part of a group of important women writers who came a generation before me.  Barbara Sher also died this week–in the mid-90’s, I read all her books, and I particularly remember Wishcraft as the type of book that told us to train our brains to think about what we wanted to achieve, not on our fears.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Milestones and Hinges

Benjamin and Kathryn, husband and wife, died three days apart.

Anne Mae, 82, known for sweet potato pies, and daughter Connie, 64
days after her mother.

Jaimala, 65, designer of saris and tapestries.

Dianne, Stella, and Maria, the three sisters, dying within a month of
each other.

Mike, over 60, called a “heart survivor.”

“Miss Minnie,” no symptoms.

Motoko, 92, the last of the surviving “Monuments Women.”

Newborn Baby Girl, no chance to be named.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXII

The events of the world
enter my house via cable lines
and satellite.

Family fabric frays,
children fledge. I free a robin
tangled in fence wire,

harvest spinach,
prepare a meal no one
stays home to eat.

Ann E. Michael, Events in the world

The manic dust of my friends is with me at all times, a different kind of grief and yet part of it, a grief I need to answer to, one I only answer with my own.

As I roam through the wreckage I am overcome by a new thing, is it anger, this man who did what, who said what, who dares to go on living without knowing about my grief?

The next chapter in my book of transformations is already here. What shall I call it? Shall I go back to my life and live it, even as I grieve?

Anthony Wilson, Living in the layers

I have a strange desire to lug something heavy on my back so that I can put it down at the end of the day. I want to see something besides the yard and the same 4 kilometre stretch of trail along the lake.

Until then – until the grades have been logged and the students sent off –  I’m starting a garden. When I say “I”, I mean E. is sawing down the overgrown thuja to make room for the tiny greenhouses.  I’ll try to grow chilies and tomatoes.

Basil, mint, parsley, cilantro.

There is a space he is clearing along the southern side of the house where I’m going to plant raspberry bushes and apple trees.

It upsets me a little to consider that the trees might not take root.

I have a desire to do something that matters. Like growing things. I have a fear that even on this tiny scale, I won’t be able to do it right.

So I am procrastinating and blaming the weather. I’m blaming the weather for the melancholy, too.

For some reason I keep thinking about the Italians – months ago now – who spontaneously sang together from their balconies. Not for each other, but with each other.

Is there a really good word for this feeling it brings up in me? I know other people felt it. Because they tried so hard to repeat it.

This is a kind of grasping, isn’t it?

Ren Powell, Clearing the Way for Summer

Days of letdowns, feeling unseen vs. those getting on up, getting back on the scene.

Days of walking crowded or well-distanced streets, forging the depths of fake news vs. real news.

Undercounting death tolls and high-stakes elections. Encountering those politically unmasked vs. others respectfully protected.

Unrest, unemployment, and racism thrive while too many black men die.

Days when innocence seems rarer than cynicism, when the clock turns slowly and Minneapolis burns,

when the only thing we seem to have in common is what keeps us awake at night.

Rich Ferguson, What Diseases Whisper to Us While We Sleep?

I met Lucille Clifton the first time, I think, in 1991 when she came to the University of Washington to read for our Watermark series. Her larger-than-life personality and her brash honesty about being black, about being female, swept me away. I was in the MFA program and I thought I had something to say. But I was too young, too sheltered, too inexperienced to have written the poems she had written: “homage to my hips,” or “lumpectomy eve,” or “in the meantime” (“the Lord of loaves and fishes / frowns as the children of / Haiti Somalia Bosnia Rwanda Everyhere / float onto the boats of their bellies / and die”). There seemed no subject that was so controversial she wouldn’t take a crack at it, and I was in awe of her.

At the reception after the reading, another young poet started telling Clifton all about herself. I knew it was nerves, but it was still a little stunning to see her binge-talk through the entire conversation. When she walked away, Clifton said, laughing, “Does she ever listen? How does she ever learn anything?”

As a member of the Watermark committee I was gifted with the opportunity to drive her to the airport the next morning. She said, “Oh, drop me at the curb,” but I refused. Over breakfast, I told her a little about the “verse-writing” class that had recently been assigned to me. My professor and long-time mentor, Colleen McElroy, had advised that I teach them “one thing,” a thing that she would not divulge. I asked Lucille Clifton what she emphasized in her classes, and she began expounding. Listening and learning–not just from teachers, from everything–was the general theme. “And never stop,” she said.

Bethany Reid, Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

This labor is simple: Pull.
Your back is a pinion of flames. Pull
Through the strain of this toil. Pull.
The waters are heaving. Pull.
You will rise on this swell. Pull
In your staggering grief. Pull
In this fevered forgetting. Pull
Withthe will of the holy. Pull
For this scaffold of sinew. Pull
With your castle of bone.

Kristen McHenry, Still Life with Rowing Machine

Spring is really just starting where I live, and the birdsong is wild, the frogs are loud, and the traffic sounds from the nearby highway are quieter. I feel as though we’re forgetting how to talk to people, and we’re becoming a bit subdued. I worry a lot about my daughter, alone in her apartment across the country. I know she’s fine, but I love her so I worry. We’re all missing a lot of things and trying not to dwell. It does no good to miss the idea of going to Rome, or missing the dog we haven’t had for years. We have to all just go on trusting in our hearts and pausing for those delicately made things, for those shocks of surprising beauty. Might we use them as stepping stones to get over this river?

There are so many bruising and devastating moments which I know you’ve all read about or watched the video just this week (you know the one I’m talking about I’m sure) and the horrible thing is we know there will be more ugliness ahead. That’s a given. I wish it weren’t. And I can’t look away. I can minimize my exposure but I’m not going to ignore these inhuman acts.

I’m a broken record for beauty. I’m a broken record for the open heart. If we keep these with us, they’ll help steer us. As much as we’re learning about what and who is inhumane, we’re also learning about who is beautiful, who understands what is good and delicate and true.

If we’re going to record what’s happening in our ordinary lives, along with the view from where we sit on the ills of the world, and I think we ought to be, we have to remember, too, to get down the moments of pure joy, the moments of respite, solace, and when things are so beautiful they make us break down and cry.

Shawna Lemay, Ordinary Life, Continued

Today has been a grey, rainy day. Seattle is not only under coronavirus-related lockdown but roads have been shut down and a 5 PM curfew has been announced. Trains and ferries have been stopped. The news is full of ugly images.

This morning I attended a two hour online master class from A Public Space on editing creative-non-fiction and fiction. As you probably know if you’re here, I’m mainly a poet, but I occasionally experiment with other forms, and I’d never rule out a short story or a memoir someday, so it’s good to learn about the tools. Check out A Public Space which is also offering free online book clubs.

I then fell asleep for two hours. Zoom still wears me out. I’m not sure if this is an MS thing or what. Does this happen to you guys, or is because of my damaged neurology? Or could it be the massive unrest across the country, the accumulated anxiety of months of lockdown coming to an uneasy end, that makes it hard to have energy for appreciating the good things, like this towhee and orange roses?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Poem in the Atlanta Review, Trying to Say Something about America Right Now, and a Grey End of May

yesterday we had such a huge thunderstorm that it shook the bones of my house and I was scared for the first time ever in a thunderstorm it lasted for one or two hours after I scouted for split trees but found none

my son drove me to town to find Maria Sanchez who runs the little Lopez Family Farm fruit stand on the corner next to the sad furniture store I was so excited and happy to see her that I bought an entire flat of strawberries thinking about ruby red jam I washed the berries then put them in the fridge I truly don’t know if I have the energy to make jam right now I am exhausted with frustration and anger and worry I’ll probably make a small batch of no pectin jam today then freeze the rest for smoothies and try again later

I argued with my son last night which made me sad he wanted to go to Seattle to photograph the mayhem which after all is his life’s work but I told him if he went he would have to stay there at his girlfriend’s house for two weeks to make sure he doesn’t pick up the virus from being in a huge body of people when the plague is still alive and well and waking back up as cities begin to ease restrictions maybe you think I’m being unreasonable it is clear my son thought so but my self preservation instinct is very strong I have not survived abuse and and addiction and poverty and mental illness and 40 years of back breaking factory work to be brought down by a virus fuck that noise as we used to say back in the day fuck. that. noise.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Oh how good we feel on those straight lines, so sure of our path, running parallel to the turning world, convinced of our own deservingness, the justice of it all, we are so right, righteous even, and able to see where everyone else is going wrong, what they should be saying, doing, who they should be doing it for.

And what about the crooks and fissures in the road behind us when we stamped and grumbled, the times we ran back from fear and not toward, the fences we kicked in, the gates we refused to walk through when someone opened them for us, when we refused to move on and blamed the road we had made and chosen?

Here they come again, more clefts and fractures, and that bend ahead just willing us to refuse it.

forgiveness
someone else’s footsteps
hardened in the dry earth

Lynne Rees, straight lines ~ a haibun

so i ran with the hare, and soared with the lark,
hill-high and be-blued above the heather.
those alone moments with a rod or a gun
and the neighbour’s dog. bonzo.
i remember bonzo, i do. he was a fun dog,
a company across the fields sort of dog.
a marsh harrier of rats in the rubbish tips
long-walked upon the marsh.

these marble memories rattle now, around and
around they rattle my brain – as that song said.
where shall i lay them, and when is the time?
here upon a few lines of ink think? or shall i
take them to the graveside of childhood and
knock the door and run away? but, hey,
they are homing dreams, like the pigeons in baskets
at release of somewhere, somewhere.

look, i’ll put them just here. OK?
Look after them for me;
i won’t be long.

Jim Young, i’ll put them just here

He was going
to brush his teeth, gargle with mouthwash,
spit with effort: all movements slower now
that the rest of him was testing the currents
of this new sea his doctors referred to as
The Gradual Decline. Pills in the morning,
at noon, and again at night for the faltering
heart, the heart that skipped a beat like the old
record he used to play. Begin, it sang; and
beguine—that little fancy, a passing infatuation
with the idea of time not yet knighted
by sadness. I held still, afraid if I blinked,
the future would lose no time unseating us from
the surface where we tried to hold our ground.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait of My Father From a Second Floor Window Four Months Before His Death

Some poets evolve by venturing into new subjects, new narratives, new locations. Others, meanwhile, burrow further and further into their core concerns, casting different perspectives on similar themes, grappling with them in fresh ways, layering them, building their nuances and ramifications.

Abegail Morley’s recent development, from her previous collection, The Skin Diary (Nine Arches Press, 2016) to her new book, The Unmapped Woman (Nine Arches Press, 2020), shows that she clearly belongs to the latter group. Her focus on loss, already a pivotal element, has now expanded its reach, its depth and its power to move the reader.

One clear example occurs in the opening pages to The Unmapped Woman, in the first lines of a poem titled Gravid. They can, of course, be read as the portrayal of a moment, of an incident. However, they can also be read as a declaration of poetic intent for the collection as a whole. They announce an exploration of the relationship between language and loss:

Not until after the front door slams shut
and absence sucks air from its cheeks,
do the words in her head, packed tight
as if on postcards, unhook their ink…

Matthew Stewart, Absence that disorientates, Abegail Morley’s The Unmapped Woman

I love when I’m reading someone else’s poem and find it’s inspired me such that I have to put it down and run over to my own notebook to write something. Usually when I go back to the triggering poem by the other poet, I can’t for the life of me figure out how I got to what their poem said to what I felt compelled to run to write down. But hooray for the whole enterprise. So I turned with relish to the pile of books of poetry that has been growing at my elbow, and will today share some of the choice lines from them.

So thanks to some trade deals, I have three wonderful little handsewn books from Ethel Zine & Micro Press:

– From Joanna Penn Cooper’s When We Were Fearsome, from “The Keening”:   “…That scene in The Shining that terrifies/a child, the beautiful woman falling old./Now when I see it I think, It’s just a woman./His whole big horror was just embracing/the woman’s changing body.”

And this from her “Existential Kink”: “…My whole life has been one long/creative exercise, a Life Prompt, if you will. Try it. Go/from something kind of funny to something kind of sad/and back again. Repeat. Keep repeating….”

– From Annmarie O’Connell’s Hellraiser, from “Tonight I’m sitting in the front room”: “Im telling you/that a story can remember me/hunt me down/and sooner or later/knock me dead into the past/with its invisible/arms.”

And this from “This is a road.”: “Suddenly inside we are better people/miraculous/with the undertow of failing.”

– From Barbara Ungar’s Edge, from “Madascan Moon Moth”: “To distract bats, he spins his extravagant/and expendable long red tail./They aim for that/and miss him as he burns through the dark,/improbably and fleeting, the Comet Moth.”

And from “April Journal, 2018”: “Though living in the end days/with thirteen kinds of crazy/still the birds return one by one.”

Marilyn McCabe, Prepare ye the way; or, On Poetry I’m Reading, and Possibly Stealing From

Risa Denenberg: Your books incorporate the term “survivor.” How has your identity as an AIDS survivor impacted your vision as a poet? Have you written about your journey as an AIDS survivor? How did you incorporate that impact on the person who walks through the woods and oceans and seasons in these poems?

Marjorie Moorhead: Being a survivor of AIDS (from a time when there was no viable treatment) has shaped my vision as a poet because I learned, during many, many hours and years “alone” with myself, traveling through grief to self-discovery, to SEE things, “in the moment”. If you travel around with death in your lap, ready to take over at any moment, each moment seems indeed a gift and full of rich detail. Each breath becomes a full and wonder-full moment; the in, and then the out. I spent at least five years learning to meditate, and practice tai chi ch’uan. My goal in those years (as, of course it should be for everybody all the time…but gets lost so easily once Life is “easy”), was to live in a state of Grace in each moment. I had to figure out what that meant for myself. It’s a very personal interpretation of the word “Grace,” as I was not brought up with religious practice or dogma except for very general overlying morality (which I am grateful for!). So, the person walking through woods, oceans, seasons in these poems is one who is noticing, processing, and feeling a part of where she is. […]

RD: Finally, I hope you are safe and well. Can you talk a bit about how you are faring during the pandemic?

MM: At the start of this pandemic, I was very aware of the link back in time to the AIDS epidemic. I started writing “Coronavirus Diary” poems (to date, I think there are 12 of them!), and also responded, in April, to the call from Indolent Books’ HIV Here & Now “Na(HIV)PoWriMo” project for poems about HIV/AIDS.  I have since moved on to writing a series of poems inspired by the Bluejays who built a nest outside within view of our window. Watching their daily journey, while in “lockdown”, has been a way to expand out into the world and I’ve attempted writing a few poems where the “I” is a nesting bird. I also try to get out for a daily walk, just breathing and moving and noticing what’s around me…same as I have been doing for thirty years or more.

Risa Denenberg, Survival in Two Volumes

Now the earth tastes of flowers, perhaps irises, and these flowers bless our lives. I reject the abuses of my mother and my father just as I reject all flags and leaders. The earth and the flowers, the irises, are my family. There is no value to the memory of abuse, and there is no value in a flag. Life is for passion, love, kindness, and the beauty of things growing on the earth. Damn every last leader anywhere.

James Lee Jobe, Now the earth tastes of flowers, perhaps irises

Thinking of our lives as art or as prayer reminds us that we are the raw material from which art arises, whatever the outcome, whether painting, sculpture, music, or literature. Each person is a moving, breathing, work of art, one that is ever-changing; to paraphrase Whitman, we all contain that beautiful truth.

Early in Leaves of Grass, he writes:

            There was never any more inception than there is now,

            Nor any more youth or age than there is now,

            And will never be any more perfection than there is now,

            Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

In this time when our environments have shrunk, when we are doing everything from home, we need big thinkers like Walt Whitman, who reminds us that no matter where we are, no matter our age, ability, or belief system, we are individual works of art.

Sunday, May 31st is Walt Whitman’s 201st birthday. If you’re able, go outdoors, and, as he advises,

            Loafe with me on the grass…loose the stop from your throat.

Erica Goss, You Are a Work of Art

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 19

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week was for many our 8th under quarantine, which prompted reflections, as did Mother’s Day—in a darker vein than usual—as well as mounting death tolls, incompetent leaders, and other recurring themes of life in a pandemic. But also there were appreciations of new books, memories of libraries, writing experiments, and as always, newly birthed poems in all their rough, raw beauty.


There is a lot of grief in the world right now.

For you.

For me.

I hope your grief is not unbearable.

Despite all of it, I have gratitude as well. I don’t exactly like that word, “gratitude.” It has religious connotations to my ear. But, well, it works.

I am lucky that I can work from home. My company has been fantastic, and actually quite surprisingly agile.

All of my loved ones are still with me. We have had to be in the hospital with unrelated illnesses, and yet we are safe.

Since the last time I wrote on here two years ago, the new baby has grown. He’s two and a half now. […]

You would think there’s all kinds of extra time to do things like productive writing, yard work, etc. But no.

There is no time. There is even less time than when I was commuting two hours a day.

What a strange world.

What strangeness it is to see profit opportunity instead of humanitarian opportunities. What grotesque macabre times we live through.

Inane cruelty. Stupid selfishness.

What protest can we mount while physically distancing?

Find a way. Write. Put it out there.

Vote.

Eric M. R. Webb, Grief and Isolation

I started baking for porch drop-offs in my small rural township over a month ago. I figured I had a good stockpile of flour, butter, and sugar. I had way too many eggs from our chickens. And I had to do something with my despair. […]

Although we’ve lived in this township for nearly 23 years, we simply haven’t gotten to know many people. Perhaps it’s because the houses are farther apart than in our previous neighborhoods. Perhaps because we homeschooled. Perhaps because of other encounters in our first few months here that made us wary, starting with a veiled death threat.  But as the baking donation weeks have gone by I’ve started to feel closer to my community.

And also, as I’ve baked muffins and loaves and cookies, my mood has leveled off. I’m starting to catch up on work. I’m back to writing and reading and happily tending seedlings nearly ready for the garden.

I’ve also gotten some perspective on despair after talking with my friend Maureen. She told me she’s been inert and ineffectual, retreating into herself. She also said she was feeling on a deeper level all the loss she’s been through in the past few years while at the same time feeling guilty about her grief because so many people are going through far worse.

I realized I’d been feeling the same way, not depression at all but some kind of collective mourning. All that our species is going through can’t help but ask us to more intensely feel our own losses. Perhaps feeling our own grief more fully — seeing it, naming it, letting it walk with us –may help us on a collective level.

Maybe the different ways we react rise from wise inner promptings, helping to heal what has felt unbalanced in our lives while, on some level, we process the world’s larger fear, loss, and terrifying uncertainty.

As I pack up today’s Hermit Bars, I am grateful that offering homemade sweetness to strangers restores sweetness to my life. And I choose to believe everyone who claps for healthcare workers, or shops for neighbors, or sends cards to nursing home residents, or donates food, or adopts shelter animals, or plays music from balconies, or supports local businesses, or abides by social distancing to keep others safe is remaking a more connected and compassionate future for us all.

Laura Grace Weldon, Hermit Bars, Despair, and Collective Renewal

Alex Trebek is a fit fitter
coal mine canary
if contestants don’t know
an answer I shout it to them
through the blue water screen
in Poplar diphtheria sweeps
the town and every single
person gets tested all I do
is stand in the forest and stab
the dirt with a shovel
as ivy widdershins
up two hemlocks I have named
The Sisters if I tell you
I pray it’s a lie god
does not live in my ear
god bless or goddamn let’s finish it
the american president wants us
to illuminate our guts
with poison The Sisters
are guards and looming gates
history drowns itself
let me lick your Kevlar vest
let me drink your mask
there is still so much to do here
in the sorrow church I look up
just in time to see Ed Harris tumble
through an open window
bang bang how dare the world
mirror itself back to me

Rebecca Loudon, corona 18.

The dead of COVID19 visit you in dreams and ask you to remember them, to remember their names, their lives. Morning comes to you, and these dreams are forgotten. You awaken each day to a feeling of sadness, a dull emptiness. Nights come and go, and you are, in time, full of these forgotten dreams, forgotten names, and everyday the number of COVID-19 deaths grows. Everyday.

James Lee Jobe, The dead of COVID19 visit you in dreams

I try to document the change of seasons, the flowers, the birds. With quarantine I’ve become a better documentarian of local birds; I notice species I could swear I’ve never seen before. I glimpse an osprey overhead with a fish, a red house finch lands briefly on my balcony while I water flowers. I see my first ever black-headed grosbeak. Paying attention to something, taking your time, staying quiet, that’s birdwatching, and gardening, paying attention to something outside yourself. It is surprisingly rewarding. This seems like a metaphor, doesn’t it? If we just stay quiet, and still, we can much better observe the world around us, in all its surprise and beauty. Woodpecker and hummingbird were there the whole time; we just don’t usually notice them.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Flower Supermoons, the Art and Science of Birdwatching, and Mother’s Day with Social Distancing

In a time of pandemic, I sustain my sanity the usual ways. Garden. Poetry. Walks. Family. Reading. Tai chi. Going, most of all, for balance and observation. On the lookout for the things that delight me, though those things may seem “small” or easily overlooked.

Which brings me to the book I’ve been savoring, Ross Gay‘s The Book of Delights.

Nicole Rudick, in The New York Review of Books, has already composed a wonderful write-up about The Book of Delights–so I don’t need to. (Do read it: here). But, back to last month’s posts about responses to poetry collections, Gay’s latest–not-poetry, mini-prose, essayettes–evoked from me the response I suppose the author sought from his readers: delight. Delights, plural. Gay’s close observations and slightly goofy sense of what is funny (fallible, silly, skewed but not skewered) feel kin to my own, though my perspective differs from his due to how we are differently embodied and differently socialized, or non-conformist as to said socialization. For any human being, perspective’s inherently lodged in the body; and other people’s perspectives about us, or assumptions about us, are socially based upon the bodies in which we dwell.

Which is to say that he is a Black man in his 40s and I am a White woman in her 60s; yet Ross Gay and I have overlapping backgrounds and interests. Hoosierism and Philadelphia-dwelling, for a time. Poetry. Students, whom we love. Gardening. Passion for figs, awareness of pawpaw fruit and hickory trees. Observers, the sort of people who want to learn more about animal scat and bee species. “Jenky” gardeners. [My term is jury-rigged, but it means about the same thing, without the urban/ghetto connotations: adapting to one’s immediate need without overmuch consumerism…which is to say, making do with a crappy substitute. I learned that from my folks, too.]

And the urge to recognize, and celebrate, delights.

Ann E. Michael, Delights

As we’ve been transitioning from spring to summer and finishing up the last of this year’s curriculum, I can feel our house fall into new rhythms. We don’t follow a strict daily schedule, but sort of an “ish” one–we start school at 8ish, have lunch at 11ish, nap around 1ish, etc.

I’ve finally managed to start waking up before the children; there are seasons where this works for me, and seasons where it doesn’t. I know as I get more pregnant, I’ll not be able to do it anymore, and of course when the new baby comes this August he or she will bring his or her own schedule along with.

Waking up before the kids has been good for me though. During the day and even after B gets home from work, I have very little time where I can sit quietly and think–and consequently, very little time for grief. It is hard to fully feel my emotions and really give my grief space when I’m reading a picture book to D, doing the dishes or helping Z with math. […]

I’ve been keeping up my daily writing practice–usually about 15 minutes during “quiet rest time” in the afternoon–I’ve been a little more strict about this time actually happening, since I’ve been getting more tired and needing the time to actually get off my feet and rest. […]

I know when Quarantine finally lifts we’ll shift again, but this is a pretty pleasant season actually–with all our natural space from each other being taken away from us by forced shelter-in-place, I’ve had to be more purposeful about making space for myself (hard to want to do) and learning how necessary that space is (hard to want to do until you find you have to do it).

My prayer is that I can continue to meet each new season with gratitude and hope.

Renee Emerson, Spring-to-Summer Rhythms

You have such potential, I tell the small oak tree that Tony found sprouting in a damp corner of the lawn, dropped there by a bird, I guess, or perhaps, now I think about it, from one of the oaks the railway men cut down some years ago, to clear the track, then brought the logs up to our barn, the thought not entering anyone’s head that this was not an end, only a beginning.

I draw the line at showing it the photo I took this morning of a great oak sweeping its low branches across sunlit bluebells and resist the weaving and unravelling of any stories of its possible future, after all none of us want our paths mapped out for us by others.

But look how the light on those young leaves illuminates the pulse of chlorophyll. Sometimes it’s the science that breaks open our hearts with gratitude.

Lynne Rees, Sometimes it’s the science…

How many times have I thought that I needed to go back and study medicine? Become a gardener, a carpenter – someone to be stuck on a desert island with.

And here we are, now: socially distanced. Each of us feeling a bit like an island. And each of us looking at what we valued in the work done by the people in our communities.

The nurses, yes. But the people who wash our desks, drive our buses, put the fresh fruit in the bins.

No one is banging on my door to hear me recite an original epic poem. But I find myself answering a phone call from a student on a Saturday afternoon. Because I want to. Because it is what I do.

Nine times out of ten I say the wrong thing. But I talk a lot, so there is that one time when I say what is needed.

And I know I threw out numbers, but I’m not keeping a tally: “You win some, you lose some.” 

I’ve stopped questioning motives. I’ve stopped thinking of myself as a character in a play. (An unexpected advantage to having aged-out of Hollywood storylines.)

Something has shifted in me. Somewhere along these last years I have lost a lot of need, and desire has flooded into that space. And I hadn’t even noticed.

Maybe every kind of truth, told or achieved, must be approached obliquely?

Tell all the truth but tell it slant  – Emily Dickinson

What do you fill your life with? What do you dare to take?

I do believe I am getting old: It’s not that I’ve lost ambition. I’ve lost fear. And it is wonderful.

I have a round life
and it keeps expanding, like
dough rising for bread.

Ren Powell, What We Do With Our Lives

There’s so much I want to say about the beauty of libraries. I’m not yet mourning or grieving the closure of the library. I guess I’m busy looking to the future of libraries. And let me say also, that I have no idea what they’ll be like. That’s not even really my job. I’m lucky that I work where I have perfect confidence in our library system and executive to guide us through this (I’m just gonna use the word however tired we are of it) unprecedented time. The one thing I do feel convinced of is that libraries will persist, they will lead, and they will find a way to do the important things that libraries have always done: libraries share knowledge, they help us to learn and grow, and they will find unique ways to do it.

Do I sound like a library infomercial? I mean, it’s fine if I do. I find hope in libraries, in my library, and I hope you do too. I’ve been criticized in the past for making libraries sound like simply happy cozy places, but I know about the layers; I have lived the layers. I have dived deeply into those layers. In my branch we have a lot of at-risk customers and difficult conversations and tricky behaviours, a lot of really difficult and rewarding and emotionally intense moments every single day. But we are instrumental in guiding and helping and referring people or just being there for them. In fact, that’s what I miss the most. I’ve had conversations with some of my co-workers about this — that this is what we miss most. Helping people. Being there. Listening. Making whatever small difference we’re able to. […]

There are so many things to say about libraries. But I think right now it’s okay just to love them. One of my favourite writers (C.D. Wright) once said about the trees in the Ozarks, “the trees true me.” I would amend that to, “libraries true me.” Wright said of poetry that “the radical of poetry lies not in the resolution of doubts but in their proliferation, in an ongoing interrogation with what Roberto Juarroz called the poet’s one untranslatable song.” What libraries do is what poetry does: they engage in a radical and ongoing interrogation with the untranslatable song of the universe. They live with doubts, they are interested in the human condition, they are never indifferent spectators.

Shawna Lemay, Are You Missing the Library?

I find myself missing my mom, even though she’s still alive, and I can call her later today. My mom is/was a great mom in so many ways, but the one that was perhaps most important to me was that she kept me supplied in books. Before I could drive myself to the library, she drove me and checked out as many books as I wanted (the Montgomery Alabama public library only allowed children to check out 5 books at a time–5 books??!!–I could read that amount in a lazy afternoon!). And when our family only had one car, we biked to the library. She was supportive in any number of my future endeavors too, like writing and drama and choosing a college and writing a dissertation and oh, the list is so long–but all those quests are rooted in my early reading. It was those books that showed me all the possible lives that humans could have. And it was my mom that made it possible for me to have books.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, “Necessity of Moisture”: A Poem for Mother’s Day

I knew only
my mother’s laugh,
her head thrown back,

my father’s tread
on the rising stairs,
and your silence.

Yet, even then,
its bending edge
cast light enough to read by.

Dick Jones, AIW – 2007

I don’t understand her terrible,
insatiable hunger. How she calls
through the day and night
to be fed,
           though she has eaten;
though the day is a conjugation of meals
that will pass through her as if
it is her ghost
                whose mouth closes around
the spoon and gums rice or bread
into pieces that can be swallowed.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem in Which the Woman I Knew Only as my Mother is Never Appeased

There have been many moments in the past two months when I was again thankful about not having my own children. About the choices I’ve made. Not just the more practical reasons of wanting time for myself, now more than ever, when I see others struggling with work and homeschooling and children that really don’t want to be inside and are going stir-crazy. That would be another life, of course, but I’m not sure I’d be as content in it as I am in my current one. Those desires could probably be called selfish by some , and maybe they are, but it’s a kind of selfish I think is okay. Women shouldn’t have to not be selfish if they don’t want to (and men don’t feel that sort of pressure at all, nor are they burdened with as much of the child-rearing.) But also, the whole other thing– the worry of having children in this world, whether they’re locked in the house, or worse out in the world. How I’m not sure my heart could handle that sort of strain, so endless hats off to all the mothers who manage it without their hearts utterly breaking in half.

Kristy Bowen, mothers and the worry monster

I have never been a mother
to any but four-legged creatures.
Suddenly I have this lethal urge
to hug this young man—
Coronavirus be damned—
tell him he is wonderful
and loved and the world is
better for his presence in it.

I do neither.
I don’t know him.
But I do wish him well
and thank him
for his heroism in this time.
I hope the world will be
the kind of mother
he needs most.

As for me,
today is as good a last day
on earth as any.
Though I’d rather rain
than this balmy sun.
I’ve had a mere five decades to
practice my humanity,
still very much a work in progress.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Mother’s Day Gift in the Pandemic

When I think of all the things my son is losing this year, I grieve. I tell myself that he’ll be okay, that he’s resilient, that he is learning good tools.

Time becomes fluid. The two months (so far) of sheltering in place and social distancing feel simultaneously shorter and longer than they measurably are.

And of course this is a journey of unknown duration. It’s easier if we know when a thing will end. There is absolutely no knowing when this will end.

And yet life goes on. I make coffee. I cook meals. My son does math problems, plays Minecraft, re-reads a favorite book. It’s like normalcy… almost.

I know how fortunate we are to have something like normalcy. I try not to think about how precarious that is. How easily these comforts could fall away.

Rachel Barenblat, Almost normalcy

In a phone conversation I try to tell my son, the Marine I don’t know when I’ll see again, how the world felt to me when I was growing up in my working class home. Although some definitely had more than others of us, I don’t remember any of the kids I went to school with worrying about food or living in cars or surfing for sofas to sleep on, the way so many do now. In my memory, almost everyone looked down upon racists and fascists and censorship and monopolies and religious zealots, and it was socially taboo to openly express that some of us were lesser than others of us–because we all knew such a belief was wrong. The people I knew respected science and education. We knew there were problems (racism, sexism, all the -isms), but there was such surety in our elders’ belief that we were forever on a march forward, that each generation would do better and have it better than the ones that came before it, their belief felt like fact.

No one I know feels that way now. “I’m worried for our kids,” we say to each other, not in large groups, but privately. Guiltily–not only for not passing on the same prospects, but for having had them when others did not. For not understanding, earlier, that not everyone had them and that others were working to strip them from many of us who did. For wondering what else we might not be seeing now, because having been profoundly blind once, we can surely be as blind again.

My son and I catalog all the ways in which his grandparents and I had it better than any other generations of Americans (including his), which, perhaps, makes us supremely unprepared for this time. “I feel soft,” I admit to him.

“I don’t want to go back in time,” I tell him. I don’t want to go back to an incomplete understanding of my country, or to a time in which so many people like me didn’t understand that only people who looked like us had the kind of security we took for granted. Still, I want my children–everyone’s children–to have what I had, and in profound ways they don’t. “It doesn’t have to be like this,” I say. “We could make so many things better for everyone.” I wonder if my belief is naive, as little tied to evidence as any faith.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What’s left

On Zoom today, I told about how wonderful it was to talk to my mom on the phone when I was young and alone and homesick on my own in the big city. Sometimes I’d call up and say, “I’m sad, sad, sad,” and she would help me remember the beauty of the world. Today on Zoom, my daughter began to tell how I helped her learn to breathe…to handle pain…and then she cried, and I cried, and the Zoom went on, and we had our quiet tears and quiet recovery, and here we are again.

Kathleen Kirk, Mother’s Day, Again

One of the first phrases I underlined in Ruth Dickey’s debut collection, Mud Blooms, occurs on page 5 in “Four-twenty-one,” a poem about a beloved calf Dickey’s parents wouldn’t let her name. It’s the last line: “my brother and me leaning on the fence, stretching our hands through.” The first poem, “Somoto, Nicaragua, #3,” tells you Mud Blooms will be about hunger, but by page 5 you see the book also concerns a longing for connection with the human and more-than-human world, past all the barriers thrown up by difference. Dickey expresses humility about these efforts, especially in her deeply moving poems about working at Miriam’s Kitchen in DC. She orders apples people can’t eat before she knows that “almost everyone who is homeless has dental problems”; “my stupidity galls me,” she adds in an intermittent, abecedarian prose poem sequence called “Alphabet Soup Kitchen.” Sometimes, too, Dickey doubts the worth of her own efforts, because homelessness and hunger are such huge, seemingly intractable problems. There’s so much loss and suffering here, but what impresses you most about the book is its big-heartedness and radical openness. I love this collection and the spirit that shines through it.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #10 with Ruth Dickey

A while back, I read an article about the lost art of memorizing poems, and I was intrigued. I resolved to build up a catalog of memorized poems, but I never followed through. Recently, this came up for me again and I decided to actually do it, starting with a beloved favorite, “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry. It’s short and has beats that make it easy to commit to memory, so I figured it was a good one to start with. I only started memorizing it a day or two ago so I don’t have it completely “in there” yet, but the process of memorizing it has given me an even deeper appreciation for the genius of this seemingly simple poem, which is not simple at all. It’s quite the musical feat, actually. I’m excited about this new plan of mine. I can already sense that this process will deepen my appreciation of poetry and help my own poetry improve. But more importantly, if we ever have gatherings again, it will be a great party trick to pull out.

Kristen McHenry, Warrior Mindset Meets Crushing Blow, Bright Spot, Literary Party Trick

I’ve finished Nan Shepherd’s A Living Mountain. I love her sweeping language, totally caught up in her place. As a sweet coincidence, my copy of A Scots Dictionary of Nature by Amanda Thomson has arrived. I knew the author as an artist before I left Scotland, so I was surprised to see there’s not a lot of illustrations in the book and they seem to be photographs. But I’m looking forward to rummaging through the book with ideas for writing. I don’t write in Scots often, but I love the feel of the words I do use. I mean, curl-doddy for a pine cone just screams ‘write a poem about me,’ doesn’t it?

I also ordered Moder Dy/ Mother Wave, a poetry collection by the Shetland writer Roseanne Watt. The poems flit between English and Shetlandic, sometimes as translations, sometimes within the same stanza. I can’t wait to have a look tonight when the craziness of home-schooling and kids has passed. I just had to interrupt writing this to help a child understand his math lesson and because another dropped a laptop on her lip?! But even the first poem pulls me in…

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Eight: Distracted

When I picked up Madwoman [by Shara McCallum] in my hands, noting what appears to be a scribble and a line drawn in crayon line and also noting its size (slightly larger than standard), I had the sense that I was about to embark on the kind of journey one enters when reading a child’s storybook out loud. And so I began with that feeling, best described, perhaps, at least for me, as a kind of tumbling. Remember rolling down hills as a kid? Anticipated dizziness. Invigoration. Fear. Speed and rocks as questions. The halt at the end both a relief and the realization of wanting more. Except for how the book felt in my hands, I am [not] entirely sure why I settled into reading the book to myself this way (the way we read to children), but I did. In a voice that wasn’t quite mine. In a rhythm that took over and propelled me (like that tumbling). In wide-eyed greeting of characters and struggles and triumphs. Whatever the impetus, I have to say that it worked. I don’t mean to imply that the verse is sing-song. It isn’t. I don’t mean to convey that its themes are simplistic. They are not. But there was something to feigning a kind of innocence in the beginning — and ultimately, of course, watching that innocence unwind itself — that really worked. […]

I can’t stop thinking about this pair of lines: “Stories wake in us what is inconsolable, / begin in us again our animal mewling.” It’s one reason I turn to poetry: to validate my thirst/hunger, which feels — regardless of what I’m craving — absolutely primal. Anyone else?

Carolee Bennett, “the sun / is a mound of butter”

If the mind were a bullet, perhaps it would never stop screaming. But I am not screaming. I am speaking to you in a whisper. I am saying my heart feels vast and bright, like an oasis of spilled ink when writing your name across the sky. I am saying there are bruises that leave the body when sung home by angels. That sometimes the breath calls the voice collect. Inside that breath and voice—light. Torn lives mended. Mended lives torn into the bright confetti for love’s parade. Perhaps I am not phrasing any of this in the right way. What I am trying to say is: we will all reach one another when the time is right.

Rich Ferguson, If the Mind Were a Bullet

Spring is only
this sauntering.

Its leaf-green
offering is

only a tug at
our wanting more

every day than
the grey memory

of winter’s
bitterness.

Tom Montag, SPRING IS ONLY

I had begun to envision this as a digital object, something you could watch while the erased words disappeared before your eyes, and the essay text appeared down the side of the virtual page. But I didn’t know how to do this, nor did I know how to contact an organization or person that did, nor did I know how I would get such a thing out into the world. So I created a paper-based version, at first having the essay text running sideways on each page, so you’d actually physically have to turn the page around. But some beta readers questioned this, so I ran the text across the bottom.

But the idea of a visual version haunted me, so I began experimenting with what software I did know how to use to try to approximate my vision. This was arduous and had several dead ends, but I finally figured out how to make it all happen in iMovie, and created some music/sound and manipulated some of my own photos.

So more than any other collection of poems, this one came together through a series of “lemme try thises” and “maybe I’ll try thats.” I felt through much of the process that I was moving through a combination of instinct and blunder, like walking around a familiar room but in the total dark. I was never entirely comfortable. It was a really stimulating process, and fun, in the end, if a bit bumbly in the middle.

So I encourage you to get uncomfortable. Turn out the lights, get up and wander around. Let something catch your eye and turn toward it, try it. Don’t think too much. Have a little fear, but not too much. Whether my book or video appeal to you or not, you will have a very interesting experience, I can promise you that.

Marilyn McCabe, I don’t know I don’t know; or, On Writing a Chapbook: The Story of Being Many Seeds

This is third haiku/lockdown post I’ve done and I’m beginning to realise I need to hang on to some poems, otherwise I won’t have anything to send out to magazines!

Still, I love the video poem format, no matter how cack-handed I am at it. Poem plus visual image gives such a neat little hit. Also, it’s made me focus on my surroundings and re-instilled a sense of place into my writing. Of course, the lockdown has done this too. I’ve had to stay local and I’ve had to stay in the moment. Form and content have come together in a way I hadn’t thought of as being my sort of thing. I tend to worry if I sit down to write (whether at home or in one of the excellent online workshops the Poetry Business have been running) and don’t produce a sizeable wordcount. Haiku force all that to one side. I’m tempted to sum it up as quality over quantity, except to put a ‘quality’ judgement on work that’s so recent is probably unfair, and not really in the spirit of the endeavour, which is simply this: to remain creative in these strange and difficult times.

I understand that many people’s lockdown experiences will be far more difficult and claustrophobic than mine, so I hope my focus on creativity doesn’t come across as shallow or selfish. It’s just my way of coping, and maybe it’s yours too.

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown #3

Little Richard’s
obituary on radio
I spill my soup

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 14

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, another onslaught of blog posts in my feed reader as a few more long-dormant bloggers emerged, now to post GloPoWriMo poems. Others, meanwhile, report feeling blocked or frustrated. Some are in domestic productivity mode. Some are fighting the virus. A few are too busy to feel much of anything but exhaustion or rage. By and large, it sounds as if poets are rising to the occasion.


The milk is spoiling, or has finished the job. The apple-a-day calendar is stuck at March 13, when I flew off despite misgivings about flying. Luckily I’d emptied the garbage, as I always do before leaving. The refrigerator and its white noise set to perpetual.

The collage clippings are scattered on the table, the needles are sunk in the pincushion at a courteous distance. Books, clothes… if I’d only thought a little further. My bag was lightly packed.

Sarah J Sloat, The empty apartment

Of course we introverts have feelings.  We know that real grief is sometimes too deep for words.  The Covid-19 plague blew in with a whiplash of emotional states, laced with adrenaline and black humor.  I made jokes, rolled my eyes in the vertigo of each shifting reality, rode the waves of social media — until the torrent of words, emotions, anger, f-words, words, words, f-words, knocked me down.

What exhausted me was the snap mastery, the fear-driven rush to judgment.  Then the need, akin to the Biblical Job’s friends, to mouth all-knowing vindications of tragedy.  It didn’t leave much room for the kind of tongue-tied response of silence and awe that made me sit, shaken and numb and full of longing. I pulled in and pulled from my shelf the books of my companion poets.  In the language game, whose words would stand up to reality? Great artists who had taken harrowing journeys and sent word back.  Those guides brought me across the void, helped me mourn and feel sorrow for the immensity of what is being lost.

The weeks since then have been spinning by.  Spring is celebrating itself.  Pink buds wave towards the future while we are stuck on reruns.  The new reality is taking shape.  It is technological.  It is busy while being stilled.  It used to be a metaphor that if you’re not online, you’re invisible.  Now it is a reality.  

Jill Pearlman, The Introvert’s Guide to the New Reality

Being an extrovert means I get energy from being around other people. This is one reason I love, and very much miss, my gym. It’s not just that the OrangeTheory Fitness workouts are hard and great, it’s that I’m working out with a group of people. And because my preferred time to workout was 5am, I was working out with the same group of early risers every morning. We were a community who knew each other by name and chatted happily, if sometimes sleepily, before starting our workout. Now my days start with a solo run, followed by solo yoga and solo TRX and then a solo hike with my dog. I’m still fit and healthy but I miss people. I miss high-fiving friends after a hard set, or cheering on someone as they push hard on the rower or treadmill or pick up heavier weights than usual. I miss the comradery.

Poetry is what I usually turn to in times of emotional turmoil but lately, the words haven’t been flowing as much as I’d like. April is National Poetry Month and in years past I’ve participated in 30/30 – 30 poems in 30 days, writing one poem per day. This year I’m not setting this goal as I don’t honestly think I’d be able to do it and I don’t want to feel bad or guilty or like I’m underachieving if I don’t write a poem each day. Instead I’m reading a lot of poetry and when the words come, I capture them, grateful to have them and have this outlet.

So I’m celebrating National Poetry Month by being gentle with myself, by being kind to myself, and not setting expectations so high that I’m certain to be disappointed. I’m surrounding myself with beautiful words and hopefully, this will inspire me to write some of my own. But this year, it’s okay if it doesn’t. This year is different from any I’ve experienced and so I’m taking it a day at a time, letting my heart lead me where it needs to go.

Courtney LeBlanc, Celebrating

As a comfort during this strange and difficult time, I am re-reading Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, first read in childhood. I recalled the March family hunkered at home during the war between the states, their father off serving as a chaplain for the army, but little did I know quite how much their situation would resonate now!

When I picked up my book this morning, opening to where my bookmark had fallen in place the night before, the little women and their mother had received news of the illness of Mr. March. Illness in war is common, and our big flu pandemic of 1918 happened in war, and here we are again. So Marmee, as her daughters call her, packs a trunk and heads off to tend him, leaving the little women on their own, in the care of Hannah the cook, and with the protection of the neighbor, Mr. Laurence, and his grandson, Laurie.

The next morning, they wake to the completely changed circumstances. “’I feel as if there had been an earthquake,’ said Jo…” Indeed!

Kathleen Kirk, The Pertinence of Little Women

yes i do kiss you
right now in plain sight
right here on this park bench

in front of the ducks
in front of the trees
still bare from winter

in front of the broken
clouds in front
of the person

biking past
face covered
with a bandana

bandit-style
in front of the person
with the Ronald-

McDonald hair
turning away
from two old people

kissing, standing,
walking this little dog
crowding our feet, one

of your hands filled
with litter collected from
the river bank the other filled

with mine yes do hold
my hand, hold my hand,
hold tighter

Sharon Brogan, Day One of the Pandemic

Strange to move so poorly in these woods, shortened steps so slow: the last time I moved with such caution in here it was my back that was halved. Freshly screwed and stapled, bones on fire and nerve signals still scrambled: the risk of falling was severance, then.

Now, it’s lungs on fire, covid’s chest-spreader cracking sternum on each breath.

But better, today, eighteen days in: enough that I can slow-walk crackle and snap past the vixen’s den and down, all the way to the stream, past vulpine latrine (territory’ edge) and deer, past bear scat and scratches.

Quartz extrusions, some lifted into walls, some still in situ, are bleached to bone.

Near the water, a snapped pine is a hundred years of falling in a moss-encroached grave. It means something different to me than to others here.

In this difference, the severance. The fall.

JJS, Crack

The tradition says each of us is to see ourselves as though we ourselves had been brought out of Mitzrayim. I don’t know about you, but the idea that we are living in Mitzrayim — the Narrow Place; tight constriction; dire straits — feels very real to me this year. If we are feeling constricted, anxious, afraid, uncertain, maybe newly-aware of some of our society’s fundamental inequalities and the harm they cause to the most vulnerable… then we are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be.

When we left that Narrow Place, we didn’t know where we were going. We didn’t have time to fully prepare for our journey of transformation. We didn’t know where we were going or how we would get there. We left the Narrow Place anyway, because it had become clear that staying where we were — staying with the status quo — meant death. If we are feeling unready, unprepared, maybe thrust into a journey we don’t know how to take… then we are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be.

Rachel Barenblat, We are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be

I signed up to receive daily writing prompts from Two Sylvias Press, and I’m planning to go back to them at some point, but I can’t find the release valve on my writing brain to let the words just come.

Instead, I catch myself staring out the window for long stretches, watching the new hickory leaves unfurl. I’ve been walking my dog and letting him get filthy in the pond where pollen pools on the surface like a film of a crushed hard boiled egg yolk. I’m washing my hands probably more than I need to, considering the raw, chapped patches on the left hand.

I’ve re-started my personal yoga practice finally, although I have taken a few Zoom classes. It’s hard for me to pin myself down to a specific time to practice now that the classes are streamed live. When I’m home, I don’t usually keep to a schedule.

But maybe a schedule is what I need, especially if I want to beckon my creative mind. Sitting myself at my desk or out on the back porch with a pen and a notebook every day, just like I roll out my mat. Yoga, meditation, and writing are interconnected for me. One leads to another.

As far as The Wasteland goes, last year I was emerging from a painful depression during April, and I agreed with Eliot’s first line that “April is the cruelest month,” though maybe it was for different reasons than his own intentions for writing.

This year April is also a cruel month. Just when the earth is greening in the Northern hemisphere, thousands of people are dying. It’s a sorrow that’s hard to reconcile with the season.

Christine Swint, Poetry Month

My English A-level was combined Language and Literature. I had a different teacher for each, and each had their own collection of classrooms. There is no denying that studying Thomas Hardy’s poetry from a language perspective was a huge influence in starting me writing my own poems, but a heavily-annotated copy of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Other Poems — not much larger than a pamphlet — was, and remains, a definite influence on my writing. I suspect that if it’d not been heavily annotated then it wouldn’t have fired my imagination. Learning how a poet could hide so many meanings beneath the words was fascinating. We weren’t studying Eliot at all, I found the book at the back of a cupboard, but I took the book home and devoured it!

Giles L. Turnbull, The Top Ten Books that have Inspired me (as a Reader and a Writer), Part 1

We have gained some perspective in the pandemic. We now know that Italo Calvino would have been more useful as a grocer. Clarice should have been an emergency doctor. And, of course, Mark Rothko should have used his time more wisely and become a rich businessman. Mir Taqi Mir should have at least composed a couplet in praise of Dettol’s scent. And Ghalib should have been a manufacturer of hand sanitizers. We have certainly gained some perspective. Pianos should be repurposed into something that will be more useful to society. I demand that from now on no resource should be wasted on the production of canvases or brushes. Every piece of stone should be used to build a useful building. I know I sound a bit radical but – hear me out – I think even flowers should be replaced with vegetables. The pandemic has taught us some important lessons. Alas, history cannot be changed! If only physics had enough funding, we would’ve been able to travel back in time and knock some sense into Bach’s head. Oh what a waste of talent! But at least now we have learnt our lesson. The other day, I don’t know why a man looked at me like I were crazy when I asked him which page of Baudelaire should be used as toilet paper first?

Saudamini Deo, Lockdown diary / 5-6-7-8

My watch conked out yesterday. Suddenly it was half past five and actually it was five to six. So now I live watch-less.

Just as well. I have started reading How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (thank you Shawna Lemay for the recommendation):

Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram act like dams that capitalize on our natural interest in others and an ageless need for community, hijacking and frustrating our most innate desires, and profiting from them. Solitude, observation, and simple conviviality should be recognized not only as ends in and of themselves, but inalienable rights belonging to anyone lucky enough to be alive.’ 

Well, I have been having quite a lot of conviviality and connection right by my front gate, thanks to being in the garden so much. I have had more conversation these last two weeks than I have had for months. Even with strangers.

What is that telling me?

Anthony Wilson, Practice

I have washed my hands for twenty seconds
with soap and music. I have gloves to wear.
I have dreamed up a house with invisible walls
That let me see the sun and the moon and the trees,
Oh let me be trapped there for forty days
And forty nights, like Jesus in the desert.

James Lee Jobe, I have washed my hands for twenty seconds

So how barbaric is it to write poetry during a pandemic? How wrong to suppress a pang of guilt at the thought that there are people dying out there, while I’m fiddling with words? And if I need to keep fiddling to stay sane, should I perhaps hide that discordant, painful music under a bushel?

I keep hearing from friends, family, and the ubiquitous newsfeed in my mailbox that things will get worse before they get better. Things already are unimaginably tragic for so many families around the world. I’m afraid that thinking of worse things yet to come might somehow bring them into being. I must shift my focus or succumb to anguish for my children’s future.

Outside, the birds, the insects, the trees, and the flowers are busy making spring happen. I feel joy and gratitude when I watch them. Their tiniest gestures acquire instant symbolism, becoming a sign of hope, of resilience, of triumph over despair. All around me, nature breathes and sends her messengers to knock on my doors, my windows, my forehead. They all know something I don’t–or have chosen not to acknowledge. Not yet. I must keep watch. Any day now, I’ll find out what nature has been hiding from me. What she’s been telling me all along.

So there it is, my reason for fiddling. I’m trying to bring about spring. It’s the only way I know how.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 0

If you had asked me 3 days ago how I was, I’d probably have broken down in tears. Home schooling is breaking me, but I’ve had a few days respite as the kids were away to their dad’s so I’ve been able to catch up with my studies, go to the allotment, hang some photos that have been sitting unloved for years, do some reading and crafting and, most importantly for the blog, join in with Angela Carr’s new 30 day writing challenge which coincides with GloPoWriMo (or NaPoWriMo if you insist on being US-centric) the poetry writing month which encourages people to write a poem a day. And so far because of the isolation I’ve been able to keep up. Four new rough drafts done and as soon as I hit Publish for this I’ll start on the next one. 

In honour of GloPoWriMo, I usually include a poem by a poet I like. This time I’m including The Hill Burns by the Scottish writer Nan Shepherd. I have to admit I’ve never read her poems before, but I’ve recently started her book The Living Mountain which is part of a online read-along started by nature writer Rob MacFarlane. I  haven’t been able to keep up with the read-along and discussion, but it’s worth following Rob on Twitter and reading his books, he has a lovely way with words and inspiring people to explore nature and to write about it. I’ve only managed The Wild Places and The Lost Words (written with Jackie Morris and with her beautiful illustrations, a magical book) so far as it’s hard to get his books here, but I’m in a queue of about a million waiting for his latest book Underland once the libraries reopen here in Helsinki. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Three – Chinks of Light

nanny state‬
‪the goats take over‬
‪roaming‬

Jim Young [no title]

I finished reading Margaret Atwood’s 2000 book, Cat’s Eye. After ten years of mostly reading and writing poetry, I’ve regained an appetite for fiction.  I enjoyed the book very much and it felt luxurious to spend long days with the same characters, visiting another section of their lives each time I picked up the book.  It’s hard to replicate that experience when reading poetry. However, at the book’s end, I wasn’t hit by a sensation of something profound, exact and transformative.  I didn’t deeply recognise a human emotion conveyed in the story – or, if I did, the poet in me couldn’t help asking  did we need 421 pages to say that?  Could it have been said in 14 lines?

I’ve had some extremely happy moments this week: discovering that both of my now adult children can cook; watching my 19 year old son teaching himself to do handstands and cartwheels in our back garden; being in awe of my 20 year old student daughter’s ability to focus on her academic work in a houseful of people, one of whom plays his music ridiculously loud.  We’re very lucky to be in lockdown together and not alone.  I’ve felt guilty for feeling happy in the middle of an international crisis.

I’ve been trying to write a poem but I’m scuppered by the old adage of a watched pot never boils.  I need to quickly look away and let the poem do some of its work without me.

Josephine Corcoran, Corona Diary: Lockdown Continues

We should have known it well
it thrives. indeed, on being human
our touching each other; hands on face
speak out loud, droplets & breath
hold on to the handrail
move down the carriage,
use all available space
it’s proximity & closeness
shaking hands, kissing once or twice,
(don’t stand so/don’t stand so close to me)
the embrace, the popping in,
the cup of tea, the walk together,
y’alright mate,
saying cheers, give me five,
would you like a top-up,
anytime, here for you.
And they thought we could raise fences

Ernesto Priego, The Plague

Last April, I challenged myself to write a poem a day and posted the drafts on this blog. That turned out to be a useful experience, but I feel no need to repeat it. This year, I want to post about some new(ish) books of poetry. Not critiques or book reviews, just what the poems evoke for this particular reader.

~

First up– Lynn Levin‘s The Minor Virtues, 2020, Ragged Sky Press. The cover’s appropriate to the month: a lovely image of dogwood blossoms. And I have to admit that what drew me into the book is the charming mundanity of the first few poem titles, in which the speaker is tying shoelaces or buying marked-down produce. Most of the poems in the first section begin with a gerund phrase and place the reader in a present-progressive act of doing something. The poems here feel so grounded in reality (quite a few are sonnets), often humorous–grabbing the wrong wineglass at a banquet, trying to think about nothing–that I immediately settled in to the pages.

The topics, or the reflective closures, move toward seriousness at times; her poem “Dilaudid” shook me awake and left me in admiration for a number of reasons (some of them personal resonance–but). Levin’s humor tends to be intellectual–wordplay, allusions, wry asides–and I revel in that sort of thing. Her approach to craft also works for me, because she’s usually subtle going about form or rhyme schemes, so I enjoy the poem for what it says and means and then enjoy it again for how it’s structured and inventive.

I mean, that’s one way I read poems. There are other ways. Some books carry me pell mell through word-urgency or the writer’s rage or passion and some build lyrical intertwining networks of imagery and some make their own rules and some stagger me with their innovation. And I may have to be in the right mood to read a collection.

I was in the right mood to read Levin’s book. It was a good way to begin National Poetry Month in the midst of stay-at-home mandates, taking me gently through a “normal life” and reminding me of all that is surprising there, the riddles and the unexpected, the minor virtues and the actions we take as we practice them. Whether or not we think of them as virtues.

Ann E. Michael, Reading poems

How many hands move to tell the story when
the voice is lost, the voice is a violin throbbing
with loss, the voice has become a ghost, mute
and moving. The hands beat the body like a drum
and hum, the hands beat the drum as if it tells
the stories, the hands beat and are beaten. That
is the tale that must be told, the surprise ending.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah as Sheherazade

And now, the wisdom/advice/guidance comes for all of us to wear masks when we’re out in public. Of course, the nation faces a shortage of medical grade masks that might actually block the virus, but there’s some thought that a cloth mask might help.

I do have a lot of cloth that I could use to create masks. If only I had time to sew.

I see various types of posts from people who are holed up in quarantine who have made thousands of masks or written the definitive biography of Julian of Norwich or made their thirty-sixth loaf of homemade bread with sourdough starter that they created with native yeasts that they captured in their back yard. I have spent this past work week in the office.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Longest Week

Anyway, long story short, I am masking at work now, and it’s weird both physically and psychologically. It feels alien to have a piece of material covering over half my face. It’s hot, it’s vaguely itchy, it smells disconcertingly medical, and I am brushing my teeth and rinsing with mouthwash multiple times per day because I can’t tolerate even the slightest whiff of odor on my breath. With the amount of coffee I’m sucking down these days, this is a challenge. I’ve always been very paranoid about my breath as it is, and I’m one of those people who compulsively pop Altoids and breath gums. Now there is no escaping the smell of my own breath. I’m going to have a get a handle on this neurosis because skipping lunch and living on Dentyne is not a sustainable option.

With the advent of the mask, I’ve ditched the lipstick (the masks go to be reprocessed and they can’t reprocess a mask that has lipstick stains on it), and I have decided to go minimalist on the makeup. I just brush on a little mascara and call it good, which saves me a remarkable amount of time in the mornings.I’ve also taken to wearing tennis shoes because I’m constantly running to our Entry Control Points to deal with issues and my normal work shoes aren’t great for clocking miles on a hard surface.No one’s said anything about the tennis shoes. The way things are going, I could probably get away with jeans and hoodies at this point.This same sort of sartorial breakdown also happened during the strike, with senior management all but wandering around in their pajamas towards the end. The near-total breakdown of professional appearance is an interesting signifier of a crisis.

Kristen McHenry, Reaction Time, Sartorial Signifier, Future Cave Woman

cornmeal into the blue bowl
flour into the blue bowl
my son stands in the kitchen
to tell me the news
no no not now I say the last
of the baking powder
sifts into the blue bowl people
are dying he says no no
I say salt and sugar
into the blue bowl he tells
me about a ship in New York
I stir with my fingers he
keeps talking I add buttermilk
into the blue bowl he says
there is no room for the bodies
I crack two brown eggs
on the blue bowl’s rim
then I pour in honey
my son describes body bags
lining the harbor worse
than war honey rises to the bowl’s
blue lip I keep pouring honey
oozes out of the blue bowl
onto the counter then the floor
I keep at the honey pouring
pouring the floor thick
with it I can barely move
my feet soon my calves
are covered I pour honey
until it shimmers golden heavy
around my waist fills the kitchen
above my shoulders pressed
to my sides the most intense
perfume I pour in enough honey
to flood the yard now I see the sun
right out that window the sun
stupid and round as any
discarded toy

Rebecca Loudon, corona 10.

Still: dead labor asserts its claim. The workers and exploited ones. Slaves and caretakers. The nameless, lost, derided. The invisible. All the others. The child in the cobalt mine living inside your battery. They live in each head as well as in the complex of social fact. An entire civilization is dedicated to consuming and concealing them. How long does something like this last? How long can it? Never to confront the discarded traces. To build an infinity from denial. Acceleration as the energy required to sustain the denial forestalling absolute cataclysm. Who speaks to and for those inside of us, which we ourselves are inside of in turn? Who admits those who refuse to be part of the “I”?

Rimbaud learned early: “I is an other.” The fundamental insight. As revolutionary and poetic truth.

R.M. Haines, Identity and Its Discontents: Notes on Rimbaud

[…]They bring him wrapped, calf muscles buckled
from what the human body is not meant to do –
walk three hundred miles, drop like a yellowed leaf
to be rested under the cassia tree in full bloom
just a mile from home.

The context:
After the 21 day lockdown in India to contain the spread of Coronavirus, the states have closed their borders, bus and train services have been suspended. The lockdown has left tens of millions of migrant workers unemployed. They are from rural India, small towns and villages, but live most of the year in India’s megacities. Believed to number at least 120 million, possibly more, they are walking to their homes, hundreds or thousands of miles away from where they had migrated for work.

A 23 year old man walking from Nagpur in Maharashtra to Namakkal in Tamil Nadu, after completing 500 kilometers in the summer heat of the southern Indian plains, died of cardiac arrest in Secunderabad, many miles away from home.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Walk

I was surprised to see this week that my writing has finally turned. After months and months of writing despairing poems, I can see more light and hope in my work now. I saw a few glimmers of this before the quarantine, but what I can really pin it down to is my daily practice of writing a single description of what is around me–focusing on the here and now has brought about more hopeful poems. I was hoping to get there, to not write the darkest of poems forever (and it felt like forever). The grief is still there, and the loss, and I don’t suspect that it will go away any time soon or ever, but I am so relieved to see the Light there as well.

Renee Emerson, the turn

(lack begins as a tiny rumble), a brand new collection by my pressmate Caroline Cabrera, belies its title: these hybrid poems, almost lyric essays, brim with language that nourishes me. Pain and grief are starting points, but line by line, with amazing persistence, Cabrera digs herself out of those very dark places. Sisterhood helps, but so does a renegotiation of her relationship with her own body. “The womb is a world,” she writes in one poem, clarifying that image with the eye-opening closure, “Our first act is one of emigration.” In many poems, too, Cabrera unfolds what it means to be a blonde-haired Cuban American: “My skin keeps me safe. My blood, it boils in me.” My own concentration is poor these days, but this book riveted me. Bonus: the collection includes great poems about toxic bosses. I really appreciate poems about toxic bosses.

This book, by the way, feels very much in sisterhood with Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen, star of my last salon, but really I’m just contacting people with new books and posting these interviews in the order I receive them. I’m really enjoying this project, as well as the new books it’s leading me through. Virginia’s governor just gave a stay-at-home order. I totally agree with it, but it makes connecting through writing more important than ever.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Poetry Salon #5 with Caroline Cabrera

This is a tough, tough time for all of us. In that context, it’s important to empathise with others such as publishers who’ve seen their distributors close down, festivals/readings cancel (where poetry is most often sold) and new books lose the impetus of launches. Of course, it also goes without saying that the poets in question are suffering too. They might well have been working away on a manuscript for years, only to find that publication turns into a damp squib.

One of those cases is David J. Costello and his first full collection, Heft, which has just been published by Red Squirrel Press. David had a whole host of launches and readings lined up, but he’s seen all of them gradually disappear for the foreseeable future. I was fortunate enough to read a proof of his book prior to going to press, and here’s the endorsement that I provided:

David Costello’s poetry is especially adept at evoking the passing of time. Throughout this collection, he portrays the ambiguities and ambivalences of relationships between the individual and the collective, the human and the natural, the historical and the present, moving his readers in every poem.’

Moreover, you can read three poems from Heft over at Elizabeth Rimmer’s blog, BurnedThumb, where she generously held a virtual launch for the collection. If that then encourages you to get hold of a copy for yourself, you can do so via the Red Squirrel Press website here.

Matthew Stewart, David J. Costello’s Heft

Scientists say the teeny virus isn’t alive,
exactly, just a bit of protein that possesses
our same uncanny drive to reproduce,
replace, and colonize everything
not itself with acres of its progeny.

O, the irony of being done in
by a beast with our selfsame gluttony.

But love, for this moment now,
let us set aside these fears and feast
on eggs and apples, allow me
to nourish you with all the love I can,
every sacred mouthful.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Feast and Fear in the Time of Coronavirus

There are worse places to shelter. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel an enormous sense of gratitude. And yes, it’s time to think about moving back home. We’re ready–almost.

****

Blogging keeps me limber. Gives me something to do in between binge-watching episodes of Chicago P.D., and 30 Rock with my daughter. It’s also a good way to open up my brainspace to poems.

****

I’m participating in two writing groups for National Poetry Month. Pandemic poetry seems to be a theme in both. Truth is, I have been writing fairly consistently for months. It has certainly ramped up the last three weeks after I broke up with my boyfriend.

January Gill O’Neil, Kibbles and Bits

From the crossweave of the song, I stepped into the cry
of gulls. Sickle wings looped and turned in the dark.
I sat on the wall and thought of home. I lifted my face

into the rain and thought of you and the children. All of you
asleep – your hair auburn-red over the counterpane,
their faces spellbound. And I called along the alleys

of the rain and out across the tenements of clouds
to where you lay sleeping, thinking not to wake you but
just to stand for a heartbeat at the corner of your dreams.

Dick Jones, UNDER BLUE ANCHOR

Despite my frequently dire tone here, I am an idealist and an eternal optimist. (It’s why I’m so often angry and railing.) “This is an opportunity,” I have said to anyone who might listen. “Here is our chance to do things differently, to see our mission differently, to really think about what matters in education.”

Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I mean, maybe. But not this week, and surely not next.

Instead of releasing much of the utter crap that permeates public education, it feels as if our state has doubled down on it (as have many states). We love to talk about “trauma-informed practice” and “culturally-responsive teaching” until we’re blue in the face, but we are about to embark on delivering “education” in a time of tremendous trauma in ways that are likely to exacerbate it, especially for our most vulnerable students.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirus diary #4: the wrong kind of hard

Nearly every day I share stories with a stranger thanks to Quarantine Chat. Recently I talked to an older gentleman in Canada who is staying at his fishing cabin. When we talked he’d just come in from what he said would be the last ice fishing of the season. He reported that, once again, he didn’t catch anything. I asked how often his ice fishing was successful. “It’s always successful, in that I get outside for a few hours of peace. But it’s 100 percent unsuccessful if you mean catching anything after decades of trying,” he said. His good cheer couldn’t help but cheer me. I’ve talked to people in Spain,  Russia, Israel, and many U.S. states — a graduate student, business owner, graphic artist, stay-at-home dad, insurance broker, teenaged musician, police officer. We talk about what we can see out our windows, how our plans have changed, what worries us most, what we’re having for supper. It’s like any conversation, except it’s easier to get past the superficial.

Yesterday’s call was with a retired veteran who said he was really struggling with anxiety. I asked if he had a family story, maybe even from generations ago, that made him feel he and his kids would get through this. He told me about his grandmother, who was the first Black woman in their city to become a bus driver. He called her a “little powerhouse of a lady.” He said she was a woman of faith who also took  “no guff” from anybody. Once, he said, she was robbed as she was walking to the side entrance of her apartment building. She never carried a purse, but pulled a worn Bible out of her coat pocket and told the desperate young man holding a knife, “Take this, it has all my treasure inside.” He grabbed it and ran off, assuming she had money stuffed in its pages. She turned and hurried after him. When he threw it down after rifling it through, she picked it up moments later. The police declined her offer to dust it for finger prints. The veteran said he had lots of stories about his grandmother, and realized he hadn’t told them to his daughters. “I see her in my girls,” he said. “They’ve got her fight and her big heart.”

Laura Grace Weldon, Stories: Now More Than Ever

Don’t socially distance yourself from your inner wisdom.

Don’t wear a noose for a necklace.

Don’t confuse a museum with a mausoleum, or a Cajun with a contagion.

Don’t think Gucci is better than Fauci.

Don’t think life is all one-sided when 6 can be 9.

Don’t confuse your coffee with a coffin, or you may drink yourself to death.

Don’t linger with a bee’s stinger. Don’t hide your wounds when they make you a warrior.

Don’t ask for a half-moon when you want the whole night to shine.

Don’t stop believin’ when self-quarantinin’.

Rich Ferguson, Gucci vs. Fauci

What a difference a week makes… I’ve been attempting to stay positive this week, but it was getting tricky towards the end of the week as work got busier. I heard Susanna Reid (Saint Susanna) mention something called F.O.N.D.A or Fear of Not Doing Anything. A distant cousin of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out – where have you been?), FONDA is a new one of these horrible bloody feelings we’re all meant to have according to the culture sections of broadsheets. Apparently, we’re meant to be using this time to learn Sumerian or how to perform brain surgery and recreate Citizen Kane in stop motion using only Lego minifigs or repurposed Barbie Dolls.

Well fuck that. It’s a lovely idea, and I hope you get the chance to learn a new skill and to make the most of this time. I’ve not seen any evidence of it happening for me yet. I’m too busy, either working or drinking to forget. I can’t concentrate on anything else for long enough.

Add in to this the fact that NaNoWriMo has arrived and that means signs of people being busy/writing loads…It’s almost too much. I’m not anti-NaNoWriMo (despite tweets to the contrary), I just can’t do it.

Mat Riches, Accentuate the positive

Rats in the pantry chew through boxes
of shredded wheat and start in
on the rice. We can’t keep the outside

out, anymore than we can keep
the inside in. In the freezer, a dozen
corpse cows, 40 chickens missing

their heads. How long does it take
to move through that much flesh?
Gnawing our way to hunger with sharp,

angry teeth?

Kristy Bowen, napwrimo  | day 5

Cleaning is what I do when everything else feels out of control. My parents used to ride on me unmercifully for my reluctance to clean my desk, my room, my dresser drawers — I always had something more compelling to do, and it just didn’t feel important; besides, I knew where everything was. Oddly, once I had my own spaces and shared them with a partner, I got neater — though there have always been neglected areas. But when unhappiness or chaos or uncertainty seep into my world, I’ve noticed that I instinctively look for things to do that feel ordered, methodical, and incremental: making a patchwork quilt, knitting stitch after stitch, practicing music or a language, following a complicated recipe, taking the food out of the fridge and scrubbing the shelves. There’s a quiet satisfaction today in opening the door to the spice cabinet and seeing the neatly-labeled jars and tins; maybe today I’ll do another drawer of my desk. It’s all easier than staring at a blank screen, wondering what I can possibly write to make sense of this thing that’s happening to all of us — but, ironically, that time spent doing mundane tasks is when the ideas come, and I’ve learned to trust that, too.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 12. The Spice Cabinet

We are not
what we think
we are

until we
dream: then
we are

what we are,
everywhere
at once.

Tom Montag, We Are Not

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 11

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week, the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic hit home for most Americans when almost all sports were cancelled, most schools and universities were closed, and everyone but the immortal youth began to practice “social distancing” in a desperate attempt to flatten the rate-of-infection curve and prevent our absurd, profit-driven healthcare system from being completely overwhelmed. I think we can expect all forms of online activity to blossom in the coming weeks, including literary blogging and all manner of social-media-enabled reading and writing exercises. (Scroll down a bit for an invitation to one promising, free daily workshop that Trish Hopkinson shared.) In the meantime, here’s how the Anglophone poetry blogosphere is adjusting to this new reality.


In the dream I stood facing a window in an empty house, arranging some plates that were not mine in an unfamiliar room. I turned, and saw our late friend Jenny, sitting on a couch or bench, dressed in white, her hair long and wavy as it was many years ago. She smiled her inimitable smile, and we talked, but I can’t remember our words or what they were about — what I remember are her face, the whiteness and emptiness of the room, and its calmness.

After I woke up, I knew this dream had something to do with the virus and our fears of death, but that it also had to do with the endurance of friendship and love. Today I called several friends and wrote to others; my father and another friend called us; I made soup and cornbread for lunch and sent some across the city to a dear friend who’s been sick with seasonal flu. I thought about our cathedral and its motto, “An Oasis in the Heart of Montreal,” and what that could mean not just to our community but to the city at large, if we can manage to be creative and innovative in our outreach even while regular services are suspended. It was a sunny day, a bit warmer than usual, and my husband and I went out for a long walk. This evening, in the new, longer-lasting light, we ventured out onto our nearly snowless terrace with our gin-and-tonics, and toasted each other and the coming spring before scooting back inside.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 2

Before sitting down to post today, I was struggling with how honest to be. I don’t want to add to the alarm and panic, and I don’t want anyone to feel that they should need to worry about me. But my work week last week was one of the hardest I have ever been through. Almost all of our volunteers have been furloughed or have left of their own accord, and my job, which I loved and and was good at, has morphed into something else entirely, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be coming back in any recognizable form any time soon. We are under the Emergency Command structure at the hospital, and all hands are on deck for dealing with the coming influx. There is a barrage of COVID-19 information coming at me all day, every day, and we are in constant reactive mode and working long hours. It’s extremely draining. I am fighting hard not to sink into a depression. I miss the familiar faces I’m used to seeing every day, and I miss the gym with a huge lump in my throat. I had no idea how much of a mental and emotional haven it had become for me, and not having it in my life during this time of extreme stress has made everything that much worse. I’m irritable and short-tempered, I’m drinking too much coffee because I want to sleep all of the time if I don’t, and I don’t have any appetite. I’m crying almost every day, and that’s normally rare for me.

The loss of the familiar is very real, and I am grieving. But I am pushing myself to adjust to this new normal, to keep going and to be strong because I love my community and I love my hospital, and I was put here to serve—and serve I will do. This not the only time in history that communities have gone through huge, reality-bending changes in their daily lives, and I take inspiration in the toughness of those who have gone before. Many have been through far worse throughout history, and when we’re on the other side of this, I will remain standing.

Kristen McHenry, Hard Times and Hard Honesty, Two-Fisted Escape Artist, Sweatin’ to the 80’s

As a poet, I’m used to being a little bit low-profile, but today I had a front-page story on Salon.com, “Marriage in the Time of Coronavirus,” a place I’ve wanted to publish in since its inception. The story in my perspective on living with my husband in a stressful quarantine situation, with several chronic illnesses, in the epicenter of the Coronavirus Pandemic. I’ve put some of the details of how it’s been coping with ER visits and empty shelves here right next to the hospital where the majority of the US deaths from Coronavirus have occurred on this blog, but this is in the form of a lyric essay hybridized with journalism. I hope it is helpful and gives you some perspective on how it may be in other US cities in the next weeks to come.

Just for some perspective, in my state, there have been 40 deaths and 642 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus, most of them in King County. Most of the deaths have happened in my neighborhood. It’s not an abstraction for us. This week, the zoo, the Japanese garden, and 50 restaurants closed, as well as the winery next to my house, the beautiful Chateau Ste Michelle. All public and private schools were closed, and universities, and churches. Meetings of over 250 are forbidden.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Love in the Time of Coronavirus on Salon, Two Poems in EcoTheo, and Getting an MRI with Flowers in the Epicenter

It was during evening drive time I was thinking what a hit culture in the country is taking. I know for example our symphony is canceling events. I assume theaters are as well. So too I would think that local poetry readings are being canceled. I certainly will not be making the rounds and this is sad but the right thing to do.

In an effort to keep poetry before the public during this dark period, I plan to share on social media some of my favorite poets and poems. The same with music.  It is at times like these we most need poems and music to speak to our soul. I hope others will do the same.

In closing I would encourage people to rely on the CDC as well as state and local health departments for information concerning issues related to your own health.  Please keep in mind it is important to consider your own health, but those you come in contact with.  Even if you have a mild case, realize you may be placing others with high risk factors in serious danger.

Michael Allyn Wells, Entering Culturally Dark Days Ahead.

When my students asked me last week–during our final in-person classes, as it turns out–how I thought the virus would develop or whether W&L would switch to online instruction soon, I offered guesses with the caveat, “But I’m not an authority on this. My thoughts about poetry are worth something; otherwise I’m just an average person who reads the news.”

These days I don’t feel like an authority on poetry, either–at least not about how to generate enthusiasm for poems when most-in person gatherings are canceled. My fifth full-length collection, The State She’s In, officially launches this week. I’m proud of this book and have been laboring hard to set up readings this spring, basically performing the job of a part-time publicist as well as full-time professor. They’re dropping away fast. Pre-launch copies have been available from the publisher, Tinderbox Editions, since AWP (I think the discount code AWP2020 still works), but I wasn’t able to sign it there, and I just postponed my local book party, too. These cancellations absolutely need to happen, never mind all that shopping I did for goody bags, stickers, chocolate eggs, and pink ribbon. Chris says don’t worry, it’s just a delay, I can still do those events latter. I hope he’s right, but in the meantime I’m trying to figure out what I CAN do.

I’d love your ideas, but what’s currently on my docket: I have a few guest-blog-type-things in the works as well as possible reviewers, and of course I’ll use social media (although I’m limiting my own time on FB and Twitter lately). I got some new author photos done, below. My copies of The State She’s In arrived a few days ago and this week I’ll be sending them where they need to go.

My latest brainstorm is to use my blog to promote other poetry collections launching into this virus-blasted landscape. Effort on behalf of others tends to boomerang, right? I’ll definitely focus on books from little presses, not the ones already attaining media spotlight. I’m currently thinking I’ll begin each post with my own micro-review, maybe just a few sentences describing what attracts me to the work, then ask three questions of the author. I’m pondering what might be good questions to ask, not too run-of-the-mill. If you have notions about how to do this, or you want to draw my attention to your OWN new book, I’d like to hear from you, so just reply below or on FB or by email (wheelerlm at wlu dot edu). Digital ARCs and review copies would be welcome, and I’ve already ordered and pre-ordered some books I’m interested in. My plan is to start off with The State She’s In then feature as many new books as I can, maybe one a week.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual launches and figuring out how to help

Sunday wears a beaky mask
stuffed with sweet herbs and flowers
meant to hide the smell of sickness
my son has the first apocalypse dream
we drive to the beach at dusk
and talk about ghosts
until I cry but I keep the tears
inside my eyelids
I dream a conga line of men
in my yard dancing their way into the ocean
dropping one by one
I am ripe and my blood is high

Rebecca Loudon, corona 2

The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by; have I come to threaten them? No? This is the anxiety of death that we all know. The burrowing owls, small, colored like the earth, like the cold ground, relax a little as I pass. I can see this. O cold night, let them know peace and comfort, these little beings who look at me and think of danger. 

James Lee Jobe, The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by

This morning I walked outside, and everything seemed so normal.  In South Florida, it’s neither warm nor cool, a lovely 71 degrees at 5:15 a.m. when I headed to spin class.  I heard crickets and not much traffic noise.  All of my neighbors were sleeping in their dark houses.

I thought about how it was like the days before a hurricane when we know something is happening, but we don’t know how big it will be or how much it will affect us.  And yet, everything seems so normal, so quiet.

Is it my animal sense telling me that something bad is coming our way or residue from reading too much news?  I don’t really think I have an internal barometer; I’ve been notably wrong in my premonitions too many times to think that I have much in the way of a sixth sense.

And yet, suddenly my brain shifts into poetry mode, and I find myself grateful because it’s been a few weeks.  I can always reassure myself about why I’m not writing poems (travel, work pace, tiredness), but I’m always glad when I start again.

I wrote a poem before I headed to spin class, and then on the way home, I realized that incantation rhymes with lamentation.  I was thinking about writers during past plague times, like Chaucer and Boccaccio.  My poem contains this line:  “Who will be our Chaucer now?”

As I write these blog posts, I think about historians and scholars hundreds of years from now–will they appreciate the work we all did recording life in these times?  Will they scroll through all of our tweets?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Journal of the Plague Year

My commute to my day job was effortless this morning. The roads were nearly clear and traffic was almost nonexistent. As someone who generally drives a minimum of two hours a day, this would normally be a cause of celebration. But these open roads are the result in numerous Silicon Valley folks working from home in the face of the corona virus — a reality that left me melancholy.

Turns out, nearly empty roads are a strange, haunting sight.

This month, I started a challenge to write 30 poem drafts in 30 days (a challenge I normally do in April during National Poetry Month, but I got confused and started it early, so here we are). I found a nice rhythm to the work at the start of the month, but have since fallen behind and am having to play catchup.

As more and more news flows in about all the messed up goings on in the world, the writing of poetry or fiction feels like a frivolous thing. How could putting words on a page possibly help anyone or anything?

Andrea Blythe, On Writing In Stressful Times

waiting in the rain
for virus number 19
wet graves are cold
[link]

*

coronavirus
the laying on of hands
postponed
[link]

*

coronavirus
underlying wealth problems
take stock
[link]

Jim Young, three posts from 9 March at haiku eye

Yesterday, I was happily puttering in the vegetable garden, prepping soil and setting up raised beds and sowing peas. We had a visitor who is 26 years old and not a gardener, so I teased her by saying, “If the Apocalypse happens, come to us–I’ll have food!”

“This is the Apocalypse,” she responded. Joking, sort of, not really. She’s anxious, and I understand. When I was between 21 and 26 years old (and living on almost no money in New York City), a virus swept through and rapidly killed some of my beautiful, talented, young friends–a virus about which medical science had no firm understanding and few ways to diagnose, screen, or treat. And no vaccine.

It was frightening. There were also the hostage crisis in Iran, gas shortages, and a rise in nationalist and fundamentalist/apocalyptic/anti-feminist rhetoric that led to a polarized presidential election and divisiveness among neighbors (all of which was partly the inspiration for Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale).

Am I less frightened now? Yes. Does that make me less cautious about “social distancing” and public gatherings? No–although I would say I am perhaps less freaked out than most people I know. We went to the local diner last evening; I met a friend at a coffee shop. My workplace has asked staff to go to our offices, so I’ll be there tomorrow even though the students will not. They are finishing the semester online, as are so many other university students.

Looking back at the past couple of years, it seems we live in a time of plague and fire and politically difficult situations; but that’s the way the world has ever been. Many times have felt like end times to those enduring the uncertainties that come with changed routines and dangerous events, natural and human-created. Here we are, raking the garden, hoping there’ll be harvest.

Ann E. Michael, Normality: it’s not a thing

During these days of self-imposed exile, be careful not to fall into fits of depression, don’t spend your time composing mood music for the dead.

Keep your mind clear, stay informed, don’t allow your thoughts to become a graveyard of propaganda.

Share song, wit, art & supplies. Be sure to wash your hands, but don’t whitewash your emotions.

Use this time for mindful self-reflection: connect with the tangibles & intangibles of your life, even if you have to wear a surgical mask in the process.

If you’re able to hug a loved one free of any sanitizers or barriers, do so. It’ll provide you with health & happiness beyond measure.

Offer compassion & understanding to those gripped by fear; these are strange days indeed.

Our bodies may be ill, but the potential for courage, reflection & realignment are alive & well.

Rich Ferguson, Strange Days Indeed

If I were flippant, I’d be suggesting that magazine editors should be bracing themselves for colossal numbers of virus-related poems heading for their inboxes over the next few months. The only advantage of this, of course, is that such an influx might at least make a change from the typical themes that follow a British winter: floods, storms, deluges and everything water-related.

However, if I were serious, I’d be mulling over the cancellation of Prowein, the major wine fair in Düsseldorf, thinking about my customers’ fears for their businesses and their health when I visited them last week, worrying myself about the vulnerability of people who are close to me.

Either way, poetry is a constant, reassuring companion, a counterpoint to rolling newsfeeds and social media, a bridge between our outer and inner worlds, emotional sustenance in these disturbing times…

Matthew Stewart, A bridge between worlds

I am trying to focus on the positives–various times when all I’ve wanted was a stretch of time when I had no plans and no need to leave the apartment (albeit it under ore desirable circumstances.)  The writing and art projects I’d be able to tend to.  Even if I’m spending part of my day working on library stuff, it’s cutting two hours of commuting out of my life that are ripe for more interesting things. We’ve also been trying to cordon off time to work on some A of R writing projects that never seems to happen in the chaos of our department daily. 

Instead of giving in to the panic that switches to B-roll of an apocalypse movie..I am going to think of it as pressing a pause button on real life.  As such, there are things that do not matter in pause time.   Everyone just needs to sit very still.  Sort of like when in elementary school, the teacher would force everyone to quiet the fuck down by putting their heads on their desks.  All of you, heads on your desks.  Stop hoarding more than you need. Help the elderly and compromised and check in to make sure they are okay.  Read a dam book or watch some Netflix.  Chill the fuck out.  The government, which locally is pretty sane, nationally a trash fire, needs to make it easier for people to feel secure and get what they need–food, supplies, medication…

Kristy Bowen, pressing pause

Below is the information from Marj Hahne for her upcoming 30-minute daily workshop, starting tomorrow!
__________

Are you socially distanced? Self-quarantined? Cabin-feverish? A little po-lonely?

“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life,” wrote poet Fernando Pessoa (The Book of Disquiet), so let’s ignore life and stay healthy by reading and writing poems alone together.

For FREE. For freedom.

POEMUNIZE: Your Daily Shot

Join in on any or all days.

30 minutes a day, 7 days a week

Monday, March 16 thru Sunday, April 5th

11:30 AM–12:00 PM (Eastern) / 10:30–11:00 AM (Central) / 9:30–10:00 AM (Mountain) / 8:30–9:00 AM (Pacific)

We’ll read & briefly discuss one poem, then write (verse or prose) from a prompt tailored from that poem.

REGISTER: anytime during the 3-week period:

https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Ud4enK9_Tz6FZwt9LLsKBg

*Your registration-confirmation email will contain an access URL, which is the same for all sessions.

*You’ll receive an automated reminder email an hour before each session, containing that access URL.

PLEASE feel free to share this with your writing peeps all around this toilet-paper-panicked nation!

Trish Hopkinson, Free workshop – “POEMUNIZE: Your Daily Shot” with Marj Hahne, Mar. 16 – April 5 @ 11:30 am EST

The Corona Virus is going to require a lot of change, compromise, innovative thinking. A lot of writers will be losing out on work and money because events like readings, workshops and book launches will be cancelled. The writing community on Twitter is trying to support each other, offering to post information on each other’s books and other threads to build camaraderie. Poetry Ireland is posting daily prompts, yeah! Bookshops are offering online sales, the Toledo Poetry Museum is doing an online open mic and I’ve even heard the suggestion of an online festival. Hopefully, by being isolated we can develop more connections.

This week, our writing group has moved online to avoid gathering in a very public venue. It was a fun change, but we all missed being together. I hope this is a short change and that those who are in self-isolation can find ways to get through. We’re in this together. 

Gerry Stewart, Interesting Times

I am filling myself
so full of poetry
in these last years

that when I die
it won’t matter
that I’m dead.

The hungry stars
will still get what
they need from me.

Tom Montag, I AM FILLING MYSELF

Mostly, it was heartening to realize that my feed was full of messages that all said some version of this: We need to do what we’re doing and bear the costs of these actions not to reduce our own risks, but to reduce the risks to others. The ratio of those messages to photos of empty toilet paper aisle shelves was about a million to one, and for the first time in a long time I’ve felt something I’d almost forgotten the feeling of: Hope.

As I’m watching the world around me shift to accommodate the shape of something we’ve never experienced here, there is something that feels almost holy in this moment. I have been thinking for a long time that it would probably take some kind of disaster to turn us around on the path we’ve been hurtling down. That is the opportunity inherent in this unfolding disaster that will touch all of us in some way, if it hasn’t already.

My deep, fervent hope today is that this will propel us to remember how inter-connected we all are, to reach out to each other rather than erect walls between us, to uphold ideas and ideals that have always been the best part of us, and to act more from love than from fear.

We’ll all have to figure out the best ways for us to do that. Right now, I’m focused on staying home as much as possible and supporting those in my personal circle without creating more risk for those outside it. I might write here more often, once I get a little equilibrium back. Mostly, though, you can probably find me (but please, don’t come too close looking) painting a wall or cleaning a garage or stabbing canvas with a needle or sharing something through Facebook–a tidbit of useful information or something funny to make you smile.

Because it has always been true that we also serve, who only stand and wait.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A post about the thing with feathers

Last night, after reading frightening coverage about this country’s abysmal preparation for Covid-19, with potential death tolls estimated to reach 1 to 1.5 million Americans, I dreamed about a family member just outside my window who couldn’t hear or see me calling him. Even in my dream I wondered which one of us wasn’t alive. I also dreamed about rotting food that grew into a malevolent presence. (And I dreamed about pastel-colored baby llamas…)

I woke up to cancel and respond to cancellation notices for all sorts of workshops, events, and get-togethers. Tentatively my classes for April are still a go-status, but I realize that may change. So much is changing.

Like nearly everyone else, I’m taking in more news than I normally do. I’ve heard experts say this pandemic is the event of a century. I’ve heard experts say this will be generation-defining. […]

The next few months will likely test us, maybe test us severely.  Through whatever we suffer, this pandemic may help us see we are interconnected beyond our own fingertips, beyond our own borders.  May we rise to our best selves, creative and caring, no matter what. May we keep up one another’s spirits as the people of  Siena, Italy do — singing from their homes and apartments during the mandated quarantine. 

Laura Grace Weldon, Mutual Aid In The Time Of Covid-19

even a pandemic
can’t make it stop!
the rising sun

Bill Waters, The rising sun