A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.
This week found many poets suffering through the winter doldrums—which is not to say that blogging dropped off. Quite the opposite, in fact, probably because writing is a coping mechanism for so many of us. But there were also plenty of light moments, although they had a certain surrealism about them. And of course there were poetry-related enthusiasms to share, as always. Enjoy.
February. A grey white month. More light but still cold. The forecast is for two weeks of snow showers. A month that still belongs to winter though the light lingers later now, long slow sunrises and sunsets when the clouds relent.
Today, a walk along the beach because it was a balmy 28 degrees. And that isn’t me being funny, 28 degrees feels quite warm indeed when the winter has been one of slashing winds and single digits. Bishop’s Beach is an active beach, windrows of cobbles shifting and reforming, great tidal changes, snow and ice at the top, waves at the bottom.
I walked mostly at the highest tide line because closer to the water’s edge would have meant crossing deep channels. But walking closer to the bluffs means cobbles which slide and clatter. Twist underfoot and crimp an ankle. Slide down toward the water almost as efficiently as ice so that one finds oneself scrambling to stay on stable footing.
I actually enjoy this kind of walking because it forces one to stay in the moment. If you’re walking with someone else, it forestalls any prolonged conversations. But the sheer kinetic effort allows me to focus on the here and now.Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Winter beach wisdom
A dirty sky, and a dreary cold day ahead. This winter has settled into my bones as no other ever has: for the first time I understand people going away to sunny places for vacations. I could stand a week or two dreaming in the sun.Dale Favier, Golden
post-storm drivingJason Crane, haiku: 6 February 2022
through an arboretum
I haven’t seen my favorite eight-year-old since Christmas Eve. Her parents are, again, being careful because of Covid case counts in our area. Although I miss her and her younger siblings so much I feel tearful writing this sentence, our occasional phone call lets me talk one-on-one with her in a way we rarely get to do during visits.
Today, our nearly 90 minute call started with guessing games. What Am I Thinking is her favorite. Some of today’s correct guesses turned out to be ladybugs, clouds, and atoms. Then we played Would You Rather, which simply consists of taking turns making up questions like, “Would you rather travel by hot air balloon or sailboat?” and “Would you rather be an elephant or a whale?” but she’s so darn mature these days that she tends to say, “I’d like to experience both.” This lasts until our questions get much sillier, like “Would you rather eat worms or garbage?”
She switched screens to show me her room which she recently cleaned and organized. Her large stuffed bear, who she’s named Friendly Bear, holds its own toy animal pal under one arm and a book under another. “I know you’ll like this,” she said, “because books are your favorite thing.”
We discussed which superpowers we’d choose. I said healing, so I could help heal the world. She said she’d like to be able to fly. “I’d fly over right now to hug you.”
We discussed what it’s like to talk to animals and trees. She and I agreed, they are very good listeners. “Especially when you’re sad,” she said. I told her I don’t hear dogs or trees answer in a way I can hear with my ears, but I sometimes I feel what they say inside of me. “Me too!” she said, “We’re just the same!”
Then she talked about how her mind likes to go so wild that she doesn’t notice time passing. She said, “I look around and say to myself, ‘How is this real? How am I real?’” and I said, “Me too! We’re just the same!”Laura Grace Weldon, Just The Same
Yesterday I taught movement class and was introducing the students to Laban’s method for describing movement dynamics. You break down an action: “kick”, “snap” etc. I asked them to pick a verb that we could deconstruct into Laban’s categories fast/slow, strong/weak, etc. One student was trying to be difficult and said: “Mmmm”. No problem. We can break down a word that is not a verb, that is not a word. Because sound/utterances also have dynamics.
I had a banal little breakthrough about the link between movement and sound. Nothing original or earthshattering, but one of those beautiful moments where experience precedes acquired knowledge. Like catching a fish bare-handed from a dark stream.
This morning I read about the Tetris effect: where we experience the movements we have executed during the day as we are falling asleep. And there is the imagined speech of our inner monologues, which I know can slide out of linguistic grooves, shaking the consonants and fricatives that give it context, but keep its truth.
It seems scientists focus on what we take from this realm into sleep. And don’t acknowledge what is indigenous to sleep, and whose shadows we cram into our pockets: what little gods’ humming fills the spaces between the stop motion bits of our days. A color – or a shade of grey.
They don’t acknowledge what gods and ghosts welcome us back at night, putting a warm hand on our forehead, pushing us under the surface.Ren Powell, I See Ghosts
crossing by river or drowning by bridge :: shall i visit the same deadGrant Hackett [no title]
I have been dreaming about maneless Eurasian cave lions. In these dreams, I see Palaeolithic paintings of horses, eight-legged arguing bisons, extinct rhinoceros, ancient bones of bears, sparkling formations of rocks that resemble tourmalines, and etching of one woman whose head is turning into a mammoth’s. The name of the man who has printed his hand with one crooked finger can only be known by 32000 year old lions who do not speak.
At the end of the serpentine cave, there is a six year old boy eating an apple that he has just plucked from a blossoming tree. He doesn’t know that a wolf is right behind him. Tens of thousands of years later, archaeologists will find his footprints right next to the wolf’s.
Near the river, while watching this scene, I am playing Schubert’s Ave Maria on an ancient flute made of a hollow bone of a vulture.
At the end of these dreams, I inevitably find an abandoned book of prayers in which the word God has been replaced by two words: Grotte Chauvet. Saudamini Deo, God and Grotte Chauvet
February moves across midnight fields of love notes, Jim Crow stones, sorrow bones, and emancipation.
It’s like chains that lose themselves in moments of song.
It’s like a guitar made of blackbirds and brambles.
It’s like a ghost home reminded of its living sweetness.
The night winds remind us we’ve come a long way to find warmth, we have a long way to go to find healing.Rich Ferguson, Upon a February
The hotel room speaker with its choice of reassuring white noise was designed to soothe unpredictable and unfamiliar noise to enable hotel guests to sleep. This masking of unpleasant noise with pleasant noise is the only current treatment for tinnitus. There is no cure and hearing aids can worsen the problem by making the tinnitus louder so are only used if there is also underlying hearing loss. However, when everything you hear is competing against the constant ringing/buzzing/static of tinnitus, hearing is frequently difficult.
Even a relatively quiet room can seem noisy depending on the frequencies of the background noise. If you are trying to hear someone speak against background conversation and tinnitus, separating out the noises and focusing on the one you want to hear takes a lot of cognitive effort. Staying home and using text based chat is easier but feels isolating. Not everywhere can be made library-quiet and background can help even out the unpredictable, irregular noise that interrupts a conversation.
This week is Tinnitus Awareness Week. I will never know silence. But I will never be alone either. My tinnitus is always there, but it’s not constant. There are loud and quieter periods. It is not always the boring static I usually have. Sometimes it mimics other sounds or has a rhythm that can be interpreted into song. A companion.Emma Lee, Blanket of Sound
As I pass, they quiet. I move,Jill Pearlman, (Valentine) Birds of Play
they start again, we play this game
of love, of fleeting signs and flipping
our display, of feigning and igniting,
such delicately tuned engines.
In the glitter of winter sun, why shouldn’t
songbirds rock the hedge — I walk on.
Finding time to write is not easy for me. Almost all of my time is taken with working in publishing and teaching. I work from the time I wake up until about midnight every day. I work on weekends. When I walk my dog, I make phone calls. When I drive to the beach, I make phone calls and when I walk on the beach, I make phone calls. I wrote this poetry during my few free evenings and in the early mornings. I wrote out the first drafts and then worked on edits. In the first drafts, the narrator sounded wild around the edges, but eventually I got the dark of the poems into stanzas and into that heady place that we consider a publishable poem.
Writing poetry for me requires being alone in a quiet place. There’s not much quiet in the world, it’s full of noise. Slowing down enough to be at the pace of poetry requires stepping away from the internet, the phone, the television, and entering the void. The Loneliest Girl was written at the bottom of the well. I was down there in the dark finding my way with a flashlight, a pen, and scraps of moonlight.
When I was a child, I once spent the night at the bottom of a well. I remember when the moon rose above me and I stood to throw up my arms and yelled, “Save me!” But the moon was far away and sailed on and left me in the dark. In the morning, someone found me and threw down a rope.
Writing these poems felt like that night in the well. We are lit by our own imaginations when we write poetry, we are sailing on a canoe in the dark over the moon going to find language, story, the island of forgiveness. Sometimes I think every poem is a prayer to the universe to forgive me for not being perfect. Poetry is the language of silence. I have found my way there in The Loneliest Girl, and I emerged with a book in my hands.The possibilities of Medusa & The Loneliest Girl – guest blog post [by] Kate Gale (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
The buzz and whine of the shredder
is company for a whole afternoon. I dig
deep into each folder in my file cabinet
and lift out who knows how many years’
worth of dead paper—ancient receipts, stale
explanations of benefits or of where our
money went. When did we buy that? Why?
Where is it now? Still, I know more things
brought some version of happiness into this
life we’ve made, even if briefly. I would stand
in a queue in the rain to listen to a rapturous
writer or a beautiful song; would walk miles
through foggy green countryside, wait
patiently for a herd of sheep to finish
crossing the lane.Luisa A. Igloria, Sixty
Lunerd: only accepts moon poems
Purretry: only accepts cat poems
For Goodness Ache: only accepts poems with the word “ache” somewhere in the poem
Poe-a-Tree: only accepts poems about trees
Poe-atry: only accepts poems about Edgar Allen Poe
Then I Woke Up: only accepts poems where the whole poem is actually just a dream
The Franco Review: accepts author photos first, the poems after
After: Only accepts poems that are “after” (in the style of) another poet
______: only accepts poems that use blanks, like Jorie Graham poems
The Graham: only accepts poems by Jorie GrahamRenee Emerson, Themed Literary Magazines that Should Exist
This morning, I wrote a poem. You might say, “Of course you did. You’re a poet.” But I’m a poet who does more writing in other genres these days: blog posts, e-mails, seminary writing, social media updates. I’ve been here before, so I no longer fret. I know that Poetry Kristin is always there, observing, making connections, tucking details away for later poems. Poetry Kristin can outwait everything that competes with poetry for my attention.
I always feel like I am not having much luck creating whole poems, but this line came to me this morning, as I was getting a sweater out of the back of a closet and wishing I had a door to Narnia back there: we pass our planetary wealth in sweaters. I sat with this line–and these ideas of enchantment, sweaters, closets, cheap junk jewelry, portals of all sorts–and I slowly began to see a poem shimmering through.
Who needs a portal to Narnia when a poem shimmers in the pre-dawn?
I tend to think that I’m not writing poems, but my poetry legal pad tells a different tale. The last time I wrote a poem was January 31–not that long ago, especially considering that was the week that I was severed from my job.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Enchantment, Sweaters, Poetry, Portals of All Sorts
It seems so long ago, but it was only last week.
Four rejections in 36 hours. I become depressed. Twenty-four hours later I’ve done two more submissions. It occurs to me to wonder if, in fact, I have not a writer’s work ethic for publication but a gambling problem.
One more roll of the dice. Maybe this time. Come on baby, mama needs a new pair o’ shoes. Maybe this is not the noble seeking of the writer for the reader. Maybe this is just an addiction.
Someone posted on a writers’ FB exchange that every submission moves one closer to publication. It’s a nice thought but flawed in terms of the laws of probability. Every submission has a 50:50 chance: yes:no. (The maybes don’t count. In all my years of doing this, my maybes have NEVER turned into a yes with the next submission.) Every time.
I guess there may be the rare occasions in which a writer has caught an editor’s eye, and the editor becomes more inclined toward acceptance with each promising submission. (I don’t really believe that, but I’m going to offer it to you as some sort of solace.)
I think I’m addicted to the hit of possibility, grubbing in the smoke-filled, ding-crazy hall of chance, and you, editor, are my one-armed bandit.Marilyn McCabe, There’ll be time enough; or, On the Publication Gamble
As I close out my first week of working wholly for myself, I will give a massive shout out to the ability to actually complete things. I mean, like to the end. I’ve pretty much lived the last 18 or so odd years in a state of half-finished. Half finished projects, half finished layouts, half finished orders strewn about. When I had the studio, I could spend a couple hours working, but always had to switch gears and go to work. Ditto the last couple of years. Even when I worked on things at night, I was at the end of my day and less productive, and had to often stop to go to bed. Or weekends, to do whatever of my own stuff (housecleaning, errands, etc,) that badly needed attending. And then of course, there was the energy wasted shifting gears, moving from one things to another, whether it was an e-mail interruption or a phone call or a suddenly pressing task that needed to take precedence. And even when you moved back to the original, it took time to refocus (if you could at all.) I think only in the absense of such circumstances do you realize how not at all productive they are. How much they cut away, not only from the quality and quantity of output, but your general mental drain and feelings of burn out. […]
I’ve talked with friends about the energies it tales to constanly be switching gears, and how much time and energy it takes. To pause, refocus on something else, to go back, then refocus again. At the library, distractions were constant, even when I purposely tried to ignore the dinging e-mail notification on my pc and the phone. I’d be working steadily and get interrupted by a student worker question or needy patron or broken printer. Come back and get distracted by the news or social media, and then get back to what I was working on and then get interrupted again. This was actually less difficult and more micro than the shifting I would do during the day at large. Writing in the morning, press work, commuting, library (where I could potentially be working in three different modes and for three different jobs). No wonder I was mentally exhausted all the time. Sometimes I tried to devote days to one or another line, but some things, like ILL processing had to happen every day or get backed up to move smoothly. And e-mails. Sometimes 3-4 accounts to check. Egads the amount of time to just get through them (and I feel like I never really do.) If I had an exhibit to hang or web pages to build on top of that, it was even more intense.
So needless to say, despite feeling a little strange that I am spending so much time alone (which is fine as an introvert, but I don’t want to become Miss Havisham levels of mad) things are going quite well. I even consented to a pre-Valentines outing to a movie and maybe dinner after. And it occurred to me that weekend plans were usually NO because I need to reset and rest, but now I will not hit the end of the week quite as frazzled, so am much more open for outings, especially as (hopefully) the covid rates continue to fall. Kristy Bowen, switching gears
You can see it through the window, the saint’s face
pressing against the pane of glass,
his breath making a tiny fog.
You are outside in the cold air and the saint is inside,
the glass and a number of sins are still between you.
It is the gray of winter and the entire world seems
to be painted in shades of black and white and gray,
like some old movie.
On the other side of the window the saint breathes again,James Lee Jobe, The warm breath of the saint.
exhaling as hard as he can, and with his finger
he begins to write you a message
on the foggy glass.
The end of January found me in some amazing company! I got to participate in two release readings for A Harp in the Stars: An Anthology of Lyric Essays (U of Nebraska Press, 2021). I’m still pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming about having a piece included in this gorgeous book!
On Saturday, January 29, The Writers Place in Kansas City hosted a reading on Zoom with anthology editor Randon Billings Noble and contributors Dorothy Bendel, Heidi Czerwiec, and me. Lyric essay as labyrinth? Lyric essay as body wash instructions? I loved hearing these essays aloud and sharing my “Nevermore” in such company. The sponsor was also special to me: I helped connect us to TWP, and this organization gave me a scholarship when I was an MA student at UMKC. I’m honored to be a member now.
On Monday, January 31, San Diego Writers, Ink sponsored our reading, and my former student Madi Bucci, who is now their administrative assistant, was our Zoom host! This time I got to read with Randon Billings Noble, Laurie Easter, LaTanya McQueen, and Maya Sonenberg, and I was once again stunned by my fellow contributors. Have you ever seen a lyric essay take the form of a word search (and then have it gut you with its content)? Well, you can if you read this anthology, and you definitely should.Katie Manning, Readings in the Stars
It fascinates me how inherently collaborative and interconnected creation almost always is, even if it is not explicitly shown. We don’t only stand on the shoulders of giants, we get a boost from everyone.Gary Barwin, BIG SAD: a video and notes about collaboration, influence and process
Yes, our trip today to Open Books – the first place I visited as a tourist to Seattle on the recommendation of one of my English professors at University of Cincinnati – reminded me of how things have changed since we moved here. Pioneer Square – a rowdier, bar-filled tourist spot that once housed Elliot Bay Books – will be the new home of Open Books, which lived in sleepier, more residential Wallingford since before I came to the town as a visitor. Elliot Bay moved to hipster – but now more “corporate condo” than “hipster artists and bars” – Capitol Hill. I used to meet friends at Open Books – see pictures – and I’ve had almost every launch reading for my books there, too. See a picture of one of them below. I’ll have to make new memories at the new location.
I used to spend hours in the rundown former funeral home that housed the Richard Hugo House when I first moved to town, imaging I was in a real artist’s place – and then I volunteered there for small local lit mags for a while. Back then, yes, there were drug deals in front of the place, it wasn’t at all accessible, and there was a rumor of a baby ghost in the basement (along with a baby’s coffin) but it felt charmingly quirky, much like the area of Capitol Hill, where you could get a drink at a dive bar with pinball machines or papier mache unicorn heads. Now, Hugo House is housed in the fairly cold, corporate grounds of a re-done condo building (and paying much more than it used to on rent, which leads to more fund-raising and less, well, artist-nurturing), and it just doesn’t feel as cozy and welcoming and well, artistic. It is more accessible (bonus!) and has bathrooms you don’t accidentally get locked in…and no ghosts (yet…)
The places that I’ve relied on to meet other writers – like Open Books and Hugo House – are changing, and have changed, and while I’m sad about that, I recognize that a city doesn’t stay the same, and a literary scene doesn’t stay the same. During the pandemic, we haven’t visited Seattle much, and we used to go every weekend, to hang out, to visit Pike Place Market or one of the many bookstores and coffee shops, always exploring new (to us) neighborhoods. Seattle’s increasing homeless problem, litter, and crime are unfortunate side effects of growth and some serious housing affordability problems as well as a lack of resources for the poor, the mentally ill, and people who age out of the foster system. Our politicians have promised fixes but haven’t (as yet) delivered. Does this affect the art scene in Seattle? Yes. Did the pandemic hurt our art scene? Unquestionable. Do we have AWP coming out next week? Yes we do! Do I want to show Seattle in its best light to my friends who come to town? Yes I do! So I will keep exploring to find out where writers and artists are hanging out now. Maybe I’ll find the next new cool artistic hangouts. I hope so.
And another problem – I live in an “ex-urb” of Seattle, Woodinville, a sleepy area of farms and wineries and a surprising number of hidden charming corners, but it has almost nothing that you could call “culture.” No art galleries, barely any indie shops, we have one Barnes and Nobles and a couple of coffee shops besides Starbucks but it’s been hard for me to build a community out here – and I encountered similar problems in 2012 when I was Redmond’s Poet Laureate, working hard with schools and librarians and visual artists and local language clubs to try to generate interest in poetry and art. Even though Redmond has Microsoft and a fair number of millionaires, and Bellevue’s real estate is now more expensive than Manhattan (said our local paper this weekend,) it’s tough to attract people or the funds to create cultural centers where art, music, theater, and poetry might thrive. I’ve dreamed of throwing salons in the area, which is beautiful, and I’m sure has a lot of artists, musicians, and writers in it, it’s just…I can’t find them, or we have no gathering places.
If I had unlimited funds and time, I might build a poetry bookshop/coffee shop/art space myself here in Woodinville, where real estate isn’t quite as pricey. I lived in Napa for a year, and they had a wonderful mix of wineries, indie book shops and restaurants, and unique gardens, farms, and markets that just made for a lovely quality of life. (Fires, earthquakes, and high taxes – all endemic to California – notwithstanding.) They even had their own writer’s conference each year! We need to start something like that. I’ll keep dreaming…Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy (Almost) Valentine’s Day, Faux Spring, and Thinking About Changes in Seattle’s Lit Scene
Christine Stewart-Nuñez: I know you are a prolific storyteller and an author of many novels. As I read Tell Me How You Got Here, I kept looking for an overarching narrative, but the collection refused me in the most satisfying way. I enjoyed swinging from poem to poem by collecting imagery and emotional impressions. Can you tell us more about what the genre of poetry opens for you that novels may not?
Emily Franklin: I started life as a poet, publishing in high school. In college I worked with great poets (Tom Lux, Kimiko Hahn) and thought for sure I would keep writing poetry while I worked numerous other jobs (cook, construction, teacher) but wound up being pulled into fiction writing. It made sense since I wrote mostly narrative poems. After years in the fiction world, I found lines of poetry coming back to me. For me, writing poetry is about sharing the biggest truth in the smallest form. I felt relief in trimming words and focusing on line breaks, really paring back in order to tell what needed to be told.
Christine: As a child, I maintained collections: knicknacks, earrings, dolls, stickers. Having moved a lot as an adult, I’ve let go of this tendency–with books a hearty exception. Tell Me How You Got Here appeals to my love of things because so many objects shimmer with meaning. Can you tell us more about your relationship to artifacts?
Emily: I’ve always been fascinated by what people (or crows!) collect. What people keep is also who they are or markers of what happened to them. Having moved a ton growing up, what we keep has special significance to me. I wrote Tell Me How You Got Here considering the amassing we do—and the sloughing off of items either when children grow out of things, or when a house floods (which happened to us), or what remains for people to sort through after someone dies. I like the record keeping of objects, and the freedom that comes from letting some of those objects or what they represent go.Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Christine Stewart-Nunez Interviews Emily Franklin
It has been some time since I’ve seen a book by Vermont poet Bianca Stone, since her full-length debut, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows (Octopus Books and Tin House, 2014) [see my review of such here], having clearly missed out on Poetry Comics from the Book of Hours (Pleiades Press, 2016) and The Möbius Strip Club of Grief (Portland OR: Tin House, 2018), so I was curious to see her latest collection, What is Otherwise Infinite (Tin House, 2022). In sharp, first-person narratives working around (as the front flap of the collection offers) “how we find our place in the world through themes of philosophy, religion, environment, myth, and psychology,” Stone composes poems as threads connecting accumulating points; her narratives stretched as sequences of stunning lines and connective tissue. “Time does not go beyond its maiden name.” she writes, as part of “Does Life Exist Independent of Its Form?,” ending the stanza with the offering: “how uncomfortable we are with happiness.” I remember, years ago, Ottawa poet, publisher and archivist jwcurry describing the long poems of northern British Columbia poet Barry McKinnon: how every poem worked its way toward, and then away from, a singular, central point. In comparison, Stone isn’t writing with such length, nor with a single point, but up and away from multiple points-in-succession. It is as though she is composing poems as a series of communiques across telephone wires, connecting pole to further pole to build each poem’s thesis. Through What is Otherwise Infinite, the dense lyric structures of her debut have become far more complex, extended and philosophical; there is a further depth of attention here, one that could only be achieved through experience, as the second half of the poem “I’ll Tell You” reads:
my sister tells me things
that frighten me
what I mean is
how did we get here
made of gingerbread in the oven
eaten by the mother
eaten by the wolf
my little pale nephew standing on the porch
explaining lava in the netherworld
that if you fall in a certain hole
in his game
you keep falling forever
and you don’t get to keep
any of the things
There is something curious in the way Stone attends to the “infinite,” writing around and through Biblical stories and texts, illuminated manuscripts and other religious depictions, considerations and conversations. “Human nature is bifolios,” she offers, as part of the poem “Illuminations,” “versos, even blank pages / with preparatory rulings for the scribes, never painted upon. / Little books of suffering saints and resurrections. / That’s what we are.” A few lines further, offering: “On this sheet / the Evangelist dips a pen into an inkpot / and rests an arm on the side of a chair, / inspired, like Luke, by the dove, / preparing to set down an account of a life / on paper made from the skin of sheep.” There is a wit to these poems, as Stone offers both guidance and clarity through lived experience and wisdoms hard-won, articulating her takes on depictions of the spiritual from sources high and low. She writes from a world that includes faith, medieval texts and trips to Walmart, and both a sense of ongoing intellectual and spiritual pilgrimage alongside flailing, falling and being nearly overwhelmed. “A serious drama in a cosmic joke. / Scarred,” she writes, as part of the poem “The Way Things Were Until Now,” “masked, dangerous. / And what of the new Eucharist? / How hungry I always am. How I long to lack. / Though in Walmart / my heart beats a little faster. / I want the world to heal up.” Here, Stone becomes the pilgrim, and the composition of these poems-as-pure-thinking are, in effect, as much the act of pilgrimage as they are the articulation of that same journey. “I don’t know. What is it to be seen?” she writes, as part of “Artichokes,” “I can forget / it’s language I long for. Man and his ciphers / cannot save me.” This truly is a stunning collection, as Stone offers her narrator a chaos equally physical and metaphysical that requires balance, one that can only be achieved through a constant, endless and attentive search.rob mclennan, Bianca Stone, What is Otherwise Infinite
As Judi Sutherland mentions in the introduction to her new book-length, beautifully illustrated poem, Following Teisa (The Book Mill Press, 2021), rivers have long played an important role in U.K. poetry. From Wordsworth to Oswald, water in general is perhaps more present and prevalent as a symbol, an image, a leitmotif or even a theme in itself than in other countries. This might well because the poets in question are living on an island or in a dodgy climate, of course. However, leaving aside attempts at cod psychology, the fact remains that Sutherland is acknowledging and tapping into a rich seam.Matthew Stewart, History and place, Judi Sutherland’s Following Teisa
History and the significance of place are both important cornerstones of this collection. The title itself, for instance, references an 18th Century long poem about the River Tees which was titled Teisa, Sutherland explores our relationship with the evolving role of our surroundings. In doing so, her perspective is also crucial, as explained in the following extract from the introduction:
…I moved to Teesdale in 2014 and felt dreadfully homesick for my previous village near the Thames. I started walking by the Tees as a way of getting to know and love my new environment and decided to repeat Anne Wilson’s poetic journey for a different generation…
In other words, Sutherland engages as an outsider. There’s no forced attempt at vernacular, for instance. Instead, she invites us along on her own exploration of the River Tees, portraying it in language that’s both rich yet deft, as is indicated by the opening lines to the poem itself:
How it wells up from nowhere to chase
gravity downhill, becomes a rill,
a rickle of old stones, then hurtles rocks,
purls and pools in reed…
There’s huge skill present here, not just in the assonance, alliteration and internal rhyme, but in the precise way it’s all patterned and interlinked, one device starting before the previous one has come to an end: downhill-rill/rill-rickle/rickle-hurtle/hurtle-purls/purls-pools. The effect is to mirror the onrushing movement of water.
The way it breaks isTom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (131)
the way it breaks,
the old monk said,
whether you’re talking
about a storm,
a walking stick, or
a line of poetry.
I have been learning much and enjoying Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Poetry; as much as I found his texts on biblical narrative intriguing, this book appeals to me more not just on the levels of scholarship, history, and explication but because he clearly loves and understands poetry. Which cannot be said about every scholar who writes about the Old Testament books (and they are many).
For example, Alter recognizes that trying to categorize biblical poetry into formulaic genres is useful only in the most general way, because the most enduring (poetically ‘best’) verses persist as significant and special because they are excellent poems. Which means they may not follow stereotypical genres or fit the “given conventions of style” of a type of poem. Indeed, he refers to the author of Job’s Voice from the Whirlwind and the prophetic author known as Deutero-Isaiah as geniuses. Then he provides evidence of this genius through explications that rely not only on scholarship and historical sources and contextual information but through the beautiful poetry itself.
Convention gives writers of both verse and prose a solid framework in which to construct their own discourse, but good writers always exert a subtle pressure on convention…remaking it as they build within it.
Paradoxes and “radical ambiguities” abound in these ancient poems, and the urgent ideas they chose to convey through poetry manage to feel significant even today, thousands of years later. The fictive aspect of poetry–its imaginative spur–appears in the biblical imagery of (imagined) apocalypse, (imagined) utopia, (imagined) peace and bounty. [Non-believers might add: (imagined) god.]
Alter writes with some wit and considerable modesty, though maybe it’s false modesty since he’s clearly attached to his arguments concerning the Masoretic text, translations of biblical Hebrew, and the structure and syntax of these poems. At any rate, his style permits him to write for the non-scholar. Much appreciated by this non-scholar!Ann E. Michael, Psalms, Job, & poetry
Recently Mr. Typist bought a microscope, and it took me back to a strangely happy memory of when I was in grade school and we would go out into the woods behind the school, gather pond water in baby food jars, then look at it under a microscope. The first time I saw a paramecium, it filled me with elation and a deep sense of spiritual comfort. It felt like such a miracle that there could be an entire unseen universe of tiny busy life forms carrying on their functions, breathing, excreting and pulsating deep under the surface. I loved looking at the paramecia, and if I had a better brain for science and math, it would have inspired me to become a biologist. When it warms up a bit and we get through a fairly daunting apartment-improvement project, Mr. Typist and I are going to go gather up some water samples from our local parks and shorelines and see what we find under the lens. I’m super-excited about it.Kristen McHenry, Fun with Paramecia, Gym Fail, Appeasing the Coffee God
Step outside yourself, the air here tastes of stubborn
wonderment. The statelessness negates gravity, wings
tickle the fears in your back. There are more moonsRajani Radhakrishnan, What if I don’t want to go back?
than you can count, each one a different shape.
When I posted a photo from this series of cocktail still lifes, I used the caption, Photography: a magic or an art? They’re just photos of three drinks mixed with various spirits, but I had a lot of questions floating around in my head at the time, as happens. Like, how are photos believable and in what ways are they simply pretend? What is beauty for? And can it be an antidote for the fuckery of the world? I was mixing these drinks up one afternoon like they were potions or cures. I was thinking about love because someone had said about the protests/illegal gatherings, that you know there’s something off about them because there is no love present. How did we even get here? Historians will be dissecting this time period forever. What happened to people? When did some of us stop caring about others? And I don’t mean just the anti-vaxxers etc. What about us too? Is it just generally harder to care about others because of distance, space, isolation, our hardened hearts? I know I have changed a lot in these past two years. I hold myself back, I’m less open-hearted.
If people can change, can they also change back? Is there a drink or a potion or a magic trick for that? I don’t know if I’m going be able to completely transform, you know, but when I’m not dead-tired and soul-deadened, I want to. If I can change, can I believe that someone with opposing viewpoints can also change? If I want you to see me for my spirit and aspirations, is it not only fair that I try to see yours?Shawna Lemay, The Spirit in Aspiration
I find myself taking my time when returning from tasks outside of the house, taking the Ghost Lake route, my mind wandering the contours, the black peat fields, the terraced valley sides. I watch the crows, I watch the way the rain makes the leafless trees darker, so that their bark is black, the water filling every cell, every crevice, every crack. I feel like I am absorbing this week in the same way, letting the darkness of it into me, filling me up until it comes out of my mouth, or at least out of my fingers, leeching out of my finger prints, through the pen, the computer, onto the white of the page. This is where I am right now. […]
Tomorrow is a new day, though the rain is set to continue for a good week. I have lots to look forward to: I am loving my own The Caged Bird Sings course, my Friday afternoon group are so engaged and willing, and kind and fun, it is genuinely the highlight of my week. Next week I’m also looking forward to running a workshop for the Poetry Business on de-romanticising the rural, you can book a place here. I love talking to people about poetry and finding new ways to write, so I’m really looking forward to working under the PB banner. And I’m looking forward to the private course chats I have scheduled over the week. I’m also meeting a new writer friend for coffee. It’s going to be a very ‘people heavy’ week, something I’m not used to, being the rural hermit that I am, but perhaps something that will do me good.
I see so many people facing so many challenges lately, I want to give us all a hug. Spring’s on it’s way, though, catkins in the lane, the jackdaws are poking their heads into last year’s tree-hole-nests. We just have to weather it out.Wendy Pratt, A Challenging Week
and so here we areJim Young, for janet
and the new patio isn’t half finished
they will have done a bit more by the time
we come back from the crematorium
they are not turning the soil there
with a red digger like ours
they / we are burning memories
deep into the patio of the past
the flowers of ash
would make good fertiliser
on the wind from here to the garden
is but a breath not taken
one foot in each world
we withdraw one from the sinking
and place two on a brand new patio
how nice it all went
I’ve finished reading James Joyce’s Ulysses in time for its centenary year. This wasn’t my plan when I picked it up for the first time in, when was it? 2009 I think. It’s taken me twelve years with many pauses, re-starts, pauses.
The copy of the book I bought at the Keele University bookshop (I was studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the time, was open to influence) has travelled with me, sat on various shelves, its spine cracking, the edges of its pages yellowing.
The book was recommended to me by Scott McCracken, by Miss Cooper, by Jeremy Fisher, by Pope Innocent III, by Sue the Librarian, and all of them in it for the literature. I took it with me to France, to Italy, to Wyle Cop, to Ceredigion, and even to Dublin itself. It weighed me down with its great reputational promises and its respectable unrespectability. I began to think it had defeated me.
What is it to be so famous and to represent a formidable pinnacle of literature, to become reading for the super-diligent? By degrees, Ulysses became a monument to a decline in concentration, to my perception that the pandemic and Facebook between them had done for my ability to read at length. What I could manage had been reduced to Guardian articles, or, on a good day, Billy Collins’ poems. […]
The final reading was all done and dusted in less than a year among the bed sheets and pine cones and sometimes with the sea lapping at my feet at Fairbourne. Penelope is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever read because it’s wonderful, and because it came like that cold beer, crisps and pie I ate all at once at the pub at the foot of Cader Idris after misreading the largescale OS map on the descent.Liz Lefroy, I Say Yes
So yes to the book which sat on my shelf plump and teasing with its thousands upon thousands of tiny pawprint words yes the twelve years the eighteen episodes yes the rollicking kidney of Irish history fried up in memory yes the guffaws yes the blushes and the winding boredom with another mug of coffee yes the classical religious literary references assumed in hours of lying there propped up on one hand making no sense and then sense coming unravelling its freewheeling veracity all over the inside of my imagination and yes yes I will read it again Yes.